Following the interest generated by the Tolkien and Diversity panel at Oxonmoot 2020, (hosted by Sultana Raza), another panel on Global Tolkien was proposed and accepted by the Tolkien Society for Oxonmoot 2021. The idea for this panel was formed because of a troubling trend among some SFF and Tolkien enthusiasts against diversity in fandoms and interpretations of SFF writers. Luckily, the Tolkien Society doesn’t seem to ascribe to this view, and has been encouraging further dialogue on this topic.
The panelists included Sultana Raza (also the Moderator), Ali Ghaderi (Iran), María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez (Chile), and Gözde Ersoy (Turkey). Gözde Ersoy (assistant-professor of English Literature at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University, Turkey) also briefly presented a video of an online event she had organized with school children in Turkey, on the Tolkien Reading Day, where they’d read an excerpt from The Hobbit in Turkish.
The following roundtable was written after Oxonmoot was over, and is an approximation of some of the points discussed during the Global Tolkien panel, which was accompanied by comments in the chat from the lively audience. A hybrid event, the Global Tolkien panel took place via Zoom (with 300+ viewers), while the organizers and a few participants logged in from Oxford where they were attending Oxonmoot in person. While there was quite a bit of interaction amongst the panellists, it’s not possible to re-create it in this written format, as the texts were sent in by email. The following roundtable contains spoilers for all of Tolkien’s stories mentioned below. Disclaimer: The opinions presented in this roundtable are those of the speakers, and not necessarily of the Tolkien Society.
The abstract of Global Tolkien was sent to the panellists beforehand, in form of broad but poignant questions:
Why does Tolkien’s fiction have a global appeal? Why are people from all continents drawn to Tolkien’s stories? What does that tell us about common human values? Only works of depth and substance can garner such a massive following all over the world. Conversely, have the 6 Peter Jackson films, and various games drawn in fans who’re more interested in the action/adventure or violence, and war aspects of the films and games than in the core values embedded in the stories? Should we encourage diverse readings of Tolkien from different geographical locations? Can this coming together of readers from different countries foster an international fellowship, as outlined in his books? Or conversely, should his fans be confined to people of just one race or ethnicity? If the interpretations, readings, or ideas of POC readers are not acceptable by some fans, then should these POC readers be allowed to consume these books/films/games? Should POC fans be limited to being consumers, but not commentators or scholars of Tolkien? Is it even possible to limit POC fans from engaging with, and commenting upon Tolkien’s works? Due to the recent wave of cancel culture, to what extent can we re-read or re-contextualize Tolkien’s works to fit in with our fluctuating world view?
- Why does Tolkien’s fiction have a global appeal? Why are people from all continents drawn to Tolkien’s stories? What does that tell us about common human values?
Sultana Raza: The huge international success of Tolkien’s novels and adaptations especially The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) prove that the same common human values are prevalent in most cultures globally. Most people can identify with at least one major character from these books, (who also have archetypal qualities), and are eager to follow their journey, experiencing some form of catharsis at the end. In general, the appeal of SFF stories lies in the core of the human story at the centre of the drama, whether it’s unfolding on Arrakis, in Westeros, in Narnia, in Middle-Earth, or in the Undying Lands.
Ali Ghaderi: I think Tolkien’s fiction walks on the borders of reality and a sub-created world of passion, beauty, and values. I don’t want to get philosophical and all Derridean, but I think this Derridean notion that fiction lends itself to other discourses explains a lot about Tolkien’s reception on the global scale. His work lends itself to our reality, and we experience our daily lives through engaging with his world. If I want to employ another critical term, and I promise it is going to be the last time, I would bring Donna Haraway’s cyborg theory on the stage. The adaptations, the new media, and events such as the brilliant Oxonmoot give the texts a digital life. In these media, through games and TV shows, the texts get to be analyzed, lived, and experienced individually and socially; they all form “a massive multi-user online reading game.” Let me give an example from my country Iran. The largest fan community here is Arda.ir. That is also the address of the official website. The Iranian fandom also is active on Telegram, Instagram, and Twitter. Moreover, recently, they scheduled discussion sessions on the Clubhouse. They use all these social media and digital spaces to create and share their new experiences of reading Tolkien’s texts, watching the adaptations, and playing video games.
