Now, I had previously read The Hobbit, Fellowship of the Ring, and half of The Two Towers, in junior high and high school. Right now I'm at the point where I've just about re-read through all I'd gotten through before.
The racism in the movies is (in my opinion) much much worse, but it is still definitely present in the books. I guess I had this naïve hope that the books wouldn't be that bad, that the metaphors of black=evil didn't actually go so far as to compare the orcs to apes or refer to their skin as being dark (oh, but it does). Peter Jackson could have and SHOULD have made the movies as non-racist as possible, and there were DEFINITELY ways to work around it and keep the story intact. In fact, it almost seems like Jackson went out of his way to make the movies more racist.
This is nothing new, I know.
Regarding sexism, I hated Jackson's Arwen so much I'd have preferred her to be utterly non-existent like she is in the books. At least he tried to put her in the movies, and she was given ACTUAL SPEAKING LINES OOOOHH, which she... doesn't really have, in the books. Éowen, too, was given more presence in the movies. I haven't gotten to Return of the King yet, but at least in The Two Towers I liked movie-Éowen a lot more than book-Éowen. Because she actually has more than two lines in the movie. So Peter Jackson gave white women some meager props, but he doesn't get a cookie.
Well, I've gotten to the point where I'm thinking, Okay. I've analyzed this a little, and even putting the book into "the context of the times" (my white anthropology professors were always quick to mention THE TIMES when lecturing about racist white anthropologists of the past, as if we should forgive racism just because it happened fifty or a hundred years ago?) I'm finding it difficult to get past the -isms. I know we all enjoy some media where we overlook something that offends us, and that can be something difficult to reconcile with our personal sense of What Is Right.
So here's my point: While I'm reading these books I'm finding that, for myself, I can reconcile sexism against white women much easier than sexism and racism against people of color. I can say, as a white female-bodied person, I take offense at the sexism but I can look past it and still think the book (or whatever other TV show, movie, comic book, &c.) is enjoyable. I can not speak for people who are in groups to which I do not belong, myself. Which is why I can't just look at Lord of the Rings and say, "Oh, well, it's a bit racist but it doesn't bother me," because OF COURSE it "doesn't bother me"- I am white and I was socialized not to be bothered by (or even notice in the first place) subtle racism in entertainment.
I know, I know, I should just put down this damned trilogy and pick up something like His Dark Materials, or pick up some more Ursula K. LeGuin, but I have something to prove to myself first. :P
p.s. Anyone have good book recommendations for something in the fantasy/sci-fi genre where the protagonists are women of color?
p.p.s. x-posted on LJ and at Outerspaceways, Inc.