“Trolls are slow in the uptake, and mighty suspicious about anything new to them.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, continues to rankle a vocal minority of Tolkien fans by having committed the dual sins of casting of people of color and not making all the white guys heroic.
Now, Neil Gaiman—author of The Sandman and co-author of Good Omens—has entered the fray, MovieWeb reports, and he’s using the original Tolkien text as ammo. Addressing Brit right-winger Darren Grimes’ complaints about the presence of non-white actors as Harfoots (sort of proto-Hobbits), Gaiman cites the author:
Tolkien described the Harfoots as "browner of skin" than the other hobbits. So I think anyone grumbling is either racist or hasn't read their Tolkien. Your mileage may vary.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) September 2, 2022
Gaiman’s Netflix adaptation of The Sandman came in for a similar brand of whining and review-bombing over its casting of a Black woman, a nonbinary actor and a white woman as, respectively, Death, Desire and Lucifer. Back in July, Gaiman spoke out about responding to the haters on social media:
“I know the rule is you’re meant to ignore the trolls and not feed the trolls. But I would look at people sounding off on Sandman who were obviously not Sandman fans. What I would watch would be 60,000 Sandman fans going, ‘Of course you’re doing it this way. Of course you have a non-binary Desire, Desire was always non-binary, that’s brilliant casting.’ Or ‘Gwendoline as Lucifer, what amazing casting.’ And then you’d get five or six people trying to make a lot of fuss who never read Sandman in the first place. And I mostly decided I was done with it. Occasionally I do feel like I’m taking an enormous sledgehammer to squash the tiniest ants, and you really shouldn’t. But then again, they can be really irritating sometimes, and I’m proud of what we made.”
Meanwhile, the actual content of The Rings of Power continues to be overshadowed by all the digital harrumphing. One disappointed fanboy by the name of Elon Musk took a stand this weekend:
Tolkien is turning in his grave
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 5, 2022
He’s echoing people like Brandon Morse, an editor at the right-wing site Red State, who complained to CNN that “producers have cast non-White actors in a story based on European culture and who look wildly different from how Tolkien originally described them. He says it’s an attempt to embed ‘social justice politics’ into Tolkien’s world.” Review-bombing from like-minded pouty racists has gotten so rampant Amazon’s imposed a 72-hour delay on its user reviews for the show.
This kind of toxic tantrum dates back to when the show was first announced. Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays Arondir—an Elven character created for this series—has been dealing with this shit for years, a recent Esquire profile revealed. “Córdova’s DMs are tough to stomach; for two years now, ‘pure and vicious hate speech’ has beamed into his inbox nearly every day. ‘I fought so hard for this role for this very reason,’ he says. ‘I felt that I could carry that torch. I made sure that my elf was the most Elven, the most incredible, because I knew this was coming.'”
And, as many have pointed out: it’s fantasy, not history, dudes. “A wealth of stories, and a willingness to believe in wizards, Balrogs, giant spiders and magical swords. But allow people of color to exist in Middle-earth? Well, that is an affront to all that’s good and decent. At least that’s the primary argument for those ruinous trolls apparently review bombing and harassing fans of color over Amazon’s Rings of Powers series,” wrote Richard Newby in The Hollywood Reporter, echoed by MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan:
"These people are totally fine with watching & believing in elves & wizards on Lord of the Rings or a flying dragon on Game of Thrones, but not Black people onscreen. 'No no no, that's a step too far. That's just unrealistic.'"
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 5, 2022
Actor Lenny Henry, who plays a Harfoot on the show, agrees. “In worlds of dragons and elves, why is the casting of a black man the limit at which fantasy fans are prepared to suspend their disbelief?”
“This is what conservatives and right-wing provocateurs have become,” observes Kylie Cheung in Jezebel. “Sad little caricatures bitching and fighting online about Black people existing in a world of wizards, hobbits, magic, a giant dismembered eye carrying a sorcerer’s evil spirit, and supposedly misandrist writing…Racist, sexist outrage is having a Moment™ right now between Rings of Power, HBO’s House of the Dragon (the new Game of Thrones prequel series, which also casts people of color in a fantasy land supposedly based on European Medieval times), and even Marvel’s She-Hulk, which follows a woman version of the Hulk.”
This sad state of fandom affairs recalls the immortal words of William Shatner on SNL. Or as writer John Ganz puts it:
tolkien this tolkien that maybe you should try tolkien to a girl
— John Ganz (@lionel_trolling) September 5, 2022
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