Notes on Entries - The question of the relationship of Eastern Eurasia in the real world to Tolkien's East.

Text in italics is squire's commentary


   The World of Tolkien, by David Day, Gramercy Books, NY, 2003,

p. 173. (notes taken 6/25/05, in Borders)

He sees parallels between Aragorn and Charlemagne.

He equates the Seljuk Turks of Rhum in Asia Minor as being Rhun.

Other Easterlings are like the Odin-worshippers the pagan Lombards, Avars, Vandals.

He equates the Variags of Khand with the Variangians of the Khanate of Kiev of the former Khazar Empire, also Odin-worshippers (the one-eyed god, whom Day suggests is Sauron)

The Norse raiders drove the Khazars from Kiev and enslaved the Slavs, who referred to them as the Rhos or Rus, thus Russians.

    Jungfrauen im Nachthemd-Blonde Krieger aus dem Western (Maidens in Nightgowns-Blond Warriors out of the West) is an attempt to challenge Tolkien's substantial following in Germany to reconsider what the author regards as an uncritical reception of Middle-earth and its politics.11 Written by Guido Schwarz

A much more serious charge is that Tolkien is a racist, serious because racism is again a problem in Europe with hostility focused on foreign workers and asylum seekers, particularly those from the Third World and Eastern Europe. Schwarz's claim is that Tolkien fosters a hatred of people from the East and in particular people of Slavic origin, a continuation in effect of Nazi racist ideology. It is certainly the case in The Lord of the Rings that Easterlings and the Haradrim from the southern regions of Middle-earth are presented as long-time enemies of Gondor. They have also come under the sway of Sauron, as might be expected, as their lands lie closest to Mordor. But they are more a threat in the abstract in the sense that while their armies are seen marching up the road to the Morannon and their forces take part in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, none of the characters in the novel has ever met one of these people. In fact, the closest anyone gets is when Sam encounters the dead body of a Haradrim and he is immediately filled with compassion (667; bk. 4, ch. 4). After the fall of Sauron the Easterlings return to their own lands and leave the West alone (Appendix B, 1105). None of the Haradrim who came to fight for Sauron ever makes it back to his own country (859; bk. 5, ch. 6), and there is no tale of people from the South coming north again. The people from the East and the South are a threat for as long as Sauron is a threat. Besides, the real danger is from the unexpected, and when the West is threatened, it is threatened not from the East or the South, but from the West. Rohan is attacked from the West by the Dunlendings who have been aroused and armed by Saruman (531; bk. 3, ch. 7). But Schwarz puts it this way: "Tolkien hat offensichtlich eine sehr stark von gewissen Einflüssen geprägte Geschichte erfunden und trifft damit diejenigen Bereiche in uns allen, die an den guten Westen und an den bösen Osten glauben, die hellhäutige, blonde, muskelbepackte und reinrassig-arische Menschen für besser halten als kleine, dunkelhaarige mit schlechten Zähnen" (Tolkien has obviously constructed a very strong story characterized by various influences and hit with it those spots in all of us that believe in the good West and the bad East, that consider fair-skinned, muscle-bound and pure racial-aryan people better than small, dark-haired ones with bad teeth) (17). The book is full of comments of this kind, setting up a binary that certainly exists in the world for some people, but does not exist in the work of Tolkien, unless it is read inattentively. This sometimes leads to absurd conclusions, as when Schwarz claims that the word "ore" (which is Old English) "klingt nicht angenehm und erinnert vor allem an slawische Sprache" (doesn't sound pleasant, and calls to mind more than anything the Slavic languages) (62).

