Middle-earth fascism?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 19 12:57:18 MST 2001

The San Francisco Chronicle, DECEMBER 19, 2001, WEDNESDAY, FINAL EDITION

'Lord' rings true; Tolkien's epic fantasy springs to wondrous life onscreen

Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic

J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece, the three books that make up "The Lord of the
Rings," is about two profound things -- the horror of power without
spiritual understanding, and the nature of courage. In the figure of Frodo,
the humble, small-town hobbit who never expected to be called upon for acts
of bravery or sacrifice, several generations of readers have found their
everyman, their hairy-footed inspiration, their call to day-by-day
fortitude. The books are marvelous, and they have, like all great epics,
the power to awaken powerful responses in their readers. To even begin to
conceive of a cinematic version of the series is daunting -- not only
because the books' power lies in the intimacy of their imagination but also
because they are so specific in Tolkien's construction, created with such
loving specificity. Get one thing wrong, and the whole thing is wrong . . .
or at least not quite right.


The film's story centers on a gold ring that gives invincible power to
anyone who wears it. Bilbo has been in possession of it for years, and when
he leaves town, he passes it on to Frodo. The ring is a force of evil, and
the creator of that force, Sauron, is hot in pursuit of it. It becomes
Frodo's mission -- dreaded, unasked for -- to save civilization by
destroying the ring in the only place it can be destroyed, the hellish
furnace where Sauron forged it.

"Fellowship of the Ring" gets its title from the team of warriors who go
off with Frodo and several hobbit companions on what seems like an
impossible mission. The fellowship is the Middle-earth equivalent of a U.N.
contingent -- hobbits, a dwarf, a wizard, an elf and two men, who must
overcome their antagonisms and weaknesses in order to fight an evil that
threatens to engulf the world...


SUNDAY TELEGRAPH(LONDON), March 26, 2000, Sunday

Italian fascists take Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf hostage


TO MOST of the millions of people who eagerly await the film version of J.
R. R. Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings, hairy-footed hobbits are
lovable little things whose main interest in life is roast mutton, not

It might, therefore, come as a shock that in Italian fascist and far-Right
circles Bilbo Baggins has become a cult figure who epitomises all that they
hold most dear.

The three-part film of the mythical struggle between good and evil,
starring Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, the wizard, and billed as the next
Star Wars, began production at Wellington, New Zealand, in October and is
due for release at the end of next year. Italian fascists are irritated
that Gandalf is being portrayed by Sir Ian, a homosexual activist. But they
regard the struggle of the grey wizard and his hobbit friends to defeat the
evil prince of darkness, Sauron, as similar to their own struggle against
communism and globalisation. No fascist bookshop is complete without a copy
of The Lord of the Rings, alongside Hitler's Mein Kampf. Italy's leading
Tolkieniano, Gianfranco de Turris, who wrote the introduction to the 1991
Italian translation of Humphrey Carpenter's official biography of Tolkien,
said: "In Tolkien you find exalted all the values that fascists and the
traditional Italian Right admire: spirituality, community, comradeship,
order, adventure, heroism, a warrior spirit, the struggle against evil, a
sense of duty and of mission, the heroism of the ordinary man; in fact all
those values unknown to or rejected by contemporary western society."

Mr de Turris, who said he was not a fascist but of the traditional Right,
added: "The Lord of the Rings offers a sceptical and demythologised society
a believable myth."

To those of a non-fascist persuasion, no doubt, it is difficult to see what
hobbits such as Bilbo Baggins, played by the American Ian Holm, and Benito
Mussolini, the founder of fascism, have in common except their small
stature. Hobbits are said to be half the size of men and Mussolini at 5ft
6in was rather on the short side. And unlike hobbits, who were hairy, he
was bald. It also dovetails with many fascists' beliefs that the evil
creatures in The Lord of the Rings, who wear black cloaks, have black skins
while the good guys - elves, most dwarves and hobbits - have white skins.

But there is much more to this fascist fascination with Il Signore degli
Anelli and Lo Hobbit, as they are known in Italy, than the colour of skin.

Tolkien (1893-1973) would no doubt have responded with a weary shrug to the
admiration of fascists for the mythical world he created. He was a
Right-wing conservative Roman Catholic but no fascist.

Yet his world view was similar in many ways to that of fascists. He exalted
order, hierarchy, the countryside and a mythical past where hobbits were
engaged in a heroic quest against all the odds; a world where the
boundaries between good and evil were absolute - not relative as many on
the Left would have it. He despised industrialisation and modernisation as
did many, though not all, fascists.

Italian fascist fascination with The Lord of the Rings began in 1970 when
Rusconi, the Right-wing publishing house, first published it in Italian.

Italy's mainly Left-wing publishing and media world had dismissed it as
reactionary bourgeois escapism and would not touch it.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the cold-shoulder by Italy's ruling
cultural elite and the mainly hostile reviews the work received, it became
an instant best-seller.

Indeed, so taken were Italian fascists with Tolkien that they even began to
organise Hobbit Camps and scrawl pro-hobbit graffiti on walls.

The Left, meanwhile, bought into the same orthodoxy and rejected Tolkien as
"fascist". Which was something of an irony - in other countries such as
America and Britain it was the Left, largely in the shape of hippies, who
adored Tolkien.

Louis Proyect
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