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Response to Backlash against Tolkien and Diversity Summer Seminar

2 July 2021 | Tolkien on the webRobin Anne Reid

… As many of you know, the Tolkien Society has committed to becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization. And, as the inevitable result, they are facing racist, misogynistic and homo- and transphobic backlash. They announced their program of speakers on their website and linked to it from their Facebook group. As far as I know, anybody can join/​follow the Tolkien Society’s Facebook group without being a member of the organization. 

Many of the comments have been deleted, and I blocked some that were not which means they cannot see/​respond here in my space which I strive to make as safe as possible. I would like to thank the Society and the admins for their support and hard work on this event.…


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I meant to post this piece here when I posted it on my Facebook and dropped a link on the Tolkien Society Facebook Page and in the Alliance of Arda (a private FB group dedicated to inclusion and progressive fans trying to change the culture of fandom and in a few cases academia relating to Tolkien). This post is public and free to share. 

  1. Information on the Tolkien Society Summer Seminar on Tolkien and Diversity”

As many of you know, the Tolkien Society has committed to becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization. And, as the inevitable result, they are facing racist, misogynistic and homo- and transphobic backlash. They announced their program of speakers on their website and linked to it from their Facebook group. As far as I know, anybody can join/​follow the Tolkien Society’s Facebook group without being a member of the organization. 

Many of the comments have been deleted, and I blocked some that were not which means they cannot see/​respond here in my space which I strive to make as safe as possible. I would like to thank the Society and the admins for their support and hard work on this event. 

Disclaimer: I am presenting on queer atheist, agnostic, and animist fans of Tolkien’s work. I was also honored to be asked to serve on the advisory committee whose job was to review all submissions and provide feedback for Will and the Board to consider when putting the program together.

  1. A quick summary of the inevitable responses which are just the same as all previous occasions when such topics are raised in Tolkien fandom, in SFF fandom (remember Racefail 09? The Sad and Rapid Puppies? Gamergate?), and in Anglophone nations (remember what has been happening the last decade or so?). 

Cries of woke” cultural Marxism” critical race theory” abound. My paraphrase of their general arguments against the dread topic of diversity: this will be the destruction of White Civilization, or it is a crazy fringe that is DOOMED, DOOMED, I tell you! So, both existential and foundational threat AND completely insignificant fringe. 

As someone who has been on the side of destroy White Civilization” (which is what Western Civilization” is code for) for the past forty years (before that I resisted it for myself but did not engage further), I have many experiences with those fighting the Bugaboo of Cultural Marxist Woke Sodomitic Diversity.” The language changes, but the impulse remains the same (these days there’s a lot less focus on Feminazis” destroying civilization – I worry about that, but that’s for another topic, another day). 

Many of the comments support the Society and the presenters. Thank you!

  1. My two-part response to the defenders of The Professor”/ White Civilization is layered: first, the academic response. Second, the personal. Both are informed by my activism. 

Academic: Many people who claim some single intentionality exists in Tolkien’s work never question the fact that their interpretation (which they know is correct’) happens to match their ideologies. These people often go on to dismiss interpretations which conflicts with their views as fringe/​woke/​crazy” often using the language of bigotry and hatred and claiming they speak for The Professor.” 

The only response I have to those people, now that I am no longer being paid to teach, is to recommend that they read one of the best essays by one of the three founders of academic Tolkien Studies (and the one I consider to have produced the best body of work), Verlyn Flieger’s brilliant essay, The Arch and the Keystone.”

It was her GOH speech at a recent MythCon and is published in the Mythopoetic Society’s open access journal. Verlyn engages directly with the conflicts and contradictions in Tolkien’s own writing (fictions, essays, drafts, and the epitextual and paratextual materials he created over his lifetime). This essay (as well as her less openly available But What Did He Really Mean” which deals with the extent to which both Christians and pagans have claimed Tolkien” for their own) pretty much demolishes any possibility of claiming Tolkien” had a single unified universal intent that is the correct” meaning of his work. 

Personal: I fell in love with Éowyn when I was ten years old (in 1965). I loved her with a passion and intensity that pre-dated by two decades my discovery of a graduate program where I could study and work with intersectional, queer, and feminist theories and write a dissertation on sff (1985). I loved her in part because she resisted being told what women should do, and she told the hero” off. 

At age ten, I had been told that girls shouldn’t read science fiction or fantasy since I started reading at age three (also, that I read too much!”). I was told I’d grow out of it. NARRATOR: Readers, she did not grow out of it. Instead, she got a Ph.D. so she could teach all the queer (meaning, non-normative) science fiction and fantasy she could (and get paid for it, because capitalism). I was also being told I should be getting ready to date, get married and have babies. NARRATOR: Readers, she did not do either and, about the time she turned forty, people stopped nagging her about it!

I loved Bilbo and Frodo because they didn’t get married (LOOK! role models!), and they loved books (!!!!!) land they wrote (!!!!). Hobbits around them thought them queer” (I have a list! of how many times queer” is used in TH and LotR which I’ll be writing about). 

But as the Gaffer told the miller, defending Bilbo and Frodo: We could do with a bit more queerness in these parts.” 

Go, Gaffer!

Tolkien fandom and studies could do with a bit more queerness — as well as a bit less Whiteness — and a bit less misogyny. 

I’m here. I’m queer. I’m an atheist (formerly lukewarm Presbyterian, then wiccan/neo-pagan). And I am part of Tolkien fandom, and Tolkien studies, as are many others, all of whom love Tolkien’s legendarium despite its many problems in his secondary world which reflects the primary world in which he was born and lived, and in which we also live. We are not going away.

I am proud to say that a number of the Summer Seminar presenters have work in the anthology on queer Tolkien that I am co-editing with Christopher Vaccaro and Stephen Yandell. We have been delayed because, pandemic, but are working on sending the proposal off to a publisher this summer. 

I hope to see many who support the Tolkien Society and those of us presenting will register and attend the event.

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date recorded 📅2021-08-12
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