Talk:Racism in Tolkien's Works

From Tolkien Gateway

This page simply can't remain as it is[edit]

This page simply can't remain as it is - it is based largely on opinion and is often just plain incorrect (such as references to allegory and orcs being dark-skinned). What should be done? Should there be a deletion, or should the evidence for both sides be presented in a less opinionated manner? --Narfil Palùrfalas 20:49, 15 April 2008 (EDT)

Agree This is load of crap that Tolkien himself addressed racism in his letters, and said that he wasn't and that the idea was ludicrous. DELETE IT! --Dwarf Lord 21:30, 15 April 2008 (EDT)
I say: don't delete it. We could improve it as a refutation (rename as "Perceived Racism in Tolkien's Works" or something); it is clear that Hippy never read the letters. There are, on various spots on the net, refutations (this one for example, or this could be used to "harvest" stuff for the article). As we are an Encyclopedia that covers more than just the text-internal elements, ignoring perceived racism would be bad form. The problem with books is, kinda like feminist book reports (nothing personal), that if you want a book to have a certain bias, you will obviously "find" "clear evidence" through cherry picking of that bias, blatantly ignoring anything that does not match your already fixed conclusion. It's called confirmation bias, the bane of reason. -- Ederchil 03:27, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
PS Speaking of feminism, should we have a "perceived anti-feminism in Tolkien's works" too?
Edit: This has some useful sources on extreme right use!
I dont think this page should be deleted because it brings up some interesting issues and to ignore them would be to cover up a potentially less desirable angle on Tolkien's works. To ignore it would be to foist modern political trend onto a work that is, from a certain angle fundamentally racist. I agree with Ederchil that it should however be presented as a balanced argument with no real conclusion one way or another. Dr Death 05:35, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
You obviously haven't read the letters Death. I believe having a balanced page with no real conclusion is, no offense, a ridiculous idea. There is a final answer to this and that is Tolkien based the Evil Men on Africans, Arabs, and possibly Asians. So what! This would be a non-issue if we were talking about Black Numenoreans, and the Fallen Numenoreans of the Second Age. --Dwarf Lord 18:13, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Let me start off my reply by stating, as I think we all agree, the current content on the article definitely needs to be rewritten entirely, and should obviously include the several quotations by Tolkien on this matter. tolkien and racism brings up over 100,000 results on Google; this subject is something which has been discussed frequently and I think an article on racist elements in Tolkien's works (as well as the un-racist reasonings) is more than welcome on the wiki. I do agree with Ederchil that a more neural title may be necessary but for now it is probably fine. Dwarf Lord, I don't think anyone here is arguing that Tolkien is a racist, there's a lot of information out there on this subject so why not gather it all together so fans can read all the facts. Simply deleting a controversial article is only going to leave more people uninformed. --Hyarion 21:15, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Not so obviously Dwarflord as i have in fact read them. While you may think that one line in a book is enough to base an argument on i assure you it is not and i think as Hyarion says the issue does need to be addressed since there is so much said and written about it. I myself would not call Tolkien a racist by the standards of the time, however to modern readers his views may be considered that way and so as a reliable and open source of Tolkien knowledge we should be willing to face those accusations and provide the facts of the issue allowing the readers to make up their own minds. No need to be rude and confrontational about it and cast aspersions on my (i think you'll agree)excellent knowledge of the subject. Dr Death 05:34, 17 April 2008 (EDT)
I just made the article so that the issue could be addressed. I relied on the other nerds of this site to flesh it out and make it less biased. I basically just wrote down all the racist shit I could think of in Tolkien's works and waited until other people made it better. Which you have, so thank you. And thanks to this page, I believe that Tolkien Gateway is now a more well-rounded site. TheOneCleanHippy 05:13, 12 July 2008 (EDT)

The Rewrite[edit]

Or, less talk, more action. As for Hyar's google search, we're currently 4th ranked. Above us, it's a 1,5-1,5 draw. So here's some suggestions as to what the article should (IMHO) have:

