Of Hobbits and The Golem

Was J.R.R. Tolkien an Anti-Semite or Philo-Semite?

The Gollum of Middle Earth: Might Tolkien’s character be a nod to the mythical creature of Jewish legend?
Getty Images
The Gollum of Middle Earth: Might Tolkien’s character be a nod to the mythical creature of Jewish legend?

By Seth Rogovoy

Published December 24, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Sometimes, a bearded, money-grubbing dwarf is just a bearded, money-grubbing dwarf and not an evil, anti-Semitic stand-in for Jews.

Undoubtedly some will view “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — the first in a trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit,” directed by Peter Jackson — and find in Tolkien’s mythical creatures not-so-subtly stereotypical representations of Jews.

In particular, the clannish behavior and financial habits of the dwarves (as opposed to the elves, the Men and the hobbits), which are a gold-obsessed race that have been exiled from their homeland and among their own kind speak a unique language while learning the vernacular of their territory, will suggest to those looking for a correspondence a portrayal of Jews based on medieval stereotypes.

But Tolkien is one of the more unlikely figures in modern literary history on which to pin a badge of Jew-hater. In fact, Tolkien was something of a Judeophile. A philologist by training, he was familiar with Hebrew, and while he did indeed acknowledge basing his dwarves’ speech on Semitic languages, this was hardly the act of an anti-Semite. “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue,” he once wrote.

Although Tolkien refuted attempts to interpret “The Hobbit” and his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as allegory, it’s been remarked time and again that in no small way, Tolkien’s opus was to some extent a corrective rewrite of the Wagner Ring trilogy, particularly the composer’s overtly anti-Semitic representation of Jews as evil dwarves.

Both stories, of course, are quests for a magical ring. Both are populated with characters based on Norse mythology. Tolkien loved the old myths, and he was disgusted by Wagner’s perversion of them in the service of creating a modern racial mythology.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.