LOTR: Racist?

Discussion in 'J R R Tolkien' started by Brian Turner, Dec 24, 2003.

  1.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    Someone pointed out on another forum - in Return of the King, in the moment before the battle at the gates of Mordor, the heroes and villains are arrayed...

    ...and the good guys are all white skinned, and the bad guys have all got brown or black skin.

    Is this is a form of racism?
  2.  
    dwndrgn

    dwndrgn Fierce Vowelless One Staff Member

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    I think it wasn't purposefully racist - he made the bad guys all dark, hairy and warty and in the final battle the bulk of the defenders are from the same culture group so they would naturally all look similar. In the book, the only skin colors I remember being discussed are those of specific royal families and the bad guys themselves. The Hobbits are never described as white - that, I think, is a factor of the collective readers' conciousness and the original artists. If you look hard enough almost anything can be considered racist.

    I think he just took the common 'look' of the people around him as a basis for the good guys. He was creating a mythos for the Brits after all.
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    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Knivesout no more

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    I'm with dwndrgn on this one. Tolkien is definitely steeped in a European sort of ethos, but I really do find it hard to find any real racism in his work. And I'm fairly sensitive tothis sort of thing - I totally loathe Bram Stoker's air of theWhite Worm, for instance, because I think the depiction of Ollanga is just too racist to be tolerated.


    On the other hand, I tend to be quite forgiving of the racist elements which do crop in in Lovecraft's work so maybe it's really a question of whether I like the story in question or not.

    Still, I find it hard to imagine that Tolkien's intention were racist in any way.
  4.  
    Amidala

    Amidala glass hearted girl

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    what a pile of rubbish!

    Remember what age tolkien lived in, it is also a tad sexist but it isnt on purpose you have to remember when it was written.
    I think there would be an outcry if there were black elves etc etc because its just not the book is it?
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    Foxbat

    Foxbat I am a number

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    I agree. You have to read the book and take into account when it was written. And it probably is more sexist than racist.
    A lot of people spend too much time looking for symbols, portents and signs in literature when, sometimes, the book is simply a damn good read.

    Probably the underlying reason for the accusation is the strong similarity between LOTR and Wagner's Ring Cycle. The real reason for such a similarity is probably not so much an empathy with Wagner's racist views - but in the fact that both works were born from the same Norse myths and legends.
  6.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    If we say that Tolkien is clear of the charge, then can we say the same about Peter Jackson and the films? After all, he could have had a few black humans running around with the good guys - or would that be breaking something of the book in view of political correctness?

    Simply exploring this discussion.
  7.  
    Amidala

    Amidala glass hearted girl

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    But then hardcore tolkien fans would complain him not sticking to the texts.
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    Foxbat

    Foxbat I am a number

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    Personally I don't see anything wrong with black characters in the story but I've always had the impression that it is a saga set in the North - which means most or all of the characters would probably be white. I think the skin colour is more set by geography than intent.
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    dwndrgn

    dwndrgn Fierce Vowelless One Staff Member

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    He could have done so easily - but I absolutely despise that sort of thing. It always seems to me to be just as bad to falsely include elements just for 'the look of the thing' as to exclude other elements because you find them against your personal life view.

    In any case, I just saw it today and was thinking about this question throughout the movie. The orcs seemed to come in lots of icky colors - they weren't uniformly black. Most were a nasty puke color (and very well depicted I might add - scary and ugly and petty and mean - I would say a very close adaptation of the book. These baddie bit part characters actually had character and I felt like applauding Mr. Jackson on that alone). The human allies of Sauron and those of Saruman were also white, so I would say whomever made that initial charge was looking for something to criticize and didn't pay much attention to the movie too well.

    And, while I have and still disagree on some of his casting (mainly Arwen and Aragorn), I found the movie to be quite enjoyable and a fair representation of Tolkien's work. I only found three minor things to fault in this one - one bit of poor continuity placement, one bit of gratuitous goofy acrobatics, and one bit of inattention to detail. Sorry, I'm a film snob! But, I really enjoyed it and gasped, laughed and cried at all the right places.
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    Elysium

    Elysium chemist in waiting

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    Jackson tried to stay as close to the text as he could. I do not think he intended to be racist, nor do I think he was. The countries in the books were meant to give the feeling of real life counries. For instance Rohan is very nordik. How many black vikings were there? Sticking in random black people to make the movie more pc would give everything a false and confused feeling.
  11.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    I noticed when I watched "Lilo and Stitch" that the only explicitly "white" person happened to be nasty. Everyone else was polynesian, black american, or multicoloured alien. It didn't make myself feel it was a "racist" film. But I guess it does bring to light the important point that science fiction and fantasy is not immune from social issues. Fantasy itself, in being pivotally based on Northern European mythology and sociology, is particularly open to such accusations.