As a result of these multiple forms of engagement with Tolkien’s texts, we have competing forces and tendencies that will lead to more diversity in readership, and broader appeal on the global scale. There is an ever-shifting canvas of names/events, the ancient texts re-construction, particular geographies, socio-political interactions, artefacts, languages and dialects, art and architecture, song and tale, borders and boundaries, journeys and maps, that now undergird any notion of Middle-earth or Arda, whether from a Primary or Secondary world perspective.
María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: I believe Tolkien’s stories are not just fantasy stories where you can find dragons, elves, and dwarves. To me, what makes them universal and special are the emotions involved in them. The sensations the characters experience can be recognised and identified by anyone all over the world. For example, The Lord of the Rings is not just a book about two hobbits who travel miles to destroy a powerful ring. But we experience their emotions. Anyone can understand what loss and mourning might be, and we perceive those sensations when the fellowship believes they had lost Gandalf. Like Sam and Frodo, we are horrified by walking into Mordor as we know what it means to feel afraid of the unknown. We can guess how Éowyn might feel when she rides to the Pelennor Fields because we also want to support our dear ones and act according to our own will. We experience happiness when the hobbits are reunited with Bilbo at the end of the novel, since we understand how seeing a beloved one feels after such a long time. In The Silmarillion, we can be moved to tears by Lúthien’s grief when Beren seems to be no longer with her. We can imagine Húrin suffering when he is captured by Melkor, and forced to see what happens around him without being able to help. When Melkor betrays Ungoliant, we might understand her anger and desires, even if we might not identify with the character.
It’s possible to see that these emotions are universal and present in different situations and contexts. We can identify with them no matter what our cultural background and social conventions might be. That is because Tolkien’s works include a vast spectrum of feelings that every human being might experience and recognise. His writings do not pinpoint a single way of being. He did not suggest that some feelings are better than others, but allowed for diversity in how these emotions are felt and expressed. It is not only the characters that can be seen as ‘good’ who can experience them, or a single race that can show them. But we can identify feelings in Melkor, Ungoliant, Galadriel, Melian, Fëanor; in Men, in Ents, Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and Orcs. Tolkien not only describes emotions some characters might feel but also the sensations some places might suggest. For example, Fangorn Forest is felt as being vast, green, dark, and mysterious while being sublime, terrifying, and powerful at the same time. His narrative style contributes to the experience of different emotions while reading his works.
2. Why should we encourage diverse readings of Tolkien from different geographical locations? Can this coming together of readers from various countries foster an international fellowship, as outlined in his books? Why is that important in our times?
Sultana Raza: I think the longevity of any work of fiction lies in its universal appeal. Diverse interpretations can only add to the various aspects and meanings of these texts. Readers from different continents can not only enlarge the scope of interpretations, but also add new trains of thought to be explored by researchers. For example, since I’m originally from India, I can’t help comparing some characters, or plotlines with those from Indian legends. In fact, so far I’ve given two papers, entitled Shades of Indian Ideology in Tolkien’s Works, at the Tolkien Society Seminar (Leeds, UK) in 2018, and Projecting Indian Myths, Culture and History onto Tolkien’s Worlds at the Tolkien Society Diversity Seminar in July 2021, and participants seemed to be quite interested in these hitherto unexplored themes. Additionally, I hosted a Discussion Group — Tolkien through a Multi-cultural Lens at Oxonmoot 2020 — was part of the Tolkien and Diversity: A Round Table Discussion at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds 2021, and co-hosted a discussion group on Tolkien and non-European myths at Oxonmoot 2021.
