The Lord Of The Rings : Tolkien & Franco

Tolkien & Franco

Okay; this might sound somewhat like a heretical Ptero-like topic. (Well, maybe not; I'll man up and admit it's my own.) But it's very on-topic.

As most other people who loved/love Middle Earth and Tolkien's universe and characters in general (not to mention Jackson's first trilogy), I find myself hard-pressed to criticize the author/professor too much on any of his personal ideas or beliefs. He certainly was entitled to them.

However, as critical/thinking people (audiences, readers, spectators, debaters, etc.) in relatively free societies, I think we should be allowed to question others' ideas and beliefs too - yes, even wonderful authors like Prof. Tolkien's. For civilized discussion's sake, for exchange of ideas and insights (seeing the whys and whereofs of a bright man's notions, "for even the wise cannot see all ends", or err, as many of Tolkien's own wise characters did). And not necessarily for hatchet-jobs, being contrarian simply for the sake of it, raining on others' parades, trolling, etc.

That being said, I performed some research in the past few weeks regarding Prof. Tolkien's views on Franco and other actors in the Spanish Civil War (which has been called by many the "testing ground" or "dressing room" for the Second World War). And I raised an eye-brow, to say the least, when I came upon a few articles noting how, due to his strong Catholicism (and upbringing by an Anglo-Spanish priest, Father Francis Morgan), Prof. Tolkien seemed actually more sympathetic to Franco's cause than not.

(I don't know how accurate/biased this article is, but here is one, with a few grammatical errors, since the author's English is rather rusty, broaching this issue:

http://www.josemanuelferrandez.com/ENguerra.html.

And here's Wikipedia's brief paragraph on the subject:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien#Politics_and_race).

This might not be a mystery for some or that surprising, but - terrible as the partisans' killing of nuns and priests was (and infiltrated by Soviet intrigue as the Spanish Republic was) - I can't bring myself to justify or sympathize with Franco's actions (bombing of civilians, mass executions, etc.) I might understand Prof. Tolkien was in favor of traditional monarchy, traditional Catholicism, anarchism (or anarcho-monarchism, with a small "a", not the "whiskered assassins" promoting syndicalism), etc. But a repressive, Sauron-like (or Saruman-like) dictator waving a national Catholic flag did not quite stand for most of those things (as much as Franco said he did); he was no friend of "free peoples". How less authoritarian or terrible was Franco, in many ways, than the rest of Europe's 1930s-1940s gang (and/or Stalin)?

I'm trying to be open-minded, however, and tell myself that a) no human being, including Prof. Tolkien, is free from emotion, and that the Catholic church was like a home/refuge for him due to his orphaned childhood and upbringing. b) Even the most open-minded Spaniards and observers must admit that Spain in 1936 found itself in a fragile/impossible situation with both sides so radicalized (though it still doesn't justify Franco's deeds). And c) Perhaps Prof. Tolkien, from his Oxford location, didn't know or realize the full extent of Franco's atrocities, during war-time and later during his regime. (Though, to me, the Falangist element in Franco's movement, which tamed down somewhat during the 1950s, as well as the strong support he received and later tepidly gave to Hitler and Mussolini, was quite evident).

"Even the wise are not free from error".

Prof. Tolkien's private beliefs regarding Franco (whom I don't think was at the forefront of his thoughts, anyway) didn't translate to actions. He never gave the latter any direct or open support. I would like to think that down the road, anyway, in hindsight, if he had known the extent of what Franco did, opposing/seeing what Franco's cronies did (to the majority of Europe and to his own country too) and realizing how complex Spain's situation in the 1930s was (instead of black and white), he might have felt/thought differently.

Can/do I continue to love Tolkien's universe? Not to mention Peter Jackson's interpretation of it (in the first trilogy, anyway)?

Of course I do. Up to a certain point, "the text's meaning is defined by the reader, not by the writer and his personal life". (The film's too, for that matter).

And beyond that, again, no-one is perfect; even the wise err. Maybe for some, if not all, Franco's deeds seemed more ambiguous than his cronies'; I'm harder-pressed to get a straight answer (or one with as much conviction) regarding him from most people than that of Europe's other more infamous dictators from the 1930s-1940s. (Indeed, I have a friend or two from Spain who don't think he was that bad, though others would disagree).

Feel free to give your own thoughts or impressions.


Re: Tolkien & Franco

Hi kjnics; This topic has a discussion on the Tolkien Board. It is still there and it was begun in 2003!
The first response on that ancient thread was written by me. Yes, I'm that old.
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0866058/board/nest/4761136?ref_=nm_bd_1

- The topic of this thread could also be subtitled "Tolkien and the killing of priests and nuns".

Here is the quote from Wikipedia;

Tolkien voiced support for the Nationalists (eventually led by Franco during the Spanish Civil War) upon hearing that communist Republicans were destroying churches and killing priests and nuns.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien#Politics_and_race

One other thing that the anarchists did in the Spanish Civil War was destroy everything in Gaudí's workshop for the Sagrada Familia church. A good thing? I don't think so.

- I believe we need to try and tease out the various topics here;
- massacres,
- the destruction of art
- and racism.
In something as complex as the Spanish Civil War those can be more difficult to separate.
And deciding on a final conclusion with messy situations is not as simple as black and white, or all good vs. all evil.
- From a distance of time and geography I support the Republic in the Spanish Civi War but at that time?
My mother tells me when she was a child, the topic could not even be brought up in her Spanish speaking family in New York because the subject was so controversial.

* On more clear topics, Tolkien had these views (again from the Wikipedia article).
- Racism;

Tolkien once wrote of racial segregation in South Africa, "The treatment of colour nearly always horrifies anyone going out from Britain."

- Nazis;

Tolkien vocally opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party prior to the Second World War, and was known to especially despise Nazi racist and anti-Semitic ideology. In 1938, the publishing house Rütten & Loening Verlag was preparing to release The Hobbit in Nazi Germany. To Tolkien's outrage, he was asked beforehand whether he was of Aryan origin. In a letter to his British publisher Stanley Unwin, he condemned Nazi "race-doctrine" as "wholly pernicious and unscientific". He added that he had many Jewish friends and was considering "letting a German translation go hang".[112] He provided two letters to Rütten & Loening and instructed Unwin to send whichever he preferred. The more tactful letter was sent and was lost during the later bombing of Germany. In the unsent letter, Tolkien makes the point that "Aryan" is a linguistic term, denoting speakers of Indo-Iranian languages. He continued,

"But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the 18th century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject—which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride."



Continuing;

In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, he expressed his resentment at the distortion of Germanic history in "Nordicism":

"You have to understand the good in things, to detect the real evil. But no one ever calls on me to "broadcast" or do a postscript. Yet I suppose I know better than most what is the truth about this "Nordic" nonsense. Anyway, I have in this war a burning private grudge... against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler ... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."



Imo at least, BB ;-)

it is just in my opinion - imo - 🌈

Re: Tolkien & Franco

Hi kjnics; This topic has a discussion on the Tolkien Board. It is still there and it was begun in 2003! The first response on that ancient thread was written by me. Yes, I'm that old.

That certainly is a vintage thread, BB; how has it survived so long? That's almost a year before I came upon these boards.

I'll be saving the link to the Tolkien board to browse through that and other of those old threads later; such good discussions and memories; thank you!

The topic of this thread could also be subtitled "Tolkien and the killing of priests and nuns".

I think that's rather accurate; it seems to be the aspect of Spain's Civil War which affected Prof. Tolkien the most and influenced his stance on the matter.

One other thing that the anarchists did in the Spanish Civil War was destroy everything in Gaudí's workshop for the Sagrada Familia church. A good thing? I don't think so.

I wasn't aware of that. That's another example of how radicalized certain segments of both sides had become.

I know there's no excusing what many militants on the Republic's side did towards some of their enemies and the artwork you mention. (And it is said that if the Republic had won, it would most likely have fallen into Stalin's or the USSR's orbit, resulting in a very nasty alternate outcome).

But again, the average civilians killed in Franco's bombings (with the help of Hitler's Condor Legion), etc. were, well, civilians (including mothers and children), not militants.

And additionally many of Franco's opponents were relatively moderate professors, intellectuals, writers, poets, etc. (like García Lorca). There were 500,000 killed on both sides during the war (and another 40,000 Republic sympathizers executed afterwards), not to mention the many exiles and orphans who fled to the UK, France, Argentina, Mexico, etc.

(Franco's bombings of Madrid, Barcelona, etc. damaged those cities' architecture and infrastructure pretty badly, too; so many of Madrid's fine art deco and university buildings were in ruins, not to mention Guernica or other small towns). It seems like "the Empire Strikes Back" in some ways.

I suppose Spain's situation/fate was not too different from much of Central/Eastern Europe's at the end of the day. It was prey to falling into the hands of either one group of tyrants or another, both engaging in war crimes and atrocities (with innocent civilians caught in the middle and suffering the consequences).

