Russian hobbits

Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books have a long history in the Soviet Union and Russia, from illegal translations in the 1960s to a film in the 1980s to an unauthorised retelling sympathetic to the orcs in the 1990s.

Lord of the Rings
Zanastardust [CC BY]
The first Russian translations of Tolkien’s work were partial translations passed from hand to hand because they were illegal under Soviet censorship rules. (The underground network of self-published books, called samizdat, was a significant countervailing force to governmental control of literature, music, and other creative works.)  The various translations vary quite a lot, especially in their choice of names. Strider, for example, is variously rendered as Wanderer, Colobrod, Skorokhod, or Tramp.

By the 1980s Tolkien was sufficiently acceptable that a Russian film of The Hobbit was made: The Fabulous Journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, Across the Wild Land, Through the Dark Forest, Beyond the Misty Mountains. There and Back Again. You can see it below, and I really recommend that you check it out. The awful green makeup on their Gollum is more than balanced out by the excellent puppet dragon at the end.

In 1999, Russian author Kirill Eskov released a book called The Last Ringbearer that looks at The Lord of the Rings from the perspective of the orcs. Tolkien’s version, you see, is typical elf propaganda, and Mordor is a peaceful industrialised human country being vilified and targeted for genocide. Apparently it’s not uncommon for Russians to identify with orcs in a kind of ironic/post-ironic way – see the article “The Eye of Sauron over Moscow” linked below for more on that.

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