On Hobbits, Race, and Self-Contained Worlds

hobbit I come down closer to Jamelle Bouie’s side of the Hobbit argument than Adam Serwer’s. Jamelle argues that basically Tolkien’s story is one of the British Isles, and that the mythological backdrop of Middle-Earth is taken from Nordic and British myth. Therefore it makes sense to have light-skinned Hobbits.

To draw from a brief conversation I had with Shani Hilton on the subject, with Middle-Earth, Tolkien tried to create a native mythology (of sorts) for the people of the British Isles. Given the creative vision of the films — as close to Tolkien’s depiction as possible — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to restrict casting to light-skinned people, just as it wouldn’t be unreasonable to only cast light-skinned people for movie adaptations of Beowulf, the Kalevala, or any one of the Celtic and Irish myths that Tolkien drew on for inspiration.

Serwer, on the other hand, argues that this makes more sense for historical fiction than for fantasy:

And yes, that’s Bad Santa‘s Tony Cox playing a Nelwyn warrior in Willow. Apparently adding a black character to a Tolkien-inspired rip-off didn’t ruin the movie.

A couple of thoughts here. First of all, Tolkien’s work treads the line between historical fiction and fantasy to some degree; he’s not wholly inventing a new world, after all. He’s drawing real parallels to our own world. It is an analogous work far more than many other epic fantasies.

Second, Tolkien’s world is self-contained rather than open-ended fantasy. It is comprised of a single mythological framework. This is in stark contrast to the work of C.S. Lewis, whose fantasy dips into all sorts of mythological pots. Lewis’s fantasy is motley – Narnia is not an extended metaphor for Great Britain; and while Tolkien is doing battle with the notion of modernity and industrialization, Lewis is far more interested in using fantasy to talk about theology and salvation. Many other fantasy writers are just world-building, spinning tales. Some have very self-contained worlds, wherein racial and historical consistency is important to the work as a whole (think George R. R. Martin’s books – the various regions produce various skin-tones, much like our own world), and some don’t (the Discworld books).

In other words, casting black dwarves or Asian centaurs in the motley and utterly fantastical stories of C.S. Lewis would make perfect sense; casting black Hobbits in Middle-Earth would put a ripple in an otherwise coherent and self-contained world. It might not make that big of a difference to movie-goers, true. But the makers of those films are trying to remain true to Tolkien’s vision, and this seems like a reasonable, and certainly not racist way of doing that. If they did cast some darker skinned Hobbits, I seriously doubt anyone would care or even think twice. There are more important ways to remain true to the story. Like not changing huge chunks of it to make it more of a romance, and not cutting out the ending in order to have fifteen farewell sequences in a row. (Yes, I am still bitter about The Return of the King and its bizarre and senseless finale which cut out the entire Hobbit rebellion against Saruman. Damn you Peter Jackson!!!)

Also – Willow was fun, but it had none of the deeper historical and mythological coherency of Middle-Earth.

One more thought. Jamelle adds this at the end of his post:

When it comes to art, especially art that draws from myth and legend, there is legitimate space for works that eschew racial and ethnic diversity. To me at least, the problem has less to do with Tolkien’s lily white vision, and more to do with the fact that few people have bothered to film other mythologies for a mass audience; for my part, there should be African epics that feature African people, Japanese epics that feature Japanese people, and so on and so forth.

But there are! At least Asian ones. Think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In fact, there have been quite a few Asian fantasies in recent years. I would not begrudge their casting directors sticking with Asian actors, either. It would have been weird to see a white guy in Crouching Tiger. And that doesn’t mean I’m racist against white people.

Update. Adam Serwer rightly points out that I don’t tackle his claim that black Westerner’s “have as much of a claim to broad Western canon as whites” and that “a white dude would be weird in crouching tiger because there are no whites who can credibly make that claim”.

I agree that black Westerner’s do have every bit the claim to the Western canon as whites – no argument there at all – and in ways that whites do not in Asia. However, even if whites did have a historical presence in China – say they had been brought there as slaves in some mirror image of what white Westerners did to Africans – it would still be strange to have white people in a movie about ancient China, even a fantastical movie like Crouching Tiger.

