China Miéville has written frequently, critically about Tolkien’s reactionary politics, but one of the things that Miéville’s books do is demonstrate, by contrast, that Tolkien is reactionary at an ontological level. It’s not, that is, that Tolkien simply describes or praises a world with a feudal political organization; rather, Tolkien’s world is feudal at its most basic level of organization. Tolkien’s world has a fundamental, hierarchical and static organization. This manifests itself geographically (with civilization in the north west and savagery in the east and south), and biologically (in the fixity of the different species) before it appears politically. Exceptions to these orderings are presented as aberrations: the marriage of an elf and a human caused such a crisis that godlike beings had to step in and force the children of this pairing to chose to be one species or the other, and the evil of Sauron and, later, Saruman consists of a disruption of nature which involves, among other things, the construction of a class of workers and soldiers with no family lineage or ties of place: the orcs.
This is all such a cliché of fantasy that it is easy not to notice it, but Miéville’s Bas-Lag books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council) bring it into focus because their own ontology is, in contrast, strikingly modern. Read more↴