Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Twelvety

I've often observed that the surest sign one has "made it" is not the fact that everyone is imitating you but rather that everyone is going out of their way to ostentatiously be different than you. By that standard, J.R.R. Tolkien, the 120th anniversary of whose birth is today, has most assuredly made it. This is somewhat ironic, given that 2012 also marks the year when another cinematic rendition of one of Tolkien's works will appear on movie screens across the world. Yet, if one looks around at the field of fantasy literature (or even fantasy RPGs), it's not at all uncommon to see authors being touted specifically for their un-Tolkienian traits, a practice that only confirms just how large a shadow the good professor still casts over the field nearly 40 years after his death.

Like teenagers desperate to prove their independence, rebelling against Tolkien seems to a rite of passage for many fantasy writers and it's not hard to see why. The odds that any work of fantasy is ever going to become as well known or influential decades after its publication is slim,  New York Times bestseller lists to the contrary. A far more attainable goal, therefore, is to generate controversy centered on Tolkien and then to bask in the fleeting notoriety. The simple fact is that most of the popular understanding of "fantasy" is Tolkien-derived: orcs and hobbits and elves and dwarves -- indeed the very fact that lots of people think "dwarves" is a proper English plural for the word "dwarf." Likewise, the idea that fantasy must involve an Epic Quest™ against a Dark Lord™ who can only be defeated by destroying the Ancient Maguffin™ is pervasive, thanks in no small part to the success of Tolkien's works. For a lot of people, that is what fantasy is all about.

Now, I can fully understand wanting to get out from under the influence of Tolkien, the desire to do something -- anything -- different in fantasy. Heck, that's been a constant refrain of this blog from the start. But I think there's a difference between wanting to do something different and denigrating one's forefathers in the genre. That is, one can be different without being anti-Tolkien. Gene Wolfe, to cite an example that comes immediately to mind, is very different from Tolkien but he's not anti-Tolkien. To put it somewhat more crudely: Gene Wolfe is pro-Wolfe. He holds no adolescent grudges against Tolkien; he is not vexed that Bilbo Baggins is orders of magnitude more well-known than Severian. In short, Wolfe isn't trying to knock Tolkien down a peg and his fantasies are better for that.

For myself, I plan to spend this 120th anniversary year of Tolkien's birth continuing to read The Lord of the Rings to my daughter. There's a reason this novel has proven so enduring, no matter how much some may wish otherwise.

144 comments:

  1. I recently reacquainted myself with LotR, the Hobbit and the Silmarillion, and with new eyes and a more mature outlook I love what Tolkien did. His world-building is a masterpiece, and has made me go out and get the books on its history, an atlas and other stuff. My new-love for hobbits has even got me playing a halfling chef (wizard).

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  2. Though, now that you point it out, Bilbo is a startlingly unreliable narrator...

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  3. Great post. I love Middle Earth, even though I find large parts of the Lord of the Rings dreadfully dull. Tolkien made one of the best fantasy settings any of us will probably ever see.

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  4. meh. haters gonna hate.

    Look at the "rebellion" against old-school D&D....and that's just from WotC .

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  5. Where is that link "generate controversy centered on Tolkien" supposed to go? It seems to be broken. Is there someone new bashing Tolkien in order to feel better about themselves that I've missed, or is this a link back to on old one? Bashing Tolkien is an old sport - the oldest one I can think of is Moorcock's, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out there were older ones...

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  6. As much as I absolutely love Tolkien's œuvre, though, I certainly do not wish to replicate the "feel" of The Hobbit or of the Lord of the Rings in my games. I prefer Sword and Sorcery for pure entertainment purposes.

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  7. Gamers, all the more reason to check out The One Ring. It truly found the spirit of Tolkien's LotRs.

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  8. "He holds no adolescent grudges against Tolkien; he is not vexed..."

    Some people, like Michael Moorcock, seem to hold adolescent attitudes well into middle age. Not necessarily a bad thing, Moorcock's swords and sorcery was fun adolescent fiction, and being a talented author his ostentatious reacting against Tolkien itself gave rise to new tropes and cliches. We can probably thank his Melniboneans for the Drow, for instance.

    Other authors like Stephen Donaldson in his Covenant chronicles took the Tolkien tropes and did something new with them; not necesarily better, of course, but standing on the shoulders of giants.

    And then we have the sub-Tolkien pastiches, which I shall pass over in silence.

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  9. I am sure there are *some* "adolescent" rebels against Tolkien, but many of the prominent popular critics of Tolkien(e.g., Moorcock, Pullman, Mieville) are pointing to specific deficiencies or problematic aspects of his work. Some have pointed to real deficiencies (such as racism) which indeed limit the appeal of his work.

    I agree that Wolfe is a particularly apropos contrast with Tolkien. Given some similarities in background (i.e., conservatism, Catholicism, live for the classics) his world creation is strikingly original and adult.

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  10. It seems to be broken.

    Fixed now! Thanks for pointing that out.

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  11. Aren't the Melbonians in Moorcock's writings racists? I think it is interesting that all of the critics of Tolkien are far inferior writers. I think their criticism is based in envy rather than real complaints.

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  12. Tolkien's work is surely important, but he has just called existing things with different names: the Epic Quest™ itself is a frequent theme since greek myths.

    IMHO the real controversy is about calling fantasy what's just a part of it: he's the father/god of a branch of it, not of the whole thing.

    Tolkien's biggest merit is being an icon, like Elvis or Michael Jackson: but that doesn't mean we should build temples in his honour.

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  13. but many of the prominent popular critics of Tolkien(e.g., Moorcock, Pullman, Mieville) are pointing to specific deficiencies or problematic aspects of his work. Some have pointed to real deficiencies (such as racism) which indeed limit the appeal of his work.

    I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this point, since I've found none of the critiques by any of these three to hold much water for me, primarily because they seem to read Tolkien's works as essentially political in nature. It's a common malady of our age.

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  14. I'm not sure that it is accurate to characterize Moorcock's "Epic Pooh" as an attempt to generate controversy and then bask in its fleeting glory. His essay makes many valid points and should be understood in the context of a contemporary English writer's reading of his fellow English writers. In this respect it is a pretty insightful look at the deficiencies of specifically English fantasy (as opposed to American fantasy, or wherever else). Moorcock has written many astonishing, beautiful books and any notoriety he may have is far from fleeting and has nothing to do with disliking Tolkien.

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  15. Here's to twelvety more!

    I'm not sure that it is accurate to characterize Moorcock's "Epic Pooh" as an attempt to generate controversy and then bask in its fleeting glory.

    Considering it was written the same year as "Starship Stormtroopers," a similar critique of Heinlein, I think there's certainly a little bit of that. Perhaps not his primary aim, but he can't have been oblivious of the possible controversy either. Moorcock's a great author, but his criticism can be problematic, especially his earlier works.

    "Epic Pooh" was compelling back when I was a teenager, but the arguments don't really hold up to scrutiny in terms of Lord of the Rings. It's a fair cop on other fantasies, but like "Wizardry & Wild Romance" in general, he can be a bit all over the place.

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  16. Considering it was written the same year as "Starship Stormtroopers," a similar critique of Heinlein, I think there's certainly a little bit of that.

    I was just about to mention "Starship Stormtroopers." Great minds (or is it fools?). Moorcock has always been something of the pamphleteer in him. He loves to tweak middle class sensibilities with "radical" ideas and by casting down the idols of his forefathers. Even if one concedes some of his points (I don't), that's adolescent behavior -- and I say that as someone who enjoys and has enjoyed many of his own fantasies.

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  17. [quote]Though, now that you point it out, Bilbo is a startlingly unreliable narrator... [/quote]

    The preface of my slightly decaying copy of 'The Hobbit' explicitly states that this version contains corrections and additions that were eventually obtained by Gandalf (under duress) from the notably unreliably author.

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  18. While I've always enjoyed Moorcock's fantasy work, he's at his best when he's overturning the clichéd themes of his predecessors. He builds from well-worn characters and plots, twisting and inverting them to reveal new vistas of imagination.

    Unfortunately, he seems to think this gives him carte blanche to insult the writing of any author who doesn't agree with him. If it doesn't push a political agenda, their work is called "puerile", "infantile", or "juvenile" "rural romances". If it has a moral or political point, it's "reactionary" or "propaganda", written by "militaristic" "proto-Fascists" (a proto-example of Godwin's Law). He wields a broad brush, insulting their writing without deigning to provide specific examples: "It is rather unimaginative; it is usually badly written; its characters are ciphers; its propaganda is simple-minded and conservative..."

    It doesn't occur to Mr. Moorcock that these authors themselves invite readers to contemplate the important issues underlying their fiction. When he slams Tolkien for its unfettered nostalgia for an earlier era, he refuses to consider whether Tolkien raised valid concerns about such issues as the emotional cost of waging war or the soul-withering effects of unbridled industrialism and pollution. Moorcock describes Tolkien's work as puerile wish-fulfillment, deliberately ignoring the books' underlying themes of sacrifice and painful change.

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  19. He deserves some credit not only for the "Epic Quest™ against a Dark Lord™ who can only be defeated by destroying the Ancient Maguffin™" but also for the Honorable Burglar™ who joins an Adventuring Party™ and, relying on his wits alone (oh, and an Ancient Maguffin™) indirectly kills a Dragon and steals its Type H Treasure.™

    Which is to say, Tolien himself was the original and best anti-Tolkien.

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  20. @ James
    Speaking of Gene Wolfe, very curious to see your thoughts on Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator....perhaps we'll be treated to a review when you finish them. Happy New Year!

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  21. In summation:
    Tolkien: gentleman
    Moorcock: dick

    yep, that's how I always looked at 'em.

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  22. Even if one concedes some of [Moorcock's] points (I don't), that's adolescent behavior...

    One might say the same thing about refusing to concede any of a writer's points when the subject is a writer you like.

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  23. One might say the same thing about refusing to concede any of a writer's points when the subject is a writer you like.

    If I were simply dismissing Moorcock's essay out of hand without having any knowledge of it, I'd agree with you, but I'm not. "Epic Pooh" is complete nonsense, whose points are almost all ad hominem attacks rather than thoughtful critiques of any substance.

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  24. Yes, there's a reason LOTR is so enduring.

    And even though Moorcock is my favorite writer by far, it's rather disgusting how he keeps nibbling at dead Tolkien's heels.

    But I don't think, in MM's case, that he does it because he wants notoriety; Moorcock is famous enough by himself, and well-deservedly so.

    I believe he keeps taking pot-shots at Tolkien because he's envious of JRRT's far greater popularity. It shows every time he talks about Tolkien.

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  25. I've found very few actual writers of fantasy to take issue with Tolkien himself.
    Most of them, if it's mentioned at all, seem to take issue with the fanboys. You know the type, "everything ever made is Tolkien inspired even if the author strictly denies it and points to his real oft older inspirations."
    But then this is hardly a new viewpoint as Edmund Wilson's review was mainly spent lambasting Tolkien's admirers rather than the work itself from what I recall.

    I found the most amusing example of this particular delusion in McNaughton's "Throne of Bones" foreword were Alan Rodgers says it's "Tolkien from the bad guys point of view". He then quotes McNaughton's refutal of this and still goes on to say "but since the roots of modern fantasy all stem from Tolkien, make no mistake, it is his real inspiration". An incredibly disrespectful stance that seem all too common among Tolkien cultists.

    McNaughton's refutal:
    When I said this to Brian he took issue with me. “Tolkien and the Tolkienites,” he said, “have never been my cup of tea ... my world is certainly not unique in its darkness, no darker than Robert E. Howard’s world or any of several created by Tanith Lee. Compared to Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique, it is Carnival in Rio all the time.
    “And my memory may not serve me over the vast gulf of time that has intervened since I read it, but I think E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros was set in a pretty ghastly milieu. And then there’s William Hope Hodgson’s Night Land or the Dreamland of H.P. Lovecraft, as in Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”

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  26. "they seem to read Tolkien's works as essentially political in nature. It's a common malady of our age."

    Conservatives acting like only left-wing politics is political, while right-wing politics is common sense, is another.

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  27. Conservatives acting like only left-wing politics is political, while right-wing politics is common sense, is another.

    Sure, but Tolkien wasn't writing a political tract when he wrote The Lord of the Rings and to treat it as if it were, as Moorcock and Miéville do, seems to me to misread both it and its author.

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  28. The fact that Tolkien's LotR has racist and anti-semitic themes, and that Lovecraft was an explicit racist and doesn't mean that either author's work shouldn't be explored on their own terms - but they also need to be understood within the context of the societies within which they were produced.

    We owe that to their predecessors - people like William Morris who were present at the birth of fantasy - and to Tolkien and Lovecraft's contemporaries who wrote in the genres in non-racist ways.

    People here should also be aware that Moorcock's status in British letters is at least equal to Tolkien's - and probably much higher due to his masterpiece, "Mother London". He isn't considered an amateur or an adolescent. We should be able to discuss both his fiction and his criticism in more measured tones.

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  29. Parenthetically, the context of my reference to William Morris is that he was one of the 19th C. progenitors of contemporary fantasy - a fantasist who was a literary and cultural critic, one founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and a life-long socialist.

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  30. The fact that Tolkien's LotR has racist and anti-semitic themes

    Tolkien was an anti-semite? That's a new one.

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  31. This was presented in a paper a few years ago at the Fantasy Matters conference at the University of Minnesota. The anti-semitic caricatures occur in the "Cleansing of the Shire" sequence,

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  32. Tallgeese, pull the other one. Stultorum infinitus est numerus.

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  33. Here is Brian Murphy of the late great The Cimmerian showing why Moorcock is wrong: Knocking some stuffing out of Moorcock’s “Epic Pooh”

    Audi, vide, tace, si tu vis vivere.

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  34. To me I've always seen that the more one professes to be unlike Tolkien that even then the elements of Tolkien's neo-mythology are still to be found. Perhaps much of this type of discussion is often more about Joseph Campbell and less about J.R.R. Interesting points and comments.

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  35. Joseph Campbell's universalist approach to mythology is just way too off base. it makes for a nice compact ideology but any deeper digging in mythos outside of our western conception of mythology displays a lack of telos and a lot of ambiguity (Lorna Marshall's work with the !Kung is a great exemplary of this). as usual, popular "academic" work that lacks usually takes a long time to die. so does fiction based on boring tropes:

    his general lifestyle (metaphorically portrayed in the books) was very similar to Heidegger in their anti-tech, hang in a cabin reflecting on idyllic "authenticity" attitude (as if those motifs arent obvious throughout). its a stunted, romantic ecological trope that bore itself way too deep into in environmentalism (hi, avatar is here). if fantasy wants to step forward, its time to see fantasy through a different lens... with different thinkers and artists as guides. with that in mind, for the era, id say Lovecraft is far more important to literature than Tolkien (even if he was a racist goofball).

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  36. Every time I read that paper/article, or it's companion "Starship stormtroopers" I giggle a little. Badly written in general. Bad structure, bad analysis, weak conclusions. It'd be a good sign someone had an axe to grind if it read like someone had proofed it.

    Don't get me wrong. Moorecock's stuff isn't exactly above reproach, and this is coming from a guy that owns a rather noticeable chunk of it. Even with that, it has to be said that those two essays were particular shit, with his simultaneous complains about lacking meaningful themes in some works and hatred of anything resembling a political message in other, or often the exact same, works. It's pretty clear the guy was grinding axes against those who disagreed with him rather than based upon quality.

    Mind you, I'm generally less interested on a literary level with "quality" than I am with "influence". Regardless of complaints about Lovecraft's politics, his work was and is hugely influential, for example. Regardless of flaws in Tolkien's prose, what of them exist, he was and is likewise startlingly influential.

    Frankly, the fact Moorecock spent so much time attacking authors of a decade and more prior to his own work suggests they were also more of an influence than Moorecock would like to admit. Heck, the prelude to Elric in some of the words of Bilbo and Frodo is interesting in it's own way, depressed heroes who doubt they'll succeed. Intersting. Still, my point is that conscious or not, the whole thing could read as a bit of a push to get out of their shadow by pushing them down.

    I gotta admit though, I'd probably publish an article attacking Moorecock just for giggles if I got big in the fantasy fiction business. Be fun to try to replicate "epic pooh" with something appropriate to the writer of Elric, attacks on the political interpretations of his works, with the occasional touch on a mostly unrelated topic.

    On a side rant, I do find the move to discredit Tolkien amusing. I remember one person tried to argue Tolkien didn't do much of anything to shape the fantasy genre because he didn't engage in heavy letter writing and arguments on the subject with people in the seventies. Funny, really.

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  37. Regarding a non-Moorcock topic in this post: James, you are aware that the young Gene Wolfe was an admiring correspondent with Tolkien? IIRC, one of JRRT's responses is included in the published volume of Letters.

