Sunday, October 4, 2015

Women in Tolkien's Works

To what extent did Tolkien fully realize his female characters?  Do Galadriel and Eowyn have realistic strengths and vices?

In class, some have claimed that Tolkien does not make his female characters as realistic as his male characters.  In the presentation of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, his failure to give women convincing vices was contrasted with Norse tendencies to portray women as utter evil. 

Do you think this was a fair comparison to make?  I am interested to see how other people perceive women in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  Are they merely passive bystanders, or do they have some efficacy?


Varda said...

My personal opinion on Tolkien's women, as I've mentioned a few times in previous blog postings, is that the female characters are meant to represent a pure beauty and strength while also, unfortunately, acting a less important characters than the men. From reading about Tolkien's life, it seems to me that the concept of brotherhood, both literal and as it applies to friendship, was of immense importance. Many of his stories are focused on male relationships. Though he does include aspects of love, and while he does include female characters, I think Tolkien mainly wanted to focus on the concept of brotherhood and comradery as it relates to "the journey" portrayed in each work. I would not describe Tolkien as sexist, however, because he does create some amazing female characters. I think his focus was simply elsewhere.

Aulë said...

I would agree here that woman characters in Tolkien's works are supposed to represent ideals of beauty and purity, and that Tolkien placed a heavy emphasis on friendship bonds and brotherhood, but I would disagree that Tolkien's women play a less important or passive role in his stories.
Luthien took charge of her own destiny when she escaped from her tree house prison, and without her, Beren would be dead or rotting somewhere in a pit of Morgoth or Sauron. She defied her father's wishes, went willingly into danger to save the one she loved, and even played the hero to Beren's "damsel in distress" by using her magic (not even needing to meet in physical battle!) to release him from Sauron's tower.
Galadriel is one of the oldest and wisest beings in Middle-earth, and she stood with her family and the Noldor in their quest to return not because her brothers did it, or her family did it, or someone told her to, but because she wanted to rule a land for herself, to carve her own place in Middle-earth. Her foresight and gifts are integral to the Fellowship's success on their respective quests, and she is the only one (excluding Tom Bombadil, who is a special category) who comes face to face with the will of the ring and is able to overcome it. Not even Gandalf will come too close to the ring because he knows it will overpower him!
Eowyn is different from many of Tolkien's focal women because she is not an elf, but that does not mean she is unimportant or lacking in power. She sneaks past Theoden and her brother to join a war that she feels is her right to wage, and, with the help of only one little sword stab from one little hobbit, is able to take on and defeat the enemy that "no living man" could defeat: the Lord of the Nazgul.
Perhaps Tolkien's greater focus was directed toward other aspects of his stories, but I don't think that he forgot about his female characters or shoved them off to the side. The women of Middle-earth are just as important to its fate as the men, though women may have different roles and strengths than men.