En marxistisk analys av Tolkien – del 3

Analysen är gjord av den brittiske marxisten John Molyneux som var (är?) medlem i brittiska och irländska SWP. Den är lång, så jag delar upp den på flera inlägg. Detta är det tredje. Texten är tagen från Molyneux egen blogg.



Tolkien’s world – a Marxist Analysis, part 3

Racism and Sexism

The world view that I have just analysed was, give or take certain elements, by no means confined to Tolkien but existed as a definite strand on the intellectual wing of British upper and middle class culture; other members of The Inklings (C S Lewis, Hugo Dyson etc) shared it to a degree, as did the likes of T S Eliot and Ezra Pound. And within this outlook there was clearly a tendency towards racism – witness anti-semitism in Eliot and Pound. This is partly because it contained elements, e.g. the emphasis on inherited characteristics and kinship, which leant themselves to racial views, and partly because, as a result particularly of imperialism, racist attitudes were endemic in the upper reaches of British society in Tolkien’s formative years. It is therefore necessary to pose the question of how much racism there is to be found in Tolkien’s work.

The answer, it seems to me, is not simple. On the one hand, the existence of different races with deeply ingrained physical and psychological characteristics is absolutely central to the story from beginning to end. In the course of the saga we meet elves, men, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, ents and, marginally, trolls, all of whom are speaking peoples. Of these the elves, especially the High Elves or Eldar, who have dwelt in the Undying Lands, are clearly in some sense ‘the highest’ i.e. the most refined, the ‘fairest’ in Tolkien’s words, the most gifted in craft and learned in lore, the most farsighted, literally and figuratively, and, above all, are ‘immortal’ unless slain. They are by no means perfect, capable of both error and ‘sin’ and at various times are seduced by the wiles of Morgoth or Sauron, but, unless I am mistaken, no Elf in the whole history of Arda ever actually joins the ‘dark side’ and fights with the Enemy. Men, by contrast, are mortal, less learned, much more various (with types ranging from Butterbur to Aragorn, Faramir to the Haradrim, and Denethor to the Wild Men of Druadan), more fertile and more numerous, and more morally ambiguous. The Numenorians under Ar- Pharazon attempted to make war on the Valar and the Undying Lands (in the Second Age) and in the War of the Ring large numbers of men, Easterlings, Haradrim etc, fight with Sauron.

Dwarves are called by Tolkien ‘a race apart’: they were created not by Iluvatar but by the Valar Aule. They are shorter than elves or men, mortal but longer lived than most humans, and have definite behavioural and psychological characteristics: love of mountains, caves, mining, jewels, stonework; they are proud and jealous of their rights, sturdy and stiff-necked, and they fight with axes not swords or bows. Hobbits are of unknown origin (they don’t figure in The Silmarillion) but, of course, are small, jolly, tough underneath etc., and the Ents, the shepherds of the Trees, were created at the request of the Valar Yavanna: they are tree- like in appearance and strength and somewhat slow, though by no means stupid. Lastly, and crucially, there are the Orcs who began (probably – Tolkien is not categorical on this) as Elves imprisoned, enslaved and corrupted by Melkor in his first stronghold of Utumno. I say crucially because the Orcs became and remain all bad, utterly and universally evil, without any redeeming or mitigating qualities whatsoever. At no point in the entire narrative do we encounter an Orc who is anything other than a merciless enemy, and consequently at no point do we as readers feel anything for them other than delight in their defeat and slaughter. On the face of it this is outright racism.

