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


Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security