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The Racism Behind Fans Upset Over Casting For ‘Rings of Power’ and Why They’re Wrong

Okay, so this is gonna be maybe a bit heavy, but there’s something troubling about people’s affront to some of the “changes” being made in the new Amazon show “The Rings of Power”.

By Richard FoltzPublished 5 months ago 5 min read
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Let me first explain that I am very much a fan of “The Lord of the Rings”. I’m not just somebody who saw the movies a couple of years back and decided that it was my favorite movie series.

I’ve read the books, including “The Hobbit”, multiple times. I’ve read “The Children of Hurin”, and though I haven’t read “The Simarillion”, I know basically all of the events within it from Beren and Luthien, to Illuvatar teaching the Ainur to make music, to which Ainur created which race, etc.

Growing up, my cat’s name was literally Frodo. And I have watched both Rankin-Bass's “The Hobbit” and “The Return of the King” and Ralph Bakshi's “The Lord of the Rings” multiple times. I could sing most of the words to “The Greatest Adventure” by Glenn Yarbrough from memory in his weird ’70s falsetto, too.

Tolkien is, by in large, the reason why I fell in love with books and with writing, and ever since my late high school years, I have tried to write my own version of a The Lord of the Rings-style epic fantasy, several times writing over hundreds of terribly written pages and throwing them away.

I love Tolkien. In college, when reading “Beowulf”, I did my final project on the connections between it and Tolkien’s work. And I was there on opening weekend for each of the Peter Jackson films. I didn’t dress up though, but I was there crying along to Enya.

So when I say what I’m about to say, know that I understand and respect the works of Tolkien and yes, I have many worries about the upcoming Amazon-produced series. But, I have some reservations with the coded language used by some of the people lobbing their critiques at the series, especially in regards to “changes and liberties” being taken by the show’s creators.

By in large, I have a problem with the nearly mainstream frustration some critics have had regarding the skin color of people playing certain roles. Not only is it racist, but it's most definitely inaccurate.

It’s true that Tolkien intended to create in the myths of Middle-Earth and Arda a uniquely British mythology. Tolkien wrote in a letter to his editor, Milton Waldman:

“But once upon a time, I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy story…which I could dedicate simply to England.”

He goes on to explain that the climate should be that of Northwest Europe, Britain in particular, and not that of Italy or the Aegean and that it should have a “fair and elusive beauty” akin to “Celtic things”.

Many take this to mean that this story, which also has influences based on Anglo-Saxon myths like the aforementioned Beowulf, should be a story solely built around that of Anglo-Saxon people.

The problem with this thinking, outside of being racist, is that it's historically inaccurate. And that a large portion of this purely “white-centric” thought is based on Nazi authors who blamed their misfortunes after the end of World War I on Jews and other non-German or Anglo people groups.

The Celts had settlements and kingdoms as far east as Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the Iberian Penninsula (Spain and Portugal), and the Viking travelers and settlements reached as far south as Northern Africa, with settlements in Southern Italy and Sicily.

The real history of the Vikings and the Celts is one of multiculturalism.

Not only that, there were Black Vikings. In fact, according to a study researchers analyzed the DNA of 400 Viking skeletons and found genetic links to people from southern Europe and Asia.

“Their trade routes extended from Canada to Afghanistan…this intermingling with people from the south and the east diversified their genetic makeup.”

All of this is to say that essentially the myth-making of Viking and Celtic culture is one built on early 20th century ideas on race and on Nazi revisionism that sought to extirpate all non-white aspects of Viking and Celtic culture.

I say this as a man who very much respects Tolkien and considers him to be one of my favorite writers, a man who once wrote to the Nazis and told them to piss off when they weren’t sure whether he was an Aryan or not, saying:

“But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”

And here’s the biggest reason why the skin color of the actors playing these characters doesn’t matter:

It’s a goddamn fantasy story with dwarfs, elves, wizards, dark lords, hobbits, ents, etc. It’s fantasy. And yes, it is rooted in Northern European mythology as stated by the author, but Northern European history isn’t solely Anglo-Saxon.

Would Tolkien have a problem with it? Honestly, I think Tolkien would’ve been more furious that his work was being made into an action/adventure fantasy series by a gigantic company that will surely bastardize his original intent, much as he probably would’ve disliked the Peter Jackson films.

Does that mean that I can’t enjoy them or that I shouldn’t love the Peter Jackson films? No. Obviously. But worrying about whether an author would love an adaptation of their work is a losing game. Hell, “The Shining”, for all of its genius and near-universally beloved popularity as a staple of the horror genre is hated by Stephen King.

In other words, to all of the people complaining that Tolkien would be upset or that casting non-white actors is a disgrace to the intent of Tolkien: You’re full of shit, you’re just racist. He would’ve hated every ounce of his works being made into giant-franchise fodder and he would’ve laughed at your fandomization of his work.

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About the Creator

Richard Foltz

Hey, my name is Richard Foltz. I refuse to use my first name because it is the name of frat guys and surfers, so...

I've written for years and currently work as an editor for my university's newspaper.

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