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Thread: Tolkien & Race

  1. #1
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    Red face Tolkien & Race

    Let me preface this discussion by saying that I realize this horse has long been dead, most especially in these parts. I never took any credence to the idea nor its discussion primarily because it seemed so preposterous. However in my recent look at Khuzdul (sadly my linguistics class has failed me, or I've failed it, and all the great sites on the language have gone greek) I have of course stumbled upon the debate over alleged racism in Tolkien's work, not the least of the perpetrators being the Dwarf-Jew parallel.

    Having read over some the discussion at Tolkien Gateway I must say that this is one of the most wholly ignorant and ridiculous ideas I've read and it's gotten me uproarious enough to make this post.

    The idea that Tolkien was a racist and expressed his racist views, either consciously or unconsciously, shows a complete and total lack of context; either the critics are overly sensitive bleeding-hearts out looking for something to latch their paranoid ideas onto or they've read the books out of a completely botched world-view that does not understand the role of the supernatural in The Lord of the Rings. Reason being, that is the entirety of Evil in the books. The Easterlings (whom Tolkien never fully describes as being Asian as some have suggested) and the Haradrim (who he did, in fact, describe as being black-skinned because they were from the south) were not inherently evil and their position as enemies of the 'West' (which is not some Eurocentric reference) is wholly accountable to the witchery of Morgoth and then Sauron. They were corruptible Men just as Boromir, the great white hero, was.

    The Dwarf-Jew parallel has also got me irritated beyond belief because those who subscribe to it fail to take into account the entire basis for the Dwarves: Northern European mythology. The connexion to the Jews is an entirely respectful one because it is primarily with their language and, in a secondary sense, the concept of diaspora and their being aliens in a foreign land while maintaining their deep culture.

    There are countless more ideas to be rebuked and ranted about but I'll spare you. Thank you for reading and please reply with any of your own ideas.
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  2. #2
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Just to play a little devil's advocate I would like to say that there are some interesting arguments to the other side and I don't believe the proponents of these arguments are as ignorant as you believe, just a bit misguided.

    As to the race of men the one argument I do not see often is that why are the three "great" houses of men all white while all others are considered of a lesser stock. While it is true that these men gained their prowess from the influence of I believe Fingolfin (not sure, I always mix up those Noldor kings) it is interesting that Tolkien only chose white men to gain this great gift. Further the only men who were able to avoid the influence of Sauorn and the Witch-King were white men (albeit, not most of them). Now while these are interesting points I believe the most likely (and most accepted) reason for these white men to be at the forefront of strength of all men is because Tolkien's world was a mythology for the english people of his time, and these people were obviously white. Therefore the "good-guys" in his mythology would have to be the fictional ancestor's of his intended audience. And since this is a story of the overwhelming strength of evil vs. the last hope of good it would make sense that the other groups of men would be unavailable due to the influence of evil.

    As to the dwarf-jew relationship I believe this is an instance of outside perceptions of stereotypes intruding on the otherwise respectful influence. As you said, their are connections between dwarves and the jewish people. Mainly that khuzdul is largely believed to be strongly influenced by the Semitic language. Also there is the "people without a land" connection. There are others that you can find as well including the wearing of beards which was common in orthodox jewish homes. Unfortunately people will look for all similarities and that will bring us to the truly unfortunate stereotype of greed. Many people look at the dwarves lust for gold and by lumping that in with other similarities come to the conclusion that Tolkien meant for the dwarves to be a thinly veiled caricature of the stereotypes of the jewish people. This argument becomes especially attractive when you look at the time period that the Lord of the Rings was written. Anti-semitism was an extremely popular view. Even enemies of the Germans and Nazi party were known to hold these terrible views (Winston Churchill was a noted anti-semite). Therefore the connection seems to be strong. However, as you stated before, this view does not take into account the strong influence of Northern Europe on the race of the dwarves. Dwarves in those cultures were very similar to the dwarves in Tolkien's universe and I believe that the similarities to the stereotypes are just an unfortunate coincidence.

    While I agree with your position that those who believe that Tolkien was a racist or an anti-semite based on his writings on Middle-Earth are incorrect, I do believe that there are several things that do lend to those beliefs.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    I'm not sure if you read the complete Tolkien Gateway page that you linked, but they quote Tolkien himself:

    "The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic."