-- Reviewed in TOLKIEN WORLDWIDE by Shaun F D Hughes. Modern Fiction Studies. West Lafayette: Winter 2004.Vol.50, Iss. 4; pg. 980, 35 pgs

   The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

To turn [to the] matter of when I started . . . It has always been with me, the deep response to legends that have what I would call the North-western temper and temperature. In any case if you want to write a tale of this sort you must consult your roots, and a man of the North-west of the Old World will set his heart and the action of his tale in an imaginary world of that air, and that situation: with the Shoreless Sea of his innumerable ancestors to the West, and the endless lands (out of which enemies mostly come) to the East. Though, in addition, his heart may remember, even if he has been cut off from all oral tradition, the rumour all along the coasts of the Men out of the Sea. (p. 212, Letter 163 to W. H. Auden, 7 June 1955)

   When Philology Becomes Ideology: The Russian Perspective of J. R. R. Tolkien by Olgo Markova, trans. M. T. Hooker., in Tolkien Studies, Vol. I., 2000

The danger of The Lord of the Rings that was noted by some [Soviet] commentators was the hidden allegory "of the conflict between the individualist West and the totalitarian, Communist East." In a newspaper article entitled "Tolkien’s Cosmos," the social order instituted by Saruman is termed communistic, because the description of the lands under his sway could have easily been applied to the Soviet Union. Everything that the farmers grew was collected (think "collective farm"). Prohibitive rules and regulations were posted everywhere. All travelers from other countries were controlled. Defenders of justice and freethinkers were punished. The commentators’ conclusion being that "The Lord of the Rings is—among other things—a political pamphlet in which Tolkien included an encoded description of the conflict of the political darkness of the East and the freedom of the West, and a prediction of the inevitable

fall of Mordor and its analog on the real earth, the Soviet Union."3 It is interesting to notice that modern Communists think differently about this. They view the anti-industrial ideas of Tolkien’s works as a return to primordial Communism, and discuss the possibility of creating a type of "Red," Communist fantasy, whose father could be considered Tolkien.4

   Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, by Brian Rosebury, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.

An immediate problem with this classificatory strategy [calling LotR a romance because it is not ‘realistic’] is that a number of works which are non-realistic in this sense are in fact usually counted as novels: The Castle, The Glass Bead Game, Vathek, The Time Machine, The Inheritors. All of these, it is true, maintain at least a notional relation to the historical world; but so, as a matter of fact, does The Lord of the Rings, representing as it does not some distant planet but our geomorphically recognizable earth: its setting is ‘the North-West of the Old World, east of the sea’ (FR, 11). ‘The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary’, Tolkien affirmed. [note 3 = Letters, p. 239] The extra-chronological past of The Lord of the Rings is no more imaginatively remote from us than the pseudo-chronological future of Wells’s Eloi and Morlocks . . . And, as we shall shortly see, in many cultural respects the society of the Hobbits, with its small towns, farms, inns, parties, letter-writing and clannishness, is closer to the experience of modern, even ‘bourgeois’ Western man than that glimpsed by Wells’s Time-Traveller.

The significant feature of the imaginative displacement from reality in The Lord of the Rings is not so much its distance as its systematic realization (to use a word which is tellingly paradoxical in this context). Novels, it might be said, diverge from historical reality for specific and local effect, while The Lord of the Rings systematically shuts it out in favour of the construction of an alternative universe. But the temporal and spatial order, the historico-geographical extension and density, of the alternative universe represented in The Lord of the Rings are attributes of the real universe too: indeed, in so far as these structural aspects of reality are concerned, The Lord of the Rings might actually be called unusually mimetic. The structural relation of imaginary universe to real one is not, moreover, the kind of symbolic or allegorical relation in which the invented world is texturally quite alien to the actual (as in, say, Voltaire’s Micromégas): on the contrary, there is a degree of naturalism in the narrative of The Lord of the Rings which is much closer to the realistic novel than to the simplifying, or encapsulating, procedures of allegory. (pp. 14-15)

Possibly use this to talk about how The East and The South can justifiably be identified by Tolkien with the real places in our world without insisting that the identification then must become literal or allegorical?

Moreover, countless details of the episode at the Prancing Pony implicitly direct our attention to the rest of the huge world on which it is a tiny speck. If we are continually aware (as we are when visiting a real inn) of its geographical location, this is not simply a question of its appearing on a map in the endpapers . . . We have already been told that the inn was built ‘long ago when the traffic on the roads had been far greater’, and that ‘Strange as News from Bree was still a saying in the Eastfarthing, descending from those days, when news from North, South and East could be heard in the inn . . . ‘ (FR, 162).

