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  #51  
Old 05-23-2020, 10:33 AM
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Quoth Mijin:

Interesting that the OP picked Hobbits as the master race. I would have thought the Elves are the more obvious one. They are all whiter than white (perhaps there was a black elf extra in the movies, but I don't recall any), with long, fine hair and are holier than thou.
No elf is ever described in Tolkien's works as having dark skin, but then, I don't think any elf was ever described as having light skin, either. He may well have implicitly assumed that they were light-skinned, since a person of his upbringing would have regarded light skin as the default, but he never made it explicit.

He was, however, explicit about hair colors, in at least some places (perhaps because hair colors in England are varied enough that no one hair color could be considered "default"). And the greatest and most knowledgeable (neither of which, of course, necessarily carries any moral judgement) of the Elves in Middle-Earth were the Noldor, and they're stated to almost all have dark hair (Galadriel being a very rare exception).

He also explicitly specified skin color for at least some humans, and even had examples of characters making racist assumptions about others, based at least in part on their skin color. And then proceeded to have the wiser characters correct those racist assumptions. The Rohirrim are known to be pale, and the Druedain are known to be dark-skinned, but he's quite explicit that the Druedain are just as intelligent, just as overall good, and just as human as the Rohirrim.
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Old 05-23-2020, 10:56 AM
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I bow to your superior LOTR knowledge. I was basing the elves being white on their depiction in the movies. I haven't read the book.

Incidentally, while I'm posting, I want to be clear I was not criticizing Tolkien. I was just saying that the fact that it's a fictional universe doesn't automatically mean there's no racial subtext there. But I haven't seen anything to say it's actually racist, let alone "fantastically".
  #53  
Old 05-23-2020, 11:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Ulfreida View Post
I doubt very much whether Tolkien spent a lot of time working out biological plausibilities. Besides the three times humans and elves married in the thousand years they both inhabited Middle Earth, each time between the very greatest of both races, there were also sentient, ambulatory talking trees, horses that could run hundreds of miles at top speed without tiring, and gigantic eagles of superhuman wisdom sent by the gods. Among many other things. He was writing mythology.
Well, yes and no. In parts of The Silmarillion, at least, he was writing mythology; but elsewhere he was writing "history"óthe history of Middle Earth.

The reason he didn't spend a lot of time working out biological plausibilities (as I understand it) is because he wasn't particularly interested or trained in biology. He did spend a lot of time working out liguistic plausibilities.
  #54  
Old 05-23-2020, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
I bow to your superior LOTR knowledge. I was basing the elves being white on their depiction in the movies. I haven't read the book.

Incidentally, while I'm posting, I want to be clear I was not criticizing Tolkien. I was just saying that the fact that it's a fictional universe doesn't automatically mean there's no racial subtext there. But I haven't seen anything to say it's actually racist, let alone "fantastically".
Which is odd, because the thread was started about something that was pretty clearly not authored by Tolkien, and while it clearly drew inspiration from his works, Iím not sure what Tolkien's views of or expressions of racism have to do with the..."joke" itself. Itís almost as if this is more like a thread in cafe society entitled "Was Tolkien Racist?" rather than in IMHO and titled "is this...." honestly, I canít even repeat the thread title because I cringe at the pun.
  #55  
Old 05-23-2020, 01:17 PM
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Originally Posted by ASL v2.0 View Post
Tolkien and Lewis both were fine enough authors, but mediocre philosophers, perhaps too saddled with theology.
I'd have said "too saddled with romanticism". In their defense they were perhaps reacting to the prevalence of "scientism" which in their day was advocating Brave New World- levels of reductionism.
  #56  
Old 05-23-2020, 04:03 PM
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Not sure if you mean that he was personally unaware of the (by that time well established) biological notion of species, or simply that he didn't require his fictional "races" to be consistent with it.
What I meant was that Tolkien was not concerned with the biological concept of species in defining his different "races." However, the biological species concept was not "well established" at the time Tolkein was writing. Tolkien wrote LOTR between 1937 and 1949. Ernst Mayr first defined the Biological Species Concept in 1942, but it wouldn't be fully established as the prevailing concept for some years after that. And there's no reason that Tolkien, as a professor of English, would be familiar with the fine points of evolutionary biology.

Tolkien's "races" were not biological entities, and didn't have to obey biological rules, any more than talking trees or eagles or shape-shifting bear-men had to.
  #57  
Old 05-23-2020, 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
What I meant was that Tolkien was not concerned with the biological concept of species in defining his different "races." However, the biological species concept was not "well established" at the time Tolkein was writing. Tolkien wrote LOTR between 1937 and 1949. Ernst Mayr first defined the Biological Species Concept in 1942, but it wouldn't be fully established as the prevailing concept for some years after that. And there's no reason that Tolkien, as a professor of English, would be familiar with the fine points of evolutionary biology.
Yes, I wasn't trying to claim that Tolkien was using any modern biological criteria for determining "species", a term that I don't think he ever applies to any "race" or type of creature in his Middle-Earth writings. However, the notion of "species" as a biological category distinguishing types of living beings in some way had been around for over a century by Tolkien's time, and ISTM he would certainly have been aware of it.

