In the first episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the show features a clash of cultures between the men of the Southlands and the elves who watch over them. The conflict is of different time scales: for the elves, the humans of this region only single stopped working for Morgoth. For humans, that war is hundreds of years ago.
It’s a fascinating contrast, one that speaks to the true strangeness of daily human cohabitation with elves in a way that Tolkien never shed light on. But fast-forward a couple of episodes to the land of Númenor, and we’re seeing a mob raging against the elves for the most pedestrian reason.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 4.]
At the beginning of “The Great Wave”, power rings visit a bustling Númenórean square where a craftsman from the guild, one of the guys who took a beating in the previous episode, dabbles in the ancient tradition of inciting a crowd.
“Elven workers, taking up their trades!” he forecasts, based on the presence of an elf and a (already imprisoned) human ally. “Workers who don’t sleep, don’t get tired, don’t get old!” Galadriel and Halbrand’s presence on Númenor is apparently a slippery slope towards a full takeover of the Númenórean economy…? For… low-wage millennial workers?
His words goad his audience into a derogatory chant of “Elf lover!” against her own queen, until they are silenced by an equally brief speech for the opposite position and the sudden appearance of a round of drinks. So much for the people so fair that the gods gave them a whole blessed island.
Needless to say, this is a terrible line of thought. Racism should have no refuge in human society. I don’t support hating elves, or anyone.
But if you were going to hate elves, there are much more obvious, present, and logical reasons that “they’re going to take your job away”.
Elves are pretty obnoxious, actually.
The fantastical details of Tolkien’s goblins have been a topic of much discussion lately. And as a Tolkien expert at Polygon I keep waiting for someone to ask me about the elephant in the room: Why do elves have it so much better than men in Tolkien’s legendarium?
If you are a man (or a woman, commonly known as, checks, notes, woman) in Middle-earth, here are some facts:
- Elves are more physically skilled than you in basically every way.
- The gods created a special paradise for the elves that you cannot visit
- Elves are immortal and you have to die. As soon!
It’s important to remember that elves aren’t just prettier, more graceful humans.
elves are vulcans
You can trace a direct line of “high, brooding outsider” from Tolkien’s elves, through a bunch of nerdy minds and Aquarian Age thinking, to star trekThe very racial metaphor of pointy ears, emotionally detached, with mysterious psychic powers.
There’s a lot of Vulcan/Human bias early on. star trek. Spock’s human heritage makes him the center of childhood bullying by Vulcan classmates who believe he will make him unsuitable by Vulcan standards. In Starfleet, he becomes the tipping point of intolerance again, but on the part of the humans, and not because they think the Vulcans are going to take their jobs away.
Vulcan/Human bias is expressed in characters who find Vulcan mannerisms so unfamiliar that they are interpreted as offense or disdain. From those roots come the humans who say they could never work alongside a Vulcan. Who think humanity and the Vulcans can never find common cause. And Vulcans who feel the same way about humans.
This is exactly the gap that should exist between men and elves: a clash of cultures that leads to a lack of trust.
Why do humans have it so bad in middle earth?
Tolkien never presented human mortality as something negative in his work. It was part of the ineffable intention of the creator of the universe that those of the race of men should die and that what happened to their souls after that would be known only to him and the god of the afterlife. And for a deeply Catholic man, it’s a big step to present human fallibility as a blessing from a creator, rather than a punishment for sin.
And of course, the elves get a lot of benefits. But the downside of being an elf is that you don’t have free will, especially compared to humans. Elves, all elves, are afflicted with a divinely inspired yearning for Valinor that eventually overshadows all other desires in their lives. And what they have in physical toughness is balanced by emotional durability. There are many stories in Tolkien’s work of elves who cannot put traumatic experiences behind them, and yet cannot die, their physical forms withering until they are nothing more than weary ghosts. If you look at it that way, a God-created paradise where nothing bad ever happens is less of an advantage and more of a necessity.
Modern fantasy readers may be used to settings like Dungeons and Dragons, the works of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, or even Marvel and DC Comics, where gods either require the worship of mortals as the source of their power, or seek the worship of mortals. of mortals as a matter. of ego But the gods of Middle-earth are something else entirely. nobody in The Lord of the rings ever go to church, we never meet a priest, the concept of prayer is simply not discussed.
The gods of Middle-earth do not seek or require worship, because they simply are, even if they don’t come very often. Humans must have faith, not that gods exist, but that their work is a blessing, and that there is something for them beyond the living struggle of Middle-earth, even if the gods haven’t said what it is.
But the elves do not need faith in the gods. They can feel their divine work within them at all times. And for a story written by a deeply rooted Catholic man, that might be the strangest thing about them.
A man who despises goblins for having clear and concrete blessings where he only has faith is a man who despises the gods. That he is, as we know from the silmarillion, exactly where the Númenor plot of the series is going. Sauron will manipulate the most blessed nation of men to reject his gods and gather a fleet to invade heaven and take his own immortality by force.
It’s not a story about “economic anxiety” but about anger at the creator that made elves and humans so different. And that’s really where “the goblins will take your job” fails to suspend belief. Because why would an elf want to make burgers when he can just sail a little further west and go to heaven?
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