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  38. ...lots of people think "dwarves" is a proper English plural for the word "dwarf."

    *pshaw* Everyone knows that the proper collective noun for "dwarf" is "dwarrows". ;)

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  39. Tallgeese:
    "I am sure there are *some* "adolescent" rebels against Tolkien, but many of the prominent popular critics of Tolkien(e.g., Moorcock, Pullman, Mieville) are pointing to specific deficiencies or problematic aspects of his work. Some have pointed to real deficiencies (such as racism) which indeed limit the appeal of his work. "

    That must be why their works are so much more popular than his, then. :p

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  40. James M:
    "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this point, since I've found none of the critiques by any of these three to hold much water for me, primarily because they seem to read Tolkien's works as essentially political in nature. It's a common malady of our age."

    It's a Communist thing, James - a nice chap like you wouldn't understand. :)

    Tallgeese's blog: http://tallgeesew.blogspot.com/

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  41. I gotta admit though, I'd probably publish an article attacking Moorecock just for giggles if I got big in the fantasy fiction business.

    I've always wanted to do this with The History of the Runestaff, because my God is it awful. And a matching screed about the rape that finishes off Gloriana...oh wait, it's been done--http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2005/11/gloriana-by-michael-moorcock-being.html

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  42. "Sure, but Tolkien wasn't writing a political tract when he wrote The Lord of the Rings"

    It's full of his ideas about what good and bad are, and he obviously intended it to have real world parallels (although not the specific one that the War of the Ring is World War Two and the Ring is the atomic bomb). I suspect he would have denied he was writing a political tract, but I also suspect he would have thought of political tracts as the sort of thing left-wingers wrote.

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  43. @S'mon: I've never tried to hide my politics, so red-baiting doesn't bother me too much. I actually enjoy Tolkien. I just don't think he is above criticism. I enjoy Mieville far more than either Tolkien or Moorcock these days. I am sure some of that is due to his politics, but I also appreciate his skill as a world-builder and writer even more than his politics.

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  44. I like the work of Tolkien, he is a mastermind of language as he is a professor of English literature, i love the work of Moorcock especially the Corum saga, i read his infamous "Epic Pooh" article, to be honest i think that he is right in some points, but also i think also that he makes some false accusations and is a bit over-reactive. I am sure that Moorcock's dislike of Tolkien doesn't stem from jealousy of Tolkien, as Moorcock admits in many interviews that he is not a good writer himself! Moorcock's dislike of Tolkien's work is based on ideological and political views, as he is an anarchist, a clear embodiment of revolutionary ideas of 60's, and he resents traces of conformist, conservative and religious ideas in Tolkien's work. I also think that the excessive concern on Tolkien understates the work of many great writers of like Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson etc... who are better writers than Tolkien in my opinion.

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  45. S'mon-It's a Communist thing, James - a nice chap like you wouldn't understand. :)


    Hey, I'm pretty left wing, and I have to say I resent that comment as a Fantasy aficionado and as a literary scholar.

    You get plenty of people who over-politicize various works on both sides of the fence. I cant' name the number of times I've seen right wing fantasy fans attack Dark Materials, or Wicked and the other Maguire works, which for any flaws they might have tend to get picked on for politics. At least Sword of Truth kind of deserves the attacks it gets, since it's politics cause structural problems, like the characters looking like morons in their lack of continuity with past events (yea, the guy who has met ghosts suddenly decides no one has ever seen or experienced anything relating to or resembling sign of life after death...).

    Frankly it gets annoying hearing such things, like frequent complaints by certain Vance fans that liberal would "dare" (and yes I have gotten that exact word) to show any appreciation for the man's work. Evidently it was offensive to them and according to them to Vance, that someone of differing political ideals could like the stuff. Of course, when you ask what that means about any of their previous positive comments about say the severely racist Lovecraft, they start accusing you of baiting, shifting the issue, apples and oranges, etc. Pathetic, really.

    I guess my point is, be careful about accusations of over-politicizing. More than one set does it, after all. :P

    Michal-Thanks for the Link.

    yegenek-"better writer" is tricky from a scholarly point of view. What was the author going for? What was the style of the time? How, simply, does one define "better"? There's a reason I prefer to look at influence in relation to import than quality, it's at least a bit easier to track objectively.

    I love Vance, Zelazny, Anderson, etc...but judging the better author? Not too easy to seperate from simple personal preference. Judging who had more influence, and where? Easier, or more honest, if still obscenely complex.

    Heck, I'd definitely argue that Poul Anderson's biggest influences were on by far scifi more than fantasy, raising questions if putting him in a comparison with Tolkien is even appropriate by the standards I use.

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  46. Personally I like all of Moorcock's early pulp fantasy Eternal Champion-related works; he really tailed off in the '90s though. As an adolescent I preferred his generally Humanist ethos to Tolkien's traditionalist conservatism; I'm a lot more sympathetic to Tolkien as I get older.

    As an atheist, I liked the ending of "The King of the Swords" where it's argued that Humanity is better off without ANY gods, whether of Law or Chaos. Not sure I still agree, though! By contrast I really hated the anti-human His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman, they're as much anti-Humanist as anti-Christian. The ethos is a Maoist one - unquestioning obedience is great, as long as it's the 'good guys' - Asriel & Satan - you're obeying, not the 'bad guys' - God & co. And to Pullman the ends always justify the means, including child murder. I ended up pretty sickened. Disgusting stuff. I haven't read 'Gloriana', but compared to Pullman, Moorcock's glorifying rape sounds quite tame.

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  47. Tallgeese:
    "@S'mon: I've never tried to hide my politics..."

    Aww, and there was me all set to use this wonderful HPL quote about you guys:

    "As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold..." >:)

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  48. "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work", according to Tolkien himself.

    So for it to be 'not a political work', Catholicism would have to be 'not political', and I can't imagine anyone arguing that, whether they were pro- or anti- the Catholic church.

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  49. The majority of Moorcock's fiction has been built around plot elements deliberately chosen to contradict popular themes of fantasy and the "Swords and Sorcery" genre. The most obvious example is Elric, who was deliberately crafted to be an "Anti-Conan", opposite in every way to Robert Howard's barbaric protagonists. Other clear reversalss include the titular hero of "The War Hound and the World's Pain" (a cynical mercanary sent to seek the Holy Grail on behalf of Satan) and Queen Gloriana (an "Anti-Elizabeth").

    Because his chosen themes and plots tend to demand some off-color elements, I was never offended by "unsavory" elements in Moorcock's fiction (such as Gloriana's rape scene). I appreciate his writings for what they are: The work of an imaginative author whose worldview doesn't allow him to give contrasting viewpoints much regard.

    Moorcock is hardly alone in that: Few authors are capable of writing from a wide variety of viewpoints with equal confidence in each. While his anarchistic sentiments may be naïve (I see hell-holes like Somalia as examples of anarchy's fruits), the plotting and themes foundin his fiction are often quite compelling and the arguments he raises are worth discussing. As his craft matured, his books became more complex and nuanced, worth reading carefully (Which cannot be said of the work from his "knock it out in three days" period...)

    I just wish that Moorcock would leave radical criticism to those who are good at it (such as Harlan Ellison), and stick to writing fiction.

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  50. The anti-semitic caricatures occur in the "Cleansing of the Shire" sequence,

    That's got to be one of the most bizarre reading of the Scouring of the Shire I've ever heard, though, without specifics, it'd be difficult to say for certain. The notion that Tolkien was even unconsciously anti-Semitic strikes me as implausible based just on the historical record -- his reply to a German publisher asking him about his Aryan ancestry is but one example.

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  51. James, you are aware that the young Gene Wolfe was an admiring correspondent with Tolkien?

    I was aware of it, though I've never read the letter(s) in question.

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  52. *pshaw* Everyone knows that the proper collective noun for "dwarf" is "dwarrows". ;)

    Touché!

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  53. Heck, I'd definitely argue that Poul Anderson's biggest influences were on by far scifi more than fantasy

    I'd (largely) agree, though we mustn't forget that it was Anderson who inspired Moorcock's own Law vs Chaos cosmology, which then became very widespread, both in literature and of course in gaming.

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  54. So for it to be 'not a political work', Catholicism would have to be 'not political', and I can't imagine anyone arguing that, whether they were pro- or anti- the Catholic church.

    *raises hand*

    I think this is one of those areas where people are just going to have to disagree. I don't see (most) religions as fundamentally political nor do I see religious themes in literature as such either. In the classical view -- which Tolkien shared -- politics is a sub-species of ethics and morals and thus subsidiary to them. Religions hold "political" views only to the extent that they hold moral views that inform their believers' political opinions and actions. But the Church does not, for example, endorse any particular candidates, parties, or policies, only moral principles intended to guide all those things.

    For some, that's a distinction without a difference, but it wouldn't have been for Tolkien nor is it for me. It's fair enough if you or anyone else disagrees, but there are lots of people who don't see the Church (or most religions) as inherently political simply because they espouse moral teachings expected to guide one's political actions.

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  55. "I don't see (most) religions as fundamentally political..."

    Which (few) religions do you see as fundamentally political?

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  56. Which (few) religions do you see as fundamentally political?

    I'm not sure. I included the "(mostly)" primarily as a hedge against the possibility of someone citing, say, the worship of Roman emperors as evidence that my basic thesis was mistaken. By and large, I don't believe religion is, at its root, political in nature.

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  57. I think you're correct in your assessment that Tolkien had no intention of propounding a specific political agenda in writing LotR, despite its being obviously informed by his Catholicism (there's a definite moral structure underlying Eru's creation).

    What I think you're missing is that this is exactly why critics such as Moorcock have such a problem with Tolkien's work.. There are a plethora of unexamined political assumptions and their ramifications, some of which can be viewed as a bit offensive. These mostly seem to derive from a worldview which implicity trust authority, tradition, and "respectability"--i.e., his Catholicism.

    A few examples that come to mind. Mind, I don't claim Tolkien was being polemical in any of this, or was even conscious of it. Doesn't mean it's not there...

    1) Monarchism - It's presumed that as soon as the king resumes rule of Gondor and Arnor, that everyone's problems are solved. The throne is Aragorn's by virtue of divine right (or the next best thing). There's never any questioning of whether it's the best outcome--it just is.

    2) Racism (or at least English superiority) - Why is Rohan good? Gondor better? The people of Dunland (not to mention the Haradrim and the Easterlings) trash? Because some are the "right sort" and some are not. Because the ancestors of the Numenoreans helped the elves in the First Age, the ancestors of the Rohirrim didn't, but are closely related by blood/culture, and the rest fell into darkness thousands of years ago because their ancestors sided with Morgoth (or simply didn't have the good fortune to make it to Beleriand to meet the wonderful elves and be civilized). Not to mention orcs.. they are portrayed as irredeemable. Is it their fault Morgoth warped their progenitors? Not one single orc shows even the slightest glimmer of goodness in the entire novel--some people are just lost (original sin?).

    3) Classism - The Shire. Nice, respectable middle- and working-class folk who are admirable because.. wait for it.. they respect the authority of the king, don't rock the boat, and always behave conservatively and do their bit. As long as the Shirelings act like good little children, they get to keep their land-grant and remain protected from the outside world.

    Point being, there's political meaning in LotR whether one likes it or not. Moorcock doesn't. The beauty of LotR is that it transcends these shortcomings to the point where they seem inconsequential, and Moorcock's criticisms seem mean-spirited and nitpicky.

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  58. Dhowarth, I think you've articulated the "Tolkien is politically objectionable" view fairly. However, it remains a less-than compelling argument.

    1. On monarchism: it is clear that plenty of Middle-Earth's monarchs were pretty bad people, or else Arnor and Gondor wouldn't have been left ruined or in decline. Aragorn happens to be a good king, and is in some way "destined" to be so by his blood, but it's also very clear that what finally entitles him to the throne is not his blood (his ancestors all had that), but his nobility of character. He refuses the Ring, and is willing to lay down his life to fulfill the Quest of the Ringbearer. That's what distinguishes him from Isildur and all the rest.

    2. Along the same lines, though "the blood of Numenore" and the general distinction between peoples of the Light (the Eldar, the Elf-Friends, etc.) and peoples of the Dark (Avari, Easterlings, etc.) is a very basic pattern in Middle-Earth, it is not clear that this is intended to have any real-world implications. As a representation of a mythic world where magic, immortals, and the Dark Lord are real, physical entities, it seems a resonant way of depicting an English myth-history. Considering that Tolkien's most poignant reflection on war in LotR concerns a fallen Southron, I don't see much textual support for a racist conclusion that "Europeans are superior to Africans". The most prominent moral determiner for Tolkien is free will (it is the difference between Gandalf and Sauron, so to speak). And that is not the preserve of Westerners.

    As for orcs, Tolkien was troubled by their metaphysical status to the end of his life. I don't think he ever worked out a satisfactory explanation of how there could be a race with personal agency who were innately depraved. This is a legitimate criticism of the metaphysics of Middle-Earth, but, as Tolkien sharply notes that the "orcish" tendency was found in the British military, I don't see this as carrying any clear racist implications.

    3. If there is a political teaching in Tolkien, it is more anarchist than monarchist. "There is nothing worse than being the boss of others," he says somewhere. In any case, hobbits are NOT held as moral exemplars. Anyone who says this is just not reading carefully. The majority of them are foolish, petty, and self-satisfied. If anything, they are a (kindly) critique of the bourgeois English spirit. One of the main points of the Scouring of the Shire is that the hobbits need to develop a deeper and stronger character if they are to preserve their way of life.

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  59. Re: Race in Tolkien. Orcs are a fantastic race, with no real world parallel. If you use orcs as evidence that Tolkien was racist, you’re guilty of two misconceptions:

    1. That LOTR was an allegory (which Tolkien took pains to deny in a very clearly worded forward). If you insist on saying that fantasy must parallel the real world, you strip it of its otherworldliness and reduce its meaning to a neat causative formula. Tolkien has alluded to the fact that orcs are a manufactured unnatural class of beings, perhaps elves with their souls removed and a demon spirit put back inside. Orcs are pure fantasy, not a code for blacks/Mongols/the race of the reviewer’s choice.

    2. If Tolkien was a racist because he made his orcs evil, that makes all authors who use a sentient race and imbue it with evil (or ascribe it with any racial properties) racist. So for example, anyone who employs intelligent evil dragons, or a wicked race of trolls, is racist. This line of argument makes almost all fantasy authors racists.

    It’s noteworthy that a plurality of races—hobbits, elves, dwarves, men—all contribute to the defeat of Sauron’s evil, which, though he too employs other peoples to his cause, is largely monolithic. So you could argue that Tolkien endorses multi-national alliances and even a form of multiculturalism.

    Another heavy dose of evidence to the contrary: Aragorn pardoned Sauron’s eastern and southern allies, so they weren’t peoples to be ruthlessly annihilated or irredeemable subhuman races. They could be rehabilitated. The allies of Sauron, though described once by Tolkien with language bordering on racist, are not evil. Many were tricked into Sauron’s service (as were the majority of the “pure” Numenoreans.)

    More evidence as others noted above: Sam could clearly see that one of their slain soldiers was just a man, dead far from home. Tolkien sympathized with them, and made them equals with the Gondorians. They simply were swayed to the wrong side, unable to see all ends, or choose evil for expediency’s sake. As did many others, including men of the “pure” strains like Isildur.

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  60. I can't comment here under my normal pseudonym anymore, but if anyone's interested in the debate on race and Tolkien, I've covered it repeatedly on my blog, starting here and going on to e.g. here.

    There are about 5 or 6 posts on this, the relationship between modern fascists and LoTR, and multiculturalism and the Fellowship. Brian Murphy's two points, for example, are covered there, as is James M's exemplar of extrapolating an opinion to the author from a reading of his book ("Tolkien was an anti-semite?").

    Also at my blog yesterday, I posted about the recent release of the Nobel committee's reasons for denying Tolkien a Nobel Prize. I didn't realize it was the 120th anniversary of his birth - how appropriate that the committee's snotty little appraisal should come out now!

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  61. As I think we've proved here, anybody who looks for "scientific racism" in Tolkien and finds it simply hasn't read it properly. That sounds like the sort of comment you shouldn't make in literary scholarship, but I don't care: it happens to be true, and it applies equally to fascists who would seek to use LOTR as some sort of core text and also supposed left-wing critiques.

    Of course, there is a case to be made that Tolkien's work is arch-conservative, almost palaeoconservative, in its politics; but that's not a novel or interesting observation - Tolkien wore his conservatism on his sleeve, as is evident to anybody who knows anything about the man. I don't particularly mind about that, because while I think he was unuterrably wrong about many things (his hatred of technology and progress would seem to deny the very means by which billions of people have escaped poverty in the last century, which is a very easy sort of thing for an Oxford don to ignore) he never allows his politics to get in the way of his fantastic stories and his wonderful legendarium.

