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.
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.