I think examining the works of Tolkien or other notable writers in the Occidental (SFF) canon through the lens of myths of different cultures is a vast field waiting to be explored. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this area of research. Another point that hasn’t been researched much is the fact that since civilization travelled from East to West, (or so we’re told), it’s inevitable that certain elements such as story, or characters from Eastern myths are bound to have become incorporated into European myths. Examples include the fact that there’s a trinity of gods in both the Hindu and ancient Greek myths, the similarity between the myths of Gilgamesh and Hercules, or that of Achilles and Karna (from the Mahabharata) etc. There are also similarities between Egyptian and Greco-Roman myths. Though Tolkien was inspired by Arthurian, Celtic, and Nordic legends, certain elements of Greco-Roman myths are present in his works too.
When watching the LOTR films for the first time, I was struck by the pronunciation of certain Elvish words. Phonetically-speaking, they sounded somewhat like Sanskrit. I can’t understand Sanskrit, but since Hindi is derived from it, I could identify some of the sounds in Elvish as being somewhat familiar to my Indian ears. For example, ‘arth’ means earth (and meaning too) in Hindi, which is quite close to ‘Arda’ (also meaning earth) in Tolkien’s sub-created reality.
A little-explored topic is the similarity between Celtic languages and Sanskrit. Since Quenya is inspired partly by Welsh, it would be a gigantic task to identify the roots of certain words in Quenya, as originating in Welsh and by extension possibly in Sanskrit. Therefore, studying Tolkien’s worlds, or the works of other major writers from the lens of other cultures can lead to new avenues of research, bringing diverse societies closer together, as we could begin to appreciate the values we have in common more than our differences. Though it was challenging, I managed to translate an excerpt each from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings into Urdu, which I then recorded and sent to the Tolkien Society. My videos were displayed on Tolkien Reading Day 2021, along with others in different languages on the website of the University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic.
There is already an informal international fellowship of Tolkien’s readers, and SFF fandoms in general. For example, by including the Global Tolkien panel at Oxonmoot, the Tolkien Society (UK) is encouraging this idea. It would be better for international cooperation at the grassroots level if this sort of fellowship were to flourish all over the world.
Ali Ghaderi: I want to keep my answers somewhat linked. “Those who do not read me reproach me at times for playing writing against the voice, as if to reduce it to silence,” Derrida once said. Similarly, not reading Tolkien through diverse lenses always causes the risk of reducing his world to simple tales formed by raw and wild imagination. Works of literature always call for different interpretations because one-dimensional readings could have a negative impact on the global value of novels and fiction. Had the works of Homer or Shakespeare remained in just one age and confined to one culture, there would have been no immense network of literary meaning, and philosophical insights born because of them. The act of reading links the world of literature and reality through different ages and among numerous cultures. Like ‘the international magical cooperation’ in Harry Potter, diversity in reading, and diverse re-visiting of Tolkien add to the depth and vastness of his aesthetic sub-creation. We didn’t stop reading Homer across a global academic scale. Or before that, we didn’t stop enjoying Gilgamesh because it belongs to a long-gone age. I am aware of the mythological and epic nature of those tales. I am not saying Tolkien’s fiction is of the same nature. However, he brought many ancient strains shared by different cultures across the world history and literature together.
Let me make another analogy. Tolkien and Joyce! What an odd duo, I know! However, these two fiction writers reintroduced myths into the modern and modernist context. Joyce employed medievalism in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Homeric names and metaphors in Ulysses. And with a strong vein of medievalism, Tolkien invented such a vast world, histories had to be composed and languages had to be created to encompass his immense narratives. And why is this important in our times? Since I’m a curious reader, I’m going to re-purpose this question.
I am from the Kurdistan province of Iran, and by reading Tolkien, watching his world on my screen, or immersing myself in digital worlds inspired by him, I take pleasure in it, unmatched by any other texts and thoughts. I learn from Tolkien and enjoy his sub-creation so much that if I start talking about it, I would never stop. I think this is what we need in our time; this is what we need to do with the time we are given: learn, and enjoy ourselves, and to let others do the same as well. Valuing them more would make the world a better place.
