Peter Jackson’s Orcs
By Greg Wright
Tolkien, Racism and Classism
The peoples of Middle-earth are, admittedly, very European. The people of Gondor, and others of Númenorean descent, are fair-skinned and grey-eyed. The north-men of Rohan are, not suprisingly, Nordic in their fair-haired stature. And the Hobbits themselves, while a bit on the furry side, are very, well… British. The Southrons on the other hand — those of Near and Far Harad — are swarthy and even quite dark-skinned, while the followers of Ghan-Buri-Ghan are presented as aboriginal and men of uncertain descent are at times described as sallow.
Does this make Tolkien racist? To be sure, the humanoids of Middle-Earth tend to be what might be today called segregationist: purity of bloodlines is of tremendous concern to these people, and at the time of The War of the Ring, to be a Numenorian is a source of great pride — and to be anything else is to be, quite frankly, something lesser. But Rohan’s separatism, for only one example, is based more on ignorance, fear and mistrust than it is on ideology. And it’s hardly surprising that Tolkien, in writing a mythology he could dedicate “to England,” would produce a fantastic world that rather mirrored his own. The Lord of the Rings takes place in a northerly clime, not an equatorial.
The stratification of Middle-Earth’s social classes has also been criticized. Kings are kings, and serfs are serfs — and the twain shall never meet. But again, to be English is to recognize and accept the significance of bloodlines and lineage: to know your place in the world, and to embrace it. At the same time, a worthy monarch of Middle-Earth knows what it is to be truly noble, and that nobility cannot be reduced to station alone. Even the lowliest may be worthy of great honor through loyalty, faithfulness, courage and service — thus Aragorn and Eomer may confer status and position upon mere Hobbits, that peculiar and unique “branch of the specifically human race.”
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