Women in Tolkien's writings

Discussion in 'The Hall of Fire' started by Andreth, Jan 9, 2013.

  1. Andreth

    Andreth Registered User

    I know this is some kind of a classic topic, but I think it's quite interesting, indeed.
    I often noticed that many referred to women in Tolkien's books as being underrepresented, or at least portrayed as minor characters; well, I'm a woman too, and so this topic has quite an importance for me. Everyone knows - at least from his letters - that professor Tolkien was not very positive to feminine emancipation ( he thought necessary for a woman to vow obedience to his husband, for example, and he thought a woman couldn't create anything without having a male as her ultimate source ), but, however, I find that his books demonstrated a deep respect for women instead; they were of course under represented and oftentimes their own goals were referred as being their men's ( I'm thinking especially of Luthien, who freed Beren from Sauron's dungeon and succeeded in entering in Angband and even put Melkor at bay, three tasks that would probably have proven impossibile without her ), but, as characters, they were always very strong, more often than not a true challenge for their husbands ( i.e., Nerdanel, Melian, Galadriel, Morwen... ), and, even more important to me, very feminine-like: they were not " man-maidens ", as claimed Galadriel's name, but women all the way: remember when Tolkien describes the poor, misfortunate, weak Aerin in the Children of Hurin and the comment on her burning the halls of Hurin? Never underestimate a sweet, delicate woman: her greatest goal could be in accepting her own destiny, a thing I found most brave, braver indeed than all of Turin's misfortunate struggles against his own destiny. And what about Andreth? Unyielding, proud, and still managing her love to be her greatest power, something I call " the strength of weakness "; remember her phrase " for one year, on day, to the Flame I would have given all "? I think that it's this ability to exploit life to its utmost that makes all of them so great.
    and then, there are women like Eowyn, fighters, strong, unyielding and brave; or like Galadriel, as much wise as strong and self-willed, or great artists and sub-creators themselves, like Nerdanel. They have indeed small parts to play, as is normal with a classic epic tale, but great characters nonetheless.
    what do you think about this topic yourself?
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  2. Maiden_of Harad

    Maiden_of Harad Diligere est Pati

    Tolkien's female characters, though they may be in the background compared to his male characters, often have a depth that some writers have trouble getting in their main chracters.
    Considering Tolkien's Catholic background, I'm not suprised at this depth and his deep reverence for women. After all, look at these role models of Catholic ( and Biblical ) women:
    Queen Isabella of Spain, who rode to the battlefield dispite pregnancy; Saint Catherine of Siena, who persuaded a pope to return to Rome instead of remaining in a luxurious French court; Saint Joan of Arc, whose deeds I need not name; Jael, who killed a Syrian general by pounding a tent stake into his head ( yikes! ); hundreds of martyrs who endured torment and death; women who dedicated their lives as nuns to the service of God and man, sometimes to death ( nursing nuns who died of disease, ect. ); and millions of women who raised children to become decent citizens of society.
    There's a LOT more women I could write about, but I digress...
    I think that a good example of Tolkien's view of women can be found in LOTR, when Tom Bombadill and Goldberry were serving dinner to the hobbits. They move in a different way, yet the actions of the one complements the actions of the other.
    And yes, we women do possess such a thing as "the strength of weakness", and it's far braver to be a women to the full than anything else.
  3. Dís

    Dís Registered User

    Don't forget Tolkien's own mother whom he considered a martyr since she refused to be medically treated when it would have meant to deny her catholic faith.

    He did object to fighting women, though. Even Eowyn "comes to her senses" after meeting Faramir. It is considered an old-fashioned conviction that men and women do not have the same obligations but rather should complete one another through their differences, but it's still a possible one. I myself, being a woman, totally share it.
  4. Maiden_of Harad

    Maiden_of Harad Diligere est Pati

    How could I forget his mother!
    I always thought that fighting women were/should be an exception to the rule, doing so only in extreme need.
    I also share the belief that men and women are different but complementary, which is not old-fashioned to me, but common sense.
  5. Andreth

