The Jews of “Lord of the Rings”

October 4, 2011 | By

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At first thought, Jews don’t seem to have much in common with dwarves, those fictitious creatures from medieval tales. But J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), a philo-Semite and author of Lord of the Rings, based his depiction of dwarves on his knowledge of the Jewish people.

Tolkien historian John Rateliff, in his book The History of the Hobbit, claims that Tolkien’s fascination with Jewish texts guided the development of the race of Dwarrows (according to Tolkien, the correct plural of the word “dwarf”). They were a people in exile–forced to leave their homeland, the Lonely Mountain, by the dragon Smaug. They were craftsmen and traders, much like the Jews in medieval Europe. The language that Tolkien developed for them, Khuzdûl, was influenced by Hebrew phonology.

In one of Tolkien’s letters he wrote, “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.” But Tolkien wasn’t only concerned with the Jews of history. The close friendship that developed in Lord of the Rings between Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf, Tolkien has said, was a statement against “Gentile anti-Semitism and Jewish exclusiveness.”

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