The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'tolkien'
A Russian author has written a retelling of Lord of the Rings from a different angle. Kiril Yeskov's The Last Ringbearer specifically repudiates Tolkien's oft-noted agrarian romanticism; in it, Sauron and the land of Mordor represent progress and rationalism, and are destroyed in a war of aggression by Gandalf and his lackeys, reinforcing a backward, feudal order in thrall to superstition and hereditary privilege:
In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."
Because Gandalf refers to Mordor as the "Evil Empire" and is accused of crafting a "Final Solution to the Mordorian problem" by rival wizard Saruman, he obviously serves as an avatar for Russia's 20th-century foes. But the juxtaposition of the willfully feudal and backward "West," happy with "picking lice in its log 'castles'" while Mordor cultivates learning and embraces change, also recalls the clash between Europe in the early Middle Ages and the more sophisticated and learned Muslim empires to the east and south. Sauron passes a "universal literacy law," while the shield maiden Eowyn has been raised illiterate, "like most of Rohan's elite" -- good guys Tolkien based on his beloved Anglo-Saxons.While Yeskov wrote The Last Ringbearer in 1999, an English-language translation has just been made available here.
Charlie Stross posted to his blog the synopsis of an alternate history novel he almost started writing in 2002, set in an interesting timeline:
The year is 1950 -- but it's not our 1950. Things began to go off the rails, history-wise, in 1917-1918. Lawrence of Arabia was shot dead at the gates of Damascus, for example: the whole face of the middle east is utterly different. Trotsky had flu in October 1917 — the Bolshevik revolution happened in early 1918, and Stalin got himself killed in the process. Because of the late Russian collapse, World War One ended differently in this universe: the Kaisershlacht started in June (not April), the German high command collapsed in January 1919, and Germany was actually occupied by Allied forces (including the first large-scale deployment of what would later be called Blitzkrieg warfare — this was actually planned, but never used because of the German capitulation in November 1918). Germany was invaded, subjugated — no support for the "stab in the back" theory that Hitler used so effectively.In this world, Hitler never becomes dictator, and nor does Mussolini; fascism, however, is invented in Britain (with an Eric Blair becoming dictator of the Empire), and a standoff in Europe between the fascist republic of Britain and the Soviet Communists, with an isolationist America gradually taking an interest in the state of affairs, sending over two agents to investigate a curious trade of computers for heroin, and various real-world historical figures' alternate selves making appearances:
(This is all rooted in a vision I had, of William S. Burroughs as a CIA agent, and Philip K. Dick as his young henchman, going head-to-head with notorious gangster and pervert Adolf Hitler somewhere in Hamburg to find out where Hitler is shipping all the computers he can get his hands on.)It's a pity that this book will never get written. But one can console oneself with the outline posted in Charlie's blog:
And linked from the comments (on a tangent from Charlie's dislike of traditional high fantasy and its somewhat reactionary politics): Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky's (unused) audio commentary for Peter Jackson's Return of the King film, which exposes the colonialist-imperialist nature of the Elves and their lackeys:
ZINN: Self-hating, Elf-emulating Men invest so much in symbolic one-upmanship characteristic of capitalistic societies: Who has the nicer tunic? Whose dagger has more shiny gems on it? Who has the strongest pipe-weed? But the Orcish alliance seems to be a truly mutual, multicultural cooperative enterprise.
ZINN: You see the walls of Minas Tirith up close here. Albert Speer would have been proud. Notice the grand scale, the "great works" emphasis of Gondorian architecture. The fascist uniformity of their battle dress. Compare it to the folk artwork of Orcish armor—their improvisatory use of shrunken heads and Mannish skulls, for instance. There's something very beautiful about it to me.
CHOMSKY: A perfect example of what Ruskin valorizes as the Gothic aesthetic.
ZINN: It's nonstandardized, individual, homespun, bespoke. It's also imbued with a kind of nature worship that Elves merely play at.
Meanwhile, Guardian readers debate vital issues, such as whether Narnia and Middle Earth should be permitted to join the EU:
Everyone seems to be forgetting just how inefficient farmers Hobbits are. I can't see them agree to reasonable deal on CAP.
They're not ready for entry. The regulations on wardrobes alone should give them pause and the prospect of being overrun by asylum seekers from Sunderland will undoubtedly sway the vote in favour of 'No'.
Guardian readers would undoubtedly support The evil queen
What would Lord of the Rings have been like, had it been written by Irvine Welsh? Probably something like this:
"Aragorn!" Gimil calls tae ays. "Ye're late again!"