This doesn’t diminish black peoples’ claim to the Western canon at all, so far as I can tell. Tolkien’s world included explanations for everything. And having black Hobbits strikes me as needing some sort of explanation – just like having whites in Crouching Tiger would require explanation.

Nor am I arguing against blacks ever appearing in any historical or classical reinterpretation of literary works on film. Serwer also mentions that Denzel Washington did fine in Much Ado and it didn’t really diminish that work in any way. But Shakespeare has a long history of being interpreted in all sorts of interesting ways – think of the WWII version of Richard III, the Los Angeles gang version of Romeo and Juliet, or countless theatrical interpretations that toy with the era, costumes, gender, etc. (All female lesbian version of Hamlet, for instance.) It works in Shakespeare because there’s a tradition of that sort of reimagining of Shakespeare’s work, and because people are constantly making Shakespeare films and performing his plays. You almost feel obligated to experiment with his work. LOTR is different on one level because there is really only one film version of these stories, no live-action versions.

But all this is really just argument for argument’s sake. I really think most people wouldn’t think twice about a black Hobbit, or about a lily-white Shire for that matter. People are more interested in the fact that there are goblins, giant spiders, elves, and dragons in those stories than the racial composition of the little people.

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64 thoughts on “On Hobbits, Race, and Self-Contained Worlds

  1. Plus four points to House Gryffindor for a Discworld link.

    As to the racial portrayal of hobbits; some people seriously need to find something better to complain about. Like the abominationable interpretation of the Ents involvement in the second LOTR movie.

    Abomination!! Abomination I say!!! *whipes spittle from the screen*

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      • In Two Towers the Ents were robbed repeatedly by the adapters. They were robbed of their self determination; in the novels the Ents took council among themselves and decided to make war on Isengard, in the movies they were emotionally conned into it by the hobbits. They were also robbed of their major contribution; the semi-awake ent army the Hurons were primarily responsible for ending the orcish seige of Helms Deep. In the movie this accomplishment was transferred to human hands.

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  2. I about to do something really stupid, like commenting on the LOTR movies, but…

    Fundamentally, you had to cram the entire story into about a ten hour movie. It was actually amazing that the producers got that much movie time.

    Like almost every other book turned into a movie, lots of stuff had to be dropped. Like Tom Bombadil – but that particular episode had little to do with the overall plot development. I did not mind the the loss of the Shire/Saruman conflict. While it was a good element of the original story, and added to the “lessons learned” by the characters, it was not really critical. In addition, extending the ending of the movie to address this particlar element would have drug out the ending even further. The end of Return of the King book was a slow unwinding of various plot elements, which readers can accept. I don’t think that most movie goers would accept that much plot after the climax, and the Return of the King movie spent a lot of time in the post climax phase, so much so that Whoppi Goldberg quipped that the movie had been nominated for 12 oscars, one for each ending.

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    • Interestingly they made much the same cuts as the BBC radio version. Not sure if they were aware of it, but probably given Peter Jackson is a Kiwi. They are the bits that quite clearly don’t really progress the plot and/or are overly long indulgent exercises in Elvish.

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  3. I was unaware that there was a racial gloss on Lord of the Rings. I guess you can read that into it if you want, but it seems mighty silly to me. No one would have noticed or cared much if there were multiethnic hobbits, just as we didn’t much care about Black Vulcans (seems silly to call them “African-American Vulcans”) in later permutations of Star Trek (those later permutations had problems of their own, but the racial composition of the case was never even really mentioned so far as I recall).

    Oh, and Willow sucked. Yeah, Ron Howard, George Lucas, Val Kilmer, yadda, yadda, yadda. Bad script, plodding direction, generally a stinker. I wanted to like it, but dude it stunk.

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  4. One of the (few) neat things in Ralph Bakshi’s LOTR was depicting Aragorn (and by extension all Numenoreans) as ambiguously American Indian. It makes a great deal of sense when you consider that they are supposed to be responsible for bringing all those potato and tobacco plants to the otherwise old world setting of Middle Earth.
    But generally I’d agree that it doesn’t make sense for an isolated pre modern province like the Shire to be ethnically diverse beyond your Harfoots and Fallohides. Although, the people of Gondor were awfully pale for folks living in what is supposed to be a Mediterranean climate.

