Sunday, November 14, 2010

On Racism and Other Such Nonsense

I am a member of the Writer's Digest Sci-Fi/Fantasy Forum, and one of our newest members recently brought up an interesting topic. In one of her college classes, a fellow classmate has alleged (and supported by the professor, no less!) that in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, there exist subtle tones of racism and inter-racial hatred. I was flabbergasted. Not that I don't think Mr. Tolkien didn't have his opinions, but to accuse of him of penning his life's work as disguised racial hatred is reaching just a little far in my opinion. Has as much to say about the state of our society and the corruption and decay within our system of education as anything else. I took some time to respond to her, so I thought I would post it here as well, as boards in the Forum are beyond my ability to control to preserve this little gem of "wisdom". Here it is.

Suemac, there are a lot of people like that, both liberal and conservative. The fact that anyone is reading "subtle racism" into Tolkien and other traditional fantasy by allegorically assigning real life racial roles to the good and evil among the races in any such work speaks volumes, I think, about the state of their own heart. Personally, I perceive that sort of thinking to be the height of human arrogance and view people like that with disgust. Of course the author was really writing about racial relations, what else is there to discuss?!

Now, have there been authors whose works of Fantasy or Sci-Fi are indeed allegorical to their real life feelings about other ethnicities? Let's say for the sake of argument there are, but I am not enough of a literary scholar to be able to cite specific examples. Citing your adversaries example, I think the fact that so many evil entities in fantasy have ape-like features and exhibit less intelligence is more of a statement of mankind's superiority as a species over other creatures to which we customarily attribute such characteristics.

Fantasy is just that. Fantasy, nothing more, nothing less. Great heroes require a great evil, or great opposition against which to struggle. That more is written about the triumph of good over evil, I think sheds more light upon the inner heart and desires of humanity as a whole, rather than exposing hidden racism and other similar bigotry tucked away in the dark corners of our hearts. We want to believe that there is a hero or heroine deep inside each of us, because we can each look into ourselves and see the battle taking place between the light and darkness in our souls. We want to believe, because we want to be redeemed, to be saved from all that within us that is not admirable.

And for the record, should one try to draw allegorical comparisons between the races in LOTR and real life, one would find that the evil entity would have been the Aryan race that was the Nazi Party of Germany in the second world war. Ergo, the physical attributes of the "evil" races in the LOTR would have been the manifestation of what lurked within, rather than the appearance of, real life peoples.

Ever notice how vampires are typically portrayed as white people, but nobody gets upset about it? And come to think of it, so are werewolves and Frankenstein. All of this has more to do with the culture of the peoples to which those mythologies belong, rather than any hidden agenda. Urgh. Stupid people.

My two cents. (Well, probably more like my two bits.)