Political scandals sometimes take a very unusual form in Italy, where Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was recently accused of misdirecting public cash towards a most unexpected end: staging a government-financed exhibition about the English fantasy author JRR Tolkien in Rome on the sole grounds she was an all-time mega-fan of his Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy. 

Italy’s Ministry of Culture funded the display with 250,000 Euros, ostensibly to mark 50 years since the author’s death in 1973, but it was specifically described as “a gift” to Meloni by her Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, a gift she appreciated enough to unwrap personally on its opening night. Sangiuliano insisted his boss had not requested the event be arranged, but “only found out later.” The best presents always are surprise ones, aren’t they?  

The Eye of Soros

This is not the first time Meloni has publicly associated herself with Tolkien’s world of Hobbits and wizards. Speaking at an April 2023 think-tank in London, she justified Western support for Ukraine as follows:

“We don’t stand with Ukraine because we like the war. We stand with Ukraine because what we want to defend is stronger than the fear of war. Sir John Ronald [Reuel] Tolkien wrote: ‘I do not love the bright sword for its sharp edge, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for its glory. I only love that which I defend.’”

Well, the Ukrainians do habitually refer to their Russian invaders as orcs, don’t they? Yet, for Prime Minister Meloni, the ‘orcs’ – Tolkien’s gigantic, grotesque, brutal, uncivilized and dark-skinned mega-goblins who invade the once-peaceful Middle Earth world of The Shire at the behest of the Dark Lord Sauron – stand not primarily for Russian invaders but migrants entering Europe under the possible control of so-called global elites like George Soros. At least, so say her critics.

“I don’t consider LotR fantasy,” Meloni has said, arguing that, via fantasy-based metaphor, “Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in” – namely, closed borders. The author’s line “deep roots are not reached by the frost” has become a slogan for Italian conservatives attached to their traditional national identity. For Culture Minister Sangiuliano, supposed globalist forces try to “reduce people to barcodes” as ethnically and culturally interchangeable units of commerce. Meloni herself has argued that “Without [national] identity, we are only numbers, unconscious numbers, tools of those who want to use us. And who are these supposed users? “The sly enemy that Tolkien called the Rings of Power” – i.e., the slimy Gollums of the reputed financial elite, as Meloni wrote in a 2015 Instagram post.    

Bad Hobbits?

Meloni’s Party grew ultimately from the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the successor to Mussolini’s old fascists, who, post-war, tried to rebrand their concerns in more socially acceptable clothing by hijacking the new-found popularity of LotR following its first Italian-language translation in 1971. In 1977, they launched a völkisch-type retreat, ‘Camp Hobbit’, a sort of New Right Woodstock, where folk-rock bands like ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ played, and swastikas and fasces were replaced with less tainted Olde Worlde Celtic crosses.

As a major Tolkien fan-girl, once she entered the world of MSI youth politics in the early 1990s, Meloni began applying similar tactics. She embarrassingly visited schools cosplaying as a Hobbit together with friends with LotR code-names like Frodo, who met at the “sounding of the Horn of Boromir” to spread their politics to Italian students. Online, she adopted the pseudonym “little dragon of the Italian internet.” And in 1998, as a right-wing youth leader, Meloni founded a successor to Camp Hobbit, called Atreju, named after a child-warrior in another popular fantasy novel, The Never Ending Story, who opposes “The Nothing,” a formless entity of evil. Atreju, she once said, was “a symbol of the struggle against nihilism, perfect for our vision” of encouraging patriotic Italian youth to resist the rootless forces of international capital.  

Today, Atreju has morphed into a festival of ideas for adult leaders from around the globe. Past speakers have included Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump’s one-time advisor Steve Bannon. The last edition, held in December 2023, featured keynote speakers like British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who spoke of the need to prevent foreign enemies like Putin destabilizing the West by flooding it with refugees, to Elon Musk, who attacked the “woke mind virus” and advised attendees to have as many kids as he did (but not necessarily to name them as weirdly). 

Published and Be Damned (as a Racist)

Personally, I agree with much of Meloni’s platform (despite media slander, she isn’t a fascist herself, more a ‘family and flag’ traditionalist), I just dispute her and the old MSI’s specific highly politicized misinterpretations of Tolkien’s books. Tolkien definitely wasn’t a fascist, or a white supremacist in the Nazi sense. Famously, when asked to prove his ‘Aryan’ descent by a German publisher seeking to release a translation of The Hobbit within the Reich, he drafted a sarcastic letter saying that, when it came to having any Jewish blood, “I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.” Ultimately, the publishing deal fell through.  

Works of fiction can very effectively act as a blank canvas for their readers, particularly works of sci-fi and fantasy. It is the same with Tolkien and race: so many conflicting theories about the subject have been projected onto his tales, they now even have their own lengthy Wikipedia page

On the one hand, in LotR there were plenty of different sub-races like elves, men, dwarves and Hobbits who all unite to defeat Sauron’s evil. So, you could claim Tolkien was a multiculturalist. On the other hand, the forces of darkness like the orcs and goblins have swarthy complexions, whereas the elves, etc, are white-skinned, so perhaps you could say the precise opposite. Meloni herself has said that the different good races all working together, yet from separate racial sub-kingdoms, taught her the “value of specificity,” an allegory for the innate superiority of national sovereignty, not pooled sovereignty, as with the EU and UN.  

Or maybe the orcs, with their slanted eyes, are supposed to be Central Asian Mongol-types, like the ancient hordes of Attila the Hun? Some have spied a “moral geography” to Middle Earth, with the North and West being good, in terms of the Shire, and the East and South being evil, in terms of the wicked Land of Mordor. Is this East versus West dichotomy just a coded reflection of Cold War geopolitics? 

And what about the fact that Tolkien’s dwarves, by his own admission, spoke a Semitic language? As they are greedy for dragons’ gold in his tales, was he using his shrunken sub-men to spread anti-Semitic stereotypes

Or, on the other hand … was Tolkien perhaps just writing harmless fantasy novels that have since come to be grossly misinterpreted by persons of any and all political persuasions? After all, some left-wing hippie-type fans think they are pro-marijuana propaganda, as the Hobbits in them smoke a local form of ‘weed’. What would the family-friendly Meloni think of that particular ‘Drug-Lord of the Rings’ interpretation, I wonder? Probably about as little as doped-up hippies think about her own wild misreading of Tolkien’s texts, I would guess.