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  5. All I can think is that it would have been distracting. In addition to agreeing with everything E.D. posted, I also think it would be jarring in the same way that when I read an essay that uses “she” instead of “one” or “a person,” it’s making the feminist politics of male bias in language overshadow whatever the person was talking about.

    So similarly, I feel like having multi-ethnic hobbits would have made it’s motivations take center stage over the story itself.

    And I mean, it would have been anachronistic like E.D. said. Do I really think Lancelot might have been black? Any attempt to portray him that way would make the politics of attempting to racially equalize the past distract from the art itself.

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      • More than the wholesale re-writing of the whole myth? Here we have a version of Arthurian legend in which Arthur and Merlin are the same generation and King Uther is alive and well when they are in their late teens/early twenties. In short the whole backstory replaced, but you found Guinevere jarring?

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        • Well yes, that was even more jarring, though I can’t fault them for putting Uther in, simply because it created a role for Anthony Stewart Head (all hail King Giles!)

          Having said that, the King Arthur story is constantly being retold. In fact I recall reading some time ago a blog post that argued that the series was drawing on some of the older pre-Mallory legends.

          Not that Guinivere was the only ethnically suspicious character, I mean look at Arthur. Blond hair, blue eyes, how can he be King of the Britons when he’s clearly a Saxon?

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  6. It’s been a long time since I have read the books, admittedly, but my recollection is that there are three nations of hobbits with differing appearances including skin color. As I recall there were dark skin hobbits.

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      • But even according to that Wiki the Fallohides were “taller and fairer” which implies others were shorter and darker. And according to other wiki’s the Harfoots were “smaller, browner skin, beardless” (Sorry I don’t know how to embed url’s: http://www.thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?Hobbits).

        I am like Mike below, a mere purple belt at this and I am at somewhat of a loss because I don’t have any copies of the work handy and they aren’t indexed in any event. But every reference I can find, except wikipedia oddly, says that Harfoots were “darker” or “browner” or something similar. (and also the most numerous apparently) When I have two minutes to rub together I’ll go back and find the actual descriptions in the actual works, but as far as I can determine Tolkien meant the three groups of Hobbits to be distinguishable by various characteristics including height and skin tone.

        Now I don’t think Tolkien meant for the Harfoots to be Sub-Saharn African black, but I don’t see why they couldn’t be any of the intermediate shades between Yaphet Kotto and Julian Assange. Something more Indian (either one), Persian, Middle Eastern, or Moorish Spain. It certainly seems to me that a casting director who demands nothing but light skinned actors for hobbits is doing as much damage to Tolkien’s intent than one who want to make hobbits artificially diverse.

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  7. One thing to keep in mind is that the LotR novels weren’t colorblind. There were plenty of non-whites; they were the bad guys, “swarthy” Southrons and Easterlings.

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    • I was thinking about that too. The “men from the east” as far as I can remember, were always portrayed as “weak-minded” and easily bought by the forces of evil, basically lacking any kind of moral or principled backbone one way of the other, as oppose to the men of the North/West. Then throw in the elephants, and well, it’s all pretty clear. Honestly it’s been so long since I read the books vs. seeing the movies, that I forget whether the movies just played up that aspect of the easterners, or if that remained pretty true to the book.

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  8. I will second the mention of the ‘men from the east’ as evidence of other human races. The fact that the costume designers added a obviously samurai flair to their look confirms that.

    E.D. – one question about your post though (and admittedly I am only a purple belt at best when it comes to LOTR since I have only seen the movies and never read the books)… Is Middle Earth supposed to be Britain? I always assumed it was supposed to be Mainland Europe with the men of Rohan (my favorites in the movies) meant to be Scandanavian.

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    • No it’s not supposed to be either so far as I can tell, or perhaps both. I always took it to be an extended metaphor for the West generally speaking, with the Shire representing the older ways and Mordor representing the rise of industrialism and totalitarianism and so forth – no hard parallels to mainland Europe or the UK specifically, but to traditional Western Civilization more broadly, and its deterioration.

