How did Frodo Baggins, the unlikely hero of a tale of different races coming together against a common enemy, get to be the furry poster boy for fascists?
The Italian Ministry of Culture is putting on an exhibition marking 50 years since JRR Tolkien’s death. Fascist prime minister Giorgia Meloni is to open it this week.
As a youth activist she and her mates, with nicknames such as Frodo, visited schools dressed as hobbits. They gathered at the “sounding of the horn of Boromir” to hold Lord of the Rings-themed fascist recruitment chats.
“I think that Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in,” said Meloni. “I don’t consider ‘The Lord of the Rings’ fantasy, more a sacred text.”
Now this may just seem like slightly embarrassing right wing cosplay. But it is a serious dog whistle to the brutal elements of Italy’s far right. Tolkien’s agrarian universe is full of virtuous white good guys defending their idyllic, wooded kingdoms from hordes of black violent orcs that work in factories.
It’s been a safe shire for many a reactionary. But in Italy, the adventures of Baggins has serious form. When Italian fascists tried to rebuild in the 1970s, the central claim was that they weren’t your father’s fascists, responsible for Nazi horror. They were your great grandfather’s fascists, who yearned for simpler times.
The Lord of The Rings was first translated into Italian in 1971. The preface by right winger Elémire Zolla argued, “The Lord of the Rings represented a perennial philosophy that must be viewed as an outright rejection of the modern world.”
Young fascists saw themselves as true-born kings like the dispossessed Aragorn, destined for aristocratic rule over a worshipful populace. Others saw themselves as the pure heroic hobbits threatened by outside forces.
Fascist youth leader Generoso Simeone put it, as “inhabitants of the mythical Middle-earth, struggling with dragons, orcs, and other creatures”.
So they launched the Camp Hobbit festival. The band Fellowship of the Ring played songs including what became their anthem, “Tomorrow Belongs to Us.”
It echoes the chilling Hitler Youth song in the musical Cabaret. It was and still is met with stiff-armed salutes. They also launched Èowyn, a magazine for women named after the princess of Rohan. They were fans of Julius Evola, a Nazi-affiliated Italian philosopher.
He argued that progress and equality were poisonous illusions to be replaced by violent racial hierarchy with the superior standing amid the ruins. Evola wrote, “It might be better to contribute to the fall which is already wavering and belongs to yesterday’s world, than to try to prop it up and prolong its existence artificially.”
The same people at the 1970s Camp Hobbit were waging street battles and bombing train stations backed by the state to try and push the country into total crisis.
Over 1,000 people were killed. This drive for a “third way”—neither Communism nor capitalism but the Shire—ended up holding back the fascists electorally.
So they dropped the opposition to capital and some terrorism, and re-embraced Christianity. A similar process of finding new bottles for old vinegar happened across the European far right.
Some didn’t want to take that route and joined groups such as what is now CasaPound, named for the fascist poet Ezra Pound. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy launched with the slogan, “God, Fatherland, Family.” But fascists are slippery. A year of appeasing the markets and the EU also means keeping up the winking rhetoric.
So the exhibition is a reminder of her roots. The calls to take on the “sly enemy that Tolkien called the rings of power,” mean the global financial elite.
Declaring that Tolkien’s races have “value of specificity,”—pushes cultures and identities worth preserving. Then adding Italians—like hobbits and Elves and Dwarves—are unique and should protect against the other that threatens their identity.
Or calling Italy Númenor—a once-great human nation that falls due to immorality. None of this is simply a lack of other reference points– it is deliberate.
The Tolkien shtick is a way of keeping the Traditionalists onside. Despite the comedy, Middle Earth re-enactment is as safe as a Mussolini birthday party or Il Duce’s picture hanging in a police station.
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