    I have to admit to having taken that into account when writing "Chronicles of Empire". Not only did I not make any description of skin colour for the lead characters, I also ensured that there was a wide expression of cultural diversity in the supporting cast, and that strong or pivotal characters would not be predominantly either "white" or male. I certainly intend to keep that principle in the rewrite it needs before I can take it again to the publishers.
  12.  
    jerchar

    jerchar New Member

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    Hi everyone, back from a short vacation.

    I saw part 3 of the trilogy LOTR yesterday and must say it was worth it, although it is not my favourite part, I prefer the 2nd one. It makes me angry to see that even in a stupendous movie like this people are really digging for imperfections or things worth criticizing. I didn't even think of this movie being racist, what affected me more was the lack of important female roles, maybe Tolkien hadn't met the right woman to inspire him... Concerning the bad guys; when all the troops are in front of Minas Tirith this ugly and deformed orc fellow seemed quite white to me. In my opinion it is just a very sad fact that people tend to spoil anything in planting something that wasn't there in the beginning.
  13.  
    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Knivesout no more

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    Yea, I can't believe they even did away with the Golliwogs in Noddy. :rolleyes: I found that quite absurd.


    However, I do believe that people write (draw/paint/sing/sculpt/etc) about what they know. It's inevitable that a writer's output will reflect the cultural context they are used to.

    There are a fair number of Indian movies which are set in pre-Independance times and only ever feature non-Indians in the form of evil, sadistic British landlords and army officers. This sort of racism happens everywhere, and doesn't need to be taken any more seriously than it deserves.
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    Foxbat

    Foxbat I am a number

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    I think you've hit the nail on the head there. I'm sure that if Tolkien had been of a different race and culture, this would have been shown in his work and his characters.
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    nemogbr

    nemogbr Worlds Walker

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    My two cents or penny....lol

    Tolkien was a actually a man who had minimal relations with women. We can alreay see this by how a woman like Eowyn actually takes a more late-twenthieth century outlook on the book.

    Also he wanted a more realistic answer to the prophesy cannot be killed by no man......hehhe

    Being killed by a woman and hobbit was certainly a lot better...:D
  16.  
    jerchar

    jerchar New Member

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    Quote Nemogbr: "Also he wanted a more realistic answer to the prophesy cannot be killed by no man......hehhe

    Being killed by a woman and hobbit was certainly a lot better"

    Oh yes this was definitely my favorite scene in ROK
  17.  
    littlemissattitude

    littlemissattitude Super Moderator

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    Yes. That was a good scene, though not my favorite.

    As to the question of racism - I made a point of watching out for this in both ROTK and TTT. As far as I could see, the bad guys were of many different colors. I think the person makings these charges of racism was just trying to create an issue.
  18.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    I'm not sure if it has a mythological root - but it certainly came up before in literature - in the Shakespeare play, MacBeth is told that he cannot be slain by anyone born of a woman. Then along comes MacDuff, who was not actually born to a woman, but instead lifted from her by a caesarian.
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    nemogbr

    nemogbr Worlds Walker

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    I read somewhere that Tolkien actually hated that part about the play. He felt that a breach, a man torn from a womans womb, is not actually the correct answer to the prophecy.
    He ended up with a woman killing the Nazgul that cannot be slain by a man.:D Wonder what would have happened if Macduff was a woman in disguise?hehehehe
  20.  
    Shoegaze99

    Shoegaze99 New Member

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    This has been a matter of discussion for some 30 years. Punch “Tolkien” and “racism” or “racist” into Google and browse the Usenet archives and you’ll find scores of lengthy, heated discussions on the topic.

    I’ll go on record as thinking it an absurd, utterly ridiculous question. On many levels.

    (The scene during which Sam ponders the dead body of one of the Haradrim alone should be indication that Tolkien was conscious of the humanity of the people Sauron corrupted ... but that’s not what the story is about, and hence it’s not a focus)
    The short answer is “no.”
    It would not be breaking from the book in the name of political correctness, it would be doing something pointless for the sake of political correctness.

    And that would be far worse than the “crime” of having no black Gondorians.
    The person is simply repeating something that has been said time and time again for years and years, much like “Frodo and Sam are gay.”

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