Dark Forces Have Infiltrated the Tolkien Society
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Great Awokening, The Tolkien Society
The Critic has a very alarming report.
Unlike the Germans with their ponderous celebration of Goethe and Schiller, or the French with their adulation of Molière or Victor Hugo, the English celebrate their favourite authors with a lighter touch. Societies dedicated to the lovers of the works of a given author are common, but are generally private, amateur and low-key. Groups of amiable middle-aged to elderly bibliophiles with no particular academic pretension but a love for, and a generally encyclopaedic knowledge of, the writing of a particular person get together to enjoy convivial company and, as often as not, a posh dinner in London or Oxford once a year. Organisations such as the Sherlock Holmes Society or the Trollope Society publish slightly recherché background papers, such as Why Holmes Went German at St James’s Hall: The Reason Behind His Musical Taste, or From Winchester to Barsetshire: Anthony Trollope’s links with Hampshire. Addresses at formal events organised by these clubs are likely to be witty and reasonably erudite, but not over-intellectual or over-taxing on the audience.
What you won’t get from any of these amateur gatherings is anything like the high-pressure, jargon-ridden writing one sees in academic journals, or the deadly serious arguments, incomprehensible to non-initiates, that one increasingly hears in university lecture halls. They are emphatically societies, not research institutes.
Or at least most of them are. In the last year something very curious seems to have overtaken one of them, the Tolkien Society, founded in 1969 to celebrate the life and work of the author of the Lord of The Rings. Until 2020 the society was what you might expect: talks on music and Tolkien’s landscape, naming astronomical bodies after Tolkien place-names, the elvish language, and so on.
This year, by contrast, it has gone full-on woke, as witness the programme for its 2021 Annual Seminar, beginning on Saturday week. A straw in the wind came with the announcement of the theme, which read more than anything else like a formal call for papers from some new university anxious to make its mark on modernity with a trail-blazing conference. Contributions were demanded on Tolkien’s approach to colonialism and neo-colonialism, representation of race, gender, sexuality and the rest in Tolkien, and so on.
This call was answered with appropriate gusto. The programme for the event is too large to reproduce here: but we can give a flavour of it. It kicks off with Gondor in Transition: A Brief Introduction to Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings. We then have delights such as “The Burnt Hand Teaches Most About Fire”: Applying Traumatic Stress and Ecological Frameworks to Narratives of Displacement and Resettlement Across Cultures in Tolkien’s Middle-earth; and The Lossoth: Indigeneity, Identity, and Antiracism. The second day continues with more in the same vein: “Something Mighty Queer”: Destabilizing Cishetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien; Questions of Caste in The Lord of the Rings and its Multiple Chinese Translations; and something which should puzzle anyone, Hidden Visions: Iconographies of Alterity in Soviet Bloc Illustrations for The Lord of the Rings.
This menu, more appropriate to a series of dreary staff seminars in a second-rate polytechnic than an event set up for a club of book-lovers, has already attracted deserved derision.
The only proper response: