A Marxist View of Tolkien’s Middle Earth

Superb commentary on Tolkien and his legacy, and the mysterious elements of that traditionalist revival of medieval (?) lore. It is hard to place Tolkien but in addition to the invaluable suggestions of the author of this piece one might note a possible hidden connection to the realm of sufism and the sufi story. Tolkien appeared in the era of a hidden sufi revivalist movement in the ‘West’ in the context of several New Age missionaries, viz. Blavatsky (quite different) and/or Gurjieff, easily spotted as influenced by sufism. A figure such as Idries Shah, a sort of pope of sufism, is another ambiguous case of such a seemingly sideshow history and his take on the sufi story as a classic sufi version of contemplative meditation that is a part, it is said, of a classic sufi tradition. I am not a sufi but have met a few and have actually heard it said Tolkien’s work was a sufi injection by unknown figures who, like many sufis weary of theistic fanaticism, saw in the West a chance to recast a magical meme set in new soil. Sufis wielding their baraka as spiritual energy is a direct echo here of Tolkien memes. Gandalf we might note resembles a suif sheik in many ways. There is no proof of this so it is another myth one would suppose. The author speaks of the feudal connection, ‘airbrushed’ out,

J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world is a medieval utopia with poverty and oppression airbrushed out of the picture. But Tolkien’s work also contains a romantic critique of industrial capitalism that is an important part of its vast popular appeal.

One might note that ‘magic’ has been airbrushed out of Marxism, and indeed secular humanism, and the result was a sterile scientism quite foreign indeed to the realm of the Frodo’s most mysterious take on ‘magic’. Children’s stories to the rescue! Notable in Tolkien’s tale is, first, the appearance of the ‘magic’ meme, and then, uncharacteristically by contrast to most children’s stories, its severe delimitation as a source of evil. Whence this strange combination of enthusiasm and prejudice? We do not have far to seek: the realm of ‘magic’ leads directly not to easy supernatural feats but to a shadow side (in Jungian jargon) of the self and the danger of psychological capture by that shadow. The point is obvious in the case of Gurdjieff who was a master of the will and yet a ‘fallen’ sufi lost in a world of he called ‘Beelzebub’. Gandalf’s dire warnings to Frodo find an echo there, and we can easily look at the issue in another non-sufistic version, the figure of Aleister Crowley whose foolhardy embrace of the Dark Side is another Frodo turned Orc in full trainwreck. That should provoke another question, what is the connection of sufism to larger traditions of buddhism, or yoga, etc…? Who knows but Idries Shah (in typical sufi fashion of mmonopolizing memes, ‘we did that’). In fact, Idries Shah is on record with such monopolizing thinking, claiming that Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry were sufi cast offs. We cannot easily arrive at knowledge here, but the tale of Frodo and Gandalf is likely connected to this larger field, which has too often been a reactionary antimodernist, counterrevolutionary, traditionalist.
We should leave it at that, and not mar this fine essay with exterior speculations, as Gandalf said to Frodo, ‘keep it secret, keep it safe’.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world is a medieval utopia with poverty and oppression airbrushed out of the picture. But Tolkien’s work also contains a romantic critique of industrial capitalism that is an important part of its vast popular appeal.

Source: A Marxist View of Tolkien’s Middle Earth

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