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The Women of Middle Earth (Great Article!)
Catholic Exchange ^ | 12/18/2003 | Christine O'Donnell

Posted on 12/19/2003 2:23:21 PM PST by Pyro7480

The Women of Middle Earth

In the midst of piles of Lord of the Rings merchandise on every shelf, Tolkien’s wisdom is applied to just about everything — Tolkien and industrialization, Tolkien and communism, Tolkien and religion, etc. What’s surprising, especially in today’s hypersensitive post-Gloria Steinem world, is the dearth of commentary on Tolkien and women.

The Bittersweet Complexities of True Womanhood

Even as I researched this article, the only writings on Tolkien and feminism I found were on websites for freebee high school essays.

Why is there seemingly so little written about Tolkien and women? Tolkien critics have accused the creator of Middle Earth of being anti-woman, even archaic, when viewed through today’s politically correct lens of gender roles. Is there a perception that women are similarly disinterested in Tolkien? Whatever the reason, it’s an untapped topic that when explored can offer great amusement and insight into the mysterious creature called the woman.

Tolkien’s portrayal of women in Lord of The Rings is bold and courageous. The bittersweet complexities of true womanhood are daringly depicted in each of the female characters. If these women are such fascinating and rich characters, why weren’t they given more page time? Brad Birzer, author of Sanctifying Myth, Understanding Middle Earth (ISI Books), points out that Lord of the Rings was written from a hobbit’s perspective. Saying that the lack of women in Lord of the Rings makes it anti-woman is like saying that Rob Reiner is a chauvinist for the lack of women in the film “Stand by Me.” To toss in a female character simply to appease the misguided demands of moviegoers would severely take away from the film's legitimacy.

The women in Tolkien’s trilogy possess such an authentic depth that even the little we do see of them has a profound impact on the whole adventure. Through his female characters, Tolkien offers insight into what it means to be a woman. He strikes a delicate balance between the extreme attitudes of feminism. His female characters, although drastically different from each other in personality, manifest at their core, true womanly femininity.

There’s the gentle and hopeful Arwen in whose presence everything becomes peaceful. There’s the tumultuous, restless Eowyn, whose free spirit leads her to triumph over her greatest foe. We have the regal matriarch Galadriel whose strength of mind has created a timeless haven for her people. Finally, there’s Belladonna Baggins, a hobbit who is mentioned in just four lines out of thousands of pages. Yet, it is from her bloodline that Bilbo Baggins inherits his atypical adventurous streak. This whisper of her presence ignites what has become a legend.

Matriarch, Princess, and Warrior

To me, Belladonna is the unseen grandmother whose prayers guide and protect her family as they go on to accomplish great tasks. She is the picture of a woman who has led a full life. The few lines written about her tell us that Belladonna did not have many adventures after she married, for her husband provided a great home for her. Belladonna’s independence in her earlier adventurous life before marriage provides a catalyst for Bilbo, her male heir. Yet, she is content, even utterly satisfied, in the role of a wife and mother.

Tolkien’s most popular female character is Arwen, the elven princess in love with the warrior Aragorn. In Tolkien’s writings, the immortal character of Arwen presents the softer virtues of femininity: she’s beautiful, gentle, and longsuffering. Everything about her is pure. Waiting for her beloved to return from his quest, she demonstrates faith and devotion, believing beyond all doubt that they will be reunited. In Arwen we see a tragic, romantic heroine, for Aragorn’s return means she must leave her people and face the knowledge that her mortal lover will someday die. Through her character, Tolkien shows us the challenge and the value of virtue and sacrifice.

I cannot understand why film critics praise Peter Jackson for his more masculine, modern adaptation of the elven Lady. Recall, if you will, the scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which a Ringwraith stabs Frodo. In the book, as Frodo escapes to Rivendell, the elven lord Glorfindal sends Frodo alone riding Asfaloth, Glorfindal’s white horse. The horse races across the ford with Frodo on his back just in time for a flood to engulf his pursuers. Later we learn that Elrond, the Elven King and Arwen’s father, summoned the flood.

Yet, in the film, Peter Jackson causes Arwen to perform the heroic tasks of Elrond and Glorfindal, making her appear more a stereotypical warrior princess like those popular with today’s audience. It is as though he is introducing her character as a warrior so viewers won’t notice that she becomes a passive heroine later in the story. It’s as if Jackson is justifying her later passive portrayal that is true to Tolkien’s Arwen.

Some critics claim that Tolkien’s serene version of femininity is offensive to the modern female viewer. As a modern female viewer, I find the assumption itself offensive. Just because women can be warriors doesn’t mean they have to be. Everything about Tolkien’s Arwen is tranquil, serene, calming. These qualities are part of the charm of the womanhood she expresses. There are many types of women in the world. Arwen represents one of them. She represents a pillar of calm that is a source of strength for her man. Her great contribution to the war is the strength she provides to the future King.