I just think, insurgent dictator or not (or national Catholic or not) Franco could have committed less war crimes, massacres and destruction. (Though I agree, various militants on the other side, particularly the Soviet-aligned ones, went too far as well; most movies regarding the Republic's fighters and International Brigades depict the Soviet-backed treachery and cruelty as rather brutal).

- I believe we need to try and tease out the various topics here;
- massacres,
- the destruction of art
- and racism.

In something as complex as the Spanish Civil War those can be more difficult to separate.


That's very true; though with Franco, to his credit (at least), I really don't think racial thinking was too strong of a factor (despite Spain's centuries old history of anti-Semitism); he had Moorish legions fighting for him, etc. Race seemed to be Hitler's obsession, mostly, as far as Europe's fascist dictators went (even Mussolini seemed less keen on this issue).

As far as Prof. Tolkien is concerned, the discussion on his board you provide is spot-on in detailing information regarding his views on Hitler, the Nazis, etc. I've read and considered these themes before (not to mention how he portrayed Middle Earth's different species, orcs, races of men, etc. in his novels, which I really don't have a problem with for the many reasons argued in that thread).

(I incidentally wish the Wikipedia article I posted didn't link Prof. Tolkien's political and racial views together; as I think they're different subjects and Tolkien made his stance on Hitler and the Nazis very clear from the start). I've always appreciated that particular letter he wrote to his son calling out Hitler's thwarting of Nordic mythology and using it for his own twisted purposes.

With Franco, perhaps it was his lack of race-centered thought that made him seem more ambiguous or even relatively benign compared to Hitler. (Outmatching Hitler in evil, as far as European dictators were concerned, was really a difficult feat; only Stalin, by the sheer number of people he had killed, seemed to rival him).

And deciding on a final conclusion with messy situations is not as simple as black and white, or all good vs. all evil.

- From a distance of time and geography I support the Republic in the Spanish Civil War but at that time?

My mother tells me when she was a child, the topic could not even be brought up in her Spanish speaking family in New York because the subject was so controversial.


Those are sound conclusions; and what your mother said regarding her family's silent stance regarding Spain makes sense.

I've wondered what side various people I know, from past and present generations (including some of my mother's relatives), would have taken if they had been in Spain back then. Various other Spanish-speaking countries had their own religious/ideological wars in the past and still have church vs. secular issues to this day.

I think a middle ground is often/usually best (though it's a hard one; Ortega y Gasset, the writer, tried to stay out of Spain's fray and ended up pleasing neither side). While men like Pinochet, the Argentine generals, etc. went overboard (mini-Francos, one could say), so did radical secularists like Plutarco E. Calles (a 1920s Mexican president who had thousands of Catholics killed in the country's heartland). Not to mention Castro, etc.

Re: Tolkien & Franco

Hi again kjnics;

"That certainly is a vintage thread, BB; how has it survived so long? That's almost a year before I came upon these boards."

IMDb has been gracious to allow very old threads to remain on the Tolkien Board. As a result, some of us Ringnuts, many years ago, decided to archive some of our favorite threads there.
athene has several threads on the Tolkien Board (I have a couple) which can be as old as 2003.

"I've wondered what side various people I know, from past and present generations (including some of my mother's relatives), would have taken if they had been in Spain back then. Various other Spanish-speaking countries had their own religious/ideological wars in the past and still have church vs. secular issues to this day.'

It's very difficult for some literally raised within the Catholic Church.
My grandmother was raised in a convent.
Tolkien's parents were dead and his guardian was a priest.
I don't think the issue for them in the Civil War was about race. It was a question of the destruction of churches and the killing priests and nuns.
- One problem with the Spanish Civil War is that the powerful western democracies did not want to get involved. England, the US and France were neutral. So, the fascists helped Franco.

"And it is said that if the Republic had won, it would most likely have fallen into Stalin's or the USSR's orbit, resulting in a very nasty alternate outcome"

Yes, on the other side the USSR under Stalin lent aid. The League of Nations was a failure then.
Again, I support the republican side but there was little room for moderation with those extremes which led to a blood bath.

"Outmatching Hitler in evil, as far as European dictators were concerned, was really a difficult feat; only Stalin, by the sheer number of people he had killed, seemed to rival him"

You bring up one of the dilemmas in the 30s of picking a progressive side. Hitter is an obvious evil but even he was praised sporadically through much of the 30s by prominent people in the West including Charles Lindbergh.
In the 30s there were strong fascist movements throughout Europe and the US.
Stalin presented even a more difficult problem. My father was a teenager in the late 30s and he remembered that the far left in the US was very pro Stalin.
A person was lucky to be in tolerant parts of Britain or the US at the time where moderation was possible.
This is where Tolkien was imo, a moderate, reasonable man.
By contrast, much of the world at that time had gone mad.