    I think the description of him as a gentleman is just spot on, and it comes across in the writing: he was far too modest to turn his books into a political screed and foist his views on others. Unlike e.g. Phillip Pullman, who is sort of the opposite: unbearably arrogant to the point at which he honestly thinks that he ought to go around instructing children what to think.

    Regarding the nobel committee... Let's be honest here: nobel prize winners tend to have one thing in common - godawful dullness. Tolkien's work is just too flat-out entertaining.

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  62. @noisms:

    Phillip Pullman might be "unbearably arrogant to the point at which he honestly thinks that he ought to go around instructing children what to think."

    The problem is that hardly anyone describes CS Lewis in the same way.

    In a lot of people's minds, and in a lot of media discussions of such things, leftists 'indoctrinate children' whereas conservatives 'teach moral values'.

    Or, more generally, 'politics' is something that only happens on the left.

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  63. Michael,

    Very well said and pretty much what I'd have said if I had a memory as good as yours :)

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  64. The problem is that hardly anyone describes CS Lewis in the same way.

    Lots of people describe Lewis in that way, actually, at least in my experience. The difference, I think, is that the description rings true in the case of Pullman and not in the case of Lewis. Whatever one thinks of his "politics," Lewis wasn't an arrogant man. Gruff, yes, but his lack of snobbishness was frequently commented upon those who met him, as was his personal kindness. Now maybe Pullman is also a kind and down to earth sort of guy in real life, I don't know. I can only say that he doesn't come across that way in any print or television interviews I've ever seen of the man and it's that, not his opinions, that make him the target for such a characterization.

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  65. Anarchist: CS Lewis undoubtedly indoctrinates children too, no doubt about it. I don't think anybody would say otherwise (though they might couch it in different terms) as it's pretty explicitly what he wanted to do. I mean, most Christians have their children read his books with the specific goal of indoctrinating them with Christianity (amongst other things), and I don't that's commonly denied. Of course, to a Christian, Christianity and moral values are more-or-less on and the same thing.

    Personally I find Pullman's tone hectoring, mean-spirited and actually quite nihilistic in places, whereas I find Lewis an altogether more agreeable writer who indoctrinates children with good moral values alongside the Christianity, so between the two I'd rather have the latter indoctrinating children than the former on balance. Speaking as a resolute agnostic. ;)

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  66. PS: On the wider point, I read with mouth agape the suggestion that to most people "'politics' is something that only happens on the left". Maybe it's because I work at a university, but in my life I'd say it's the opposite: to most people I work with, the left is common sense and the right is politics. It's just a matter of perspective.

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  67. Actually James, a lot of what Michael wrote is just plain wrong, or follows in the classic vein of a modernist attempt to free Tolkien's work from the sins of its time. In order...

    1. It's made very clear in the LoTR and the Silmarillion that the reason for the decline of the Men of the West is their interbreeding with lesser races, and Aragorn's superiority is racially inherited. "In some way 'destined'" is understating it to say the least. Yes, the elves and Numenoreans made bad decisions and could be evil, but they had a choice. They weren't innately evil, or inferior. Aragorn was an exceptional person but only he could be a good king because he was of exceptionally pure blood (for his time). This is a direct representation of the Aryan theory of history.

    2. The most prominent moral determiner for Tolkien is free will (it is the difference between Gandalf and Sauron, so to speak). And that is not the preserve of Westerners.

    Yes it is. Orcs don't have free will and Southrons and Easterlings were tricked and corrupted to evil by Sauron. That is, there are racial differences in morality in the story.

    If "Tolkien was troubled by their metaphysical status to the end of his life" then this just means that he had some nascent understanding that the scientific racism of his time was wrong. But he still managed to write a book in which certain races were incapable of being anything but evil by dint of their racially-inherited characteristics.

    3. If there is a political teaching in Tolkien, it is more anarchist than monarchist.
    This would be in the book entitled "The Return of the King," right? LoTR is obviously, clearly, and openly a pro-monarchist text. The entire future of the Men of the West depends on the return of a racially-determined line of kings, as symbolized (for example) by the restoration of the white tree, the paths of the dead , kingsfoil, etc. blah blah. You really have to be wilfully ignoring huge sections of the text to read an anarchist political theory into this story.

    Incidentally, wikipedia tells us

    Privately, Tolkien was attracted to "things of racial and linguistic significance", and in his 1955 lecture English and Welsh, which is crucial to his understanding of race and language, he entertained notions of "inherent linguistic predilections", which he termed the "native language" as opposed to the "cradle-tongue" which a person first learns to speak


    This suggests that he was amenable to the racial essentialism of his time, which would explain why his books are so thick with it.

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  68. @James:

    Rick Santorum (for example) says he's against abortion because of his religious views.

    The Pope (for example) says his religion forbids abortion.

    You seem to arguing that the first is a politicial position, whereas the second is a religious one, and that the two things are quite distinct.

    If so, how are they distinct?

    If they're not distinct, then "Tolkien put his religious views in his work" and "Tolkien put his political views in this work" are potentially two ways of saying the same thing.

    Presumably you agree that "Tolkien put his religious views in his work", if only because Tolkien himself said he did.

    Yet you seem to regard "Tolkien put his political views in his work" as a silly idea that Michael Moorcock made up out of spite and jealousy.

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  69. Sir S/Faustusnotes: We've butted heads on this many times before, but to somebody who's really read his Tolkien, like I (and a lot of other people commenting here, I suspect) have, your arguments sound like those made by somebody who's just read the Lord of the Rings a few times and that's that.

    Let me give you a Tolkien's Politics 101: He was a devout catholic, who believed very strongly in The Fall, and his legendarium is based very strongly on a similar concept - Middle Earth is fallen from grace. What goes on there is not cited with approval, because it is a place whose inhabitants have chosen to reject their creator, and paradise, in the name of their own selves.

    It's a very Christian world, which you might not like or appreciate, but it's no use going on about how this or that character does this or that as if Tolkien is presenting it as his model for the ideal. He's doing the opposite; showing a tragically flawed world which self-centredness always contrives to bring down.

    As for the factual content of your post... It's just daft. Yes, Sauron tricked the Easterlings and Southrons, but guess what? He also tricked the Numenoreans, who are (according to the misreading anyway) his perfect race. They had the same choice that the other races did - except for the orcs, whose creation is presented as Morgoth's worst crime in that it damned an entire race.

    As for monarchism... It's presented by Tolkien as the best of a bad lot at the end of the Lord of the Rings, that's all. You simply can't read either his private letters or The Silmarillion and come away with any other impression than that he despised the very notion of one person ruling another. It's one of the dominant motifs of his work.

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  70. @James:

    "But the Church does not, for example, endorse any particular candidates, parties, or policies"

    They endorse particular policies routinely.

    They've refused communion to politicians for their policies on abortion - a rather stronger statement than saying "don't vote for him"!

    Re parties, they don't support the Republicans over the Democrats, but the US is unusual. It's never had a significant Catholic party, and I don't think Canada has either (Quebec might have), but the situation elsewhere is very different, as shown by this list for example.

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  71. @noisms:

    Are you saying that Tolkien's work wasn't political, or that it was political but that its politics weren't what Michael Moorcock said they were?

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  72. Yes it is. Orcs don't have free will and Southrons and Easterlings were tricked and corrupted to evil by Sauron. That is, there are racial differences in morality in the story.

    Orcs are a fictional race with no real world parallel and the Southrons and Easterlings were tricked. Exactly as the Numenoreans were. Even the "faithful" Numenoreans who fled the downfall later made bad decisions and/or fell under Sauron's sway (Isildur), as did other men of the western races like Boromir.

    As Noisms has said, free will is the determining factor for behavior in Tolkien's universe, which stems from his Catholicism. See Melkor, all the way down to Gollum, et. al. Not race.

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  73. Noisms, why does your response to this particular criticism of the Lord of the Rings always rest on a) "you haven't read it" and b) "you're saying Tolkien was a racist"? The latter is just irrelevant and the former is just rude.

    For example, you claim that Sauron's tricking of the easterlings and Numenoreans is equivalent, but it's clearly not. The "Wild men" are servants of Morgoth from soon after their very creation, and as a race they retain this service even when Morgoth is gone. The Numenoreans, on the other hand, were free of any inherent evil up until they were fooled by Morgoth. From the Encyclopaedia of Arda:


    Soon after the first rising of the Sun, Morgoth became aware of the awakening of a new race in Arda: the first Men had awakened in the distant East. The Dark Lord passed secretly out of Angband and came to Hildórien, the ancestral land of Men, where he at first appeared to them in a fair guise. Large numbers fell victim to his trickery, and from that time onward many Men were under Morgoth's power.

    A few set out for the West, hoping to escape the shadow of Morgoth, and some of these eventually reached the Blue Mountains. Those that crossed over and joined forces with the Elves became known as the Edain, and were the ancestors of the Númenóreans. Others who remained in Eriador were considered 'Middle Men', those who had broken away from the darkness of Morgoth, but had not entered Beleriand or learned from the Elves there. Those Men who remained in the East and South of Middle-earth, the great majority, were accounted 'Wild Men', and were historically allied with the forces of the Dark Lord.

    Also called the Men of Darkness, they followed Morgoth during the First Age, and were instrumental in bringing about the defeat of the Elves and Edain in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. After Morgoth himself was overthrown in the War of Wrath, the nations of the Wild Men retained their allegiance to the Enemy, and became followers of Sauron in the Second and Third Ages.



    The "Men of Darkness," as they are also known, have an inherent allegiance to evil; those who escaped Morgoth and fled to Beleriand became High Men and have an inherent freedom from evil. This is a racially-inherited moral trait.

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  74. Brian, you're wrong. The Men of Darkness (Southrons, Easterlings) were corrupted from their inception, and this corruption is inherited. Not so the Numenoreans or High Men.

    Whether or not a person in Middle Earth has free will is determined by their race.

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  75. I don’t agree. We know that all of Tolkien's races were capable of falling and engaging in destructive behavior (even the First Age Elves, see Feanor). We don’t know all the circumstances behind the Southrons and Easterlings defection to Melkor/Sauron, because Tolkien did not detail them. The bit you’ve quoted above from the Encyclopedia of Arda (and I need to do a full reading from that site) says that all Men did make a choice at one point:

    Large numbers fell victim to his trickery, and from that time onward many Men were under Morgoth's power.

    Perhaps the subsequent Easterlings/Southrons of the events of the Lord of the Rings were merely following orders from the top? We do know that Aragorn pardoned them all, which I don’t think he would have done if they were an irredeemably evil race incapable of good.

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  76. You would be right if those races could escape their fate, but in general the Men of Darkness can't. A whole people - the Southrons - moved south, served Sauron, became black. You can't hand wave that racially-inherited immorality away by saying "the first generation had a choice." The point is that all subsequent generations didn't, in general, because they have racial traits they can't escape. So at the point where we meet them they're all bad by dint of their racial history.

    It seems like you and Noisms are trying to claim that the Southrons have the same spread of moral choices as the Dunedain. They don't, because their morality is racially coded. The genesis story explains the source of variations in racial morality. There is a heirarchy of racially-determined morality in LoTR, it's very explicitly stated. White=good, black=bad, Orc=irredeemably evil. Some Men of Darkness may (we have no evidence) be able to escape their racially-determined evilness; some Dunedain certainly fail to live up to their potential. But there are clear moral differences between them that are determined, generation over generation, by their race and their race alone.

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  77. Well, the argument went very far in an interpretation of the work of Tolkien. We accuse Tolkien too much in topics that he wasn't aware. I am sure that there are pro-monarchist and pro-British comments in his work, it is natural that Tolkien's ideas are shaped by his class and the society he lived in. He had an ideal cosmology in his mind that is shaped by his ideas and views. He loves a perfect, stagnant, medieval, mythical society with blacks and whites. Tolkien didn't view history in a scientific material way, he is not interested with the real concepts of history, like social and economic evolution, trade, scientific progress, labour and product relations that shape the real history. This concept is reflected in his works, we don't know how this world works, who produces the food or clothing, who invest money, what was the agricultural system like. We just know that someone makes them, and our heroes and the villains eat them or wear them, and they fight for good and evil, elves don't die by age but they reproduce and in a way they control their population so that they don't fill Arda with elves. The plot revolves around the good and evil, and we don't know that why evil want to destroy all things, it just acts that way. After a point it is just meaningless to try so hard to find over conservative, fundamentalist or racist ideas or also try too hard to persuade that there aren't any like this, both R. E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft has significant racist aspects in their work, most people believed that Herbert Spencer's social Darwinism and Galtonism was right in that period. Tolkien borrowed from Mythology and Catholicism for his world. Well in the end we all know that ancient times were far from what Tolkien imagined, and Norse Myths are also very different from his world, gods and heroes of mythology are ambitious, gritty and boastfull and mythology is filled with gray tones without pure good or evil. But it is the world he created, also he is a good writer and it is fun to read him.

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  78. I find that if I want to find racism or bigotry in something, I'll find it. The trick is not to see if it's there, the trick is to ask if I'm putting it there.

    I agree with James, the idea that the Scouring of the Shire is anti-semitic is a new one to me. If I really, really wanted to read it that way perhaps.

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  79. noisms:
    "Of course, there is a case to be made that Tolkien's work is arch-conservative, almost palaeoconservative"

    He's certainly used by Paleos to argue in favour of particularism, and against Neoconservatism and other Universalist ideologies:

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/article/2007/sep/10/00013/

    I'm not Catholic, and there seems to me on first glance to be a big tension in Catholicism between the traditionalist, conservative side, and the Universal Salvation side. Tolkien, like the Paleocons, seems to strongly favour the former over the latter. I don't see much support for this position in what's in the New Testament, but I have seen the argument that it's a mistake to treat Christianity as a totalitarian ideology - when Jesus said he didn't come to change a jot or tittle of the Law, that applied to pagan lands too. The idea being that Christianity supplements, rather than replacing, the old ways of the ancestors. Thus you can have a particularist Christianity suitable for (eg) Englishmen, that does not need to be identical to the Christianity of (eg) Ethiopia, for both to be valid. That seems to me to be the sort of argument that would have appealed to Tolkien - a form of positive multiculturalism, as you said elsewhere.

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  80. noisms:
    "Anarchist: CS Lewis undoubtedly indoctrinates children too, no doubt about it. I don't think anybody would say otherwise (though they might couch it in different terms) as it's pretty explicitly what he wanted to do. I mean, most Christians have their children read his books with the specific goal of indoctrinating them with Christianity (amongst other things), and I don't that's commonly denied. Of course, to a Christian, Christianity and moral values are more-or-less on and the same thing.

    Personally I find Pullman's tone hectoring, mean-spirited and actually quite nihilistic in places, whereas I find Lewis an altogether more agreeable writer who indoctrinates children with good moral values alongside the Christianity, so between the two I'd rather have the latter indoctrinating children than the former on balance. Speaking as a resolute agnostic. ;)"

    Lewis, like Pullman and unlike Tolkien, definitely seems consciously didactic.

    Personally I dislike some of CS Lewis' messages, eg he's a bit too heavy on the Protestant Guilt for what often seem trivial or nonexistent offences by the child protagonists, notably in The Silver Chair where they're bad for failing to get a message. I wasn't too keen on the 'better off dead' ending of The Last Battle, either. That said, there does seem to be a warmth and humanity in Lewis that is conspicuously lacking in Pullman. And Lewis, unlike Tolkien, does have the some good-guy Calormen! :)

    Incidentally, a Sikh-born south-Asian friend of mine who converted to Christianity did tell me didn't like the 'good guys white, brown guys bad' ethos of LOTR. I tried to think of some white bad guys, and came up with Grima Wormtongue, which did not satisfy him. :) Of course there are others, like Denethor, and conversely if Tolkien had written a story set among the Haradrim doubtless there would have been good-guy protagonists, as with the Calormen in Lewis' "A Horse and his Boy".

    But I guess it could be said that Tolkien's lack of interest in the Southrons & Easterlings is quite striking, if we compare LoTR to eg Lewis' The Last Battle. As I said, Tolkien is very much a particularist, and his focus is resolutely on the people who interest him, the Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Men of the West.

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  81. Some Men of Darkness may (we have no evidence) be able to escape their racially-determined evilness; some Dunedain certainly fail to live up to their potential. But there are clear moral differences between them that are determined, generation over generation, by their race and their race alone.

    I still don’t agree.

    We have no evidence? We have plenty right in LOTR that the Easterlings and Southrons clearly aren’t flawed morally beyond repair. If they were, Aragorn would have rightly massacred them on the Pellennor Fields. He didn’t. He pardoned them.

    In the days that followed his crowning the King sat on his throne in the Hall of the Kings and pronounced his judgements. And embassies came from many lands and peoples, from the East and the South, and from the borders of Mirkwood, and from Dunland in the west. And the King pardoned the Easterlings that had given themselves up, and sent them away free, and he made peace with the peoples of Harad; and the slaves of Mordor he released and gave to them all the lands about Lake Nurned to be their own.

