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J.R.R Tolkien and the Nazis
Pretty much everyone knows that JRR Tolkien was the pre-eminent fantasy writer of the past century, if not all time. His writing contains uniquely invented languages, epic back stories, and creatures that could only have proceeded from his imagination. Far from the nihilistic and often crude work of the so-called “American Tolkien” George R.R. Martin of “Game of Thrones” fame, Tolkien’s work was full of beauty, whimsy and hidden truth.
What most people probably don’t know is that the Nazis were a pretty big fan of Tolkien, too.
The Nazis were (as historian Heather Pringle lays out brilliantly in her recent book The Master Plan) attempting to re-create their twisted fantasy of what ancient Germanic civilization looked like. Tolkien, an academic with expertise in Old Norse and Old English literature who valued his academic work much more than the fantasy literature he wrote as a hobby, had written much on old Germanic culture that proved popular among the Nazis. Tolkien was so appreciated by the Nazis that he was asked by the German publisher Rütten & Loening in 1938 to affirm that he was, indeed, of “Aryan” lineage before the planned release of a German translation of The Hobbit.
Tolkien responded to their inquiry into his heritage with the following letter:
25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. 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 eighteenth 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.
Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and remain yours faithfully,
J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien found the Nazi obsession with German heritage perverted and repulsive, and told them so in a distinctly British fashion. He later wrote to his son that, “I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler ... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."
For just as in his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien knew that evil had to be destroyed—or it would destroy us. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
Reprinted with permssion from Unmasking Choice
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