"men like Pinochet, the Argentine generals,"

Terrible rulers and there were many others on the right.

"radical secularists like Plutarco E. Calles (a 1920s Mexican president who had thousands of Catholics killed in the country's heartland). Not to mention Castro,"

At the same time there was Pol Pot in Cambodia and North Korea continues up to today to be pretty horrible.
- In my college days the praises of Mao's Cultural Revolution was a common thing. Even the Communist Chinese today admit that the CR was a terrible mistake.

"That's very true; though with Franco, to his credit (at least), I really don't think racial thinking was too strong of a factor (despite Spain's centuries old history of anti-Semitism); he had Moorish legions fighting for him,"

- Franco was a brutal dictator who rounded up his opponents and tortured and killed them. Franco and his allies levels towns. His regime is disgusting.
But in terms of outward appearance (what the Nazis would call race but I believe we are all one race) Italians and Spaniards are a mix of multiple groups of peoples from all over Europe and Africa as a result of thousands of years of invasion and migration.
In the same Italian and Spanish families (mine is Italian/Spanish) one can find people with blue eyes and blond hair, my brother for instance, and others with dark brown hair and brown eyes, me for instance.
The Mediterranean is a melting pot of different peoples as the US is.

"Race seemed to be Hitler's obsession..."

Some nutty pseudo science got a following in the 1800s which measured skull shapes and some decided that the color of hair, skin and eyes perfectly related to superiority. For some reason parts of Germany and Austria completely latched on to this nonsense into the 20th century. Wagner and his circle played with these ridiculous ideas for a while and Hitler and his gang were absolutely convinced of it. To such an extent that the Nazis wanted to go on the mass genocide road for the Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs. The subSaharan Africans I assume would all be slaves. Something like the nightmare in Phillip K. Dick's dystopian novel, "The Man In The Hight Castle".

Imo at least, BB ;-)

it is just in my opinion - imo - 🌈

Re: Tolkien & Franco

IMDb has been gracious to allow very old threads to remain on the Tolkien Board. As a result, some of us Ringnuts, many years ago, decided to archive some of our favorite threads there. athene has several threads on the Tolkien Board (I have a couple) which can be as old as 2003.

Hey again, BB. I hope someone has those old threads archived somewhere else too, as they were/are good discussions. There were many other good ones back in the day on some of the other boards (particularly the Return of the King one) which would have been nice for someone to have saved.

- One problem with the Spanish Civil War is that the powerful western democracies did not want to get involved. England, the US and France were neutral. So, the fascists helped Franco.

That neutrality you mention makes me recall The King's Speech movie, when the elderly King George V discusses the red and fascist threats with his oldest son David/Edward VIII (the one who later abdicated to his younger brother Albert/George VI).

"Buying yet more pearls for Wallis while there are people marching across Europe singing 'The Red Flag'?"

"Stop your worrying. Herr Hitler will sort that lot out."

"Who'll sort out Herr Hitler?"


It's clear that most people in the 1930s, even monarchs, were scared/confused as to which of the two sides was the the greater threat.

At the same time there was Pol Pot in Cambodia and North Korea continues up to today to be pretty horrible.

- In my college days the praises of Mao's Cultural Revolution was a common thing. Even the Communist Chinese today admit that the CR was a terrible mistake.


The Khmer Rouge was genocidal, but for some reason the Cultural Revolution gives me a particular brand of shivers. Giddy young people going out to punish/slaughter their professors and other elders (while singing and dancing) was a sort of anti-generational conflict, from my point of view (apart from anti-intellectual, like the others). I hope we don't see something like that again.

But in terms of outward appearance (what the Nazis would call race but I believe we are all one race) Italians and Spaniards are a mix of multiple groups of peoples from all over Europe and Africa as a result of thousands of years of invasion and migration.

In the same Italian and Spanish families (mine is Italian/Spanish) one can find people with blue eyes and blond hair, my brother for instance, and others with dark brown hair and brown eyes, me for instance.

The Mediterranean is a melting pot of different peoples as the US is.

Some nutty pseudo science got a following in the 1800s which measured skull shapes and some decided that the color of hair, skin and eyes perfectly related to superiority. For some reason parts of Germany and Austria completely latched on to this nonsense into the 20th century.