María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: Tolkien´s book suggests that diversity is fundamental in opinions, ways of thinking, living, and understanding the world. For this reason, it’s necessary to allow readings from all over the globe as they’ll enrich the works we love and admire so much, making them even more relevant. Literature is a product of humanity; it needs to be discussed and shared. Different readings would allow for a better understanding of the works produced by the writer. If a work of literature has a worldwide approach and response, this fact suggests that it’s relevant for understanding humanity, and not only a single culture. But its universality will also allow us to have more empathy for different cultures all over the world, as their backgrounds will enrich the reading of the novel, giving more perspectives and reasons of why it is special to readers across the globe.
For the Tolkien Reading Day, I hosted a worldwide online activity on Instagram. Some of the prompts included a quotation from Tolkien’s works that might be relevant to the participants. I was impressed by the responses, all so different, yet similar at the same time. Dissimilar in the sense of what the quote might mean to someone, but analogous because some of them selected the same quotation. There were no right or wrong answers, but they complimented each other beautifully, enriching the stories we all love and enjoy so much. Another challenge was to share food that reminded the participants of Tolkien’s stories. Different answers allowed all of us to have a better understanding of Tolkien’s characters and places. During my re-read of The Lord of the Rings that I indulged in some time afterwards, I could incorporate the participant’s reading and thoughts, making my experience more precious than in the previous re-reads.
I truly believe it’s possible to foster an international fellowship where Tolkien’s works can help to connect us across the globe. We experienced this during the last two Oxonmoots, where we met readers from all over the world with whom we could share our thoughts, opinions, and comments. We can also experience a community on Social Media. I would encourage more international readings, and discussions as they make the stories we love so much even more precious than if we read them alone in the comfort zone of our own cultural backgrounds. Not least, it enriches and helps in raising our empathy and our understanding of the world.
3. If the viewpoints, readings, or ideas of POC or non-European readers are not acceptable by some fans, then should these POC readers be allowed to consume these books/films/games? Should POC fans be limited to being consumers, but not commentators or scholars of Tolkien? Is it even possible to limit POC fans from engaging with, and commenting upon Tolkien’s works?
Sultana Raza: Perhaps the first question is, why were these questions even necessary to ask in the first place? When I was participating in the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin, in at least three panels I was repeatedly asked, or even told by the audience to talk about myths, or related topics from India. I could have either chosen to take the time to respond to these hecklers, or to go on with the discussion related to the main topics. I chose to do the latter. However, I was quite surprised by this sort of mild heckling.
I find it quite strange that no one seems to object when franchises selling certain international brands of fast foods crop up in almost every corner of the world. People of colour aren’t stopped from consuming books, films/TV series from Occidental countries. In fact, the American entertainment industry is encouraged to dominate the world. Millions of copies of fiction in the English language are sold all over the world. However, POC readers aren’t encouraged to comment upon these products by other fans. Which seems to be quite strange. What about freedom of speech? Also, isn’t reading/viewing media from other cultures, a means of interacting and understanding others in a more peaceful way? And doesn’t the value of an author go up when their work is appreciated across cultural boundaries? I could go on about this topic, but that could become a new article in itself.
While most people are encouraged to celebrate globalization, then perhaps some (racist) SFF fans could learn to tolerate global admirers of their favourite (white) writers too. What’s the point of being able to travel all over the world in our globalized world, if one isn’t prepared to listen to, or engage in a dialogue with people from other continents? Another question that can be discussed is, whether the recent fashion to encourage diversity (by big multi-national companies who own a lot of the media outlets) stems from the fact that very soon the market for fiction, films, TV series, games etc. is going to explode in emerging countries? Are they preparing their markets by encouraging diversity in fandoms of various genres? Whatever the case may be, diversity in fandom is here to stay and grow, for all the right reasons.