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    • There was an idea in one of the books of fragments published after Tolkein’s death – probably the Unfinished Tales, although its been a while – that the history of Middle Earth was meant to be a sort of pre-history of the English, with the founders to England being descended somehow from the Numenoreans. I forget the details. But I don’t think it was ever really fleshed out or is terribly important to the finished books.

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  9. While your general point (i.e., mythos background may impose certain racial types on depictions of characters in fantasy) may hold water (I think it’s a case-by-case issue at best) LOTR’s racial sins make it a poor jumping off point for that discussion. Essentially, in LOTR, “taller, whiter” = “smarter, gooder”. Elves are almost always described as “tall” and “fair” while Orcs are invariably described as “black”, “swart”, “squat,” etc. Evil men are “swarthy” while the men of Numenor are tall and fair. Consider even the “three races” of Hobbits – the “Fallowhides” are the least numerous of the three, are generally described as fairer and taller than the other “races,” and are often found as leaders (presumably because the are “smarter and gooder.”)

    As I recall, the film “Return of the King” included a “white” Orc, presumably in response to some of the bad press surrounding the depiction of the Uruk-Hai in “The Two Towers.” So why not a black Hobbit? Or Elf for that matter?

    While Tolkien may not have been an overt racist (indeed, he expressed disgust with the treatment of black South Africans in letters to his son), his work clearly has a Eurocentric bias – perhaps understandable because of the models he was working from, but let’s call a spade a spade, okay?

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    • Yes yes, the European author working off the northern European base material with his primary focus on fantasy linguistics had a Eurocentric bias, astonishing. The point is that one can racial greif troll 100% of the works written prior to 1980 and probably 90% of the works written after that point and haul in a rich harvest of pointless greivances to harp on. And this activity is, if not utterly useless to fighting racism, probably counterproductive to the cause as a whole.

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      • And it doesn’t help when authors who genuinely attempt to include non-white perspectives and influences are told that it’s “cultural appropriation” and they’re being even more racist.

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        • Great. You included a Native American who was “close to the land”, a Mexican who was ingenious at recycling technology that others consider used up, and a Canadian who is indistinguishable from white Americans. This is racist.

          You have to make them *ALL* indistinguishable from white Americans.

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        • Okay, let’s look at how this “trolling” plays in the real world of today, okay? We have Uruk-Hai in Two Towers being depicted in the film exclusively by Maoris. We have a casting call for “light skin” actors only for the Hobbit movie. And we have legions of young readers absorbing the “Eurocentric” messages of LOTR (that “taller, whiter” = “smarter, gooder”) and defending it as not racist in their blogs. While there may be reasons why LOTR is what it is, it still has an effect on our modern popular culture, and thus, our modern attitudes on race and color. Yes, this is not limited to LOTR, yes, it’s “of its time,” but being aware of how race influences literature is not a “pointless grievance,” especially to those of us who want to share our favorite books with our kids, but rather a recognition of the complex issues of race in our society today, and recognizing the issue and acting accordingly is not “counterproductive.”

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          • Billie:
            The only reason anyone would be “defending it as not racist” would be the grievance trollers bringing the issue up in the first place.
            If you want to share your favorite book with your kids feel free to. Rather than plopping the tyke down before the plodding behemoth of the movies I’d suggest reading the book to them instead. As a parent you have the right and ability to lie and say that Samwise Gamgee was a black/hispanic/gay/(insert minority of your choice) hobbit in the interest of diversity plus you’re not cooking their brain matter with television microwaves and you’re also interacting with your child. Win/win/win

            I fail to see, however, how injecting the question of race into a movie that is generally silent on the subject is productive. As for counterproductive consider that if the great masses of the people hear anti-racists and think of Martin Luther fighting institutionalized racism then they will generally admire them and be sympathetic to their concerns. If those great masses hear anti-racist and instead think of a bunch of comfortable academics screening through children’s shows and movie scripts for incidences of “euro centrism” and other such nonsense they will tune them out as useless wastes of time. There is only so much political oxygen in the room. Why not save it for real incidences of racism and real problems rather than taking the crusade into peoples souls where it’ll fail and tarnish itself both in turn?

