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Christine Kelley

Christine Kelley writes about speculative fiction and radical politics from a queer revolutionary perspective. Currently her main project is Nowhere and Back Again, a psychogeography of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Her first project was the now semi-retired blog Dreams of Orgonon, a song-by-song study of Kate Bush.Support Christine on Patreon.

9 Comments

  1. Bog Dob
    August 13, 2021 @ 12:37 pm

    No blue wizards?

    Reply

    • Christine Kelley
      August 13, 2021 @ 12:49 pm

      Something for the book edition, I suppose.

      Reply

  2. FezofRassilon
    August 16, 2021 @ 9:11 am

    Are there any fantasy races or monsters that are based on exaggerated features of white people? Elves and maybe vampires? Interesting to see what it would look like from the other direction.

    Reply

  3. Aylwin
    August 17, 2021 @ 1:37 pm

    Khand is an odd little anomaly, a named and roughly delineated country in a zone where everything else is just a vague gesture at a compass (well, except Umbar, but as a Numenorean settlement that’s a special case), with no substantial narrative role to explain this. Its Variags are also the only human group not aligned with the West who just might be accorded a ethnonym they use themselves, since I don’t think Tolkien ever gave it an etymology, and as a “loanword” into his world it does not have an evident one from his invented languages.

    (I say aligned because the Drúedain (Drughu) did get one, despite being a group based on racialised people and one that is firmly framed as racially other within the fiction – though even they do not explicitly get that name in the LOTR itself, where it’s disparaging exonyms all round. But they are a whole topic in themselves within the complications of Tolkien’s racism, and I imagine we will be coming to Drúadan Forest by and by.)

    I could over-analyse this on the basis of the fact that the real-world name from which it comes is the root for Varangian, i.e. the name for the Swedish settlers who created Russia, and hypothesise that the Variags of Khand are similarly a “Germanic” people, of Northman ancestry, who likewise moved south-eastwards and ended up assimilated by the local people, which could supply a diegetic explanation for this exception, on the grounds that they are accorded a measure of recognition as in some sense “people like us”, though gone to the bad. This hypothesis could also supply a sidelight on the question of whether the Slavic peoples are framed as part of the hostile East or not, which is raised by the possibilty that the Balchoth, with their crude armament and great numbers, echo the early Slavs as portrayed in texts like the Strategikon of Maurice, rather than simply being another Eurasian steppe nomad group like the Wainriders. But probably he just liked the sound of the name.

    Reply

  4. Chris Brooker
    September 15, 2021 @ 1:57 am

    Tolkien did work in mysterious ways. An obviously intelligent and thoughtful man, he did often, as we know, labor constantly over elements of his mythos, with his realism, intellect and scientific bent often fighting against his essential medievalist and Catholic base beliefs.
    For me this is illustrated best by texts in the later books of the History Of Middle Earth series showing him questioning the basis and underpinnings of his long-standing texts.
    I’m thinking specifically of two particular works: One was a group of articles he wrote where he was trying to include a more rational and scientific sun and moon origin myth, as opposed to that included in The Silmarillion – or his eventual position of deciding The Silmarillion was the Numenoreans misunderstanding what they’d learned for the Elves about these events
    The other work is the one relevant to your discussion here, the very last text in the series – ‘Tal-Elmar’ – in Peoples of Middle Earth is fascinating as he presented the viewpoint of a ‘lesser man’ confronted with Numenorean imperialists landing on his land with conquering intent.
    It’s a fascinating text and view, and shows that Tolkien was prepared to consider that imperialism wasn’t in and of itself a good thing. I’d imagine this was a fairly rare view to hold among an Englishman of his age and class.
    I actually think (and I’m probably wrong, or wearing rose tinted glasses) that Tolkien wasn’t in his works actually reflecting his own views as much as he was doing what he always said – building his mythical history of England, and presenting as a medieval English person would in its references to non-Christians etc as lesser beings.
    Being of his time, he wouldn’t have considered that others would find this offensive or discriminatory, rather it’s a work presented as a mythical work would be in his imagination
    Either way, at the very least, it shows he was aware of, and questioning, the basis from which his stories were presented. It’s a shame he never finished Tal-Elmar (or so many other later works)

    Reply

  5. Basil
    May 7, 2022 @ 1:41 pm

    It’s strange that in all of human history and into the primordial world, darkness has universally been associated with night and fear when one cannot see and predators abound. When power fails and the world is cast into darkness, our cities panic. Then communications fail, we are terrified because we are thrown into darkness and more or less blind, which has its own metaphorical terror. Dark pits and caverns where no light reaches are overcome by the joy of reaching light. Crops either and die without the sun (although too much isn’t good either.) Diseases often take on color, necrosis, rot, black lung, dark malignant melanoma, bruises, blights, etc.blights not all of course. Even fecal material is dark.

    Nazi SS woe black as did the Italian fascists and police wear black. They are power colors deliberately donned to inspire fear. Light colors aren’t taken as seriously. Assassins often don’t black ti blend in and strike, thus another danger from the dark.

    One cannot escape the association of the basic human condition as a sight oriented species and color. How are we to illustrate our associations in art and literature? Our daily speech? It continues to be a stupid complaint to think we can begin to do so because we have no other realistic and useful alternatives.

    This fear of darkness, not blackness or brownest has led to most things associated with evil either in condition, environment circumstance, character or simply the unknown and malicious.

    Diamonds, clear or colorful are highly prized. Opaque and dark, not so much save for industry. We are a superstitious and basically evil species afraid of shadows and being torn to pieces by things we cannot see yet are lurking, lying in wait.

    Sauron’s the white fell into darkness. Denethor lost hope and fell into madness, Feanor…well, his arrogance led ti untold misery and death. Same with Melkor, bright and creative yet fallen to hubris and eventually cast into the outer darkness. Turin Turambar’s Gurthang a black blade that shone with a pale fire, sentient and gobbled blood with relish. That’s a hybrid. The elves loved starlight which is only visible with a night backdrop.

    Light and dark contrast to enable vision. I get so weary of attacks on Tolkien by people who don’t admit, let alone discuss the basic human sensory system or how we interpret and relate the world we see and and create.

    It seems contemporary sensibilities always want to destroy and sanitize art and literature without offering their own unique epics. What’s worse, if they do, they get mad when the world doesn’t cast laurels at their feet. I suppose critics would rather insist all good and evil are featureless and basically transparent. There is no sun, stars moon, dangers or joys in the world based on what we see and certainly no right to see things or describe as has been in the past. There is certainly no right or freedom to make individual associations or emotional reactions to a world of color. Let’s see a creation that matches that. Then we get into the Ray Bradbury nightmare of the world visions of Fabre and Beatty

    Reply

    • Christine Kelley
      May 12, 2022 @ 11:14 am

      Men will posit that human beings are essentially evil and racist instead of going to therapy

      Reply

  6. ashimbabbar
    August 3, 2022 @ 8:14 pm

    Concerning the Easterling, in the Lord of the Rings itself they’re just described as squat and bearded. From that description you could imagine them white ( I remember doing so when I first read it at 10 ).

    Also, there’s a clear racial hierarchy between Sauron’s mooks. The Haradrim and Easterling at any rate are brave and fight to the death, unlike the orcs – and the survivors are granted terms by the good guys. Whereas I suppose orcs are to be killed on sight.

    Reply

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