‘The Rings of Power’: Are Harfoots an Offensive Irish Stereotype?
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered on Amazon Prime Video on September 1, 2022, and introduced us to several races inhabiting Middle-earth in the Second Age. Many of these races will be familiar to Lord of the Rings fans, such as the easily recognizable Elves and Dwarves. However, the series also introduced the Harfoots, which casual fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings might not immediately recognize. At first glance, we might confuse them with the Hobbits whom make up some of the main characters in Lord of the Rings.
Technically, they are also Hobbits, but they are the Harfoot breed of Hobbits, while Hobbits like Frodo and Bilbo Baggins belong to the Fallohides breed. A third breed of Hobbits is the Stoors – this is the breed that Sméagol was. The Harfoots were the earliest breed of Hobbits. They differed in appearance from other Hobbits slightly in that they were shorter, smaller, and had “browner” skin. They tended to live in Smials, or Hobbit Holes, and generally liked to settle down long-term in their place of inhabitance, founding numerous villages. In the prologue of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien described the Harfoots in contrast to the other Hobbits as “browner of skin, smaller, and shorter, and they were beardless and bootless.”
Soon, the Harfoots were joined by the Stoors and Fallohides and helped found the Shire. Given their early history, the Harfoots’ presence in The Rings of Power‘s Second Age isn’t surprising. However, what certainly might have caused some raised eyebrows is the show’s odd decision to give the Harfoots Irish accents. Not only do the Harfoots speak in thick Irish accents, but they’re also portrayed as a rather primitive, unkempt, and simple race of individuals. Needless to say, we’re all questioning why the Harfoots have Irish accents.
Are the Harfoots an Irish Steroetype?
Viewers may a bit taken aback by how differently the Harfoots are portrayed in comparison to the English-accented Hobbits of The Lord of the Rings movies. The Harfoots are depicted as a primitive race of hunter-gatherers, who are childish and grubby. The first scene we see of them, they stuff their faces with berries and have berry juice dripping from their chins, as well as twigs resting in their unkempt hair. Meanwhile, a mix of Irish accents is unmistakable, as they make statements like, “Put yer back into lads!” and “De both of ye, dis does not bode will.”
Those familiar with Tolkien will know that there is no mention of the Harfoots having accents. While many have drawn connections between Tolkien’s work and Celtic mythology, he has always denied that the latter inspired his universe and has even expressed skepticism towards Celtic mythology. Hence, it’s difficult to see where exactly the creators of The Rings of Power dredged up this idea to insert the Irish accents.
In an interview with GQ, Sir Lenny Henry, who portrays a Harfoot, explained the Irish accents was meant to convey a sense of community. He states, “[The harfoots] are a nomadic, very earthy, hard-handed, hard-working people. My dad came to this country and worked with Irish people, and they worked with a lot of Jamaicans and there was a real sense of we’re all in this together. And I think [that’s the case] with the harfoots.”
Henry’s statement does provide a logical explanation, but, going off of this reasoning, The Rings of Power could’ve used any accent, really. After all, many of the races of Middle-earth are differentiated with a variety of English accents. What still doesn’t make sense is why The Rings of Power specifically chose an Irish accent for the race of beings that are given the appearance of proto-leprechauns. At the same time, the rambunctious dwarves are given Scottish accents, while the fancy high Elves have English accents. It cannot be denied that there is something that feels off about the Harfoots’ portrayal in The Rings of Power.
This is further driven home by a blistering article in the Irish Times titled “The new hobbits are filthy, hungry simpletons with stage-Irish accents. That’s $1bn well spent” in which writer Ed Power decries the Harfoots’ depiction as “a laundry list of 19th-century Hibernophobic caricatures” with “accents [that] embark on a wild journey from Donegal to Kerry and then stop off in inner-city Dublin.” Power further notes that none of the actors appear to be Irish themselves. “Somehow the Victorian caste system has been smuggled into a 21st-century American fantasy series,” he writes. It’s well worth reading his exploration of the Harfoot issue here.
(via: Irish Times, featured image: Amazon)
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