En marxistisk analys av Tolkien – del 1

Den enda ringenAnalysen 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 första. Texten är tagen från Molyneux egen blogg.

Tolkien’s world – a Marxist Analysis, part 1

The writings of J.R.R.Tolkien might seem a somewhat unusual subject for Marxist analysis, and indeed for me. I usually write about visual art or politics rather than literature and when Marxists write about literature they are more likely to focus on issues of method, or on figures from the canon of high culture – Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy etc – or modernism – Kafka, Joyce. Beckett – or with avowed radical politics – Gorky, Brecht, O’Casey, Steinbeck etc. Tolkien fits none of these categories. Indeed he is a writer to whom many Marxists would take an instant dislike, who some would decline to read altogether (as not serious literature) or who, if they did like him, they might be slightly shame -faced about, almost as if they had a private taste for James Bond or Mills and Boon, for if Tolkien is not pulp fiction, he is not quite regarded as high culture either.

Nevertheless there already exists a small body of Marxist writing on Tolkien including several articles in Historical Materialism Volume 10, issue 4 ( Ishay Landa, ‘Slaves of the Ring: Tolkien’s Political Unconscious’, Ben Watson, ‘Fantasy and Judgement: Adorno, Tolkien, Burroughs’, Carl Freedman, ‘A Note on Marxism and Fantasy’). Moreover there is a serious justification for writing seriously about Tolkien; namely, his exceptional popularity and the need to account for that popularity.

This popularity is truly extraordinary. According to Wikipedia The Lord of the Rings, with 150 million sales world wide, is the second best selling novel of all time (after Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities with 200 million) and the seventh best selling book of any kind (after The Bible, Mao’s Little Red Book, The Qu’ran, the Chinese Dictionary etc). It has sold more than The Da Vinci Code and The Catcher in the Rye combined, five times as many as War and Peace or 1984 or To Kill a Mocking Bird and fifteen times as many as Catch 22. The Hobbit, with 100 million sales, comes in fourth among novels and twelfth of all books. To this must be added the fact that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, with takings of $1,119,110,941, was the third highest grossing film of all time, after Avatar and Titanic, with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers only just behind.*

Popularity on this scale means that the ideological content of this work is a factor of at least some significance in the consciousness of many millions of people, and thus worthy of analysis.

Moreover this popularity bears with it a conundrum. It is clear that Tolkien’s world view is in many respects right wing and reactionary, but if this is the case how come his work is so popular? Is it despite or because of this reactionary outlook? Or what is the relation between Tolkien’s worldview and his audience? Investigating, and hopefully resolving, this puzzle is one of the main aims of this essay. It also throws up a number of interesting points about history, ideology and art.

When I refer to Tolkien’s worldview, I mean not his personal political opinions but his outlook as embodied in his novels. Although the personal opinions undoubtedly influenced the outlook of the novels, it is the latter, not the former, that matters. The latter has influenced many, many millions; the former are known only to a tiny minority. Moreover, that worldview is expressed primarily not in the details of the plot of either The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings but in the overall vision of Middle Earth as an imagined society.

The Lord of the Rings is not, in my opinion, an allegory. In this I concur with Tolkien who was most insistent on this point in the Forward to the Second Edition (The Fellowship of the Ring , 1974 pp 8-9) Unlike, say, Animal Farm, which is manifestly an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, the story of the war of the rings does not correspond to [still less is it an elaborate code for] the First World War, or The Second World War or any other actual historical episode. **

The real history it most closely resembles is that of the Cold War but we know that it was conceived long before the Cold War began. The plot of The Lord of The Rings therefore, is largely sui generis. The social relations of Middle Earth, however, are not and could not be. It is very easy to imagine futuristic technology – intergalactic spaceships, death stars, transporter beams and the like – and it is relatively easy to imagine strange non-existent creatures – Orcs, Ents, insect people, Cactacae,etc – but it is close to impossible to invent non-existent social relations and the social relations of Middle Earth are readily recognisable.

John Molyneux
31 October , 2010

Del 2 (Part 2), Del 3 (Part 3)Del 4 (Part4)Del 5 (Part5)

* I am well aware that citing Wikipedia is academically disapproved of but in this case it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether these figures are exact and I make no claim for their precise accuracy. They are merely indicative of the vast scale of Tolkien’s popularity and for this purpose Wikipedia seems perfectly adequate.

** Ishay Landa, in his aforementioned ‘Slaves of the Ring: Tolkien’s Political Unconscious’, rejects the term allegory but, in effect, argues that Tolkien’s work is an allegory for, or at least a reflection of, ‘ the crisis of capitalist property relations at the beginning of the twentieth century culminating in the First World War and the Bolshevik revolution’ (p.117). Tolkien, he argues, was ‘deeply aware of the calamitous consequences of imperialism, but at the same time was even more alarmed at the prospect of revolution,’ (p.117) . He sees the goblins/orcs (he quotes The Hobbit) as embodying ‘Tolkien’s underlying terror at the prospect of revolution’ (p.120) , but also that ‘The Ring’s essence is that of global expansion, of unlimited monopoly, of the unquenchable thirst for surplus value’ and that ‘the Ring is capitalism, mythically grasped’(p.124). I find this reading forced and unconvincing but a detailed critique of it would take me too far from the main theme of this article.

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