And yet it doesn’t feel like it; nor is this a purely personal judgement. I know many people with a visceral hatred of racism who would react with disgust to any manifestation of it, who nonetheless love The Lord of the Rings. And there are reasons for this. There are three main grounds for opposing, indeed hating racism. 1) The biological fact that different human races do not exist, that there is only one human race or species and therefore all racial prejudice, discrimination, and oppression involves not only stupidity but also inherent injustice. It fundamentally violates the humanity of those who are its victims. 2) The social and historical fact that racism, because it denies people’s essential humanity, is associated with, leads to and is used to justify the most appalling treatment of human beings, the worst crimes against humanity (slavery, colonialism, genocide, apartheid and so on).3) The specifically socialist argument that racism is used by ruling classes to divide and rule the oppressed and to provide scapegoats onto whom anger of the oppressed can be diverted.

But if we examine Tolkien’s work in the light of these arguments it can be seen that none of them quite applies. In the real world racism is false and denies our common humanity but in Tolkien’s imaginary world there really are different races. In the real world racism leads to barbaric behaviour, but in Tolkien’s story the narrative, and his disguised authorial voice, consistently opposes any gratuitous cruelty to or maltreatment of the weak, the defeated, or even the enemy. Orcs are consistently killed but the story is such that they are only encountered as enemies in battle. Within the terms of the story they are never imprisoned, enslaved, executed or tortured so the fact that they seen as inherently evil (and within the terms of the story ARE inherently evil) does not lead to any especially barbaric behaviour beyond the barbarism inherent in war.. Racism may be a ruling class weapon in the class struggle to which socialists counterpose working class unity, but in Tolkien’s world there is no class struggle – the struggle is between the free peoples and the enemy and in this struggle Tolkien consistently advocates inter-racial unity: Aragorn, by lineage and behaviour, epitomises the unity of elves and men and, together with Gandalf, secures the unity of Rohan and Gondor; the friendship between Legolas and Gimli and Gimli’s adoration of Galadriel overcomes grievances between Elves and Dwarves that stretch back to the slaying of King Thingol in the dispute over the Nauglamir (Necklace of the Dwarves containing a Silmaril) in the Elder Days; the Hobbits (Merry and Pippin) draw Treebeard and the Ents (and the Huorns) into the War, where they play a vital role in defeating the treacherous Saruman.

Unfortunately Tolkien does not get off this hook quite so easily. Three issues remain. The first, and I owe this point to China Mieville, is that Tolkien has, of course, chosen to imagine a world in which ‘races’ with inherent racial characteristics ‘really’ exist and that is a definite political/ideological choice. The second is the way the saga is constructed throughout around a West/East dichotomy in which West is invariably identified with goodness and light and east with darkness and frequently evil. In the uttermost west is located the seat of the gods and the blessed Aman or Undying Realm and other locations are judged more or less fair in terms of their relation to this. In the Lord of the Rings Gondor is west, Mordor is east and the force that marches against Mordor for the final battle on the Field of Cormallen are the ‘Men of the West’ or the ‘Host of the West’ led by the ‘Captains of the West’. Sometimes this has been read as a reflection of the Cold War but we know that the main lines of the story were formulated as early as the First World War. Rather it is imperial ‘orientalism’ (as famously analysed by Edward Said) that is the influence here and this undoubtedly contains serious elements of racism.

The third, linked to the first and second, is the characterisation of the men of the east and south. In the war the Easterlings and Southrons and Corsairs of Umbar (also from the far south) are allies of Sauron. This seems to be taken for granted as part of the natural order of things and not requiring of any particular explanation, nor are we offered any account or detailed description of these peoples. Boromir, in his report to the Council of Elrond, refers to ‘the cruel Haradrim’(The Fellowship of the Ring, p.236), and again in the account of the Siege of Gondor we are told of ‘regiments from the South, Haradrim, cruel and tall’ (The Return of the King, p.90) and then offered this description ‘Easterlings with axes, and Variags of Khand, Southrons in Scarlet, and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues.’ (The Return of the King, p.121).The element of racist stereotyping here is clear. It is a minor element in the story as a whole but it is there.

Taken together these three points leave Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings guilty of racism but with mitigating circumstances and the mitigation is such that for most readers the racism will not be one of the reasons for the appeal of the book.

