Don’t laugh. In the secular world of books, fantasy is under attack, and the father of fantasy has not escaped the accusations. Granted, contemporary writers face the accusation of being racist more than those of the classics, but not entirely. Some have claimed that Tolkien’s orcs in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy are “racialised.” (See “Writers blocked: Even fantasy fiction is now offensive; Persecution is endemic in the vicious world of Young Adult publishing” by Karen Yossman, The Spectator).
Yes, really. Of course author Phillip Pullman, years ago, accused C. S. Lewis of being “‘blatantly racist’ and misogynistic,” so an accusation against Tolkien should not be unexpected. But is there any truth to these charges?
A look at what’s behind the allegations first, will be helpful.
Primarily the condemnation of stories that once were considered classics, comes from other authors, particularly those in the secular young adult community. Fueled by Twitter attacks and chatter from liberal writers with an agenda, fantasy readers are being schooled to read—and review—stories through the lens of identity politics.
As a result some authors have experienced the vitriol turned against them, to the point that they have withdrawn books from publication, even turned the ones in print into pulp. (See Yossman’s article).
In some ways you might say Tolkien is getting off light.
But how could he be accused of being a racist when his races were, well, made up? No, there are no hobbits in the world. No, there are no elves. No, there are no goblins or orcs made be the magic of an evil wizard.
But apparently the suggestion of slavery—not any real, actual mention of it—is enough to bring about the charge that Tolkien is a racist.
I find this trend in the way the secular book world is going, to be rather chilling.
Beyond the issue of gender politics is the idea that ideas must be those that are approved or removed. In other words, a story that presents a different slant, from a different perspective, is not allowed. Concerning slavery, apparently the accepted position is that this is an American issue, suffered by African-Americans, who are then the only ones qualified to write about any type of slavery.
My agent and friend experienced this attitude first hand. Sally Apokedak, before self-publishing her award-winning novel The Button Girl (2018 Realm Award–Debut), submitted it to a number of secular publishers. Some of the remarks she received in return expressed this same idea that her story line about slavery and her attitudes toward male/female relationships made the book both racist and misogynist.
Apparently the two accusations come hand-in-hand because C. S. Lewis was accused of both as well.
The point is simple: from now on, even in fantasy, readers won’t find books from traditional secular publishers that elevate a traditional man-woman relationship or that shows a race of people that is in any way reminiscent of an oppressed people group. No Native Americans, then. No Africans. No Middle Easterners. And no made up races that remind these social justice warriors of any of these groups. Unless the author is from one of those groups. Then and only then can the writer create a story that involves another people group—unless it is a group, not the author’s own.
I suspect Christian authors and readers of Christian fiction will be affected less than others. After all, small press novels, ones self-published, or those published by a traditional Christian imprint, may not feel the same pressure as these authors in the general market have. But I wonder if that fact isn’t necessarily a good thing. Doesn’t it indicate that we Christian writers and readers are operating in our own safe bubble, immune from the slings and arrows of racism? Until we aren’t.
Why should we think we will remain immune to accusations of being racist or misogynist? I mean, if Tolkien was open to such a charge, can we think that the Christian addressing slavery to sin will not also face this same kind of vitriol, at some point? Even, perhaps, at the point that such ideas are deemed unlawful.
Am I being too much of a doomsayer? Ten years ago, I would have thought so. But when I read about the hate that is directed at people for their “hateful attitude toward people of another race,” it makes me wonder what has happened to the marketplace of ideas. Can we no longer hear each other? Can we no longer understand another’s perspective through an exchange of ideas? Is an exchange of ideas something that will no longer be tolerated?
I’m hoping that the Church universal—that stands on the sure word of God—will be a beacon to the rest of our culture as the counterpoint to the world’s rejection of free speech. Of course, free speech means we take the good with the bad.
But isn’t Christianity all about the freedom to admit our sin, to tell God about our struggles, to receive forgiveness, and in return to offer it? Isn’t it about our common need for Christ? Not just Americans need the Lordship of Jesus. And not just white Americans. Every tribe and tongue and nation will be represented at the great feast of the Lamb.
Think what this refusal to exchange ideas would have done to the spread of Christianity. Actually the early disciples struggled with the issue: was The Way only for Jews? Or could Gentiles also follow Christ. I, for one, am happy that Gentiles weren’t shut out from the kingdom of heaven! So may the Church continue to be the Church, even in our stories, even in the face of a secular world determined to permit only accepted ideas.