Nobody’s going to deny that, as it’s conventionally depicted, Middle-Earth - the setting of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - is awfully monochrome. In art, basically everybody is drawn as white, and all major depictions in film have used white actors.
When this state of affairs is questioned, the defences typically revolve around “accuracy”, which can mean one of two things: fidelity to the source material, and the internal consistency of the setting. Being concerned primarily with languages and mythology, Tolkien left few clear descriptions of what the peoples of Middle-Earth actually look like, so in this case, arguments in favour of the status quo more often rest on setting consistency.
Of course, we need hold ourselves neither to fidelity nor to consistency - the author’s dead, and we can do what we want. However, what if I told you that there’s a reasonable argument to be made from that very standpoint of setting consistency that Aragorn - the one character you’d most expect to be depicted as a white dude - really ought to be portrayed as Middle Eastern and/or North African?
First, consider the framing device of Tolkien’s work. The central conceit of The Lord of the Rings - one retroactively extended to The Hobbit, and thereafter to later works - is that Tolkien himself is not the story’s author, but a mere translator of writings left behind by Bilbo, Frodo and other major characters. Similarly, Middle-Earth itself is positioned not as a fictional realm, but as the actual prehistory of our own world. As such, the languages and mythologies that Tolkien created were intended not merely to resemble their modern counterparts, but to stand as plausible ancestors for them.
Now, Aragorn is the king of a tribe or nation of people called the Dúnedain. Let’s take a closer look at them in the context of that prehistoric connection.
If the Dúnedain were meant to be the forebears of Western Europeans, we’d expect their language, Adûnaic, to exhibit signs of Germanic (or possibly Italic) derivation - but that’s not what we actually see. Instead, both the phonology and the general word-structure of Adûnaic seem to be of primarily Semitic derivation, i.e., the predominant language family throughout the Middle East and much of North Africa. Indeed, while relatively little Adûnaic vocabulary is present in Tolkien’s extant writings, some of the words we do know seem to be borrowed directly from classical Hebrew - a curious choice if the “men of the West” were intended to represent the ancestors of the Germanic peoples.
Additionally, the Dúnedain are descended from the survivors of the lost island of Númenor, which Tolkien had intended as an explicit analogue of Atlantis. Alone, this doesn’t give us much to go on - unless one happens to know that, in the legendarium from which Tolkien drew his inspirations, the Kingdoms of Egypt were alleged to be remnant colonies of Atlantis. This connection is explicitly reflected in the strong Egyptian influence upon Tolkien’s descriptions of Númenorean funereal customs. We thus have both linguistic and cultural/mythological ties linking the survivors of Númenor to North Africa.
Now, I’m not going to claim that Tolkien actually envisioned the Dúnedain as North African; he was almost certainly picturing white folks. However, when modern fans argue that Aragorn and his kin must be depicted as white as a matter of setting consistency, rather than one of mere authorial preference, strong arguments can be made that this need not be the case; i.e., that depicting the Dúnedain in a manner that would be racialised as Middle Eastern and/or North African by modern standards is, in fact, entirely consistent with the source material, ethnolinguistically speaking. Furthermore, whether they agreed with these arguments or not, any serious Tolkien scholar would at least be aware of them.
In other words, if some dude claims that obviously everyone in Tolkien is white and acts like the very notion of depicting them otherwise is some outlandish novelty, you’ve got yourself a fake geek boy.
(As an aside, if we turn our consideration to the Easterlings, the human allies of Sauron who have traditionally been depicted in art as Middle Eastern on no stronger evidence than the fact that they’re baddies from the East, a similar process of analysis suggests that they’d more reasonably be racialised as Slavic in modern terms. Taken together with the preceding discussion, an argument can be made that not only is the conventional racialisation of Tolkien’s human nations in contemporary art unsupported by the source material, we may well have it precisely backwards!)
Today in Middle-Earth: Aragorn looks in the Palantir and reveals himself to Sauron (March 6th, 3019 T.A.)
‘Nay, my friends, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough – barely.’
He drew a deep breath. 'It was a bitter struggle, and the weariness is slow to pass. I spoke no word to him, and in the end I wrenched the Stone to my own will. That alone he will find hard to endure. And he beheld me. Yes, Master Gimli, he saw me, but in other guise than you see me here. If that will aid him, then I have done ill. But I do not think so. To know that I lived and walked the earth was a blow to his heart, I deem; for he knew it not till now. The eyes in Orthanc did not see through the armour of Théoden; but Sauron has not forgotten Isildur and the sword of Elendil. Now in the very hour of his great designs the heir of Isildur and the Sword are revealed; for l showed the blade re-forged to him. He is not so mighty yet that he is above fear; nay, doubt ever gnaws him.'
(The only mistake, which is probably not a mistake and just perspective for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, is the Ingwë appears to be taller than Thingol, and at 9′ / 3m tall, Thingol Greycloak was the tallest Elf, period. Perhaps that is because the Elvenking with the longest rule is Ingwë, so he appers the highest. Finwë was killed by Morgoth and centuries later Thingol was slain by dwarves over the Nauglamir. Ingwë was never killed, but he never returned to Middle-earth either.)
I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.
Look around and appreciate, the earth had been around for 4.6 million years and somehow we exist at the same time as Harry Potter, Newt Scamander, Percy Jackson, Sam and Dean Winchester, Castiel, Middle Earth, Marvel Universe...Just take some time and appreciate these miracles.
Signal Strength: Or, The Benefits of Elvish vs Dwarvish Phones
Rating: PG-13 Genre: Humor, Modern AU (modernized fantasy world) Pairings: Bilbo/Thorin. Mentions of Kili/Tauriel, Primula/Drogo Chapter: 1/? Summary: An AU where everything is the same, there are still elves, dwarves, hobbits, and a quest to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.
But now there are also cell phones, computers, motorcycles, and discussions of species-based racism.
It turns out not much changes. Here is an old tale retold through the text logs taken from the phone of a Mister Bilbo Baggins.
Notes: This is such a silly dumb light thing that I had way too much fun with. Basic information is that this is still Middle Earth with all the fantasy elements of Middle Earth, but with modern technology added to it. Not gonna lie, half of this was just for the image of Thorin with his ponytail, leather jacket, and motorcycle, furiously texting on what is their equivalent of a nokia brick phone and using txtspeak because he still has the dumb numberpad.
Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.
“The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien, there was no stain.”