Peter Jackson’s adaptation is contradictory to this image. In Jackson’s introduction of Arwen, there is an out of place sauciness that goes against the meekness of her character. It’s unnecessary, too much embellishment. It’s like putting cheesecake on a lobster tail. Both are great foods, but they do not belong together. Nor is one better than the other.

This is not to say that Tolkien’s ideal woman is necessarily pure and angelic. Consider the significant role he gives to the more down to earth Eowyn, Lady of Rohan. Conflicted and free spirited, one can easily imagine Eowyn with a wicked case of PMS, which is part of why we love her. Still, she remains feminine bearing a sense of pride and dignity.

Eowyn is Arwen’s opposite. Arwen represents the calm and serene. She’s content to stay at home. Eowyn is internally conflicted. A free spirit, she feels caged in her role as nursemaid to an ailing king. Restless, and at the same time she bears a deep compassion for her people and a desire to protect them. She displays an absolute refusal to watch her country fall down around her while she is doing nothing. In her desperation, she disguises herself as a man so she can ride with the King and his soldiers in the War of the Ring. Rather than live a stifled life behind the city’s walls, she seeks an honorable death fighting for her people: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Was Tolkien a Liberator or an Oppressor?

Budding feminists in the essays cited earlier assert that in Tolkien’s chauvinistic Middle Earth, Eowyn had to become a man in order to reach her destiny. To be a hero, a woman must become masculine. What they overlook is the significant role Tolkien gave her and the radical statement he makes. Tolkien elevates womanhood; it is specifically her gender that allows her to triumph. No man can defeat the Witch King. But Eowyn is no man.

In the battle for Gondor, the Witch-King, chief of Sauron’s minions, attacks a disguised Eowyn and her King. As she bravely draws her sword in defense of her wounded companion, the Witch-King scoffs, “Thou Fool. No living man may hinder me!”

Eowyn laughs and retorts, “…No living man am I. You look upon a woman…You stand between me and my lord and my kin…I will smite you if you touch him.” After centuries of conquering male warriors, the Witch-King is ultimately vanquished by a woman.

When we first met Eowyn, she was conflicted about the fire inside of her. For her whole life she was expected to behave like Arwen, though she desired to take an active role in stopping the downward changes occurring in her country. When this wasn’t permitted, the wild spirit in her was stifled and gave way to bitterness and despair. It is only when she reconciles her femininity with her warrior spirit that the torment is gone, and her true womanhood is discovered.

Perhaps Tolkien is showing us that all types of femininity are valid. Obliterating one in favor of the other is destructive to all. Each type of woman is crucial to the wellbeing of a healthy community.

Was Tolkien sympathizing with the plight of women in his day, when the only options besides housewife were waitress, secretary, or movie star? Maybe Tolkien was saying that while woman should be respected, some of society’s ‘chivalrous’ ideas were doing more harm than good, isolating woman instead of protecting them.

© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange


Christine O'Donnell serves as Director of Communications for the
Intercollegiate Studies Institute. She has been described as sassy, stubborn and sweet, and by those who disagree with her as "the girl you hate to love." This young woman who National Review Magazine says "blends the flare of the Bible with Cosmopolitan," shatters the stereotype about her generation. Her frequent television appearances include ABC's Politically Incorrect, MTV, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNBC.


TOPICS: Books/Literature; Hobbies; Music/Entertainment; Religion; TV/Movies; The Hobbit Hole
KEYWORDS: arwen; eowyn; lotr; middleearth; odonnell; tolkien; women
I saw the author speak on this at the Heritage Foundation yesterday over lunch. She gave a really good presentation. Her niece was also present to assist her, since she is also a huge Tolkien fan. She expanded on her article a bit, and opened it up for discussion. The whole thing was taped by Book Tv, and should air in late January 2004
1 posted on 12/19/2003 2:23:22 PM PST by Pyro7480
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To: ecurbh; RosieCotton; HairOfTheDog; Corin Stormhands
Ping!
2 posted on 12/19/2003 2:24:10 PM PST by Pyro7480 ("We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid" - Benjamin Franklin)
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To: 2Jedismom; 300winmag; Alkhin; Alouette; ambrose; Anitius Severinus Boethius; artios; AUsome Joy; ...

Ring Ping!!
There and Back Again: The Journeys of Flat Frodo

Anyone wishing to be added to or removed from the Ring-Ping list, please don't hesitate to let me know.

3 posted on 12/19/2003 2:32:17 PM PST by ecurbh (There's gonna be a hobbit wedding!)
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To: Pyro7480
I'll have to watch for this!
4 posted on 12/19/2003 2:38:05 PM PST by SuziQ
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To: Pyro7480
Why is there seemingly so little written about Tolkien and women?

