It might be a bit cliché, but it’s true: every time I re-read Tolkien, I get something a little different out of the experience. I read The Silmarillion early in the pandemic, and just finished up The Lord of The Rings this week—I’d been reading the latter very slowly, a chapter-a-day comfort read in between other things.
Some observations, in no particular order, and of no necessarily ground-shaking import:
Land history and dispossession:
This is one that’s crept up on me a lot over the last couple re-reads. I think I actually haven’t read LOTR in a couple years, so hadn’t got to the Púkel-men since I’ve had that thought.
With the caveat that Tolkien’s worldbuilding vey much supports “we’re all immigrants” from a deep-time perspective—in any given of his eras, people are moving around, often fleeing some shadow or trouble and moving to new land—it’s remarkable how much there is to grab onto here in terms of land originalism and displacement. The actual text is littered with clues that a lot of the anti-Númenórean (and by extension, anti-Elf) attitudes in the world are well-deserved, that Númenor enslaved and displaced and left a long legacy of resentment. By no means do I think Tolkien was unaware of this angle, but it’s quiet, and I wonder how much of his basing the Good, Western Tall Guys on Britain etc. just kind of entails that “yeah, they’re great so they’ll build empires and do some bad shit by the by.”
Ghân-buri-Ghân is a weird mashup of stereotypes of “primitive” peoples, would probably be more offensive if it weren’t so broad; what strikes me more is just that he’s included, this Noble Savage with strange echoes of African & Pacific peoples, right in the middle of the EXTREMELEY ANGLOPHILIC ride of the Rohirrim. Right when the text itself getting the most Olde English Horny it ever does—which is saying something—with the narrator and Theoden’s speeches increasingly mimicking Beowulfian rhythms and devices, here pops up this living reminder of another people, who were there first. It’s a weird moment, and, like Bombadil and many other Tolkien asides, it’s easy to imagine a modern editor saying “hey, maybe cut this?”—but it leaves in this rich weirdness.