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Is Tolkien's portrayal of goblins/orcs antisemitic and racist?

Laegolas

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I came across a Twitter thread, and the general idea is the goblins and orcs in Tolkien's works are based off racism and antisemitism. I'm from Malaysia, English is my second language, and I can't relate to the points made in the thread because I have limited knowledge of dark-skinned orcs being a racist caricature of Africans. I have read the trilogy many times, and not once has it ever crossed my mind to associate orcs with Africans. I don't even see Africans as ape-like or anything that is mentioned in the thread. Are they really based off racism and antisemitism? Please help. Thank you in advance.
 

user16578

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I came across a Twitter thread, and the general idea is the goblins and orcs in Tolkien's works are based off racism and antisemitism. I'm from Malaysia, English is my second language, and I can't relate to the points made in the thread because I have limited knowledge of dark-skinned orcs being a racist caricature of Africans. I have read the trilogy many times, and not once has it ever crossed my mind to associate orcs with Africans. I don't even see Africans as ape-like or anything that is mentioned in the thread. Are they really based off racism and antisemitism? Please help. Thank you in advance.
Oh my, nowadays everything is rascism, anti this, anti that. Sorry but society has gone berserk!
Like you I never ever thought of these things while reading Tolkien, now that these 'theories' are outed I still do not see it that way.
To me Tolkien 'just' wrote about love, live, good and evil, no less no more.
I do not understand why these people like to stain everything that in their eyes is out of the ordinary...

I can think of quite a few other books and ideas that are full of hatred etc. ...
 

Fëanor_7

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I certainly doubt it is the sort of 'calculated racism' that the writer of that twitter thread seems to think it is.

The only argument for it being racist or offensive in my eyes is that it was a sort of subconscious thing, just based on people's views at the time, and even that doesn't seem likely (to me at least), particularly since Tolkien seemed so obsessed with creating 'his own' world, rather than one designed to reflect reality.
 

Laegolas

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Oh my, nowadays everything is rascism, anti this, anti that. Sorry but society has gone berserk!
Like you I never ever thought of these things while reading Tolkien, now that these 'theories' are outed I still do not see it that way.
To me Tolkien 'just' wrote about love, live, good and evil, no less no more.
I do not understand why these people like to stain everything that in their eyes is out of the ordinary...

I can think of quite a few other books and ideas that are full of hatred etc. ...

Same here, my view and understanding of the books have not changed. In fact, now the thread seems ridiculous to me because I really can't remember any of the characters who are not orcs ever saying anything racist or downgrading towards orcs. They really are nasty in the books, it's not like they are misunderstood and hated for their skin color.

I certainly doubt it is the sort of 'calculated racism' that the writer of that twitter thread seems to think it is.

The only argument for it being racist or offensive in my eyes is that it was a sort of subconscious thing, just based on people's views at the time, and even that doesn't seem likely (to me at least), particularly since Tolkien seemed so obsessed with creating 'his own' world, rather than one designed to reflect reality.

I feel like the tweeter does not understand how complex the creation of Middle Earth is, because she/he mentioned in another tweet that 'I'm still not over the fact that Tolkien is applauded as this master of fantasy when all he did was take preexisting mythology concepts and make them racist.' Because I can't seem to match Tolkien's world with ours - race is not an issue in his story. Evil characters are evil, and they don't necessarily have dark skin color.
 
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user16578

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I feel like the tweeter does not understand how complex the creation of Middle Earth is, because she/he mentioned in another tweet that 'I'm still not over the fact that Tolkien is applauded as this master of fantasy when all he did was take preexisting mythology concepts and make them racist.' Because I can't seem to match Tolkien's world with ours - race is not an issue in his story. Evil characters are evil, and they don't necessarily have dark skin color.
Wow what a shocking statement, appauling!
 

Fëanor_7

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I know right, it's completely not possible that even one of the stories he took inspiration from could've been racist to begin with either.

Definitely no sarcasm in here, no no.
 

user16578

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I know right, it's completely not possible that even one of the stories he took inspiration from could've been racist to begin with either.

Definitely no sarcasm in here, no no.
I do not understand this reaction sorry, elaborate pleaz
I tried to read the thread, and all I can say is that the ts is one of poor mind...
 

