J. R. R. Tolkien never got far in writing a sequel to “The Lord of the Rings.” He found it “depressing” work and despite a few attempts, the project, tentatively titled “The New Shadow,” never made it past the first chapter. The story would have been something of a thriller, with the peace established after the defeat of Sauron threatened by plots and cults arising from the “inevitable boredom of Men with the good.”
This insight certainly applies to the current leadership of the Tolkien Society (of which Tolkien himself was once president), which has decided to desecrate his work. The group’s latest academic seminar includes presentations such as “Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings,” “The Queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” and “Destabilizing Cishetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien.” Were these papers honest scholarship, they would be blank pages. Tolkien was a faithful Catholic whose work reflected his beliefs.
But as Tolkien knew, men are easily bored and dissatisfied, even with the good. So these scholars are narcissistically appropriating Tolkien’s greatness to serve the latest intellectual fashions, rather than appreciating it and engaging with it honestly. Whether just to impress tenure committees or out of true radicalism, these scholars approach Tolkien’s work as Sauron did Middle-Earth — with a lust for domination.
Projecting modern ideological obsessions onto Tolkien’s creation attempts to intellectually subdue someone else’s work. Of course, reading a text always includes interpretation, but interpretation is engagement, not control. Interpretation presumes Tolkien is speaking, or writing, to us. We may actively respond to what he wrote, and even bring our current concerns into our reading, but the author and his creation must be respected as partners in dialogue.
We must be willing to be led by the text — and to accept a “no” from it. The text will not always tell us what we want to hear, and the author might have been horrified at the thought of what we want. To read what we want into the text anyway is to dictate to the work and its author, rather than conversing
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