Christine O’Donnell on Tolkien and Women

In a recent column, Maureen Dowd heaps scorn on Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell for her admiration of famed Catholic writer J.R.R. Tolkien. That is according to the Christian Science Monitor. I confess that I am unable to comprehend most of what Dowd writes, so that when I read the column in question all I see are a series of impressionistic comments that have little apparent logical relation to each other.

Anyway, if you’re interested in Ms. O’Donnell’s thoughts on Tolkien and feminism, here is a C-Span recording of her talk on the subject (and here is a Catholic Exchange article on the same subject).

Advertisements

51 Responses to Christine O’Donnell on Tolkien and Women

  1. She would probably hate Tolkien if she learned of his love for and inspiration from William Morris, a socialist:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1894/hibs/hibs.htm

  2. Mike Petrik says:

    No Henry. She might disagree with Tolkien on that point, but disagreement need not suggest hate.

  3. Blackadder says:

    Occasionally you will meet someone with a mental geography so impoverished that they think you can’t like an author without sharing his political views. But I’ve never heard of anyone who thought you had to agree not only with an author’s politics, but also with the politics of everyone who influenced him.

  4. Teresa says:

    I see the women in LOTR as courageous and beautiful.

    Henry,

    Why does having a disagreement on a particular issue lead you to believe that an individual must hate the other person they disagree with? Disagreement on various subjects is natural, good, and healthy.

  5. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Tolkien was a reactionary of the deepest hue. This Socialist Review of Tolkien is a hoot.

    http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=7813

    However, I do think he wouldn’t have rejoiced in Christine O’Donnell’s admiration. Fans tended to annoy him, especially “bloody Yanks”.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Art moves them and they don’t know what they’ve been moved by and they get quite drunk on it. Many young Americans are involved in the stories in a way that I’m not.” ~On being asked if he was pleased by the enthusiasm of his American fans

    “Being a cult figure in one’s own lifetime I am afraid is not at all pleasant. However I do not find that it tends to puff one up: in my case at any rate it makes me feel extremely small and inadequate. But even the nose of a very modest idol cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense.”

  7. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Occasionally you will meet someone with a mental geography so impoverished that they think you can’t like an author without sharing his political views. But I’ve never heard of anyone who thought you had to agree not only with an author’s politics, but also with the politics of everyone who influenced him.”

    That goes into my little green book of stolen quotations BA!

  8. Yes, one can like authors without agreeing with them, but if they try to use authors to back their own positions, then the views of the author are important.

  9. Blackadder says:

    What positions was O’Donnell using Tolkien as support for? The talk was about the role of women in Lord of the Rings, not socialism (I leave aside the fact that Tolkien himself was not a socialist).

    My guess is that Henry didn’t watch the video or read the article before posting his comment. He probably still hasn’t. That, at least, would explain the non sequitur nature of his comments.

  10. Blackadder

    I read, and what I said is not a non sequitur. The point is she is trying to make a statement about women via Tolkien. She is using Tolkien for a point beyond Tolkien. However, she is not too credible scholar on Tolkien, and Tolkien’s own interests lie outside of the domain Christine herself puts herself in. Tolkien’s works are often abused by people who ignore Tolkien’s own beliefs. They make Tolkien in their own image.

    And so people who are looking for some sort of denouncement of all things socialism, and all people tainted by it, are strange when they look to Tolkien for their ideological parade. Tolkien was not a capitalist, and indeed, as I said, highly influenced by Morris — not merely in writing epic fantasies, but actual ideas correlate between the two as well. Tolkien brings Morris’ thought into Christianity, into grace, and outside of Morris’ utopian direction; however, outside of that, it is easy to see how much Tolkien borrowed if you study Morris and read through Tolkien carefully. Morris is a central key to Tolkien.

  11. John Henry says:

    You may or may not have read the articles, Henry, but your comment was still a non sequitur. There is no reason why anyone who appreciates an author need agree with all of their influences.

