c’mon, we’re talking about elves here

In yet another episode in the continuing saga of Whiny-ass Complaints of Butt-hurt MAGA Fuckwits we learn there are people who are offended by the notion that elves aren’t necessarily White People. Seriously. This idiotic fuss is about the new Lord of the Rings prequel that has apparently just been released (see Editorial Note at the end).

“Casting a non-White actor to play an elf makes it more difficult for audiences to maintain their willing suspension of belief.”

No, it doesn’t. Casting a non-white actor to play an elf makes it more difficult for racist assholes to maintain their willing suspension of disbelief. The quote above was, according to CNN, from Louis Markos, who is apparently the author of From A to Z to Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien.

This Markos guy gets at least three things wrong. First, of course, is he misquotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s phrase– the willing suspension of disbelief. Back in 1817, Coleridge suggested that if a writer introduced “‘human interest and a semblance of truth’ into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.” This is why television viewers were willing to watch 12 seasons of Murder, She Wrote–they were willing to suspend their disbelief that Jessica Fletcher encountered more than 250 murders in the small Maine village of Cabot Cove. All fiction depends to some degree on the reader/viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief.

Second, Markos says casting actors of color as elves threatens the story’s ‘believability’ because Tolkien described elves as “fair-faced.” The term fair comes from the Old English term fæger, which when applied to living things meant “pleasing to the eye, attractive” and when applied to weather meant “clear, bright, pleasant”. Tolkien, remember, was an academic who studied Old English and Anglo-Saxon literature, and had at one time worked for the Old English Dictionary as an expert in etymology. He knew what ‘fair’ meant and how it applied to faces. Markos clearly doesn’t. Or–and I suppose this is a real possibility–he simply doesn’t believe non-White folks can be pleasing to the eye. It’s fucked up either way.

Wait…what’s this? Could it be? Elves of color? What?

Third, Markos claims casting actors of color “…is not something organic that’s coming out of Middle-earth. This is really an agenda that is being imposed upon it.” He’s almost got a point here. Almost. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is based on the Norse Miðgarðr, which they broadly described as the world “inhabited by and known to humans.” In the literature, Miðgarðr actually referred to the defensive wall around the world constructed by the gods from the eyebrows of the giant Ymir (which, by the way, requires some serious fucking suspension of disbelief). But Tolkien used Middle-earth to describe an imaginary period of the Earth’s past when peoples other than Men (elves, dwarves, trolls, hobbits, orcs, ents, etc.) still inhabited the planet, although in dwindling numbers. His Middle-earth did sort of correspond to western Europe in terms of geography.

But to my knowledge, there’s nothing Tolkien wrote to suggest peoples other than Men (and Tolkien used ‘Men’ to refer to all humankind) were necessarily White. I mean, we’re talking about elves here. If you can’t deal with Black or Asian or Indonesian or pick-a-race elves, then the problem isn’t your capacity to suspend disbelief. The problem is you’re a racist asshole.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I haven’t seen the show I’m talking about, which ordinarily would be a problem. But in this instance, the show itself is less important than the books on which the story is based and the credentials of the person who wrote them. I haven’t been inclined to watch the show, mainly because I had the misfortune of watching the first of Peter Jackson’s wretched interpretation of The Hobbit. That was enough to eradicate any desire to see any new visualization of Tolkien’s work.

But I’m actually hearing good things about this show from people who were as skeptical about it as I was. So at some point I’ll probably watch it.

Also? I usually like to include an image in these blog posts, and I did a quick image search for Rings of Power and saw some images of POC in costume, but since I couldn’t see their ears I’ve no idea if they were meant to be elves or something else. I didn’t want to just drop in some random image of a Black actor who may or may not be an elf, so…no image.

EDITORIAL NOTE 2: Thanks to Mark Alexander, we now have an imbedded image to demonstrate…well, I’m not exactly sure what it demonstrates. That actors of color can play non-human roles in fantasy stories? We already knew that. I guess it demonstrates just how fucking idiotic it is for racists to get frantic about Black actors getting gigs as elves.

20 thoughts on “c’mon, we’re talking about elves here

  1. Sooo, they are upset because IMAGINARY BEINGS don’t match their prejudices and narrow expectations since they themselves possess no imagination whatsoever?? I’m surprised they even read the books in the first place??