  • More neutral name
  • Introduction
  • Use of Tolkien's work by Extreme right groups (BNP et al.).
  • Claims and refutations. This should by generalized into things as "Racism", "Nordicism", not a point by point ragtag analysis of "Dark bad, white good".
  • There's a good quote against the nordicism claim in Letter 294. Racism has four hits in the index. Letter 30, Letter 61, Letter 81 and once again 294. It's basically about Nazi Übermensch doctrine and Apartheid, and he clearly states he's "appalled by thinking in colour".
  • As for racial purity, Kin-strife, much? Snaga, much?
  • A certain temporal relativity should be clear throughout the article. To today's western standards, Tolkien was a racist. But in his time, he wasn't. Same goes for people famed for being not racists like Lincoln and Darwin.
  • We should mention Stephen Shapiro's claims - the top google rank. Reading the article makes me wonder whether we read the same book. His claim of the "uber-aryan fellowship" falls flat on its face. Rediff is an Indian site (target audience?), Shapiro is into "writing and culture of the United States, particularly the pre-twentieth century period; Cultural Studies; literary theory; historical formations of gender and sexuality; marxism, world-systems analyses; urban and spatial studies, and critiques of the bourgeois lifeworld as a mental disease. More broadly, late Enlightenment, 19 and 20/21C narrative"[1]; he's neither a linguist (who would not use "Aryan" in that sense) nor a Tolkien scholar.
  • Links to other sites like [2] and [3] (more shapiro), maybe some others that are above-blog entry level, maybe something from the Tolkien Estate (the site is minimal at the moment).

Anyone has any other ideas? -- Ederchil 13:54, 18 April 2008 (EDT)

Late reply: Only today this article came to my attention. I pasted a great bulk of text that comes from a deleted Wikipedia article, unacceptable since it is Original Research and the claims are not easily verifiable. It still needs some cleanup since it contains many repetitions. I hope that helps Sage 11:30, 31 January 2009 (UTC)

I moved the article to a more neutral title. --Pinkkeith 15:12, 11 May 2009 (UTC)

Evil Men[edit]

I gutted the Evil Men section as it seemed (besided horribly worded) based primarily on the films. The Southrons are described as wearing bronze plate armor and riding horses, so it is erroneous to say they are clearly based on African tribes. There is also nothing fundamentally "Mongollian" or "Middle Eastern" about the Easterlings (which are two wildly different cultures and I'm not clear how one could be both at once).

An aknowledgement of their geography and skin colors is really the most accurate way of describing the unfortunate racist implications of the Haradrim and Easterlings. It is not the Professors fault if someone paints them as Aftican (although in the Jackson films, the Haradrim are inspired by South Pacific cultures).

This section seems out of place, and I have put all of the non-repetitive point into the 'indications' section.

The "Good Side" section was unsalvageable. Elves are not "general Europeans" (what does that even mean?) and The Rohan are clearly based on Anglo-Saxons, not the Norse. I suspect the original author doesn't know what 'fair' means, because most of the men of Gondor are not described as fair in the slightest. TheBoost 17:17, 15 January 2010 (UTC)

I don't agree with the "gutation" of the section. The article is intended to include perceptions, even if wrong, to be refuted in the "Counterindications" section. The descriptions of swarthy men from the East and the South, the black-skinned orcs and their scimitars, bring mental images of AfroAsians, and are the most important contributor to the general accusations. What if the Haradrim wore bronze armor and rode horses? The mental image is already established by the average reader, who won't make a checklist for the historical/cultural dissimilarities. For example I never knew or cared whether Africans rode horses and this information didn't help me from envisioning the Southrons as Egyptians or Arabians. After all, Arabs were great riders, and aren't far from Africa.
As for the Good people, TTT was perceived by critics as a war between the fair Nordic Aryan Rohirrim against the black Orcs. There is no point tracing whose fault is: the Professor's, Jackson's, the painters' or the viewers'. The perception and criticism are there, no matter how wrong or unfounded, and the article is meant to describe that they exist. Sage 19:04, 15 January 2010 (UTC)
If the case is to describe and refute unfounded views, then they should be described as such. "Perceived Racism in Adaptations of Tolkien" might be a better title because if we're talking about a vague 'general perception' then it has little to do with actual racism in Tolkien's work, which is a legitimate field of discussion, and mixing the two just makes the whole thing a mish-mash.
Regardless, "Evil Men" as it's own section seemed out of place, and I still think what was good in that section belongs in other sections

