The Enemy is Moving...and He is Us - Robert Kendzie
There has been a lot of new commentary written in the last year about the works of Professor Tolkien, and predictably there have been the usual charges of Racism and War-mongering in The Lord of the Rings. Such criticism is understandable, but misguided. Tolkien himself denied to his death that there was any intentional allegory within the work. However, if the conflict in the book can be said to be representative of any real-world struggle, it is not the struggle of the West against the rest of the world. It is the struggle of the West against itself.
Tolkien, in creating the works, said that he was attempting to create an ancient mythology for England. He felt that unlike in Greece and Rome, where the ancient tales of Gods and heroes had been eventually written down, in England all of the old myths had been squelched and suppressed by a series of invading cultures. In this regard, the "Middle-earth" in which Rings takes place is very much a place-holder for ancient England/Western Europe. It is also something of an insular tale though Tolkien makes mention of great realms outside of Middle-earth, the heroes of the tale do not go there and know little or nothing of these places save for legends and rumors. Even the all-knowing Elves do not concern themselves with these places, for they are bound to Middle-earth itself, and have no connection with these foreign lands. Likewise, the Enemy Sauron and his principal conspirator Saruman are not foreigners to Middle-earth either.
When people read racism into The Lord of the Rings, they usually point towards the foot-soldiers of Evil primarily the hideous Orcs and goblins, who are generally dark-skinned and narrow-eyed, although they are described in a multitude of other ways, all of which attempt to convey an evil, malformed, "ruined" breed of creatures. Yet these are not foreign creatures in fact they are not even a true mortal race. Their breed has its origins as elves, who at some time in the past were taken by the evil powers of Middle-earth, then tortured and twisted into a hideous parody of that fey race of immortals. Likewise, when they speak it is not a strange patois from distant lands they sound like western men: coarse, ignorant, violent men, just as the elves sound like noble and learned men. Indeed, it is impossible to discuss the Orcs without the Elves, for they are both merely a mirror of Western Culture - the Elves are what Tolkien considers best: virtuous, scholarly, artistic, sensitive, and above all in harmony with the land. The Orcs are the worst that the west offers: brutish, violent, ignorant, and they are rapacious creatures who burn forests and have no appreciation for natural beauty. Both the Elves and the Orcs, however, are creatures of Middle-earth (and therefore western culture). They are not mentioned as existing anywhere else in the world, and the Evil masters that they serve are homegrown as well.
Sauron and Saruman are not foreign invaders for if one looks at Tolkiens maps of Middle-earth one finds that the evil realm of Mordor, where Sauron holds power, is just as much a part of it as the human realms of Gondor and Rohan. The same is true of Isengard, the fortress where Saruman holds sway. More telling is the fact that neither wishes to subjugate Middle-earth to some non-western idea of society or foreign religious paradigm. The argument could be made that Sauron and Saruman are in fact Hyper-Western: their way is the way of the factory over the farm, utility over beauty, consumption over conservation, destruction of the environment, war for profit and power, and above all slavery to the machine of industry and monolithic authority. In short, they are everything about the West that the rest of the world loathes. Also, unlike the other powers of Middle-earth, they are imperialist.
It seems strange to suggest that the other peoples of Middle-earth, with their many kings and princes, are not imperialist, but note that they do not make wars of conquest. When Rohan and Gondor go to war, it is not to conquer their neighbors, but to protect themselves. Sauron, however, draws many of his troops from outside Middle-earth and that is the cause of some confusion. The appearance of the "Southrons", "Easterlings" and "Men of Harad" which Sauron brings in from foreign lands to fight for him seem at first glance to represent a fear of foreign invasion. While it is true that such elements mirror a certain amount of European xenophobia which has been present for most of the culture's history, it is important to note that they do not fight for themselves. They fight for Sauron. They are foreign peoples that the Dark Lord has bent to his purpose, and he uses their lives for his own gain. In a very real sense, they are just as much his subject slaves as the Orcs are. In one much-discussed scene, Tolkien even goes out of his way to demonstrate that the Free Peoples of Middle-earth have no real quarrel with them when Faramir of Gondor stands over the body of a foreign man he has slain, wondering to himself about his enemy's past, his homeland, and how he came to under the sway of the Evil Lord . . . the conclusion being that there would be no conflict between these peoples without the catalyst of Sauron who is a conquering lord with aspirations to extend his influence over all the earth, not just Middle-earth where the war takes place. One can see, in a sense, an indictment of colonialism and aspirations of foreign conquests, which is another regrettable tradition in Western culture.
And this is the crux of the matter: The War of the Ring is not about land or wealth, but culture. It is a battle of morals as much as it is a battle of swords and arrows. Will Middle-earth remain true to its pastoral, spiritual, traditional roots, or will it allow it's destructive, industrial, aggressive elements to run rampant, destroying all that was once held dear? The moral nature of the conflict is underscored by the fact that the battle cannot be won through any feat of arms or military solution - the gates of Mordor are impossibly strong, and the Dark Lord has endless minions with which to bring strife to the land. No, what will win the day is the Free peoples of the Middle-earth having the courage and moral strength to reject evil even though they are sorely tempted by it, and to destroy the Ring, an artifact that will corrupt them utterly even as it gives them the keys to great power. Perhaps the reason that the book remains so popular today is that we still face this same dilemma. The battle for the soul of Western Culture is still up for grabs, even if it does seem on some days that the Dark Lord has already won. If there is one thing that Tolkien can teach us, it is that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope.