Tolkien Society Seminar

Summer 2021: Tolkien and diversity

Saturday #2

3 July 2021 17:00 utc — view in local time


    № 1: Projecting Indian myths, culture, and history onto Tolkien’s worlds

    Sultana Raza, independent scholar

    This paper will explore similarities between Indian culture and Tolkien’s worlds. Examples will include archetypes, such as the reluctant kings and stewards from the Ramayana, who can be compared to Aragorn and the Steward of Gondor. Also, animal helpers such as special horses, and Hanuman (the monkey god who could fly), and the Eagles of Middle-Earth. Special, magical herbs can be found in Ramayana too, like King’s foil in Lord of the Rings.

    There are some parallels between the heroes of Mahabharat, (such as Abhimanyu) and the Fellowship. Can the wise, yet irascible Indian sages (Rishis) may have something in common with wizards such as Gandalf? In the Mahabharat, can Rishi Dronacharya’s later acts be compared to that of Saruman’s betrayal?

    Philosophical parallels can be found between Indian myths and Tolkien’s sub-created worlds. Furthermore, there are resemblances between Sindarin, and Welsh. It should be noted that similarities between Sanskrit, and the Gaelic family as a whole are still being studied, as they are all part of the Indo-European branch of languages. Other Indian concepts and social/​familial structures can be discerned in Tolkien’s works as well.

    Regarding history, there are a few uncanny parallels between the life of Noor Jahan (1577 – 1645, a Mughal empress), and her niece, Mumtaz Mahal (1593 – 1631, for whom the Taj Mahal was built), and the stories of Galadriel and Arwen. Like Lúthien, Noor Jahan was able to rescue her husband when he was held hostage by a traitor. Aragorn was able to unite various peoples of Middle-earth to fight evil. The Mughal emperor, Akbar (1542−1605) first conquered many of the smaller kingdoms, but by integrating them into his court, he was able to unite the different religious factions of his vast and stable empire. Therefore, one can easily find parallels between Indian myths, culture and history and Tolkien’s works.

    № 2: The Lossoth: Indigeneity, identity, and antiracism

    Nicholas B. Birns, Adjunct Instructor, Center for Applied Liberal Arts, New York University

    In Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, we are told that Arvedui, the last king of the line of Valandil in the North, takes refuge from the Witch-king in the collapse of the own kingdom of Arthedain in Third Age 1974, with the Lossoth. The Lossoth are polar-area Indigenous people clearly modelled on the Inuit, Sami, or Nenets. Arvedui lives for a short time and harmony and mutual assistance with them. Arvedui even gives the heirloom of his house, the Ring of Barahir, to the Lossoth, recognizing that they are kin enough to receive this ancient symbol of the Edain. Arvedui is able to be intersectional, at least temporarily, and recognize the racial diversity of Middle-earth, that non-whites there, in Eliza Farrell’s words, contribute their own worth.” That the Lossoth know and feel situated in their own physical environment environment in a way Arvedui does not helps save the king’s life. Yet Arvedui’s poignant story is ultimately mobilized into the genealogy of Aragorn’s kingship and a Númenórean restoration, indigeneity reinscribed into an avatar of settler-colonialism rather than valued for itself. The story of the Lossoth thus at once reveals the tantalizing potential of diversity in Tolkien’s represented world and a corollary tendency for conventional valuations of whiteness and hierarchy to reassert themselves. Yet, as in the cognate role played by the people of Ghân-buri-Ghân in the War of the Ring, the momentary appearance of the Lossoth is still meaningful. This is particularly so as they are geographically positioned at the extreme north and west of Middle-earth, the two compass-points that Tolkien elsewhere values as an analogue for his own Europe. Thus the Lossoth operate as an internal brake upon Eurocentrism. They show that resistance to evil cannot be channelled through one model of identity, belonging, or power.

    № 3: The problematic perimeters of Elrond Half-elven and Ronald English-Catholic

    Kristine Larsen, Professor, Geological Sciences, Central Connecticut State University

    While Tolkien (when pressed) identified most closely with his original character Faramir, there are in fact many similarities between Tolkien and Elrond. This essay utilizes the concept of liminality, alterity, and the queer” (as defined by the privileged majority of their respective cultures) to explore the myriad parallels between author and creation. Points of similarity include belonging to a minority population, being an orphan and a twin/​near twin, and the deep impact of close homosocial relationships. Issues of self-identification (especially important for individuals who reside at the boundary between dichotomous groups) also point to a close connection (perhaps completely subconscious) between Tolkien and Elrond Half-Elven.

    № 4: Hearkening to the Other: Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth

    Cami D. Agan, Professor of Language and Literature, Oklahoma Christian University

    The First Age philosophical dialogue between Finrod Felagund and Bëoran Andreth offers a brief glimpse into ways the diverse Peoples of Middle-earth may speak to one another across difference. Through Finrod and Andreth, we see how the inhabitants of Arda can bridge the gap of experience, knowledge, and difference to achieve not only personal connection but indeed visionary potential.

    While the text reflects Tolkien’s concern for the immortality (and death) of the Elves; … the Fall of Men and the length of their early history” (Morgoth’s Ring viii), the dialogue also reflects the struggle of two people, who although they may long for connection and understanding, frequently talk at cross-purposes, feel belittled, or refuse the claims of their partner. Both Finrod and Andreth must take the words of the other on faith,” must respect the lore of the other as valid and indeed inspiring, and finally must see one another in new and at times revelatory ways. Significantly, it is the knowledge or lore of Andreth who teaches” or enlightens Finrod about the possibilities for a transformed, healing future not only for Men and Elves but indeed for all Arda.

    As the conversation moves, Finrod contemplates the foundational subjects from the viewpoint of Andreth. Though he corrects Andreth’s at times nearly blasphemous claims, Finrod’s empathy brings him the vision of the ways in which humans may be the healers of Arda and the salvation of the Eldar. Like the brief moments of peace and cooperation Finrod Felagund has facilitated elsewhere in the Great Tales, this discussion emphasizes the Elf-lord valuing difference, the voice of the Other: a woman, a human, a mortal, as he embraces their lore above even his own.

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    date recorded 📅2021-08-13
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