I should add that I experienced very little overt racism at any Worldcon, including the one in Dublin, or at any events organized by the Tolkien Society. Most people and organizers were quite helpful and nice enough. In fact, during my first Oxonmoot in 2017, I was surprised and honoured when I was asked to lay the wreath on the Professor’s grave. After the ceremony, I recited my poem Keen on Tolkien, and left the papers there, since others had left coins or flowers. Btw, I personally don’t care for the term: POC, but have used it here for convenience, as it’s easily recognizable.
Ali Ghaderi: I think in his tales, ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days, the Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit, and the Histories, of course, Tolkien teaches us to rethink the notion of narrative. Likewise, the volumes he wrote all attest to this, and provide a foundation for a unified sense of existence, or reality in Arda’s ancient past as well as concerning the reality of our world. I mean, you cannot forget about the reality of the twentieth century when you are reading Tolkien. I am not going into the depths of race and ethnicity in Tolkien. Many a great work has been written on those issues. I want to bring an example to support my claim that Tolkien’s readers must come from, and indeed already come from a great range of diversity.
I’ve always been fascinated by the portrayal of Beorn in the second Hobbit movie. How the portrayal challenges racial discrimination in his short speech on the history of his race is remarkable. Or how Thorin becomes suspicious of Bilbo; whether he can be a part of the quest. Even Bilbo has his own doubts. But in the closing scenes of The Battle of the Five Armies, there is an epiphanic moment for both Thorin and Bilbo. Also, when I consider the portrayal of Tauriel, I think giving her more contextualized power and energy would have brought another great example of diversity into the movie. Perhaps I am wrong, but I was expecting more of her.
On the other hand, who could forget about the amazing cinematic Arwen? I saw in Jackson’s trilogy a chance to liberate the texts from possible prejudices and biases; those based on race, religion, gender, and even age. Why not? Gone are the days when I was watching The Dark Crystal or The Hobbit, and people would come up to me challenging me for having a childish taste in art, film, and literature. To sum up, when the texts, the fandom, adaptations (games TV/film) and scholarship allow for diversity and a wide experience (across many epics), who is to limit Tolkien to the borders of English-speaking world, or to the realm of fantasy for that matter? That’s a rhetorical question, of course.
María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: Personally, I don’t see why non-European readers shouldn’t be allowed to consume books, films, and games based on Tolkien’s works. It sounds as none one could read or like Gabriela Mistral’s poetry because they are not Chilean. Or someone cannot read Latin American literature because they will never understand the context, and its culture. That would limit the understanding of the world, and humanity as a whole.
Additionally, I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t accept readings, and research from a culture different from the one that might have produced a literary work. I agree that every book has its own context and cultural background, but when readers read them even if, they might be from the same cultural background as the author, their perspectives and understanding might differ from that of the author’s. Literature should be disseminated worldwide no matter its origin. When different cultures read and study a book, together they might enhance the comprehension of that work. These readings could consider universal motifs, whether they’re context-based, or local interpretations.
As a personal experience, I decided to study English Literature and Linguistics, a degree that lasts more than four years in Chile and write my thesis on Tolkien’s female characters. I’ve always been struck by the fact that critics have pointed out that Tolkien’s works have few female characters. In Chile, you are taught that numbers don’t matter, but the representation, the voice you give to women is important. For example, in a class with two girls, and ten boys, the two girls are as relevant as the boys. I decided to take into account my cultural experience as well as academic research to produce my dissertation. I discovered works from scholars from different backgrounds who inspired me to achieve my objective. I would like to highlight the compilation Perilous and Fair: Women in the Life and Works of J. R. R. Tolkien (a collection of essays edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan in 2015).
4. Due to the recent wave of ‘cancel culture,’ to what extent can we re-read or re-contextualize Tolkien’s works to fit in with our fluctuating worldview?
