Work on race in Tolkien studies began with scholars analyzing medieval sources for the created races of Middle-earth (Brackmann, Chance, Young, Luling, McFadden, Rateliff, Sinex, and Vink). The release of Jackson films accelerated debate over the issue of racisms, resulting in scholarship by film and postcolonial scholars (Battis, Hoiem, S. Kim, Nicklas).
Gaps in the existing scholarship reflect the extent to which systems of exclusions have hampered sustained engagement with the conflicting and complex constructions of racisms, imperialisms, and colonialisms in Tolkien’s legendarium. The barriers include, but are not limited to, over-reliance upon arguments about authorial intentionality; about Tolkien being “a man of his time;” and about Tolkien’s fictional multicultural marriages. In addition, a mostly white body of scholars have paid minimal attention to the question of Whiteness as a raced category (Redmond).
This project is grounded in contemporary sociological theories of aversive racism which, similar to Critical Race legal theory, focuses on analyzing socio-historical and contemporary systems (intellectual, organizational, institutional) rather than defining racism limited to individual feelings or behaviors. Previous attempts to defend Tolkien’s work from sustained critical race, intersectional, or postcolonial analysis of his legendarium fall short today as rising neo-fascist and white supremacist groups claim Tolkien as part of their appropriation of medieval/medievalist imagery for what they imagine was a “pure white” Middle Ages. Their strategies include using The Lord of the Rings to recruit new members (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/podcasts/the-daily-transcript-derek-black.html).
Virtual attacks against the organizers and presenters at the Summer 2021 Tolkien Society Summer Seminar on “Tolkien and Diversity” make the timeliness of this project clear. Medieval scholars, especially medievalists of color, are challenging white supremacist appropriation through the creation of Race B4 Race and new scholarship on race and the Middle Ages (https://acmrs.asu.edu/RaceB4Rac; Heng, Ramey). Tolkien scholars must join them. Independent scholars, graduate students, and academics trained in any period or discipline are invited to submit a proposal, working bibliography, and author bio to:
Topics include but are not limited to: Anti-Semitism; Catholicism/Christianity & racism; Colonial Imperialism; Ecological Imperialism; Eugenics, Neo-fascist & White Supremacist Fans; Romantic Nationalism & Tolkien; Social Darwinism; and Whiteness. Work on the legendarium, film adaptations, games, and fan creations (art, fiction, cosplay, especially racebending) is welcome.
Familiarity with Dimitra Fimi’s and Helen Young’s monographs is strongly recommended. The following approaches are most relevant to the project: critical race, cultural history, intellectual history, intersectionality, fan studies, neocolonial, postcolonial, and reception theories.
If interested scholars would like a copy of a Working Bibliography on the topic or have questions about their proposal, feel free to email the editor at the address above.