            When the people worried about racism spend their time and energy slamming Dumbo and burning Disney in effigey for instance the real racists win.

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          • So let’s resolve the problem.

            Was Thomas Bowdler right? When we read these things to our wives and children, ought we make judicious expurgations to make sure that they don’t hear anything untoward?

            Should we use more disclaimers? “The Past is another country and this book was written there. We cannot judge other cultures, really, but know that this culture was really racist. As such, please don’t enjoy this story *TOO* much.”

            What is the solution when it comes to how these works are passed on to other people who aren’t as intelligent as we are or as worldly as we were when we first picked them up?

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            • Mild ribbing of the author as we read them to our kids, or discuss it with them. That allows us to make them aware of it without making too much of an issue of it so that it tarnishes their enjoyment. After all, in a case like Tolkien, it’s more of a foible than a fundamental fault.

              (I wonder, though, if the racial characteristics were reversed, so that the men of the East were tall and fair, yet still weak-minded or evil, and the Numenoreans more swarthy and stocky, would we white folks–like me–be more likely to intuitively notice that?)

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                • Well now, remaining within Middle Earth I hadn’t given a thought to the strong heroines who reside there.

                  At least for the men, the taller ones become President, and by “fairer” (I always dissociated it from skin tone in my head cause “fairest in the land” made no sense to me as “palest” in the land, though with the tween vampire craze it’s coming back.) I only meant those with symmetric and even features.

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          • Billie:
            Sorry for coming to this discussing a little late it seems.. Still:
            I understand where you are coming from in that yes, subtleties in language/fiction/fantasies do affect our views if not completely unconsciously; however, ultimately I would agree with what North says here.
            If you want to pass on this story to your kids (something which I personally can’t wait to do, because my son is 4 and obviously can’t handle it yet), I wouldn’t worry about Tolkien’s descriptions. For one thing (and I believe another commenter already pointed this out) the whole dark vs light descriptions are really meant to point out hair color and general countenance, not white vs black… which actually should have Sicilians up in arms if anyone in Europe actually cares. For another thing, and what is probably my most salient point here, my son is probably (hopefully) going to enjoy the stories because of the scale of the world-building, the characterizations, and the battles between bad goblins and demon-man Sauron trying to take over Middle-Earth and the good, fun-loving hobbits – not because it reinforces his already Euro-centric view of the world and the moral value of skin tone.

            Perhaps early readers of Tolkien took away some sort of unconscious feeling of Nordic supremacy from the tales (but I highly doubt it), but I think you would be hard-pressed to find contemporary readers even thinking about his descriptions of the good guys.. they probably skip over those parts anyway.

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          • You see I have a different take on the lord of the rings.

            I see it as a multi-generational conspiracy to keep the rightful owner of a ring deprived of his property. First they form a conspiracy to break into Sauron’s house, assault him causing greivious bodily harm, and finally steal his jewelry.\

            Then the thieves set upon one another until it finds its way to some hobbits who can’t handle the heat of the private detectives sent to retrieve the property. Thus they decide to destroy the ring/evidence so that they can’t be convicted in court. On the way to the disposal facility they kills lots of dark skinned people. After destroying the evidence they even blow up Sauron’s house.

            Then secure in the knowledge that they are safe from prosecution they sail of to an Island vacation. Terrible story that only goes to show that in fiction crime pays.

