Judge for yourself

I have now poked around a bit investigating Tolkien’s alleged antisemitism — see comments to this post. Everybody who discusses the matter cites a short essay by someone named Craig Bird.  Bird’s piece is reprinted in several places, in print and online;  it canvasses some scholarship;  and it argues that Tolkien was not an antisemite. Despite the fact that I’m inclined to agree, I thought I’d throw the relevant pieces of evidence up here so you could look at them without a framework. There are two chunks of chaff in the evidence pool – he was Catholic, and he liked Norse myths – and two grains of wheat. Here they are, both quoted from Bird:

1. In a 1971 BBC radio interview two years before he died, he was asked if the different races in The Lord of the Rings represent [sic] specific characteristics, “the elves wisdom, the dwarves craftsmanship, men husbandry, and battle, and so forth.” “I didn’t intend it, but when you’ve got these people on your hands you’ve got to make them different, haven’t you?” he replied. “. . . The dwarves of course are quite obvious; wouldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic. The Hobbits are just rustic English people.”

2. After Hitler came to power prior to World War II, the German government officially requested through Tolkien’s publisher that he establish his racial purity so they could authorize a translation of The Hobbit. [Tolkien responded:] “Thank you for your letter. . . . I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend. . . I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware, none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are inquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. . . .”


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