Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tolkien on anti-Semitism

Tolkien was wonderfully unambiguous when, before World War II, a German publisher asked him whether he was "Aryan." From IYOV (quoting from the introduction to Beowulf and the Critics):
In 1938, Tolkien had written a razor-tongued reply to the German firm Rütten und Loening Verlag, who, upon negotiating the publication of a German translation of The Hobbit, dared to ask Tolkien if he was "arisch" [Aryan]. Tolkien replied with insulting philological precision that since he was not aware that any of his "ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects," he could not claim to be Aryan. He adds, "but if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people." He then continues with an explanation of his German name (Tolkien's ancestors immigrated to England in the eighteenth century), and closes with the following:
I have been accustomed...to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war.... I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
In a letter to his own publishers about the same issue Tolkien calls the German race laws "lunatic" and notes "I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable...and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine." ....
Thanks to Mark Olson for the reference.

Iyov: Tolkien on anti-Semitism and racism


  1. Anonymous5:05 AM

    That is amazing. I love tolkien and its for reasons like that.

  2. As admirable and brave as that is/was, I feel the need to point out that the most ethical counterpoint to racism is not prejudice against the racist but a total disregard for race as a character factor at all.

    Its easy to vilify the Nazis and the german citizenry of the period, now that they've lost, now that we have full hindsight.

    But if you love a person just for that attitude does that means you hate men like Lincoln who was very much a racist and probably a sexist like all his contemporaries.

    Goodness is not brutal hate for an enemy, but rather an absence of brutal hatred generally.

  3. Innomen is a putz. A poltroon. A gallimaufry of reality.

    Lincoln was 'racist' in only the broadest sense. He was a learner and transcended the ignorance of his past and became so much more than you are even now, Innomen.

    Now for the poetry:
    Vuntz I had a kendy store
    Bizniss vas so bad
    I asked mein vife vat to do
    And dis is vat she said:
    Take yourself some kerosene
    Pour it on de floor
    Take a match
    Give a Scratch
    No more kendy store, HEY!

  4. “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”


    Abraham Lincoln
    (1809-1865) 16th US President

    Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858
    (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, pp. 145-146.)

  5. Thank you for this insight...it amazes me what is out there with enough research. And something good!


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