    – J.R.R. Tolkien

    This is from an interview Tolkien gave the BBC in 1965. In The History of The Hobbit by John D. Rateliff, a longer version the above quote from Tolkien is published:

    "The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic. There's a tremendous love of the artefact. And of course the immense warlike passion of the Jews too, which we tend to forget nowadays."

    Seems like Tolkien was the chief perpetrator of the Dwarf-Jew parallel.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by ppinkham View Post
    I'm not sure if you read the complete Tolkien Gateway page that you linked, but they quote Tolkien himself:

    "The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic."

    – J.R.R. Tolkien

    This is from an interview Tolkien gave the BBC in 1965. In The History of The Hobbit by John D. Rateliff, a longer version the above quote from Tolkien is published:

    "The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic. There's a tremendous love of the artefact. And of course the immense warlike passion of the Jews too, which we tend to forget nowadays."

    Seems like Tolkien was the chief perpetrator of the Dwarf-Jew parallel.
    It is the jump from here, to the Tolkien being anti-semitic that is a bit of a leap of insanity.. or paranoia, or perhaps a bit of both.
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  5. Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Nolenaoir View Post
    It is the jump from here, to the Tolkien being anti-semitic that is a bit of a leap of insanity.. or paranoia, or perhaps a bit of both.
    Especially when Tolkien totally ripped the Nazi book publishers a new one when they asked him if he was of Aryan origin:

    "I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten and Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of 'arisch' origin from all persons of all countries? ... I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine."

    o No. 30: Letter to Stanley Unwin (1938-07-25); Tolkien's German publishers had written to ask him whether he was of "Aryan" origin.

    "I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by 'arisch'. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. ... But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. ... I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride."

    o One of two draft letters (1938-07-25) written for Stanley Unwin to select as a response to his German publishers inquiry about his ancestry. The other letter refused to answer altogether on his ancestry; since the quoted letter persists, it seems that the other letter was sent.




    From these two excerpts, one learns that Tolkien had high regard for the Jewish race.
    Last edited by Arasilion; Mar 08 2009 at 12:16 AM.
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  6. #6

    Re: Tolkien & Race

    I was looking for those very letters to post on here. From reading those I can not see how you can feel Tolkien was anti-semitic at all, though I suppose anyone can read anything they want into a work of lierature. As for him being racist against dark skinned individuals, I also do not think that is true either, there are moments in the books where he points out the humanity of those opposing Gondor and how they may not be fighting of their own volition at all. Also i seem to recall some of the Gondorian and possibly Numenorians were darker or swarthier as Tolkien put it, especially in the more southern fiefs of Gondor.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    What gets me is that people still think that Tolkien is racist towards dark-skinned individuals even though Sam is if darker skin himself! If Tolkien was racist towards them why give one of the most important roles (on the good side) to one of em.
    Sam is an essential character to the story, and IMO the bravest and most courageous in the trilogy as a whole
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Reodred14 View Post
    What gets me is that people still think that Tolkien is racist towards dark-skinned individuals even though Sam is if darker skin himself! If Tolkien was racist towards them why give one of the most important roles (on the good side) to one of em.
    Sam is an essential character to the story, and IMO the bravest and most courageous in the trilogy as a whole
    I always wondered, is Sam darker because he works outside and has a deep tan or is he actually a darker skinned person? It never was clear to me. And if it is the latter, why was he always portrayed as a white guy?
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  9. Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by sloth72khs View Post
    And if it is the latter, why was he always portrayed as a white guy?
    Why is Jesus always portrayed as a blue-eyed white guy?
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Reodred14 View Post
    What gets me is that people still think that Tolkien is racist towards dark-skinned individuals even though Sam is if darker skin himself!
    I haven't been able to find any reference to this fact. Would you mind providing a source for this statement, or perhaps a quote from the book?
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  11. Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Reddhawk View Post
    I haven't been able to find any reference to this fact. Would you mind providing a source for this statement, or perhaps a quote from the book?
    Where it is exactly I don't know, but there's a point where it's mentioned that Sam put his "brown hand" on Frodo's forehead, or something.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Gimli speaks Yiddish?
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  13. Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegreen View Post
    Gimli speaks Yiddish?
    No, but the Dwarvish language is based on the Semitic languages.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Reddhawk View Post
    I haven't been able to find any reference to this fact. Would you mind providing a source for this statement, or perhaps a quote from the book?
    I believe the reference comes from The Return of the King.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    Especially when Tolkien totally ripped the Nazi book publishers a new one when they asked him if he was of Aryan origin:

