Something’s Bugging Me About Tolkien
I’m working on my roughly biennial rereading of the Lord of the Rings — this is my fourth or fifth time through them, but having just finished Fellowship, something’s started to bother me that I hadn’t noticed before. It isn’t really a problem with Tolkien himself, or his storytelling. No, what’s really been bugging me is that the elves are total douchebags.
[Originally published in 2011.]
The first time we meet any elves, it’s when the hobbits run into a pack of them in the woods at night not far outside of the Shire. The elves treat the hobbits like country bumpkins and call them dull right to their faces. When they hear about the black riders, they confer for a bit, and then say, “Well, ok, come camp with us so we can talk — we usually wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with you yokels, but just this once…” That’s fine and all, I mean, the hobbits are bumpkins, and the elves don’t seem totally out of line acting like a bunch of catty queens on their way to a Fashion Week afterparty.
We next encounter elves face to face when everyone reaches Rivendell. The place is lousy with ancient elves like Elrond who were actually around to experience the things that happen in all the old stories everyone is constantly telling. Rivendell seems like a very nice place, too, so it’s no surprise all the non-elves are a little intimidated. “Yeah, even the flowing water is musical, and the weather is always perfect, and you’re 8,000 years old, cool. Right.”
[As an aside, how much of a dick is Gandalf for totally setting Frodo up from the beginning to have to carry the ring all the way to Mordor? At the end of the Council of Elrond, everyone is all like, “I wonder who could take on such a burden? Who could possibly volunteer for such a quest? Can’t be any of us, we’re too awesome. If only someone would carry the ring around for us…” I can just picture Gandalf and Elrond leaning forward and staring at Frodo as they say all this. There’s an uncomfortable silence and finally Frodo goes, “Ok, fine, I’ll carry the fucking ring. Christ.”]
There’s also a funny contrast between all this “high elven” stuff and Legolas, who’s one of the more rustic wood elves. He seems pretty awed by everything at first, too, considering his people are partly feral. That’ll change, though.
So they head out, and Legolas, wood elf or not, reveals his heritage by running on top of the snow and dancing around while Boromir and Aragorn dig through the drifts. Very helpful.
But the real elvish douchebaggery shows up when we reach Lothlórien, which is not an elven cosmetics brand. At the border, they meet some elvish guards. “We would have killed you all, except we knew who you were, so it’s cool. You can’t come in our forest though.” Then there’s the blatant racism. “Ok, you can come in, but only if we blindfold the dwarf.” Gimli is rightfully all, “Fuck that!” and Aragorn comes up with a compromise. So they get into the magic elf forest and meet Galadriel and Celeborn. And that’s when the elves become absolutely insufferable.
We can establish that Lothlórien is indeed a lovely place. Tolkien makes this abundantly clear: “All that he saw was shapely…in winter here no heart could mourn for summer or spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. The elves shat flowers and farted rainbows, and when the rainbows touched the ground they turned into puppies made of rainbows.” Then Frodo climbs up Cerin Amroth and has a vaguely erotic encounter with a tree, feeling “delight in wood and the touch of it.” Then he looks out across the distance and sees how nice Lothlórien is, and how the rest of the world is a giant shitstain beyond Lothlórien’s borders. So, ok, Lothlórien is way better than everywhere else, Got it.
When they meet Galadriel, she just stares at everyone and mindrapes them. Then she makes sure everyone knows just who they’re dealing with. “We are super fucking wise. And we have gifts we can give you that are fucking amazing. Elf gifts. Each of you would strangle your own mother to receive such a gift. They are that fucking sweet.” Galadriel is also the most passive-aggressive elf ever. She goes on and on about how she can’t give them counsel, it’s totally their decision to make whether they want to try to destroy the ring or not. In the next breath she’s all, “But if you don’t, the world will be pretty much destroyed. Your call though. I can’t tell you what to do. I mean, if you don’t your mom back in Hobbledirt is probably going to get spit-roasted by orcs. But it’s cool if you decide not to. Totally your call.”
Then there’s the mirror incident. Now, this is one of my favorite parts of both the book and the film, but can we be honest and acknowledge Galadriel’s arrogance? “You offer me the Ring? Oh man, I would tear shit up with that thing. Check out this other ring I have, now imagine if I had that one too? I would be the Queen Bitch of all Middle Earth, I shit you not my hairy-toed friend. I shit you not.”
But what really irks me is how mopey the elves are. They let everyone stay for like a month, just to let them see how awesome it is there. “So, Lothlórien’s pretty nice, right? You guys probably don’t want to ever leave. But you have to. But isn’t it fucking great here? And we fucking made this shit. Elves made it. Not men or dwarves or hibbets or whatever the fuck you people call yourselves. Elves. And where we come from, across the western sea? Like 80 trillion times better than this place. We could only make Lothlórien kind of good because of all you fucking dirt farmers running around. But we’re going to go back there, across the sea, and leave this shithole for good. And isn’t that just the saddest goddamn thing you ever heard? Seriously, look how sad we all are. Because now you gap-toothed turdmongers won’t be able to enjoy all these awesome elven places that we made. They’re going to turn to crap, just like the rest of your world.”
“But you never let anyone who isn’t an elf into your holy elf forests anyway!”
“Yeah, but it’s so awesome that it makes your lives better just knowing that they exist. And now you won’t even have that.”
Legolas gets in on the act too, even though his family probably lives in a doublewide.
Finally, as the fellowship leaves Lothlórien, the elves give them gifts. What do they give them for their journey to face the ultimate evil in his own dark and terrible domain? The MegaSword of UltraAwesome, which shoots fire and encases the wielder in a forcefield? Mithril armor for everyone? A wand of orc-inside-outening? At least a Potion of Detect Mordor or something? Nope. They get new jackets (“Made by elves, so you know they’re super awesome!”), some rope (“Elf rope, better than any fucking rope you’ve ever seen!”), and bread (“Don’t eat too much, it’s elf bread, you’ll end up shitting awesome.”). Oh, and a jar of Galadriel’s rainbow farts.