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Neither Rowling Nor Tolkien Were Racists ... In Fact, We Could Learn from Them 

ALPERN AT LARGE--Perhaps it could be understood by those of us who watch a movie, instead of reading the books it was based on, that some silly conclusion could be reached without being properly informed.

Such occurred when a science-fiction writer drew the conclusion that the late J.R.R. Tolkien's depiction of the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings was racist and with dire consequences for society. 

Which is a tragic shame, because Tolkien was anything BUT racist--he had nothing but negative things to say about Hitler (Hitler and other Nazis loved his revival of Germanic mythology, as exemplified by the Beowulf we now all read as well as Tolkien's depiction of the Riders of Rohan in his Lord of the Rings trilogy). Tolkien even claimed he WISHED he had Jewish roots. 

Similarly, the issues raised by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame that her characters were too British, and that the different races depicted in her books (humans, elfs, and the like) were suggestive of racist overtones are also frighteningly off the mark. 

Tolkien was a very, very devout Roman Catholic (he even converted C.S. Lewis from agnosticism to devout Christianity--hence Lewis's great religious tones in the Narnia and his other books) who believed that God (or Ilúvatar, also named Eru) created two groups of Children, who were Elves and Men. (Dwarves were his Adopted Children...long story...) 

Elves were immortal but were either blessed or doomed to remain in this World until its end. Men were mortal but were (perhaps, nobody knew for sure) given the Gift of Death to presumably be joined with God and leave the confines the World. 

Orcs were something else altogether--they were NOT God's Children, had NO souls, certainly HATED their creators (Sauron and his original "boss", one Morgoth or Melkor who was much, much, MUCH worse than Sauron) because they were created in an imitation, or mockery of Elves and Men. 

Orcs HATED Elves and Men because they had no soul, were pretty much just "programmed" to speak and act a certain way, and were not really capable of independent thought--at some level, the Orcs were very jealous of Ilúvatar's Children, but rather than aspiring to be more like them--which requires pity, love, and kindness--they hated and wanted nothing more but to harm, torture, and kill those Children. 

Because Orcs are NOT human, and NOT that sort of race. Hence the racism charge being both ridiculous and borne out of almost criminal levels of ignorance (and, perhaps, it's the desire to be a Social Justice Warrior, who too often chooses to act and speak without the prerequisite requirements of learning and thinking). 

Of course, CERTAINLY there is harm in watching the Peter Jackson movies and presuming the books are as dark and glorifying of war as those thriller films, but J.R.R. Tolkien saw the horrors of World War I, lost many good friends, and distinguished between glorifying pagan mythology (and CREATING A MYTHOLOGY FOR ENGLAND, which was his goal) versus glorifying war. 

For those who didn't read the books but watched the films, Frodo became an absolute pacifist by the end of the trilogy, and his beloved friend Sam the Gardener who virtually saves the world with his humble restraint, first-hand comes to be disgusted with war himself (but he knew it was needed to save the Shire from Saruman...again, long story). 

Similarly, for those who read the books of J.K. Rowling, who may not have intended to create a mythology for England (but certainly did with her depiction of witches, dragons, trolls, etc.), the singular theme of her Harry Potter series was that witches and wizards were STILL human, and that VERY BAD THINGS happened when they presumed they were more than human. 

For those who never read the books, the last book of the series describes how even Albus Dumbledore once sought briefly to have witches and wizards rule over non-magical Muggles "for the greater good". Yet Dumbledore's search for the Deathly Hallows to achieve such power, with his beloved friend (and maybe more than friend) Grindelwald led to NOTHING good, and EVERYTHING bad. 

Hence Dumbledore pulled back from the brink (which is why he related so well to Snape, and was pretty humble and self-hating...long story), and encouraged NO racism of witches and wizards to Muggles. Ever. 

Yet the Elfs (different spelling than Tolkien's Elves, and don't you forget it!) of Rowling's books WERE different, lived to serve humans (with the prominent exception of the beloved Dobby), were pint-sized, NEVER intermarried with Men, and when Hermione Granger decided to be a "do-gooder" for Elf rights things went awry and had to be stopped. 

Yet the rights of Elfs, Centaurs, and other non-human races were paramount and worthy of fighting for by Dumbledore, Harry Potter, and all of their friends and colleagues. To lose that sense of rights and equality for all races (even if they were DIFFERENT) was to lose one's own humanity, and all the power of magic and over death was just a pathetic, hollow victory. 

So races are different, but racism was and is NEVER acceptable in either Tolkien's or Rowling's worlds. 

Of course, ignorance isn't acceptable, either, and neither is cruelty. Education and humility alike were valued in their worlds, but the two characters who saved the world (Sam the Gardener and Harry Potter) were both simple and non-academic but also stubborn in their courage and convictions. 

So maybe the lesson here is to READ THE BOOKS before jumping to conclusions and criticizing them!

And of course, not jumping to any "racist" accusations until there really IS any racism. 

Because to falsely or ignorantly accuse another of racism is really...BAD.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of both its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure and Planning Committees. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw