Sunday, 7 April 2013

Tolkien and the Black Riders

Having just finished The Lord of the Rings after four tries in as many decades is a great feeling. The best bit about the novel, I think, is Tolkein’s harvests from the fertile fields of the English Language, from Shakespeare to the Authorised Version and an Oxford don’s instinctive grasp of his mother tongue.

It’s a pity his descendents had no time for Peter Jackson’s films, because I found these a way into the novel, opened decisively by a Film 4 interview with Jackson saying that if Frodo was the soul of the film then Samwise Gamgee was the heart. I then researched further, and found that Tolkien himself considered Sam the hero of the work.

The hobbits are instinctive gatherers of lore and history, and would agree with the Chinese proverb saying “the beginning of wisdom is to give things their right names”, which Tolkien sort-of quotes in The Fellowship of the Ring. They move the action from start to finish, and seem to represent the working class in general and Tommy Atkins in particular.

With Tolkein’s legendarium now firmly fixed in culture, there are those who try to append a racist tag to it. I think Tolkein foresaw this and embedded his comment on race – being and opponent of racism – in characters’ impressions of the Black Riders, the “ring-wraiths” or Men of old who were given rings by Sauron and seduced into his evil ways. The people of Bree speak not just of the riders being black, but give this characteristic to their horses and even the riders’ breath. Frodo, wearing the Ring, sees the Rider attacking him as white. Gandalf, possibly speaking Tolkein’s own words, discloses that the riders are made of nothingness, anticipating the modern view that race is a chimera clothed in prejudices.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

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