The "Evil Empire" Strikes Back
“There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world."
—Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring.
“What has become of the miserable Orcs?” said Legolas.
“That, I think no one will ever know,” said Gandalf.
—The Two Towers.
“Well, what can you expect from Orks?"
Viktor Pelevin, S.N.U.F.F.
Since sending its “polite little green men” into neighboring Ukraine, the Russian Federation has had an image problem. A large segment of the Western media has reduced the birthplace of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to a caricature of invasion-happy, gay-bashing ultranationalists led by a shirtless man on a horse. So of course, the obvious solution was to deck the skies of Moscow with one of the most internationally recognized symbols of evil this side of the swastika. In late 2014, in honor of the final installment of the eighty-seven-part Hobbit film series, a Russian art group decided to crown the Moscow International Business Center with the All-Seeing Eye of Sauron.
To be sure, this was not a government project; indeed, the group of hardcore Tolkien fans who constructed the Eye claimed to have been taken aback by an outpouring of criticism whose intensity rivaled Mount Doom itself.
As soon as word got out about the group’s plans for the Eye of Sauron, the Russian Orthodox Church Head of Public Affairs at the time, Vsevolod Chaplin, denounced the Eye as a “demonic symbol”:
For Chaplin, this was is par for the course; the man could find demonic symbols in his breakfast cereal. And, to be fair, the Russian Orthodox Church leadership is not the only religious group to go overboard with its warnings about the forces of darkness lurking in popular culture. Recall the American fundamentalist Protestants fuming over the “satanic” magic in the Harry Potter series. But the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy had been prevented from issuing such proclamations about mass culture for seven Soviet decades; in the last five years, it seems as though they’re determined to make up for lost time.
In any case, the Eye of Sauron was quickly closed, and, unlike in the original books, it didn’t even require a thousand pages of turgid prose and relentlessly merry ballads for this worthy quest to reach its completion.