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  2. Ah, not seen it yet either. But really, they can’t cope with a black person in a totally make-believe world? They didn’t protest at blue people in Avatar I bet!

    And one of the black people in this adaptation is Lenny Henry! FGS he can do what the heck he likes. He’s a UK legend. My problem with him as an actor is that I struggle not to sit there waiting for the jokes to start. Expecting a punchline every moment. But he’s a good actor.

    White people are a strange breed. Our lack of melatonin makes us think we are special. Where as in fact we just lack something and get worse skin cancers as a result. Not much special about that.

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  3. I watched the first two eps. I thought it was pretty decent, especially from a production value point of view. The story seemed to go ok, if a little more Neil Gaiman than Tolkien, but hey I won’t quibble abut that. I thought it was fun and funny when Lenny Henry appeared as Sadoc Burrows. I thought Ismael Cruz Cordova was brooding and appropriately sexy* as Arondir and Sophia Nomvete was smashing and funny and perfect as the dwarven Princess Disa. The other casting was also pretty good – although Morfydd Clark seems a bit try-hard as Galadriel. Big shoes to fill, I guess.

    And then, next morning, my feeds were all full of the ‘controversy’ about the casting of people of colour in those various roles. I HADN’T EVEN NOTICED. Truthfully, I totally swear. If my willing suspension of disbelief was broken by anything at all, it was by Celebrimbor’s improbable toupee, or the fact that Galadriel was apparently intending to swim back from the Undying Lands to Middle Earth.

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    *There is absolutely ZERO hint of sex in the written LOTR canon either, but I swear that Arondir and Bronwyn were on the brink of ripping one another’s clothes off before they were interrupted by seeing the smoke from the smouldering ruins of Hordern. No-one seems to be having a hissy fit about hanky-panky breaking the willing suspension of disbelief.

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    • “Celebrimbor’s improbable toupee” sounds like a John Cleese sketch.

      I’m not surprised that you didn’t notice there were elves of color (and lawdy, that’s a strange expression) in the show. We live in a world where there are people of different races, different skin tones, different facial features. You walk down the street, you shop in stores, you watch television and movies, and the people who see in life are (or should be) the people you see on screen. Or vice versa.

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      • I should have said “Celebrimbor’s improbable Liberace toupee” in order to paint a more accurate picture.

        Don’t @ me for implying that elves might be gay.

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  4. I was a little gun shy at first for the same Hobbity reason, but I think you’ll like it.

    Galadriel is pretty intense, but she has to be, doesn’t she?

    I didn’t hear about the POC thing, but I did hear chatter about a strong female character.

    Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These people will complain about anything. They obviously don’t know anything about Elves. They come in all colors. Look in any fairy tale book. Many Elves have brown skin & they’re wearing green clothes, to blend in with the natural world. That’s why people don’t notice them. It isn’t just about the pointed ears.

    As to Jessica Fletcher … I have ALWAYS wondered why … in a small rural town in MAINE, she did not drive. Everyone drives in a small town unless you have numerous DWI’s & you have had your driver’s license taken away. & back in the 80s, that would have been a LOT of DWI’s … not like now. Especially since Jessica was friends with the sheriff.

    I know it was supposed to be a light murder mystery show but it seems to me that it would have been a much better show if Jessica had this background … maybe done some time in jail … made her into a much more real person. It would also explain why she didn’t drive at all.

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    • I’m sort of embarrassed to admit I haven’t seen a single episode of Murder, She Wrote. But the show is firmly embedded in popular culture, so I’m familiar with it. I wasn’t aware the lead character didn’t drive, but I LOVE the notion that she’d lost her license for some reason. At some point, I’ll have to carve out some time to watch an episode.

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      • You obviously haven’t had a mother in law with zero conversation after the initial “hello, do you fancy a brew?” and who was hooked on daytime TV channels that repeated everything endlessly from all decades. I’ve seen more Murder She Wrote than I would like. Although never a whole episode, so I’ve no idea who was killing who or why.

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      • As I understand it, Angela Lansbury didn’t want Jessica Fletcher to drive because she didn’t want any car chases ala Rockford Files or Magnum PI. But in later shows, she was in some car chases, only she was a passenger in the car.

        None of the shows are very well written. I liked them when I was younger. Now I just get annoyed.

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