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   It goes without saying that the human fascination with myth is an enduring one despite the rise of scientific reasoning over the past three hundred years or so. Today children and adults alike still hurl together in front of camp fires and more recently, their television screens to be transported     out   of  the  real  world    and   into   more   “enchanted”      realms    where    there  are   no assignments to submit and nomemos from the accounts office. As the world at large becomes ever more ordered and more civilized, many concoct their own kingdoms where even the laws of science fall from their elevated pedestals. Put simply, myth has never been more popular. Whilst it is true that as a tool for explanation of natural phenomena, myth is slowly becoming redundant but as an escape from the daily hustle and bustle of modern life, it has gained new significance. The   mythological   world   created   by   J.R.R   Tolkien   is   perhaps   one   of   the   best   known   in   20th century literature, a refuge for the modern day dreamer. Tolkien did not take the real world as his backdrop but went about creating his own. He devised new languages, races, territories, cultures and histories and did away with ones that existed in the real world. What resulted from Tolkien’s abour was to become the stage for his now famous sagas: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. 

The Lord of the Rings has gained immense popularity over the years. Its rebirth as a three part motion picture from 2001-2003, sent the popularity of Tolkien’s work skyrocketing. As a result, the concern that was at first tabled by only a few began to be voiced by a much larger audience: that of racism in Tolkien mythology. Some in the literary world have dubbed Tolkien a racist due to content in his mythology that would be deemed inappropriate in this day and age. However Tolkien’s letters to his friends and his publishers suggest otherwise. Tolkien was not a racist however there is ample evidence to suggest a very strong albeit unintentional Eurocentric bias   in   his   work.   The   presence   of   white   racial   ideals,   demonization   of   aspects   of   Eastern   and South Asian culture and the presence of an East versus West typology suggest that Tolkien was, after all, a product of his culture and his times. 

          One   of   the   many   charges   bought   up   against   Tolkien   is   racism.   Indeed,   it   is   true   that Tolkien mythology does contain racial hierarchies which conform, at least loosely, to those made by white supremacists in the Modern world. However a close study of some of Tolkien’s letters to his friends and publishers negate the fact that Tolkien was a racist and was using allegory to express his allegedly racist beliefs. For example, one can argue that Tolkien’s battle between the forces   of  light   and   darkness   is   in   fact   an   allegory   to   the   Second   World   War   (Garth,   “J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopedia, 455). But Tolkien, in fact, hated the use of allegories and even stated so in one of his letters: “I dislike Allegory-the conscious and intentional allegory-yet any attempt to explain   the   purport   of   myth   or   fairytale   must   use   allegorical   language”   (Letters1,   145).   For  Tolkien then, the use of allegorical language was a necessity, something that was required so as to create a worthy mythology. 

          Similarly  there   is   a   criticism   that   Tolkien   echoed   the racist  sentiments   of   the   Nazis   in Germany in his works. Many see Tolkien’s elves and his dwarves as examples of Aryan men and racial Jews respectively. However Tolkien’s letters reveal that Tolkien had little interest in Nazi ideology. After viewing a letter by his German publishers inquiring as to whether Tolkien was of the Aryan race, Tolkien wrote to a friend regarding the issue, 

"I   must   say   that   the   enclosed   letter   from   Rutten   &   Loening   is   a   bit   stiff.   Do   I  suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic   laws   require   a   certificate   of   arisch   [Aryan]   origin   from   all   persons   of   all   countries?   ...  Personally I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestatigung [Confirmation]…and let a   German      translation    go   hang.    In   any   case   I  should    object    strongly    to   any   such
declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour   to   the   notion   that   I   subscribed   to   the   wholly   pernicious   and   unscientific   race- doctrine” (Letters, 29).

In fact Tolkien denied that he knew what his German publishers meant by the term Aryan.  He replied   that   he  was   unaware   of   the   definition   of   the   word   as   used   by  the   Nazis  and   was   only familiar with the meaning ascribed to it by scholars of eastern civilizations .In response to his German publishers he wrote, 

          “Thank you for your letter ... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch  [Aryan]. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors   spoke   Hindustani,   Persian,   Gypsy,   or   any  related   dialects.   But   if   I  am   to  understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people” (Letters, 30). 

The text also clearly hints at Tolkien’s admiration for the Jewish race. However many have still raised charges of anti-Semitism on Tolkien based on his comparison of the Dwarves in his works to the Jewish race. Tolkien is known to have said in an interview, “The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic” (“Interview”). The criticism is that Dwarves, in Tolkien mythology, are known to have a love for riches and precious metals. Many have hinted this   quality   of   the   Dwarves   to   be   a   symbolic   representation   of   the   “money   hungry”   Jewish stereotype.   Although   the   point   raised   is   an   interesting   one,   Tolkien   clearly   hinted   towards   a similarity between Semitic languages and the language he created for the Dwarves. In another letter Tolkien highlights that both Dwarves and the Jews were similar as both had been stripped of their homelands and forced to adopt an alien language: “I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.....” (Letters,  176). There is no evidence to support that there was any intentional linking between the Dwarves love of precious metals and the Jewish stereotype. 

