The Corner

The Conservatism of Lotr

John, Cliff — I too waded into the Lord of the Rings and its conservatism. Indeed, this review , got me invited to do special commentary for the release of the Return of the King DVD. But those selfish, cruel bastards decided my wild, soul-pawning, sycophancy wasn’t worth including in the final cut. Fortunately, I’m not at all bitter. Anyway, an excerpt:

Now, if you need to go get in line for the movie, you are excused. But I’d like to say a few more words about Tolkien.

Tolkien was one of the great unheralded conservatives of the 20th century. Oh don’t worry, I’m not going to try to score ideological points by saying Tolkien opposed nationalized health care or anything like that (though it is hardly insignificant that one of Tolkien’s dearest friends and closest colleagues was C. S. Lewis).

No, Tolkien’s conservatism was deeper than even the deepest dwarf-mine in the hills of the White Mountains. Tolkien despised modernity and disliked technology. He made a concession to the existence of factories, but only because they collected all the machines in one place and kept them hidden from view in out-of-the-way buildings. A widely respected scholar of the English language who could debate in Greek and Latin and speak fluent Gothic, Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (he also worked on the “W” section — one of my favorite chapters, far better than the thin gruel to be found in the “L” section — of the Oxford English Dictionary).

A man after my own heart, Tolkien despised the French, but not for their brie-spined capitulation during World War II or any of the usual reasons (though he hated French food). According to his biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, the Norman invasion of England in 1066 “pained him almost as much as if it had happened in his own lifetime.” In a very nice essay in a recent issue of The New Yorker, Anthony Lane points out that Tolkien’s “view of English literature, incidentally, ended more or less where the current view begins; he rarely ventured later than Chaucer, and thought Shakespeare to be pernicious nonsense.”

Now, that’s a conservative!

I should also note that John Miller has written extensively on the subject as well. That’s right, we’re Rings geeks around here. Tell me, who’s surprised?


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