I seldom read (or write) anything critical of author’s like J.R.R. Tolkien. This is partly because people that write about his works tend to be enthusiasts and are more interested in writing about what they love than what they don’t. On the other hand, you also have bores who try to elevate their own works (if they exist), by attacking his and I avoid these critics as much as possible. This is not to say there are no genuine criticisms to make as my last post on The Scouring of the Shire can attest. Beyond this small example there is plenty of serious criticism — in the proper sense of the word. Tolkien would not have claimed any perfection in his works either; as can be established by the fact that he continued to work on Middle-earth until the end of his life and left much for his son Christopher to continue.
It was therefore of interest to learn that E. Michael Jones had written his own analysis of Tolkien some years ago around the release of the first of Peter Jackson’s exorbitant film adaptations of The Hobbit. Jones article is titled ‘Tolkien’s Failed Quest’ and graces the May, 2014 issue of his Culture Wars magazine. I will be quoting from the article but the issue must be purchased here to read in full.
I’ve been following Dr. Jones for a number of years now and still as of writing have not finished reading his book Logos Rising which he published a few years ago. I’m surprised that I’ve not quoted (or even mentioned) him before in any posts though I have long had a link to his website on the right. Jones a is refreshing commentator in that he openly discusses the often detrimental Jewish influence on our society — a topic that naturally keeps him well-outside of mainstream circles. I have only rarely broached the topic here myself though not because I’m afraid of the consequences. I actually agree with most of what Dr. Jones has said about Jewish influence in our society. It is only really hard to notice if your place in society depends on thinking otherwise. He has also been accused of a monomania on this topic and though I would generally disagree, this article might be a good argument in favour of that claim.
The article is confusingly claims to be a review of The Hobbit film but in fact jumps between the film, the novel and The Lord of the Rings before the last section of the article abandons the the central topic on a tangent which is where it ends. Despite this confusion, it was an interesting read and since he’s also the editor of the magazine, I guess he can pretty much do what he likes.
The meat of the article (and what redeems it’s otherwise sloppy structure) is the discussion of the influence of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle on the novels. Jones begins by setting the historical context in which The Hobbit was written in the 1930s. Jones gives some background to Tolkien’s views on the topical issues in Europe of the time:
“Tolkien despised Russia and held the Russians “more responsible for the present crisis and choice of moment than Hitler.”
His feelings about Germany were much more ambivalent. Tolkien came from German stock: he had a German name, and yet he had fought against the Germans at the Battle of the Somme in 1918, an even which formed him for the rest of his life. His rendition of the trench warfare appeared in the Dead Marshes chapter of The Lord of the Rings.
As an aside, I’ll soon be writing a review of Stalin’s War by Sean McMeekin which shows that Tolkien was quite right on his views on the Soviet Union though this doesn’t excuse — much less justify, National Socialist Germany. Jones continues with something Tolkien wrote in 1941:
“I have in this War a burning private grudge … against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler for ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.”
This leads to the relationship between Wagner’s Ring cycle and The Lord of the Rings which Tolkien apparently didn’t like people to notice saying: “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased.” The reason behind this Jones claims is because Wagner had views on the Jews which Tolkien did not share. This might well be true with regards to The Lord of the Rings but any ideas he borrowed would have come after The Hobbit when the scope of its sequel grew.
Jones then discusses the more positive attitudes towards Jews (philo-Semitism) that had developed in England following the Reformation before returning the to the book where Jones claims,
“Moved by events in Germany during the 1930s, Tolkien sided with the Jews when he wrote The Hobbit. In 1971 Tolkien told the BBC that the dwarves are “quite obviously” Jews: “Their words are Semitic, obviously, constructed to be Semitic. The hobbits are just rustic English people”
Though this is interesting, I really don’t see how you could conclude that this was Tolkien’s main influence in writing The Hobbit. It was written for his children and from what I understand, he originally had no intention to publish it and was probably quite surprised by how successful it became. I don’t doubt the events of the time were on his mind but I don’t see them as a significant thematic element in either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
Jones compares the destruction of Erebor by Smaug to the destruction of he Jewish Temple in 70 A.D. and the Holocaust. This is mostly with its portrayal in the film version since one of these events happened after the book was published (assuming it happened at all). So this once again is very interesting but the film portrayal certainly isn’t Tolkien’s.
There is a lot to go through here and I don’t tend to quote all but I will add the thrust for Jones’ titular claim of ‘Tolkien’s Failed Quest’
“The legacy of Tolkien’s philo-Semitism is unsolvable artistic problems, leading to an ultimately incoherent book. Tolkien was caught between his Germanic roots, both biological and cultural… The Times of Israel claims that The Hobbit was a “corrective re-write” of Wagner’s anti-Semitic Ring cycle”
“Decades after the publication of the Lord of the Rings in 1954, its symbolism remains opaque, and no amount of post-hoc theorizing in books like The Silmarillion can rectify this incoherence. Tolkien denied his intellectual debt to Wagner because familiarity with Wagner exposed the incoherence of his own writings.
This is where the claim of Jones’ monomania gets some justification. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have multiple thematic elements. I can accept that Tolkien borrowed the idea of the ring from Wagner as quoted in the article, “[C.S.] Lewis and Tolkien annually attended the full ring opera in London.” It doesn’t follow from this though that it was necessary for him to also use the central theme or that his work is incoherent without it.
The truth is much simpler. The Hobbit is at its essence a fantasy tale for children and not a didactic novel about historical Jewish greed. The Lord of the Rings is on another level entirely and the meaning behind the ring is once again much deeper than historical Jewish greed. The symbolism behind the ring is multilayered and I’ve heard many compelling interpretations. And given Tolkien’s immense knowledge of European literature and history as well as the influence of more recent fantasy works, it would be absurd to claim any one work as the main influence.
As stated at the beginning, this is an interesting article but is also more incoherent than the work it is claiming is incoherent. The fact that it claims to be a review of a film that is barely mentioned alone is enough to establish this. I would summarise it as a misdirected polemical analysis of Tolkien’s works. Dr. Jones’ perspective and much of the information presented is fascinating and had it been presented without the central claim; it would have been a much better article.