“Can’t you tell you’re not making Christianity any better, you’re just making Rock & Roll worse.” – Hank Hill
I am a Tolkien fan from my days of my youth. And by youth, I mean 8 or 9. I still own the original Houghton Mifflin boxed set of The Lord of the Rings that my parents gave me for Christmas back in the ’70s. The pages are yellow and the covers are falling off, but I still make a point of re-reading those books every fall.
When the Ralph Bakshi animated version came out in 1978, I was still young enough to be wowed by the rotoscoping, although revisiting the film I find it a little… let’s just say, psychedelic in places.
Of course, the Peter Jackson films brought a whole new audience to the story. While I noticed that Jackson took obvious liberties with the source material, I thought he did a yeoman’s job of visualizing the people and places of Middle Earth. Conversely, the less said about his treatment of The Hobbit, the better.
While the movies certainly widened the audience base, not everyone I talked to was impressed with the original books. One young man who worked for me was extremely excited about the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring. I suggested that he try being a trailblazer for his generation and actually read the books. After about three days, he confessed that he got through the first two chapters before deciding it was too boring.
Comes now Amazon, with its own Middle Earth series, drawing upon “The Silmarillion” and “Unfinished Tales.” (Confession time: I admit to lacking the intellectual firepower to work through the former, although I did enjoy the latter.) There has been a great deal of speculation among fans as to the nature of the series. And it looks like the first leaks are out. Among other things, the new series will include “sexless nudity,” as opposed to the absence of nudity in the books.
Maybe Amazon will hit it out of the park. The Tolkien estate seems to think so. But it is worth noting that the release is coming after the latest meeting of the Tolkien Society, during which papers were presented and discussions were held about ways to make the legends of Middle Earth more woke. These of course are the same kind of people who will highlight in bright yellow the “environmental messages” in LOTR, while conveniently ignoring the chapter entitled “The Scouring of the Shire” in The Return of the King, which provides a very accurate description of the effects of socialism. I’ll save you some time. YouTuber Just Some Guy (who could probably teach a college level course on Tolkien) provides a great commentary here.
There is no arguing against the fact that the people in Middle Earth are white and, with a few exceptions, the characters are overwhelmingly male. But that was not meant as a slight to anyone. If you have read anything about Tolkien you know that discrimination was not a part of who he was. Take for example his letter to a German publishing house that was wary of his works until it was sure of his “racial purity”
25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Thank you for your letter. 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. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. 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.
Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and
remain yours faithfully,
J. R. R. Tolkien
Translation: Drop dead, you Nazis, you.
Middle Earth is the way it is because Tolkien drew on the myths, legends and languages of western Europe, which incidentally was his field of expertise. He also, consciously or otherwise, drew on his experiences watching the English countryside become urbanized and his time in the trenches during the First World War.
So why the need to intersectionalize Middle Earth? In a world as old and diverse as ours, there is a plethora of stories waiting to be told. Why not tell those instead of re-imaging Batman, Superman, or Captain Marvel? Or for that matter, Gondor or The Shire? Do modern filmmakers think that no one would be interested in them? Shouldn’t they be told in addition to the existing mythos of the world? For that matter, where has the creativity gone in recent years? Are artists, writers, and filmmakers completely bereft of imagination? Can we not create new stories as opposed to merely rebooting the old?
Of course, you know the answer. So does Just Some Guy, and so do I. We live in an era of destruction. What you can deface is infinitely more important than what you can create. Those who tear down are held in higher esteem than those who build. Social credit can only be attained by changing the old. And it is worth noting that there will indeed be merch for the fans, raising the question as to whether or not Amazon merely sees the works of Tolkien as a potential cash cow.
Perhaps some perspective is needed here. To be fair, not everyone is devoted to the traditional apotheosis of Frodo & Company. Plenty of people couldn’t care less about the Tolkien universe, and there are a fair number who find the whole thing rather silly. For example, Edmund Wilson took the good professor out for a ride in his essay “Oo, Those Awful Orcs!” In which case, who cares what Amazon does?
Ultimately, no matter what Amazon injects or grafts into or onto the legendarium, the original works remain intact and are available to everyone. You can put a mustache on a print of the Mona Lisa, or pants on a replica of Michelangelo’s David. You can add a screaming death metal riff to Nessun Dorma. You will never alter the impact of the originals. And you can still enjoy the things that you love, including legends of Middle Earth, no matter how they are repackaged for others. As C.S. Lewis said of the trilogy “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”