Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Was Tolkien a racist?

Before commenting on this question I would like to make a disclaimer. I am a really big fan of Tolkien. Have read and reread most( all?) of his books, and owe some of my best time to them. But yet, yes Tolokien was a racist. This is a accusation often labelled against him. And this question has been discussed to death. So what you read here might not be very new or novel.
In all of his writing, in all of middle earth, the bad people are from the east( Asia?) and the good are from west(Europe?).
As you move west the people get better. The Valars live in the west of middle earth. The Qwendy live on the western coast of . And their undying lands, where they go after they are tired of life on middle earth, oh yes west. The orcs, the other evils, east obviously. Where is that stronghold of evil mordor? The eastmost part of middle earth. The more east you go the worse they become.
All the evils, the orcs, the Goblins in The Hobbit have dark skin. Notice how tolkien describes Orcs in one of his letters. "The Orcs are stated to be curruption of the human form seen in Elves an Men. They are squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes;in fact, degraded and repulsive versions of the least lovely Mongol types". The Orcs so are either Mongoloids or Dark skinned.
Having said this, I would like to say that Tolkiens thoughts were the products of his time. The concept of race equality was not as common as it is today. The Europeans were thought to be racially superior. And so the racism would not be shocking as it is today.

4 comments:

Gildas said...

It is utterly ridiculous to say the Lord of the Rings is racist because the bad guys come from the east. If the bad guys came from the west,your logic would require you to accuse Tolkien of hating Europeans. In the Silmarillion, the bad guys are from the north. I guess that proves Tolkien hated Swedes,right?
In the letter quoted,Tolkien says only that he doesn't find Mongols physically attractive,while acknowledging that this is purely in the eye of the beholder.
While another blogger has noted that this comment "falls short of modern standards of sensitivity,I don't think it is racist.

Gildas said...

It makes no sense to say the Lord of the Rings is racist because the bad guys come from the east. If the bad guys had come from the west, your logic would require you to say Tolkien was hostile to Europeans. In the Silmarillion, the bad guys are from the north. I guess that proves Tolkien hated Swedes,right?
In the letter quoted,all Tolkien says it that he doesn't find Mongols physically attractive,while saying this is purely in the eye of the beholder. Un-pc,no doubt, but not, I think,racist.

Gildas said...

I didn't intend to post the same complaint twice. I meant to remove the phrase "utterly ridiculous", since I decided it was too harsh.

l.a. said...

One does not need to note where the people are from to call Tolkien racist. Simply look at how "man" is described and how anyone who fights for Sauron is depicted.

I believe he was simply Eurocentric, a thermometer of the times, perhaps.