Sultana Raza: On the one hand, cancel culture would have caught up with us sooner, or later. In fact, it’s surprising that it took so long for this phenomenon to manifest itself. On the other hand, perhaps re-contextualizing an author’s life, outlook, and place in the society of his times would be a better approach. Blankly cancelling out a lot of racist and prejudicial material of the past means wiping out some parts of history as well. Placing it in a historical context, or re-assessing it with a twenty-first century interpretation would be more appropriate.
An increasing number of readers feel that there is at least covert racism in Tolkien’s works. However, his outlook could be understood by contextualizing his life. Perhaps he felt like an outsider in society, as many writers/artists often tend to do. For example, he’d returned back to parochial England from South Africa as a child, lost his mother at an early age, was a Catholic in a Protestant country, and he and his brother weren’t exactly welcomed by his extended family. Though Oxford may have had its fair share of nerds (of the elitist kind), he had to keep his ‘secret vice’ of creating new languages hidden from his peers. Also, writing fantasy was looked down upon in those days. Perhaps he wanted to fit in, to a certain extent, and was willing to accept prejudicial notions of his times, especially as his early years were spent in a British colony.
The whole excuse for colonization was based upon the premise that the natives were inferior beings who had to be ‘saved’ by Christian missionaries. Perhaps Tolkien found it difficult to distance himself from this pervasive thinking. Especially since if he’d have changed his opinions, then he’d have to review his father’s appointment to South Africa in a new light, which would have been very difficult to do. Usually, orphans who lose their parents at a young age have more problems revising their memories, and opinions of their parents. Whatever the case may be, the benefits of Tolkien’s works far outweigh his inclinations towards racism. Therefore, re-contextualizing any work of art seems to be a better idea, than simply cancelling it. Dimitra Fimi’s book Tolkien, Race and Cultural History gives more insights into Tolkien and the evolution of his writings with regards to race, and the main historical and cultural events of his times.
Ali Ghaderi: I would refer to Helene Cixous’s The Artist and the Law at this juncture. Cixous argues that the act of asking questions on the part of Percival at King Fisherman’s court is the key to achieve knowledge and have his quest fulfilled: “at this point, the narrative starts threatening Percival. The narrative starts saying: You know, Percival, you are doing wrong. You should ask questions. Something horrible is going to happen if you don’t ask questions. Ask questions! But the narrative speaks mutely in the book at the enunciation level. Percival does not understand, does not hear. And when the meal comes to an end, suddenly there is a huge explosion, and the narrative shouts: You see what you have done! You haven’t asked questions, and so you’ll be punished. Now you are a horrible sinner, and because of you, the world has been lost a second time. The King Fisherman, who would have been saved by Percival if he had asked questions, will remain paralyzed for eternity.”
It is, therefore, almost a ‘sin’ not to raise certain questions and re-contextualize Tolkien’s works. Every turn and every change in the readership, expectations of the fans, and values in the world can affect our understanding of Arda. All of them matter. In other words, I think we are in possession of a lot of liberty to revisit Tolkien’s works in our own context. Moreover, I don’t think this will diminish or undermine the aesthetic, and literary significance of his high fantasy. After all, literary joy and interpretation is a discursive event that reaches its full potency when experienced in a liberal context.
María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: To me cancel culture is a complicated phenomenon. I often ask who can truly determine what is right and what is wrong. Why can’t we just allow different opinions and ideas? We might not agree with all of them, but we can accept them as one possibility out of thousands of options.
Regarding the context, as I said before, I agree that literature has a certain context and culture that might have allowed for its production in the first place. Both are fundamental for understanding the meaning and relevance the book might have had when it was written, allowing us to comprehend how the prevailing background of those times affected it, why, and if it also affected the meaning we derive from the story now. There might be elements that shock us and make us feel at ease. Some ideas accepted in the past might be no longer acceptable. That is part of a work produced by humanity.
