Is Shared Fandom a Bridge to Reconciliation?
There are and always will be books that have a clear political agenda or make a very particular statement. Orwell’s 1984 springs to mind as an obvious example. Then there are also books that attract political interpretations by the nature of their plot or the subjects that they explore. Whether the author intended such a debate about the work or not, is a secondary issue. I have always taken Tolkien’s work at face value and to be what he stated they were. Epic and intricate faux histories, free from allegory. Furthermore, I appreciate that the moral position and themes of his work stem from the authors world view, personal experiences as well as the prevailing social dogma of the time. I find it interesting how his work attracts praise and adulation from a wide variety of groups. Catholics will naturally gravitate towards Tolkien’s writings due to his faith and that is the prism through which they will critically view his work. There are of course other examples about how The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings appeals to different people in different ways. It is a common aspect of fandom.
Bearing this in mind, it should not come as surprise to learn that Tolkien’s writing also has fans among the political class. The UK Conservative Party MEP Daniel Hannan is one who has written essays on his love of the Professor’s work and its literary merits. For example, Mr Hannan says “Here is a book that, as much as any I can think of, needs to be read aloud. Tolkien, like many Catholics of his generation, understood the power of incantation. He knew that—as, funnily enough, Pullman once put it—a fine poem fills your mouth with magic, as if you were chanting a spell”. Upon reading more of his analysis of Tolkien’s work, it becomes apparent that several of his political colleagues share his passion. It would seem many Conservative MPs find that Tolkien’s writing contains themes and concepts that they equate with their political ideology. Curiously enough what they see in the Professor’s work, I have never experienced. Again, they view it and quantify it in a different way to myself. This raises some interesting points about when you discover that you share a liking for something with a group you didn’t expect.
I suppose the optimistic way to interpret this situation is to focus on how fandom can build bridges and that there is now theoretically common ground between both parties concerned, despite their obvious differences. However, I feel that it’s a more complex situation than that. In this instance, I do not hold with a lot of the opinions and world view of this particular group of people. I think that some of the policies that the Conservative party have implemented since they came to power in 2010, have been harmful to both individuals and to society. Therefore, does simply having a shared passion for one specific thing bridge another wise, vast cultural, philosophical, political divide? I do not think that it does. If I were to meet Mr Hannan in a social situation, I would endeavour to be civil to him and focus on our common ground but ultimately the shared love is not a path to reconciliation. He would remain at odds with my political sensibilities and remain what he is.
Reflecting upon this example and other comparable ones, raises the question as to how should I feel it? Certainly, it is a timely reminder that fandom does not give you any sense of ownership towards the object of your affection. Nor do you get to decide who can like or not like the thing in question, or who are “true fans”. The reality is that what appeals to you about the thing you love is not necessarily the same for everyone and that we all interpret and respond to art as well as literature in a different way. Furthermore, when you do find out that you share a common love for something with those who are radically different to yourself, their presence should not spoil that very thing for you. The focus of fandom, in this case Tolkien’s writing, remains untouched. Overall, I guess the matter is a timely reminder regarding tolerance and sharing.
The analogy that springs to mind is one regarding religion, specifically Christianity. It is a faith that is rife with different denominations. All allegedly cleave to the same fundamental principles, yet interpret the scriptures differently. Is this situation about the differences between fan bases not dissimilar to the divide between Anglicans and fundamentalist Evangelicals? Also, history shows that many fine things have been liked, embraced or advocated by the morally questionable. So, it would appear that a shared love is not an assured ticket to harmony and conciliation. The divided nature of the gaming community is an ongoing testament to that. The fallout over the recent casting of a female actor as Doctor Who is further proof that fandom is a broad but far from united church. As for Tolkien, I shall simply content myself with my own personal enjoyment of his work and leave others to do so in their own way. However, what I will not allow unchecked is for others to usurp his writing and claim it justifies something that it empirically does not.