  12. Jonathan says:

    One need not be a careful scholar, or even a scholar at all, to reflect on what Tolkien might have been saying about women through his female characters, and through their interaction with the other characters in LoTR. Perhaps Ms. O’Donnell would find it curious to learn that Tolkien was influenced by a socialist writer of fantasy, and would cease liking Tolkien immediately.

    But, to make the claim that she “would probably hate Tolkien if she learned of his love for and inspiration from William Morris, a socialist” is just petulance in action. One would need to be a far deeper scholar of both Tolkien and Christine O’Donnell to know how she would react to that.

    Moreover, your thought that she would even come to know that Morris was a socialist (since even a search on influences on Tolkien reveals sites naming Morris usually as a fantasy writer, such as this: http://www.tolkien-online.com/tolkiens-sources.html) conflicts with your other statement that she is not a deep scholar of Tolkien.

    Surely, you can come up with something to “get” her on other than her views on Tolkien’s women and judgmental assumptions about her thought?

  13. John Henry

    It is not. There has been considerable effort to use her discussion on Tolkien as indication of her character and credibility. And central to her campaign is a “rejection of socialism” (of course, often claiming things to be socialist which are not). This then leads to an important question, how she relates her Tolkien connection to her campaign and how she would then treat Tolkien if she is consistent with what we see in her rhetoric.

  14. “Moreover, your thought that she would even come to know that Morris was a socialist (since even a search on influences on Tolkien reveals sites naming Morris usually as a fantasy writer, such as this: http://www.tolkien-online.com/tolkiens-sources.html) conflicts with your other statement that she is not a deep scholar of Tolkien.”

    Jonathan, like usual, you say nonsense. So a site says Morris is a writer of fantasy, therefore, she is a deep scholar of Tolkien? Seriously?!

  15. Jonathan says:

    Henry,

    As usual, you fail to read clearly, and to make obvious inferences.

    You claim that “she is not too credible scholar on Tolkien” and I would agree – she is likely a shallow scholar (if at all) of Tolkien. A brief Google search (the sort that someone who “is not too credible scholar” such as O’Donnell would make) reveals Morris only as a fantasy writer, and not as a socialist.

    Therefore, that O’Donnell would come to know that Morris was an influence is plausible, but that she would then take the next step that a deeper scholar (as you, for instance, would identify as someone like yourself) would take is highly unlikely.

    Therefore, the initial statement you make is so far outside the realm of probability as to make it simply petulant insult, rather than any true attempt at conversation.

  16. Mike Petrik says:

    The fact that Tolkien admired a fairly obscure English writer who was a socialist does not diminish my admiration for Tolkien at all. And I disfavor socialism, and think the silly utopian variety favored by Morris is kind of nutty. Henry is connecting dots that don’t exist.

  17. John Henry says:

    This then leads to an important question, how she relates her Tolkien connection to her campaign and how she would then treat Tolkien if she is consistent with what we see in her rhetoric.

    I guess we have different definitions of “important”. It may be ‘important’ to you to know:

    1) How she relates Tolkien to her campaign,
    2) Her opinions on the extent of Morris’s influence on Tolkien,
    3) How that influence shapes her appreciation of Tolkien.

    I can see how that might be important if she were up for a position as a mid-twentieth century English literature professor, rather than the Senate. As it is, I can’t imagine even ten voters having their opinions about her candidacy swayed one way or the other by such issues. And certainly your completely unsubstantiated assertion that “she would probably hate Tolkien…” suggest a knee-jerk partisan reflex (conservatives must hate any writer that lists a socialist among their influences!), rather than a considered interest in the issue as such.

    It’s all the more curious because there are any number of legitimate reasons to criticize O’Donnell. Why grasp at straws and connect imaginary dots?

  18. If one has to agree with Tolkien 100% in earn the privilege of discussing the meaning of his books, than no one but perhaps Mr. Tolkien would be able to discuss his books.

    Good lord, she talked about an aspect of his books, not proclaiming herself to be the true embodiment of Tolkien’s vision. While discussing Tolkien’s thoughts on politics may be interesting, I don’t see how it harms O’Donnell’s campaign.