TheBoost 20:03, 15 January 2010 (UTC)

The "netral title" proposal is something discussed before, as I see above Sage 10:51, 16 January 2010 (UTC)
The title is the least worry. The article is a general mish-mash of lgeitamate commentary on the work, vague perceptions, and weasly accusations.

The fact that YES the Haradrim are dark skinned and from the South is itself worth noting and discussing (and note I didn't cut the mention, just the unfounded speculation), but because you, me, or some other reader imagines Egyptians, Arabs, North Africans, West Africans, Zulus, Pygmies, or Indians is not itself worth mentioning. If I imagines the orcs as black or purple, and the Haradrim in zebra-skin or turbans, that has nothing to do with the actual work.

I've tried reorganizing some of the point and analysis, to make the article read less like a list of comments on a youtube video. TheBoost 22:30, 17 January 2010 (UTC)

Not Racism[edit]

Unless a feudal society is fundamentally racist (a claim that seems foolish given that the king is king over his own race) to imply that all refrecnes to nobility and class stratification is racist seems like stretching. Likewise with any economic disparity in the Shire. The article is on racism, not on how Middle-Earth falls short of an egalitarian ideal and these seem out of the scope of this article. TheBoost 18:52, 15 January 2010 (UTC)

Not strictly racist, but the reference to royalty is not a political reference to the feudal society or egalitarianism, but to the ideology. Royal lines in Tolkien are generally special and heirs have qualities above the norm showing therefore some genetic-based nobility. Excessive protagonism of Heirs is a ground of criticism by some "Tolkien is racist" critics. At least where I live, royalty is linked to the right-wing :) Sage 19:15, 15 January 2010 (UTC)


I've mosty reorganized, with minimal cutting (except of repeated info) or addition. The Indications/Counterindications format makes the article extremely difficlt to read, and gives the same weight to genuine things from the text (the untrustworthy Bill Fearny) and things people just seemed to have made-up. There are still a great man counterindications that I don't want to cut haphhazardly, but I have no idea how to present them more clearly or easier to read.

I've also cut a great deal of the Synopsis. It's extremely wordy and yet very vague, and makes sweeping generalizations that are uncited, such as Tolkien's defenders contend that the various "races" are exaggerated personifications of broadly accepted value judgements, Not only is that sentence tortured, I've never heard Tolkien's defender's make such a claim, and I'm at least moderatly well read on the subject. TheBoost 17:41, 19 January 2010 (UTC)

My experience says that when wikis say "defenders of A say B" it means "i am a defender of A, and my response to the criticism is B" ;) So that's what the editor was thinking.
Since Gateway tolerates debates, even uncited ones, it's ok for me if the explanation stays there. It sounds valid if you ask me. Sage 19:05, 19 January 2010 (UTC)
I'm trying not to cut too much, but can we agree that statements supports by Tolkien's actual work should at least be more prominent than somewhat vague assertations of who among us editors thinks what, and we should do our best that any opinions left in the article should be written as clearly as possible?
The main problem with the synopsis is that it is NOT a synopsis. It does not summarize anything, it just presents a series of broad, unneccesarily verbose, and nearly meaningless comments, many of which are demonstrably false if we look at the books.19:38, 19 January 2010 (UTC)

Good article[edit]

I see from the discussions above quite a lot of work has gone into this article. Now, reading it for the first time, it strikes me as being particularly full and well written (though not complete, and not completely sourced, as the tag says). I wonder, does the gateway have any mechanism for recognising good articles yet (like Wikipedia's featured article status)? --Aule the Smith 09:15, 25 July 2010 (UTC)

