I Am No Man, But I’m Still Important
by V. Kovaciny
When reading The Lord of the Rings, many readers have wondered: Where are the female characters? Where is the femininity and romantic love? There are no women in the Fellowship, and feminity is spread thinly throughout the many pages of The Lord of the Rings. Some readers say the women that do appear are stereotypical and distant, and that they let the men do the work and fight the battles. This has caused some readers to criticize Tolkien’s work and even argue that he is sexist. But are these criticisms valid? Is Tolkien really a bigot, or are his readers, fans, and critics being too nitpicky?
The short answer is yes, we are being unjust. Why? Well, fortunately for you, I’m here to discuss several reasons why.
The most obvious evidence is the case of Eowyn. Like Disney’s Mulan, she is told to stay behind and let the men fight the war. She refuses to lie idle while the world is at stake. She is told to lead the kingdom while her male relatives are away. But she longs for the glory of battle and the admiration of Aragorn, so she dresses up as a man to go with them to war. Her disobeyment actually makes her a more well-molded character. By having her be imperfect, reckless and brave, she is more complex and more...human. Her boldness pays off; she and Merry succeed in killing Witch-King, which was a major blow to the Enemy. Lastly, if the men of Gondor and Rohan (as well as Tolkien) were sexist, wouldn’t Eowyn have been scolded for doing a “man’s job”? She was not, and she was praised for her bravery instead of being accused of insubordination.
Another strong woman in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel. She is certainly not subservient to her husband, Lord Celeborn. They both share a mutual respect and love for the other. Tolkien does not paint her as less important than him. In fact, story-wise, she plays a bigger role than he does. She is portrayed as wise and powerful, and is also the owner of a ring of power, not her husband. Not only that, but she has strong willpower. Unlike several male characters, such as Boromir, Gollum, and even Frodo, she is able to resist the power of the Ring. She is respected by her people and her husband and succeeds in resisting the ring, which many men failed to do. Not exactly weak and frail, is she?
Arwen too, has a strong willpower. She is faced with a difficult choice: immortality or love. In the end, she chooses a mortal life to be with Aragorn. Her dilemma makes her all the more interesting. Her choice just goes to show that she is perfectly capable of thinking for herself.
A short point that should be made is the importance of the Entwives. While not present in The Lord of the Rings, they are important even in their absence. The Ents miss them deeply. Because the Ents and the Entwives had different interests, the Ents neglected and ignored their wives, and their love dwindled. Tolkien is touching on the value of marriage and union, and how without maintaining love, it will fail. Without the Entwives, the Ents are doomed to extinction.
Take a moment to think about the scenarios and the kinds of relationships Tolkien is writing about. Tolkien was in World War 1, and his characters are also in a war. And historically, more men enlist in the military. As for the relationships, The Lord of the Rings is about friendship, not romance. Tolkien is painting a wonderful story of how friendship can stand through trials just as well as romance can. Romance is second to friendship in The Lord of the Rings. In the end, friendship saves the world.
The women in The Lord of the Rings are not depicted as useless and weak. From Eowyn’s courage, Galadriel’s wisdom, and the Entwives’ love, they each play a part in the world of Middle Earth. Don’t let your views of what makes a strong female character ruin this wonderful story for you.