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  • Geo- and Biopolitics of Middle-earth:A German Reading of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • Niels Werber (bio)

I. Race and Space in German Discourses—After the Downfall

This year, 60 years after the end of the Third Reich, the German public predictably is celebrating the collective reminiscence of this era. The Oscar-nominated German movie The Downfall, with its "human" perspective on high-ranking Nazi "protagonists" and their entourage performing the regime's last act in the "Fuehrerbunker," is playing a significant part in this culture of remembrance. Whereas the protest generation in the 1960s and '70s criticized the hundredfold continuity of Nazi institutions, staff, laws, and ideology, The Downfall is styling the end of the National Socialist dictatorship as an epochal tabula rasa. Whoever outlived the breakdown of the Reich was sentenced in Nuremberg or reeducated under Allied surveillance. Therefore, May 8, 1945, can be seen as Hour Zero, "die Stunde Null." Such a standpoint gets backing from The Downfall, which dramatizes the end of the Third Reich in very suggestive pictures of destruction, annihilation, death, and suicide. Based on the destroyed battlegrounds in the film, the audience may assume that something altogether new would be built. However, in this essay I will investigate which components of the Third Reich have survived the collapse and are still present today.

This interest in a "subliminal" continuity of pre-1945 modes of thinking was enhanced by the tremendous success of John Ronald Reul Tolkien's epic novel The Lord of the Rings on the German book market and the awesome triumph of Peter Jackson's movie adaptation on German movie screens. Both novel and motion picture are obviously obsessed with the differences between certain races (Elves and Numenór, Dwarfs and Hobbits, Orcs and Southrons, Istari and Balrogs), their genealogies, bloodlines, crossbreedings, and even their biogenetic procreation (Uruk-Hai). Their respective realms (pretty Shire, proud Gondor, beautiful Imladris, terrible Mordor) mirror these differences. [End Page 227] Through reading Tolkien's novels, seeing the movies, or playing computer games like "The Battle for Middle-earth" (EA Games, 2004), one is introduced into a certain bio- and geopolitical knowledge: first of all, races are different not only in terms of skin color or height, but in moral worth, refinement, wisdom, and political integrity. The races are either hereditarily good and wise like Elves or genetically evil and dumb like Orcs, and therefore they make "natural-born" enemies. The absolute and insurmountable hate between Elves and Orcs is not outlined as a consequence of political decision-making, but as a result of their opposing DNA sequences. To pass off contingent, historical, and changeable political differences as "natural" or "given" oppositions is paradigmatic in discourses of social Darwinism since the mid-nineteenth century. That "the Slavs" were a race hostile to "us" or "France" was "our" sworn enemy were typical phrases in this German context. In Nazi Germany, the construction of a strict difference between "us" and "them" itself was dramatized as threatened through the menace of mingling: "the Jew" was tainting "our" blood in a biogenetic warfare against the body of the German nation. Within the biopolitical discourse, this threat directly provided the justification for an extermination campaign against the Jewish race.

Secondly, in a purely geopolitical context, one is taught that the differences between the territories of these races should be considered results of intense interactions between the cultivating nations and their soil. A primary result of this relationship is that the literal ground of a racial war of extermination is not neutral, but partisan. The whole world, including the territories and landscapes, climates and flora, the waters and their tides and currents, the birds and animals—everything is playing its "natural" role in the conflict between the free, noble races of Elves, Men, and their allies, on the one hand, and the "slaves" or "creatures" of evil and their collaborators, on the other hand. The realms, territories, and regions of the different nations have been molded through years of control in such a deep way that they should be counted as important parts of the political and military power of Middle-earth's races. Space and nature are highly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-661X
Print ISSN
0028-6087
Pages
pp. 227-246
Launched on MUSE
2005-07-18
Open Access
No
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