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Middle-earth as the Middle East

Turkey's Islamist leader is Saruman. Benjamin Netanyahu is Boromir. Who is Frodo?

by
Timothy Furnish

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February 14, 2014 - 3:30 pm
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Tayyip ErdoganSaruman-villains-23624791-500-360

Controversial Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been described as the savior of the Islamic world and as a new Ottoman sultan. But likening him to the wizard Saruman from The Lord of the Rings is novel—as was done earlier this week by a leader in the Turkish opposition party:

“[Turkey has become] a country where headlines and program flows can change with one phone call as if it were Middle-Earth in Lord of the Rings. The [person] who does it is like a Saruman the White who has lost all sense of shame,” Republican People’s Party’s [CHP] deputy Emine Ülker Tarhan said in a written statement on Feb. 10.

Since my two main areas of expertise are the Middle East and Middle-earth, I shall thus follow Ms. Tarhan’s example and complete the slate of leadership analogies between Tolkien’s cast of characters, both evil and good, and that of our own clash of civilizations. The template will utilize The Lord of the Rings movies rather than the books,  and not the newer Hobbit ones, for two reasons: 1) more people are probably familiar with the movies than Tolkien’s books; and 2) LotR lends itself more easily to a vast, geopolitical struggle with apocalyptic consequences than does The Hobbit.

Let’s start with the bad guys, and Turkey’s leader as Saruman. This is actually quite accurate, since the original White Wizard was a good guy gone bad—much as Turkey is slowly transmogrifying from a NATO member and secular, Western ally into a neo-Ottoman power dedicated to reviving political Islam in its old domains. (Just keep in mind that the real Saruman would have used a palantir, not a phone, to issue threats.) Gandalf’s former boss, however, only ever reached the status of an evil epigone; far more potent was the ancient enemy Sauron, a political and religious tyrant who demanded that all denizens of Middle-earth submit to his rule for their own good. The only possible Middle East analog of such a powerful figure would be the founder of Islam himself, Muhammad.

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All Comments   (109)
All Comments   (109)
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Reading the trilogy sent my thinking down the same road. Our Frodos are the humble and flawed little ones consumed by their unselfish mission. All my money is on the archetype of Aragorn and He is returning.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
My nominee for Grima Wormtongue would be our mainstream media in the US. Like Wormtongue, they use falsehoods, half-truths, and lies of omission that sap our strength, paralyze our actions, and steal our hope. Not every member of the MSM acts that way, but it would be fair to attach "Wormtongue" to the names of many of our most prominent journalists and pundits. I'm pretty sure that deep down, they know it too.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
That is a very good idea, HootMN. I just liked the idea of slamming Obama as Grima.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tim, with all due respect, there are times when art reflects life.

Also, I can't help but conclude that the well developed characters in "The Lord of the Rings" are composite.

Therefore, I say that Frodo is a composite of those folk who get things done, because they have to get done themselves.

It's like, "Time to wash the dishes, because they won't wash themselves".
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
David: certainly I agree with your first sentence.
That LOTR characters are "composites" bordering on archetypes (from Western civilization) is also quite defensible, based on Tolkien's own statement in his scholarly articles like "On Fairy Stories" and "Beowulf: the Monster and the Critics."
But of whom (specifically) is Frodo the composite, do you think?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I reiterate, the folk who see the dangers posed by the villains you cite, and act upon them.

Whether they facebook over at Islam Exposed, or agree with Orianna Fallaci, and others who voiced honest skepticism about Islam (without axe-grinding).

Sort of like the central character in "A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich" by Solzhenitsyn.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe I've adduced a few such folks, have I not?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
We are at a cross-roads. Either Frodo is the composite of all who prepare, away from the limelight, for the Coming of the King of Kings, or he is a composite of Conrad Black, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant.

After all, Canada can turn out more than Prime Minister Harper in sticking up for what Islam seeks to counter.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
For the role of Aragorn, I nominate Mark Levin.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have very much enjoyed this post and the comments it instigated, what a fun bunch of writers you all are. New MarcH it isn't click-bait per se, just click on the single page view option.
BTW I like Rick Perry for Aragorn; laboring in obscurity but getting the job done, getting ready to step on to a larger stage.
Thank you for writing this.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are most welcome, Katherine in RB!
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
LOTR is an important and deep work and the threat of WMD in the hands of the current Iranian goverment is serious, but this post is click-bait.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
newMarchH: I agree on both counts--and this article takes as its starting point (albeit not overtly) the Tolkienian idea that LOTR is, while not allegory, historically grounded and centered on the conflict between West and East/South (thus, Gondor is the Byzantine Empire fighting off hordes of invaders from those directions, etc.).
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
TR - I am familiar with the thought that Gondor is based on Byzantium, etc. but since think it is too simplest to see LOTR as an allegory of the West vs. the East.