Laegolas

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I do not understand this reaction sorry, elaborate pleaz
I tried to read the thread, and all I can say is that the ts is one of poor mind...
I have to say I'm offended that he/she wrote p*ss on Tolkien. I also tried reading on the Cornish's goblins - I can't find similarities. Their goblins are greedy, Tolkien's are not. It doesn't make sense. Feels like stuff someone write without having understood either Cornish belief or Tolkien.
 

Merroe

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Me too, I agree with the previous contributors. I sometimes get the impression that some extreme anti-racists are in for frequent, silly witch-hunting at the most impossible occasions or moments.

An example, if I may. I can't remember where, but some time ago I came across a similar racist slur on Tolkien, regarding the sentence Aragorn spoke to Éomer at the day of Faramir's betrothal to Éowyn:

‘No niggard are you, Éomer,’ said Aragorn, ‘to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm!’

Shame and scandal: the "N-word"! It's enough to open a dictionary to understand that Aragorn's words are civilized and gentle but if these extremists are really determined to see only the evil in others then they will have their silly fun.

[BTW Laegolas, welcome to this forum!]
 

Fëanor_7

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I do not understand this reaction sorry
I was merely making fun of the way they said that Tolkien took existing stories and 'made them racist' which even if it were true is rather foolish, since the same tweeter claims that Cornish folklore contained racist stereotypes, so he wouldn't be 'adding racism', because the stories they claim he is 'making racist' are also from their point of view already racist.

I will admit I all too frequently make my jokes too obscure, such that only I could ever find them funny.
 

user16578

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I have to say I'm offended that he/she wrote p*ss on Tolkien. I also tried reading on the Cornish's goblins - I can't find similarities. Their goblins are greedy, Tolkien's are not. It doesn't make sense. Feels like stuff someone write without having understood either Cornish belief or Tolkien.
so true!

I was merely making fun of the way they said that Tolkien took existing stories and 'made them racist' which even if it were true is rather foolish, since the same tweeter claims that Cornish folklore contained racist stereotypes, so he wouldn't be 'adding racism', because the stories they claim he is 'making racist' are also from their point of view already racist.

I will admit I all too frequently make my jokes too obscure, such that only I could ever find them funny.
Kewl :) Obscurity is ok!! :)

Me too, I agree with the previous contributors. I sometimes get the impression that some extreme anti-racists are in for frequent, silly witch-hunting at the most impossible occasions or moments.

[BTW Laegolas, welcome to this forum!]
Exactly, the more they can shout, kick and offend the better they feel themselves... pity.
 

CirdanLinweilin

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I came across a Twitter thread, and the general idea is the goblins and orcs in Tolkien's works are based off racism and antisemitism. I'm from Malaysia, English is my second language, and I can't relate to the points made in the thread because I have limited knowledge of dark-skinned orcs being a racist caricature of Africans. I have read the trilogy many times, and not once has it ever crossed my mind to associate orcs with Africans. I don't even see Africans as ape-like or anything that is mentioned in the thread. Are they really based off racism and antisemitism? Please help. Thank you in advance.
If he's white, male, and or Catholic, one way or another, he's going to be called racist, for the silliest of reasons. As all three, and expecting it as a High Fantasy writer, I'm prepared for it.


Just my .2.


CL
 

user16578

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If he's white, male, and or Catholic, one way or another, he's going to be called racist, for the silliest of reasons. As all three, and expecting it as a High Fantasy writer, I'm prepared for it.


Just my .2.


CL
Yeah right, here we have a saying that when you put your head above ground level, it gets chopped off ...
 

Pat

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I would say that the presentation of orcs, goblins, Easterlings and Haradrim could be viewed as "racist", as well as the stereotypical presentation of the "east" and "south" as being savage compared to a civilized "west", but these I would argue were not intentional on the part of Tolkien. The mindset was largley a product of the time he wrote them.
 

Peter86

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Orcs are alledgedly supposed to be twisted elves, and that's about it, really.
Personally I always imagined orcs to look like savage elves, which is slightly different from how they are portrayed in some other sources.

