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Christine O'Donnell and Tolkien: the strange place where politics meets literature

Christine O'Donnell's praise for Tolkien subjects her to scorn from Maureen Dowd.

By / September 21, 2010

Even Christine O'Donnell's literary views have somehow made the headlines.

Jessica Kourkonis/AP

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"Tea party" favorite Christine O'Donnell has come under every kind of scrutiny since winning the Delaware senatorial primary race last week. Her finances, education, and mental stability have been questioned, as have her views on witchcraft, adultery, psychics, homosexuality, and liberal Republicans. And now we can add her pronouncements on the writing of J.R. Tolkien to the list of controversial topics.

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A 2003 video clip of Christine O'Donnell has surfaced. It shows her leading a discussion on the role of women in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy on C-SPAN.

On the video, O'Donnell praises Tolkien, saying that he "strikes a very good balance between men and women and the extreme attitudes of femininity." She also analyzes her own compatibility with the female types presented by Tolkien, saying, "Look at the significance that he gives to Eowyn, the Lady of Rohan. She was a warrior spirit and, to me, that's who I love. I mean, I aspire to be soft and gentle like Arwen, but realistically, I'm a fighter, like Eowyn."

The comments were enough to provoke scorn from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. "Christine O’Donnell is in a fantasy world," Down wrote. "Literally." (Dowd concluded this not only from O'Donnell's remarks about Tolkien but from her invocation of C.S. Lewis and his world of Narnia at last week's Values Voter Summit.)

And Dowd's comments were enough to rouse some Tolkien and Lewis fans to the defense. "Sneering at O’Donnell’s interest in J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis says more about Dowd’s isolation from normal Americans than it does about the GOP senate candidate from Delaware," writes Taylor Dinerman in a post on the Big Journalism website. "If she bothered to check she would see that the two Oxford Inklings are amongst the best selling authors of all time. Their works have profoundly influenced tens of millions of lives and in spite of the critics, are major touchstones of 20th century literature."

Others, however, were simply amused. "Maureen Dowd is Your New Joseph Campbell," jabbed the Wonkette.

The moral of the story? When the insults start flying in a political food fight, it's probably just as well to leave literary classics out of the mix. Americans are already angry enough about overseas wars, subprime mortgages, and ineffectual politics. There's simply no upside to insulting their favorite authors as well.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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