I would say one of Tolkien's theme is closer to this favorite thought of Solzhenitsyn: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains ... an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”

In any case, how is an discussion of LOTR or an analysis of the threat of Iranian WMD facilitated by asking whether Frodo is Mark Levin?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
>>“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.
I love this! I'm ignorant of Solzhenitsyn, but will fix this soon.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Enjoy and God bless.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't know, new MarcH--ask Minnesoter.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I expect he would say he was following your pattern.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I rather think of Abbas of the PA as Wormtongue. Obama is the leader of the pirates coming to aid Sauron.

I think we all know who Shelob is. Ask her Presidential campaign committee.

As far as Aragron is concerned, he has not yet come, and his coming is unrelated to geopolitics. Frodo? Try Bennet. I'm not sure if he is ready to relinquish the Ring, though.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't believe PJMedia is wasting 19 pages on this teenage drivel. Please, get serious or I'm leaving!
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
To steal a line from Wikipedia, PJMedia Is Not Paper. One long article does not subtract from the availability of other articles.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Teenage drivel?" There's a reason why Tolkien's works are classic -- they depict the human story in any age, at any time. If that's "drivel," I question what you consider "weighty."
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thought he was referring to my (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek analogizing as "drivel," MerryLass. Better he insult me than Tolkien!
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Then s/he is wrong on two counts ;)
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Also, tinmouth, please note that it's only 19 pages because the good editors at PJM put in a lot of work interpolating photos. The actual text of my article is just under 1200 words.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pretty sure, tinmouth, that the "Lifestyle" section is rather on the lighter side. I just checked and there is a veritable legion of (more) serious articles for your reading pleasure extant on the PJM main page.
There might be a bit more seriousness to my article than you glean....just sayin'....
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
NO! Stop!

Leave Tolkien alone! All these many years I've been cherishing his work, this has be my greatest fear- that it will be commercialized and corrupted, it's poetry and beauty lost and sold down the river.

Years ago Vigo Mortennson made a complete ass of himself trying to allege that George W bush was really Saruman in disguise. He lost a lot of respect, as well he should have.

When you steal Tolkien's work to blather about Middle Eastern politics, it only shows that you run out of ideas. Better not to write anything in that condition

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Given that LOTR did have a great deal to do with WWI, (NOT WWII) with France as Gondor and Mordor clearly Germany, and that one of the uses of culture is to serve as metaphor, I fail to understand your point.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you, mzk. I think Gondor is clearly the Byzantine Empire, however (Tolkien's "Letters," p. 157)--which makes the Easterlings and Orcs and Southrons the enemies that attacked Gondor and Europe (mainly, but not only, Muslims). But yes, wombat1 clearly does not like culture-as-metaphor (or at least using Tolkien for such).
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, stuff like the Iliad and Beowulf should be locked up under glass, then.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow, wombat1! When exactly did you have your sense of humor removed?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment

Since we are melding Middle Earth to Middle East, where is Israel in all this? Hard to make a good analogy as the expert in Middle East and earth and leave Israel as if it did not exist.

Last week Raphael unveiled the Iron Beam close point laser defense system. This truck mounted system can destroy artillery, mortar, drones, and small missiles with small cost per round.

One more ring of power.



30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
spindok: the point is not geographical, but personalities. And I did make Netanyahu Boromir.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bibi did not acquire the One Ring, his predecessors did. He has it and dare not use it. (Nuclear strike option is the Ring of Power in our age of Camelot gone to hell.)

Netanyahu is certainly not Boromir, at least not the one that lusted for the ring. Faramir, the forgotten son perhaps, but not the flawed brother who died in expiation of his betrayal of fellowship.

We all appear to have the same problem with this analogy. No man or woman today stands out as the hero of the west. We have need of such, but we do not have the evidence that they walk among us. We will always have a Saruman, a Grima or one of the Nine incarnate on the world stage, but the likes of Strider, hoped for, are not seen.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Benjamin Netanyahu is Boromir, if you read the article.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you, MerryLass!
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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