. . . All this should begin both to suggest Tolkien’s skill in planning ‘novelistic’ complexities of narrative, and to confirm at least one sense in which The Lord of the Rings is exceptionally realistic: its Middle-earth, like our world, is a complicated place, full of banal mischances, full of surprises which bring home the limits of our knowledge, full of space and multiplicity. (pp. 17-19)

In this reading, the existence of an unknown East and South are part of a novelistic construct that make Middle-earth more realistic.

That Frodo’s eastward journey is delayed [by the rain at Bombadil’s] is no blunder in narrative construction, for it is just the kind of happiness encapsulated in this episode [FR, pp. 139-40], the happiness of grateful contemplation of beauty, and of unforced, unhurried activity, practical and creative, which the work opposes to the nihilistic spirit of Mordor. We need to feel its allure, not only in order to sustain our interest in the fulfillment of Frodo’s mission, but also because the imagining of such happiness (which like any object of desire is most compelling when transient or imperiled) is central to the purposes of The Lord of the Rings. (p. 55)

Rosebury contrasts the happiness of everyday life as captured by the Bombadil interlude, with Mordor to the East, saying it is necessary now for the horror of Mordor to make sense later.

And there are one or two attempts, in the early chapters, to force the dramatic and emotional pace with assertive rhetoric instead of allowing the tension to build naturally. ‘Fear seemed to stretch out a vast hand, like a dark cloud rising in the East and looming up to engulf [Frodo]’, we are told at quite an early stage in Gandalf’s first narration at Bag End (FR, 60). But with Mordor still a thousand miles distant, this is psychologically incredible as well as aesthetically premature, and the imagery of the dark cloud looks merely trite because nothing has happened yet to substantiate it concretely: it will be precisely the achievement of much later chapters to give renewed life to this, and other, metaphors for fear and evil which are in themselves apt but have become staled by casual, imaginatively undeveloped use. (pp. 77-8)

Seems to highlight the necessity of letting the East become evil naturally as part of the development of the story, rather than dictate it from the beginning.


The literary-critical equivalent of this confusion [Eomer’s question as to the principles of right conduct in ‘such times’] is the attempt to deny the imaginative autonomy of Middle-earth by translating Sauron as Hitler or Stalin, the Nazgul as the Nazis, the Shire under Saruman as the post-war Labour government, and so on: interpretations which infuriated Tolkien, the more justifiably since these are essentially conjectures about covert intentions on the author’s part. His narrative is not a kind of coded satire or polemic: its aim is to present certain essentially desirable and undesirable forms of life with maximum imaginative lucidity for a modern readership. In particular, the war against Sauron is not intended to represent any real war, least of all those against Germany in which Tolkien and his country were engaged during his lifetime. To spell out a necessary distinction which many critics ignore: influence by X is one thing; representation of X is another. (pp 159-60)

Tolkien’s placement of Mordor to the East promotes critics’ identification of it with Germany (or later Russia), but Tolkien’s choice of East as the direction of darkness stemmed from his desire to place his stories in the familiar ground of an imaginary Europe. The resulting geography does not correlate with any actual geopolitics, certainly not modern geopolitics.

There is also an important political element to Garbowski’s commentary. Unlike Patrick Curry . . . he avoids any explicit ‘application’ of the conflict in The Lord of the Rings to the impact of Soviet communism in Eastern Europe, and focuses instead on the general characteristics of Tolkien’s vision of the good social life.

