The men in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power hate elfes for all the wrong reasons

The men in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power hate elfes for all the wrong reasons ...

The first episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power depict a cultural conflict between the elves who watch over them, who have just left the Southlands, and the elves who have watched them for hundreds of years.

In a way that Tolkien never really shone a light on, this is a fascinating contrast, one that speaks to the actual alienity of everyday human cohabitation with elves in a way that Tolkien never really spout out of. Fast forward a couple episodes to the land of Numenor, and we were watching a crowd go riot against elves for absolutely the most pedestrian reason.

[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for episode 4 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.]

Rings of Power arrives early in the The Great Wave at a bustling Numenorean square where a guild craftsman plays one of the guys who got beat up in the previous episode engages in the traditional art of inciting a crowd.

Elf workers, stealing your trades! he prognosticates, based on the presence of one elf and one (already jailed) human ally. Workers who dont sleep, dont tire, and dont age! The presence of Galadriel and Halbrands on Numenor is believed to be a slippery slope toward a complete takeover of the Numenorean... economy? By... thousand-year-old low-wage workers?

His words send his audience into a derogatory chant of Elf-lover! against their own queen, until they are quieted by an equally brief speech for the other position and the sudden appearance of a round of drinks. So much for the people so righteous that the gods gave them a whole blessed island.

This is a horrible line of thinking, and racism should have no safe haven in human society. I do not support hating elves or anyone.

If you were to despise elves, there were far more compelling, practical, and rational reasons than they would take your job.

Elves are pretty hateable, actually

The fantastical features of Tolkiens elves have been a topic of much discussion lately. And as a Polygons Tolkien expert I keep waiting for someone to ask me why have elves got it so much better than men in the Tolkiens legendarium?

Here are a few things to know if you're a guy (or a female guy, commonly known as checks notes a woman) in Middle-earth.

  • 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 keep in mind that elves aren't just beautiful, they're also graceful.

Elves are Vulcans

From Tolkiens elves to a bunch of nerdy minds and Age of Aquarius thinking, you can trace the Star Trek's emotionally detached, pointy-eared racial metaphor with mystic psychic powers.

In early Star Trek, there's a lot of Vulcan/human prejudice. Spock's human heritage makes him the focus of Vulcan classmates who think he's not suitable for Vulcan standards. In Starfleet, he again becomes the focal point of bigotry, but from humans rather than because they think Vulcans are going to take their jobs.

Characters who find Vulcan mannerisms so unfamiliar that they may be interpreted as offense or disdain develop prejudice against Vulcans. People who believe humanity and Vulcans cannot find common cause. Vulcans who feel the same about humans.

This is the exact rift that should exist between men and elves: a cultural conflict that results in a lack of trust.

Why do humans have it so bad in Middle-earth?

Tolkien never portrayed human mortality as a negative aspect of his work. It was part of the irrefutable intention of the creator of the universe that those of the race of men should die, and that what occurred to their souls after that would be known only to him and the god of the afterlife. And for a deeply Catholic man, it's a major step to present human fallibility as the blessing of a creator rather than punishment for sin.

Elves have a lot of benefits, but you lowkey don't have free will, especially when compared to humans. And what they have in physical strength is balanced by emotional durability. In Tolkiens' work, elves have many stories of elves who cannot put traumatic experiences behind them and yet cannot die, their physical forms fading away until they become weary ghosts.

Although no one goes to church in The Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have written a lot about these kinds of works, especially in Marvel and DC Comics, gods in Middle-earth are something entirely different. The concept of prayer is simply not discussed in the books.

The gods of Middle-earth neither seek out nor require worship, 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, even if the gods havent stated what it is.

But elves do not need to believe in the gods at all. They can always feel their divine work within them, and for a story written by a deeply Catholic man, it 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. This is, as we know from The Silmarillion, exactly where the Numenor plot line is going. Sauron will manipulate the most blessed nation of men into scorning their gods and rallying a fleet to invade heaven and take their own immortality by force.

It's not a story about economic worry, but about anger toward the creator who made elves and humans so different. And that's where elves will take your job fails to suspend belief.