By David T. Valentin
Yesterday there was some Twitter discourse running rampant about Lord of the Rings and how the books and movies narrative might have been shifted if it had been written today as a more “woke” narrative.
And despite “wokeness” being used in an overtly generalized way, where nobody really seems to ever need to define it but somehow the vague rhetoric is eaten up by conservatives, the concept that works like Lord of the Rings would’ve been a lot different had it been written today is not a new one.
While I don’t know too much about Tolkien, his politics, or how tolerant of people he actually was, I would say depending on the environment Tolkien was brought up with today’s politics, it’s possible we very much would’ve gotten a very different story from him.
The tweet goes, written by user @Wargar, or none other than the creator of a table-top game titled MYFAROG (we’ll get to that in a minute), “Reminder that if ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films had been made today Aragorn would have been a woman (but Arwen still a she-Elf), Frodo & Sam would have been gay, Gandalf black & the only white male actors in the entire cast would have been Denethor, Gríma & Saruman.” All complete with a #Wokeness.
Although the tweet was made in mockery of inclusive narratives, the comments on the thread are riddled in criticisms complaining that a Queer interpretation of Sam and Frodo’s relationship is a “perversion” of the larger narrative of What Tolkien intended, that being, which they argue, a discussion on everlasting bonds formed through “peril & hardship”; a reference to Tolkien’s status as a veteran of World War I.
Of course, in some ways these comments are right. I believe it was intended by Tolkien for Frodo and Sam to be nothing more than best friends, but the push to read these friendships as Queer is not so much a reflection of LGBTQ+ readers “perverting” or “forcing” their perspectives on those who may not read the story as queer.
A while ago, TikTok creator jstoobs, who analyzes pop culture media through gender, commented on the need for not only Queer audiences to project their experiences on to a friendship between men as Queer, but straight audiences as well. She argued the reason in contempory times why it seems so many close friendships between men in media are pushed into a Queer lens because of the lack of proper positive representation of masculinity.
Jstoobs in her video brings up how men at a very young age are conditioned to be tough, brave, and emotionless even in the face of great adversity. And when they project their emotions, it is often through anger. So, when we see a friendship between two men, men like Frodo and Sam who confide in one another so openly and express their platonic love for one another so freely, we project and believe the two characters may be queer in some way even when they aren’t.
People’s anger, then, should not be directed at Queer audiences, but toward those who enforce harmful representations of masculinity; masculinity proven through dominance, a need to appear logical and emotionless That we are so conditioned to view these kinds of friendships as Queer shows we are not used to men sharing these kinds of friendships, being comfortable with themselves enough to express vulnerability, openness and emotions—traits that are often seen as feminine.
But even with all that, the fun part about literary theory and different critical lenses is that difference audience members with different experiences can bring their perspectives how to interpret a piece of art. Considering that authorial intent in contemporary analysis has been pushed to the side in favor of the reader’s interpretation, so long as people make a valid case for their interpretation of the text, I don’t see why people can’t apply a Queer reading to works like Lord of the Rings.
And still, we can look at authorial intent, acknowledge the author may not have intended such an interpretation of their own text while acknowledging that with new perspectives and a changing of times, we may interpret text differently without holding that interpretation as the one and only interpretation.
It seems sometimes on the internet it’s either all or nothing when it comes to interpretations of media, but the fun of literary theory is not finding and arguing that one analysis of a piece of work is the correct one. The fun of literary theory is finding different ways in which viewers analyze a piece of work, defend their case and then use those different viewpoints to get a more well-rounded understanding of a piece. Afterall, these interpretations don’t have to be pigeonholed into a single interpretation, but instead laced through an intersectional lens.