"Aye," ay smiles back. "Ah ran intae some Orc cunts and they started gittin wide wi us, likesay."
Gimli looks at ays but says nowt. Ah like Gimli, eh's awright. Tidy little cunt in a fight, like ays. Nae like that homo elf who'd rather keep ehs distance and shoot some fuckin arrows from afar.
Ah sits doon and gets oot ma oan grub. Ah starts thinkin ay Arwen, and our last night togethir, when ah shagged er proper and she squealed like a wee piggie. Fit little lassie that, with the extra ay bein an elf, likes, immortal an' aw that. Those tits an' erse'll never sag!
America is experiencing a rise in do-it-yourself religion; this ranges from trivial examples (i.e., Catholics who privately practice contraception or Jews who don't keep kosher) to more elaborate combinations (Judaism/Buddhism is an extremely popular combination, apparently, though others, like Buddhism, Islam and the Norse pantheon, exist), and various made-to-order pop-cultural syncretisms (such as Elvis religion and self-help-book "angel" spirituality). Is this the logical combination of the two American traditions of religious identity and commodity consumerism? (via Plastic)
Neopagans themselves mix all sorts of spiritual ingredients -- and not always consciously. Many carry baggage from the churches they've supposedly rejected. "The former Catholics are the ones that are into the big ceremonial magic, because that's what they grew up with -- the big Catholic ceremonies," argues Ceredwyn Alexander, a 33-year-old pagan (and former Catholic) who lives in Middlebury, Vermont. "And the Baptist pagans tend to be the rule-oriented pagans: 'You must be facing the east at this particular time of day, and anything other than that is evil and wrong!'"
Mind you, real-world religions aren't the only thing being appropriated into new DIY spiritualities; some prefer to base their religious beliefs on works of fiction and popular culture:
So it was that in 1993 members of the Order of the Red Grail, a Wiccan group in Nebraska, held an "experimental magickal working from the High Elven point of view," drawing on the world invented by Tolkien. And so it was that in the mid-'80s some occultists in California -- not a pagan group, my informant stresses, though there were some pagans among them -- attempted to channel the Amazing Spider-Man. The collective unconscious was probed, and a persona claiming to be Peter Parker emerged; the magicians then tested the alleged superhero by asking what would take place in the next few issues of the comic book. Alas, the channeler's predictions proved inaccurate, thus nipping the project in the bud.
One person's High Elven is another person's High Elvis, of course; "Elvis miracles" have been reported for decades now, and there are "serious" Churches of Elvis. There's even a book about "Elvis spirituality". And then of course are the Jedi; sure, most of them put "Jedi" on their census forms just for the hell of it, but there are surely a few who find deep spiritual meaning in lightsaber battles and dyslexic muppets.
Such playfulness marks the so-called Free Religions. Under this header one finds Discordianism, the "Non-Prophet Irreligious Disorganization" devoted to the Greco-Roman goddess of disorder; the Church of the SubGenius, inspired not by classical mythology but by conspiracy theories, UFO cults, and sales manuals; and the Moorish Orthodox Church, which might best be described as Discordianism crossed with Afro-American Islam. Other Free Religions are one-off efforts, sometimes launched by followers of other free faiths.
That seems to be right; what Discordian or SubGenius hasn't at some stage (and often under the influence of various substances) declared themselves on a whim to be the High Pope-God-Emperor of the First Universal Church of Spray-On Cheese or something?
A while ago I was thinking that, while memes like that occur everywhere, the placing of them in a religious context seems to be a very American idea. I.e., if Discordianism originated in, say, England or France (or even Australia), it probably wouldn't classify itself as a religion; perhaps it would be an art movement, or a philosophical experiment, or perhaps just a meme, a signifier marking out those In The Know.
(I put down "Discordian" on my last few census forms, though I don't regard it as a religion, any more than Dadaism or Situationism was a religion. (One could argue that Marxism, one of the parents of Situationism, shows the characteristics of being a religion, but that's another can of worms altogether.))
First there was the Kazakhstan hobbit crackdown, and now, Italian neo-fascists are getting really into Tolkien, running "Hobbit Camps" for young fascists. What's going on?
For the fortysomethings of Alleanza Nazionale (AN), the right-wing party in government, J R R Tolkien and his cast of elves and hobbits are as much a part of their political property as Che Guevara was for the left-wing. So much so that AN members of parliament and sympathisers held their own private première of the film.