The question of sexism is, I think, much more straightforward, as one would expect given the near universality of sexism in the culture and literature preceding the nineteen seventies. I will begin with a quotation about Dwarf women, from Appendix A to The Return of the King.

Dis was the daughter of Thrain II. She is the only dwarf-woman named in these histories. It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf- women, probably no more than a third of the whole people. They seldom walk abroad except at great need. They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart. This has given rise to the foolish opinion among Men that there are no dwarf-women, and that Dwarves ‘grow out of stone’.

It is because of the fewness of women among them that the kind of the dwarves increases slowly, and is in peril when they have no secure dwellings. For Dwarves take only one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights. The number of dwarf-men that marry is actually less than one-third. For not all the women take husbands: some desire none; some desire one that they cannot get, and so will have no other. As for the men, very many do not desire marriage, being engrossed in their crafts.

This situation of dwarf- women is only an extreme version of the overall situation of women in The Lord of the Rings – above all they distinguished by their absence. In the whole story there are only three significant female characters – Arwen, Galadriel and Eowyn and of these Arwen remains very shadowy. In addition I can think only of walk-on parts for Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Rose Cotton, Goldberry (Tom Bombadil’s wife), and Ioreth, of whom Lobelia and Ioreth are part comic relief. There are no women members of the Fellowship of the Ring, no Ent Women (though the past existence of Ent wives is acknowledged) and no Orc women. In The Hobbit to the best of my recall there is NO woman character at all. In a way it is extraordinary.

Equally extraordinary in contemporary terms, though less extraordinary in the extremely prudish middle class culture of pre-war England, is the almost complete silence on matters of sex and sexuality. Bilbo and Frodo appear to live their entire lives in celibate bachelorhood (without the least concern). Elrond is at least 4000 years old before he marries and it is then thirty nine years before his sons are born and another 102 years before the birth of Arwen. Aragorn is twenty when he falls in love with Arwen (who is about 2500 and, we are told, a’ maiden’), forty nine when he and Arwen ‘plight their troth’ in Lothlorien, and eighty eight before they are able to marry, until which time we must presume he remains celibate. Now Aragorn has been told that he is due an exceptionally long life span (thrice that of ordinary men) but even so it is something of a tall order. Boromir and Faramir are forty one and thirty six respectively, but both still single, and so on. As Carl Freedman comments, ‘Through three thick volumes, there is, for example, hardly a single important instance of sexual desire’ (Carl Freedman, ‘A Note on Marxism and Fantasy’ op.cit. p.263).

This combination of rarity and absence of sex enables Tolkien to place his main female characters on very high pedestals. Galadriel and Arwen are both wondrously beautiful (‘fair’), dignified, noble and kind. Goldberry, though not developed as a character is clearly cut from the same cloth. Eowyn, from a feminist standpoint the most interesting, is a kind of Joan of Arc figure, until she settles for regal domestic bliss with her second choice, Faramir.

Tolkien’s sexism is of the old fashioned gentlemanly ‘chivalrous’ kind, not the active misogyny found in Ian Fleming or Norman Mailer. There are no wicked women or femme fatales (unless you count Shelob, the female spider) and his very few key characters are certainly not weak or subservient. Galadriel is clearly superior – wiser and stronger – to her husband Celeborn and Eowyn is given one of the most dramatic and heroic moments in the whole of The Lord of the Rings, when, in a straight lift from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, she slays the Lord of the Nazgul.

‘ Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!’ [says the Nazgul as he stands over the fallen Theoden]

Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear was like the ring of steel, ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him’.

(The Return of the King p.116)

The issue of homophobia does not arise in Tolkien because, of course, there is no such thing as homosexuality in the imaginary world of Middle Earth.

John Molyneux
31 October , 2010

Del 1 (Part 1), Del 2 (Part 2)Del 4 (Part 4)Del 5 (Part 5)

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