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  • "Monsterized Saracens," Tolkien's Haradrim, and Other Medieval "Fantasy Products"
  • Margaret Sinex (bio)

In 1995, Virginia Luling suggested that Sauron's Easterlings and Southrons "draw on inherited images of 'paynims' and other enemies" (56-7). Others, such as Patrick Curry, have noted the geographical parallel between the Haradrim living to Gondor's south in the "Sunlands" and medieval Christendom's perceived enemies to the south and east. Curry writes: "Tolkien's evil creatures are frequently 'swart, slant-eyed' and tend to come from the south ('the cruel Haradrim') and east ('the wild Easterlings') both threatening directions in [his] 'moral cartography'" (30-31).1 Most recently, Dimitri Fimi contextualizes Tolkien's notions about race by examining theories advanced in the late Victorian period and early twentieth century in several fields (physical anthropology and philology among them) as well as the influences of Social Darwinism and the Eugenics movement.2

Writing from a multi-cultural perspective, Brian McFadden and Jane Chance have examined relations among the Races of Middle-earth and have illuminated the Haradrim's indebtedness to the sigelwara or Ethiopians of Old English and Anglo-Latin literature. In this essay, I wish to explore the contributions of later English texts, Middle English romances in particular. Tolkien did not simply select traits from the "monsterized Saracens" (Cohen Giants 78) of English romance and the French epics and bestow them unaltered on his Men of Harad. Within the terms of his fiction, Tolkien mirrors the Western Europeans' methods of constructing their imaginary Saracen.3

I say "imaginary" because, as many have noted, in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's words: "'Saracens' are fantasy products of the Christian imaginary, that, like all monsters, could take on an uncanny life of their own" (Cohen "Hybrids" 88). He makes this remark in the context of analyzing the process of "othering" in the letters of John of Salisbury (1115-1180). In these letters, John represents the Welsh people in ways that Cohen demonstrates: "are manifestations of an othering impulse also visible behind the racialized representations of Islam disseminated throughout the Latin West" (88). "Impulse" conveys an urgency, a drive perhaps, to demarcate "the Welsh" or "Muslims" as the Other distinct from European Christians.

When pondering this othering impulse, Paul Freedman cautions that the viewpoint of the European Christian elite was neither perfectly unified nor unchanging over the centuries. Such a claim oversimplifies the [End Page 175] matter as "cracks" in this viewpoint are readily apparent (11). Freedman offers the further caveat that the term "Other" itself is not perfectly stable:

A second problem is the tendency to treat alien or Other as if they were stable terms denoting complete and consistent rejection when in fact there were degrees of marginality, so much so, that seemingly contradictory positions could be held simultaneously.


We should, he warns, remain conscious of the range of types and gradations of marginality (11). One such degree or gradation might rest on the geographical distance between the targeted group and the European intellectual. There was a distinction to be made, the learned believed, between lepers who lived in Christian Europe (and yet were set apart) and pagan Saracens who lived outside of Europe in remote, ill-defined lands to the east.

Keeping Freedman's cautions in mind, when I assert that Tolkien mirrors the Western Europeans' methods of constructing their imaginary Saracen I am suggesting that he is necessarily mirroring the othering process of the Christian West. Three characteristics of the othering processes of medieval Europe are especially relevant to the Haradrim it seems to me. The first is the reliance on binaries (inner/outer, light/dark, Scythian/Ethiopian, saved/damned). Both medieval Church authorities and ethnologists reconceptualized pairs of opposed elements that they had inherited from the classical period. The second feature is the determining power of climate on various races and thus the crucial significance of geography in racial theorizing. And the third is the use of color as a tool with which to guide audience response to characters in literature and the visual arts of the late Middle Ages.

The issue of gradations of marginality has a bearing on the Haradrim as well. They appear as one term or component of...


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