    These are not genetically flawed races; this is the same generation, men who have fought against Aragorn in battles, now living at Aragorn's doorstep in peace. Based on what we know of Aragorn’s subsequent years they didn’t slip back into evil as a race, either.

    I interpret the Southrons/Easterlings as an unfortunate casualty of war, swayed by the powerful influence of Morgoth/Sauron, and not as a mindless evil nor even as a genetically lesser race. For all we know they went on to a glorious tomorrow in Middle-Earth. It certainly appears that way from the text. Either Aragorn committed a grievous tactical error here, or he knew he wasn’t dealing with racially determined evilness (again, the orcs are a different story).

    Finally, as we see repeatedly, all the "high" races have shown that they too are, well, not entirely good, pure, and stainless. They are plenty capable of evil. Hobbits in the shire turn evil. Denethor and Boromir succumb to weaknesses and would use the ring to their own gains. Even the line of kings from which Aragorn is a descendent are not pure; see their awful wickedness, which included human sacrifice, in The Silmarillion. See Isildur’s weakness and failure. The Numenoreans rebelled so badly that they had to have their entire island continent wiped out, sunk beneath the sea.

    By the way, almost all of the Numenoreans "failed to live up to their potential" as race; only a handful escaped the downfall. I'm not giving examples of individuals, here, but the failure of a "good" race.

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  82. Brian, you're just plain wrong about the historical genesis of Southron "evil," and you're taking a very forgiving view of Aragorn's actions in the text.

    For starters, the fact that Aragorn forgave the Southrons doesn't mean they were morally equal to the Men of the West. Do you think the British believed black and white to be equal races when they abolished slavery? It's not proof of anything except that he saw them as human.

    Secondly, this (your words) is a flawed conclusion:
    Aragorn would have rightly massacred them on the Pellennor Fields. He didn’t. He pardoned them.

    You can see why it's wrong from the text you quote:

    And the King pardoned the Easterlings that had given themselves up, and sent them away free,

    What did he do with the rest? That's a strong condition in the text there. It implies that he treated the rest the way he treated the other survivors of the battle (orcs and goblins): chased them down and slaughtered them without mercy. Why would he do that to people just as morally flawed as he was?

    You say

    I interpret the Southrons/Easterlings as an unfortunate casualty of war, swayed by the powerful influence of Morgoth/Sauron, and not as a mindless evil nor even as a genetically lesser race.


    This interpretation is very kind of you, but it's wrong. The Southrons were made evil at their genesis, and their evil was inherited. This makes them genetically lesser (in the particular moral ranking that is used to classify races in Middle Earth). They inherited a vulnerability to evil that made them vulnerable to Sauron. There's no evidence in LoTR that they are free of this at the end; just that the evil they are vulnerable to has been wiped out.

    This aspect of the Southrons is different to, say, the Numenoreans, who were a good or neutral race tricked into a mistake that wiped them out. This was not an inherited evil but a political error. You do understand the difference, right?

    When you say

    Finally, as we see repeatedly, all the "high" races have shown that they too are, well, not entirely good, pure, and stainless


    you are misunderstanding the way that racial essentialism works. The Nazis were scientific racists but they still had to account for why some of the white race were social democratic. You are familiar with the term "race traitor," right? Scientific racism is a harsh creed, in that it allows certain races to be only evil (Jews; Orcs) but it doesn't simultaneously state that some races are only good. It gives certain races to be good if they adhere to strict concepts of racial and moral purity. Hence Aragorn is purer than his fellows because more racially pure, and the Numenoreans could fall despite their racial purity. The key point (racially) from the story of Numenor is that the Numenoreans didn't inherit any racial evil; those who fled to Beleriand were able to mingle with the locals and elevate them to a higher status ("High Men").

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  83. Sorry Faustus, but it’s you who are misunderstanding Tolkien’s creation of Arda by Eru, and its peoples therein.

    Eru created Men as a singular. He created Elves first, and they were more beautiful than men with greater gifts. Then he created Men, and gave them a new gift, that their hearts should “seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world.” Men will die, but something greater waits for them beyond.

    But Morgoth was also in the picture. He’s there, like a cancer, from the very beginning.

    The Southrons and Easterlings were not a race created by Eru and dumped onto the earth as a lesser race. They were just Men who allied with Morgoth and so fell (and not all of them did either; many fought for the forces of good at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. They have the potential for redemption. They are given the same gift of freedom of all the children of Men, that their souls will live on after death. Some chose to stay with darkness even after the fall of Sauron, but evil is never really defeated in Tolkien’s cosmos.

    You think Eru (and more broadly, Tolkien with a conscious or unconscious scientific racialist viewpoint) created these races with fundamental racial flaws/inequalities; I’m saying that all men were created with free will, and some fell due to Morgoth’s corruptive influence. Again, like the Numenoreans did. It’s the result of a fall that parallels the Fall of Tolkien’s Catholic faith. Races do deteriorate in Tolkien’s universe, but it’s when they turn away from the light of Eru.

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  84. A worthy scholarly paper to add to this discussion:

    "Tolkien and his Critiques: A Critique" -- Patrick Curry, 1999.

    http://www.patrickcurry.co.uk/papers/Tolkien-and-Critics.pdf

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  85. Well, I go offline for a day and a half, and the Tolkien-is-a-racist argument only grew louder after my hastily-written attempt at a refutation. Sir S/Faustus, as a general response to your ringing declaration that a lot of what I wrote was "just plain wrong", I will simply say this: prove it. Because I don't think you can. I read your posts on your blog, and while they are long on "race essentialism", they are crippingly short on textual evidence. You offer a couple of very short snippets and then lard on a lot of business that Tolkien never said. Your overall argument is logically weak, in that your core inference is something along these lines:

    (1) In LotR, there are fantasy races.
    Ergo, (2) Tolkien was a racial essentialist.
    (3) Real world racists were racial essentialists.
    Ergo, (4) Tolkien's works are racist.

    Each ergo there is a logical no-go. In particular, your slippage from (1) to (2) is a ham-fisted literalism, like inferring that Mario and Luigi show that Nintendo's game designers are essentialists about Italians, or that Tolkien believed that wolves are inherently inferior to eagles. The move from (3) to (4) is just affirming the consequent, like inferring rain from the presence of water on the ground.

    But all that aside, as further refutation it shall suffice to appeal to Tolkien's Letters, from which Sir S/Faustus cherry-picks only a couple of rather ambivalent snippets as slender grounds for his specious indictment. What follows are some more representative selections on the topics at issue:

    "My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. [...] Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity." (1943, pp. 63f.)

    "But all Big Things planned in a big way feel like that to the toad under the harrow, though on a general view they do function and do their job. An ultimately evil job. For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Orcs on our side...." (1944, p. 78)

    "I think the orcs are as real a creation as anything in 'realistic' fiction: your vigorous words well describe the tribe; only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For 'romance' has grown out of 'allegory', and its wars are still derived from the 'inner war' of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other. In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels. But it does make some difference who are your captains and whether they are orc-like per se!" (1944, p. 82)

    "I should have hated the Roman Empire in its day (as I do), and remained a patriotic Roman citizen, while preferring a free Gaul and seeing good in Carthaginians. Delenda est Carthago. We hear rather a lot of that nowadays. I was actually taught at school that that was a fine saying; and I 'reacted' (as they say, in this case with less than the usual misapplication) at once. There lies still some hope that, at least in our beloved land of England, propaganda defeats itself, and even produces the opposite effect. It is said that it is even so in Russia; and I bet it is so in Germany...." (1944, p. 89)

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  86. [Continued since the comment size limit was reached]

    "Urukhai is only a figure of speech. There are no genuine Uruks, that is folk made bad by the intention of their maker; and not many who are so corrupted as to be irredeemable (though I fear it must be admitted that there are human creatures that seem irredeemable short of a special miracle, and that there are probably abnormally many of such creatures in Deutschland and Nippon -- but certainly these unhappy countries have no monopoly: I have met them, or thought so, in England's green and pleasant land)." (1944, p. 90)

    "It is distressing to see the press grovelling in the gutter as low as Goebbels in his prime, shrieking that any German commander who holds out in a desperate situation is a drunkard, and a besotted fanatic. I can't see much distinction between our popular tone and the celebrated 'military idiots'. We knew Hitler was a vulgar and ignorant little cad, in addition to any other defects (or the source of them); but these seem to be many vulgar and ignorant little cads who don't speak German, and who given the same chance would show most of the other Hitlerian characteristics. There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don't know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done." (1944, p. 93)

    And very important here is the 1956 letter on pages 238-244. It is much too long to type in full, but in it Tolkien directly discusses "political" readings of LotR. A few relevant excerpts:

    "The quest had as its object not the preserving of this or that polity, such as the half republic half aristocracy of the Shire, but the liberation from an evil tyranny of all the 'humane' -- including those, such as 'easterlings' and Haradrim, that were still servants of the tyranny. Denethor was tainted with mere politics: hence his failure [...] Denethor despised lesser men, and one may be sure did not distinguish between orcs and the allies of Mordor. If he had survived as a victor, even without use of the Ring, he would have taken a long stride towards becoming himself a tyrant, and the terms and treatment he accorded to the deluded peoples of east and south would have been cruel and vengeful. [...] Some critics seems determined to represent me as a simple-minded adolescent, inspired with, say, a With-the-flag-to-Pretoria spirit, and wilfully distort what is said in my tale. I have not that spirit, and it does not appear in the story. The figure of Denethor alone is enough to show this; but I have no made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have been or are, or can be."

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  87. I notice multiple typos in my previous messages ("I have noT made any of the peoples", "theRe seem to be many vulgar and ignorant little cads", "crippLingly"); my apologies for the errors, I swear I am not illiterate, despite occasional evidence to the contrary.

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  88. Brian, I never claimed that

    The Southrons and Easterlings were not a race created by Eru and dumped onto the earth as a lesser race.


    Rather, I observed that the Southrons and Easterlings were corrupted by Morgoth at the time of their genesis and that this corruption carries on through their race.

    From a racial essentialist point of view it doesn't matter if the cause is a fall from grace (some essentialists of the 19th century), a semi-mystical racial trait with no explanation (the Nazis) or a fallacious scientific argument (some eugenicists of the early 20th C). What matters is that the races have moral traits that are inherited. Tolkien's world has this in spades. The genesis story is useful for understanding that these traits are innate, but it makes no difference whether humans were created unequal by Eru, or created equal and then corrupted. What's important is that the races have inheritable moral traits.

    Also, I think you're stretching things to say that the Men of Darkness were

    just Men who allied with Morgoth and so fell

    because at the start they were corrupted by Morgoth (which is subtly different) and their vulnerability to his (and Sauron's) influence is heritable.

    Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, the main Easterling force at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears was the men of Ulfang, who

    were deeper in the secret allegiance with Morgoth, and betrayed the Eldar and Edain during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad in what was later known as the Treachery of Men.

    In fact,

    Uldor and a large contingent of Easterlings turned traitor and attacked the Eastern Army from within, nearly approaching Maedhros' banner before they were cut down. But further forces of Easterlings, summoned by Uldor, joined the battle against Maedhros, and the Eastern Army, attacked from three sides, broke and fled in disorder.

    Also, the Easterlings of the First Age are slightly different to those of the Third Age, who are fleshed out in more detail and are servants of Sauron.

    Does this support your point that they had the opportunity of redemption?

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  89. Michael, you've done a good job of defending Tolkien from claims that he was racist. It's a good thing no one is making those claims.

    I think, however, that you should try rereading my blog posts, because you have clearly misunderstood what I'm saying there. Your two ergos are completely wrong. I don't link 1) to 2) in the way you say and I make very clear the additional requirement: that the races in question have genetically inherited traits. To have different races in a fantasy novel is not racial essentialism by itself and to suggest anyone would think so is quite silly.

    Also, your point 3) I never made: real world racists can be many things, but only some are racial essentialists. If you really think you read that from my posts, I would suggest you try again. And it might help if as a starting point you avoided assuming I'm claiming Tolkien is a racist.

    A lot of your quotes from Tolkien's letters concern whether his personal opinions about the redemptive nature of humanity can be gleaned from his works. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about whether his books are constructed as stories in which morality is inherited on racial lines. And if you want to defend his stories from this claim you probably should avoid citing letters in which Tolkien admits openly that certain races were servants of Sauron:


    including those, such as 'easterlings' and Haradrim, that were still servants of the tyranny


    That's half of my point there: that Tolkien constructed races which served evil. These races served evil over three Ages of middle Earth. Tell me, please, how this is not a racial trait?

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  90. Sir S: So, the crux of your entire argument is, I think, the following: Tolkien was not a racist, but in his work, morality is inherited on racial lines. Correct?

    Can you now elaborate on your views on the following:

    -It is explicit in the text that the easterlings did not inherit their evilness, since they were corrupted by Morgoth and were continually under the sway of first him and then Sauron;
    -It is explicit in the text that even the easterlings and southrons who violently fought to overthrow Gondor are redeemable at the end of the LOTR;
    -Why, even if you ignore the previous two points, you think that what goes on in Tolkien's work has any bearing on real world politics, given that there is no such person as Morgoth going around 'corrupting' entire races of people in reality;
    -What you think about Morgoth's creation of the orcs, whose morality actually is inherited on racial lines, being his worst crime?
    -What you think about Tolkien being a Catholic who believed in the fall, and thus that all human beings are in some sense damned from the beginning, whatever their race?

    I still don't have any idea what your responses to these points are, even though they've been raised again and again by myself and others.

    My own view is that in Tolkien's world, some 'races' - orcs, trolls, dragons - do have inherited (im)moral traits. This is portrayed as the worst thing that their creator did: damning them and their descendants to being evil for all eternity.

    Other races - humans, dwarves, and elves - are all flawed, and can easily be corrupted (some more so than others, though the dividing line seems not to be between whether you are an easterling or a Numenorean but whether or not you have seen the lights of Valinor). The record of these peoples is thus very mixed. The rule of thumb seems to be that wherever Sauron goes he corrupts the inhabitants. In the Second Age that's Numenor. In the Third Age it's Mordor, which neighbours Harad and Rhun, where the Easterlings live (again, the important point seems not to be race, but where Sauron is).

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  91. Further to that last point, it's also notable that when Sauron is in Mirkwood as the "Necromancer", he corrupts all the life in the forest, creating malicious spiders, squirrels, etc., just like he corrupted people in Numenor and then Harad/Rhun.

    How dare Tolkien portray spiders as being able to inherit moral traits because of their species! What a species essentialist he was!

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  92. Noisms, you repeat these points as if they haven't been answered. I'm about to watch conan, for my sins, but I'll cover the first:


    It is explicit in the text that the easterlings did not inherit their evilness, since they were corrupted by Morgoth and were continually under the sway of first him and then Sauron;

    You are confusing the genesis of evil with the process of inheritance. These races inherit an evil that was imbued into them after their creation. That the latter did not happen at the moment of their creation does not change the fact that their evil is inherited now, in the third age.

    There are racial essentialists who believe that Jews have an inheritable shiftiness or evil. Some think this is because they were made that way by god; others think it's because they became that way as a punishment for killing Jesus; some see it as due to a weird mystical thing that doesn't need explaining; some see it as a result of evolution. The important point is not how it originally was set up, but that they believe it is inseparable from these peoples' race.

    Until you understand this difference between genesis and inheritance you don't really have an understanding of racial essentialism. The former is largely irrelevant to the latter, though necessary to understand what "curative" measures are possible.

    Your other points are largely irrelevant since they again focus on why Tolkien wasn't racist (a point I'm not disputing). I'll get back to some of them later, nonetheless, after a sufficient quantity of evil people have been slain by Conan.

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  93. That's the best you can do? So how does that explain how the southrons and easterlings get pardoned, then?

    My other points have nothing to do with whether Tolkien was a racist, and everything to do with why he wasn't a racial essentialist. The point is that the only races who inherit moral characteristics are orcs, trolls, dragons and the like, and this is treated in the text as uniquely bad.

    By the way, I find your continual insistence that you don't think Tolkien was a racist, alongside constant references to anti-semitic racial essentialism, disengenous to say the least. There's only so far you can push the "I don't think he was a racist, but by the way aren't his views very like those of Nazis?" line and get away without looking very snide indeed.

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  94. Faustusnotes, what I’m saying is that all Men were corrupted. Morgoth is a corruptor and saw the opportunity at some hazy point in Middle-Earth’s early pre-dawn days and did his evil work. He can be viewed as a Satantic figure, who damaged men to a degree from which they cannot wholly recover (his later mistake was taking on a physical form, which gave him more immediate influence and physical power but less ability to actually influence creation).