    Andreth Registered User

    Yes, I always thought that this kind of respect for women had its source in his own reverence for his mother... She surely was smitten to his son.
    Tolkien says that in the Noldorin people women were accounted as being extremely brave and valiant in battle, and that the fact that they usually didn't go to battle was meant to preserve their reproductive power; even if I don't believe in the existence of such kind of power ( I think that women and men merely have or have not a disposition for parentage, and a certain degree of vitality that should go, if they want, in the begetting and uprising of children; surely not an easy task ), I think that such an idea helds some kind of charm: surely, to kill is not a natural activity for a human being, both male and female; I'm speaking as a would-be scientist: our brain is bound to get to know things through others' experience simply reproducing them in our mind as if they were happening to ourselves; and everyone knows how deep an instinct is, the survival one... After a killing, something changes inevitably in ourselves, male and female.
    however, I think that for Tolkien, Elven culture and Mortal culture were quite different: he doesn't argue on Galadriel being a warrior ( in one of his last writings, he said that she fought fiercely against Feanor, and she was also accounted to be a captain of warriors ), but, on the other hand, he clearly indicates that, even if Eowyn is in fact a valiant warrior, she is meant to be the housewife. Maybe this ambiguity is simply due to the different degree of vitality that the two races possessed... I'm not sure.
    but, what about the law that prohibited to Noldorin females to inherit the crown? I was not able to understand this point; if they esteemed women and men to be peers, even if of course different to a degree, why they didn't find them to be able to reign? What do you think about this point?
  6. Bucky

    Bucky Registered User

    The biggest problem with saying Tolkien didn't write enough about women or portrayed Orcs as Asians, etc is:

    He lived & wrote this stuff a long time ago & folks insist on critiquing it from their post-modern view-point, which is totally unfair to the man & his time.

    Go read Mark Twain's books like Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn...

    I guarentee you'll come back & call him a racist for using the dreaded 'n' word
  7. Andreth

    Andreth Registered User

    I agree with you; as I've said, it's normal that there are few women in Tolkien's writings; in fact, I've started this thread because I wanted to know your thought about them, about the feminine nature in Tolkien's writings, not to number all of them in a row and utter " Poor me, they're not enough!" :)
  8. Maiden_of Harad

    Maiden_of Harad Diligere est Pati

    I have read both of those books. I even read Huckleberry Finn twice. And, though I'm black, I DO NOT think that Mark Twain was "racist".
    Some people use that word when it is not appropriate.
    And I definitely do not find Tolkien racist or sexist either.
  9. Withywindle

    Withywindle Registered User

    The point with Tolkien´s writings is not that he was writing 50 plus years ago, nor does it matter too much what his own views were. What you must remember is that he was writing a mythology and a saga: the perspective was that of Antiquity in the Silmarillion, and the Dark Ages in the LOTR (and pre-industrial, rural England in certain chapters set in the Shire). His genius presents each of these works to us a if they really belonged to our own history and his use of language, the role he has for women and his depiction of other races are all consistent with this. In other words, Tolkien could have been writing yesterday and have had radically progressive views, but with the same artistic integrity and genius, have produced exactly the same works.
  10. Bucky

    Bucky Registered User

    Well, since you asked what I think...

    It's a crying shame we live in a time where folks have to be so sensitive about what everybody else does and says & can't just be comfortable with who they are & have to worry about what some dead guy who lived in a completely different time & worldly mindset thought about women.

    I personally like all his characters except the walking tree who bores me to death & the fact he uses them saying they looked with "wonder" too much.
  11. Firawyn

    Firawyn Verbatim et litteratim.

    I think one point here that has not been brought up is that of class. In Tolkien's work, where a female character appeared to have some say in her life, she was of a higher 'class'. Elves are portrayed to be of higher intellect, sense, and overall importance. Characters like Galadriel and Arwen were very powerful. I'd say that below Elves in 'class' stood the people of Gondor, then of Rohan, then of Dwarves, then Hobbits. Arwen was criticized for wanting to be with Aragorn, a man of Gondor, because he was of a 'lesser class'. In the case of Eowyn, she was praised for her interest in Aragorn and in Faramir, both men of Gondor, a higher 'class'.

