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Old 28th March 2006, 10:34 AM   #46 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

After about a half-century of political, psychological and sociological over-analysis of the L.O.T.R., one of the things that's always surprised me is why Tolkien never had charges of racism leveled against him. If memory serves (I haven't read the Trilogy since I was 12 years old) the Haradrim were negroes with an ersatz African cultural profile in The Return of the King. Notice how that detail was changed to a Middle-Eastern look in our post-9/11 world when Peter Jackson made his movie adaptation (the armour and accoutrements may have been a creative amalgamation of various Oceanic cultures, but the actors themselves all had a distinctly Levantine cast to them).

One thing is for certain, the old Oxford don detested Americans categorically. As for the rest, we have no documentation to confirm this theory, one way or the other. In summation, he probably was no more "racist" than any of his other contemporaries - regardless of race, creed or nationality.
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Old 28th March 2006, 11:00 AM   #47 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

I don't think Tolkien was racist or sexist.
Considering the times he wrote in, I think he was remarkably broad minded.

He portrayed strong female characters and used multiple races and motivations to convey his story when it would have been very easy to have stereotypical blond norse warrior heroes everywhere. It's too his credit that his most memorable heroes are the antithesis of this.

As for the movie version, there were lots of "dark" gondorians in RotK - after all, they were mostly Kiwis!
Even the Elves and Rohirrim are much less uniform than portrayed in the novel.

As for the bad guys being asian-looking....they are from the east! If they were going to look different from the european looking gondor/rohirrim/shirefolk, they were going to look to go elsewhere for inspiration.

I think people line up to knock Tolkien for some reason.
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Old 28th March 2006, 04:19 PM   #48 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

I think your memory has filled in a few extra details since you were 12, Curt, (memories tend to do that). Tolkien provides virtually nothing in the way of cultural details about the Haradrim. About all we know about them is that they come from the south, they are dark (relative to the people in the north), and they are under Sauron's influence. Readers may guess from all this that they are meant to be African, but Tolkien never says so, and although it's a fairly logical leap, it is nevertheless a leap.

We do, in fact, know what Tolkien felt about the most overt and determined racists of his era -- the Nazi party -- because a draft exists of a letter he composed to his German publishers after they wrote to find out if he was of Aryan descent. His response made it very clear that he found their ideology repugnant (and their knowledge of history and language somewhat lacking).

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After about a half-century of political, psychological and sociological over-analysis of the L.O.T.R., one of the things that's always surprised me is why Tolkien never had charges of racism leveled against him.
The charge has been leveled (and refuted) many, many times.
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Old 28th March 2006, 07:26 PM   #49 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

I think that there is certainly inherent, unintentional racism in LotR. No one can really deny that there's an element of racial determinism - there are more than just a few shared characteristics amongst races. For example, it's not just that elves are tall, handsome/beautiful, blond, blue-eyed (dare I say it, Aryan?) - it's that they're the heroes as well, and they're all like this. There aren't exceptions. We don't see anyone who doesn't conform to this. And in LotR, race determines morality. There is no ambiguity. Tolkien deals in moral absolutes, and if you're an elf, you're good. If you're an orc, you're evil. That's it. To me, that seems racist. Not necessarily intentional, and pretty much all mythology has this flaw - the Nazis based much of their ideology on Germany mythology. And Tolkien was writing mythology for England.

His environment clearly informed this "racism" to an extent. I don't want anyone to think that I believe Tolkien would be someone who'd overtly discriminate against people because of race, or would treat them significantly differently. He was, a phrase my history teacher discovered, an "armchair racist" - he wouldn't go out of his way to act against people of different races, he wouldn't act in a discriminatory way - but he probably wouldn't work hard to prevent it either, and he may have held racial stereotypes. Not anything like a member of the KKK, but not exactly someone in favour of multiculturalism either, I suspect. Tolkien's minor inherent racism, or as I prefer to call it, racial determinism, exists, but isn't something entirely repugnant, in the way that Robert Howard's is. Sometimes I wish that we could have a serious debate on issues like this without his legions of fans coming up with arguments like "Tolkien can't be racist, it's Tolkien" and dismissing any criticisms as ridiculous. I think there is racism present in it, but it's been both overly exaggerated and downplayed too much. The truth is it's a reflection of the society in which he lived, more than anything else. Tolkien was as we know, a conservative (small "c"), and it was hardly unique to be mildly racist. I think that today with the word "racist" people automatically associate with "neo-nazi". I don't think that it's ridiculous for example to suggest that some major newspapers and tabloids in the UK even today have mildly racist attitudes, for example in their policies to immigration. Does it meant that they're raving facists in favour of genocide? Of course not. Racism was an inherent part of culture in Western Europe and particularly in America throughout much of the 20th century. To see it reflected in fantasy literature which is based on mythology should hardly be surprising. The racism of Tolkien is mild, unthinking racism - it's the kind of thing that might irritate black or Asian readers for example, but it isn't suggesting overt discrimination.