    "I must say the enclosed letter from R?tten and Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of 'arisch' origin from all persons of all countries? ... I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine."

    o No. 30: Letter to Stanley Unwin (1938-07-25); Tolkien's German publishers had written to ask him whether he was of "Aryan" origin.

    "I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by 'arisch'. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. ... But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. ... I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride."

    o One of two draft letters (1938-07-25) written for Stanley Unwin to select as a response to his German publishers inquiry about his ancestry. The other letter refused to answer altogether on his ancestry; since the quoted letter persists, it seems that the other letter was sent.




    From these two excerpts, one learns that Tolkien had high regard for the Jewish race.

    Glad someone posted this. Im at work and couldnt. Owning a copy of his letters should be a prereq for posting here lol
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    Where it is exactly I don't know, but there's a point where it's mentioned that Sam put his "brown hand" on Frodo's forehead, or something.
    Ah, thanks, I found it shortly after you posted that, but I didn't have a chance to post it until now. Anyways, here it is:
    Quote Originally Posted by The Two Towers, The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
    Sam sat propped against the stone, his head dropping sideways and his breathing heavy. In his lap lay Frodo's head, drowned deep in sleep; upon his white forehead lay one of Sam's brown hands, and the other lay softly upon his master's breast. Peace was in both their faces.
    Of course, having a "brown hand" doesn't necessarily mean anything other than Sam having a darker complexion. I don't take this to mean that Sam is dark-skinned--only darker than others, such as Frodo. After all, it wasn't unsual for some hobbits to have a slightly darker hue to their skin:
    Quote Originally Posted by The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue
    The Harfoots were browner of skin, smaller, and shorter, and they were beardless and bootless; their hands and feet were neat and nimble; and they preferred highlands and hillsides. The Stoors were broader, heavier in build; their feet and hands were larger, and they preferred flat lands and riversides. The Fallohides were fairer of skin and also of hair, and they were taller and slimmer than the others; they were lovers of trees and of woodlands.
    I'm not certain if Sam was a Harfoot or not, but it wouldn't be unusual, given that the Shire-folk were mostly a mingling of all three hobbit-types. At any rate, I think the portrayal of Sam by a white individual is more than reasonable, given his fathering of children described as "fair".

    As far as the allegation that Tolkien was a racist, the passage that I most often see quoted is from letter 210, in which the author describes the appearance of orcs:
    Quote Originally Posted by Letter 210
    ...they are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.
    Although lacking in sensitivity, even this passage is not entirely condemning. Tolkien clearly qualifies that this opinion is not wholly his own, but rather a deep-seated, culturally and historically rooted belief of Europeans. Here, I think Tolkien is not making a racial statement, so much as he is making reference to an historical view born out of the Mongol-invasions of Europe.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by ppinkham View Post
    I'm not sure if you read the complete Tolkien Gateway page that you linked, but they quote Tolkien himself
    ...
    "The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic. There's a tremendous love of the artefact. And of course the immense warlike passion of the Jews too, which we tend to forget nowadays."

    Seems like Tolkien was the chief perpetrator of the Dwarf-Jew parallel.
    I think you misunderstand. My rant was about the pejorative sense of the Dwarf-Jew parallel. Of course I read that and I understand that Tolkien based some of his dwarves' culture on the medieval and ancient Jews (most of the Old Testament is dedicated to Israel's conflict with the other nations of that time and place). He also calls it "warlike passion", as opposed to warmongering.

    I had said and meant that any parallels were strictly respectful and not derogatory as some would make them out to be.
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    Cool Re: Tolkien & Race

    I looked up Semite. Descendants of Shem, from the Bible, in Middle-Eastern locations, including Arabs, Ethiopians, and Hebrews.

