Random thoughts on Lord of the Rings

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 25 07:51:42 MST 2002

Saw "Two Towers" yesterday and am convinced now that all the furor over the
film's alleged racism and warmongering is unwarranted. It would be very
difficult to categorize this film with such openly propagandistic efforts
like all the Sly Stallone films that served to underpin the Reagan
presidency or something like "Blackhawk Down", etc. This is a film about
Good Versus Evil and one could just as easily project George W. Bush as the
evil wizard, bent on world conquest.

More to the point, I have rather vivid memories of the popularity of
Tolkien's fiction with undergraduates at Bard College in the early 1960s,
who were about as susceptible to racism and war propaganda as Phil Donohue
or the current Archbishop of Canterbury are. They were mostly enthralled
with the notion of enchanted woodlands and creatures with mystical powers.
This was a time when interest in the Kabbalah, Joseph Campbell's fairy tale
scholarship (and before he was unearthed as an anti-Semite), Gnostic
religion, etc. were at an all-time high. I suspect that the current
interest in Tolkien is in the same spirit.

The other thing that struck me was the close connection that the narrative
has to Wagner's Ring cycle, which also revolves around the mixed blessings
of a supernatural ring and the dangers of acquisitiveness. As was the case
with the Japanese anime "Princess Mononoke", the ultimate symbol of evil
for Tolkien is a quasi-industrial hearth churning out steel. In both cases,
the destruction of the forest incites their denizens to rise up. It is not
too difficult to understand why this would be close to Tolkien's heart
since the destruction of Great Britain's native forests were essential to
its rise as an industrial power. Furthermore, some historians argue that
the deforestation of the New World was another important link in its
imperial ascendancy.

Finally, the 'gollum' character was something of an eyebrow-raiser for me.
Not only is this an alternative spelling for the monster of Jewish legend,
the creature's name Smeagol sounded somewhat Jewish to my ears, like
Spiegel or Siegel, two common Jewish names. In Tolkien's tale, this abject,
cringing but violently hostile character, is supposedly a lesson of how
greed (for the ring specifically) ruins one's character. The fact that this
character is also played by a Jewish actor might be entirely coincidental.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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