If Simon Schama wrote a history book describing Mary Queen of Scots as black, then I’d get the hysteria.

However, our latest cultural race war isn’t about reality or anything so mundane, heaven forfend. It’s about the Lord of the Rings. For pity’s sake. Ethnic conflict hasn’t broken out over a new movie, though. Certainly not, that would be too, um … obvious? Predictable? Insane, but not quite as insane as what’s coming?

The hate and rage is about a set of collectible cards. For pity’s sake (times two). Aragorn - a human character in Tolkien’s novels - is portrayed as black in this subset of nerdism within nerdism, and all hell has broken loose.

A strange section of Tolkien fans (which one imagines makes a nice Venn diagram with folk who think "cultural marxism" is a thing) have got their knickers in such a twist that their pants look like my head-phone cord after I fall asleep listening to Melvin Bragg in bed.

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Clearly, the notion of a "white character" being turned into a "black character" is much more challenging to some than the idea that Orcs fight Elves, huge-footed Hobbits steal invisibility rings, trees talk, dragons are basically Vladimir Putin with scales, and wizards do wizardy things while blowing cool smoke rings.

You better not mess with the made-up children’s books that grown men and women would die on a hill for, okay.

Let’s get some background, as this isn’t just a case of pointing and laughing at a few geeks who’ve let the hem of their racism show. There’s a serious side to this absurdity too.

So, new artwork in a collectible card set called Magic: the Gathering (sorry, me neither, and I’m into weird things) has turned Aragorn black. "Who is Aragorn’" I hear the millions of people who don’t live in their mum’s basement covered in Wotsit crumbs cry. Aragorn is a big old muscly hero type, very alpha. Now he’s got dreadlocks. Cue lunacy.

“This is just race-baiting,” one fan screamed. Race-baiting? Did the Black Panthers just dig up Queen Victoria and roll her corpse down Pall Mall? If so, I definitely missed the race-baiting. I thought it was an artist doing some art.

Forgive me for what comes next, as to some it may as well be written in Venusian, but Aragorn, is a Numenorean. That’s a fair-skinned race, apparently, in Tolkien’s books. Aragorn is a Numenorean, the way Dracula is a vampire. In other words, he’s not real and he’s not that thing which isn’t real either.

Confession: I did read some Tolkien, in first year of "big school", when I still watched cartoons. Then I realised there were girls out there, and parties, and switched to Jack Kerouac (spoiler alert, he’s over-rated). I’m not anti-Tolkien. I kind of liked his stuff when I was 11. It’s a great way to get kids reading.

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But I struggle with kidulthood: grown men, mostly men, and some women, losing their marbles over Doctor Who and Marvel movies. Look, indulge these childhood pleasures all you want - whatever gets you through the night. But maybe keep the obsession on the down-low. Arrested development isn’t a good look. We can embrace the innocence of childhood without wearing metaphorical nappies. Children are nice, so try being nice instead of fan-boying over superheroes.

We all rightly enjoy some childhood nostalgia. I’ll still watch a Star Wars movie if it comes on telly. But if some director made Darth Vadar a woman with a Geordie accent in a rainbow cape, I’m barely going to bat an eyelid, let alone reach for Twitter and spew my madness into the ether.

But evidently the elephant - the Orc - in the room is race. Folk like me - white, middle-aged - have enjoyed an entire lifetime of seeing ourselves reflected in culture. Books, TV, movies, art, opera, ballet - most culture, save perhaps music after the 1950s - reflected whiteness back to white people.

Is it really so wrong to let some black kids see a representation of themselves in the culture they consume? So what if a white character becomes black? For centuries we watched white actors play Othello. Throughout my childhood, portrayals of black people on screen were either criminal, servile or pitiable. Asian people were stereotyped as inscrutable, cunning, evil, humourless. It was malignant, racist nonsense and showed a disgraceful dearth of creativity by creative people.

Back to that point I made at the beginning of this discussion about an imaginary scenario in which some famous historian, like Simon Schama, writes a book that changes a white historical figure to black. I’d be the first on the barricades of truth. It would be a corruption of reality, an injection of lies into the public mind.

But guess what: make-believe doesn’t really matter that much. And I say that as a novelist. It’s not history, it’s not true. If you read one of my books and imagine a character is black, brown, tangerine with green spots, I don’t care. In fact, I’m glad a reader would play with something I’d written in such an imaginative way.

Even if I described a character as white, but a director adapted the book and made them brown, so what? Who is being hurt? Me? Definitely not. The reader? Why? The viewer? Why? Or are some people with a different-coloured skin to me being welcomed into the world I created just a little bit more?

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We’ve had this nonsense time and again. Oh my god, Idris Elba is going to play James Bond! The horror! Dr Who isn’t white any more! Call the SAS! There are black people pretending to be posh English aristocrats on Bridgerton! Won’t somebody think of the children?

It’s astonishing that in 2023 some people still guard skin colour in a world of fantasy. But here the hell we are. Here’s the thing about fantasy: anything can happen, anything is possible. So imagine a world where we can all see some representation of ourselves in art. Imagine a world in which petty, small people realise that the way they see the world, the way they want to keep the world, is entirely of no consequence at all.