         Therefore   the   claims   that   Tolkien’s   elves   were   a   symbolic   representation   of   the   blue eyed, blonde haired, Nordic torch-bearer of Nazi Ideology and that the dwarves were a symbolic representation of the Jews are unfounded. Though Tolkien was greatly inspired by Scandinavian folk lore, he viewed its use to support the Nazi race doctrine as deplorable. In a letter to his son Michael Tolkien he said, 

         “Anyway, I have in this War a burning private grudge – which would probably make me a   better   soldier   at  49   than   I  was   at  22:  against    that  ruddy    little  ignoramus     Adolf   Hitler…Ruining,         perverting,    misapplying,     and    making    for   ever   accursed,    that  noble  northern spirit [referring here to Nordic culture that Hitler marketed as the culture of the Aryan master race], a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried  to present in its true light” (Letters, 45). 

Also he had referred to Jews as a “gifted people” and was friends with many people of Jewish descent. The argument that Tolkien was a racist thus does not have weight. 
                 However   does       that   mean   that   the   clear   indications   of   unintentional    Eurocentrism  in Tolkien   mythology   be   ignored?   Where   there   is   ample   evidence   to absolve   Tolkien   from   the heinous   racism   of   the   early  20th century,   there   is   also   strong  evidence   to   suggest   that   Tolkien viewed the notions of beauty, wisdom and goodness in purely European terms. It is no crime on Tolkien’s part since he was but a product of his own culture and his own times. What is reflected n his works is a mindset that is no way intentional and is not reproduced consciously. In fact Tolkien’s world view has been ingrained in him by the larger society in which he lived (Chism, “J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopaedia”, 558). He, of course, does not intentionally try and cast European characteristics in a good light whilst demonizing those of oriental cultures for that would mean conforming   to   the   race   doctrines   that   he   so   often   expressed   a   hatred   for   but   indeed   does   so without realizing the implications of his attributions. Emile Durkheim was the sociologist who suggested that religion (and perhaps myth) is often constructed by civilizations around their own horizons and in their own image (Paden). Myth is but a reflection of the society that valorizes it. Or in other words, there is a reason why Zeus, the King of Gods in Greek mythology, resides in Mount Olympus in Greece and not on Everest in Nepal, the tallest peak in the world. Thus it is definitely not farfetched to suggest that Tolkien mythology, quite apart from the fact that it was always     intended    to   be  an   addition   to   Anglo-Saxon   mythology,   is   a   reflection   of  European  conceptions not uncommon in that time. 

 The first of these conceptions is the view that European racial characteristics are heroic characteristics. Indeed a reading of The Lord of the Rings shows how all heroes in this epic are white. From the Elves and Men to the Dwarves and Hobbits that constitute the forces of light all are racially white. Elves, in particular, are described as the fairest of the creatures of the creator and are the “firstborn” race of Middle-Earth (Tolkien, “Silmarillion”, 35). Their characteristics are very European in nature: fair, tall and slender, with grey eyes and hair that could be silver, golden or dark. They were also custodians of “greater wisdom, and skill, and beauty” than men
(Tolkien, “The Silmarillion”, 117). On the other end of the spectrum the forces of darkness are comprised of Orcs and of evil men from the south-eastern lands of Middle-Earth. The Orcs in Tolkien   mythology   are   beastly   beings   that   service   the   forces   of   darkness   and   originated   from elves that were captured and then corrupted by “slow acts of cruelty” by a sinister spirit (Tolkien, “The  Silmarillion”,  50).   They  are   described   as   “black”   and   “black-skinned”   by  Tolkien   (“The 
return   of   the   King”,  408  and   237,   “The   fellowship   of   the   Ring”,   425).   The   evil   men   of   the Haradrim and the Easterlings are also dark-skinned men (“Silmarillion”, 391). Tolkien describes Haradrim  soldiers   as  “swarthy     men    in  red”  (“The     two   towers”,    331)  and    also   provides  a description of a dead one:   “He came to rest in the fern a few feet away; face downward, green 
arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar…His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword”  (“The two towers”, 332). At one place the men of Far Harad are also described as, “black men like half-trolls with white eyes  and red tongues” (“The return of the King”,   136).   It   would   thus  appears   that   heroes   and   the   forces   of   light   are   “white”   and   “fair” whilst the forces of evil are “black”, “swarthy” and “brown”. These attributes are probably not given with the intention that they symbolize anything in the real world but do provide a glimpse into Tolkien’s perceptions of what heroism and goodness should look like. 

