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The Lossoth: Indigeneity, identity, and antiracism

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

Paper given 3 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Saturday session № 2

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.

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date recorded 📅2021-08-13
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