Why Did Tolkien Care About the Jews?

Wagner's legacy remains baleful. Fortunately, many more people know Tolkien than know Wagner, and we may pronounce Tolkien's project a success. Unfortunately, Wagner's hold on the cultural elite remains strong, and influences modern culture in ways of which the popular audience is unaware. A stake has not yet been driven through his heart. I swing a mallet to this end whenever opportunity permits.

In a 2003 essay ("The Ring and the Remnants of the West") I compared Wagner's and Tolkien's respective treatment of the same Norse and Teutonic mythological themes:

Nibelung Alberich forges a Ring of PowerSauron forges a Ring of Power
Wotan needs the giants to build ValhallaThe Elves need Sauron to forge their Rings of Power
The Ring gives the bearer world dominationThe Ring gives the bearer world domination
Wotan uses the Ring to pay the giantsSauron betrays the Elves
The Ring is cursed and betrays its bearerThe Ring isĀ evil and betrays its bearer
Fafner kills brother Fasolt to get the RingSmeagol kills friend Deagol for the Ring
Fafner hides in a cave for centuriesSmeagol-Gollum hides in a cave for centuries
Siegfried inherits the shards of his father's swordAragorn inherits the shards his fathers' sword
Brunnhilde gives up immortality for SiegfriedArwen gives up immortality for Aragorn
Wotan plays "riddles" for the life of MimeGollum plays "riddles" for the life of Bilbo
A dragon guards the Nibelungs' hoardA dragon guards the dwarves' hoard
The gods renounce the world and await the endThe Elves renounce the world and prepare to depart
The Ring is returned to its origin, the River RhineThe Ring is returned to its origin, Mount Doom
Hagen falls into the riverGollum falls into the volcano
The dwarves are the Jews (and are very wicked)The dwarves are the Jews (clannish and greedy but not wicked)
A new era emerges in the worldA new era emerges in the


Men are left to their own devicesMen are left to their own


I concluded, "Tolkien enthusiasts emphasize his differences with Wagner, as if to ward off the disparagement that The Lord of the Rings is a derivative work. As Bradley Birzer, David Harvey, and other commentators observe, Tolkien detested Wagner's neo-paganism. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and explicitly philo-Semitic where Wagner was anti-Semitic. But this defense of Tolkien obscures a great accomplishment. He did not emulate Wagner's Ring, but he recast the materials into an entirely new form. 'Recast' is an appropriate expression. A memorable scene in Wagner shows Siegfried filing the shards of his father's sword into dust, and casting a new sword out of the filings. That, more or less, is what Tolkien accomplished with the elements of Wagner's story. Wagner will still haunt the stages of opera houses, but audiences will see him through Tolkien's eyes."

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