Tolkien clearly wasn't in favour of the Nazi regime, but Tolkien's inherent racism wasn't such that he would sanction anything nearly as horrible as theirs (and racism is unlikely to be his only motivation for his opposition to it, and this does him credit while other important conservative figures in Britain looked on admiringly at the Nazis until 1939).

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I think people line up to knock Tolkien for some reason.
I think a lot of people defend Tolkien unthinkingly. Why is it not possible for fans to acknowledge that possibly, Tolkien had one or two flaws. They may be minor ones, and they may be judged insignificant by a fan and by far outweighed by his strengths, but the image that Tolkien is perfect seems too omnipresent to me.

Last edited by Brys; 28th March 2006 at 07:41 PM.
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Old 28th March 2006, 08:17 PM   #50 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

Except that Tolkien's elves, even in LOTR, aren't all blond (neither are any of them blue-eyed -- the color is grey -- but that's just nitpicking), and the number of elves who do turn up in LOTR is so limited, it's not fair to judge Tolkien's portrayal of their entire race from that minor sampling. In the Silmarillion, there are some very flawed elves, and even some that are outright bad.

Also, when Tolkien used the word "race" (as in the races of Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc.) it was clearly in one of the older senses of the word, in this case meaning "species." So the question of racial determination in any modern sense of the word doesn't even come up. Rather than being racist, Tolkien seems to have had a profound respect for all forms of life, even (or especially) trees.

Orcs, by the way, are the decendents of physically and morally mutilated Elves -- since the mutilation gets passed down from generation to generation, it seems clear they have been genetically altered, though Tolkien would never have used that term. They are the victims of a perverted type of eugenics. Racists, of course, usually speak highly of eugenics.

The accusations of class and gender prejudice leveled against Tolkien have more merit. There, it appears, he was a product of his class and his upbringing.

Many Tolkien fans get defensive not because the author gets criticized, but because he is so often criticized unfairly -- and the same unfair criticisms come up again and again. Refuting them leaves us less time than we might otherwise have to discuss the actual flaws in his writing.
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Old 28th March 2006, 10:27 PM   #51 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

The Nazi's specialised heavily in eugenics. However, much of the west has some form of eugenics or another. Simply giving away contraceptives for free in deprived areas is perfect eugenics.
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Old 29th March 2006, 12:03 AM   #52 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

Another thing that people seem to forget is that for much of Tolkien's lifetime the "Enemy in the East" was Germany.

But a close reading of Tolkien's work and letters makes it clear that he didn't associate evil with any race or nation. He hated the increased mechanization of the modern age, and he hated totalitarian governments. His idea of the ultimate evil seems to have been the loss of free will, and the debasement and dehumanization that follows after. He also saw greed and materialism as a first step toward mental and moral slavery.

Which would pretty much mean that he saw evil (and good) evenly distributed across the map.
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Old 29th March 2006, 05:35 PM   #53 (permalink)
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Wink Re: LOTR: Racist?

Quote:
Originally Posted by edott
. And don't get me started on his stereotyping of Trolls.
Yeah - those damn Greenies should go back to Greenland where they belong!





