Similarities between Tolkien and Orwell

Originally published at: Similarities between Tolkien and Orwell | Boing Boing


distaste for supervision and intrusion

Yeah, that one is important.


genuine belief in equality and democracy

As demonstrated by Tolkien’s promotion of the monarchical principle throughout The Lord of the Rings, as well as his British middle-class love for working-class blokes like Sam Gamgee as long as they know their place and stick to it by obeying their master


Came here to mention Tolkien’s conscious love of monarchism and hierarchy.

Beautiful tales beautifully told, and also worth considering that vein in it.

genuine belief in equality and democracy

(Tolkien is fantasy writing and should not be subject to this type of analysis, but since it is…) “Equality” and “democracy”, simply because everyone bands together to fight off literal evil, is not what you should associate with Tolkien’s world.

Society is, more or less, strictly segregated by race. Should any race be where he not “supposed” to be, it’s a problem. (eg, hobbits in the men’s town; Aragorn trying to marry an elf.)

And men — and it is men, for the most part: it’s a big deal when a female takes part with the Rohirrim; it’s joked that female dwarves might not even exist — are all ruled in a feudal, divine right, patrilineal, primogeniture, racist government. Aragorn, all the Numenoreans, are inherently “good”, and because of that they are favored by the creator to “do well” (be smarter, live longer, grow taller, be worthy of kingship). When Aragorn assumes throne, by acclamation, he is as autocratic as any medieval king. Dwarves and elves seems to do little better, in terms of “democratic” institutions; both also have monarchies with seemingly no parliaments/legislatures.

Yes, it’s ridiculous to scrutinize and analyze Tolkien, holding his world to modern liberal standards, but we shouldn’t think that his world is one of modern liberal standards.

A more interesting question is: Why is it so comforting to have legendary stories about righteous autocrats:

          Star Wars… Would you like to be ruled by a theocratic oligarchy based on genetics?
          Game of Thrones… It wasn’t that autocracy was bad. It was that bad autocrats were bad. Put a Stark on the Thone and everything will be fine.
          Harry Potter… I’m a little shakey on due process once you’re in Azkaban.


Heather Chandler Movie GIF by filmeditor

Taking art seriously means this kind of analysis (not only, of course). Why not try and understand the inherent biases in these works and what it says about the people who wrote them, read them, and were shaped by them?


Those modern liberal standards were part of the world then, too. The fact that we’re talking about two comtemporaries here (Tolkein and Orwell) whose works speak to various kinds of values that were part of the political landscape at the time shows that. The interwar period was very much full of the exact same debates we’re having right now with regards to world systems and which is best suited for us to live in - authoritarianism, fascist, communism, socialism, anarchism, liberal democracy were ALL part of these discussions and clues to how people felt about them can very much be found in the literature of the day - explicitly political or not.

That is a good question, but by your won admission we should not be discussing that in fantasy novels, despite the fact that fantasy (and sci-fi) are powerful ways to examine political structures and ideas.



(And succeeding, by the way, in one of three legendary and glorious examples in the mythology of that happening, another of which Tolkien showed how important it was by having “Beren” and “Luthien” inscribed on his and his wife’s headstones.)

You mean Bree? Where men and hobbits mixed and traded freely, and the innkeeper had rooms and mugs specifically sized for his hobbit patrons?
Or Laketown, where the dwarves were a curiosity, until they became pariahs not because of their race but because of their actions? Or the gates of Moria which were a glorious and longed-for reminder of the days when elves and dwarves worked together in friendship?

Aragorn, son of Arathorn.

Including Ar-Pharazôn, last king of Numenor (who was the last king of Numenor because his actions caused it to be destroyed)? Including the Black Numenoreans? Including the Witch-King of Angmar and the Mouth of Sauron?

Aragorn. He’s one of the most important characters, it shouldn’t be that hard to remember his name.

Because Tolkien was a (possibly the) world expert on Anglo-Saxon literature and mythology, and wanted to create a mythology around the concepts found in it. He wasn’t writing about current affairs, even if some found their way in despite that.

There’s a lot to unpack about the societies he valorised, and a lot to say about his treatment of the Other, and his depiction of women generally (although Éowyn is certainly notable in that it was recognised in the text that she yearned for a chance to show her valour, was systematically denied it be society and custom, and it was recognised that this was unfair and unjust).

But while the societies he put on a pedestal were the grand high patriarchal monarchies, the society he loved was the country village in the Midlands, where the King was far away and left everyone to manage themselves. The sagas and epic poems are full of glorious (and also of corrupt and degraded) absolute monarchies, Tolkien was trying to write so that his childhood had a place in that world.