    At this point we’re dealing with MEs earliest myths, which a) I’m a little out of my depth on, and b) Tolkien wrote in such a way that allows interpretation. Here the literal becomes symbol. So maybe in support of your argument, Faustusnotes, Morgoth is an evil strain of race corruption that Tolkien dropped in—perhaps inadvertently based on unconscious racial theory. Or maybe he was trying to show how a powerful Valar, second only to Eru himself, has irreparably damaged the world. I would side more with the latter interpretation. I don’t think Tolkien believed that morality is inherited along racial lines, and I’m satisfied with the ample evidence to the contrary I’ve seen in the stories and related material (Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, letters, etc.). It would have been interesting to see how Tolkien handled the Easterlings and Southrons in the Fourth Age, but he was mortal and so the tales, sadly, ended. But as I said at this point I’m stretching what I even know about Middle-Earth. One day I need to get around to reading all of the History of Middle-Earth volumes.

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  95. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  96. Faustusnotes' understanding of Tolkien seems about as deep and as accurate as that of the average Stormfronter.

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  97. Great quotes, Michael! I've been looking for a new rpgnet sig, and ' There lies still some hope that, at least in our beloved land of England, propaganda defeats itself, and even produces the opposite effect. It is said that it is even so in Russia; and I bet it is so in Germany....' is it! :)

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  98. Sir S/Faustus, your contentions seem to shrink and shrink. (The original message I was responding to -- not by you, I guess now -- advanced claims that Tolkien was a monarchist, racist, and classist.) I am glad we are agreed that "Tolkien was not a racist".

    But what remains of your position is that (A) "his books are a model of interwar racial theory, which holds that whites are superior to blacks [...] and that in general race determines psychological as well as physical traits" (from your 2009 blog post) and that (B) his are "stories in which morality is inherited on racial lines" (here in this discussion). I still find neither of those plausible, and still challenge you to prove it.

    For (A), I don't see any strong evidence that Tolkien held such descriptive views beyond the limited, trivial extent to which they are actually true. That Tolkien believed there are ethnic differences and that, to some extent (not "in general" as you say!), these differences are expressed in psychological and physical traits (where else would they be found?), is true. He disliked the French -- their culture, language, and, for that matter, the Norman Conquest. But if this is "racial theory", you may as well say the well-worn genre of anglophone anti-French humor ("surrender monkeys" and such) is "racial theory". The Druedain, such as Ghan-Buri-Ghan, are a different, clearly non-white race of men, but are not corrupt, and are enemies of evil. As Tolkien said: "I have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have been or are, or can be."

    As to (B), you say:

    Tolkien constructed races which served evil. These races served evil over three Ages of middle Earth. Tell me, please, how this is not a racial trait?

    Because there is no evidence -- none -- that this servitude is biologically inherited. That is the lynchpin of your claim, yet you have utterly failed to substantiate it. As several others here have pointed out, if it was biological, then Aragorn should have slaughtered the Southrons and Easterlings who surrendered, and not made peace with them. As the context of the very passage I cited makes clear, those servants were liberated by the overthrow of Sauron. If their servitude was racial or essential, there could have been no liberation. The thralldom of the east and south was a product of Sauron's proximity, not racial corruption. The Blue Wizards were sent East and South, as "missionaries to enemy-occupied lands". N.b. these lands are occupied, not "corrupted" or "defiled" or "tainted" or "polluted" (as we would expect if your inherited-race-corruption theory were correct).

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  99. Noisms, that's not a rebuttal, it's a sneer. It's kind of hard to respond to, but I'll try. Are you suggesting that a theory of racially-inherited morality can only be racist if it proposes a coherent genesis story that has the different races' inherited morality be defined from the very moment of their creation? Because if so you're saying that the worst and most repugnant racial theories of the past 2 centuries - including Christian anti-semitism and Nazi theory included - are not racist, because they don't propose a satisfactory explanation for the origin of the inherited evil. Is that really where you want to go with your definition of racial essentialism?

    I covered the issue of surrender and pardon above, in response to Michael, but I guess I have to go over it again. We know only that Aragorn pardoned those Easterlings who surrendered, and made peace with Harad. Why we can infer this means he sees them as moral equals I don't know. Can you think of any other possible reasons he might pardon his enemies?

    - because he lacks the manpower to exterminate them
    - because he considers them human, and humans deserve mercy
    - because he has a moral framework in which even the irredeemable deserve mercy

    Incidentally, I'm interested in the moral calculus that you (and others) have brought to this act. If you believe that his act of pardon is proof he believed they were capable of redemption, then you presumably believe he would have executed them if he considered them irredeemable. Is this drawn from your own moral code, your understanding of Tolkien's, or your beliefs about Aragorns? Because if the latter two, then you need to present some evidence. If the former, then you would seem to be at odds with most of the christian moral teachings of the modern West. Interesting.

    Interpretations of the pardoning of the enemy humans given in this thread rest heavily on setting an equivalence between showing mercy to fellow humans, and showing mercy to those one considers redeemable. These two things aren't necessarily equivalent, and I'm surprised you think they are.

    My next comment will concern your other points, but here I'll respond to Michael. Michael, my contentions are not shrinking and shrinking. Your understanding of them is getting better.

    Your point about my (A) is once again a discussion of Tolkien's opinions, not his books. Can I please remind you that I am not talking about his opinions? The quote you give from my blog post says it: "his books are a model of ..." What Tolkien thought of the French is irrelevant.

    Again, you're giving a quote from Tolkien that doesn't say what you think:


    I have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side ... any better than men have been or are, or can be


    He admits that he has peoples of middle earth on two sides. The last part of that quote also leaves open the possibility that those on the 'wrong' side are worse "than men have been or are, or can be."

    For your point (B), and the discussion of the pardon, see above. I'm interested that you think extermination was the only option available to Aragorn in the case that the Men Of Darkness remained racially tainted. You should think about the real world leaders whose company that means he is keeping, and what that says about the moral framework of the books. Or maybe you're wrong about the choices available to Aragorn.

    As for this:

    If their servitude was racial or essential, there could have been no liberation.

    Their servitude was to Sauron. Sauron was dead. Even if their vulnerability to Sauron were racially heritable, it's no longer relevant is it? The thralldom of east and South was not a product of proximity: they were much further than Gondor. And these people retained their vulnerability to Sauron even when he was vanquished in the second age. So again, can you explain why they were able to retain their evil over three Ages?

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  100. S'mon, it's interesting that you raise Stormfront, since LoTR has a long history of fascist love and the folks at Stormfront have a whole thread about using LoTR as a textbook for teaching racial theory to home schooled Nazi kids. If you can stand the smell, I suggest you read it - it might help you understand the racial theories that it parallels.

    I'll now cover Noisms other objections.

    -It is explicit in the text that even the easterlings and southrons who violently fought to overthrow Gondor are redeemable at the end of the LOTR;

    As I said above, no, it's only explicit that they were shown mercy. You're drawing a lot of unsupportable conclusions from this act, and it wasn't all the Men of Darkness, only the ones who surrendered.


    -Why, even if you ignore the previous two points, you think that what goes on in Tolkien's work has any bearing on real world politics, given that there is no such person as Morgoth going around 'corrupting' entire races of people in reality;


    Because it's an allegory (and whether Tolkien likes allegory is beside the point), and it's a defining text in fantasy. It sets out the parameters for a whole strand of the genre, and that genre is full of racial essentialism.


    -What you think about Morgoth's creation of the orcs, whose morality actually is inherited on racial lines, being his worst crime?

    It means that Tolkien's a nice bloke? Or it means that the legendarium contains an explicit moral judgment about the status of races (some are a taint on creation). Such a legendarium isn't inconsistent with racial theory. It's a mystical equivalent to the Nazi construction of society as a biological organism, and Jews as a corruption of that organism.


    -What you think about Tolkien being a Catholic who believed in the fall, and thus that all human beings are in some sense damned from the beginning, whatever their race?

    I'm not sure that the humans in Middle Earth are born damned; the creation myth doesn't have them created as sinners, and indeed reconstrues the curse of eve (mortality) as a gift. So I'm not sure this is relevant. But it does have a garden-of-eden type subversion, with Morgoth as the snake, and the corrupted race being morally different to the uncorrupted race.

    Also, I'm pretty sure that if you were to search back through catholic history you'd find a fairly nasty set of racial theories about how some races were more damned than others. So I'm not sure that Tolkien's catholicism is that relevant.

    Finally, about your accusation of disingenuity. I've said on my blog that I find it likely that Tolkien believed the racial theories of his times, since pretty much everyone did, and that he probably had some views that from a modern perpsective would be quite distasteful. We know he considered Jews to be racially intellectually superior, and it appears he had theories of racially inherited language. But that doesn't mean he wasn't a great guy and a great writer, and it's still possible that he could have written these books without believing this stuff - Gygax put racial essentialism into D&D but we have no evidence he had any racial theories to back it up. It doesn't change the fact that D&D contains some nasty racial theories. The point is the content and meaning of the books themselves, not the intent of the author. Isn't that a point you often make on your blog? And as I consistently say, beyond mere academic twiddle, this is interesting because Tolkien is enormously influential on the genre we love, and in my opinion this aspect of his influence is not good.

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  101. Finally for today, I'd like to say that I really like Brian Murphy's last comment and will be going away to think about it some more.

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  102. Sir S/Faustus, you insist to me that what Tolkien believed is irrelevant to your thesis that his books present a morally-freighted racial essentialism. But since your point about his created world is very short of direct textual evidence (not surprising, as I doubt the terms "racial essence", "biology", or "genetic inheritance" appear at all in LotR), your case relies heavily on ferreting out unstated implications. One of the simplest, most falsifiable ways to test such assumptions about the implications of a text is to look at other things the author wrote. As you say in the last paragraph of your response of 9:19pm above, you find it likely that Tolkien believed the racial theories of his times. But if we find evidence to the contrary, that Tolkien's beliefs about race explicitly scorned biological determinism about moral qualities (which was very much a theory of his time!), that undermines the prior probability of your thesis that it is in the books.

    If you want to dismiss everything that Tolkien consciously said he believed, then you're left with trying to prove it from the 'unconscious' text of LotR. But you haven't done that. Honestly, I don't think you can. The Easterlings and Haradrim are described as "occupied", as the victims of "tyranny", as "deluded", as "afraid" -- but not as inheriting immorality in their blood. Until you produce some explicit evidence for that (your thesis), Tolkien's explicit and firm statements to the contrary militate against your baseless insinuation.


    The thralldom of east and South was not a product of proximity: they were much further than Gondor. And these people retained their vulnerability to Sauron even when he was vanquished in the second age. So again, can you explain why they were able to retain their evil over three Ages?

    Sauron didn't dwell openly in Mordor for much of the history of Gondor. He was in hiding after the Ring was lost, either incorporeal, or in his strongholds in the East. The Easterlings "retained their vulnerability to Sauron" in the same way the Numenoreans retained it -- because it is corrupt human nature, not racial essence that makes mortals vulnerable to evil.

    Besides which, we know exceedingly little about the history or cultures of the East. They could've been fighting against Sauron's tyranny for all we can tell (that the Blue Wizards were sent there is evidence Tolkien considered this a genuine possibility). And Sauron's success (as far as we know) in the East and South could just as easily be economic, cultural, or political rather than biological ('Asiatic despotism', to dust off some Hegelio-Marxist jargon). Many possible explanations; in any case, no evidence for the "racial hypothesis".

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  103. Faustusnotes:
    "S'mon, it's interesting that you raise Stormfront, since LoTR has a long history of fascist love and the folks at Stormfront have a whole thread about using LoTR as a textbook for teaching racial theory to home schooled Nazi kids."

    Yes, I read what you said about it on your blog already. My point is that *you* seem to be basing your analysis of JRRT on *theirs*. They're wrong, and you're wrong.

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  104. Sir S: It's interesting you bring up "The Death of the Author" indirectly, and the problem with author intention. Barthes' whole thesis was, ultimately, that one ought to remove the text from the hands of the author and 'liberate it', and that its meaning is then in the hands of the individual readers. They can bring their own politics, their own histories, their own understandings, to it, and read it through that lens.

    And this, in a sense, is exactly what you're doing. You have a set of preconceptions that you're applying to the 'liberated' text of the LOTR - that much is clear, despite your protestations. You quite obviously want it to be about racial essentialism in some sense, because that's something you feel strongly about and see everywhere in fantasy literature as a problem, and you want to find it at the genre's root.

    Which isn't to say that the rest of us aren't doing the same thing in our own way.

    But I think you're barking up the wrong tree; Tolkien's work just isn't an exemplar of what you dislike about the fantasy genre. All that came with his descendants, who didn't understand the subtleties of his ideas. I mean, for goodness' sake, this is a blog about D&D, and if ever there was a fantasy 'work' that was racially essentialist it's that. Tolkien's orcs have been forever corrupted, but Tolkien presents that fact as an unspeakable crime. D&D orcs are evil just because.

    As for the substantive nature of your posts, we're just going round in circles, so there isn't much point in continuing. I think it's reasonably obvious to an outsider, as well as the participants, who is right.

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  106. @Sir S:

    "... you claim that Sauron's tricking of the easterlings and Numenoreans is equivalent, but it's clearly not. The "Wild men" are servants of Morgoth from soon after their very creation, and as a race they retain this service even when Morgoth is gone. The Numenoreans, on the other hand, were free of any inherent evil up until they were fooled by Morgoth.
    ...
    The "Men of Darkness," as they are also known, have an inherent allegiance to evil; those who escaped Morgoth and fled to Beleriand became High Men and have an inherent freedom from evil. This is a racially-inherited moral trait. "

    Not true, Sir S. Remember the Druedain? They fought at the side of King Theoden against the forces of Evil. And they weren't "blood-kin" to the Numenorians at all. They were a race of pygmy peoples. Yet they were depicted as a wholly positive „strain“ of Humanity, albait a very mysteriously one.

    Indeed, about the only "races without free will" would be the orcs (who were created by Morgoth out of wet mire in the image of the Firstborn, and the Trolls, who were created in the image of the Ents from stone.

    And those two "races" were the Fantasy equivalent to robots. they were not true "beings" at all, but merely cunningly animated "items", possessed by an incredibly complex albait evil" programming.

    In HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, Tolkien compared that particuar kind of "consciousness" to a set of ingrained "records", which was able to react to external events.

    In other words, the Orcs/Trolls weren't consciously aware "beings" at all. They merely were (at best) androids devised by Morgoth, and, again by him, devised to hold an early exemplar of AI, which enabled those golems/Fantasy robots to imitate the life, awareness, consciousness and speech of real, *created, rather than merely build together from tainted parts of Arda* beings.

    This was one of Melkor's chief-grieves, after all: he wanted to create, like Illuvatar can, but he just couldn't.
    Melkor could *build* things out of cre-preated stuff, better than even Aule could; but he could never create something from nothing. Least of all, real thinking beings. That's the reason Melkor sought the Secret Fire in the first place.

    And one of Morgoth's attempts at building items and passing them off as "creations" were the Trolls, Dragons and Orcs. They are nothing more than animated machines in humanoid shape.

    For that's ALL Orcs & Trolls are: artifical inherently evil golems that are ingrained with a programming devised by some dark "god"; an programming that enables them to imitate the true Children of Eru. They can *seem* to think, they can imitate the real beings to the point of being able to imitate being born and growing up, i.e., they can even imitate pregnancy, birth, growth aging and dying from old age. But it is all artifical, just like it’s all artifcal in the online pets. They aren’t real pets, either. Albait they are good digital imitations of them.

    Orcs and Trolls have no free will, that much is true. But that’s only because they aren’t beings in the first place; just incredibly intricate robots that go through their "life" cycle.

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  107. Of course Tolkien wasn't consistent with his Orc origin tale - we have the contradictory 'corrupted Elf' and 'golem' versions above. The reason he wasn't consistent was because he was so troubled by his own concept of an Inherently Evil race! From my reading of Lord of the Rings, the corrupted-Elf version seems a lot more plausible, the Orcs talk amongst themselves as (nasty) people, and even hint at being tired of war! If anything, I'm not sure Tolkien really committed fully to his concept of them as Irredeemably Evil. And I don't get the impression that Orc Genocide is presented by Tolkien as a positive moral good - destroy them if necessary, if they threaten the Free Peoples, but otherwise the best thing would be to live separate from them, to have nothing to do with them.

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  108. Everything that Tolkien writes is anti-genocide, including genocide of Bad Guys, including genocide of Inherently (if not Irredeemably) Evil races, and his heroes never engage in it (as opposed to killing Orc combatants) from what I can tell.

    Whereas Moorcock's writing has lots of genocide, notably the genocide of Humanity by Erekose in 'The Eternal Champion'. Erekose is the radical who persuades the reluctant 'liberal' Eldren that they can never co-exist with Humanity, Humanity will always be a threat, and they need to be utterly annihilated. Them or Us. Of course Moorcock is playing with moral inversion, he's criticising simple-minded fantasy with its Heroic Humans righteous genociding of the evil Orcs. To me the contrast with JRRT is still striking.

