Papers, Please.

Today’s movement among the elite in the publishing industry to concentrate more on the ethnicity of authors, rather than the quality of their work is nothing new. I recently ran across an example of it dating back to 1938, with regard to JRR Tolkien.

When The Hobbit came out in 1937, things were headed for a pretty dark place in Europe, and in 1938, when a German Publisher wanted to produce a German translation of it, well, first they had to be sure of Herr Tolkien’s heritage, (After all, while it’s a fine German surname, who knows what could be corrupting his blood, right?) so they asked. His reply had that delightfully English way of twisting the knife.

From the source article:

25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and 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.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and

remain yours faithfully,

J. R. R. Tolkien

The Publishing elite and the other SJW’s in the writing and fandom industries are insisting that the ethnicity of a writer is important. That white writers are writing too many white characters, and should include more diversity in the characters in their stories, while at the same time accusing them of cultural appropriation if they do, as well as somehow stealing opportunities for non-white authors in the process. They are unable to see the contradiction between these two demands, as they only have the attention span to focus on one at a time – the memory of one is forgotten by the time they switch to the other – whichever one they need to employ against the target-du-jour.

They seem to think that minority readers can’t possibly enjoy a story unless it has a main character who “looks like them,” and they blame this for declining readership in a demographic that has never had a particularly high reading rate historically (instead of blaming, say, inferior schools and cultural influences against reading).

Clearly this MUST be true, because lord knows, not being a female, tawny-furred, Hani completely prevented me from enjoying all of the Chanur books I could get my hands on. Minority readers must find this incredibly demeaning and patronizing. But those who take up the weapons of the Social Justice Warrior never do so to build things up, they do it to seize power from the destruction they wreak. They have been winning, at least until now, and the results speak for themselves.

Alas, after 20 years of creeping Social Justice being implemented by the NYC Publishing elite, shrinkage of the readership is exactly what is happening. Sales among the Big 5 are down and declining. Writer advances are down, even without correcting for inflation (which makes it even worse). More and more people simply are not reading for pleasure and spending their entertainment dollars elsewhere. Conclusion, this is not the method to grow the readership. Vetting writers by their ethnicity or other characteristics is a vile practice, and it was obvious to Tolkien. Why it is not obvious to everyone today is a tragedy of today’s culture.

There should be writing opportunities for ALL writers, regardless of ethnicity, but certainly with regard to ability to write. Judging a writer by anything OTHER than the ability to write is counterproductive.

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27 thoughts on “Papers, Please.

  1. I will say that while do not much care for much of Tolkien’s writing, I have revised my opinion upward considerably with the knowledge of that letter’s existence. It might be his best work.

    • From Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, #29:

      I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten and Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of ‘arisch’ origin from all persons of all countries?
        Personally I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestätigung (although it happens that I can), and let a German translation go hang. In any case I should object strongly to any such declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.
        You are primarily concerned, and I cannot jeopardize the chance of a German publication without your approval. So I submit two drafts of possible answers.

      The editor’s note to Letter #30 (the letter quoted in the main post here) says, “One of the ‘two drafts’ mentioned by Tolkien in the previous letter. This is the only one preserved in the Allen & Unwin files, and it seems therefore very probable that the English publishers sent the other one to Germany. […]” Possibly the letter actually sent was less snarky—but Tolkien, at least, was quite willing to send this version.

        • Don’t forget this was well before widely available copy machines. “Making a copy” typically meant creating a carbon copy with the original. I wonder if, buried someone in Tolkien’s files, that other letter exists as a carbon.

          Unwin probably knew either of Tolkien’s replies meant it wouldn’t be published in Germany and, while many surmise that the milder one was sent, Unwin just might have sent the more critical one. A German edition by another publisher would earn them little money and might even cut down on sales of their English editions to Europeans (say Danes) who read both English and German.
          ——-
          Thanks for pointing out yet another illogic of an increasingly looney left. You see a similar madness with what’s called “sexual orientation.” On one hand, it’s so purely a cultural construct that it’s wrong to assume that men and women have any differences or fit better in different roles. On the other hand, sexual identity is said to be so deeply embedded in psyches that all of society must be forced to accept all fifty or so of them.

          Some have suggested that those at the highest level know this is all nonsense and that they’ve got a different agenda, that of creating a population that’s incapable of thinking clearly and thus more easily manipulated. It’s easy to see our society becoming polarized between two groups, one illogical and proud of their political correctness and another not just logical but practical.

          Here’s an illustration of practicality. As you note, the demands make characters more diverse v. cultural appropriation puts authors into impossible situations. One dogma says normal white males must write about a host of very different people. The other says they must never do so.

          • “Some have suggested that those at the highest level know this is all nonsense and that they’ve got a different agenda, that of creating a population that’s incapable of thinking clearly and thus more easily manipulated.”

            This was a technique used in Soviet Communism to illicit control. If you can force the people to say and act as if an obvious untruth is true, then you can get them to do anything, regardless of how wrong it is. Over time, the human psyche will begin to believe the enforced untruth just to avoid the internal conflict.

            As for me, anyone who believes that a person with a penis and Y chromosome can be a woman simply because they think they are is eternally banned from calling critics of Climate Change politics “anti-science.”

          • “On one hand, it’s so purely a cultural construct that it’s wrong to assume that men and women have any differences or fit better in different roles. On the other hand, sexual identity is said to be so deeply embedded in psyches that all of society must be forced to accept all fifty or so of them.”

            doublethink, comrade, doubleplusdoublethink.

  2. I don’t know what happened but science fiction became sharply less interesting to me by the early 1980s (perhaps because I’d read all the good stuff by then?) and almost totally uninteresting after James Hogan died.

    • When publishers decided that you no longer needed imaginative situations and dilemmas, and instead needed to be lectured on your obvious social failings; well, of course it became sharply less interesting.
      That publishers think that anyone would want to read or buy lectures on their obvious social failings is the mystery.

    • I actually bought much of my favorite sci fi in the 80’s. Pournelle, Niven, Lackey, Turtledove, Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Moon, McCaffrey, and many others. Although I also greatly enjoyed the old masters Asimov and Heinlein. It was in the late 90’s when the PC people started taking over, and the decline began.

    • “The only goal of Power is POWER.”
      — Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party, Airstrip One, Oceania, 1984

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