  19. And also, why does one have to be a credible scholar to discuss Tolkien? Can’t people discuss the themes of the book and how they relate to one’s life with no academic background save having read the book? I get tired of Henry’s academic snobbery.

  20. “The fact that Tolkien admired a fairly obscure English writer who was a socialist does not diminish my admiration for Tolkien at all.”

    Morris is not an obscure writer; he was a major figure; the fact that you do not know him says more about you than his obscurity.

  21. Michael

    Once again, if one is going to mention her “work” on Tolkien, then it brings up questions. I already said one can like authors and not agree with them and their views. However, that is not how she portrays herself in relation to Tolkien, and it is clear her discussion of Tolkien is being brought up to bolster support for her.

    As I said, her stand on socialism (and the rigor the Tea Party goes in denouncing its semblance in society, and attacks people because of their association with socialists) should be brought in contact with what is being used to prop her up as credible. Simple.

  22. “And also, why does one have to be a credible scholar to discuss Tolkien? ”

    It wasn’t just a casual discussion, and that she did it is being used as a point in her favor. You can’t bring it out as a point in her favor and then demand we don’t look into it.

  23. However, that is not how she portrays herself in relation to Tolkien, and it is clear her discussion of Tolkien is being brought up to bolster support for her.

    She’s not bringing up anything; these videos have been dug up from the grave mostly by the left wishing to mock her.

    You can’t bring it out as a point in her favor and then demand we don’t look into it.

    A) I didn’t bring it up. Frankly, while I appreciate the adoration of Tolkien I’m not voting based on someone’s opinion of Lord of the Rings (unless one hates it, in which case I presume insanity and unfitness for office 😉 )

    B) I never said you couldn’t look into it. But she’s talking about one aspect of the work (women), not the economic structure or Tolkien’s views. Nor is she saying that Tolkien agrees with her fiscal policy. In that, her discussion on Tolkien’s women is irrelevant to policy concerns. If you wish to criticize her findings on Tolkien’s women, go right ahead, but to attack her b/c an author she likes disagrees with her on an unrelated topic is, as was said before, a non sequitur.

    I should also add that I think her interpretation of Eowyn is controversial. Eowyn was a fighter, but it’s not clear at all that Tolkien approved of it. Indeed, Faramir seems to heal Eowyn of the coldness that was eating at her that caused her to desire to go to war. I think Tolkien likely thought of women in battle a great tragedy, and found Eowyn’s journey to be a journey where she no longer fought. The feminist interpretation of Eowyn (as O’Donnell seems to share) has its share of problems. So if you want to attack O’Donnell on that, be my guest. I’d like to read that post, and talk about Lord of the Rings (though no credible scholar am I) rather than the latest video the left has raised from the dead featuring Ms. O’Donnell.

  24. Dale Price says:

    1. O’Donnell likes LOTR and Narnia, says she identifies with the characters and ideas. Even says she’s been questioned for choosing career over family.

    2. Dowd sneers dismissively (God help her, she can do no other) and flits off on one of her patented stream of consciousness flounce-rants, ending up with the President at Ben’s Chili Bowl.

    3. In response, Henry cites some English Marxist as a rebuttal to a point not made by either O’Donnell or Dowd re: O’Donnell’s comments on Tolkien.

    Am I following this correctly?

  25. “She’s not bringing up anything; these videos have been dug up from the grave mostly by the left wishing to mock her. ”

    Not true. I first saw mention of them from supporters of her! And it is still being done, such as in this post. So again, if you want to use it as a point in her favor, fine; but again, let’s examine it further. It’s the point I am making out.

    See, here’s what I am talking about. I like H.P. Lovecraft. His works are fantastic and brilliant. However, they also point to his own problems with the nihilistic-materialistic philosophy he held to. Now, if I discuss Lovecraft and how I like some aspect of his work (and it is not just his fiction), I would still point out Lovecraft’s materialism. It’s something basic you do, when doing that kind of discussion.

  26. JohnH says:

    It seems that this boils down to Henry not liking people who he disagrees with politically enjoying the works of authors he likes, as if by association it taints the author in question.

