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Science fiction author Andrew Duncan has a message for J.R.R. Tolkien fans, particularly fans of the famed writer’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy: Tolkien discriminated against orcs and the “Lord of the Rings” books promote racism.
Duncan was discussing “Lord of the Rings” as part of a wider discussion on fantasy literature for WIRED magazine’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast when his assessment of Tolkien’s masterpiece took a decidedly “woke” turn.
“It’s hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” Duncan said.
“And this seems to me — in the long term, if you embrace this too much — it has dire consequences for yourself and for society,” he continued.
Duncan was referring specifically to the “orcs,” an “under-race” of visibly evil and tormented souls who serve the dark Lord Sauron and the powers of darkness that threaten to overwhelm Middle Earth if the eponymous “one ring” isn’t destroyed. In some of Tolkien’s supplemental works to the “Lord of the Rings,” including “The Simarillion,” orcs are actually described as the offspring of corrupted elves, charged only with wasting the forces of good. They served masters before Sauron and will serve masters after — so long as those masters are evil.
Orcs, also, are not people living in the modern age. They are fictional characters who populate a fictional universe that also includes elves, dwarves, and talking trees, and have absolutely no connection to the ideas of critical race and gender theory infecting university English departments and, increasingly, science fiction as a whole.
Duncan has reason for being so critical of Tolkien. According to WIRED’s follow-up piece on the subject of anti-orc racism, Duncan is publishing his own parody of Tolkien’s work, called “Senator Bilbo,” in a collection of short stories inspired by other “thought-leaders” who also criticized Tolkien for making his good guys obviously good and his bad guys obviously bad without exploring the deeper motivation the orcs felt when they declared their open allegiance to the single most evil force in the universe.
“I can easily imagine that many of those people that were doing the Dark Lord’s bidding were doing so out of simple self-preservation and so-forth,” Duncan added. “That a lot of those creatures that were sort of raised out of the Earth by Sauron had not a great deal of choice in the matter of what to do. So, I had this very complicated sense of the politics of all that.”
In this woke day and age, shouldn’t we at least allow the orcs to explain themselves?, Duncan seems to ask. Perhaps they’re concerned with issues of “elf privilege,” or simply tired of being the victims of the patriarchal and oppressive wizards.
Poor Tolkien himself doesn’t even get a fair shake in Duncan’s social justice warrior-ing. During World War II, Tolkien was a vocal opponent of Nazism, even reportedly going so far as to deny aspects of Middle Earth were inspired by Nordic folk tales because the Nazis had folded Nordic mythology into their own twisted take on German history.