October 13, 2004

So I'm A Tolkien Geek - You got a problem with that?

Yeah, Bill, I'm looking at you.

Actually, our new pal Nicole brought up an interesting question in response to my Middle Earth conspiracy theories post yesterday:

[Y]ou know what I find hard to comprehend? Far-left, Chomsky/Moore types who are also LOTR nerds. I've actually known people like this, and I can't understand it at all. LOTR is all about fighting for what you believe in, fighting for good against evil. Wishing for peace doesn't bring peace, sometimes only savage war that utterly defeats the enemy can do that. It's really a very hawkish book (as if the massive battles don't make that obvious). I realize it's a work of fantasy, but it's not hard to find real-world parallels. I really can't understand the appeal of LOTR for people who, if they were in the shoes of Gandalf, Aragorn, Theoden et al, would decide to hold a summit with Saruman and Sauron and the leaders of the orcs and Uruk-hai so that they could all discuss their differences.

The best explanation I can figure is that such folks would dispute there was any kind of parallel between the pure evil being fought in the books and the, urm, more nuanced Real World. But even given that, I've never understood the appeal the books seem to have to the Left. As Nicole points out, they are very hawkish. They are also quite conservative in terms of morality and the fundamental battle between good and evil. And even though they are pure fantasy, Tolkien hardly created a perfect dreamworld of peace, love and understanding where everyone shares, cares and feels each other's pain. Note, for example, that none of the major races, not even the Elves, are without their sins and errors. (It's true that the Hobbits are for the most part painted as good, simple and free, but it's also made abundantly clear that they would have been wiped off the face of Middle Earth long ago but for the efforts of the other peoples around them.)

So even if you were to grant Far Lefties their argument that there is no parallel between LOTR and current events, you'd still be left wondering what the appeal is. Is it just a shallow taste for things magical and otherworldly? Is it a chance to indulge in the fantasy of guilt-free war-mongering? Is it actually a case of misunderstanding, wilful or otherwise, of what Tolkien was getting at?

I'm just musing out loud here. The short version of my response to Nichole's question is: Ya got me.

Posted by Robert at October 13, 2004 09:46 AM | TrackBack

I think it is just fantasy for them. They don't even draw the parallels with reality. They never put themselves in the character's shoes and ask the question why a summit wasn't called for...or a weapons freeze...or demilitarizing the keep...or...

Ultimately, they just say it was a book (or movie depending on their age)...

Posted by: Matt Hurley at October 13, 2004 10:42 AM

The Lefties overlook that the struggle between good and evil is an eternal one. Gandalf observed that Sauron himself was but an emissary of evil. The alliance between Rohan and Gondor was put to the test for many years after the fall of Sauron as the allies sought to subdue the Haradrim and other assorted bad guys. LOTR also makes the point that even in victory, battling evil exacts its price-Frodo's wounds, e.g., Arwen's choice to live as a mortal, the migration of the Elves from Middle-Earth.

Posted by: LMC at October 13, 2004 11:09 AM

The lefties focus on the "green and pleasant land", anti-industrialism aspects of LotR, and ignore all the rest, or maybe just don't understand it.

Perfect example is a book called "Fantasy, the Bomb, and the Greening of Britain, 1945-1980" by an LSU history prof (1994), which by a feat of intellectual gymnastics manages to link Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) and the loonies of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The argument is: Tolkien and Lewis like green leafy stuff, so do these left--wing nutjobs . . . ergo . . . they're part of the same thing.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 13, 2004 11:48 AM

The missing link you seek is the "Renaissance Faire" add that to the equation and it all comes into focus.

Posted by: Gordon at October 13, 2004 11:53 AM

I reckoned that both Tolkien's Luddite strain and the Renaissance Faire business (I've been to a few of those myself - not in costume) have something to do with it. What's chilling about that is that these aspects are mere window dressing to Tolkien's deeper discussion, which is the beauty of the thing, after all. So the question is whether these folk don't understand the point of the work or whether they simply choose to ignore Tolkien's message (And there IS a message whether the Prof chooses to admit it or not). Either way, the answer doesn't do them much credit.

Posted by: Robert the LB at October 13, 2004 12:14 PM


For a Lefty, the appeal of Tolkien is that there is in fact an Elite who can tell you the Correct Thing, and Masses who can happily exist if they are told the Correct Things.

What people miss about socialism is that "Progressive" thought is profoundly reactionary. Means of Production (property) is owned by the State (Realm) on behalf of the Proeltariat (people), and administered by the Cadre (nobles) under the Politburo (king) as advised by the Party (church). Aside from substituting a committee for Louis, not necessarily an advantage, the whole thing is 1650 all over again.

Tolkien evidently had the same sort of attitudes. The sociopolitical system in LOTR is an idealized version of post-Restoration England, which is also the sweet spot for leftists, especially the Fabians. Just go through and change a few nouns and noun phrases; the Council of Elrond, for instance, is a meeting of the Revolutionary Committee.

It helps, a lot, that the side-effects of economic development are sometimes pollution and the like. To a lefty, the RNC is Sauron, Republicans are orcs, and Mordor was constructed under a sole-source contract to the Brown & Root subsidiary of Halliburton. (That was pretty much the view of Tolkien, who took a dim view of industrialization on pretty much the same grounds.) Naturally the Revolutionary Committee has to take matters into its hands... pity about all the battles, but the Greatest Good and all that, don't'cha know.

Just at the moment Bush is chief of the Nazgul, or perhaps Cheney is with Bush as one of the juniors (it depends on which lefty you're dealing with: a "chimp" or a "sinister conspirator" believer.) It might be interesting to figure out who the other eight are.

Ric Locke

Posted by: Ric Locke at October 15, 2004 12:05 AM
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