Italy's Meloni pays visit to exhibition on Tolkien, her youthful obsession

FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Meloni and Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob meet in Rome

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited on Wednesday a new exhibition on British novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, whose globally popular books have also become a cult in Italian right-wing circles.

The exhibition "Tolkien. Man, Professor, Author" was inaugurated at Rome's National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, marking 50 years since the author's death, and includes letters, memorabilia and manuscripts.

The museum's website calls the show "an unparalleled journey" into the greatness of Tolkien that would allow visitors to understand "how his life and extraordinary knowledge of the ancient world underpinned his creativity."

"This is a fine page of culture," Meloni told reporters following the visit.

Meloni, who became prime minister last year, began her political career in the youth ranks of the far-right, post-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in the early 1990s, where Tolkien's books were a cultural touchstone.

They credit the novels with helping them rebuild a shared conservative identity that allowed them to distance themselves from the infamous fascist wartime dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

They portray Tolkien's work as embodying their struggle to defend tradition and cultural roots against the threats of a progressive agenda centred on unregulated globalisation.

Tolkien published "The Lord of the Rings" in 1954 and 1955, an immensely influential trilogy that is considered by many to be the defining work of fantasy fiction. He resisted those who sought allegories in his writing, and has fans across the political spectrum, including leftists like former U.S. President Barack Obama and author Stephen King.

In her autobiography "I am Giorgia," Meloni recalled organising carnival parties with her fellow militants where they dressed up as characters from the saga, including hobbits - small, easy-going folk who populate Tolkien's Middle-earth.

In the book, Meloni remembered how she dressed up as loyal hobbit Sam Gamgee. She said he was her favourite because he did not risk his life for glory but to change the world.

The show will be open in Rome until February and will then move to Naples and possibly to other Italian cities, the culture ministry said.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)