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  109. The story of the orcs presented in the Silmarillion is actually quite tragic, in the way that a lot of Tolkien's work is. They seem aware of their own corruption ("the vilest deed of Melkor"), but are unable to do anything about it, and thus hate their own master almost as much as they hate the true creations of Iluvatar. And at various stages we see them almost rebelling against their own nature, as when Shagrat and Gorbag plan to retire with a group of friends after the war is over to a place with good plunder. But their own hatefulness and selfishness makes true comraderie impossible, because moments later they're trying to kill each other.

    I think S'mon is right, then, in a way, about the orcs. Are they truly irredeemable? In any case their situation is presented as very sad, and they are really supposed to be objects of pity rather than hatred. The point is that they do inherit their morality, as a racial trait, and that is an awful tragedy, because they become damned by their own nature. But what that means is that all Tolkien's work has to say about the issue of racial essentialism is that it's only possible through the vile deeds of Melkor, and when it happens, it's tragic.

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  110. S'mon, of course everything Tolkien wrote is anti-genocide. The poor man had to live through the massacre of WW I first-hand and through WW II as well. He understood the worth (and the tragedy of the loss of even one) life better than we will ever do, simply because he firsthandl wittnessed its loss on a wide scale.

    While there *are* fashistoid streaks in his work (Aragorn and the "untainted" blood of the "true" Dunedain, anybody?), there is less "fashism" in his books than in, say, being forced to stand up when they play the national theme at the cinema. It really takes a lot of misplaced imagination to "find" something like propaganda for genetic tyranny in Tolkien's work. Even in Aragorn, we find out that, while his genes, symbolised by the image of the blood, is less important to Aragorn's success than his nobility and selflessness. After all, the Witch-King was a "true" Dunadan, too-- if anything, his genes were (in the context of the story) even "stronger than Aragorn's, for HE was closer to Elros' line and his family had, at that time, not yet become partially "dilluted" by contact with other races, unlike Aragorn's line.

    And yes, Moorcock (my favorite writer ever, so I don't think I'm biased against him)generally writes about inherently flawed races.

    In fact, the Melniboneans, the Granbretanians and the Mabden are all inherently evil by their very nature. While there might be some far-between exeption (such as Queen Flana), generally all members of those races serve Chaos (i.e. Evil). While the word "genes" never apears in the stories themselves, it's a fact that soon as you are a member of those races, you automatically are inherently sick.

    Even Flana had to be redeemed by a non- Dark Empirian.

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  111. Noismus, the behavior of the Orcs at Cirith Ungol was merely two "droids" running their "programm".

    That said, LOTR was written from the old origin (defiled Elves)before the orcs' true origin (artifical imitations of real beings) was conceived.

    And while I find the Silmarillion origin far more poethic than the true one, the new origin made much more sense in the context of Tolkien's world. If Morgoth was already powerful enough to change the very nature of a whole race of Eru's children (those he could lay hands on, anyway), how comes even ALL the Ainur were ever able to contain him, even after he lost most of his might? I mean, if Melkor was already but a step below Eru (or is there any other explanation for his ability to change the genetic status of the Elves by turning them and all their descendants into Orcs), why did he ever seek that Secret fire?

    The new origin, however, clearly depicts that Morgoth is more powerful than Manwe, Mandos AND all Ainur combined-- but *still* not powerful enough to warp the genetic structures of a people. So, since he can't warp the Elves (as a race, at least; he's still more than powerful enough to warp individual Elves that get into his direct power), he does the next-best thing: he builds a pseudo-race of "anti-Elves" and instills them with some outo-programm that imitates the personalities of real beings.

    Again, this darker version, albeit less poethic than the tragic tale of the Elven-victims whose race became forever the unwilling tool of Melkor, fits the Legendarium much better.

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  112. The Beyonder: I prefer the Silmarillion origin, to be honest. I mean, it's a quibble, but the Silmarillion I think ought to be viewed as the definitive version where a conflict exists with the historical texts, because, after all, the histories weren't published but the Silmarillion was. (I know the Silmarillion was cherry-picked by Christopher Tolkien, but he more than anybody else knew what his father was thinking about.)

    I also don't think it makes much sense to call your version the "new" one. The History of Middle Earth books, as I understand them, came chronologically before The Silmarillion in terms of when they were written.

    Also I disagree that your version fitst the legendarium better - but that's just subjective. Intuitively I prefer the way the Silmarillion has it, and we know that Melkor is in essence a corruptor, not a creator - that's how he got the balrogs and Sauron after all: corrupting the Maiar.

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  113. The Beyonder:
    "While there *are* fashistoid streaks in his work (Aragorn and the "untainted" blood of the "true" Dunedain, anybody?)"

    The idea of true rulership as necessarily hereditary would have been anathema to Mussolini - or to Hitler. Monarchism and Fascism are not the same.

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  114. The Beyonder:
    "In fact, the Melniboneans, the Granbretanians and the Mabden are all inherently evil by their very nature. "

    I have to say there is zero evidence for Always Chaotic Evil in any of those examples (unlike Tolkien's Orcs).

    Melnibone - they pacted with Chaos ten thousand years previously. Even so there are plenty of non-Evil Melniboneans (eg Cymoril, Elric before Yrkoon's usurption). Overall they're about as evil as the Romans, and clearly free-willed.

    Granbretanians - no evidence whatsoever. They just have an evil government at that time in history, same as many or most people have had. After defeat and removal of the ruling elite they're normal again.

    Mabden - Corum thinks so initially, then he meets some nice Mabden!

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  115. "generally all members of those races serve Chaos (i.e. Evil)"

    The Imperial Japanese in "The War in the Air" also serve Chaos, as noted by Oswald Bastable. Nazis also appear as servants of Chaos, in Dragon in the Sword I think. There's no inference that the ordinary Japanese or Germans are Always Evil, just that their leaders serve Chaos. Moorcock is definitely a Humanist and it shows in his work.

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  116. S'mon, the Melniboneans *aren*t "allways Chaotic Evil". They are (almost) allways Evil-- even Elric, the least evil of them all. Melnibone made demon worship their state religion, made an art of torture, and was build on drug-addiction, slavery and, again, demon-worship.

    Sounds very much like "inherently evil race" to me.

    The Granbretanians *were* inherently evil-- at least those of the Londra streak. Show me *one* exception. Even Flana, the least evil of them, routinely murdered her paramours.

    About the Mabden, this I'll just have to concede. I reconsidered the situation with them and realize that only those Mabden in direct service to the Chaos Lords were evil-- all others seem to be good.

    At least in the Fifteen Planes. On Erekose's world, of course, things are very different. The Mabden over there really *are* evil to the core, almost as evil as the Dark Empire themselves! They truly deserve the "inherently evil race" handle. As do the vermin from Granbretanien and Melnibone.

    S'imon, the core of the Eternal Champion mythos consists of Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum and Erekose-- the main characters of Moorcock's fantasy cycles. Guys like Jerry Cornelius, Oswald Bastable and even Jherrek Carnelian are secondary.

    And in Moorcock's core books, Chaos is *always* the equivalent to Evil. Only the servants of chaos maim, blackmail, torture, subjugate, murder, engage in witchcraft, destroy, etc. Only the slaves of Chaos engage in evil deeds. And the servants of Law are their antithesis: they protect, nurture, and redeeem. Whereas the Balance (Neutrality) merely slapps the competition down. Balance only manipulates and ocassionally destroys individual lives. Just ask John Daker, the most aware EC incarnation of them all.

    Keep in mind that Corum, the nicest and most heroic incarnation of The Champion, was a champion of Law, not a slave of the Balance, like Erekose, Hawkmoon and Elric.

    (Sure, at the End of Time, we meet in Jherrek a truly Chaotic good character-- but the End of Time is an exception to the usual state in the EC mythology, rather than the rule. Elsewhere in the Multiversum, Evil cloaks itself in the robes of Chaos, not Balance or Law.)

    Monarchy vs Fashism: There you go again, trying to rise politics above morality. It doesn't *matter* whether a somebody is fashistic in the name of a monarchy or in the name of some new regime-- it are fashistic overtures all the same. It doesn't matter what the particular names for it are-- it's all hair-splitting.

    And the idea of "things can only be allright if we have our destined, heriditary kingship back" *does* strike me as mildly fashistic-- but, as I said before, only mildly so.

    And tell me again how Tolkien's strange infatuation with "true-blooded" Dunedein is +not somewhat* fashistic? Aside that Gondor is build on a heridary regime rather than on aregime build by lies and violence?

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  117. Noisms, I generally consider the Silmarillion to be Tolkien's truest masterpiece. While I love LOTR, it can't begin to compare to the fascinating tales of Elves and Maiar.

    But the Silmarillion was nonetheless collected (by Tolkien jr.) as a kind of "sourcebook" to Middle-Earth, as it existed during the time of LOTR's final edition. Hence, only those tales and essays who "fit" into ME as it existed during LOTR's final version were put into the Silmarillion.

    However, Tolkien considered not only his languages, songs and stories but the IDEAS behind them, too. And he did so for decades after he finalized LOTR-- in fact, until shortly before his death.

    And one of those last writings was about the origins of the Orcs, I believe. But I'll have to recheck.

    The average Tolkien fan knows only The Hobbit, LOTR and the Silmarillion. And those will always believe Orcs are just the descendants of warped Elves.

    But in HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, we come to know a much deeper Middle-Earth-- a ME every bit as frigthening (if not more so) as the Million Spheres.

    It holds the final thoughts of Tolkien about most of his creations-- which makes them every bit as "canonical", maybe more so than the published version of the Silmarillion.

    And going by Tolkien's *final* ideas about the Orcs, they're really not corrupted Elves. He *changed* his mind about them, because they implicitly made Morgoth seem both mightier and weaker than he really was: too mighty because it's just cross that Melkor seemed to be able to warp the future of the Avari race as he did, effectively countermanding Illuvatar's decreed destiny for them; and too weak because Melkor's supposed to share every other Vala's power and surpass them in it, but he apearently couldn't even build (*not* create!) his own servitor race?

    So Tolkien modified his earlier idea about the Orcs. And if we look beyond the story itself, at the themes underlying it, at the engine that empowers that tale in the first place, than it makes indeed more sense than the earlier (maybe simpler, but in any case, much more poethic) tale of warped Avari. For it carries many themes, not least among them creating vs making, artist vs imitator and so on.

    Sure, we can prefer any story version we want. I, for instance, find the Sillmarillion version of the Orc origin to be the most poethic of the origin variants. But truth be told, I never really liked that story, nonetheless, for all its poesy. It was *too* dark in comparison to allmost all other Silmarillion tales, even the turin tale. But whereas Turin had always a small margin of hope (surely, with his own power as well as the good graces of Thingol & Melian, he might've managed to survive Morgoth's course, if only he hadn't been so blasted proud, tempestuous and stubborn. At no time was Morgoth's curse automatically deadly.), the "pre-West-Elves" never had any change at all. They were literally just pawns in the hands of a dark power. They had done nothing wrong, yet they were just swallowed by Morgoth's evil, without any hope of ever being able to turn the direction of that stupid story.

    And that kind of pessimism just doesn't fit into the world of the Silmarillion, which is, after all, about heroism and enduring a heroic fate. There are worlds for that kind of story, but Arda isn't the right one for that.

    But no matter which version we personally prefer: the truest version is not the earliest published, but the version that was crafted the final time. And I strongly believe Tolkien's final Orc origin is the one that depicts them as imitations of real (created) beings.

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  118. "fashistic"? Is that when you take a healthy interest in clothing to an unhealthy extreme? :p

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  119. Sigh. I'm a German. English is my second language. Sue me.

    But if you want to be a jerk, let's just terminate our debate. Ciao.

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  120. Wow, you toddle off to a gothic lolita rock event for a day and the comements pile on.

    Beyonder, I think it's pretty clear that S'mon doesn't have anything to add except fatuous insults, and isn't worth engaging with.

    Michael, Tolkien's created world is not "very short of textual evidence." He makes it very clear that the Easterlings and Southrons have always been servants of evil. Try replacing the word "Easterlings" with "Jews" and ask yourself - is that statement slightly racist? And does it matter one whit what the cause is? You can drop the racial essentialism and you still get a world dripping in racist stereotypes, in which the people of the east and south are eternal servants of evil. My argument on racial essentialism is based on the clear textual evidence that the Men of Darkness's evil was too robust to be anything but inherited.

    You say,

    The Easterlings "retained their vulnerability to Sauron" in the same way the Numenoreans retained it -- because it is corrupt human nature, not racial essence that makes mortals vulnerable to evil.

    but this is not true. It's a complete fabrication. The Numenoreans were corrupted once, in one generation, but the survivors fled east and redeemed themselves through their actions in setting up a superior culture - bulwark against Morgoth and then Sauron - in Middle Earth. The Men of Darkness were corrupted almost at the instant of their creation and retained that corruption through three Ages, regardless of the presence or absence of the evil forces that originally animated their evil nature. You cannot reasonably claim that the Numenoreans and Men of Darkness had the same racial traits vis a vis evil.

    You say

    Sauron didn't dwell openly in Mordor for much of the history of Gondor. He was in hiding after the Ring was lost, either incorporeal, or in his strongholds in the East.

    and that exactly proves my point. We don't know where he was, and we know that after the battle in which the ring was lost he was weakened and disappeared. Yet when he returned, he had to begin his work afresh to corrupt the men of the West, and it largely failed (at the time of the war of the ring they were ready to go to war with him, and actively seeking ways around him). Even the corruption of the King through the Palantir was only partial and only affected him, not his people. Yet in the same time period, Sauron was able to reawaken the allegiances of whole nations and peoples to the South and East.

    In order to rescue the story from the obvious implications of this, you are left fabricating a history of the East - "they could've been fighting against Sauron's tyranny for all we can tell ..."

    Sauron was in Mirkwood between 1050 and 2940TA. He spent 1900 years in Mirkwood and all he could do was corrupt a couple of spiders. But then he returned to Mordor after being driven out of Mirkwood, and lo! just 70 years later several nations of the East and South are at his beck and call for a war against (geographically much nearer) Gondor. How is it that the elves, Rohirrim and Men of the West can resist his corrupting influence for 2000 years, but the Southrons - though much further away - sign up en masse within 70 years to a guy they haven't seen for 2000 years?

    You're basically having to look outside the text for reasons to explain away the obvious conclusions inside the text.

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  121. Noisms, what are you trying to imply when you say

    You have a set of preconceptions that you're applying to the 'liberated' text of the LOTR

    ?

    I think most of your comment is another kind of extended sneer: you think I don't like LoTR and am looking for weak pretexts to dump on it.

    As for "going around in circles"... you raised the issue of the pardoning of the Southrons, and I've pointed out to you that it only adds to the argument if you ascribe to Aragorn the morality of an exterminationist racist. I note both you and Michael have backed well away from that now. Doesn't seem very circular to me.

    Your sole defense of Tolkien - that you've stuck to across months of this debate - is his assertion (outside the text) that the corruption of the Orcs was Melkor's greatest crime. This is a really weak defense:

    - it doesn't change the nature of the model racial theory described in the books, just gives an authorial judgment (though this is external to the text, I note)
    - it says nothing about the corruption of the Men of Darkness, and their all-too-close association with real world equivalents in Africa and Asia
    - adding an air of tragedy to the corrupted races can serve to add to the sense that they are morally lesser, and doesn't change their moral role in the story

    Compared, for example, to a narrative in which the Orcs rescue themselves from Sauron, this moral condemnation of Melkor is a very weak authorial intervention. And as I pointed out above (with a comparison to Nazi ideas about a biological body politic) it's not inconsistent with standard scientific racist tropes about the relative moral value of the races. It doesn't really do anything to save the legendarium from this criticism.

    You could, for example, read this authorial condemnation of Melkor as analogous to a voice of sadness from an enlightened colonial leader about the sad moral state of the inferior peoples under his power. Maybe this leader would even blame it on the fracturing of the tribes of Israel or something (the "worst thing" that ever happened to men, etc. blah blah). But it doesn't change the fact of this colonial leader's view of his basest subjects, does it?

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  122. My argument on racial essentialism is based on the clear textual evidence that the Men of Darkness's evil was too robust to be anything but inherited.

    The paucity of your case is clear. Nothing about genetic inheritance (or "tainted blood", or anything) in the text. All you have is the circumstantial evidence that the Southrons and Easterlings were, in the times they are seen in the LotR, ruled by Sauron. As I've pointed out, the nature of Sauron's rule could easily be political or cultural. You have offered no evidence that it is racially inherited. There is clear evidence against: the missions of the Blue Wizards; the repeated references to their liberation after Sauron's overthrow; Tolkien's sharp opposition to any racial moral determinism.

