Race Issues in The Hobbit

Fans and critics of Tolkien’s works have observed several ambiguously Racist and race-based elements; these go further into stereotyping or symbolism of good versus evil in the Tolkien’s legendarium. As early as the first edition of the Lord of the Rings this topic was discussed, including by C.S. Lewis who wrote that people who dislike a clear demarcation of good and evil “imagine they have seen a rigid demarcation between black and white people.”

Tolkien’s legendarium also makes many references to topics related by extension to racialism, such as eugenics, bloodlines, and (by extension) even the superiority of heredity over other authorities.

Some of these accusations of racism may be partially explained by a wider reading of Tolkien’s works or a deeper thematic analysis, and others are more difficult to dismiss. In Tolkien’s extensive letters one can find both comments that can be interpreted as racism as well as defense against the accusations.

Tolkien portrays racism within the “heroic” races as unabashedly negative. Elves and Dwarves distrust each other. Some Elves hunted the Petty-dwarves as animals, as did the Rohirrim to the Woses. The friendship between Legolas and Gimli is portrayed as unusual but commendable, and several scenes illustrate them learning to understand and respect each other’s cultural differences. When Gimli takes a strand of Galadriel’s hair, he is described as having “look[ed] into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding.”

It is notable that there is apparently racism within the ranks of Orcs as the Uruk-hai held themselves as superior to the common Orcs, whom they called snaga (slave).

The point-of-view characters of the book — the hobbits — are themselves of a race that is frequently described as being overlooked, under-estimated, and lightly regarded by the other races of Middle-earth, yet they often demonstrate far greater courage and nobility than the races who denigrate them. They are not without prejudice, however, and Gandalf is shown reprimanding Frodo for his comments on Barliman Butterbur.

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