When I initially responded to monstro's question about the taxonomy of Middle-earth "races" and their belonging to the same "species" according to their interbreeding capacity, I didn't mean to imply that that's how Tolkien himself interpreted their biological relationships. I was using Tolkien's canonical pronouncement on the "relatedness" of different races and trying to extrapolate from that how we might classify them. Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

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Originally Posted by Colibri
Tolkien's "races" were not biological entities, and didn't have to obey biological rules, any more than talking trees or eagles or shape-shifting bear-men had to.
I concur, if by "biological entities" you mean "categories consistent with the taxonomy of modern biological science".
  #58  
Old 05-25-2020, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr. Crap View Post
You don't have to be some sort of white wizard to see that hobbits have a higher EQ than either dwarves or men.
To come back to the OP, the Shire, where most of Hobbits lived, was protected during thousands of years by the Dunedain ( heirs of the lost realms of the north) and the Elven kingdoms of Elrond and Cirdan.
Why spend ressources, time and lives to protect a bunch of glutonous farmers that don't contribute to the struggle against Sauron? because they represent some kind of innocence, almost child-like, that is worthy.

See the evolution of the Hobbits in LotR: they start as happy and cheerful, but deeply out of their league. After many ordeals, they went back, and don't quite feel the same about the others Hobbits who didn't have the same experience with the outside world.
Many characters appreciate the lightness of the Hobbits, finding them refreshing and friendly. That's the Emotionnal Quotient for the Hobbits: they live peaceful lives, protected from the horrors and wars of the world, and they have a more open minded view than more battered characters.
  #59  
Old 05-25-2020, 12:26 PM
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Originally Posted by FrenchDunadan View Post
To come back to the OP, the Shire, where most of Hobbits lived, was protected during thousands of years by the Dunedain ( heirs of the lost realms of the north) and the Elven kingdoms of Elrond and Cirdan.
Why spend ressources, time and lives to protect a bunch of glutonous farmers that don't contribute to the struggle against Sauron? because they represent some kind of innocence, almost child-like, that is worthy.
Also, they grow food. And pipe-weed.
  #60  
Old 05-25-2020, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
Yes, I wasn't trying to claim that Tolkien was using any modern biological criteria for determining "species", a term that I don't think he ever applies to any "race" or type of creature in his Middle-Earth writings. However, the notion of "species" as a biological category distinguishing types of living beings in some way had been around for over a century by Tolkien's time, and ISTM he would certainly have been aware of it.
If any "species concept" was familiar to Tolkien, it would have been the Typological or Morphological Species concept, which was the classical species concept of Linnaeus. Species were defined according to a "type." If another group deviated too much from the defined type it would be considered a different species. If less so, it would be a variety or subspecies. Linnaeus grouped a lot organisms just on the basis of physical similarity, rather than on common descent (which wasn't yet a concept).

By this standard, Men and Elves could be regarded as closely related even though they had completely different origins. Men and Hobbits differed more in appearance, and were different "kinds," even though they had a common descent. Orcs were different from Elves even if they were derived from them.
  #61  
Old 05-25-2020, 01:55 PM
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Monstrous or fantastical creatures have often bee standins in stories for the wrong kind, or inferior kind, or other kind of people. The idea that moral or ethical sensibilities are dependent on superficial characteristics or typology is prongs from a deep well of racism and prejudice. Even we don’t call it directly racist, it’s very closely relate to racist notions.
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  #62  
Old 05-25-2020, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
Well, yes and no. In parts of The Silmarillion, at least, he was writing mythology; but elsewhere he was writing "history"óthe history of Middle Earth.

The reason he didn't spend a lot of time working out biological plausibilities (as I understand it) is because he wasn't particularly interested or trained in biology. He did spend a lot of time working out liguistic plausibilities.
Even when he was writing "history", I believe he was far more influenced by the Icelandic Sagas and perhaps the Kalevala or even the Iliad, than what is conventionally thought of as history. Heroic history, one could say.
  #63  
Old 05-26-2020, 10:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
No elf is ever described in Tolkien's works as having dark skin, but then, I don't think any elf was ever described as having light skin, either. He may well have implicitly assumed that they were light-skinned, since a person of his upbringing would have regarded light skin as the default, but he never made it explicit.
I think he did describe individual Elves as being pale. Pretty sure Luthien was whiter-than-white, and I want to say Elrond and Galadriel as well? I seem to have misplaced all my Tolkien books at the moment, so I can't give you a cite.
  #64  
Old 05-26-2020, 10:30 AM
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Is this fantastically racist?

You don't have to be some sort of white wizard to see that hobbits have a higher EQ than either dwarves or men.
What's fantastic about it? I mean, I get the double entendre, but I don't accept the first meaning.