Basically, imagine Fëanor when he is really freaking aggressive and warlike and has fought in the wild for a long time and lost his fancy royal clothes for whatever reason, and that's what an orc looks like to me.
 

user16578

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I would say that the presentation of orcs, goblins, Easterlings and Haradrim could be viewed as "racist", as well as the stereotypical presentation of the "east" and "south" as being savage compared to a civilized "west", but these I would argue were not intentional on the part of Tolkien. The mindset was largley a product of the time he wrote them.
I do not agree... in those days everything outside your own space was considered odd, maybe suspicious, people had no tv or internet, there was a period where the whole world was your own, due to the internet, nowadays we're going back in time being calvinistic about a whole lot of things and yes even considering other people outside our own little world as evil, odd and suspicious even evil again!
History works like the sea, in waves ...
 
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Miguel

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I would say that the presentation of orcs, goblins, Easterlings and Haradrim could be viewed as "racist", as well as the stereotypical presentation of the "east" and "south" as being savage compared to a civilized "west", but these I would argue were not intentional on the part of Tolkien. The mindset was largley a product of the time he wrote them.
We all tend to see ourselves as "The good side", if not we'll just say "That's how it is" or just be openly/passively Good & Evil. I've seen evil and savagery in the East as i saw evil and savagery in the West, and i continue to see.

Some quotes:
...the Noldor did not yet comprehend the fullness of the power of Morgoth, nor understand that their unaided war upon him was without final hope, whether they hasted or delayed
Great was the triumph of Morgoth, and his design was accomplished in a manner after his own heart; for Men took the lives of Men, and betrayed the Eldar, and fear and hatred were aroused among those that should have been united against him. From that day the hearts of the Elves were estranged from Men, save only those of the Three Houses of the Edain.
And Morgoth sent out his spies, and they were clad in false forms and deceit was in their speech; they made lying promises of reward, and with cunning words sought to arouse fear and jealousy among the peoples... But ever the Noldor feared most the treachery of those of their own kin, who had been thralls in Angband; for Morgoth used some of these for his evil purposes, and feigning to give them liberty sent them abroad, but their wills were chained to his, and they strayed only to come back to him again
We can see something similar happening later in Númenor.
 

user16578

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We all tend to see ourselves as "The good side", if not we'll just say "That's how it is" or just be openly/passively Good & Evil. I've seen evil and savagery in the East as i saw evil and savagery in the West, and i continue to see.
We're humans... :)
 

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Just as a general statement, my experience is that if some people anywhere are grimly determined to be offended, they will be, and it doesn’t matter squat what you say. :mad:

Orcs (were the also called Goblins early in the mythology, like the Noldor were called Gnomes?) were there pretty much from the word go. They were the enemy’s tremendous masses of troops who needed to be massacred in masses to gain victory. They must have been more of a concept like Elves or Dwarves or other uncanny (and non-human) creatures abounding in superstitions. And in the First Age, the direction of the Enemy was mainly north (shades of the Vikings???).

As to the Easterlings and Southrons being seen as enemies – well, for someone living in western Europe starting from about the fall of the western Roman Empire, that’s where such invaders came from. The Romans themselves were probably cursing about those blasted northerners at this time, though both together did at least once band up against the Huns. And the Chinese of this time were probably also cursing about the Huns – but which to their view were Westerners. But this is a (north-) western European “mythology”, so views from this part of the world will be the foundation.

I did allude to the Vikings above. But by the year 1000 (our time), even Iceland had become Christianized, so that relatively short period kind of faded in memory. And JRRT himself was both fascinated and professionally occupied with the literature of this region and time. *sarcasm on* Does anyone know if the Scandinavians are yelling about the depiction the Lossoth of Forochel? *sarcasm off*
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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The criticisms aren't anything new; they've been going on for a long time, so I'd hesitate to attribute it to some sort of recent change to a "PC" attitude.

In fact, it was on display in the very first book-length study, William Ready's "Understanding Tolkien", where he described Tolkien's supposed attitude towards black people as (quoting from memory here) ". . .fine fellows, perhaps, but not in England". What his source for this was, I have no idea. Nor, probably, had he.

In a letter, Tolkien described his concept of orcs, in part, as having Mongolian features "of (to western eyes) the most unpleasant type". This might now be considered rasist, certainly, but it pales in comparison to the description of Huns in Jordanes: ". . .as for the front of their head, which can hardly be called a face. . .". I tend to think Tolkien drew on this, and similar traditions, in constructing his orcs.

LOTR describes them as "sallow-skinned", and arguments have raged for decades about what that means.
 

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