The first episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power depict a cultural conflict between the elves who guard the Southlands. The conflict is different in that to the humans.
In a way that Tolkien never really shone a light on, its a fascinating contrast, one that demonstrates the true alienity of everyday human cohabitation with elves in a way that we've never really seen before. Fast forward a couple episodes to Numenor, and we're seeing a crowd get whipped into fury against elves for absolutely the most pedestrian reason.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 4.]
Rings of Power goes to a bustling Numenorean square early in the The Great Wave, where a guild craftsman who beat up an opponent follows the tradition of inciting a crowd.
Elf workers, plowing your trades! He prognosticates, based on the presence of one elf and one (already jailed) human ally. Workers who dont sleep, dont tire, dont age! Galadriel and Halbrands' presence on Numenor is apparently a slippery slope to a complete takeover of the Numenorean... economy? By... thousand-year-old low-wage workers?
His words engulf his audience into a derogatory chant of Elf-lover! against their own queen, until they are quieted by an equally brief address for the other position and the sudden appearance of a round of drinks. So much for the people so righteous that the gods gifted them a whole blessed island.
This is a dreadful line of thought, and racism should not be a safe haven in human society. I don't support hating elves, or anyone.
But if you were to despise elves there are other, more powerful, and plausible reasons than they will take your job.
Elves are pretty hateable, actually
The fantastical details of Tolkiens elves have been a topic of much discussion recently. And as a Polygons Tolkien expert, I keep waiting for someone to ask me why have elves gotten it so much better than men in the Tolkiens legendarium?
Here are a few things to know about your character in Middle-Earth: A man (or a female man, commonly known as checks notes a woman)
- Elves are more physically adept than you in basically every way
- The gods made a special paradise for elves that you are not allowed to visit
- Elves are immortal and you have to die. Like, soon!
It's important to remember that elves aren't just attractiver, more graceful individuals.
Elves are Vulcans
From Tolkiens elves and Age of Aquarius thinking, you may trace the Trek's emotional detached, pointy-eared racial metaphor with mysterious psychic powers.
In early Star Trek, there is a lot of Vulcan/human prejudice. Spocks human heritage has made him the target of childhood bullying from Vulcan classmates who believe it will make him unsuitable for Vulcan standards. In Starfleet, he again becomes the focal point of bigotry, but from humans rather than because they believe Vulcans will take their jobs.
Characters who find Vulcan mannerisms so unfamiliar that they may be interpreted as offense or disdain develop prejudice toward Vulcans. They think humanity and Vulcans will never reach a common goal. And Vulcans who feel the same about humans.
This is the issue between men and elves that should exist: a cultural conflict that leads to a lack of trust.
Why do humans have it so bad in Middle-earth?
In his plays, Tolkien never presented human mortality as a negative experience. It was part of the ineffable intention of the creator of the universe that those of the race of men should die, and that what happened to their bodies after that would be known only to him and the god of the afterlife. And for a deeply Catholic man, it's a significant step to present human weakness as a blessing from a creator rather than punishment for sin.
Yes, elves have a lot of advantages. However, being an elf implies that you don't have free will, especially when compared to humans. Elves all elves are afflicted with a divinely inspired longing for Valinor that eventually eclipses all other desires in their lives. And what they have in physical strength is balanced by emotional endurance.
Although no one goes to church in The Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have written an entire collection of fantasy novels, or Marvel and DC Comics have chosen them as secondary sources of power. The concept of prayer is simply not discussed.
The gods of Middle-earth are neither sought out nor required to be worshipped, because they are, even if they do not appear very often. Humans must have faith, not that the gods exist, but that their work is a blessing, and that there is something for them beyond the living struggle of Middle-earth.
But elves do not have to trust the gods at all. They can always sense their divine work inside them. And for a story written by a deeply rooted Catholic man, this might be the most alien thing about them.
A man who despises elves for having clear and concrete blessings where he only has faith is a man who despises the gods, and this is where the Numenor plot line will take place. As we know from The Silmarillion, Sauron will manipulate the most blessed nation of men into scorching their gods and threatening to take their own immortality by force.
It's not a story of economic anxieties, but rather of frustration toward the creator who created humans and elves. But that's where elves will take your job fails to suspend belief. Because why would an elf want to eat hamburgers when he can just go farther west and go to heaven?