  27. Ike says:

    Dowd attacks her for liking Tolkien. What, is she trying to one up the masturbation obsessed pundits? I’s not working. Nothing can be funnier than that.

  28. Jay Anderson says:

    “Now, if I discuss Lovecraft and how I like some aspect of his work (and it is not just his fiction), I would still point out Lovecraft’s materialism. It’s something basic you do, when doing that kind of discussion.”

    So, anytime someone from the right wishes to discuss some aspect of Tolkien’s fiction, even if the topic is the women in Tolkien’s work and has nothing whatsoever to do with various economic systems, she must nevertheless offer up a disclaimer that Tolkien, although not himself a socialist, had an affinity for some other author, completely unrelated to the topic at hand, who was a socialist?

    That’s absurd.

    And that one would actually deduce that “she would probably hate Tolkien” because of this rather tenuous association to socialism is equally absurd.

  29. JohnH says:

    By the way, as long as we’re talking about socialists and Tolkien:

    Zinn and Chomsky’s unused audio commentary for the Lord of the Rings.

    (disclaimer for the humor deprived–the link above is satire.)

  30. Once again, William Morris is not unrelated to the topic at hand, either. His project was, from the get go, seen as a continuation of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and Morris. Themes of Morris are themes of Tolkien (such as immortality, which is the theme, also, of Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, a tale which is one of the central pieces of Tolkien’s work dealing with women), and indeed, one of the strong ties between Tolkien and Morris is their Northern nature, which also will connect to representations of women. Finally, Tolkien’s affinity for Morris and Morris’ criticism of industrialism and capitalism are also found throughout Tolkien’s works, including but not limited to, the Scouring of the Shire.

  31. Dale Price says:

    I’m reminded of an anecdote Bono told to an American newsmagazine about his efforts to be heard on African aid and other charitable endeavors during the W Bush years. He met with Republican then-congressman John Kasich, and actually had discussions with Kasich about which was the best Radiohead release.

    Bono related this to Thom Yorke, the lead singer for Radiohead, who “was a bit freaked out” and said:

    “You mean bad guys like our music too?”

    Reference here: http://tinyurl.com/2u9kmzp

    That seems to be the crux of Henry’s objection to O’Donnell–“bad guys” like Tolkien, too.

  32. Dale Price says:

    Ah–I appear to have misremembered slightly. The anecdote was written up in October 2000, which predates the second Bush administration.

  33. jonathanjones02 says:

    Henry, this sort of tedious e-status posturing is amusing, but not a terribly good way to actually discuss Tolkien and O’Donnell or anyone else for that matter.

    For example, I’m a big fan of the popular writers Hitchens and Derbyshire, even in disagreement, and reference them with some frequency – a general point that is quite common among the many millions that discuss things. The criteria you have labored to articulate in this thread would make such discussions…well, rather tedious.

  34. Mike Petrik says:

    Me: “The fact that Tolkien admired a fairly obscure English writer who was a socialist does not diminish my admiration for Tolkien at all.”

    HK: “Morris is not an obscure writer; he was a major figure; the fact that you do not know him says more about you than his obscurity.”

    Me: Perhaps, but at least it does not say I’m an arrogant pedant.

  35. John Henry says:

    Even more to the point, Mike, the (relative, surely) fame or obscurity of Morris has no bearing on your original point: that it is very common to like writers with whom we disagree on one issue or another (still more influences). There is no reason to assume Ms. O’Donnell is different in that respect. Henry responded not to the point you were making, but rather by suggesting you are not as well read as he. That is most likely true (who can read as much as doctoral graduate students), but just as irrelevant as his original comments about Ms. O’Donnell.

  36. Mike Petrik says:

    Of course, John, you are correct. The fact that HK chose to respond the way he did is exactly why he is an arrogant pedant. Perhaps if I knew he was I would accord him the deference he plainly thinks is his due, but alas I’ve never heard of him.

