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Why Tolkien and His Imperialist, Sexist Hate Bible Need To Be Reevaluated #ClassroomsSoWhite

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is widely considered by many to be among the best writers in the English language. In The Lord of the Rings, His imagination, his depth, that wonderful way with words he as a philologist and teacher had: the 450,000-word magnum opus he spent a year creating has come to be regarded as one of the great masterpieces of all prose-writing. I do not deny I found it very compelling. Even the poetry within the prose has won praise:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wonder are lost,
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
Light from the shadow shall spring,
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

But there is a far darker side to this father of high fantasy. For one thing, he was a raging imperialist. Look at the hierarchies between the races: from the “superiority” of the elves, to the “chosen” role of European “Men of the West” under the leadership of Aragorn, to the lesser races of Dwarves and Hobbits (the former are “lesser” because they are “too greedy” and the latter are “lesser” because they are children). Post-Colonialists look to the “orientalization” of Sauron’s forces and the configuration of evil as an inherent quality of Orcs and “the dark folk.” They point out Tolkien’s family’s history as a cog in the mechanism of English Imperialism, and his own birth in one of the most blatantly racist colonies of all, South Africa. Then we come to the feminist critique: feminist there are precious few women in LotR, and those who are present fulfill only the narrowest stereotypes. Éowyn’s strength is dependent upon adopting male qualities, a stereotype “powerful women in fantasy,” and she is alone amongst all of Rohan’s female population. Everyone else is a reason to fight for the men. Arwen’s place is a maiden waiting for the hand of her king. And the only powerful female, Galadriel, is too far removed from mortality and reality to be anything more than a mid-tale deus ex machina, a pseudo-god whose power is allowed only because it is arcane and mysterious; not to mention she is “terrible”. Tolkien’s disappointing views on women are encapsulated in this touching essay I found. So many women are simply — well — missing. Where are the wives and the sisters and the maids? Why did he not bother with them?

Tolkein, we must remember, was straight, white, male, cis, Catholic, and British at the end of its imperial might. His views were essentially Victorian, and I think it is very telling that his book is so popular among the straight, white, male, cis, Anglo nerdy GamerGate types. These are harmful, archaic, obsolete attitudes being normalized and perpetuated in a book that uses elegant prose to hide its extraordinary violence. I think it’s time we stopped it with the white men in the classrooms. Why should women, queer people and PoCs have to learn about a book because it was written by a white man and millions of white men thought it was good? It is wrong that we think we can push our evidently problematic preferences on to you. Let’s remove our “good” white writers from the classroom and the libraries and allow more diversity. It can only be healthy, and it might change attitudes.

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  1. So you think that because an author’s understanding of the world doesn’t equal yours his work should be banned from all libaries? Should we also forbid anyone white, male and CIS from writing in the first place?
    And isn’t the point of classroom discussion to think and argue about the whys and hows of the material at hand? That might actually help with your GamerTyp problem (which is as far as I’m aware based in the 21th century movie adaptations anyway).

    Have you for example heard the argument that Eowyn proves that Tolkien was in favour of feminism? Because yes, she is the only woman in Rohan who feels this way (or at least had the money, education and time to dream it up) and she did her duty by her people as appointed by men but once she was done woth that she choose her own fate independently (nicely spitting in Aragorns patronizing face) and the narration gives her right. If she had listened to her father, brother or crush all might have been lost. And then she went on to marry a man who amired her for her valour not just her pretty face. (Of course her new King then thanked her brother for handing over the fairest treasure in his lands, but he also had never had anything but ‘fair’ to say about the love of his live so I feel we can happily ignore him.)
    That is of course only one interpretation of one plot point but isn’t it worth a thought anyway? Tolkien was a child of his time and the culture he was born into, a culture that has changed since. That doesn’t mean his books aren’t woth the read anymore or that they are the reason people are bigots.

    I also found it a bit amusing that you descriped Eowyn as ‘stereotype “powerful women in fantasy”’ when I think she might actually be the character this stereotype is based on.
    BTW what else did you read in school? Because no teacher has ever made me read a book with more than 300 pages, and there were only two books written after WWII one of which left me with severe postmoderism induced trauma. I had to read Shakespeare and Ovid and Molière and T. Mann and of course you have to take the writers surroundings into consideration. That doesn’t mean their works are any less enjoyable or part of our heritage.

    What I really wanted to comment on was this sentence: “Why should women, queer people and PoCs have to learn about a book because it was written by a white man and millions of white men thought it was good?” The because here is simply wrong. People shouldn’t read tlotr /because/ it was written by a white man, they should read a series that changed the literature of the 20th century. That has numerous great qualities despit its shortcommings. And if they so choose they can hate it, argue against it or set in on fire but surly that’s better than having you, Mr White Social Warrior, dictating what they should and shouldn’t read and going around banning books? When did that sort of thing ever go well?

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Written by Perceives Linn

My name is Perceives Linn, and I am a seventeen year-old white cis-male student from England, studying sociology, primarily, with a view to go on to university. With a social justice family I have always been aware of all my privileges and done my best to help people of colour and other oppressed groups; but I fell in with the wrong crowd and -- well -- this is my way of redeeming myself.