Whose Culture Is It Anyway?
What could possibly be more European that elves and dwarves and even the endearing little hobbits who win the day and save Middle Earth in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings?
And what of Gandolf, the wizard and wise man, who guides his little friends to safety and ultimately victory but only to sacrifice himself in the end? As it tells us in John 15;13, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
But it is the little man, quite literally as well as figuratively, Frodo the Hobbit, accompanied by his dear friend Samwise, who is the true hero of the Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien’s great trilogy resonates with all the ancient myths of Europe. The eternal battle between good and evil in which all men, great and small, must play a part, is that most basic of plots. The internal struggle of the main characters to rise above fear and greed and despair and keep going against all odds has been told again and again. And then, of course, there is the story of love. And as with all true love, it requires Arwen, the Elven lady, to give up security and comfort and a father’s approval to follow her heart’s love, Aragorn, the rough-cut Ranger of the North. What could be more European than these themes?
What could be more Jewish? What? Well, according to Seth Rogovoy, an award winning - needless to say - cultural critic at the Jewish Forward, tells us how Jews helped inspire JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
“It is true that The Hobbit occasionally describes the dwarves as “not heroes but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots’. “Antisemitic tropes with which any Jew would be uncomfortable, the writer points out. But where did he get the idea that the dwarves were Jewish?
From Tolkien himself, who was philo-semitic, and stated so quite clearly.
Tolkien, a linguist, explained he based the dwarves’ language on Semitic language, as well as a letter the author sent his daughter in which he wrote “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”
Tolkien, who was of German descent, was once asked if he was an Aryan, and he replied:
If you are inquiring as to whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.
And to reinforce the point, he continued.
He had always been, he wrote, proud of his own German heritage, but “if impertinent, irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.”
Alright, this was in Britain before the second world war and Tolkien was a professor at that bastion of British liberalism, Oxford University. So what could one expect?
It is hard to imagine anyone more quintessentially British than the hero of Ian Fleming’s spy stores than James Bond. 007 himself, martinis shaken not stirred and girls, buxom and blond, as all true fans know
of this almost not fictional character.
Ian Fleming, the author, suffered from that one insufferable trait. He was anti-semitic. Oh, don’t you just know? Still it was a clever invention, this debonair swashbuckler of the Cold War and worth his weight in gold. So the Jews outmaneuvered his creator and breathed life into 007. 007 was brought to Hollywood for a makeover.
There he embarked on a highly lucrative career on Her Majesty’s secret Semitic service.
“Even on a grander scale, a Jewish-inspired theme plays out in this gem business of a movie series, whose titles include “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.”
And it was going to prove a goldmine. Since the first film, Dr. No, which came out in 1962 to the present, the series has proved itself time and again. James Bond comes in at number three on the list with world wide box office takings of $4,486,206,572.
Fleming had based the title character of “Goldfinger,” who is Bond’s nemesis, on Ernö Goldfinger, the real-life Hungarian-born Modernist architect and leftist who was a neighbor of Fleming’s in Hampstead. The film, Goldfinger, avoids all this anti-semitic subtext of Ian’s Fleming’s work and turns the hero into something much more palatable for the then New Right.
But it took some work. Sir Kenneth Adam OBE, born plain old Ken Adams, in Berlin in 1921. I don’t know his German name. Perhaps he did not have one. His parents may have already intuited the horror of Hitler © and the Holocaust© and gone on to give their son a name more pronounceable to the British. They were forced to flee the Nazis in 1934, of course.
Oh the credits go on and on. Besides being a knight of the realm, Sir Ken designed all the sets from Dr. No in 1962 to Moonraker in 1979.
Irvin Kershner, directed the 1983 Never Say Never Again, which brought Sean Connery, back to the role of 007. Kershner was the only director, Jewish or otherwise, to direct both a James bond movie and a a Star Wars film, two of the biggest moneymaking movie franchises in Hollywood history.
Star Wars has raked in some $2.07 billion over the eons and through the galaxies. Not quite as much as our master spy but worth a mention.
Producer Harry Saltzman, born Heinrich Saltzman in Quebec, teamed up with fellow tribe member, screenwriter Wolf Mankiewicz, and his friend, Albert Broccoli to found Eon Productions, which went on to produce most of the 007 series, Casino Royale being on of the exceptions. Even so, Mankowitz, had a hand in the writing of that classic along with such well-known Jewish writers as Billy Wilder, Joseph Heller and Joseph Hecht. But it was New Yorker, Richard Maibaum, who, more than anyone else created the character we all know as 007, on her Majesty’s secret Semitic service.
Back on the other side of the pond, we’ll take a look at that great American classic, F. ScottFitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Or is it? Every generation gets the Gatsby it deserves, the writer tells us. In 1926, the Jewish Paramount Pictures produced the silent story with the production team of Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky in charge. Then again in 1949, paramount did it again with Shelly Winters of the tribe and Alan Ladd.
We are advised that the 1974 version, again produced by Paramount but with Goyishe Kopf, Francis Ford Coppola at the helm, was a little leaden. At least, the 1974 watered down some of the more offensive anti-semitic caricature of the Wolfsheim. The character was loosely based on Arnold Rothstein, credited with fixing the 1919 World Series.
Australian Jewish director, Luhrman, directed the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby, as well as director of the opulent and predictable, Australia. (Find out more about the movie and about the reality in the Brutal Beginnings of Australia, this website only.) At least this director cast an Indian as the Wolfsheim character.
But, Rothogoy tells us, this director, as did all the others. had to struggle with that eternal question, who is J. Gatsby? He suggests that the name itself could be interpreted as J for Jesus, Gatsby, god’s son. OK, it’s a stretch but why not? He does make the ultimate sacrifice for Daisy. So in this case, he’s a nice Jewish boy.
Rogovoy suggests that the reason that Gatsby and Daisy never consummated their relationship was that Gatsby harbored a secret. He was either black, gay or Jewish. Seems like the first might have been a little tricky to hide. But with any luck, in the 2020 version J. Gatsby will be Jewish, and Daisy most likely will be black and lesbian. Every generation gets the Gatsby it deserves.
The Force re-awakened in 2012 with the December release of the 7th film of the series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Driven by the mass marketing campaign that included movie trailers, T-shirts, TV commercials, trading cards and action figures, this Star Wars surged to 1600 screenings as compared to only 30 in 1977. But that was back in the day before it was completely understood that the entire universe could be yours with enough fast food, T-shirts, jingles, soundbites and non-stop, high-speed action.
This time around, too, the project was firmly in Jewish hands with JJ Abrams as director. And after forty years the original cast was re-assembled with the majority being members of the ruling clan. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Dad was Eddie Fisher of Elizabeth Taylor fame. Harrison Ford, despite the angular jaw, is the son of one-time radio actress, Dorothy Nidelman. Mark Hamill is the lonely goy boy.
The trilogy of pre-quels starred Israeli actress Natalie Portman, or is she from New Jersey, as the secret wife of Anakin Skywalker and the mother of Leia and mother of Luke and Leia, Queen Amidala.
Jewish screenwriter, Laurance Kasdan, returned to the project. He had formerly been part of the team that wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
You may think of the Jedi as knights, but as knights not of old but of the future but Seth Rogovoy lets us know that the very name Jedi actually means Jedi=yehudi=jew. And wise while adorable Yoda, whose voice was supplied by Jewish actor Frank Oz, carries a name that means one who knows in Hebrew.
The Force has arrived and is with us all.