Tolkien, the Russians and Industrialisation

Jim Clarke

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In his essay “A Secret Vice”, JRR Tolkien delineates how Middle Earth originated from his passion for glossopoeia. The world of Arda and the entire mythos located therein stem ultimately from his own scientific expertise in linguistics, and his desire to mould a world around his invented languages. Further, in “On Fairy Stories”, Tolkien explains how he finds man to be a supernatural creature, whereas fairies “are natural, far more natural than he.”
Thomas Woodman notes that Tolkien considers fantasy and romance to be the only realistic mode, since life at its deepest level is like a fairy story. Indeed, the entire plot of The Hobbit can be read as a fulfillment of GK Chesterton's assertion that “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
However, Tolkien's supernaturalism is primarily a pastoral one; the bucolic Shire and arboreal havens are no more realistic than the hobbits and elves which populate them. Tolkien contrasts these with the dark Satanic mills of Mordor and Isengard, heavily populated industrial areas where the inhabitants are shorn of their individuality and rendered monstrous. The clear moral delineation between Sauron and his allies and the forces of the West is evoked repeatedly by contrasting their relative responses to industrialisation and scientific experimentation.
However compelling the pastoralism of Tolkien's world creation, nevertheless it lacks scientific coherence and realistic rigour. As Kirill Yeskov has noted, the Professor makes no mention even of what coin is used as currency in Middle Earth. I intend to show that, writing within the significant Russian tradition of reworking Tolkien's oeuvre, a genre trapped between fan-fiction and Western copyright laws, he seeks to subvert Tolkien's narrative by positing that it is history written by the victor, propaganda resulting from “PR and info wars”.
For Yeskov, it is the Elves and not Sauron who are fascist aggressors, so frightened by the enlightened scientific progress of Mordorian culture that they must manipulate men into destroying it. Applying a scientific criticism to Tolkien's linguistic world-building, Yeskov Yeskov reimagines the War of the Ring from Mordor's perspective and recasts Middle Earth in a hyperrealistic inversion which opens it up to moral and political nuance. He reconstructs the War of the Ring as a culture clash between industrial progress and multicultural liberalism and the fascist and arcane power of supernatural magic.
I will demonstrate that Yeskov's novel operates not only within a lineage of fantasy inversions, such as Gregory Maguire's Wicked or Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula File, but also in the literary tradition of reworking classic literature from a subversive and illuminating perspective, such as Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
I will also show how Yeskov's recasting of Lord of the Rings as the propaganda of the victor illuminates a crucial blindspot of Tolkien's – the idea that industrialisation and science could be liberal and progressive.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Return of the Ring
EditorsLynn Forest-Hill
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherLuna Press/Tolkien Society
ISBN (Print)978-1-911143-03-1, 978-1-911143-02-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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