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  123. In order to rescue the story from the obvious implications of this, you are left fabricating a history of the East - "they could've been fighting against Sauron's tyranny for all we can tell ..."

    No. Rather than "fabricating", I was faintly remembering this:

    "But the other two Istari were sent for a different purpose. Morinehtar and Rómestámo. Darkness-slayer and East-helper. Their task was to circumvent Sauron: to bring help to the few tribes of Men that had rebelled from Melkor-worship, to stir up rebellion ... and after his first fall to search out his hiding (in which they failed) and to cause [?dissension and disarray] among the dark East ... They must have had very great influence on the history of the Second Age and Third Age in weakening and disarraying the force of East ... who would both in the Second Age and Third Age otherwise have ... outnumbered the West."

    The Peoples of Middle-Earth (pp. 384-385, ellipses in original)

    N.b. also that Tolkien mentions here a non-genetic means of maintaining long-term allegiance to Sauron: religion. (And before you bring up the Haradrim, I'll point out they were geo-political rivals of the Numenorean kingdoms, as the battles over Umbar demonstrate.) No need to invoke a biological explanation that appears nowhere in the text.

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  124. The Beyonder:
    "Sigh. I'm a German. English is my second language. Sue me.

    But if you want to be a jerk, let's just terminate our debate. Ciao."

    I certainly disagree strongly with you, even if you don't appear to be a fully paid up member of the Forces of Evil. Your definition of Fascism is appallingly inaccurate and seems derived from some really crappy sub-Frankfurt School indoctrination on Authoritarian Personalities and the like.

    Actual Fascism is a modernist, radical ideology that originally glorified State power, imperialism, and violence. It's different from National Socialism which glorifies the Race, and in German Nazism's case demonises other races, Jews in particular. Neither Fascism nor Nazism approve of Divine Right of Kings. When you mix Fascism and traditionalist Monarchism you get something like Franco's Spain - Franco claimed to be a monarchist, yet in 35 years he never actually restored the monarchy!

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  125. Well, I was using the terms "fascist"/"fascistic"/"fascistoid" in the moral, rather than the political sense. After all, I'm not part of those fools that run around in packs, err, in parties I mean, and endlessly spout empty phrases.

    And from a *moral* point of view, there *is* little difference to whether one tinks he needs to put all power, all responsibility into a heriary monarchy for his world to be all right or some demagogue. In both cases, they surrender all responsibilies for the well-being of a people to some ultimate political power.

    As I implied before, everything going into the meaningless details (such as whether it's a monarchy or some partie regime) is merely useless hair-splitting.

    But all the same: I have now read all your comments and am not interested in debating with you anymore. Bye.

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  126. Goodbye Beyonder, and God Save The Queen! :D

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  127. Sir S: I'm not implying anything. I'm saying that I think you, quite naturally, dislike racial essentialism, and want to take a stand against it, and this leads you to find it even where it doesn't exist.

    This leaves you to flail around clutching at straws, and adopting all kind of self-contradictory positions. For instance: you keep going on about how what Tolkien says or thought aren't important, because you're just talking about the book... But then on the other hand you keep saying that these theories were popular at the time he was writing, so he must have believed them too, etc. I mean, it's really incoherent stuff. Which is it? Does Tolkien's own belief matter or not? Either way you lose, because as we've shown by his letters he certainly didn't believe in racial essentialism, and as we've shown from the text, it's not there either. But which one do you actually believe?

    That said, you have started to engage with the text a little bit more, which is good. Let's take a look a why you're wrong, though:

    -The men of the East and South are not "eternal servants of evil". Their servancy is not eternal, not willing, and not complete, as Michael shows.

    -The Numenoreans did not "redeem themselves" by fleeing to the West and becoming a bulwark against Sauron. Most actually joined him. The ones who fled South became the Black Numenoreans and Corsairs. The ones who lived in the West and North were destroyed by the Witch-King, who was one of their own number, and it seems clear that some of the Dunedain in the North remained resistant while others turned to darkness.

    -In the period Sauron was in Mirkwood he was hiding. After his defeat at the end of the Second Age almost his entire power had vanished. He spent most of his time as a "dormant evil". It was only after he left Dol Guldur that he really regained his power. That's why he was able to corrupt the peoples around Mordor so easily.

    I'd just like to elaborate on a point I made earlier, which is that the important thing, for Tolkien, was not what race you belonged to, but whether or not you had seen the lights of Valinor. This is the difference between "Dark" and "Light" elves, and also the difference between various kinds of men (the men of Gondor, for instance, have the White Tree, which is descended from Nimloth, which can in turn trace its ancestry back to Valinor).

    The point is that if you're lucky enough to have had contact with Valinor the chances are you have more going for you in resisting the corruption of Sauron. Doesn't work all the time as Numenor got corrupted anyway, and it isn't definitive, as the people of the South and East clearly rebelled against and resisted Sauron.

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  128. 1) I'm a fan of Tolkien

    2) I've never read Moorcock's fictional works (neither I'm interested in doing so)

    3) "Epic Pooh" contains too many and too long quotes from authors I don't read. Besides of this, I didn't find it to be neither controversical nor insulting, but pretty enlighting.

    Is LotR a "nursery epic" of sorts? Sure, and I love it because of this. From Moorcock's assay: "It is the predominant tone of The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down and it is the main reason why these books, like many similar ones in the past, are successful."

    It's a pity that he doesn't enjoy Tolkien's prose, but I can't blame Moorcock for this. And he's not alone, anyway: shame on Peter Jackson, who drop the "nursery" part (I want Bombadil back!).

    Talking about Bombadil, most of the fans -myself included- barely can't see beyond plot, characters and world-building. At least Moorcock has the wits to note that old-fashioned style and socio-political subtext also play an important part in LotR appeal. I wish that Moorcock had made the movies instead of Jackson.

    Unlike Moorcock, I like Tolkien's works, but this doen't make Moorcock's essay to be rubbish or nonsense or lacking of substance.

    About Monarchism, Racism, Classism and whatever: LotR is pro-monarchic, pro-racist and pro-classist, etc. at some points and anti-monarchic, anti-racist, anti-class et al. at some other. There's a number of unsolved controversies and unanswered questions within the books, and this is what makes them great: they provide food for though. The writings of C.S. Lewis and Phillip Pullman and the Pope of Rome are too one-sided for my taste. I agree in that the best anti-Tolkien is reading more Tolkien.

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  129. Let me preface this with saying that this will be my only post in direct answer to these questions. If anyone wants to continue this specific discussion with me, you know where you can find my email address. The last thing I want to do is clutter up my blog with religious and/or political discussions.

    Rick Santorum (for example) says he's against abortion because of his religious views.

    The Pope (for example) says his religion forbids abortion.

    You seem to arguing that the first is a politicial position, whereas the second is a religious one, and that the two things are quite distinct.

    If so, how are they distinct?


    Politics is about means. Ends come to us from morality/ethics/religion (or its secular doppelganger, ideology). So, religion can inform one's political decisions (and ought to), but the two aren't identical. For example, many 19th century abolitionists were inspired by their religious beliefs to oppose slavery. Were there beliefs in the divine equality of all men political in nature?

    Yet you seem to regard "Tolkien put his political views in his work" as a silly idea that Michael Moorcock made up out of spite and jealousy.

    "Tolkien put his political views in his work" makes it seem as if he were advocating a particular political platform, which he was not. He advanced certain ideas that perhaps have political application/ramifications, but that's not quite the same thing as, say, Ayn Rand's writing of Atlas Shrugged, is it? Again, maybe that's a distinction without a difference to you, but it's not to me or, I think, Tolkien.

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  130. This thread is getting away from itself, with too many different aspects of the debate going on at once to easily keep track of, but I'll try and answer Michael and Noisms (in separate comments) and give a comment on a common theme of both their responses. First, Michael.

    Point 1:

    Nothing about genetic inheritance (or "tainted blood", or anything) in the text.


    LoTR is not a text about racial theory, is it? So it's hardly suprising that there's nothing specific about genetic inheritance. If your condition for "racist text" is that it contain a screed clearly defining every aspect of its theory, then no novel is ever going to be eligible for a racist subtext or theme. With almost every text ever written, these themes have to be drawn out and identified, they aren't there, cut from whole cloth in the book. In this case we have a lot of historical development and parallels that match the theory of racial essentialism: we have races with defined characteristics (the Orcs and Elves); we have a clearly stated theory of racial mixing (the qualities of the Numenoreans declined as they mixed with Men), we have a theory of divine right of kings based on racial inheritance (embodied in Aragorn), and we have a group of human races that are defined as serving evil, and a group that aren't. Saying this is not a model of racism because Tolkien didn't write it all out in one sentence is a kind of obscurantism, and it's not how textual analysis works.

    Especially when in your very next comment you quote Tolkien thus:

    Their task was to circumvent Sauron: to bring help to the few tribes of Men that had rebelled from Melkor-worship, to stir up rebellion


    Once again Tolkien is directly stating that he sees these races as servants of evil. Your entire argument has now reduced to this: it's not racially inherited, these people are culturally evil, therefore the text is not racist.

    Do you think that any of these statements are not racist:

    - it's not biological, but jeez, Muslims are evil aren't they? I blame their religion

    - If Jews convert to christianity, they can be redeemed, but until they do they remain untrustworthy and committed only to their own religion over the greater needs of society

    - The men of the East were sunk in barbarism and evil until we sent two missionaries, M and R, who were successful in converting many of them to civilization

    None of these statements contains a single element of scientific racism, all of them come directly from real life theories of racial inferiority, and all of them map directly to your defense of Tolkien against claims of racially-inherited evil.

    Even if I were to concede that the "evil" of the human races was not racially heritable (which I don't), can you not see that the alternative interpretations of the role of Men of Darkness in the story are just as racist?

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  131. Noisms, again you're being disingenuous in your assertion of motives I don't have:

    But then on the other hand you keep saying that these theories were popular at the time he was writing, so he must have believed them too,

    I only do this because you ask. Every time - every single time - I write a post on my blog about this you pop up to accuse me of calling Tolkien a racist. You do it every time. So every time I say the same thing: I don't know if he was racist or not, I find it credible that, like most men of his time, he believed scientific racism was true, and this may have affected his books. But I only say this because you ask. My argument is about the books and you continually drag it away to being about Tolkien: to which I give a reasonable and limited answer, that you then use to accuse me of incoherence.

    Which is not only disingenuous but incoherent, because we have written evidence, in a letter from Tolkien, that he considers Jews to be genetically superior in intellect to non-Jews, i.e. he openly admits subscribing to a theory of racial difference in mental traits. A fact that you originally raised in his defence and now refuse to accept as evidence of his beliefs.

    Your next three points are again, either wrong or wilfully optimistic. In order.



    Their [Men of Darkness] servancy is not eternal, not willing, and not complete, as Michael shows.

    Michael shows that there are exceptions, and that they need help from the West in order to complete even a partial rebellion against evil. I'll come back to this in my next comment - this trick is a common one, and it shows a lack of understanding of how scientific racist theories are conceived and executed.

    The [Numenoreans] who lived in the West and North were destroyed by the Witch-King, who was one of their own number, and it seems clear that some of the Dunedain in the North remained resistant while others turned to darkness.

    Here you conveniently elide the relative numbers, which is useful for you but slippery: there was only one evil Numenorean (the Witch-King), who had to rely on non-Numenorean servants - barbarians from the North (again, Men of Darkness...) and Orcs and goblins (corrupt and irredeemable races). The failing Dunedain resistance was due to their weakening moral and physical state, brought about by interbreeding. he didn't destroy the Dunedain utterly and those whose racial purity was least muddied by interbreeding over the ensuing years were able to find from amongst them someone who could become King and reunite the lesser men. After the Witch-king was destroyed, no great evil persisted amongst the men of the west - we see this often in LoTR, just as we see it in WW2 propaganda about Japan vs. Germany. In the East, whole peoples are corrupted. In the West, single leaders are corrupted, and often only partially or by deception rather than directly. This distinction also exists in real life racial theories.


    In the period Sauron was in Mirkwood he was hiding. After his defeat at the end of the Second Age almost his entire power had vanished. He spent most of his time as a "dormant evil". It was only after he left Dol Guldur that he really regained his power. That's why he was able to corrupt the peoples around Mordor so easily.


    In your earlier snark you seemed happy with teh idea that he had the power to corrupt in Mirkwood. Certainly his power was great enough that he had to be confronted directly, and even Gandalf took multiple tries to penetrate his fortress and find out who he was. Yet, the people of Bree and the Rohirrim remained untouched. You're splitting hairs here and trying to rewrite the story in order to avoid the obvious conclusion.

    Your last point about the lights ... I'll get to that if I can.

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  132. This brings me to my final comment in this round, in which I want to talk about the rhetorical roundabout that Noisms and Michael have had to engage in to defend LoTR from the racism claim. I see it a lot, and it's worth noting some of its properties. I think they're accidental, btw, I'm not accusing anyone of deliberately arguing in bad faith. The roundabout works like this:

    1. Deny the relevance of the non-human races to the racial theory of the books; even though the non-human races are an essential element of the central plot and a defining element of this style of fantasy, the first step in defending LoTR is to deny their relevance because they aren't real or something.

    2. Redefine racial essentialism as a deterministic model. That is, if even one member of [good race A] was bad, or even one member of [bad race B] was good, then there can be no underlying racial theory. This is ahistorical: all racial essentialism stumbles on the fact that it doesn't work, and so has to come up with elaborate explanations for why actually white people can be bad and black people can be good. The core of racial essentialism is not that one's race turns one into a robot, but that in general certain characteristics obtain. A key part of the defense Michael and Noisms have mounted is that some Numenoreans were bad in one generation and a few Easterlings were good, so there can be no racial essentialism at play. This is false.

    3. Zero the racism on essentialism: even if there is no racial essentialism or scientific racism in the text, there is still an obvious racist model that fits in with many other real life extinct theories (e.g. 19th century christian anti-semitism, which was not biological; colonialist "white man's burden" type racism which was a cheerful mixture of vague theories). Michael's defense of Tolkien now comes down to saying that he "only" believes they're culturally evil due to their religion. This defense is wrong, but even if it were right, you've hardly come up with a good statement about LoTR have you?

    4. Define away racism in textual analysis: this tactic involves demanding unrealistic levels of evidence for any racism. i.e. if Tolkien didn't state "it's genetically inherited" then it isn't. This basically requires that the only way to infer racism from the text is to find a screed equivalent to something from Mein Kampf or a Nazi race hygiene pamphlet. This is not how literary criticism works. Think of all the books ever written that would be completely free of any racist cloud if the only way they could be judged racist was if the author basically said so through a screed in the work itself.

    Basically, you are using the real life problems of racial essentialism to identify reasons why it couldn't possibly hold in a novel. But the real life problems of the theory didn't stop it being popular in the inter-war era (and with Stormfront now) and don't mean it can't be expressed coherently in a novel. Even if Tolkien had been hell-bent on a nazi theory of race, he couldn't have made a coherent one in his story because it's impossible. Using this fact to deny its presence shows an ignorance of the nature and limits of racial essentialism as a real life theory.

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  133. If your condition for "racist text" is that it contain a screed clearly defining every aspect of its theory

    I didn't say that. All I have asked for, repeatedly, is evidence for your thesis that there are human races in Middle-Earth that are genetically evil. Thus my flexibility on the phraseology, since (as I already noted) it is absurd to expect the vocabulary of genetics in Tolkien's imaginary world. But it's been about a dozen good-sized posts from you now, and you still have yet to produce any specific textual support saying that Easterlings or Haradrim have bad blood or depraved essence or evil on them and their children forever, or whatever. Nothing even close.

    What you do offer is: "we have a lot of historical development and parallels that match the theory of racial essentialism". As I said before, your case is entirely circumstantial. By any standards of forensic or rational proof, this is exceedingly weak. The real history of Earth has a lot of historical development and parallels that "match" the theory of racial essentialism -- IQ differences, the development of science and technology in Europe, the stunted economic and political development of Africa -- but that doesn't demonstrate that racial essentialism is correct. But that is exactly the argument you are offering to convict Tolkien's work of racial essentialism.


    Once again Tolkien is directly stating that he sees these races as servants of evil.

    You keep using those words, "directly stating". I don't think they mean what you think they mean. Tolkien flat-out says tribes in the East had rebelled against Sauron -- before the Blue Wizards arrived. Pretty strange if (as you say) they inherit evil as their racial essence. Noisms put it well: "Their servancy is not eternal, not willing, and not complete." It's Tolkien's word against your thesis, but you stick to your preconceptions.