  37. JohnH says:

    I would say that Morris isn’t very well known today despite being enormously influential. He is a huge figure in the pre-Rafaelite movement and one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement. Even if you don’t know of him, you’ve seen paintings, architecture, furniture, literature, etc. that was influenced by him.

    That said, he doesn’t have much name recognition outside the artist/academic circle these days.

  38. RL says:

    Funny. I’m a fan of Chesterton and am influenced by his writing – even in points where I would disagree. Chesteron was good friends with Shaw and Wells – two people I wouldn’t find a lot of philosophical common ground with. I never thought of hating Chesterton for it. In fact, it makes me admire GKC all the more. He was truly a good man and above the sort of pettiness that would require him to shun those who didn’t come to the same conclusions as he nor would he assume that others would/should do that. GKC had far more respect for people than that, especially for the common man.

    On a side note, reading what Tolkien said about how annoying American fans were to him was quite funny. It dovetails perfectly with some things GKC wrote about the differences between Americans and the English and I can appreciate how annoyed Tolkien was by his American fans.

  39. Baron Korf says:

    Ouch! That reopened the wound of P.J.’s rendition of Arwen, that’s gonna sting for awhile. Maybe a nice pint of ale or two will fix it.

  40. Blackadder says:

    I would note that the article and talk are from 2003. I don’t think she had declared her candidacy yet. Also, neither has anything to do with socialism.

  41. Mike says:

    “Henry is connecting dots that don’t exist.”

    Kind of a lurker here, but reading the blog for some time. I have to say this single sentence really sums up everything, and I mean, everything of Henry Karlson. This is his psyche in essence. Bravo!

    How any of you bother to respond to this little egotistical, smug, self-centered, arrogant little troll is something I’ll never understand. Very Job-like.

  42. MJAndrew says:

    How any of you bother to respond to this little egotistical, smug, self-centered, arrogant little troll is something I’ll never understand.

    These comments are totally out of line. It is one thing to criticize someone’s idea, argument, etc.; it is quite another to viciously attack someone’s character. You have done the latter.

  43. Tito Edwards says:

    Mike,

    Read the comments policy.

    Address the issue, but don’t attack the person.

  44. Joe Hargrave says:

    Mike,

    We all have our crosses to bear.

  45. Joe Hargrave says:

    Yes, of course, don’t attack the person – but let’s not pretend that this “person” doesn’t routinely come here with the intent to disrupt, harass, and annoy. There is a lot in his posts that are directly related to his person, and while we shouldn’t call him names, neither should we be blind to the clear patterns in behavior that he has exhibited here.

    There’s a reason he is on moderation, after all.

  46. Mike Petrik says:

    I realize that Tito’s admonition was likely directed to the other Mike, but in keeping with its spirit I’d like to apologize for yesterday’s 1:10 post. It was unfair of me to infer that the source of a comment reaking of pedantry and arrogance necessarily must be an arrogant pedant. There is a fine line between ridiculing a comment and ridiculing a person; I crossed it and I apologize.

    And Mike, thanks for your earlier compliment!

  47. Tito Edwards says:

    Mike Petrik,

    My comment was directed to the “Mike”, not you.

    Unless of course that was you, then thank you for your Eddie Haskell apology.

  48. Mike Petrik says:

    Tito,
    I figured that, and no we are different Mikes altogether.
    Eddie Haskell was a great American.

  49. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I trust that the Mike who made the assessment of Karlson will not be deterred in future from making comments due to the rough reception this comment has received. We do attempt to avoid, with limited success, personal attacks. However, I appreciate that he has been reading the blog for some time, and I hope he will share his observations in the future on the myriad of matters under discussion on this blog.

  50. cminor says:

    Soooo….
    The obvious question from where I’m standing is, Henry, do you never read (if you can help it) or cite writers with whom you do not agree completely on philosophical or political matters? Or were you just operating on the assumption that O’Donnell, as a narrow-minded right-winger with glaringly obvious deficiencies in the realm of literary analysis (unlike your enlightened, open-minded self), couldn’t possibly be objective about Tolkien’s work if she realized that one of his literary influences happened to embrace a political view she considers flawed?

%d bloggers like this: