[Marxism] Tolkien as war propaganda?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 13 13:19:29 MST 2006

NY Times, Dec. 15, 2002

Propaganda and 'Lord of the Rings'

When Viggo Mortensen appeared on "Charlie Rose" last week to flog "The Lord
of the Rings: The Two Towers," the second of the three films by Peter
Jackson based on J. R. R. Tolkien's beloved trilogy, he ended up talking
mostly about politics. Mr. Mortensen, whose brave warrior knight Aragorn
spends much of "The Two Towers" rallying the troops and leading them into
battle against the forces of darkness, was wearing a homemade T-shirt with
the slogan, "No Blood for Oil." Although he opposes the Bush
administration's prospective invasion of Iraq, Mr. Mortensen said he wore
the shirt to protest something that hit even closer to home ? the
interpretation he keeps hearing of the new movie, which opens Wednesday, as
both an allegory and an endorsement of the invasion.

"I don't think that 'The Two Towers' or Tolkien's writing or our work has
anything to do with the United States' foreign ventures," he told Mr. Rose,
"and it upsets me to hear that."

Tolkien would surely have seconded that emotion. The "Ring" trilogy was
published in 1954 and 1955, in the long shadow of World War II and as cold
war tensions grew. It was hardly surprising if some readers saw Hitler in
the evil wizard Saruman or read nuclear Armageddon into the Dark Lord
Sauron's war to wipe out all the peoples of Middle-Earth. Enough readers
did, that when Ballantine began to publish an American edition of the
trilogy in 1965, Tolkien wrote a preface to set them straight. Insisting
that his "prime motive was the desire of a tale teller," Tolkien wrote that
the trilogy "is neither allegorical nor topical" and pointed out that its
composition began "long before the disaster foreshadowed in 1939."

Of course, the Nazi threat was evident before 1939, and Tolkien, a veteran
of World War I, was sensitive to it. In "Tolkien, Hitler and Nordic
Heroism," an essay published last year and circulated on the Internet, R.
J. Smirak quotes Tolkien's 1938 denunciation of the Nazis' "pernicious and
unscientific race-doctrine."

Tolkien also squashed a German publisher's inquiry into the possible Aryan
origins of his surname by expressing his regret that he appeared to lack
Jewish ancestors. (Tolkien's ancestry was, in fact, German.)

Still, his righteous anger was double-edged. Tolkien was a Christian and a
medievalist whose passion for all things Norse inflects his fiction. In a
1941 letter to his son, Tolkien described his "burning private grudge . . .
against that ruddy little ignoramus Hitler." Why? For "ruining, perverting,
misapplying and making forever accursed that noble, northern spirit, a
supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved and tried to
present in its true light."

But for all the proto-multiculturalism of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, in the
current climate it's impossible not to experience Peter Jackson's "Two
Towers" as war propaganda of unnerving power. The scene in which ranks upon
ranks of enemy Uruk-hai warriors march in perfect order seems like a
spine-chilling tip of the computer-graphics hat to Leni Riefenstahl's
"Triumph of the Will." For such low, vile creatures, they have a lot of
discipline. The enemy, whether Orc, Warg or Uruk-hai, is hideous and
beastly, even monstrously humanoid but never simply human.

On the intentional level, "The Two Towers" is a grand adventure tale, in
which good and evil are comfortingly clear. But even without the accidental
echoes ? evil or "Evildoers?" Sauron or Saddam? And how many towers? ? the
movie would have its own double edge. Dehumanizing the other guy is the
first step in training soldiers and fighting wars. The danger is that this
is what makes not just warfare palatable but extermination itself.



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