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Christine Kelley

Christine Artemisia Kelley writes about science fiction and fantasy, popular music, radical politics, and Christian theology. You might know her for her semi-retired project Dreams of Orgonon, a song-by-song study of Kate Bush. Currently her main project is Nowhere and Back Again, a psychogeography of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Expect queerness, radical solidarity, wizardry, and the death of capitalism.Support Christine on Patreon.

6 Comments

  1. Douglas Muir
    April 30, 2021 @ 9:45 am

    “Cultural appropriation isn’t something the white, pseudo-European characters do; they nurture their own traditions and cultures, taking care not to mix traditions.”

    hmm. I see where you’re going there, but let’s note that mixing with Elves is almost always shown as good; i.e., Numenor inherits a lot of Elven ways, the Numenoreans are blessed as long as they keep close to the Elves, “fairy blood” is odd but basically good, and then of course the Common Tongue is “enriched and made beautiful” by the addition of words and grammar from Elvish speech, etc. etc.

    As to borders: it’s clear that welcome — sometimes cautious or armed welcome, but welcome nonetheless — is absolutely central to Tolkein’s conception of Good. One does not simply walk into Mordor… nor into Mirkwood, nor the Lonely Mountain under Smaug. But one absolutely does walk into Rohan, Gondor, Rivendell, Lothlorien, and so forth. Armed Rohirrim or elvish warriors may soon show up to check your bona fides, but the border is absolutely open and you can stroll right in.

    There are two fascinating intermediate cases that fit the pattern: Moria and Bree. At Moria, Gandalf remembers when the Gate was always open, and it’s still open to anyone who says “friend”. But now it’s both shut and guarded by a monster, because Moria has become a place of evil. And Bree has a gate that is shut; the gatekeeper is reasonable and lets them in, but this is a clear signal that Evil is afoot.

    And then finally, at the end of the story, the first encounter the hobbits have with the corruption of the Shire by Saruman is that they encounter a closed gate at the Brandywine Bridge.

    So: manned borders and closed gates are at best a warning of trouble to come, and quite possibly a sign that Evil is active.

    Doug M.

    Reply

    • Christine Kelley
      May 1, 2021 @ 12:52 pm

      To be fair, I talked about Tolkien’s implicit critique of borders in the post.

      Reply

  2. Scurra
    April 30, 2021 @ 8:15 pm

    It’s that meditation on the corruption of power that I find most interesting here. What the wielders of the Elven Rings knew was that to use them actively was to fall. It always amuses me that people complain about Gandalf being a rubbish wizard because he never does anything; the one time he actually does show off his power, he, yes, falls…

    [In a theological discussion, it’s akin to the perennial question about why, for an allegedly omnipotent being, God doesn’t seem to want to actually do anything. I think the answer is strongly related to this, myself.]

    But yeah, it’s notable how the notion of borders and barriers has roared back into modern political discourse. Here in the UK, those of us who have been willing to embrace the idea that our home country might not be the centre of the universe have been dismissed as being “citizens of nowhere” (and, by extension, unpatriotic.) And, of course, it’s doubly ironic that it has happened at a time when a pandemic has reminded us that viruses do not respect borders.

    Reply

  3. Camestros Felapton
    May 1, 2021 @ 4:31 pm

    I’ve nothing to add other than to say how much I’m enjoying this and the literal direction it is taking

    Reply

  4. Martin Porter
    May 2, 2021 @ 3:58 pm

    Tolkien wasn’t the first writer to look at the Industrial Midlands of England, and the Industrial Working Class who lived there, and react in horror. H G Wells had already been there with his Morlocks. Tolkien, being a reactionary Little Englander, was at least consistent in his views whilst Wells was supposedly a socialist. You wonder though is his idea of a big, black gate to keep the urban proletariat out ofsight is something he thought was a good idea.

    Reply

  5. Robert McKinlay
    May 11, 2021 @ 10:21 am

    “Tolkien’s politics take an isolationist bent here; exploring other cultures is iniquitous and corrupts people…”

    Having trouble believing this of a man who knew over thirty languages (both ancient and modern) and who, to my knowledge, was never openly anti-semitic or racist but publicly opposed both.

    From a letter to his son in 1945, Tolkien says:

    “Yes, I think the orcs as real a creation as anything in ‘realistic’ fiction … only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For ‘romance’ has grown out of ‘allegory’, and its wars are still derived from the ‘inner war’ of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other. In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels.” – Letter #71

    Given he was product of Victorian society, creating a fictional ‘lost’ Anglo-Saxon Mythology (he never forgave the Norman Invasion of 1066 for wiping them out of English culture), I think having Genghis Khan and his Horde as the default bogeyman in mind is understandable.

    Reply

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