Tolkien Society Seminar

Summer 2021: Tolkien and diversity

Sunday #2

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


    № 1: Questions of caste in The Lord of the Rings and its multiple Chinese translations

    Eric Reinders, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Emory University

    Question of race in Tolkien’s works include references to Swarthy Men or Easterlings, the values associated with skin-colour and eye-type, and the moral geography of Middle-earth, wherein West and North is good and beautiful; East and South is bad and ugly. The famously blunt director Hayao Miyazaki wrote, if you read the original novels you can also tell that the people being killed are really Asians and Africans.” Here I examine these issues in the context of the multiple translations of Tolkien into Chinese. I consider translations for the China and Taiwan markets by Zhu Xueheng, Deng Jiawan and her collaborators, Wu Gang, and several translators of the Yilin Press editions. How do the translations deal with the clear coding of dark or sallow” skin, slant” eyes, and the general hostility to the East? For example, Swarthy Men” results in a range of options: switching to their proper name, the Haradrim; the use of terms such as yeren (wild people); or literal translation: heifuren (black skinned people). Dealing with slant-eyed” (goblin-soldiers) the Chinese translators chose not to edit out the racist slur which has been applied to East Asians. Two translations go straightforwardly with eyes slanting” (xiediao) while a third has eyes very small” (xixiao). The returning hobbits see some squint-eyed and sallow-faced” men, clearly belonging to a certain physical type or race. The translations again are matter-of-fact, such as hanging slanted eyes, waxy-yellow faces,” diaoxie yan, lahuang lian. In translating Easterlings,” its diminiutive suffix is eliminated, with dongfang de renlei, humans of the East,” and dongfangren, Eastern people.” To what extent do Chinese readers see that coding, and perceive it as anti-Chinese or anti-Asian? How do the translations mediate the implications of these racial categories? How do Tolkien’s terms interact with common Chinese racial and post-Colonial attitudes?

    № 2: Stars less strange: An analysis of fanfiction and representation within the Tolkien fan community

    Dawn Walls-Thumma, Humanities teacher, Coventry Village School

    Fanfiction and other transformative works provide one mode by which fans from marginalized groups extend and repair texts to better represent more diverse people and perspectives, a process that Una McCormack terms reparative reading.” While poor representation of diverse groups is endemic within literary and media texts, Tolkien’s works are often singled out for their problematic representations of gender and race – and silence on sexuality – making his canon fruitful territory for transformative works by fans that not only recognize the existence of women, people of color, and queer characters within Middle-earth but transform the canon to recast Tolkien’s stories from their perspectives.

    This paper will consider the historical and current use of fanfiction to address issues of representation in Tolkien’s canon. Historically, the online Tolkien fanfiction community has not been receptive to reparative readings,” with authors who attempted to include more diverse perspectives often harassed by peers or subjected to gatekeeping and targeted campaigns by fandom institutions. After considering this historical context, I will use data from the 2015 and 2020 Tolkien Fanfiction Surveys to consider whether and how these values have changed over twenty years of a significant online fanfiction fandom. These surveys consider demographics, values, and behaviors as self-reported by writers and readers of Tolkien-based fanfiction. Results of the 2015 survey showed that, while the fandom was undergoing sometimes rapid evolution in norms around how diverse people from Tolkien’s canon were represented in fanfiction, these changes were not fully actualized in many fandom spaces. This paper will extend that analysis using the newly completed 2020 survey results to evaluate how values and practices around representation have changed since 2015 and how fans who themselves identify as part of marginalized groups use fanfiction to broaden the perspectives offered by and to correct racism, sexism, and homophobia found within Tolkien’s canon.

    № 3: “Something mighty queer”: Destabilizing cishetero amatonormativity in the works of Tolkien

    Danna Petersen-Deeprose, independent scholar

    My project draws from intersectional feminist and postmodern queer theories as well as recent Tolkien scholarship to examine how Tolkien’s depictions of characters, relationships, and ways of loving and existing destabilize contemporary cishetero amatonormative structures. While I offer a queer reading, I do not focus on eroticism or romance; rather, I look at how various characters, relationships, and races complicate essentialist understandings of gender and cisheteronormativity.

    Non-heterosexual partnerships, non-normative families, and non-traditional gender presentation are extremely common in Middle-earth. I begin my study by examining non-normative relationships, including Bilbo and Frodo as a non-traditional family; Sam and Frodo’s intimacy and the family they establish with Rosie; Legolas and Gimli’s partnership; and Sauron’s relationships with various powerful male figures, whom he often seduces” by taking on a beautiful body.

    Next, I examine how certain individual character traits and race-defining attributes challenge essentialist ideas of gender. I focus on the representation of dwarves, universally bearded and masculine-bodied; elves, virtually all smooth-cheeked with long flowing hair; the Ainur, who choose a body to match their innate temper”; and humans and hobbits, zeroing in on Éowyn and Merry.

    Finally, I examine the complicated relationship between queerness and virtue in Arda. The books repeatedly reinforce traditional gender roles, especially for female characters, but are simultaneously inhabited by diverse races that embody gender in a multitude of ways. And though Sauron’s feminized behaviour and non-normative relationships threaten Middle-earth at large, it is Frodo and Sam’s intimate queer relationship that literally saves the world.

    Ultimately, I argue that while Tolkien may appear to reinforce gender norms and heteronormative ideals, he in fact destabilizes them. In Arda, Tolkien has envisioned a world with a wide range of diverse sexual, romantic, familial, and gender categories.

    № 4: Translation as a means of representation and diversity in Tolkien’s scholarship and fandom

    Martha Celis Mendoza, independent scholar

    Thanks to translation, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien have reached a readership of millions in more than 50 languages. Naturally, the majority of the editions published in languages other than English belong to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When we reach The Silmarillion, the list of languages starts slimming until gets very thin when dealing with lesser-known works, not to speak of Tolkien’s own translation of Beowulf or Sir Gawain. The same happens regarding Tolkien’s criticism, which rarely gets translated into other languages, based on the partial misconception that all scholars of an English language author must be proficient enough, not only to read their work, but also all the major works of criticism around it. In Mexico, the official language is Spanish, the language of colonization, but there are over 60 Mexican languages with over 300 dialect variations, and Tolkien’s works do not exist in any of them yet; and the same can be said about African languages, and many more. A more dialectic relationship must be promoted, since the works of fiction inspired by Tolkien’s works, and especially academic research and criticism works written in other languages rarely reach English-speaking fandom and scholars. The existence of a language implies the existence of a unique set of concepts and an entirely distinct worldview. The readers that belong to those unique cultures and traditions are missing most of Tolkien’s universe and great linguistic richness while, at the same time, the English-speaking world is missing most of the contributions that are being made in other languages, but many steps can be taken to reduce that gap by means of translation.

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    date recorded 📅2021-08-16
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