Why Tolkien and his friends turned me off


Like many, I was charmed for a while by the writings of Tolkien, after which I read the work of his contemporary and friend C.S. Lewis, then Chesterton and one of their contemporary exegetes Anthony Esolen.

This small club of authors that could be described as conservative "with their finger on the seam of their pants" nevertheless ended up tiring me, even disgusting me.

I met Tolkien, as many do, by reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager. The particular atmosphere seduced me immediately and although I found the novel very average from the point of view of action or suspense, I often went back to it to find the green elven forests or the wisdom of Lady Galadriel. There is no question of denying the author's genius as a builder but, after digging into the interviews with the Oxford professor, one cannot help but wonder about his motivations and his vision of the world.

For each work transmits a paradigm, a vision of the world. No novel, even and especially fantasy, is neutral. As we can see, Tolkien's world is a timeless cliché of a traditional worldview. Each people remains in the place assigned to it by a kind of intangible and cosmic Order. Even if Bilbo's adventurous side is precisely the anomaly that will provoke the adventure, the hobbit remains the archetype of the English peasant, just as Saruman is the archetype of modern man seduced by progress and hubris. Of course, all the societies described by the author keep their women in their place. In fact, Middle-earth is the Garden of Eden of conservative patriarchy.

Of course, Galadriel will be taken out of the hat, just as the Virgin Mary is taken out of the hat to supposedly argue the love of the Church for women. According to the author, there are many similarities between the two figures: powerful, undisputed queens, they seem to hold the keys to solving problems, but this is only an illusion, because despite their supposed power, they remain well behind and out of sight, like divine goddesses, the vindicators of the virile characters of the Fellowship of the Rings or of the masculine god among the Catholics.

Nevertheless, it must be recognized that in Tolkien's cosmology, the goddesses (the Valiers) have an equal share in the creation of the world. We can also cite Eowyn who kills the wizard king despite the passive role in which her society wants to relegate her.

Paprika expresses this ambiguity well on her site Simonae: "Tolkien's women are archetypes. While the same can be said for a good number of male characters, they are still more developed than their female counterparts, who serve mainly as mothers or wives. And if, by putting the author in the context of his time, we can appreciate some strong female characters, going against the gendered clichés of our society, none of them are as flamboyant as the heroes of the Fellowship of the Ring or The Hobbit, even if some of them benefit from great talent or strong characters." (https://simonae.fr/articles/tolkien-reading-day-et-les-femmes)


Beyond the place of the feminine in Tolkien, what ends up tiring me of the author is his archaizing stance. Tolkien makes several amalgams in his work: the forces of Good are associated with Tradition and the defense of ecology. The forces of evil are associated with technology and the destruction of the Earth, the climax of this opposition being the conflict between the Ents and Saruman.

Of course, ecology is paramount and we are now paying the price of the ecological unconsciousness of our predecessors. One cannot be progressive today without developing a solid solarpunk side, as it is obvious that the future of technology and of the human species depends on the development of less polluting energy sources.

However, at the archetypal level, Tolkien, by making an abusive amalgam between tradition, good and ecology and the amalgam between technological progress and the will to evil power, indirectly promotes a backward-looking and technophobic vision of society. This vision, applied in the real world, gives legitimacy to a certain obscurantism bordering on naturopathy. Obscurantism which is found in the anti-vaccine position and the rejection of science by some.


This anti-science position can be found in authors like C.S. Lewis, notably in his conservative firebrand: "The Abolition of Man" but also in all his work which, in addition to the promotion of a two-cent Christian moralism, is an acerbic criticism of modern individualism.


Finally, to make a long story short, these authors hide their fear of the world in a kind of nostalgia that they then justify with a layer of culture. The intellectual construction is seductive, especially since the authors in question write rather well and assert their truth in a fatherly tone as if it were the Truth, which can be intimidating, especially when one has been conditioned like me to accept the father's word as divine truth. But once I understood the process and what was going on, I couldn't help but see them for what they really are: unhappy little children, weak and afraid of the modern world, and above all hypocrites concerned with keeping their privileges as bourgeois, heteronormative white men. Their idealized vision of history is biased and oriented to serve their interests. And once the layers of bullshit have been peeled away, all that remains is a core of conservative and sclerotic worldview.