How does it feel to be a woman in Middle-earth ? I was just thinking about the many aspects of femininity in Tolkien's work , a few days ago it was International Women's Day and yesterday was Mothering Sunday here in the UK, and been a woman myself, I'd like to write about The Ladies of the Ring. Wrong are those that think that Tolkien's world is exclusively a male-dominated one. Middle-earth 's women may not be at the center of the action but they personalities and traits are an extremely important element in Tolkien's story telling. Way too often their roles has been overlooked , and yet Tolkien is telling us about them with great care and attention so I do find rather amusing the claims that Middle-earth is a male universe where women have only a marginal role....nothing can be more far from the truth. Tolkien tell us how Middle-earth was shaped not only by males but also by females hands : Varda, Queen of the Stars - Yavanna, Queen of the Earth and Giver of Fruits - Nienna, Lady of Mercy - Estë, Lady of Healing - Vairë, the Weaver - Vána, Queen of Blossoming Flowers and the Ever-young - Nessa, the Dancer.
In The Lord of the Rings the first notable female character we meet its not the most pleasant one : Lobelia Sackville-Baggins married to Bilbo's cousin Otho is an old , nosy female hobbit that "disliked Bilbo and detested Frodo..." , if Lobelia was a fruit she would be a lemon - After the death of Otho at the time of the War of the Rings , Lobelia is imprisoned for using her umbrella against one of Saruman's Men during an argument. Lobelia's life changes after this episode, and people talks about her for her bravery in standing up against Saruman's Men. By the end of her life she is a different woman from the one we meet at the beginning of the story. She give back Bag End to Frodo and leave her money to him at her death to be used to help poor hobbits left homeless by Saruman's Men. Lobelia is not kind or likable, at times she is just impossible but she is a woman that knows what she want, she represent strength and determination and middle-age.
Goldberry the River- Daughter could not be more different from Lobelia. Goldberry is the young and beautiful spouse of Tom Bombadill - Sweet and girlish, she seems to love only dance and singing - Goldberry must go to bed early , a clear indication she is young, very young and in many ways untouched by the evil around her. She represent innocence and youth.
Rosie Cotton is everything a good woman should be ( in the eyes of a man). Many people dismiss Rosie as she does nothing else but wait for Sam to come back. Rosie is a hobbit, and respectable hobbits do not go on adventures . Somehow one does know she is keeping herself busy in the Shire when Sam is away. Working at The Green Dragon or tending her fields, she is the 'perfect hobbit' . Rosie will marry Sam at his return and will give him thirteen children - Rosie Cotton represent the best of a 'mother' , a 'friend' , a 'wife' a 'rustic' love ( like Tolkien will call it). Rosie is 'home' Rosie is the Shire, and the only thing Sam wants is to get back to her .
When we first meet Arwen she is by her father's side - She often appears in need of protection. Very little is known about Arwen's character. Arwen is noble by birth, she is very gracious and beautiful, a Princess among the Elves. Her enduring love for Aragorn and her decision to renounce immortal life to be by his side , show a strong-willed woman able to take such an important decision. Arwen is love and romance in Tolkien's world yet this is not shouted out-laud in the book. Arwen and Aragorn's love do not need to be described in every details as love and relationships are personal affairs in Tolkien's world.
Maybe not a woman, but definitely a female is Shelob the Spider. "Her Ladyship Shelob The Great" like the Orcs call her, she is darkest female character in The Lord of The Rings. She eats Men, Hobbits, Elves and enjoy drinking their blood. She does not work directly for Sauron but he knows about her existence and chooses to let her be as Shelob is useful in guarding the Pass of the Spider (Torech Ungol). Independent and selfish, she only looks after herself . She almost kills Frodo and will be wounded by Sam however will not die . Her final fate in unknown but I bet she is still hiding in a dark cave in Middle-earth waiting for her next victim many centuries after the fall of Sauron. Shelob is a female survivor.
Galadriel is wisdom, purity and generosity and surrounded by mysticism . "...clad wholly in white" and has hair "of deep gold". Pure and virginal, Galadriel will resist the power of the One Ring, yet for a few instants she is tempted. Galadriel is the giver of gifts and dispenser of wisdom , she has the very important task to set up Frodo on his path by using her Mirror.
So we have discovered that if we look (and read) The Lord of the Rings carefully the many attributes of the feminine side of the story do appear clearly. An in-depth look at the Ladies of the Ring reveals more about them individually and about their roles into the structure of the book. Women are in great number, the Ents have wives, the Hobbits have girlfriends, the Men have lovers, the Elves have female rulers ...and then there is Éowyn daughter of the House of Eorl and the niece of King Théoden and she is not ready to sit by a fireplace in womanly pursuits - she is clearly not happy with a per-defined role as a woman. She feels she wants to be equal with men, she can ride like a man and handle a sword with precision.
Stubborn and strong-willed, Éowyn only wants to be at the center of the action and she is told in clear terms she is to stay at home as she is only a woman and her part is in the house ; Tolkien does very much understand her feelings and the feelings of many women readers, when Aragorn ask what she is afraid of...Éowyn's answer is simple :
"A cage . . . To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire" (J.R.R.Tolkien)
This is not good enough for Éowyn. In man's armor she joins the Riders of Rohan to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields...go go girl ! She will be the one to confront the Witch-king of Angmar that will make very clear " no living man may hinder me..." true... but what he does not know is that he is actually facing a woman . The Witch-king is not an ordinary goblin and its demise will come from a sword carried by a woman . Tolkien allows Éowyn to change and develop by letting her chose her destiny - after the Fall of Sauron she decide she will not be a 'shieldmaiden' any longer, but will instead become a healer.Éowyn is without doubts, my favorite female character in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien did spent time and thoughts when he was writing her. One thing is clear by reading about The Ladies of the Rings...they are all different from each other ; every feminine trait is represented and this clearly show that Tolkien did know women and wrote about them .See the women behind the words and get to know them again, they are there...you just need to look for them.
'me' in Middle-earth