Perhaps because Tolkien wrote so little about women. I always found Arwen stultifying. When my best friend and I were in junior high, we'd role-play LOTR, and we'd have screaming knock-down-drag-out fights about who got to be Eowyn.
5 posted on 12/19/2003 2:49:42 PM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: Pyro7480
Important to remember Tolkien was English and all of the women were royal. They were of the aristocracy. Except Bilbo's mother. So they had certain roles to play as aristocrats. Eowyn takes on the duties of an aristocratic male, that of a squire, really, as in a young warrior that has been knighted. Arwen oerforms the duties of the princess of a small kingdom. The rules Eowen breaks are those expected of a royal princess.
6 posted on 12/19/2003 3:50:42 PM PST by squarebarb (post number 178, just trying to get my numbers up)
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To: Pyro7480
reqd later
7 posted on 12/19/2003 3:56:13 PM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: SuziQ; HairOfTheDog; 2Jedismom; RosieCotton
Yet, in the film, Peter Jackson causes Arwen to perform the heroic tasks of Elrond and Glorfindal, making her appear more a stereotypical warrior princess like those popular with today’s audience. It is as though he is introducing her character as a warrior so viewers won’t notice that she becomes a passive heroine later in the story. It’s as if Jackson is justifying her later passive portrayal that is true to Tolkien’s Arwen.

You know. I really like this article. But this one paragraph that I have copied bothers me. I identify more with Arwen than Eowyn - but people often tell me I remind them of Eowyn. In that vein, I think it's a true mark of womanhood that we can be both. We can be the passive and serene woman and yet, when the time is needful become the warrior princess. This is one time when I disagree with a criticism of PJ's adaptation. I don't see that he messed up Arwen at all. I think she is just more fully developed.

I still miss Glorfindel though. He is my favorite male elf!

8 posted on 12/19/2003 4:51:22 PM PST by Wneighbor (See Hobbit Hole Post 1262)
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To: Pyro7480
I just finished Return of the King for something between the 7th and 10th time. I've lost track. I've read the others almost as often. I'm sorry but I love the scene in the movie, Fellowship of the Ring where Arwen brings Frodo to the river and leans over him and prays, "What grace is given me, give to him." What a wonderful prayer. I always thought that she was too distant in the book... too much an old bachelor don's fantasy. Jackson fleshes her out. This is a mother's prayer, a lover's prayer, truer love than this etc sort of love.
9 posted on 12/19/2003 5:18:09 PM PST by Mercat
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To: ecurbh
Maybe Tolkien was saying that while woman should be respected, some of society’s ‘chivalrous’ ideas were doing more harm than good, isolating woman instead of protecting them

I know I'm probably going out on a limb here being a male and all ;) but I can see a Biblical description of what women can and sometimes should be in this series. And of course what men should be. I think I may not have fully noticed it however until watching the movie and seeing it in action. Today's society will call it chauvinistic but there it is

10 posted on 12/19/2003 7:25:45 PM PST by billbears (Deo Vindice)
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To: Xenalyte
...we'd have screaming knock-down-drag-out fights about who got to be Eowyn

Why is this not a shock?

11 posted on 12/19/2003 7:41:56 PM PST by Hegewisch Dupa
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To: rintense
Hey, they be talkin' bout chu all over this thread -- references to "warrior princess"!
12 posted on 12/19/2003 9:05:23 PM PST by GretchenEE (Osama, you're next.)
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To: Mercat
I've taken to making hash marks by five's in the front of books I re-read so I'll know how many times I've consumed them. ;-)
13 posted on 12/19/2003 9:08:56 PM PST by GretchenEE (Osama, you're next.)
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To: Pyro7480
Really good critique, Thanks.

She forgot Goldberry- but hey-
I agree with her comments about Arwen, I would add that I have come to see Arwen, not a 'passive', but as an Intercessor. Having a depth of love and faith, able to encourage Aragorn to fulfill his role, but rather that passive, she continues to actively support him with intercession.

With Eowyn we meet her and watch her before she finds and loves Faramir. We don't know but can guess that her restlessness and physicality aren't quieted by that love. Tolkien doesn't say, but I've always assumed that she finds a completeness and becomes a bit more tranquil and serene in her marriage to Faramir.

Just a thought?

14 posted on 12/19/2003 9:27:45 PM PST by LinnieBeth
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To: billbears
Today's society will call it chauvinistic but there it is

I don't call it chauvinistic at all! And it's great to hear a man voice his opinion on this. I appreciate it that Tolkien shows a deep understanding of women not as shallow weaker people. But, as the other ones that God created, with our own strengths, weaknesses and contributions to be made. I don't feel he was patronizing at all to women. In each of his female characters there was strength and worth, and yet they remained very much women. I want to be thought of in that manner myself.

