I don’t want any Tolkienites to hate me for writing this article, so let me start off by saying that I love Lord of the Rings. Also, I don’t think that Tolkien was anti-Semitic, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a trace of anti-Semitism in his work.
Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to business. I know that Tolkien himself compared the dwarves in the Lord of the Rings series to the Jewish people, but as I generally try not to fall prey to intentional fallacy, I would argue that isn’t the case. I would argue that there is only one Jewish character in Lord of the Rings, and that is Gollum.
Growing up reading and watching Lord of the Rings, I never made this connection until I was in college. I was in an upper level honors comic book class (yes, this is a thing), and we were discussing Michael Chabon’s book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, when the professor asked if anyone knew what a golem was. After that slight pause that always occurs when a professor asks a question, someone timidly responded, “Isn’t he a character from Lord of the Rings?”
As the professor went on to explain what a golem was, I started to formulate a theory that maybe Gollum and golem sound similar for a reason. My classmate and I weren’t the only ones to make this connection either, as the first thing on the Wikipedia page for Gollum says, “This article is about the fictional character. For the animated being, see Golem.”
After I had the initial thought, I did a bit of research to try to see if maybe Gollum acts as the golem of Lord of the Rings. For those of you who don’t know what a golem is, it’s a mythical being from Jewish folklore. According to lore, a holy man of God can create a golem from mud (or another inanimate substance), write a Hebrew inscription on the golem, and then it comes to life as a speechless being that follows the commands of the one who created it.
How does Gollum compare to a golem in that department? Rather than being turned from an inanimate being into a live one, Gollum started out as an already living being. Aside from that, the transformation process is fairly similar. The One Ring (with its magical inscription) breathes new life into Smeagol and transforms him into Gollum. While Gollum doesn’t lose his capacity for speech, it’s obvious that the transformation has at least deteriorated his ability to speak, and Gollum becomes a slave to the Ring, obeying its commands.
The main difference is that the Ring isn’t a holy man, but rather comes from Sauron, who clearly stands in for the devil in Tolkien’s Christian parable. This all leads me to believe that Gollum clearly is a golem, and therefore Jewish character. The fact that the devil stands in for the Jewish recipe for a holy man also leads me towards the anti-Semitic nature of his character as well.
Beyond the golem comparison, there are a few other reasons that I see Gollum as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. When you look at Middle Earth as a retelling of the Christian story, it’s readily apparent who some of the various characters and races stand in for in biblical terms. Gandalf clearly represents Jesus, what with his return from the dead, the eternal elves represent angels, and men clearly represent… well… men. The hobbits represent Christians. After all, they are a small group underestimated by men who end up being the ones to bear the temptation of evil, but in the end destroy the evil and save the world.
Using these representations, it’s easy for me to see Gollum as a Jew. After all, Smeagol (which is a “ch” away from sounding Yiddish) was distantly related to the hobbits of the Shire before his transformation, as the Jews were our religious predecessors before Christ.
Also to be taken into account is Gollum’s love for the Ring. His obsession with this little piece of gold reads like a classic anti-Semitic stereotype. Following along these lines, Gollum also has the stereotypical Jewish traits of greed, sneakiness, and betrayal. Even the end of the series lends credibility to this idea. Now, if you haven’t seen Return of the King yet shame on you, but spoilers ahoy, so skip to the next paragraph. Gollum/Smeagol—as being around the hobbits/Christians has reminded him of his pre-corruption self and he has been tempted to turn back into a hobbit—ultimately cannot resist the temptation of the power of the Ring, and still clutching his golden prize, falls straight into Mount Doom/Hell to be destroyed.
All of this considered, I feel safe in my claim that Gollum can be read as an anti-Semitic representation of a Jew. This isn’t new in fiction, and there have been lists compiled of such characters before.
My main reason for discussing Tolkien in particular is because Lord of the Rings is so clearly a Christian story in nature, and the presence of anti-Semitism in Lord of the Rings represents, to me, the Christian gravitation towards anti-Semitism. Like I said, I don’t even think that Tolkien was an anti-Semite. I just think that anti-Semitism has become such a part of the Christian culture that it pops up even when we don’t mean or want it to.
Anti-Semitism in the church is nothing new. Christians of history have persecuted and all around hated on the Jews pretty much since after Jesus died. I just don’t understand why. Yes, I know the argument is that they killed Jesus, but Jesus was a Jew himself, and not all of the Jewish people killed Jesus. The Christian anti-Semites apparently forget that all of Jesus’s followers were Jews, as were all his disciples and every author of the Bible.
I’ve always struggled to understand this blind hatred. I don’t know how we can look at the people who believe in our own ancestral religion with so much hate and distrust. Do they believe the same things that we do now? No. But we do share the entire Old Testament with them, and we follow most of the same basic rules. I tend to think of the Jewish people as my religious cousins. Sure, they may not be the Christian brothers and sisters that I was raised with and share all of my history and beliefs, but they did branch from the same family as me with similar traditions and history.
It’s easy for me to picture Christians and Jews sitting down for Easter/Passover brunch and laughing at the things great-great-grandpa Moses did, and talking about how each of our parents make us celebrate the holiday at home. So, as the holiday season approaches and Christians panic because someone said “Happy holidays,” or, heaven forbid “Happy Hanukkah” to them, please, chill out, and remember that most of us started out at the same place, and ease up on the hate.
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