A Brief Point On Borrowing From Tolkien To Garb Contemporary Circumstance (No, Russia Isn’t Mordor)

While this is a rather nice-looking map … we are obligated to point out that it’s totally inaccurate.

Gondor is, per Tolkien’s own notation, geographically centered on northern Italy (indeed, Minas Tirith, if memory serves, is directly situated proximate to Ravenna – the old capital of the Goths therein).

This is logical. Tolkien, after all, being a Traditionalist Catholic par excellence (who uh … was rather determined not to give in to Vatican II and a non-Latin Mass – to the point of reportedly loudly shouting the Latin over the top of the ‘new version’ when in Church) should have quite natural affinity in that area (particularly given the Germanic saliency in this department).

And you can see how – despite Tolkien’s prominent distaste for allegory – all of this then causes other realms to ‘fall into place’ … the Fallen Kingdom of Arnor in relation to Protestant-ized Northern Europe, that had once been a Catholic ‘twin sphere’ to the Mediterranean center, and you see how it goes from there.

Although as applies Gondor and Minas Tirith specifically – it does also draw significant inspiration from Byzantium / Constantinople (c.f. the plague that leads to the depopulation of and retreat from Osgiliath – which appears to resonate with the Justinianic plague that contributed to a significant weakening of that Roman Empire’s power, amidst a pervasive climate of threats from the East; and, of course, the beacon system).

This, too, is worth highlighting – because while, yes, Tolkien’s work is, in a word, ‘mythic’ in scope (and therefore ‘above time’ – and not specifically ‘keyed’ nor ‘tied’ to particular vicissitudes of historical happenstance … particularly not those of the 20th Century, contra some assertions to the contrary with specific regard to the Second World War and what came next), and precisely because it is is ‘mythic’, able to be ‘resonated’ in various directions in ways that help us to illuminate and make sense of our own reality and loka-lized (in both time and place) contextual experience therein …

… it is concerned with a far broader sweep of human circumstance and ‘essence’ than a mere few years which had transpired within our own living memory (let alone, for our current generation, our yet-unfolding span of lifetime).

That is to say – while he was no fan of the Soviet Union, the circumstances of anti-Christian (in his view) concern had already been ‘on the march’ for many centuries prior to the Romanovs’ revolting fate (er .. fate in the course of a revolution), and were most definitely NOT a creature endogenous to Russia (whether Soviet or post-Soviet).

Now, as applies the contemporary situation of Ukrainians having come up with a particular ‘labelling’ for their Russian adversaries that is also found in Tolkien’s work … well, yup, they’re drawing from it directly and intentionally. And some Russians, it would seem, are ‘leaning in’ to it as well …

… although also, in some cases, instead going in a somewhat different direction that has them self-labelling as the Orks of 40k (a decidedly different and rather more dire threat).

And that’s … well, yes, that’s how myth and literature work, in much of our human engagement therewith.

We take from our conceptual sphere of experience and familiarity – that which we feel ‘resonates’ for us, and we utilize the symbolism extracted therefrom.

Sometimes that helps us to see more clearly. Other times, it does the opposite. (A good example of the latter being some of the over-use of labelling people ‘literally Hitler’ – particularly in those cases wherein the person being designated such is … quite clearly not a far-right extremist)

And, as part-and-parcel of the latter, perhaps, we have the ‘READ ANOTHER BOOK’ scenario that we so often have levied at people insistently reducing seemingly every political conflict or confrontation down to something drawn directly out of Harry Potter.

Now we ABSOLUTELY are not seeking to place Lord of the Rings (or the rest of Tolkien’s opus) into the same category as that of J.K. Rowling. For … various reasons.

However, we do think that there is a potentially important caveat to be had here of a similar-seeming yet far more expansive, scoping ambit.

Reducing the situation of Lord of the Rings down to ‘Russia Bad’, ‘Soviet Union Bad’, ‘Communism Bad’ … is just exactly that: a reduction.

What is ‘reduced’ here is, in fact, the transcendent and mythic essence of the work. And not least because it by default often seeks to ‘block out’ other and more pertinent applications for the ‘whole essence’ of the thing.

Doesn’t mean you can’t draw from the books (and broader legendarium) to make contemporary (or, for that matter, 20th / 21st century historical) points with.

But there’s a slippery spectrum to go from “we’re borrowing symbols and elements from Tolkien in order to conceptualize this situation” … through to “clearly because this feels like it resonates to us, that means the author (who is literally dead) was actually intending to comment on precisely this, the whole time!”

Middle Earth, in short, is far bigger than Middle Europe – in the Mid-Twentieth Century or beyond

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