The Russian novel that inverts the roles in The Lord of the Rings: Sauron and the orcs are the good ones


It is doubtful that there is anyone who has not heard, even by minimal references, of The Lord of the Rings; some by his literary version, others by the cinematographic ones, many by both. The work of J.R.R. Tolkien is a fantastic story of epic tone that has captivated generation after generation with the heroic resistance of the different peoples of Middle Earth to the expansion of the sinister Sauron and his army of dark beings. Now, what if that kind of contemporary Chanson de geste were to be turned around from the point of view of the Dark Lord? What if, in fact, this were not so bad, nor the others so good? Russian writer Kiril Yeskov gave answers to all this in his novel The Last Ring.

Tolkien was a prestigious philologist and university professor who in 1937 held an Anglo-Saxon chair in Oxford when he wrote a story for his children that his friend, also writer Clive Staples Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia), recommended he publish. It was titled The Hobbit and the success it also had among the adult public led the publisher to ask for a sequel two years later. Thus, alternating his work in teaching with archaeological collaborations, he got down to work with The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R Tolkien/Image: Tolkien Library

It was finished in 1949 but because it was so bulky and after World War II there was a shortage of paper, the publisher decided to take it out little by little in three volumes. The author did not like the idea and while they were arguing he focused on an old story rejected in his day, The Silmarillion. Finally the three parts of the novel were published between 1949 and 1955: The Community of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The criticisms were disparate and extreme, from the openly negative to the enthusiastic.

The most curious were those who accused Tolkien of being fascist and racist because the atmosphere of the book was connected to the Nordic mythology so claimed by the Nazis and, moreover, all the good characters were white while the bad ones were dark in colour. Essays were even written to prove it, despite the author’s own statements, who during the war had already expressed his opposition to Nazism and ridiculed its racial theories.

The Spanish version of the three volumes

It was a heavy burden that Tolkien had been born in apartheid South Africa and that, in addition to a devout Catholic who had more often than not expressed derogatory views on Anglicanism, he was very conservative, having supported the Franco side in the Spanish Civil War and Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement with Hitler (he considered the communists more dangerous). The fact is that this ghost has persecuted him until today when, having reached unprecedented heights of popularity in his work, his figure remains in question and even the BNP (British National Party, of the extreme right) considers him one of its own.

All this was the starting point for Kiril Yuryevich Yeskov, a Russian biologist and palaeontologist born in Moscow in 1956. In the biological field his specialty is, in the first field, the arachnids of Siberia and the east of Russia, and in the second, the Paleozoic and Cenozoic periods; between them he accredits almost a hundred scientific publications, including school textbooks, apart from having discovered seven new genera of spiders and having baptized thirteen species with his name.

Kiril Yeskov/Image: БережнойСергей in Wikimedia Commons

Since 1996, when he published his first novel, The Secret Gospel (The Gospel of Afranius, in its original Russian), Yeskov widens his productive horizon with literature, in which he usually adopts a skeptical and demystifying vision conjugated with sarcastic humour, although without going as far as parody. For example, in this seminal work he presents a Jesus manipulated by the Roman secret services who, through the so-called Operation Fish, want him to preach non-violence in order to change the ancestral hostility of the Jews, always with Judas as an agent in the shadows.

On the other side, The Last Ring Bearer (in Spain The Last Ring) is based on the maxim that history is written by the victors to rewrite Tolkien’s trilogy from the point of view of the bad guys -who turn out not to be so bad- and continue it. In his version, Mordor is a land of promise about to initiate an industrial revolution and Barad-dûr its capital, an illustrious, luminous city that lives in the splendour given to it by artists, poets, philosophers and sages in a civilizing task in open opposition to the superstitions of the magicians who keep Middle-earth in ignorance. The Nazgûls are scientists who have made a harmless ring to try to divert attention from a sinister alliance between elves, humans, dwarfs and medium sized people that threatens them with their imperialist and predatory ambitions.

Three different Spanish editions

Aragorn is a puppet managed by the elves to control the kingdom of Gondor, who murdered Boromir when he discovers his plan, and being artfully manipulated by Arwen for that purpose; Faramir lives in exile, watched over by Eowyn; and Gandalf is described by Saruman as “the final solution to the Mordorian problem”. Having clarified those precedents that change the meaning of the original, Yeskov begins his sequel starting with the fall of Sauron -which is actually called Auron- and the massacre perpetrated by the elves in Mordor after the defeat of the orcs, which, by the way, are not monsters: that is the name given to the soldiers of that land with an infamous spirit, as it happens with the trolls.

Precisely two of them, Haladdin and Tzerlag, accompanied by an unredeemed Gondorian nobleman, Tangorn, constitute what could be called the alternative Ring Company to the one that was the protagonist of Tolkien’s work. Only this time it is not necessary to destroy a ring but Galadriel’s mirror, which, being the link between the physical world and the world of origin of the elves, the Arda, their disappearance would leave them devoid of magic and, consequently, of power. Thus, Frodo’s role in The Lord of the Rings is assumed here by Haladdin, a somewhat memo character, while Gandalf’s previous sponsorship is now exercised by Sharya-Rana, the last Nazgûl.

Map of Middle Earth according to Tolkien’s novel / Image: Juan M. Villa in El Anillo Único

The last ring could not be translated into English for a paper edition and has only been published under a non-commercial license in a free digital version. This is because Tolkien’s heirs maintain a tight control over copyright -until 2043- and do not admit works related to the subject that do not have their authorization. But in other countries it can be found in bookshops; in Spain since 2004, the year in which it was translated.

Sources: El último anillo (Kiril Yeskov)/J.R.R. Tolkien. A biography (Humphrey Carpenter)/J.R.R. Tolkien, génesis de una leyenda (Colin Duriez)/Lord of the Rings. Questions and answers/The Back Story to the Last Ring-bearer (Kiril Yeskov en Live Journal)/Wikipedia