Archive for April, 2018

Female Figures in Tolkien

Since I discovered the Lord of the Rings online game, my husband and I have been avid players. Board games and card-playing before the computer age furnished pastimes for senior citizens; therefore, this craze was not incompatible with our advanced age nor with my past enthusiasm as a reader of Tolkien’s works.  In my younger days I had read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. Furthermore, we both loved Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s novels and had just finished viewing all six of the films again. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve watched those movies since they were first released, and viewing them once more triggered my desire to read all four books again. I read them this time with the distinct purpose of examining Tolkien’s female characters, which are known to be few and far between, so much so that Peter Jackson felt the necessity to invent some. In either film or book, it is a mystery whether dwarves had any mothers. Interestedly, Jackson in one of the films has Gimli pull out a picture of his wife–a clever invention witnessing to Jackson’s own speculation about the absence of dwarf women in the novels. As for Bilbo and Frodo, they were confirmed bachelors. So let’s take a look at the instances of female figures in Tolkien’s books.

The Hobbit appeared first in 1937 and the trilogy was written over a span of years from 1937-1946. The Lord of the Rings was divided into three volumes–The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King–to save on costs, the first title published in July 1954, the second in November 1954 and the last in October 1955. Peter Jackson decided to first adapt the trilogy for the screen. Peculiarly, although The Hobbit is a shorter book, Jackson managed to stretch Bilbo’s adventures into three long-length feature films. There are no female figures in The Hobbit except for passing references to females in Bilbo’s genealogy. Because of this lack, Peter Jackson creates Tauriel, the elf who falls in love with the dwarf Kili. He also gives Lady Galadriel more scenes than she enjoys in the book.

Perhaps realizing the absence of female characters in The Hobbit, Tolkien in the trilogy supplies Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Goldberry, Arwen, Lady Galadriel, and Eowyn to fill that void. Lobelia is briefly mentioned as Bilbo’s somewhat obnoxious relative who resents his adoption of his nephew Frodo covets Bag End and reappears in the trilogy when Frodo returns to The Shire to find it assailed by ruffians. Lobelia fights the ruffians with her umbrella and is imprisoned as a result.  Goldberry is an intriguing, otherworldly female who inhabits the Old Forest with Tom Bombadil, equally mysterious. They both seem to embody the joyous, life-giving forces of nature, always singing and dancing. When Frodo asks Goldberry who she is, she replies that she is daughter of the river. Arwen, Elrond’s daughter, is encountered in Rivendell and makes only a cameo appearance and re-appears at the end of trilogy for Elrond to present her in marriage to Aragorn. Her beauty impresses Frodo and he learns her name means Evenstar.

Lady Galadriel plays a greater role in the advancement of the story when the company arrives in Lothlórien. She has telepathic and visionary powers, and of course, is painted as a creature of ethereal beauty. Gimli is particularly taken by the elf. Before the fellowship departs her realm, she presents each member a special gift to carry on their quest. These are the boons that are granted in the medieval quest tradition that will prove valuable to the bearers on their journey to Mordor.

Eowyn is the most fully drawn of the female figures. In his creation of Eowyn, Tolkien broadens his characterization beyond a beautiful female physical presence to include personality traits and motivation. Eowyn is depicted as a young woman with strong feelings and passions. She resists being left behind to tend the home fires while men go off to war. She is a shieldmaiden who is so incensed at being left behind that she disguises herself as a man and rides off to fight in Gondor. This woman occupies more scenes in the novel than any other female figure. She participates in the battle, is wounded, and is taken to the House of Healing. Eowyn interacts with Aragorn, Faramir, and other male characters more than any other female character. It is evident that she loves Aragorn from the first moment she sees him. He does not reciprocate that feeling, because he is smitten by Arwen. In the House of Healing, Eowyn is tended by Ioreth who is another stock character, noteworthy in that Tolkien casts a woman as a healer and herbalist. While under her care, she meets Faramir, also injured in the battle. Faramir falls in love with Eowyn who at first rejects his declaration of love, but later, with not a lot of explanation, accepts his proposal, probably realizing alliance with him is a good option in light of the fact Aragorn is betrothed to Arwen. Back in The Shire, Sam Gamgee weds the girl Rosie Cotton only mentioned briefly earlier in the trilogy and has a daughter he names Elanor for a golden flower found in Lothlórien.

Tolkien realized that The Hobbit was missing the element of chivalric love often found in a medieval quest narrative. In writing the trilogy he introduced romance and Eowyn, archetype of the warrior woman, the Amazon, who refuses to accept a minor role. Whenever I turn the last pages of The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn remains in my imagination as the most memorable female figure and potentially the focus for a spin-off novel–a sequel of Eowyn and Faramir during their long dual reign after their triumphal return to the Kingdom of Edoras–should a writer be so inspired.