            ;)

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  10. I was unaware that there was a racial gloss on Lord of the Rings.

    not in lord of the rings, but read the silmarillion. the men from the east are ‘sallow’, and are oppressors after they conquer some of the lands of the men from the west (they even take the women of some of the men of the west!). the people of harad are black and brown. there were three nations of northwest middle earth who stood with the elves and resisted sauron and his master. this is a case where the colored races are clearly benighted on the side of the darkness, and it is the men of the west who are the bright & right heroes.

    which i don’t mind personally myself as a colored guy. it’s supposed to be a myth for british people, northwest european analogs would be heroes wouldn’t they? also, JRRT was formulating his ideas during an age of white supremacy. he was no racist in his time, but almost certainly he’d be considered racialist today. a man of his time.

    p.s. in general when it comes to the people of the west ‘dark’ seems to mean dark of hair. the various races of man and elves were often coded by hair color.

    p.p.s. fantasy is by its nature a genre of unjust reaction and primitive superstition. i’m an atheist, but i think fantasy without supernaturalism is just silly. i wish JRRT had been more realistic about religion, with more gods and paganism, or an explicit christian analog instead of an implicit one. similarly, there are inequalities of race/ethnos and class. if you want to something different go to science fiction.

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    • Agreed. Most men from previous eras would be considered racist by today’s standards; and naturally, if they had come of age in present times would likely not have the same notions. I’m not sure I agree about a more explicit Christianity in Tolkien’s work, however. I like that it takes work, and that he incorporates his ideas about pre-Christian Europe, faeries, and so forth in ways that might not have been quite as potent in a more explicitly Christian text.

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      • Tolkien wrote: ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision, that is why I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and symbolism.” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1981) which is probably why it “takes work”. Tolkien never underestimates the intelligence of the reader. He also wrote of his aversion to allegory, stating that “As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical…”

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  11. This discussion rises again, in a way; the “Thor” movie now has a member of the Asgard pantheon who is black. In context, this would be like a movie about 1776 where Alexander Hamilton was black.

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      • Xenophanes of Colophon famously said:

        But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
        or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
        horses like horses and cattle like cattle
        also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
        of such a sort as the form they themselves have.

        Ethiopians say that their gods are snubnosed and black
        Thracians that they are pale and red-haired.

        Surprisingly, he was saying this uncritically. We now know that he should have told the Ethiopians to have more blond/blue gods, and the Thracians to have more, well, I don’t want to say “snubnosed”. More Gods of color. And the horses ought to have oxen gods too.

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    • DD:
      Apparently, a far-right group is calling for a boycott of the upcoming Thor movie because a black actor has been cast as the Norse god Heimdall.

      http://www.newser.com/story/107995/white-supremacists-boycotting-thor-over-black-god.html

      Adolphus:
      Somehow I doubt those people to whose traditions the Asgard gods belong ever envisioned any of them as black. Why won’t Hollywood respect their cultural heritage?

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      • Scott:

        Because Hollywood doesn’t respect anyone’s cultural heritage. “Hollywood” has been consistently reinterpreting history/myths/legends/literature etc since before there really was a “Hollywood.” Seriously, how many sword fighting women does Keira Knightly get to portray before someone points out there would have been no such woman in the Middle Ages or the 18th century. Birth of a Nation? Gone with the Wind? Song of the South? Emperor Jones? Breakfast at Tiffanies? One could go one listing movies in which racial stereotypes were at odds with historic and contemporary reality, until recently to the detriment of racial minorities. Why, because it was what viewers wanted/expected to see and those movies made money. Now a couple of Hobbits and a Norse god might be portrayed as the wrong color and white people get their panties in a twist? Now? “Hollywood” will continue to make movies that they feel will resonate with viewers and make money, with the occasional artistic decision thrown in.

        And while it has been awhile since I had or taught Western Civ, five minutes with the Google and the Wiki reminds me that the Gods of the Norse pantheon existed in some form or another throughout the pagan Roman empire, which included the Middle East and Northern Africa. Many went by different and s The basic error in the “Norse Gods Must Be White” hypothesis is that it rests on the assumption that gods in one culture existed in that culture and only in that culture and at that point in history. The truth is Gods and religious traditions get borrowed, stolen, repurposed, appropriated, conquered, expatriated and repatriated ad infinitum.

        Again, witness the Northern Europeanization of Christianity and the image of Christ, not to mention the appropriation of pagan symbols, religious traditions, and even gods into mainstream Christianity. (Hello Mr. Christmas Tree)

        Even if you assume that Norse Gods existed only as part of the Norse people in one place and time, they were a people who ranged (with levels of barbarity including rape, pillage, and kidnapping debated by archeologists and historians) from North America to Northern Africa.

