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

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En marxistisk analys av Tolkien – del 2

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 andra. Texten är tagen från Molyneux egen blogg.

Tolkien’s world – a Marxist Analysis, part 2

The World of Middle Earth.

The reason the social relations of Middle Earth are so easily recognised is that they are (with one important exception) essentially feudal. We do not live in a feudal society, but feudalism is the social order that immediately preceded capitalism in Europe, and that existed alongside capitalism in many parts of the world until well into the twentieth century. Moreover, there still survive, even in the twenty first century, hangovers of feudalism such as the British monarchy, aristocracy and the House of Lords. In addition feudal social relations permeate a large part of our classic literature (Shakespeare, Chaucer, Beowulf etc) of our mythology, (the Arthurian legends, Robin Hood etc) and our children’s fairy tales (Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White etc).

According to Marx social relations correspond to a certain level of development of the forces of production (technology, plus labour, plus science). The productive forces of Middle Earth are resolutely medieval. Not only are they pre- industrial, they are pre- early modern – no steam engines or power driven machinery, no printing, no transport more advanced than the ship and the horse (except eagles in extremis), importantly no guns or cannon (the only explosions or fireworks are courtesy of wizardry or sorcery). Actually very little attention is paid to production at all. It is clear that Middle Earth is overwhelmingly rural – Minas Tirith in Gondor is the only real city we encounter in the whole epic – and therefore it is more or less assumed that most people are farmers of some sort and not worthy of much mention.

Middle Earth is a world of Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses, Lords and Ladies. The role of heridity and lineage, of what sociologists call ascribed (as opposed to achieved) status and what in everyday language would be called class, is absolutely overwhelming and completely taken for granted. Almost every single character’s social position and part in the story is determined, in the first instance, by their birth. This applies from the very top to the very bottom, in small matters and large. Why, for example, is Sam Gamgee Frodo’s servant? It is not age – Merry and Pippin are young but from higher families in the Shire social order – it is class. Aragorn, not Boromir or Faramir, is destined to rule Gondor because he is the heir of Isildur, albeit this was 3000 years ago, and has ancestry stretching even further back to Earendil and the Elven kings of the First Age, whereas they are merely sons of a Steward. True, he has to prove himself and win his throne in many battles but his leadership role is predestined. And Aragorn will love and wed Arwen not Eowyn because she is of matching birth – they are repeating the ancient union of Luthien and Beren. Eowyn, who originally loves Aragorn, instead marries Faramir who is of roughly equivalent standing in the Middle Earth hierarchy.

At first glance the central character of Gandalf may appear not to fit this mould in that his lineage is not spelt out in The Lord of the Rings, and that Saruman not Gandalf is at first cast as the senior wizard; moreover wizards do not seem to have a fixed position in the Middle Earth social order (compare the relatively lowly Radagast). But in The Silmarillion, the prequel to the saga of the Rings, which provides a creation myth for Middle Earth and tells the history of its First Age, this gap is filled. Gandalf, we are told, was originally Olorin and a Maiar . The Maiar were the servants of the Valar, the Lords of Arda (guardians of creation made in the beginning by Iluvatar, the One) in Valinor, beyond the confines of the world. Gandalf is thus of higher lineage even than Elrond or Galadriel, but, interestingly, matches that of his two great foes, the Balrog in Moria ( Balrogs were Maiar perverted by Melkor/Morgoth, the fallen Ainur/Valar and Great Enemy) and Sauron, Morgoth’s emissary, just as Frodo’s descent and social status matches that of his nemesis Smeagol/Gollum.

At no point in The Lord of The Rings is this hierarchical social structure subject to any form of critique or challenge, either by an individual character or a collective group, or even implicitly by the logic of the narrative. The history of Middle Earth contains no Wat Tylers, John Lilburnes or Tom Paines. On the contrary acceptance of traditional and inherited authority is invariably a sign of ‘good’ character, resistance to it a sign of siding, or potentially siding, with the enemy. For example one of the things that marks Faramir as the ‘good’ brother in contrast to Boromir, is his more or less instant recognition and acceptance of Aragorn as his ruler.

Indeed, in a parallel with the Christian story of Lucifer the fallen archangel, the origin of all evil in Tolkien’s world is the rebellion against authority of Melkor, the Ainur. In The Silmarillion it is told how at the beginning of creation Iluvatar revealed to the Ainur a ‘mighty theme’ of which they were to ‘make in harmony together a Great Music’.

But now Iluvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Iluvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. (The Silmarillion, 1977, p.16)

From this act of insubordination flows all the misfortunes of Arda – the temptation of Feanor, the darkening of Valinor, the great war at the end of the First Age, the fall of Numenor, and the rise of Sauron. Thus from first to last Tolkien’s worldview is imbued with a deep seated respect for traditional authority.

To add to this there runs through the whole saga another hallmark of conservatism, namely the belief that things are not what they used to be, that the world is in decline, and that the old days were finer, nobler, more dignified, more heroic than the present. As Elrond puts it when recounting the mustering of the hosts of Gil-galad and Elendil for the assault on Sauron at the end of the Second Age, ‘I remember well the splendour of their banners … It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, nor so fair [ my emphasis], as when Thangorodrim was broken’. (The Fellowship of the Ring, 1974, p.233)

Finally there is a view of fate, predestination and ‘the will of the Gods’ that is not only pre-modern and pre-enlightment but reminiscent of Ancient Greece and the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. When, at the Council of Elrond, Frodo announces that he will undertake the task of taking the Ring to the Cracks of Doom, Elrond says ‘I think this task is appointed for you, Frodo’, and indeed the whole episode has been foretold in lines which came to both Faramir and Boromir in dreams:

Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.

[The Fellowship of the Ring p.236]

Similarly Smeagol/Gollum is fated ‘to play his part before the end’ – an absolutely crucial part as it turns out – and the various acts of mercy that are shown to him by Gandalf, Aragorn, the Elves of Mirkwood, and Frodo himself all facilitate this predetermined destiny. Predictions and prophesies are scattered throughout the story and they always come true. As in Greek tragedy anyone who attempts to frustrate or avoid their fate merely ends up contributing to its inevitable fulfilment. The centrality of this conception of fate, which turns out ultimately to be the will of God, for Tolkien’s whole vision is made clear by Iluvatar’s response to Melkor’s aforementioned original sin of musical innovation.

Then Iluvatar spoke, and he said: ’Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Iluvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’[The Silmarillion p.17]

This view of destiny is highly conservative because it both reflects the fact that human beings are not in control of their society or their own lives (in Marxist terms, alienated and dominated by the products of their own labour) and reinforces the idea that that they can never become so.

John Molyneux
31 October , 2010

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