The hobbits and the extreme right: this is how fantasy inspires the possible new leader of Italy

Special for Infobae of New York Times.

ROME — Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader who is likely to be Italy’s next prime minister, used to dress up as a hobbit.

As a youth activist for the post-fascist Italian Social Movement, she and her group of militants, with nicknames like Frodo and Hobbit, revered the “Lord of the Rings” and other works by British writer JRR Tolkien. They went to schools dressed as characters. They would gather “at the sound of Boromir’s horn” for cultural talks. She attended a “Hobbit Camp” and sang with the extremist folk band Compagnia dell’Anello (or Fellowship of the Ring).

All of this might seem like a youthful infatuation with a work that is often associated with fantasy-fiction and big-budget epics rather than political militancy. But in Italy, “The Lord of the Rings” has for half a century been a central pillar on which the descendants of post-fascism rebuilt a far-right identity, seeking in a mythical traditionalist era symbols, heroes and creation myths free of fascist taboos. .

“I think Tolkien would be able to say what conservatives believe better than we can,” said Meloni, 45. “The Lord of the Rings” was not only his favorite book series, it was also a sacred text. “I don’t think ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is fantasy,” she asserted.

Replete with good and virtuous characters defending their idyllic, wooded kingdoms from hordes of dark and violent orcs, Tolkien’s agrarian universe has sparked debate in academics and convention centers for decades about the author’s racial and ideological biases, his vision of modernity and globalization. More recently, his works have also provided fertile ground for nationalists who see themselves reflected in his heroic archetypes.

But in Italy, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the maps of Mordor have informed generations of young post-fascists, including Meloni, who the latest polls suggest will emerge on Election Sunday as the first woman to serve as prime minister. in Italy and the first with post-fascist roots.

Meloni — who heads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, has called for a naval blockade against illegal migrants and warns his followers of the dark conspiratorial forces of international bankers — first read Tolkien, a conservative who once said that Hitler was a “ruddy little ignoramus” at age 11. She became a fan of fantasy.

In her twenties, she appeared in internet chat rooms under the nickname Khy-ri, calling herself “little dragon of the Italian subnet”. Not long ago, he baptized his political conference with the name of Atreyu, the name of the hero of “The Neverending Story”, a well-known cult movie from the eighties in which a flying animatronic character appeared that seemed to be half dragon and half dragon. Labrador dog.

As a government minister in 2008, 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 defied people’s apathy and indifference.” Last month, she lamented that her busy campaign schedule prevented her from starring in the new Amazon series “Rings of Power.”

But Meloni’s interests in the other world have as much to do with politics as personal taste.

“The fantastic genre has always been cultivated by the Italian right,” said Umberto Croppi, a former member of the Italian Social Movement who is now director of a national association of private and public agencies in Italy’s cultural industry. He commented that the two worlds shared “a vision of spirituality against imperialism, a metaphysical vision of life against the ways of the modern world.”

The modern world did not work out so well for the red-bone fascists who remained faithful to Hitler and Benito Mussolini after the official Italian government switched sides to join the Allies during World War II.

After the war, many of these fascists left the Italian Social Movement, but the party’s efforts to re-enter Italian institutions hit a wall. Its younger members, feeling excluded from civil society, took advantage of the Italian edition of the “Lord of the Rings,” prefaced by Elémire Zolla, a philosopher who was a point of reference for the extreme right and who argued that Tolkien ” He was talking about everything that we face every day.”

That resonated with a small group in the party’s Youth Front, already angered by the left’s cultural dominance. As one of their leaders, Generoso Simeone, put it, they saw themselves as “inhabitants of mythical Middle-earth, who also fought dragons, orcs, and other creatures.” Seeking a more palatable alternative to quoting Mussolini’s speeches and spray-painting swastikas, which Croppi noted “was easy to reproduce on walls,” in 1977 they created the first Hobbit Camp festival.

“The idea of ​​calling it Hobbit Camp came out of a real strategy,” said Croppi, one of its founders. The idea was to go beyond the old symbols and take advantage of the isolation, the smallness and the victimization of the party by the violent enemies of the left to make its hero “not the warrior Aragorn, but the little hobbit: we wanted to get away of that militaristic and heroic idea”.

When Meloni made her appearance as a teenage activist in the Youth Front in Rome in the 1990s, the far right — particularly in the capital — remained narrow-minded and struggled to break with the older generation.

Francesco Lollobrigida, leader of Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy (as well as his brother-in-law), commented that he and others since the 1980s wanted to “break with the patterns of a party that still had within it people who had lived through the Social Republic Italiana, the State where fascism was conceived”.

Meloni, sitting across from him, nodded.

“We had a desire to distance ourselves from that,” he said.

Meloni, who seems determined to pick up her own brass ring after decades in the political trenches, said her understanding of power and how it corrupts and isolates people was “very tied to reading Tolkien.”

“I consider power to be very dangerous. I consider him an enemy and not a friend,” she concluded.

The hobbits and the extreme right: this is how fantasy inspires the possible new leader of Italy