    So my question is, how did anti-semitic come to mean only anti-Jew?

    Also, I meant Gimli speaking Yiddish as a joke.

    Yiddish is a European language.

    Gimli speaks Hebrew.
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  19. #19

    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Reddhawk View Post
    Ah, thanks, I found it shortly after you posted that, but I didn't have a chance to post it until now. Anyways, here it is:Of course, having a "brown hand" doesn't necessarily mean anything other than Sam having a darker complexion. I don't take this to mean that Sam is dark-skinned--only darker than others, such as Frodo. After all, it wasn't unsual for some hobbits to have a slightly darker hue to their skin:I'm not certain if Sam was a Harfoot or not, but it wouldn't be unusual, given that the Shire-folk were mostly a mingling of all three hobbit-types. At any rate, I think the portrayal of Sam by a white individual is more than reasonable, given his fathering of children described as "fair".
    As suggested by one or two of the posters above, I also read the "brown hand" line as being attributable to Sam's vocation as a gardener. Unlike his "master," Sam was a laborer by trade and would have spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun.
    Last edited by Vilnas; Mar 09 2009 at 10:14 PM.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Vilnas View Post
    I had always read the "brown hand" line as being attributable to Sam's vocation as a gardener. Unlike his "master," Sam was a laborer by trade and would have spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun.
    That's a reasonable explanation to be sure. I suppose I never made much out of Sam's "brown hand" because I felt it was only included to stand in contrast to Frodo's "white forehead". The reason is probably just as you've suggested, to demonstrate Sam's servitude in opposition to Frodo's affluence.
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    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Hmm maybe I am wrong about Sam -- I had thought there was a passage in Fellowship that specifically said he was of darker skin, but aparently I am mistaken.

    I'll scrounge around and see if I can find it, but otherwise ty for correcting me reddhawk
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  22. #22

    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by ppinkham View Post
    And of course the immense warlike passion of the Jews too, which we tend to forget nowadays."
    now that is interesting. obviously the events of 1947-48 caused a major change in the ways Jews were viewed, but the 'soldier-jew' stereotype of Israeli jews is a major break from the 'covetous-jew' stereotypes that come out of eastern europe, and is most commonly viewed as the 'negative' jewish stereotype, and what people would criticize tolkien for apparently perpetuating.

  23. Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by newwwwb View Post
    now that is interesting. obviously the events of 1947-48 caused a major change in the ways Jews were viewed, but the 'soldier-jew' stereotype of Israeli jews is a major break from the 'covetous-jew' stereotypes that come out of eastern europe, and is most commonly viewed as the 'negative' jewish stereotype, and what people would criticize tolkien for apparently perpetuating.
    The Rohirrim sang during the Siege of Gondor because the "lust of battle was in them", etc; but they are neither portrayed as bloodthirsty or unreasonable. In fact, I would say Tolkien viewed joy during a JUST war as a good thing.
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  24. #24

    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    The Rohirrim sang during the Siege of Gondor because the "lust of battle was in them", etc; but they are neither portrayed as bloodthirsty or unreasonable. In fact, I would say Tolkien viewed joy during a JUST war as a good thing.
    oh, i wasnt accusing tolkien of being racist or anything. i was just making an observation. the dwarves as critiques of jews thing is based on the dwarves lust for treasure, but in that quote its something else entirely.

    in fact, being jewish myself, i never even considered the fact that there were any anti-semetic elements to tolkiens writing until i read this thread

  25. #25

    Re: Tolkien & Race

    Quote Originally Posted by newwwwb View Post
    being jewish myself, i never even considered the fact that there were any anti-semetic elements to tolkiens writing until i read this thread
    The fact ? I don't think there are any facts to support this idea. A number of people have already posted evidence to the contrary in earlier replies in this same thread. According to my dictionary anti-semetic is the adj. form of the noun anti-semite, defined as "One who discriminates against or who is hostile toward or prejudiced against Jews." I don't see that anywhere in his writings or even in the Interview quoted earlier. Tolkien's dwarves are noble people who achieved much to be proud of. If Tolkien says that his dwarves might remind you of Jews perhaps he purposely did this in homage ?
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