No offence intended or implied to any denizen of the large island just south of the Arctic Circle and lying between Iceland and Canada
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Old 29th March 2006, 06:01 PM   #54 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

It's capital used to be Godthab though I think it has changed name or perhaps capital city. It belongs to Denmark still, I think.
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Old 30th March 2006, 05:10 PM   #55 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

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Originally Posted by Brys
For example, it's not just that elves are tall, handsome/beautiful, blond, blue-eyed (dare I say it, Aryan?) - it's that they're the heroes as well, and they're all like this. There aren't exceptions. We don't see anyone who doesn't conform to this. And in LotR, race determines morality. There is no ambiguity. Tolkien deals in moral absolutes, and if you're an elf, you're good. If you're an orc, you're evil. That's it. To me, that seems racist. Not necessarily intentional, and pretty much all mythology has this flaw - the Nazis based much of their ideology on Germany mythology. And Tolkien was writing mythology for England.
That is rediculous. A lot of the Elves are blonde and blue eyed that is due to Norse Mythology (actuallly it is more apparent in Scandinavian Folklore). Have you ever read anything on Scandinavian Mythology and Folklore?

Tolkien's Elves fit the description of the beautiful Elle-maids that dance in the glades when the moon is full. Arwen (and her Kin) are not all blonde. Arwen is not actually described in the novel (or its appendix) though I think Elrond is described as having brown hair in the Hobbit (at least he is drawn with brown hair usually).

JRR Tolkien once said that his Elves where not always correct about things and he also said that Orcs are not evil merely tools for evil. He said that he and all the soldiers of WWI were Orcs.

He is not sexist. Read this:

"In all such things, not concerned with the bringing forth of children, the neri and nissi (that is, the men and women) of the Eldar are equal – unless it be in this (as they themselves say) that for the nissi the making of things new is for the most part shown in the forming of their children, so that invention and change is otherwise mostly brought about by the neri. There are, however, no matters which among the Eldar only a nér can think or do, or others with which only a nís is concerned. There are indeed some differences between the natural inclinations of neri and nissi, and other differences that have been established by custom (varying in place and in time, and in the several races of the Eldar). For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on the care of the body, are among the Eldar most practiced by the nissi; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the nissi in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defence, the nissi fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength in speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child that is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need"
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Old 2nd April 2006, 04:45 PM   #56 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

What really bothers me the most about this thread is that in a Science Fiction and Fantasy forum we can still use the word race to define minor cosmetic genetic differences when we're dealing with Martians, Elves, Orcs and humans. We are the Human race. My ancesters trace back to at least two different "races" and since I exist and function that tells me we are all the same race and/or species. Ive never heard of an elephant that was part mouse or even a dog that was part cat. Those are major distinctions. What we call race today is more cosmetics and culture. Culture and the varying degrees of pigmentation that people call color are caused by reaction to environment. Hotter sun causes more pigmentation as a genetic defence against it. Give it another two or three thousand years of technological developement or status quo and the colors will blend and fade. Tolkien lived in a culture. Everybody does. His writing has to reflect it even if it is subconcious on his part. Don't worry about that. Worry about why human beings are showing such cultural bias in today's world.
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Old 7th April 2006, 03:14 PM   #57 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

Not so, Gollum was not white skinned, nor were the undead armies that Aragon controlled, the series was written in response to World events of World War 2. MOst of the oppressors were white, so how could it be racist.

I would not spend a good portion of my life reading something which was so. Tolkein was an person with excellent imagination and used that skill to escape the world that the rest of us has to live in. I envy and admire him for that.
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Old 30th April 2006, 11:28 AM   #58 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Curt Chiarelli
If memory serves (I haven't read the Trilogy since I was 12 years old) the Haradrim were negroes with an ersatz African cultural profile in The Return of the King. .
This was already replied to, but I couldn't resist posting on such an interesting topic.

When I read the books, I always thought the Haradhrim represented closest Ancient Egyptians, with their use of scimitars and cavalry as mentioned in the books. I thought they were perfectly represented in the film trilogy as Arab characters, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with 9-11 jingoism.
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Old 2nd May 2006, 05:20 PM   #59 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

Quote:
Originally Posted by isoneri
the series was written in response to World events of World War 2.
Don't forget , though, JRRT categorically stated that the LOTR was not an allegory on the Second World War, and the events in the war were in no way reflected in the books.
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Old 2nd May 2006, 07:32 PM   #60 (permalink)
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Re: LOTR: Racist?

I think you can find evidance of anything you wont to if you look hard enough and you feel strongly enough but somtimes you can just be seeing what you wont and forgeting the bits that do not fit the theory you are trying to prove and in doing miss the balance of what is actualy there
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