You can suggest a page on Ederchil's talk page. And then (it should be) discussed in a TG meeting, or at least in the forum, IMHO. --Morgan 09:26, 25 July 2010 (UTC)
We do have Featured's, but there's not much structure in that department. -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 09:27, 25 July 2010 (UTC)

Many problems with the counter arguments[edit]

Now, I'm not saying Tolkien was a racist, nor am I here to "prove" he was. But as an avid fan (and seven-year enWikipedia editor with over 50,000 edits) I'm annoyed by inaccuracies. I'm an "entitled" white European guy with no agenda :). I was going through the "Counterindications" section, and here's a few problems I found:

  • The symbolism of light over darkness does not "go back to Christianity" it goes even further back. And its not a tenet of "primitive" Christianity, as modern Christianity emphasizes the dichotomy as well.
  • Yes, Morgoth was in the North, Sauron preferred the heat, but the concept that "The West" = Good is ubiquitous. (Again, I like this stuff about Tolkien, I'm just pointing out its misleading to imply geographic sides of the globe meant nothing).
  • The Duunlendings were not Edain, and they were not descendants from the Men of Haleth. They belong to the same people, but did not enter Beleriand. (They are also very obviously intended to be Celtic people, Scotsmen/Picts probably.)
  • @"the enemies are not truly evil", this may perhaps refer only to Men, not to Orcs, but really it just isn't true. Yes, Faramir "wonders" whether the man was deceived or coerced, but the Men of the South and East are consistently portrayed as evil, the "Cruel Haradrim" e.g.
  • @"many of the 'white' Men of Eriador are indicated to be descendants of the First Age Easterlings."?? Really? Who? There are no Men there but the Dunlendings, i.e. Men of their "type" (Breelanders = civilized Dunlendings).
  • The features of the Haradrim are indeed described, as "dark". Not implying this means they were black people, but at the very least this indicates their hair was dark. Black people were probably "Troll-Men out of the Far Harad".. is that bit mentioned here? ("And out of the Far Harad black men like half-trolls...")
  • @"There are no truly 'perfect' peoples in Tolkien's writings". Yes there are. The blond Vanyar. And probably the Teleri in Aman... Or really all Elves besides the Noldor.
  • Yes, the Dunedain do not have modern-day analogues, but the Middle Men do. And besides, by the time of LotR the Men of Gondor also became Middle by Faramir's own estimate. The whole point there is that the Middle Men are "superior" to the Low. It doesn't help at all to point out that the High are no longer there..

Then there are further issues with the "Light vs Dark" section. Yes, Saruman does still use a White Hand, but he himself has discarded white as his colour when he became evil, and is explicitly criticized by Gandalf for that. That he still uses a white hand symbol is really of little consequence. Unlike the movies, in the book he becomes "Saruman the Many-Coloured" when he turns evil. I don't think this is a relevant argument.

The black field upon which the White Tree is superimposed probably symbolizes the darkness that surrounds the tree. Which is white. Also the flag of the Stewards was white without charge. This too doesn't seem like a very relevant argument.

The "ruffians" are described at various points as being half-orcs, or as having orc blood. Their being white is merely assumed, too, so I don't think its a worth trying to draw something out of this. 13:40, 15 March 2014 (UTC)

Er... "The West = Good is ubiquitous" - Many medieval mappa mundi have the East placed at their top, in the direction of Eden or Paradise. In Tolkien's legendarium, Elves and Men originated in the East. Is there really such a thing as an ubiquitous West=Good? Drakon 14:49, 15 March 2014 (UTC)
I meant in Tolkien's legendarium, ofc. In the real world you'll find ten cultures for every side of the globe :).
Yes, Humans and Elves originated in the east, and then moved towards the "light in the West". Wouldn't be much of a story if they just appeared at the good place from the start, would it? 15:37, 15 March 2014 (UTC)

Further point: "during the history of Middle-Earth many of the white races of man and even some Elves were fooled and coerced by the Enemy". Who? Well technically the Southrons and the Easterlings are "white", in the sense that they're not Black people or Asians. But of the Edain, there are none besides the Numenoreans that became evil... 13:17, 17 March 2014 (UTC)