        Is it really that large an artistic stretch to think one of the pantheon might choose a darker skin color for himself? (One who apparently had nine mothers, btw) Are we really so hidebound in our assumptions about the evolution of culture and religion that we can’t use this opportunity to challenge our assumptions on history, myth, religion, and legend? That might be asking a bit much for a blockbuster movie based on a comic book, but seriously. Will this be the worst historic/mythological inaccuracy committed by the movies or television next year? Hardly.

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        • Two more things.

          1. I failed to finish this sentence: “Many went by different and s” it should have read, “Many went by different and similar names.”

          2. We should not forget that we are talking about a movie with comic book as its source material. The comic book itself had only passing respect for that culture’s heritage and reinterpreted that religion in a way that would resonate with its public (Stan Lee and teen age boys) and make money. Why can’t the movie do the same?

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            • I never said anyone had to shut up and be quiet about anything. I was merely supporting the decisions of the makers of both the Hobbit and Thor as being within the parameters of artistic interpretation Hollywood has set for itself where others were attacking them and certainly within the parameters that our culture has reinterpreted the skin color of our own Gods and Saints.

              I thought it was a decent discussion and if you took anything I said as thinking people should sit down and shut up I apologize.

              At the risk of continuing to beat this dead horse, I would ask this question. Why are so many people upset by the encroachment of dark skinned actors into roles that our culture assumes are white, perhaps inaccurately or anachronistically so, but yet I never saw a peep (links to correct me welcome and appreciated) when Keira Knightly portrayed both Elizabeth Swann and Guinevere as swashbuckling action heroines, most certainly inaccurately and anachronistically?

              Why the difference? Why are we so quick to label one political correctness run amok and not the other?

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              • If black folks can complain about the lack of black hobbits, then why can’t white folks bitch about having a black person portray a white Norse god? There seems to be a double standard here that I just can’t seem to figure out. I mean if both sides are silly then they should both sit down, shut up and worry about something really important.

                As for folks not objecting to Keira, people have more hang ups about race than other things as is certainly evidenced by the complaints about a lack of black hobbits when the African Americans have much bigger problems.

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              • In this case Adolphus I feel you have it backwards.
                I don’t have too much of a problem with ethnicities being introduced into fictional settings where they weren’t originally written. But in the case of LOTR we’re talking about people kvetching and making veiled accusations of bigotry -because- the movie was loyal to the source material and didn’t have black elves or hobbits. That just seems to be racial grievance-mongering to me and frankly there are better issues to worry about than that.

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                • My understanding was this all started as a conversation about casting “light-skinned” versus “dark-skinned” actors as hobbits, not sub-Saharan black versus Nordic blonde and blue eyed, though some have certainly taken it that far, I would disagree with them. Not ask them to shut up, be quiet, or not bitch. Bitch away.

                  My point has been that there were “dark skinned” Hobbits. They were called the Harfoot hobbits and were darker skinned and the most numerous Hobbits. I am not claiming that there were Idris Elba shade hobbits, but maybe Jasmine Guy shade or Aasif Mandvi shade. WHat I find interesting, and a little troubling, is that even when the source material calls for a race of “people” who come in three basic groups that are different in all manner of physical and cultural differences, including skin tone, the default assumption is that they are all light-skinned.

                  Have other people called for “black” elves and hobbits, which is more of a cultural designation than “dark-skin,” sure, and they are free to bitch and complain the same as everyone else, though I disagree with them.

                  We can argue about how dark a “dark-skinned” hobbit is and what other physical characteristics come with that darker skin, but Tolkien certainly painted a broader palette than just “light-skinned” and a casting director that demands only “light-skinned” is doing as much as damage to the source material as someone who demands black skinned hobbits and elves.

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  12. Fellowship was one last night, and I just had to mention this part, which apparently I had completely forgotten.

    And that part is when Saurumon slaps the Uru-kai’s heads with white paint leaving the print of a white hand…

    Can’t remember if this was in the books, but it clearly has a racist interp even if not meant that way: Old white guy slapping heads of black monsters with white paint, marking them and having them go kill his white enemies.

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