    Not surprising -- here I'll note in passing two other wilful distortions of the text to show your low standards of "textual analysis":

    - The corruption of Greenwood the Great into Mirkwood you belittle as "just a few evil spiders". But it's clear to any reader of The Hobbit that Mirkwood is a nasty piece of work. A vast, habitable forest became an impassable, frightening darkness. ("Don't go off the path!")

    - It wasn't just "some Numenoreans" who turned to evil, but the vast majority of the entire "master race", at the military-technological zenith of their civilization, who converted to human sacrifice in Melkor-worship. (If Sauron could so thoroughly deprave the highest human race, who were given their land by Eru, in a single generation, what could he do to men of the East who had never known Valinor except through Morgoth propaganda?)

    Sir S, you go on at length about rhetorical devices, but it's all cover for the gaping hole at the center of your case. You never give any proof for your thesis. Instead of evidence, you substitute innuendo and conspiracy-theory-style "parallels", and dismiss clear textual and extra-textual counter-evidence whenever it contradicts your thesis. As Searle once said of Derrida, this is the sort of stuff that gives bullshit a bad name. I rest my case.

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  134. "Sir S, you go on at length about rhetorical devices, but it's all cover for the gaping hole at the center of your case. You never give any proof for your thesis. Instead of evidence, you substitute innuendo and conspiracy-theory-style "parallels", and dismiss clear textual and extra-textual counter-evidence whenever it contradicts your thesis. As Searle once said of Derrida, this is the sort of stuff that gives bullshit a bad name. "

    Excellent post, Michael.

    I spent many years engaging in good faith argument with the likes of Faustus/Sir S, and eventually realised it was pointless, since they use words as weapons, not for understanding. That is the essence of Deconstructionism.
    Still, I have very much enjoyed your & noisms' counters and explanations, they have increased my understanding and appreciation of Tolkien considerably. And I salute your stamina and perseverance.

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  135. Michael, if it's not going to have a direct statement of racial essentialism, how else is any racial theory to be inferred except through circumstantial evidence? You say you don't expect a race theory screed, but you deny anything else can be interpreted that way - no vagueness there, is there?

    You then go on with this:

    Tolkien flat-out says tribes in the East had rebelled against Sauron -- before the Blue Wizards arrived. Pretty strange if (as you say) they inherit evil as their racial essence.

    He states "a few" rebelled. See my point 2. Your defense here depends on the assumption that any theory of racial essentialism must be deterministic. Do you understand how these theories work?

    You follow with:

    The corruption of Greenwood the Great into Mirkwood you belittle as "just a few evil spiders".

    No, actually, Noisms did this first as a snarky aside. My point is that for all his time in Greenwood Sauron couldn't corrupt the surrounding peoples, whereas with just 70 years in Mordor he could corrupt multiple nations. And he never went South - just sent an emissary or something and up they came, still corrupt ("thoroughly depraved" is how you describe Melkor-worship) after 1900 years of his absence.


    If Sauron could so thoroughly deprave the highest human race, who were given their land by Eru, in a single generation, what could he do to men of the East who had never known Valinor except through Morgoth propaganda?

    As I keep saying, this was done to a single generation of Numenoreans, but not to their descendants. Numenoreans did not inherit the racial taint of the society that Sauron corrupted. Whereas Tolkien himself states that whole peoples in the east were servants of evil.

    You keep trying to avoid this fact: Numenoreans don't corrupt intergenerationally, but Tolkien openly states that the peoples of the east do. Not only that, there is no evidence that the people of the South ever needed re-corruption. Unless you want to come up with an alternative history from whole cloth, the Southrons were untouched by Sauron's magic directly in the Third Age: they just responded to his call.

    Now, your alternative to this racial essentialism is, as you have implied above, to fall back on some kind of non-biological vulnerability to evil that is strong enough to last thousands of years in the absence of the main corrupting animus. Without it being obviously racist. Have at it.

    S'mon, given your main contribution to this debate on racism has been to drive off the only non-native English speaker who was participating, I don't think you have too many high claims to "good faith argument."

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  136. Sir S: Michael gave you a nice 'out' earlier on to save you embarrassing yourself further, but since you persist, I'll offer another response.

    I think it's notable that you're doing what you always (presumably subconsciously) do in a debate which you're losing, which is to narrow your focus as you gradually conveniently let the issues you've been proved wrong about drop. Your entire argument now has just three legs:

    1. Only "a few" southrons rebelled against Sauron.
    2. Blah blah Mirkwood blah blah.
    3. The descendants of the Numenoreans were not corrupted.

    Rather weak, but let's deal with them anyway.

    1. First, Tolkien didn't say "a few" Southrons, Easterlings, Haradrim etc. rebelled against Sauron. He says a few tribes did. Rather different, don't you think? It says something about your argumentative standards that you misquote something so key to your own position.

    Seondly, we don't know a great deal about the East or the South, but what we do know is that the Blue Wizards went there and played a 'pivotal' role in the War of the Ring. They seem to have been rather like Gandalf, wandering around and organising Sauron's enemies against him. This heavily implies that the Haradrim et al were not unified in being corrupted, and what we see in the battle at Minas Tirith is hardly representative.

    We also know that, to Sam at least, the issue was not black and white (no pun intended). The only time we actually see a Haradrim up-close-and-personal, as it were, we find Sam thinking the following: "It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil at heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace." According to Tolkien, Sam was the hero of the Lord of the Rings, and is in many ways the conscience of the author and the reader within the work. This would suggest that Tolkien's own thoughts on the matter hewed far more closely to the notion that the people of Harad, at least the ones allied with Sauron, had been tricked, and the majority were probably compelled to do his bidding and would much rather just live ordinary peaceful lives.

    2. I didn't belittle Sauron's period in Mirkwood as corrupting just a few spiders, as you misquote me as saying. (A pattern emerges.) I talked about how he corrupted all the life in Mirkwood, even down to the squirrels. You still haven't answered the point about Mirkwood, by the way: how during his time there Sauron was weak and in hiding, because he'd just had his arse handed to him and was scared to reveal himself, and yet even so he was able to corrupt the biggest and most ancient forest in Middle Earth (which if you look at it on a map is almost the same size as fucking Gondor).

    3. This is the weakest point of all. Has it occurred to you that after the fall of Numenor PRACTICALLY ALL THE NUMENOREANS WHO SAURON CORRUPTED ARE DEAD? We have no idea how they would have reacted to Sauron's reappareance in the Third Age. It could be that they would have had exactly the same reaction as you think (wrongly) the Southrons did - all coming back in unison to Sauron's fold. But they're not there to do so. Some of their few descendants - the Black Numenoreans and Corsairs - do get involved, of course... But in any case, nothing about the Numenoreans proves your position either way.

    Now let's draw a line under this increasingly ridiculous debate, shall we?

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  137. Thanks for the nice words, Sir S.

    But it's actually a good idea to talk about something else than ridiculous non-starters like "Tolkien was racist" (I know he was far less "racist" than C.S.Lewis, and if I can look beyond HIS attitude toward so-called (by him!) "Negroes", I certainly can look beyond Tolkien's obsession with "undilluted" blood), or, worse yet, "Tolkien's LotR has racist and anti-semitic themes" (I mean, really. Do I have to comment about that particular topic? Nah, probably not. Better, too, since I'm just not as polite as James.)

    THE LORD OF THE RINGS is *not* a political book, not anymore than THE SILMARILLION or THE HOBBIT was. You can twist those 3 books to your bidding, pretend that they say what you *want* them to say; but it's wrong. Those books weren't written to comment on politics and they were even less written to *suggest* new political ways.

    They're stories. It's as simple as that.

    Why don't we start to debate the things we *like* about Tolkien's mythos? For instance, the Artifical being origin vs the warped Avari origin of the Orcs was a good beginning.

    Or, we could discuss the Fall of Numenor. Or we could stat upp the Valar, Maiar and Heroes of Arda.

    I suppose I can't interest anybody here in that?

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  138. Beyonder, I think the Valar and maiar have been statted up already in MERP, which (Despite my being a Tolkien-hating bastard who knows nothing about the world, I owned and played for years).

    Noisms, your patronizing tone would work better if you weren't so wrong. It isn't me who has narrowed the focus to the Numenoreans and a few tribes of Southrons[sic], it's you and Michael. Originally I was also talking about Orcs and Elves, and you didn't want to go there; then you were talking about pardoning the Easterlings, but you've dropped that; now we have Michael's sole quote in defense of the Easterlings.

    Which brings us to our next point: you have done what you often do (I presume, subconsciously) and completely changed the content of what was being debated to suit your own (fallacious) point. Michael gave a quote about how a few tribes of Easterlings rebelled; you've turned this into a discussion about Haradrim and Easterlings, through a not-so-careful misreading and elision. By doing so you've implied more rebellion, more widely than the text implies. You also are carefully ignoring the particular phrasing of the quote, which makes clear through careful use of English that only a few tribes rebelled. Not a lot. If you aren't willing to engage with the text at even this basic level, you probably ought not to patronize me.


    You still haven't answered the point about Mirkwood, by the way: how during his time there Sauron was weak and in hiding, because he'd just had his arse handed to him and was scared to reveal himself, and yet even so he was able to corrupt the biggest and most ancient forest in Middle Earth

    Sauron hand't "just had his arse handed to him." It was at least 1000 years earlier that his arse was handed to him, and the Valar didn't want to interfere with him again in order to avoid another rain of destruction. He may have been weakened but he wasn't weak. Your task is to explain how he could corrupt the forest but not the nearby peoples (which included the Rohirrim). While you're at it, perhaps you can explain why, if the people of Gondor are as weak and vulnerable as the Easterlings, Sauron had to raise an army of Easterlings to capture Gondor. Why didn't he just corrupt the people of Gondor?


    We have no idea how they would have reacted to Sauron's reappareance in the Third Age.

    We do. There is no evidence of any corruption amongst the High Men of Eriador during this 3000 years, except 1) the Witch-King (who was corrupted through a magic item) and 2) the King of Gondor (who was corrupted through a magic item). We also know that some of the Dunedain settled in Gondor before the fall of Numenor (they became the princes of Del Amroth) and were never corrupted by Sauron either.


    Some of their few descendants - the Black Numenoreans and Corsairs - do get involved, of course

    The Black Numenoreans are not descendants of those who were corrupted by Sauron in Numenor. They are explorers who came independently to Middle Earth and submitted to Sauron. The implication is that they merged with the haradrim and began to diminish (see e.g. the encyclopaedia of Arda). So they follow the standard High Men/Men of Darkness pattern, in which settlers from the West lose their superior culture and gifts as they merge with the lower men around them.

    If you're going to patronize others for shifting the argument and not understanding the text, you could try and polish your own efforts in these areas ...

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  139. "Originally I wanted to talk about the orcs and elves, but you didn't want to go there?" I mean, really? Did you just ignore the 12,000 comments about orcs? I suppose that would explain your utter failure to deal substantively with the arguments they contained. (As for elves, I suppose yes, I haven't talked about them, because what's the point? Elves have the most freedom of the lot. If you're looking for evidence of racial essentialism there, you just won't find it.) This really is evasiveness of the highest quality.

    But of all your eel-like debating tactics, this takes the cake for me: You also are carefully ignoring the particular phrasing of the quote, which makes clear through careful use of English that only a few tribes rebelled. Not a lot. If you aren't willing to engage with the text at even this basic level, you probably ought not to patronize me.

    I mean, well, it's a nice try. Make a howler, try to paint your opponent as making the same mistake as a smokescreen. I get the idea.

    Sauron hand't "just had his arse handed to him." It was at least 1000 years earlier that his arse was handed to him, and the Valar didn't want to interfere with him again in order to avoid another rain of destruction.

    History of Middle-Earth 101: Sauron had his arse handed to him at the end of the Second Age after the War of the Last Alliance, after the Ring was taken by Isildur. Nothing to do with the Valar. That was Morgoth, at the end of the First Age. Are you getting that off wikipedia? It's just that the wikipedia article says something about the Valar too, here. The only reason the Valar are relevant is because they are the ones who sent the five wizards to Middle Earth at around this stage.

    From 1050 all the way through to 2460, nobody even knew Sauron was in Mirkwood, because he was hiding. His presence was a "shadow of fear" there. Not even the elves living in the forest recognised him. A far cry from what he was in either Numenor or Mordor, when he was able to corrupt the peoples around him. You'll have to give up on this line of argument: there is no evidence for you here.

    [tbc]

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  140. [cont'd]

    We do. There is no evidence of any corruption amongst the High Men of Eriador ...We also know that some of the Dunedain settled in Gondor before the fall of Numenor (they became the princes of Del Amroth) and were never corrupted by Sauron either.

    So your point is what, exactly? During the period of time when Sauron was at his weakest, a mere shadow of fear in Mirkwood who not even the elves living there recognised, he wasn't able to corrupt people living thousands of miles away in Dol Amroth? Or that when he was in Mordor he wasn't able to do that? Have you looked at a map of Middle Earth to see where Dol Amroth is?

    The Black Numenoreans are not descendants of those who were corrupted by Sauron in Numenor. They are explorers who came independently to Middle Earth and submitted to Sauron. The implication is that they merged with the haradrim and began to diminish... So they follow the standard High Men/Men of Darkness pattern, in which settlers from the West lose their superior culture and gifts as they merge with the lower men around them.

    Nope. Look again at the text. The Black Numenoreans were "king's men" who still loved Sauron and practiced black arts. After the fall of Numenor they fled South; some of them actually became kings in Harad. Like all evil things in Tolkien's work, their power gradually diminished - Tolkien writes of them giving themselves over to idleness, and fighting among themselves, until they were so weak they were conquered by "wild men" (whoever they are; we don't know). If anything I suppose the spin you could put on their story is that, being of great power, these Black Numenoreans were able to dominate the Haradrim and manipulate them into Sauron-worship, though that's just implied.

    I'm not going to comment here again. I think it's pretty obvious what's going on.

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  141. @The Beyonder: Yes, they're stories. But if stories didn't shape our world, why care about them? I have no real beef with the Lord of the Rings, but I do get tired of some of its themes. I get tired of stories where it's all about the True King and Blood Will Tell; I get tired of stories where the good guys are beautiful and the bad guys are ugly; and I think they can build up to be pernicious to our society.

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  142. Noisms, I think the amount of froth you're creating is interfering with your reading comprehension. You haven't understood anything I've written, and you're getting your panties in a bunch over things you imagine I've said. Here, let me help.


    Did you just ignore the 12,000 comments about orcs?

    Brian Murphy, Jan 6: "Orcs are a fictional race with no real world parallel." Your entire substantive text on Orcs in this whole comment thread is this:

    My own view is that in Tolkien's world, some 'races' - orcs, trolls, dragons - do have inherited (im)moral traits. This is portrayed as the worst thing that their creator did: damning them and their descendants to being evil for all eternity.

    Plus a sentence in response to the Beyonder about the Silmarillion, which essentially repeats the same thing. Is this your "12,000 comments"? This debate has been dominated by debate about Easterlings and Southrons.


    Make a howler, try to paint your opponent as making the same mistake as a smokescreen. I get the idea.

    I didn't quote this extract from Tolkien; Michael did. No howlers here. You've lost track of the quote we're talking about and now think it's originally me who raised it. The outrage is cute given it's misplaced, but that's a common problem for you.


    Are you getting that off wikipedia? It's just that the wikipedia article says something about the Valar too, here.

    My timeline is exactly right. I raised the Valar's unwillingness to confront Sauron directly as evidence of his power at that time. He arrived in Mirkwood in 1050 TA, that is 1000 years after the end of the Second Age, i.e. 10000 years after he got his arse handed to him. My statement is 100% correct, yet you have the temerity to pretend I don't know the basic history? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it's the froth interfering with your reading skills, not one of your juvenile gotchas.


    menoreans were "king's men" who still loved Sauron and practiced black arts. After the fall of Numenor they fled South;

    No. Wrong.

    You've changed the major thrust of your argument signficantly. Before, you were sure that all the evil Numenoreans died in Numenor; now you dispute this, and would have us believe the Corsairs are survivors of that catastrophe (they're not). Previously, Sauron was so powerful that he could corrupt a forest "the size of fucking Mordor" (your words). Now he was "just a shadow of fear" and couldn't corrupt anything until he fled a second time (contradicting Michael's theories about how the Easterlings could have been corrupted, incidentally).

    You're twisting and turning, changing your arguments every couple of comments, and making increasingly spit-flecked attacks on my veracity and motives in order to defend your point. You've misinterpreted fairly basic writing and lost the train of the argument - even of who said what - and you've even used the terms "Tolkien Politics 101" and "Tolkien History 101" in condescending ways.

    I really think you need to revisit the text and give a little more reasoned thought to the interpretation of the stories. Tolkien deserves mature and reasoned analysis of his work, not the juvenile fanboy adulation that people like you have to offer.

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  143. that should say 1000, not 1000 years after he got his arse handed to him.

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