Posts Tagged ‘The Hobbit’

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.


Lists of Best

As the calendar year draws to a close, ’tis the season to draw lists of best this and that.  Lists of the best books or the best films are appearing in newspapers and magazines. I always scan the lists with a certain fascination and then with mounting annoyance, because I really do not put much credence on pronouncements that any ten items cited are the only “bests” in a universe of outstanding artistic production. I have a sneaking suspicion that the works that appear on the makers’ lists can be more accurately described as the most memorable ones of the year to them, for there is something about the experience of reading the book or viewing the film, which sticks in the memory.

There are two movies of 2012 that will stick in my mind: Life of Pi and The Hobbit.  Having read both books several times, I was excited about going to see them on the big screen in 3D; normally, I prefer to watch films at home. The experience did not disappoint, and I’ll join the best-list makers by pronouncing the film adaptations were the best which any director probably could hope to accomplish. Best is never quite good enough when trying to pour the scope of a literary classic into a movie of a few hours. Peter Jackson must have despaired of the task, for the second half of The Hobbit will be released in 2013. What the movies did accomplish is to instill a burning desire in me to reread these two books once again. Last night I pulled out a copy of The Hobbit for my bedtime reading.  After I came home from seeing Life of Pi, I desperately searched bookcases for my copy without success. I knew that was one book I did not give to the Salvation Army. I was perplexed until my sister informed me I had lent the book to her.

Excellent as the film renderings of the tiger Richard Parker, the orangutan Orange, the zebra and the hyena are in Life of Pi, the movie could not possibly include all the humorous passages in which Pi practices three religions or cover the philosophical implications of Pi’s discoveries about animal behavior versus human behavior.  Pi’s examination of the survival manual in the lifeboat also contains some comic relief in a desperate situation. The conclusion offers the viewer two versions of the story. The choice of which story to believe–the more imaginative and fantastic and consequently the more enjoyable version; or the matter-of-fact more realistic one and consequently horrible revelation of human beings as also carnivorous animals–equates with the choice to believe in God or not to believe in God.  The author, Yann Martel, infers the belief in God is a better story.

Life of Pi enshrines story-telling as a fundamental impulse of mankind. Pi’s story is richly layered, funny at times, nuanced with metaphysical speculation on the nature of reality and man’s relation to the animal kingdom. On a basic level, it can be simply read as a riveting fable.  The movie successfully suggests all these threads in the book’s variegated tapestry.  Because the novel draws from literary tradition from around the world and the fable form might engage reluctant teen readers, I selected it for my sophomore English class to read during my year of high-school teaching. I also selected it because there was no movie version out at the time. Half of the class read the book and the other half asked to see the movie.

I have memories of reading aloud Tolkien’s The Hobbit and trilogy to my son before he fell asleep. What a bedtime story it still is!

Please Trespass Here

I read both novels and poetry. Sometimes I combine the two and read a verse-novel (a rare find). An excellent example of a full-length verse-novel that I recently reread is Darlington’s Fall by Brad Leithauser. It leaves me wondering why it did not receive more acclaim than it did.  The novel I just finished reading is 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. Wanting to know about this writer, I read that he died before the novel was published and that he wrote poetry first, but turned to novels to earn money when he had children to feed. That got me to thinking about other novelists who also wrote poetry. Margaret Atwood, D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong, Herman Melville, John Updike, and Sherman Alexie come to mind. If my readers can suggest others, please share them and offer your opinion of how well they do in each genre. There is also Sylvia Plath, primarily a poet, who wrote her one novel The Bell Jar. And, of course, Tolkien included verse in the form of songs in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy.

From writing poetry, I trespassed into the land of fiction, writing novels and short stories.  In my latest poetry book, Please Trespass Here, I have collected all the poetry I have written since 2001. The collection is divided into five sections: Settings, Characters, Motifs, Novenas for Grandmother, and Playground. The topics span world events in the first decade of the 21st century mixed with humorous takes on daily life and nature. Themes turn to the criminal mind and to literary figures. The title invites the reader to trespass into the poet’s territory and be rewarded, among other things, with sightings of moose, a great grey owl, and a bear.  After completing this poetry book, I have set poetry aside for the time being to begin a new novel. I will never entirely abandon poetry, for I get great pleasure from crafting a poem’s lines and stanzas.

I invite those who only read novels or anyone who left poetry behind when they left school to trespass on the territory of poetry. The rhythm and imagery that jump out at you in your favorite prose passages thrive in the concision of poetry. I offer here the title piece:

 Please Trespass Here

Please Trespass Here Book Cover

The tempo of summer simply slows

Like subtle flutter of warbler wings.

A grasshopper lurches in the lawn,

While I loll, open book, on the deck.

Nothing as serene as a printed page

Spread to the sun in perfect marriage

Of mind and matter—the world soul

Emerson thought of long ages ago

Before my mountain home was born.

Unwelcome cowbird lands on the feeder.

Today I am content to see the intruder.

There’s room for crossbill and grosbeak,

Prettier by far than this dusky wayfarer

Who neither reads nor admits of signs.

Ample is the hour, ample is the sky

For vagrant cloud and flagrant crow.

No circle more sacred than black soil

And no world larger than this moment.