But the context of production does not always determine what the words mean for the readers. And for this reason, I believe that instead of continually focusing on those ideas that might have changed, we can focus on the positive elements that have allowed the work to continue to be alive and relevant. We should focus on the constructive response the readers might have. How ‘fans’ interact with each other and the characteristics they highlight. We should continue building a safe space, be tolerant and open to diversity and new ideas, and create a place where we can search for understanding works in a better way.
5. How impatiently are you waiting for the new Amazon series, and why? Why are you so interested in further exploring new versions of the Tolkien universe on screen?
Sultana Raza: Adaptations can be tricky. For example, YA author Rick Riordan didn’t watch the two Percy Jackson films based on his mythic fantasy novels, because he said he had his own idea of what his characters looked like, and he didn’t want to change that by watching the films. However, that may have been a diplomatic response, possibly because he might have had an inkling of how much they were going to botch the films, as he didn’t have any control over them (due to a contract signed early in his career). On the other hand, David Mitchell seems to have been satisfied with the job done by the Wachowski siblings on adapting his novel, Cloud Atlas for the big screen, specially as he was involved in writing the script. I’d tend to agree that the producers made his novel more accessible while expanding the arcs of the characters across several lifetimes. Mitchell went on to collaborate with the Wachowski siblings by writing the scripts for an episode of Sense8 (Season 2) and The Matrix Resurrections.
Like a lot of fans, I’m apprehensive of this new Tolkien TV series. Especially if it’s inspired by the (initial) commercial success of Game of Thrones. Christopher Tolkien was a loyal and careful steward of his father’s works for a long time. With him gone, what can die-hard readers of the books expect from the new series? At the same time, I wouldn’t mind delving into a new recreation of Tolkien’s worlds.
Perhaps the creators of the new series could study the differences between Peter Jackson’s adaptations of LOTR and The Hobbit. Hopefully, they’ll realize that though the creative teams behind these trilogies were more or less the same, the big difference in audience reaction was caused by changes to the storyline, the depth of the character portrayals, and the suitability and ability of the cast. Though Amazon seems to be going in for a more diverse cast (possibly to cater to an international audience), but how well they’ll fit into Tolkien’s worlds remains to be seen. Do we want diversity for the sake of diversity, or should it fit seamlessly into the narrative?
A lot of the aesthetics of Peter Jackson’s films were created by Alan Lee (who worked on LOTR for much longer than John Howe). This has shaped our vision of Tolkien’s world on the big screen. The big question is: can the team of the new TV series create as compelling a visual experience as PJ’s creative crew, despite having access to newer tech?
A cottage industry had grown up on YouTube, with many people jumping in, and giving their ten cent’s worth, explaining, analyzing, or debating all episodes of Game of Thrones. Will the same thing happen for this new series? Will it live up to its hype? Since folks are getting smarter and more clued in, this TV series is bound to create a storm in fandom. Whether it’s of the positive or the negative sort remains to be seen.
Ali Ghaderi: The short version of my answer to this one is: “impatiently in an extremely Brobdingnagian way.” As a media enthusiast, I do want to see places of Middle-earth visualized on the TV screen. Moreover, I think this new TV series is going to pay special attention to diversity; both in casting and narrativizing the stories/histories of the second age. I’d love to see literary texts especially those of the fantasy genre translated into the cinematic or televised experience. And I think a great part of my enthusiasm and excitement about the upcoming show is related to my interest in writing about it; possibly and hopefully for academic journals. Finally, perhaps many of us are thinking it and trying not to say it, but I will say it; I am also terrified. Like a child, who’s almost sure there’s a monster under his bed. Because of The Game of Thrones trauma. That TV adaptation showed me a whole different face of fantasy in media. I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: Honestly, I am terrified about the Amazon series. I am afraid of it. The main reason is that I don’t want them to produce something commercial for the sake of earning profits and forget to focus on Tolkien’s magic. Some of the headlines and information on the news seem to suggest that it will be like Games of Thrones, I don’t think that a series like that would be suitable for Tolkien’s works. Secondly, I am afraid about how they will adapt the books of the author we love so much; will it make sense to those who’ve read the novels? Will it be loyal to Tolkien’s editorial line and style? And I wonder if it will affect the perception non-readers have about Tolkien’s works. For example, I believe Peter Jackson’s adaptions of The Lord of the Rings did an excellent job in general, but established a sense of right and wrong by strongly highlighting cultural appearances which I did not imagine, or feel when I read the books. I think the ways movies and series represent and portray characters might be dangerous.
