Rod noticed a negative review of the Doctor Who Christmas special last week. Once I finally watched the special, I had been meaning to comment on this, and it seems even more fitting to remark on it now that discussion has turned to Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy. The reviewer’s complaint is that the story of the special is contorted by political correctness:
Every trite Left-wing cliché was in place. Noble trees threatened by acid rain: check. Said acid rain caused by rapacious humanoids: check.
Worst of all was the misandrist posturing. The message, yelled at full volume, was that men are weak and women are strong.
Archer complains that the storytelling was “narratively lazy,” but I have to say I found his review to be rather critically lazy. His description of the story is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t tell us much that is very interesting. It wasn’t the best Doctor Who Christmas special I have seen, but it wasn’t what Archer describes. Perhaps it was because I watched the special with Archer’s review in the back of the mind, but my first reactions to the story were generally favorable, and it occurred to me that the story reminded of nothing so much as that of the conflict between Saruman and the Ents in The Two Towers. By the standards of some writers at the Telegraph, there is a fair amount in Tolkien that could be criticized in similar terms. Tolkien was working in the Christian tradition that held that creation had been entrusted to the stewardship of man. The exploitative, resource-stripping characters encountered in the special are not noticeably different from Saruman and his destruction of the forests around Isengard, except that the devastation the former intend is more comprehensive and widespread than anything that Saruman attempts.
As for Isengard, we read that the land “green and fair” is turned into one of “pits and forges,” and it is clear that Tolkien views this as a disaster that reflects Saruman’s moral corruption. As Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans say in Ents, Elves, and Eriador: the Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien:
The narration makes it clear that Isengard is moving very quickly in the direction of Mordor and Udun as its ruler destroys more and more life, leaving only a fading memory. Trees, especially, are targeted.
Was Tolkien repeating “left-wing cliches”? Obviously not, but that should make us rethink why conservatives tend to dismiss such themes as leftist agitprop. According to the book review from Bryan Appleyard that Rod quoted, Scruton has been thinking along similar lines:
Everything Scruton says involves a very careful and often intellectually demanding balancing act. Our attitudes to nature, for example, should neither be the ruthless exploitation of rigged capitalism nor the passive acceptance of the wilderness as a separate realm which is advocated by some greens. Rather, we should accept our role as stewards of nature because it is in human nature to look after home.