I would have thought that being dumber than the American far right was impossible, but the Italian far right manages to combine fascism with something far more insidious: fantasy novels. And their potential new leader and possible future leader of the entire nation bases her ideas on……..Tolkien.
Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader who is likely to be the next prime minister of Italy, used to dress up as a hobbit.
As a youth activist in the post-Fascist Italian Social Movement, she and her fellowship of militants, with nicknames like Frodo and Hobbit, revered “The Lord of the Rings” and other works by the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien. They visited schools in character. They gathered at the “sounding of the horn of Boromir” for cultural chats. She attended “Hobbit Camp” and sang along with the extremist folk band Compagnia dell’Anello, or Fellowship of the Ring.
All of that might seem some youthful infatuation with a work usually associated with fantasy-fiction and big-budget epics rather than political militancy. But in Italy, “The Lord of the Rings” has for a half-century been a central pillar upon which descendants of post-Fascism reconstructed a hard-right identity, looking to a traditionalist mythic age for symbols, heroes and creation myths free of Fascist taboos.
“I think that Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in,” said Ms. Meloni, 45. More than just her favorite book series, “The Lord of the Rings” was also a sacred text. “I don’t consider ‘The Lord of the Rings’ fantasy,” she said.
Oh, it gets better. Way better.
In her early 20s, she surfaced in chat rooms under the nickname Khy-ri, calling herself the “little dragon of the Italian undernet.” More recently, she named her political conference Atreju, an Italian rendering of the name of the hero of “The NeverEnding Story,” best known as a 1980s cult film featuring a flying animatronic character that appeared to be half dragon, half Labrador retriever.
As a government minister in 2008, Ms. Meloni posed for a magazine profile next to a statue of the wizard Gandalf. In 2019, she honored a manga character, Captain Harlock, the “space pirate,” as a “symbol of a generation that challenged the apathy and indifference of people.” Last month, she lamented that her busy campaign schedule had kept her from mainlining Amazon’s new “Rings of Power” series.
After the war, many of those Fascists flocked to the Italian Social Movement, but the party’s efforts to reintegrate into Italy’s institutions eventually hit a wall. Its younger members, feeling excluded from civil society, seized on an Italian edition of “The Lord of the Rings,” prefaced by Elémire Zolla, a philosopher who was a point of reference on the hard right and who argued that Tolkien was “talking about everything we confront every day.”
That resonated with a small group of the party’s Youth Front, already bristling at the cultural dominance of the left. They saw themselves, as one of their leaders, Generoso Simeone, put it, as “inhabitants of the mythical Middle-earth, also struggling with dragons, orcs, and other creatures.” Seeking a more palatable alternative to quoting Mussolini’s speeches and spray-painting Swastikas, which, Mr. Croppi pointed out, “was easy to reproduce on walls,” in 1977, they created the first Camp Hobbit festival.
“The idea to call it Camp Hobbit came from a real strategy,” said Mr. Croppi, one of the founders. The thinking was to move beyond the old symbols and to capitalize on the party’s isolation, smallness and victimization by violent leftist enemies to make their hero “not the warrior Aragorn, but the little hobbit — we wanted to get out of this militarist, heroic idea.”
I basically blame every fan of fantasy fiction in the entire world for this.