Separating Racism From Fantasy: Is It Even Possible?

I have always been a person that likes to give people the benefit of the doubt. Up until now, most of the times I heard about Tolkien being racist were brushed aside. This is definitely not something I’m proud of, however I didn’t get any real evidence of it until reading Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth.

Having just watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in about 10 years, this sort of stuff is fresh in my mind. Reading this article got me thinking: is it possible to separate fantasy from racism? Taking into account the things Tolkien said and the period in which he lived, it’s hard to believe that there is no connection between martial race theory and The Lord of the Rings. As Hodes puts it,

JRR Tolkien served in the British Army from 1915 to 1920. Winston Churchill was still harping on the martial race idea a decade later. Tolkien could never have avoided it.


Obviously Tolkien had malevolent intentions while creating the races in Middle Earth, and since he’s widely regarded as a father of the modern fantasy genre, it’s impossible to separate orcs and elves and dwarves from fantasy, and thus impossible to separate racism from fantasy.

But is there any possible way to make the modern fantasy genre not racist? It’s both difficult and morally reprehensible to ignore Tolkien’s intent while enjoying the things he created and influenced. I can’t help but feel guilty for appreciating the universe Tolkien crafted, knowing now what it’s built off of. (Though maybe this is “the white man’s burden” kind of thing.) I definitely don’t think I’m someone who can have the answer to this question, nor do I think any white person truly can. In my mind, the only way to erase the racism would be to rebuild fantasy as a genre from the ground-up, but that doesn’t seem plausible. Is there a true way to enjoy The Lord of the Rings without being complicit in its creator’s racist ideologies?

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