15 posted on 12/19/2003 9:43:10 PM PST by Wneighbor (See Hobbit Hole Post 1262)
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To: Xenalyte
LOL! I assume you won? :)
16 posted on 12/20/2003 8:16:47 AM PST by MrConfettiMan (Why is it that our children can't read a Bible in school, but they can in prison?)
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To: MrConfettiMan
Not always - Kira was pretty tough! She went to Harvard, then moved to Seattle, went to some law school up there, and last I heard was dancing in a lesbian peep show. Which just goes to show, you really CAN do anything with a Harvard degree.
17 posted on 12/20/2003 8:21:03 AM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: squarebarb
They were of the aristocracy. Except Bilbo's mother.

Well, she was as close as the hobbits got to aristocracy. One of the themes of the book that I don't think come across easily to most Americans is that Sam was a servant and the other three hobbits were upper class. So the eventual disappearance of the social distance between them was his way of pointing out the essential irrelevance of such distinctions. Since few Americans pay much attention to such distinctions in the first place, I don't think we get this.

18 posted on 12/20/2003 12:10:08 PM PST by Restorer
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To: Wneighbor
Why do you think PJ's Arwen is all active and warlike in the beginning and then just sits out the whole war? Frankly, I was expecting to have her fill Halbarad's role as well as Glorfindel's. I thought she would be the one to bring Auduril to him in Rohan and ride with him on the Paths of the Dead.
19 posted on 12/20/2003 12:12:22 PM PST by Restorer
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To: Restorer
Excellent observation. I noticed that. And, Frodo and Bilbo seem rather like the elite of a small town, defintely recognized as such, rather scholarly. Perhaps a good comparison would be people who are judges in a small southern town or county. Sam is of 'the laboring classes'. And that is right, these differences dissapear totally as they struggle on toward their great goal. I thought Tolkien did that very well, the gradual dissappearance of the class differences between Frodo and Sam without ever directly saying one word about it. What a great book.
20 posted on 12/20/2003 2:15:17 PM PST by squarebarb (post number 178, just trying to get my numbers up)
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To: Wneighbor
"We can be the passive and serene woman and yet, when the time is needful become the warrior princess."

I agree with you. I too identify more with Arwen, but I like the way you put it. We are not one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional, and highly adaptive to the need of the moment. I like the way PJ brought Arwen into the rescue of Frodo. I didn't even see her so much as the warrior princess there as the healer/protector whose equestrian skill I greatly admired and which served the role well without dimishing her femininity in the least. It gave a beautiful supernatural quality to her femininity.

21 posted on 12/20/2003 2:54:22 PM PST by sweetliberty (Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.)
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To: Pyro7480
"Some critics claim that Tolkien’s serene version of femininity is offensive to the modern female viewer. As a modern female viewer, I find the assumption itself offensive."

I would absolutely agree with that. Feminists exploit femaleness at the expense of femininity.

22 posted on 12/20/2003 3:49:08 PM PST by sweetliberty (Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.)
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To: Pyro7480; ecurbh; RosieCotton; HairOfTheDog; Corin Stormhands

23 posted on 12/24/2003 7:39:47 PM PST by BenLurkin (Socialism is Slavery)
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To: Pyro7480

btt


24 posted on 09/15/2010 3:27:23 PM PDT by mnehring
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To: BenLurkin

Bookmark


25 posted on 09/15/2010 3:40:53 PM PDT by MrEdd (Heck? Geewhiz Cripes, thats the place where people who don't believe in Gosh think they aint going.)
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To: mnehring

I missed this the first time around. And I love Tolkien.

BTTT for a Christine O’Donnel read.


26 posted on 09/15/2010 4:16:32 PM PDT by little jeremiah
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To: little jeremiah

From the article’s description of O’Donnell:

“© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange

Christine O’Donnell serves as Director of Communications for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. She has been described as sassy, stubborn and sweet, and by those who disagree with her as “the girl you hate to love.” This young woman who National Review Magazine says “blends the flare of the Bible with Cosmopolitan,” shatters the stereotype about her generation. Her frequent television appearances include ABC’s Politically Incorrect, MTV, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNBC.”


27 posted on 09/15/2010 6:07:28 PM PDT by Robert A. Cook, PE (I can only donate monthly, but socialists' ABBCNNBCBS continue to lie every day!)
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To: Pyro7480

Thanks for posting this. Great article.


28 posted on 09/16/2010 11:36:21 AM PDT by Immerito
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Hmm... What about Elbereth?
You don’t cry out Manwe’s or Orome’s name when fighting giant spiders (also female).

Or Rosie and Elanor? Someone upwards already mentioned Goldberry.


29 posted on 09/17/2010 8:03:33 AM PDT by stingraye
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