    I bring this point up in this thread because how each of the female characters in Tolkien's work developed depended greatly on their 'class'. Arwen and Eowyn, for example, while they were not burned at the stake for doing something beyond their status, were criticized for doing so. On the flip side of that coin, someone like Rosie Cotton-Gamgee was slightly developed in the beginnings of LotR, but then her character just sat there and waited for Sam to come home to her; very much the servile wife type, never even questioning what her role was. I have often wished that Tolkien had used Rosie's character as someone who was leading the rebellion during the Scouring of the Shire.

  12. Elostirion

    Elostirion Registered User

    "On the flip side of that coin, someone like Rosie Cotton-Gamgee was slightly developed in the beginnings of LotR, but then her character just sat there and waited for Sam to come home to her; very much the servile wife type, never even questioning what her role was. I have often wished that Tolkien had used Rosie's character as someone who was leading the rebellion during the Scouring of the Shire."

    Very good point!
  13. jallan

    jallan Registered User

    Tolkien indeed did think that a woman must vow obedience to her husband, this being part of the marriage vows of his church. How strongly he thought this I do not know. Many commentators on those vows weaken this command by emphasizing the husband’s obligation to love his wife, which effectively requires that he also obey her. I am unaware where Tolkien tackles this in Letters. Please advise.

    That a woman couldn’t create anything without having a male as her ultimate source seems to me to derive from things that C. S. Lewis wrote, before his marriage. I don’t recall where Tolkien writes anything comparable. Where in Letters do you find this?

    Not true for me and others, including Maiden of Harad. So your guarantee fails. But what were you planning to pay as your guarantee? Nothing? Then your guarantee is only empty words. Most readers recognize that Mark Twain was only using the language of the time about which he was writing.

    Rose Cotton does NOT appear anywhere “in the beginnings of LotR”. Rose’s very existence is first mentioned in The Return of the King, chapter 3 in flashback, just before Sam and Frodo begin their trek up Mount Doom. Even then there is no hint of any romantic interest between Sam and Rose. Another flashback, with still no suggestion of romance, appears a few pages later. That Sam and Rose are already in love is only revealed in chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”, when Rose is introduced again. There are hints that they had already decided to marry before Sam had even left the Shire with Frodo, but only hints. Perhaps Sam’s courting of Rose had not then progressed so far as an official engagement.

    Tolkien obviously intends Sam’s love for Rose be a surprise for the reader.

    Rose is still more highly characterized than Diamond of Long Cleve who married Pippin in 1427 S.R. Diamond is in turn more highly characterized than Estella Bolger who married Merry. Estella appears first as an addition to the Brandybuck genealogy in the Ballantine edition.

    Rose seems to know what her role was to be, Sam’s wife, for better or for worse. And Sam seems to know what his role was to be: Rosie’s husband. Yet I do not find the complaint that Sam was very much the servile husband type, never even questioning what his role was.

    Tolkien does unexpectedly give us a female heroine in the rebellion against Sharkey: Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, of all people.
  14. Eledhwen

    Eledhwen Cumbrian

    Tolkien's depictions of women in his writings do not trouble me. The thirst for glory/revenge/domination is often seen in the downfall of male characters. Those who grasp at or cling on to power lose it. For those who do what's right, fighting is an evil, undertaken as a necessity. I know it's not popular to cite the biological differences between men and women, but they exist and they matter. In LotR they provide nurture and shelter. They edify the travellers who meet them. They are placeholders in the story; a place to return to. Yet, when no man steps forward to do what's needed, a woman can take on the commission. Tolkien will have been aware of the Biblical Judge, Deborah, who reluctantly led because men wouldn't (It's a good story, if you haven't read it). Luthien stood with Beren and rescued him. The Witch King could not be slain by a man, indeed none could get near him; but Eowyn was so lost to hope that she did not quail in the shadow of the Nagzul and killed him. As Jallan pointed out, Lobelia stood up to Sharkey, while the rest of The Shire sleepwalked into servitude. But these are the exception. They are not in the battle, but the women are the hope, the strength in the sword hand. They, and the hearth and home that they promise, are the reason the battle is worthwhile. If this means they get only a passing mention in the story, so be it. And who would complain, when that mention is the likes of "Queen of Farmer's Wives"?

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