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  • World Creation as Colonization:British Imperialism in “Aldarion and Erendis”
  • Elizabeth Massa Hoiem (bio)

In an article in Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, Sandra Ballif Straubhaar calls attention to the celebration of cultural diversity and interracial marriage in The Lord of the Rings and expresses her surprise that academics in the media so often make accusations to the contrary. Pointing to David Tjeder's articles in Stockholm's evening paper, which locate signs of gender essentialism and fear of miscegenation in The Lord of the Rings thathe associates with Nazism and European imperialism, she argues for Tolkien's ironic distance from his characters' more racist opinions and compares Tolkien's treatment of race favorably with his near contemporaries, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard (Straubhaar 101-117).

Her argument takes part in a larger, polarized disagreement in Tolkien studies: Does The Lord of the Rings express Tolkien's "interest in cross-culturalization among peoples as a resource for social harmony"(Chance xiii-xiv)? Or does it encourage racism and fascism with its ethnocentric moral compass of west/good, east/evil, its confused borrowing from various non-Anglo-European cultures to produce the cultures of Sauron's armies, and its impractical economy, which omits class conflict?

The distance between critics like Straubhaar and Tjeder is partly aggravated by their different specialties. While Strabhaar draws on source and language work (a strong area in Tolkien criticism) accusations of racism, including Tjeder's, can be well supported by postcolonial theory. Although postcolonial commentary on Tolkien (outside the pop-culture versions published in news articles) is nearly non-existent, such critics instead draw their ideas from a rich supply of criticism on books written about the same literary tradition: boys adventure novels and the imperial romance.1 What Straubhaar actually attacks is not the isolated opinion of one scholar, but those of a well-established body of theory.2 In this case, Tjeder sounds like a simplified version of Laura Chrisman, who, in Rereading the Imperial Romance, identifies the joining of "compulsory universal modernization" with "mysticism" and "chivalry" (Parry 230-1) in the late nineteenth-century romance as the forerunner to "the conjunction of rationality with mythic forms of consciousness that Adorno and Horkheimer ascribe to fascist modernity" (5-6).3 Since Straubhaar chooses a thorough, text-and-source-based defense of Tolkien, her insistence upon a multicultural, anti-miscegenist message in The Lord of [End Page 75] the Rings does not fully address the theories that cause such disparaging views—most importantly, in her case, the possibility of reading interracial marriage as the appropriation of feminized native lands and cultures by the masculinize colonizer.4

While I find some truth in the accusations of racism and ethnocentrism leveled at Tolkien's work, such analysis as yet ignores the complexity of his writing, which offers sophisticated criticism of British imperialism even as it makes use of the colonial rhetoric that saturated the literature of its time. To address this gap, I offer a reading of Tolkien's "Aldarion and Erendis" that combines close textual work with a more rigorous theoretical approach than can be accommodated in media debates. I will trace Tolkien's argument against colonization in "Aldarion and Erendis," first identifying the moral arguments offered against it, and secondly what human qualities Tolkien assigns to characters most likely to fall prey to empire's attractions. Throughout his Middle-earth history tales, Tolkien's colonizers are people possessed by a creative vision and an irrational burning to see that vision materialized regardless of cost to personal relationships or the natural world. Tolkien's inquiry into the character of the colonizer as tortured visionary is therefore also an investigation of his own artistic process and suggests connections between fantasy writing and colonization as projects deliberately aimed at mythological and world creation. The link he establishes between artist and colonizer makes Tolkien sympathetic to the imperialist mindset, and his critique of colonization is finally compromised by his exaltation of artist as subcreator.

In order to differentiate my own use of postcolonial theory from those who use it to dismiss Tolkien, I will briefly clarify where his work falls historically. "Aldarion and Erendis...