The Jews of British Fantasy, from Walter Scott to J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien once commented that the dwarves of his fictional world were loosely modeled on Jews. As Michael Weingrad explains in a series of four articles, Tolkien drew on a long history of British writers of fantasy and historical romance who put Jews—sometimes disguised, sometimes overt—into their works:

While the band that shows up at the home of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit has roots in northern European sources such as the Poetic Edda, Tolkien also gives [their leader] Thorin Oakenshield and company a story of exile and a powerful yearning to return to the homeland from which they were dispersed. Thorin recalls how the dwarves who survived [the dragon] Smaug’s devastation “sat and wept” by the side of the Lonely Mountain, echoing Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” He continues: “After that, we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as best we could up and down the lands.” The Jewish experience of diaspora, the persistence of Jewish memory, and the Jewish determination to win ancestral sovereignty once again—these resound in Tolkien’s portrayal of his dwarves.

Weingrad traces this literary tradition from the 19th century, and the works of Benjamin Disraeli and Walter Scott, through the 1960s. Among the earliest examples he cites is Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1838 Leila, or the Siege of Granada:

This novel focuses on the Jew Almamen and his daughter Leila during the final stages of the Christian reconquest of Spain in the late 15th century. Like Ivanhoe and other works of the period, it attempts to square the opposed conceptions of Jews as, on the one hand, a noble, biblical warrior people, and, on the other, a devious and clannish commercial people. Bulwer-Lytton’s anti-hero Almamen embodies the passions of Jewish nationalism under conditions of exile.

Under less impossible conditions Almamen might have been able to achieve political success, and provide his people with the security and dignity they lack. However, it is all Almamen can do to try to win some modest legal rights and protections for the Jews, a minority without territory or army, struggling for survival between the contending powers of Christendom and Islam.

With its mix of philo-Semitic admiration and anti-Semitic stereotype, Bulwer-Lytton’s Almamen is a precursor to Tolkien’s dwarves and especially Thorin Oakenshield.

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jews in literature, Literature, Walter Scott

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security