It needs sources, but mass deletion doesn't solve anything. I restored most, but kept several of your changes. --Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 13:39, 17 March 2014 (UTC)
Well, generally, if its unsourced - it can go. 20:53, 20 March 2014 (UTC)
Generally, if it's unsourced, it should be checked. --Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 21:16, 20 March 2014 (UTC)
If its unsourced, you request sources on talk, and if none are given - you can delete. Or you can delete right away if you like.. Those are basically the guidelines at enWiki. 23:47, 20 March 2014 (UTC)

Sources & quotes[edit]

  • On the question of allegory and "critics who tried to reduce the War of the Rings to an analog of World War II with Hitler as Sauron the Dark Lord. 'Hitler wasn't big enough! He wasn't important enough!' [Tolkien] told us, which was, perhaps, to say that Hitler was not mythic...". (as reported by Mrs Scott in Eglerio! In Praise of Tolkien).
  • From lecture notes in Tolkien's unpublished papers in the Bodleian and quoted in Stuart Lee's article on Tolkien and The Wanderer in Tolkien Studies VI (2009, p. 195): "I am not a simplifier, dealing with plain polemic discussions in Nordic and Latin, civilized and savage... I only warn you in case you should suspect that I was a secret Nazi and had gone all Nordic, because I wish to emphasize certain things which the bewildered and tragic nonsense talked in modern Germany has made suspect. Believe me I hate it ..." (later crossed through by Tolkien).

These two quotes were noted by Alan Reynolds (20 February 2016) in the group "Confirming J.R.R. Tolkien Quotations" at Facebook.--Morgan 08:04, 7 December 2016 (UTC)

Seek and you shall find[edit]

This is a non-canonical and post-modern / critical theoretical interpretation of Tolkien's work. The entire page is derivative and does not contribute to deeper understandings of Tolkien's explicit and exposed narrative work.

To follow this rabbit hole, we can may also create the following - legitimate - pages for public view:

  • "The Racism of Gandalf in Siding with 'Good'"
  • "Geo-Racial under-representation in the geography of The Lord of The Rings"
  • "Systemic Gender Bias in Determining Characters of Importance in The Lord of The Rings"
  • "The Problem of Fat-shaming & Dwarves"

Unsigned comment by ThePatchGuy (talk • contribs).

Seek and you shall find that this article is within the categories Debates and Tolkien Gateway research. There is no claim for this being canonical; but there is a lack of sources, as it is indicated above the article. Feel free to write articles about the topics you mention, the admins will decide if it is pertinent to have them or not. --LorenzoCB 07:33, 29 July 2020 (UTC)
I believe this article needs to come under more scrutiny. There is no basis upon which to assign or allegorise the races of Tolkien's Middle-Earth to contemporary socio-political climates. It is a long bow to stretch the links between Tolkien's literature and implied or implicit "racism".Unsigned comment by ThePatchGuy (talk • contribs).
The basis is the general and unfair criticism that Tolkien has had for decades, which is a reality we can't ignore. The idea is that this article can provide a proper answer to that criticism; what you just said is a very good answer to the topic. The article needs references for both those claims and the answers, so don't forget to add them if you want to contribute. --LorenzoCB 09:39, 31 July 2020 (UTC)
There is a legitimate debate within Tolkien scholarship and fandom about Tolkien's portrayal of race; this wiki should reflect that debate, however it isn't our job to contribute to it but neither is it our job to censor criticism. I do think it needs a total rewrite, with sources, which reflects that wider debate rather than simply random musings as we've got now. We've got a few articles like this around and if they aren't improved (and they haven't been in 15 years) my feeling is we should blank the page and start again. --Mith (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 07:25, 19 August 2020 (UTC)
I agree completely. The article doesn't have "black men like half-trolls". It doesn't mention the many references to "lesser men" and only hints at Faramir's "High, Middle, and Low", and it doesn't mention the Fallohides' aptitude for leadership. I'm not in touch with Tolkien scholarship, but if this has been debated reasonably, I definitely hope the article will be completely rewritten based on those sources, making it clear what Tolkien and his writings are criticized for and what the responses are. Spearwielder 17:23, 2 June 2021 (UTC)
I am bound to agree that this is a serious issue among critics. I do not believe Tolkien was a racist (nor do I believe that the character of Bombur is offensive to fat people), but we might as well use this article to respond to it, generally by giving both sides of the argument and allowing truth to rise over falsity. However, the title is not very objective.SingingOrc 23:35, 10 September 2021 (UTC)