David Brin wrote the definitive take-down of Tolkien’s deeply conservative views:


Just so we’re clear, I’m not the one defending his worldview, whatever it may be… I’m simply noting that these discussions were happening when he wrote these books.

Thanks for the link.


No hard feelings, but I have to make this joke:

Yeah, that’s basically think every time I read the name

Fun fact: kein is German for “none”.

Thank you for writing this, so I didn’t have to

1 Like

Your counterexample demonstrates my point. In Tolkien’s world “the good” (as adjudged by supernatural laws of nature) do well, “the bad” do badly. The Numenoreans who were not virtuous suffered greatly decreased lifespans. They had lost favor with Eru. Aragorn, being virtuous, lives long, is wise, attains the power of laying-on of hands, deserves to be King.

Bree, Laketown

You bring up two segregated neighborhoods. Hobbits are “welcome” in Bree— but their kind would never live there. And, sure, in ancient times, the Dwarves and Elves had forged a brotherly bond— and they each kept to their own race.

Triumphing in Aragorn and Arwen’s success is like saying Obama’s election is the end of racism. Their marriage (and, yes, Beren/Lúthien) are complete outliers. It adds to the drama of the saga how unlikely/impossible their unions are.

Except, you cant have both powerful patriarchal monarchies and Tolkien’s ararcho-utopia. Hobbiton can only really exist in a highly primitive Iron Age society where there are no monarchies at all (albeit, then they fall victim to the first mob or neighboring fiefdom that begins territorial acquisition).

Back in college, I had a literature course with a professor who was an expert on Tolkien (the course was not specifically on the works of Tolkien, but that was the professor’s claim to fame).

The way he explained it was that (paraphrasing): “In Tolkien’s world, evil stems from the ambition to be more than one is, to rise to power and greatness that is not one’s due. This creates discord in the natural order of things, and this discord corrupts both inwardly and outwardly.”

He pointed to the example of Morgoth breaking the Cosmic Music because he sought to make it his. He also pointed to the examples of Aragorn, Sam and Arwen as characters who were content with their lot and did not try to be more (i.e. good) and Boromir and Saruman as characters who were not content with their lot and tried to be more (i.e. not good).

I am not an expert on Tolkien (I never got around to reading the Silmarillion), but it was very interesting to hear that kind of analysis from a literature PhD who was an expert.


Aragorn is like Beren very much someone trying to rise above his station in marrying an Elven princess, though. It seems to me the difference is he is doing it for love, rather than ambition for power the way Morgoth or Saruman are. Boromir is a mix of pride and desire to help his people; he dies but is considered absolved.

1 Like

Yes, but not by virtue of ancestry so much as the consequences of their actions.

It’s not always that the good did well: Beren suffered terribly because he was good and virtuous, and folk like Fëanor or Melkor, or even Sauron himself in the early days, were noted as being as beautiful and pleasant to look upon as anyone else around.

The problem of the Orcs was one he struggled with his whole life. He wrote them in as goblins and monsters, and he needed them to drive the story, but once he had them, he struggled to explain them, even to his own satisfaction. That they were originally and irredeemably bad wouldn’t work. That they were, as sapient creatures, whether created ab novo (which wasn’t possible under the existing rules), invited the question as to whether they could be “saved” or redeemed, which raised even more troubling questions (as people smarter than me have looked at).

Yes, I think that what turns people evil is when the ambition consumes them. Everyone has ambitions and acts on them, after all. Arwen flirts with the idea of becoming powerful, but resists this ambition and decides to simply be Arwen. The professor said that her monologue was the most important in The Lord of the Rings for understanding the dynamic.

You’re making it sound like they had the ultimate agency. Action, consequence. Yes, but no.

Why did the Numenoreans (post Ar-Pharazôn) have greatly reduced lifespans? Higher incidence of smoking and drunk driving accidents? No. They fell into disfavor with Eru, due to their impiety, amorality, and lack of virtue. (There is no direct agency attributed to Eru, but that is the “natural law” Eru established: you are good, you are rewarded with supernaturally long life; you are bad, you are punished; the more bad you get, the more you are punished.) And punishment is effectively ancestral damnation, passed on from one generation to the next. Aragorn, as virtuous as he was, could never have a lifetime even close to a pre-Pharazôn Numenorean, due to his ancestry.


I don’t want to live anywhere near whatever Ungoliant and Shelob consider to be a utopia.

Sometimes I love how my dyslexia fills in the gaps.

I might have some serious comments later about how Tolkien and Orwell were on opposite sides of the Spanish Civil War, but I have nothing for now.


Ooh! Ooh! Drag in Mervyn Peake as well.

I have a message in moderation, because I keep forgetting about mangling “trøll”. Even when you’re trying to literally talk about the mythical species.

harry potter GIF

1 Like