Why right-wing Italians love hobbits, pirates and talking seagulls

From The Economist:

The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome houses choice examples of 19th- and 20th-century Italian art. But the books currently on sale in its vestibule have nothing to do with futurism or Arte Povera. They are by – or about – J.R.R. Tolkien, a British writer of fantasy. “One of the greatest authors of the last century,” murmured Carlo Pesce, a Venetian business executive, as he fingered an edition of “The Silmarillion”, a dense narrative even die-hard fans tend to skip.

The books were put on sale as part of a show called “Tolkien: Man, Professor, Author”.

Italy’s right-wing government had sponsored the exhibition as a component of its cultural strategy, which aims to dismantle the long-standing ascendancy of Italy’s mainly left-leaning intellectuals and artists. At a packed news conference held to announce the exhibition, the culture minister extolled Tolkien as “a staunch Catholic who exalted the value of tradition and of the community to which one belongs…a true conservative.” Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister, took time out from her official duties to open the show, and the inauguration was attended by a bevy of ministers from her party, the Brothers of Italy (fdi). It was given extensive, admiring coverage on the prime-time news bulletin of the largest state-owned tv channel.

Italy’s culture minister extols Tolkien as “a staunch Catholic who exalted the value of tradition and of the community to which one belongs…a true conservative”
Attendance was sparse when I visited on a chilly weekday afternoon in January, yet the woman at the ticket office said the turnout had been “pretty good”. Still, the exhibition hardly lived up to the razzmatazz with which it was unveiled. It consisted of film clips and photos of Tolkien, illustrations for his books in which heroes slay dragons and grapple with orcs and editions of his works in a bewildering assortment of languages. There were also costumes and posters from Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings”, and a clip in which the wizard Gandalf battles the ghastly Balrog. There was even a gaudily decorated Tolkien-themed pinball machine. Meloni pronounced it all “very beautiful”.

. . . .

Tolkien, however, is only one of a strange collection of cultural touchstones held in esteem by Meloni and her party, which dominates Italy’s governing coalition. The fdi champions an array of writers, artists and film-makers who would be unfamiliar to most mainstream European and American conservatives. Surprisingly, few of them are Italian but they provide the country’s nationalists with a store of reference points. And not all of them are conservatives. What they have in common is a shared genre: fantasy.

Link to the rest at The Economist