I had read and enjoyed both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy as a young adult in the 1980s, but I could not get through The Silmarillion, which I imagine is a minimum requirement of true Tolkien fandom.
An incident with a roommate prompted me to begin applying these new beliefs to popular culture I consumed. This roommate, seeing me enjoying an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, scoffed and told me, “The Federation is just NATO in space.”
On a slow Saturday afternoon, after watching an exciting men’s Wimbledon doubles final, I found myself on my laptop putzing around with Peter Jackson’s 2013 film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug playing on the TV. In order to include more Tolkien material and/or exploit fans, Jackson and the film studio made three movies out of the relatively short book. In the 2nd installment’s first scene, the wizard Gandalf, a recurring character in Hobbit and LOTR, meets with Thorin trying to convince him to claim the kingship of the dwarves and muster an army to retake some place or attack somebody. Thorin replies that he can’t do so without the Arkenstone, which the dragon Smaug, best understood as late stage Finance Capitalism or perhaps a client of imperialism who stepped out of line and had to be restrained like Noriega or Saddam Hussein, guards under The Lonely Mountain. So then Gandalf sends Bilbo, Thorin and his fellowship of dwarves on the covert regime change operation which sets in motion all the violence in Hobbit and LOTR. In fact, all of the violence of Hobbit and LOTR can be understood as blowback from Gandalf’s scheme.
Later, Gandalf meets with the wizard Radagast and asks him to involve the Lady Galadriel in a preemptive strike on Dol Goldur. Lady Galadriel is the Elven co-ruler of Lothlórien, and, like Thranduil of the Woodland Realm of northern Mirkwood and most of the Elven rulers , are reluctant to involve themselves in the conflicts among humans and other sentient species in Middle Earth.
The Desolation of Smaug introduces Tauriel, a non-canonical character (i.e. never appears in a published Tolkien work) whose liberal interventionist views caught my attention and led to this blog entry.
Tauriel first appears in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as a captain of the Mirkwood Elven Guard. … Later, Thranduil confronts Tauriel, telling her that, as a captain of the guard, she must drive the Giant Spiders out of Mirkwood. She explains that new spiders continually enter the kingdom after the previous ones were wiped out. She suggests sorties to destroy the spiders’ source outside the kingdom’s boundaries near Dol Guldur, but this idea is quickly dismissed by Thranduil. When she asks what will happen to other lands after the spiders are driven from Mirkwood, Thranduil says that the other lands are not his concern.
She then leaves the palace without the permission of the Elf-king to search for the [escaped] Dwarves[, whom a party of orcs is hunting]. Legolas confronts her and asks her to come back with him so that Thranduil may forgive her. But Tauriel insists that the fight also involves them, and argues that the king’s isolationist policies blind them from larger issues affecting the entire world.
So basically, Gandalf is the John Bolton of Middle Earth. Gandalf is a ruthless, manipulative true believer in preventive war against the evils complacent, non-interventionist rulers ignore.
And when I think about it, a major plot line of LOTR is forming a “Coalition of the Willing” of monarchies taken from European mythologies and histories to fight Sauron, orcs, goblins, Easterlings and Southrons (Harardrim), who, whether Tolkien intended it or not, work as stand-ins for communism and the peoples of the Global South. This emerges even more in the Peter Jackson movies.
I stand with Sauron!