Thursday, September 10, 2015

Women in Tolkien

In class, the topic of the roles of women in Tolkien's writing has come up briefly. However, we haven't really had time to discuss it in-depth. I'm assuming it'll come up again, but I wanted to bring it up here as well.

We all know there aren't many female characters in The Hobbit and LOTR. They're still pretty much my favorite books, but I've always wondered why Tolkien chose to include so few. The female characters who are in the books (Éowyn, Galadriel, Arwen) are absolutely fantastic. They're all strong women who play critical parts in the story. (I'm disregarding Shelob and pretending I never had to read about and imagine a gigantic creepy spider.)

Compared to LOTR and The Hobbit, I thought there were a lot more female characters in The Silmarillion. Many of the Valar and Maiar are female, as are some of the Children of Ilúvatar. I had never read The Silmarillion before this class, so the fact that there were so many more female characters surprised me. It also made me wonder why there aren't as many females in LOTR. However, while many readers think this lack of female characters makes Tolkien a sexist, I disagree. Though Tolkien doesn't write many female characters in LOTR, the ones he does are exceptionally strong and have big impacts on the fate of Middle-earth.

Feel free to disagree with me; I like reading other ideas! Who's your favorite female Tolkien character? Do you think the fact that Tolkien doesn't include many females in LOTR makes him sexist? Why do you think he included so few female characters in LOTR than he did in The Silmarillion?



Ulmo said...

I agree with you! I don't think that he was sexist at all in his works because, like you said, his female characters were tough and didn't have the "I need a prince to come save me" kind of attitude. If he were sexist, I think his female characters would not have been so strong in spirit. Although there were few females mentioned in LOTR, I think it was simply because his story was a male-centered story. Being male-centered is not equivalent to being sexist.

The reason he included more female characters in The Silmarillion may be because he didn't spend as much time developing a few characters like he did in LOTR. In LOTR, he dedicated most of the time and narrative to a group of central characters with a brotherly type of bond. He spent a lot of time with these characters, and didn't dedicate as much time to his several female characters. They were fairly well developed, however, and I would guess that a prequel or sequel to the LOTR could have been done focusing primarily on the female characters.

Varda said...

I also agree with you that Tolkien definitely was not intending to be sexist at all. The Silmarillion is truly a semi-Biblical origin story in that all life is created by Illuvatar (The "One") and the Valar, who are technically descended from Illuvatar. A vast array of female characters are present in this story in order to illustrate birth, the beauty of nature, romantic sacrifice, and connections between the Valar among other aspects of the story. In contrast, The Hobbit and the LOTR are stories of epic and perilous journeys among groups of male beings. As mentioned in a previous blog posting of mine, I see these stories as stories of brotherhood, which seems to have been an intensely important part of Tolkien's life. I think the Hobbit and the LOTR illustrates the female characters as much as they are necessary, and these female characters receive more emphasis in the films to increase viewer interest if anything. I'm sure that most of us, as true Tolkien fans, would have appreciated a little less input from Arwen in exchange for a look at Tom Bombadil.

Manwë said...

I too agree with your statement that Tolkien was not sexist! And I especially agree with Varda when she/he states that The Silmarillion is more about creation and birth of life whereas The Hobbit and LOTR are about brotherhood. The idea of brotherhood really resonated with me as the books we’ve been reading about Tolkien’s life clearly emphasizes the importance of his ‘boys clubs’ and the friendships that continued throughout his life.
As for my favorite female Tolkien character I would have to say I would pick Melian. She openly criticizes Thingol’s decisions- like when she pointed out what a huge mistake he made when proposing that Beren retrieve the silmaril (and also that he was kind of being a jerk). Other characters like Eowyn I found rather annoying- mostly just because of how she was portrayed as clinging to Aragorn in the movies.
Overall I agree with your sentiments as well as with the preceding commenters, Tolkien was not really sexist and the female characters that he did portray were generally interesting, well written, and strong.

Yavanna said...

I will disagree. I think it is completely fair to say that Tolkein's works are sexists, and even racist to a great degree. Do I believe that this is intentional sexism, it is very caucasian male oriented, as is to be expected of both his time period, and education. Yes, there are female characters within his mythos, but very few of them ever have a sense of agency. This here meaning that, their actions are often determined, based around, are caused by, etc, male characters. Yavanna's tree's light is taken by Feanor, and Galadriel followed. Varda may be the highest esteemed of the Valar but is still just a creation of Illuvatar who is only and constantly described as a male entity (i.e prescribes only to male pronouns).

When a female character speaks it is in relation to a male character's actions, or words. They rarely receive the chance to make decision for their own.

Yet, I will say that Tolkien isn't entirely to blame for this. Media, science, and art up and to today still suffer from similar problems. The fact that Tolkien never falls into stereotypes about these minorities, and even allowing Females (Such as Varda, Yavanna, Galadriel) to hold great power and influence within their realms. His works are in a manner of speaking, progressive in this manner, but to deny the latent bigotism is a bit silly to me. It is there, it is undeniable, and it does detract from some elements of the stories and mythos. But should it be cast out because of it? Obviously not! We can have this complex view which accepts these problems, notes their wrongness, and is still capable of enjoying the works as a whole in spite of them.