Suggestion for renaming of this page[edit]

Am I the only one who thinks this title seems somewhat biassed—specifically, biassed toward the idea that Tolkien was a racist? I suggest "Alleged Racism in Tolkien's Works" or "Racial Controversy in Tolkien's Works" or something of that ilk? SingingOrc 11:27, 17 September 2021 (UTC)

I agree that the name of the article is loaded with a meaning that the wiki should not be trying to get across. It looks like this has been a problem with the article as a whole that goes back to 2008 and despite apparent reworks over that time, we are still left with an article that has the "[source?]" tag everywhere. I think it could be beneficial to have an article that compiles criticism of Tolkien's works for racial or racist reasons, as well as include counter criticism on those specific points from others. What we have instead is an article that implies on its own that Tolkien's works are racist and then does a poor job of citing sources. I don't think the wiki itself should imply that Tolkien's works are racist, and I'm sure most users are actually of the opinion that they aren't racist. The article then awkwardly transitions to a "counterindications" section with very few citations, as if the wiki itself is trying to say "well actually we don't agree with what we just showed you." Furthermore, it's important to understand that a racist character or society in a fictional world does not make the work itself racist. I don't think the article touches on that very well. In my opinion, we should make this article more like Wikipedia's: Tolkien and race. Starting with the name, let's use the same one: "Tolkien and race." --Oromë 13:45, 17 September 2021 (UTC)
"Race" or "Racism" would be enough. This is a wiki devoted to Tolkien, no need to be redundant. --LorenzoCB 13:48, 17 September 2021 (UTC)
Any other ideas that would work instead? "Racism" feels too loaded and accusatory for an article name and "race" alone could potentially be confused with the races of Arda (men, elves, dwarves, orcs, ainur, etc.). Another idea is to use the current name but change "racism" to "race" (and also fix the casing because I just noticed it's wrong) - "Race in Tolkien's works" --Oromë 14:01, 17 September 2021 (UTC)
In all fairness, this article does point out that Tolkien does not paint racism between Elves and Dwarves, for instance, in a positive light. I would not be surprised if whoever started this article thought Tolkien was racist and it has since been edited by people trying to say otherwise, although that could be an erroneous assumption. The easiest citations to add, if someone is willing to go through it and find them are, are all those references from what Tolkien wrote himself, which seems to be lacking. As for various united criticisms, I have no doubt they are real, but I have no idea where to cite them. I think "Alleged Racism" would probably seem plainest yet unaccusatory, although I don't think the addition of "in Tolkien's Works" is very redundant, considering the fact that it could be a reference to some in-world aspect of alleged racism (such as racism which may actually exist between various Free Peoples. --SingingOrc 19:08, 17 September 2021 (UTC)
People have been talking about giving this article a more neutral name since 2008 (see above). I don't think we've had enough input from other people (especially admins) to decide what to call it. Thoughts on simply changing "racism" to "race" and continuing the discussion about changing it to something else? --Oromë 03:15, 21 September 2021 (UTC)
I don't know… Maybe "Racism". Since "race" is an actual concept in Tolkien's works, it could potentially get ambiguous.—SingingOrc 11:06, 21 September 2021 (UTC)
I vote for "Racism". I don't feel it accusatory, it's just the topic covered by the article. I agree it would be nice to cover the topic also in-world. Two sections could be made: one for in-world racism (I'm looking at you, Thingol) and other for real life accusations. Having "in Tolkien's works" is still redundant in both cases. There are many articles about these topics, I'll research it. --LorenzoCB 11:24, 21 September 2021 (UTC)