If I knew the series will be produced by people who seriously care about Tolkien’s works, about the emotions and responses these precious books have generated all over the globe, I would have faith in the series. Nowadays, some TV series are successful because they are produced with passion. I can think, for example, of the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian team have done absolutely amazing work that appeals to all audiences because they are also fans of Star Wars, as they clearly show their love and respect for George Lucas’ creation. I would like to see the same with Tolkien. A team that respects his editorial line and the works he wrote, and a creative department that truly loves the books.
My overall conclusion: I think it’s fundamental to remember that one of the most beautiful aspects of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works is the presence of characters from different backgrounds and places who try to overcome their differences to succeed in the task they have to do. For this reason, it’s necessary to allow more readings from across the globe and provide instances to share and discuss them, as it will boost a better understanding of literature, and humanity as a whole.
Conclusion of the Moderator:
Though I shouldn’t have been, I was pleasantly surprised, to get such varied responses from the enthusiastic panellists. They proved the point that there are indeed diverse responses to any given work of fiction/art, filtered through the outlook of their own cultures. And that’s it’s vital to include a range of diverse opinions and impressions in order to have a more comprehensive overview of the state of the ever-shifting fandom in the globalised world. This Panel is just the start of an ongoing conversation. I’d like to thank the panellists as well as the Oxonmoot organizers, and audience for their contributions (via chat) to this topic. Will a time ever come when we won’t need to discuss diversity in fiction, films/TV series, gaming, fandom and research?
About María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez
María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez inherited her first Tolkien’s books from her grandmother. She has studied English Literature and Linguistics, and a Minor in Art History at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She wrote her thesis on gender studies in Tolkien’s works, focussing on feminism. She promotes her love for literature, art and nature in her blog: Books from Fangorn. https://booksfromfangorn.com/about/
About Ali Ghaderi
Ali Ghaderi is an independent researcher. His research interests include high fantasy, continental and analytical philosophy, films/TV shows and contemporary American and British literature and popular culture. He has published papers on the continental philosophy and Tolkien’s high fantasy and American contemporary drama and fiction.
About Gözde Ersoy (participated in the Global Tolkien Panel, but was unable to contribute to this Roundtable)
Gözde Ersoy is an assistant professor of English Literature at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University, Turkey. She received her PhD in English Literature from Brunel University, London (UK) in 2016, with a thesis entitled “Trajectories, thresholds, transformations: Coming of age in classic modern fantasy fiction.” Her main research interest is the literature of fantastic in all its forms.
About Sultana Raza
An independent scholar, Sultana Raza has presented papers related to Romanticism (Keats) and Fantasy (Tolkien) in international conferences. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in Literary Yard, Litro, Literary Ladies Guide, impspired.
Of Indian origin, her poems have appeared in 100+ journals, with SFF work in Entropy, Columbia Journal, Star*line, Bewildering Stories, spillwords, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Peacock Journal, Antipodean SF, Galaxy#2, and impspired. Forthcoming: poems in the Musing on Muses Anthology (Birgid’s Gate Press) in 2022. Her fiction received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train Review, and has been published in Coldnoon Journal, Knot Magazine, and Entropy. She’s read her fiction/poems in Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, England, Ireland, the USA, and at WorldCon 2018, and CoNZealand 2019.
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sultana.raza.7
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4 thoughts on “Global Tolkien – A Roundtable”
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