Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Marriage, Remarriage, Love and Couples

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien insists on presenting a variety of love relationships between males and females. We have the love and then marriage between Thingol and Melian, Beren and Lúthien's protypical story of heroically romantic love, the Valar joined as male/female couples, Finwë's marriage first to Miriel and then Indis. What do you make of the variety and themes Tolkien includes in these love relationships? Why is the frequent joining of a "lesser" male to a somewhat superior female such an important theme in Tolkien's works?

3 comments:

Ashley Cauley said...

I really enjoyed reading about Beren and Lúthien. I know it was one of the most important stories for Tolkien (his gravestone says Beren and his wife's says Lúthien). I always get upset when people try to imply that Tolkien didn't write strong female characters because he most definitely did. Lúthien saves Beren countless times, and she is presented as a very strong character.

Why, in The Silmarillion at least, does Tolkien pair men with powerful women? I think it would be trite or cliche to give the male protagonist a pretty wife that doesn't do much. That's not interesting. The wife of a hero needs more valuable qualities. Oftentimes, the woman is the one who must control the man or at least give wise counsel to try and prevent him from doing wrong (like Melian does for Thingol). The Silmarillion, and maybe even LOTR, is filled with opposites or balances. The Valar are paired together, male and female, good vs evil, man and elf.

Most often, the women that are paired with the men/males posses artful, good qualities. They are very beautiful, sing, are connected with nature, have magical abilities, etc. These are all distinct feminine attributes that agree with other mythologies. Tolkien clearly had a deep respect for nature and these other things, so maybe he felt that by giving female characters strong control over these things he would be paying homage to them or giving them due praise. Either way, powerful women influence much of what happens in The Silmarillion.

Lorin said...

I agree with Ashley, but yeah, I think Tolkien just liked writing strong female characters. Like, out of all of his female characters, I feel that there are more that are really, incredibly strong than not - that's why it really bugs me, too, when people complain about Tolkien supposedly being sexist. I don't think he was at all. Just as an example (that reminded me of Eowyn), there's Haleth, who actually never marries and who has an entire people named after her. And Varda, too - isn't she the only Vala that Melkor is afraid of? That really says something.

I don't know if it necessarily has to do with this, but from what I've heard, Tolkien's marriage seems to have been a really special one (hence the Beren/Luthien gravestones). Maybe he was really inspired by his wife, Edith?

sworland said...

I think you're right on, Lorin. I know Tolkien was inspired by Edith to create the character of Luthien - Edith danced in a forest glade, from which, I assume, Tolkien dreamed up the meeting of Beren and Luthien. Maybe we could call Edith a sort of muse.

And I see this in the pairings of some of the characters, too. Like Ashley said, the women are often artistic and organic. They often inspire their husbands/lovers to great deeds, and then accompany the men on the journey!

Many of Tolkien's female characters are also blessed with some sort of foresight. Melian, Idril, Galadriel, Arwen. This upends to an extent the typical role (especially during Tolkien's time) of the wise man and his totally submissive wife. Instead, here is a woman giving valuable insight to her husband.

From what I've read of Edith, I don't think she was an "oh, whatever you say" wife. I think that's where Tolkien gets much of his inspiration and characterization for the fictional marriages he creates.