Secondly, Tolkien mythology does not only attribute qualities of good and evil to certain racial characteristics     but   also  to   certain   cultures.   The   forces   of  light,   for  example,     are  heavily influenced   by  Norse4     and   Anglo-Saxon5      mythology.   For   example,   Anglo-Saxon   epics   such   as the   epic   of  Beowulf  have   been   a   great   source   of   inspiration   for   Tolkien’s   heroic   epics, The 
Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (Colbert, 22) and the wizard Gandalf the grey is described by Tolkien as very much like the Norse god of thunder, Odin (Letters, 107). The languages of the elves,   namely   High-elven   (Quenya)   and   Grey-elven   (Sindarin)   are   also   based   on   Finnish   and Welsh   respectively   (Colbert,   85)   and   their  most   beloved   star,  Earendel,   is   inspired   from   an Anglo-Saxon        star  of  the  same    name    (“J.R.R    Tolkien    Encyclopaedia”,      490).   Similarly,    the language   of   the   hobbits,   namely  Westron,   is   basically  English.   Regarding   poems   and   the   oral traditions    of   elves,   men   and   dwarves,   David   D.   Oberhelman   notes,   “Tolkien’s        expertise   in Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and even Finnish sagas and alliterative verse shaped the poetic forms and depiction of oral cultures found in his legendarium” (“J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopaedia”, 484). These European influences are not found in the cultures of the “swarthy” men of the Haradrim and the Easterlings. The portrayals of their culture are unmistakably eastern in nature. The brown men     of  the  Haradrim     for  example     conduct    war   on   elephants    called  Oliphaunts     in  Tolkien mythology       and   are  undoubtedly      inspired    from   Indian    culture.  Concerning      the   Easterlings, 
Straubhaar notes, “As (sometimes) mounted tribal invaders out of the east, and the harriers of western,   more   urbanized   peoples,   the   Easterlings   are   probably   based   partly   on   historical   and legendry   images      of  the   Huns”    (“J.R.R    Tolkien   Encyclopaedia”,      140,    141).  Thus    what   one observes is a valorization of European culture and the demonization of South Asian and Eastern 
cultures, though perhaps not intentionally. 

  Thirdly, Tolkien’s assignment of good and evil is not only done on a racial and cultural basis but a geographical one as well. The presence of an East versus West typology is strong in his works. This typology is definitely not something new. Clashes between the civilizations of the East with those of the West have been constant throughout human history. Events like the Crusades or Holy wars, fought between Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle-East over the possession   of   the   holy  land   from   the   9th to   the   12th centuries   AD,   may   have   proven   to   be  an inspiration for Tolkien given the fact that as a professor of Anglo-Saxon, he would have spent a great deal of time sifting through Medieval writings on the subject (Straubhaar, “J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopaedia”,  558).   Therefore,   it   would   come   as   no   surprise   that   Middle-Earth   is   also   the stage of an epic confrontation between East and West. The forces of Evil, namely “the black land of Mordor” as well as the lands of the evil men of the Haradrim and the Easterlings lies to the Eastern     side  of  Middle-Earth.      The   lands   of  the  free  peoples    of  Middle-Earth,      namely    the Mannish Kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan, the elven realms of Rivendell and Lothlorien as well as the dominion of the Hobbits, all lie in the western regions. These kingdoms, in the story, are forever haunted by the “menace of the East” (“The return of the King”, 18) and “for the Hobbits of Middle-Earth, as for western Europeans in real life, east came to mean danger because that’s where foreign enemies and armies lived” (Colbert, 95). However there is a lot more to Tolkien mythology than references to suspicion and fear of the East. There is also active aggrandizement and canonization of the West with phrases like, “And so, since many men had already been left at the Cross-roads, it was with less than six thousands that the Captains of the West came at last to challenge the Black Gate and the might of Mordor” and “The men of the West were trapped, and soon, all about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies” (“The return of the King”, 189 and 195). Even the   sword   of   Aragorn,   heir   to   the   throne   of   Gondor,   was   called Anduril,   “flame   of   the   West” “The   return   of   the   King,   138).   This   separation   of   East   and   West   is   also   not   intentional   but represents the natural orientation of any writer or any common European of the time, to associate himself with West and see the East as a mystery at best. These characterizations are harmless in 
themselves but indeed do point to Tolkien’s cultural influences. 

         Reading the works of J.R.R Tolkien, one is introduced to many tales, tales of love and hate, of kin and country and of war and blood. One is constantly reminded of the power of dark and sinister forces only then to be reminded of the resilience of those who remain steadfast to the cause of peace and justice. But most of all what the keen reader would observe is how all men are shaped by the world around them, how they are but lumps of soft clay,  easily beaten into shapes and forms of varying beauty. Tolkien was such a lump. He was not a racist and there is no evidence   to   prove   that   he   was.   He   was   only  a   product   of   the   colonial   era   and   thus thought differently than those who reside in today’s multicultural and highly globalized world. It is thus only fair that Tolkien’s work is viewed on less harsher terms and that it is not associated with something       that   Tolkien     would     not   have    had    it  associated    with.    Defending      this   literary masterpiece   from   defamation   as   racist   is   vital.   Indeed,   how   can   a   dead   writer   leap   out   of   his grave to defend his life’s work?

Written By: Rao Mohsin Ali Noor ( LUMS )

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