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The Queering of J.R.R. Tolkien by Jonathon Van Maren

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Essay

The Queering of J.R.R. Tolkien

It was inevitable that the LGBT movement would eventually claim J.R.R. Tolkien. Those cultural figures too towering to be toppled and too beloved to be cancelled must be co-opted to serve the new governing ideology: their work misinterpreted; their lives pored over for the slightest hint of anything that can be called “queer”; their work forcibly mutated beyond all recognition. In short, they must transition. Truth no longer matters because we can now identify things precisely as we choose.

Thus, the process of queering Tolkien has begun, especially as Amazon prepares to launch their new series based on his work (into which they have already sunk hundreds of millions of dollars). One journalist penned a lengthy essay last year insisting that Sam and Frodo were gay, which is perhaps inevitable in a society that is increasingly incapable of distinguishing intimacy from sex. (Sam’s marriage to Rose and their thirteen children is, apparently, irrelevant, as is the obvious truth that Tolkien would not have included, even covertly, a gay romance, being as he was, a traditionalist Catholic with views on sexuality are precisely what you’d expect them to be).

Over at The Guardian, Ben Child admitted that it was unlikely that Tolkien himself intended for anyone to read queerness into his canon—but this inconvenient fact, according to Child, simply doesn’t matter. The trilogy, he insisted, has “obvious queer connotations” despite the fact that Tolkien likely “saw hobbits as childlike innocents, mere sprites who lived long, long ago, in the mists of a sexless, Eden-like, ancient Faerie” and that “it’s hard to imagine that Tolkien had anything particularly carnal in mind.” Despite all that—and the fact that these lusty fan theories are easy to debunk—Child states that the “debate over just how gay the Lord of the Rings really is will no doubt be raging in another hundred years.”

The Tolkien Society, which has been colonized by LGBT activists, clearly concurs. Last July they hosted a conference called “Tolkien and Diversity,” an epic, two-day literary vandalization. Here are just a few of the included lectures: 

  • Cordeliah Logsdon – Gondor in Transition: A Brief Introduction to Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings.
  • Christopher Vaccaro – Pardoning Saruman?: The Queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
  • Robin Reid – Queer Atheists, Agnostics, and Animists, Oh, My!
  • Danna Petersen-Deeprose – “Something Mighty Queer”: Destabilizing Cishetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien.

If these academics are to be believed, every closet in Middle Earth is absolutely stuffed with creatures eager to launch Pride Parades in Mordor and Drag Queen Story Hour in the Shire (the definitely gay Samwise Gamgee could take all of his children). This work is not simply academic navel-gazing—activists have petitioned Amazon to include LGBT characters in the new small screen adaption of Tolkien’s work, and the news that an ‘intimacy coordinator’ had been hired to oversee sex scenes spawned a counter-petition by those asking the media giant to respect the integrity of Tolkien’s work and to keep it clean. The smart money is on those in possession of the cultural capital—the LGBT activists.

But Tolkien’s work actually has a lot to teach those of us on the other side of the culture wars. I was recently reading philosopher Peter Kreeft’s recent book of essays, How to Destroy Western Civilization. It contains an essay titled “Lewis, Tolkien, and the Culture Wars,” in which Kreeft lays out why Lord of the Rings is the story of our times—and that Tolkien intended it that way. “If we read Tolkien’s masterpiece thoughtfully, we will find in its pages … wartime wisdom,” Kreeft writes. “The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory, of course, but it is a myth; and a myth is more, not less, than an allegory in its applicability, for a myth is universal to many situations, while an allegory is applicable to just one.”

As Tolkien himself once wrote: “We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”

“The setting is neither mythical nor allegorical but literal,” Kreeft went on.

We still live in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. We live literally in Tolkien’s world. It is the only one we know, the one designed by God, the same God, the only God we know, and designed according to the same principles, the only principles we know… and therefore it has the same truths embedded in all its events, especially its wars, including its culture wars. Here, too, victory depends on friendship and loyalty and courage and perseverance and gift-giving and sacrifice and promise-keeping more than on power or cleverness, control or foresight. And it depends on the foolishness of trusting great tasks to humble hobbits.

Kreeft ends his musings by writing that: “Some day perhaps someone will write a book about this strange philosophy of Tolkien. Perhaps they will call it The Philosophy of Tolkien. Perhaps some will actually read it. Perhaps they will even live it.” Kreeft, of course, wrote that book himself. He beat the queer theorists to the punch by laying out Tolkien’s truths in anticipation of those who would Gollumize the great man’s works.

Kreeft is right—the culture wars are real wars. Millions of pre-born babies have been killed in the womb and untold lives destroyed in these conflicts. A full account of the destruction of the sexual revolution does not yet exist, but perhaps some day, on the far side of this century, someone will sit down and write it. “When you return to the lands of the living, and we retell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then,” Faramir said to Frodo. And so it was.

There are a few lines from Tolkien that my colleagues in the pro-life movement and I have often quoted to each other after long days of activism and strategizing that encapsulates the applicability of Tolkien’s tales to the culture wars perfectly. Tolkien wrote,

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

And so it is.

Jonathon Van Maren has written for First Things, National Review, The American Conservative, and is a contributing editor to The European Conservative. His latest book is Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield.

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