I want to write about this in more detail at a later date – but I have to say that the recent Wired interview with Andy Duncan once again highlights how the Academic regressive left have no idea how to (and therefore have no right to) talk about mythology. Just Google search this terrible theory…
What has happened in Academia? Well, since mythologies are essentially stories that deal with the metanarrative patterns of human reality, postmodernists, particularly those who are also cultural Marxists, are unable to respect and, in fact, are involved in the process of undermining the creation of metanarratives – both mythologies and religions alike.
If you read the “dictionary” I was forced to buy for my Culture Studies class, the entry for “postmodernity” eventually states that postmodernity as an Academic (or intellectual) movement is first and foremost concerned with questioning metanarratives:
The academic circulation of the term can be dated to the publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The postmodern condition (1984). In this influential account the postmodern condition is presented as a crisis in the status of knowledge in Western societies. This finds expression “as incredulity towards metanarratives” (p.xxiv), producing in turn “the absolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation,” the supposed contemporary collapse or widespread rejection of all overarching and totalizing frameworks (“metanarratives”), which seek to tell universalist stories about the world in which we live.New Keywords, “Postmodernism”, 270. Bold in text.
Lord of the Rings, therefore, cannot be read by them critically without reading a specific cultural ideology from which they originate. As believers in the power of the reader surmounting the agency of the authoritative author, they claim the right to read into the text their own negative visions about what the author may/must have consciously/subconsciously intended. As a result, in my opinion, this kind of critical reading of Tolkien says more about Duncan than Tolkien himself.
Unlike the Chronicles of Narnia which have a very specific ideology upon which rests its allegorical meaning, Lord of the Rings relies on greater mythological stories, most of them originating from the North. As a result, despite the specificity of its origins, Lord of the Rings touches on the very basics of human experience, belief, and myth, which postmodernity suggests is not possible.
Here are some basic outlines of a few of the major threads of Lord of the Rings, Mr. Duncan, just in case you have forgotten:
- The story of the Ring and Sauron’s rise to power versus the community of the Shire and the kingdom of Men juxtaposes the light and dark aspects of human social behavior with Sauron’s monolithic eye as a metaphor for unhealthy animus and the Shire and Gondor as valiant, heartfelt community.
- Good versus evil is woven deeply into the story with colours of white being linked to virtue, valor, honour, and greatness – and darker shades being linked to flaws, deceit, twistedness, and corruption. Saruman loses his status as “the White”. The orcs, Uruk-hai, and wild men are described as being darker/swarthy. This has nothing to do with subconscious racism on the author’s part – anymore than depicting dragons as evil or dangerous is dragonism (I don’t know what to call racism against dragon). These mythic symbols – from colours to animal types – cannot be applied to specific real-world problems. The issues addressed within these grand scheme metaphors are more about theoretical, moral, or ethical issues and anxieties, as well as touching on spiritual reality. The spiritual nature of evil is apparent in Lord of the Rings since Sauron is a metaphor for Satan, utilizing anyone (from Denethor to the Witch King of Angmar to the Haradrim). Seeing the distortion of elves into orcs as a kind of racist narrative ignores what it is actually saying about the generalizing spiritual corruption of good people into evil.
- Another issue that Tolkien addresses in his books is technology versus nature as man progresses. Sauron wastes the lands. Saruman burns the trees and lays waste to the Shire. On the other hand, simpler pastoral settings – such as the Hobbits’ Shire or Elrond’s Rivendell – offer a vision of what should be, what could be. As the late 1800s turned into the strife of the 1900s, technological and industrial progress accelerated often at the cost of the natural world, leading some thinkers, writers, and poets, such as Tolkien and Gerard Manley Hopkins, to consider more deeply the relationship of man with Creation.
Does Tolkien tackle racism in his stories? I believe that he does – but unfortunately for him, it’s not in the way that postmodern cultural Marxists would like (because to be accepted by them, you have to denounce the groups they have specifically targeted).
Overcoming racism is in fact celebrated in Lord of the Rings – through the amazing relationship of Legolas and Gimli, representing two races who have historically fought each other for thousands upon thousands of years. Once again, the monolithic nature of Sauron who binds all into his own being and controls his forces through the power of his will, represents an authoritarian, anti-diverse being, opposed by alliances of men, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and elves. Gandalf, derided by Saruman, for hanging with the hobbits, points out throughout the series that Hobbits have been underestimated (dare I say, excluded?). The Uruk-Hai (the forces of Evil) are in fact the results of eugenics and represent the best of man AND orc – and are essentially supremacists as a result. Furthermore, there are folk who are “white” and evil in Lord of the Rings as well – Isildur, Saruman, the Mouth of Sauron, Smeagol, the Nine Wraiths (ancient corrupted kings), and Denethor, for example. There are also complicated figures, like Galadriel, who spectated, if not took part, in elven genocide of the coastal elves of Valinor in The Silmarillion. In fact, The Silmarillion is all about elves killing other elves (and dwarves). So, “racism” in Lord of the Rings is incredibly complex, and, in the end, the stories of Tolkien are more concerned about humanity’s harm of humanity and less about one particular group hurting another particular group. Tolkien assumes that a person can use their head to figure out from his “generalizing, universalist tales” that violence is an evil force in history, though at times necessary.
I highly recommend checking out the Tolkien Gateway Wiki entry on Tolkien’s stance and writings on racism, which I double-checked after writing this – and found, to my relief, support for what I stated above. I can only suggest that Duncan’s conclusions of Lord of the Rings stems from a very basic and willful ignorance about Tolkien’s life and work because I was able to easily think of these examples off the top of my head… which suggests disingenuous behavior, intellectual/academic dishonesty, and willful deception on the part of Duncan.
To mistake these metaphors, to simplify them down to some kind of intersectional critique is both demeaning and narrow-minded on the part of the postmodern Cultural Marxist, but not surprising to me, unfortunately. The idea that we can apply or impose postmodern sensibilities and critiques on a modern man’s nod to arguably timeless tales about universal truths or social patterns is hilarious. It also marks the hubris of an ideology that attempts to discredit the existence of metanarratives by itself creating a non-metanarrative metanarrative.
Interestingly enough, this unfortunate trend has not affected Lord of the Rings alone. Notably, the Star Wars universe, since the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, when George Lucas attempted to reduce the fantasy/spirituality of the Force to a scientist position (“the midichlorians”), has become a bit of vehicle for specific ideologies, worsening with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Instead of harking back to the originals which touched on, albeit poorly, good vs evil, redemption, sacrifice, and heroism, instead of attempting to preserve the universal appeal of Star Wars, the recent Disney productions have resulted in very culturally specific (and politically correct) stories that, I believe, will not stand the test of time. However…
Lord of the Rings will still be around.
Saks, “Tolkien and the Jews”.
Weaponized Nerd Rage (YouTube). [WARNING: heavy language!!!]