The geographical distances may be reminiscent of Europe . . . but the social geography is based on what the Germans call Heimat . . . Large as the Kingdom of Gondor is, it actually constitutes a federation of small states rather than a uniform one. The only large state can be said to be Mordor, which is centralist to say the least . . . .Milosz writes that ‘in comparison with the state, the homeland is organic, rooted in the past, always small, it warms the heart, it is as close as one’s own body’ . . . Different homelands introduce genuine diversity, while the large state, whether benign or threatening imposes uniformity. (p. 172-173) [Chapter 5, note 34: ref. C. Garbowski, Recovery and Transcendence for the Contemporary Mythmaker, pp. 180-1]

An example of how an Eastern European critic is not seduced by the Russian analogy.

   Tolkien and the Silmarillion, Clyde Kilby (Berkamsted, UK: Lion Publishing, 1977).

But if England is indeed Shire country, then what of the rest of Middle-earth? In a telephone conversation with Tolkien, Mr. Henry Resnick asked what was east of Rhûn and south of Harad, to which Tolkien replied, "Rhûn is the Elvish word for east. Asia, China, Japan and all the things which people in the West regard as far away. And south of Harad is Africa, the hot countries." Then Mr. Resnick asked, "That makes Middle-earth Europe, doesn’t it?" To which Tolkien replied, "Yes, of course—Northwestern Europe . . . where my imagination comes from."[17] Not long afterwards, when I mentioned this interview to Tolkien, he denied ever having said these things. Yet later, when in my own efforts to get the geography of The Silmarillion straight I asked Tolkien where Numenor was, he promptly responded, "In the middle of the Atlantic." Is this another instance of the Professor’s "contrasistency," or is there a logical explanation? He is reported to have said specifically that Mordor "would be roughly in the Balkans."[18]

All this thrusts upon us not simply geography but European history, and the allegorical framework which Tolkien so vociferously denied. For instance, shall we not under these circumstances take a new look at the degradation of the Shire during the absence of the four Hobbits and the cleansing and rehabilitation that became necessary? To localize a story geographically or temporally is always at least a threat which undercuts any larger meaning, certainly a mythic one. (pp. 51-52)

[17] Niekas, 18:43.

[18] "The Man Who Understands Hobbits," Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, London Daily Telegraph Magazine, March 22, 1968.

   "Middle-earth, the Middle Ages, and the Aryan nation: Myth and History in World War II", by Christine Chism, in Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. Jane Chance, London: Routledge, 2003.

And in his lecture "English and Welsh," delivered in October 1955 as the last volume of The Lord of the Rings was being published, Tolkien furiously dismantles the whole mythology of racialism in successive steps that correspond closely to [Nazi ideologist Alfred] Rosenberg’s discursive categories for assembling his definition of the Nordic: race, blood, soil, and unchanging essence . . . Tolkien ends this peroration – which is actually beside the point in an essay meant to inaugurate a lecture series about Celtic language influences on English – by half apologizing and half insisting upon its relevance. (p. 74)

And more generally throughout Tolkien’s war and postwar writings, shadowy repudiations of Wagner’s Ring lend a contentious vigor to his narratives. (p. 76)

This entire essay on Tolkien’s defense of Nordic mythological ideals against the assault from the Nazi regime is an effective demonstration that to Tolkien the German nation was an intrinsic part of the "Nordic" European culture, not of The East. This is perhaps helpful in repudiating criticism of his Mordor, and the East in general, as referring to Nazi or Wilhelmine Germany in relation to England and "the West".

   The Road to Middle-earth, by Tom Shippey, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003, 3rd edition.

[on Rohan:] Maybe the infantry-fixation of historical periods was the result of living on an island. Maybe the Anglo-Saxons before they migrated to England were different. What would have happened had they turned East, not West, to the German plains and the steppes beyond?...For all this there is, once more, a visual correlative, and it is the first flash of individuality Éomer is given: he is (p. 421) ‘taller than all the rest; from his helm as a crest a white horsetail flowed’. A horsetail plume is the traditional prerogative of the Huns and the Tartars and the steppe-folk, a most un-English decoration, at least by tradition. (pp. 126-7)

Shippey’s analysis highlights that Tolkien drew elements from East and West of Europe without discrimination in creating his imaginary European-like cultures – he does not regard the East as ‘evil’ when he is outside his story.