The Lord of the Rings: An Unreliable Narrative. Part I


Everyone who enjoys fantasy stories thinks they know the world and narrative structure depicted in The Lord of the Rings (LotR) by J.R.R. Tolkien. The real fans and obsessives are intimately familiar with Middle Earth, not just in the details depicted in LotR, but also in the arguably equally canonical work The Silmarillion (S), never mind of course The Hobbit (H). However, even if one takes the world as presented by the author for granted on its own terms, it is by no means certain that this is the case. What I want to propose is that one can read the world of Middle Earth in a different way, using the materials presented to us by Tolkien in the canonical works mentioned above, but in a way that he did not himself consider. That is to say, a number of central theses can be applied to the world with some critical plausibility that would change the whole perspective on the nature of Middle Earth. These are that the central narrative of LotR is an unreliable narration; that this narration is made unreliable by the combination of ignorance and bias on the part of its central narrators, which can be established plausibly from the text itself; that in recognizing and correcting for this according to philological and anthropological procedure, one can derive a different perspective on Middle Earth, its central figures and motivations as presented in LotR and the other works; that this affects not just the view of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the main narratives from Middle Earth, but also the status of the different higher and lower order narratives themselves; and that finally, this can be done by using the criteria of canonicity presented by the world as depicted in the narratives themselves. Continue reading “The Lord of the Rings: An Unreliable Narrative. Part I”

Book Review: Saladin Ahmed, “Throne of the Crescent Moon”

Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, is both something new and something very familiar in the genre of fantasy. Inspired as much by the fairytales of medieval Arabia and Persia as by the plot structures of high fantasy, the result is an engaging mixture. Featuring swashbuckling dervishes, powerful alchemists, and a ponderous ghoul hunter looking for retirement as the main protagonist, the book is as fast-paced and full of action as one might demand, and kept me up all night to finish it despite the present ravages of a bad cold virus. To be sure, Ahmed is unembarrassed about the use of classic fantasy tropes, albeit restructured into a loose allegory of the medieval Arab world – but what the book perhaps lacks in depth it more than makes up for in charm. The variegated characters are lively and engaging, although somewhat one-dimensional, and the writing achieves a surprising degree of emotional seriousness for what is a fairly unpretentious fantasy novel. This is aided by the emphasis on the religious dimension of life in the world of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, something traditionally underplayed in action-oriented fantasy. (The religion, of course, is an immediately recognizable adaptation of Islam.) Continue reading “Book Review: Saladin Ahmed, “Throne of the Crescent Moon””

On the recent repression of LGBT Russians

Quite rightly, all the progressive minded people of the world are in an uproar over the intensification of the campaigns against the LGBT population of Russia. Although homosexual acts are not as such illegal in that country, Vladimir Putin’s successive governments have done everything they could short of prohibition to make life impossible and miserable for LGBT people in it, especially young and activist-minded ones. (To what degree this extends to trans people in Russia I am not sure; I have not encountered much reliable information about it.) As often with repression against scapegoat minorities, the process of repression has taken place through a series of cumulative harrassments and exclusions. Yuri Luzhkov, longtime right-populist mayor of Moscow, consistently banned any attempt at gay pride celebrations with the active support of the government; then, the government of St. Petersburg passed a law prohibiting ‘propaganda for homosexuality’, meaning effectively any discussion of the subject at all – except of course condemnation; and now this law has been enacted nationally, with a fervent application to any kind of display of LGBT activism or interest whatever where it could catch the public eye. This is applied not just to locals, but to foreigners as well, as a group of gay activists from my hometown of Groningen found out. Of course, the law is officially concerned only with ‘propaganda to minors’, but this means very little – always, everywhere, the condemnation of homosexuality is based on an opportunistic and imaginary concern for ‘the children’, no matter the fact that many of those minors may well be gay or lesbian or bisexual themselves. Continue reading “On the recent repression of LGBT Russians”