I think we're all one human race too; that's why I usually prefer the term "ethnic group" or something of the like to race. (Though, as I understand it, ethnicity goes tied in with linguistic, religious and other factors). Perhaps human genetics (or "genetic group") is the most adequate term.

The study of the latter, along with haplogroups, etc. has shown how erroneous/limited that 19th century brand of classifying people was, at any rate. (Not to mention how genetics and culture are two different things. When one sees pictures of blond or redheaded people in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Middle East and/or Asia, or sub-Saharan African children with blue eyes, those 19th century notions fall on their heads.)

As you say, the Mediterranean is a strong melting pot. But most of Europe is too, for that matter, including the Germanic and/or Slavic parts (if you go back far enough into different individuals'/groups' histories, whether two generations or two thousand years). I think this applies to most of the world, including the Japanese (it's somewhat humorous to see here in the Slavic world people arguing about which of their Slavic neighbors are "more Asian/Mongol" than others).

As an anecdote, as I've mentioned to another Ringnut or two before, my father is American (with one British parent and another Anglo-Canadian one) and mother Mexican (of more Spanish than Native ancestry, though most modern Mexicans simply identify themselves as "mestizo" if asked). My sister and I were both born in Germany (due to my father's US military career), but neither of us has German ancestry or citizenship (though we have a German aunt in-law and cousin). Various of our relatives, including my sister (whose husband is Italian) and father (whose second wife is Chinese), are married to people from different countries.

What I tell people is that none of these national/ethnic backgrounds are homogeneous; if one digs into my "Anglo-Saxon" grandparents' background far enough one will find Celtic branches, Jewish convert heritage, French, Greek, etc. (Not to mention most English people, as we know them today, came from their own amalgamation of pre-Celtic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Norman, etc. groups).

Not too different from Spain or Italy, with ancestry at some point from every other corner of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, etc. (This is regardless of their current inner regionalisms and nationalisms or ways of differentiating themselves, aka Catalan, Basque, Neapolitan, Lombard, etc.)

We all form part of a continuum, genetically, culturally, religiously (or secularly) and other-wise.

Wagner and his circle played with these ridiculous ideas for a while and Hitler and his gang were absolutely convinced of it. To such an extent that the Nazis wanted to go on the mass genocide road for the Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.

I'm not too versed on Wagner. But from the little I know, I'm glad Prof. Tolkien did not like him or his way of interpreting German myths.

The whole Franco mess aside, I agree that the professor seemed mostly like a moderate, reasonable man (and one with a compassionate heart, I might add). The latter (and Jackson's first trilogy) are especially why I love his works.

(P.S. As I side-note, I like to think Prof. Tolkien would have been glad to have seen Spain's restoration of the Bourbon constitutional monarchy in 1975. King Juan Carlos I's reign, despite some groups' discontent and/or his family's recent scandals, was mostly a healing and peaceful one. He might not have been as wise or noble as Aragorn, plus a lot of what's happened in Spain for good or ill since has largely been his PMs' doings, but he did a mostly fine job, I think.)

Re: Tolkien & Franco

Very thoughtful kjnics, thank you.

"I like to think Prof. Tolkien would have been glad to have seen Spain's restoration of the Bourbon constitutional monarchy in 1975."

I'd also like to think so.
He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1972 and he enjoyed that a lot.

"We all form part of a continuum, genetically, culturally, religiously (or secularly) and other-wise."

Yes.

"As you say, the Mediterranean is a strong melting pot. But most of Europe is too, for that matter, including the Germanic and/or Slavic parts (if you go back far enough into different individuals'/groups' histories,"

Well put.

"My sister and I were both born in Germany (due to my father's US military career),"

Same with my wife.

"When one sees pictures of blond or redheaded people in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Middle East and/or Asia, or sub-Saharan African children with blue eyes, those 19th century notions fall on their heads.)"

Oh yes, also with blond Australian aborigines.
It's just pigment after all.
Today I saw the movie "Hidden Figures". It illustrates very well how irrelevant what shade we are is imo.

"It's clear that most people in the 1930s, even monarchs, were scared/confused as to which of the two sides was the the greater threat."

David/Edward VIII (the one who later abdicated) was sympathetic to Hitler and he and his wife were shuttled off to the Bahamas during World War 2 to make sure he could not be used by the Nazis.
Certainly confusing times.

"I hope someone has those old threads archived somewhere else too,"

I don't know. It's been about 14 years since the height of the Ringnut community. Some people tried to save lots of the Board discussions but I have little idea how to access that now.
The easiest source is the Tolkien Board.

Imo at least, BB ;-)

it is just in my opinion - imo - 🌈
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