J.R.R. Tolkien’s Vision of Freedom

There’s an entertaining and well-delivered recent Acton Institute podcast on Tolkien’s political stances, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Vision of Freedom” (major plot spoilers). Be warned that the sound quality at the start is terrible. The lecture itself starts at 3:48 minutes, using a different microphone, and from then on the sound becomes much better.

It’s a very illuminating lecture, and didn’t drift off into the usual tedious American think-tank concerns about: ‘… and how does this relate to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers?’ The speaker’s grasp of both The Lord of the Rings and British history is obvious somewhat superficial (at one point he forgets the names Merry and Pippin, and never mentions the roots of Tolkien’s ‘conservative anarch’ politics in the lived experience of pre-Norman England), but otherwise the lecture seems soundly based. After listening I can certainly see an additional political aspect to the initial tepid reception of The Lord of the Rings in the Cold War of the mid and late 1950s. Soviet agents and communist sympathisers were in key positions in British literary life at the time. The publication of Orwell’s Animal Farm for instance, was repeatedly blocked by what we now know to be Soviet ‘sleeper’ agents. One wonders how this influenced the reviews for The Lord of the Rings, though one also has to wonder how many of those early reviewers actually read the book, let alone got all the way to “The Scouring of the Shire”. The same problem also informs the more recent sour reception of the movie adaptation, among leftists and Guardian readers.

The lecturer also has a whole book on the topic, for those who need the details and the footnotes, The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. This has a deeply off-putting title and cover, which I presume were somehow meant to ‘attract the Harry Potter generation’, but with the unintended consequence of making everyone else cringe and flee. Nevertheless, the book has been well-reviewed, and it’s definitely not another ‘Shopping Lists of the Inklings: a Lacanian analysis’.


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