And I don't think I understand the question.

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Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
Whether it's intrinsically racist to write fictional "races" in such an essentializing way in the first place is a different question.
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Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
And this is hardly unique to Tolkien. Lots of fantasy and science fiction has characters of different races (or species) that have different characteristics based on their race (or species). That's not inherently racist; but I've sometimes wondered if it could encourage racist attitudes in the "real world."
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Originally Posted by begbert2 View Post
Fantasy 'races' always make problematic analogues for human races for this reason; human racism is when imaginary distinctions are drawn between groups and and then acted upon, but when it comes to fantasy 'races' often the distinctions are physical reality within the universe. Nowadays fantasy dwarves are all short, sturdy, and strong by definition - and are also often craftsmen, alcoholic, hairy, and greedy by definition. Since that's the way they're literally defined in universe it's not in any real way racist to recognize and acknowledge it - but if the implication is to analogize them with some human race that you think carries those traits, that's racist as fuck.

[Snip]

But if the intention is to imply that, say, pastoral rural englishmen are more morally upright than the readily-corruptible city folk, then that is a problem.
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Originally Posted by Acsenray View Post
Monstrous or fantastical creatures have often bee standins in stories for the wrong kind, or inferior kind, or other kind of people. The idea that moral or ethical sensibilities are dependent on superficial characteristics or typology is prongs from a deep well of racism and prejudice. Even we donít call it directly racist, itís very closely relate to racist notions.
Fantasy and science fiction often use their settings a as a backdrop to discuss human issues. Alien species are often a stand in for other cultures and peoples. So it is not a far stretch to consider them as analogs to human races. It's not necessarily the intent of the authors, but it can be perceived that way.

One troubling aspect of that is how these alien/fantasy species are portrayed as monolithic and simple. Dwarves/Ferengi are greedy. Elves are noble. Klingons are untrustworthy. It is like saying humans are all peaceful explorers who want to help the less fortunate and spread happiness. There's not breath of variety. And that could feed ideas that different human races are separate monolithic identities.


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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
Interesting that the OP picked Hobbits as the master race. I would have thought the Elves are the more obvious one. They are all whiter than white (perhaps there was a black elf extra in the movies, but I don't recall any), with long, fine hair and are holier than thou.
They also live in a beautiful city, are dignified and handsome/pretty, and, at least in LOTR, are not the aggressors.
That's how they were portrayed in LOTR, but in The Hobbit , they didn't come across so noble.

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Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
And what about stories of anthropomorohic animals, where certain animals are Good or Evil (or clever, or savage, or treacherous, or whatever) based on what species they are a member ofódo such stories encourage us to think of different races or nationalities of people the same way?
That's an interesting thought worthy of consideration. We humans are taking animals and ascribing human characteristics to them, but using some concept of their "nature" as animals to color our choices of whether they are good or evil. This allows us to tell interesting stories that relate to human experience. But we are presenting these stories to our children, and they don't have the same understanding and filters as adults. Are they getting a subconscious message about the nature of judging people?

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And what about the notion that different breeds of dogs are smarter, or more savage, or more neurotic, or more trainable, than others? They're all the same species. If you think of different breeds of dogs as having different inherent qualities, isn't it a short step to thinking of different "breeds" of humans the same way?
There's no question about that. Racists have explicitly made that analogy.
  #65  
Old 05-26-2020, 10:51 AM
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That's how they were portrayed in LOTR, but in The Hobbit , they didn't come across so noble.
Likewise in the Silmarillion and other Middle-earth tales. There are some seriously asshole characters among the Elves, even in the most "elite" lineages.
  #66  
Old 05-26-2020, 01:06 PM
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In the Silmarillion, Noldor Elves can be greedy (see the sons of Fešnor) cruels ( as in hunting Humans for sport) , selfish and paranoid ( almost every King) and downright murderous, even towards other Noldors.

Dwarves and Humans have their share too.

The influence of Morgoth is enough to corrupt/turn some of them.

In the second age, Sauron crafts the Rings, misleading Elves, Dwarves and Humans alike, leading to the fall of the mightiest empire ever see.

In the third age, Sauron came back, when the free peoples are weakier than ever.
There is no wonder that the surviving Elves and the more savy of the Humans and Dwarves in the third age have a sense of inevitable doom, therefore seeing the Hobbits as a fragile but precious bubble.
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Old 05-26-2020, 03:10 PM
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I think Tolkien portrays Hobbits not as weak or innocent or naive, but as "salt of the earth" types: usually not heroic but enduring, and embodying the worthwhile activities of everyday life that ultimately are what all the turmoil and struggle are for. In a sense, the whole thing was so at the end Sam could go home to his wife and raise a family in peace.
  #68  
Old 05-26-2020, 03:40 PM
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And he said the dwarf women also had beards so it could be hard to tell them apart.
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