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Feminine Leadership in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

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Some of Tolkien’s critics have chided him for having “conventional” females in his trilogy.
For example, “Why aren’t there more females in Middle Earth?” or “Why are all of the women so virginal and viewed through a soft, fuzzy lens?”

First off, we must remember that Tolkien was a student of early literature, literature which reflects women as more “conventional”. Women’s liberation is, in America, not even a century old and in the course of history, a century is a mere blip on the radar. Either through oppression or choice, women have occupied more domestic roles and the literature of each age surely reflects this.

For Tolkien, it would be no different. He is simply writing in a genre that is usually characterized by submissive, and even at time enchanting females. Females who seemingly walk in slow motion in long, flowy gowns and speak in whispers. Women who

But what of Eowin? What of Galadriel?

Eowin is, where I believe, Tolkien veers from tradition and crafts a female with conventionally male desires – she longs to do battle like the valiant soldiers of her uncle’s army. When she is prohibited, she does not simply resign herself to the declaration, she essentially rebels against it. Oh, you want men? I will make myself a man then. Like great writers such as Shakespeare creating a literary precedence (Twelfth Night, anyone?), Tolkien creates a female of a different fiber. Not only does she dismiss the decree, she hides among her cloaks the hobbit Merry Brandybuck, who has also been denied an opportunity to assist the army.
Here’s the great part: she kills the LEADER of the Nazgul, the Witch-king of Angmar. Not only is her contribution to the fight significant, she strikes the very heart of her enemy. She and Merry, the two characters commanded to stay behind, play a most important role in the battle.

Galadriel, we must also explore. For starters, she is a “co-ruler” of Lothlorien with her husband Lord Celeborn. They rule cooperatively and democratically. Tolkien, in Unfinished Tales claims she is equal even if unlike endowments of Fëanor. She never dons a sword or a pseudonym, but she equips the hobbits with the tools they will need to cross into Mordor and destroy the Ring. Overall, she is honored as wise and kind, beloved of various races of Middle Earth.

About Crystal Hurd

Crystal is a writer, poet, reader, and public school educator from Virginia. She is happily married with three beautiful Terriers (adopted from local shelters). Her dissertation explored the leadership of C.S Lewis with postdoctoral work focusing on the leadership roles of artists. An unapologetic book nerd, Crystal loves to read and research works involving faith, literature, art, and leadership. She also possesses a deep, unrelenting interest in all things European, especially Doctor Who. You can read her weekly thoughts on her webpage/blog www.crystalhurd.com, friend her on Facebook, (Crystal Sullivan Hurd) and follow her on Twitter: @DoctorHurd and @hurdofficial.
  • Jason Alan – PHATE

    Good thoughts Crystal. I always loved Eowyn’s character arc. I wonder how influential she was to women when Lord of the Rings first started building its lasting impression in the world.

  • Becky

    I have always found it a bit unsettling that most readers only see a male dominated story line in Tolkien’s works. Personally, I do not feel that any of the women directly involved and named have been anything but strong, capable, and intelligent characters, and no more female characterizations are required to make the saga complete. I truly believe that if more were needed, that the Professor would have given them their unique place.
    I look forward to reading more of Dr Hurd’s assessment.

  • Literary Mom

    It’s similar to how people view the Bible, when in reality, there are a lot of strong and significant women, including leaders, which is remarkable for the ancient world. Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Mary (mother of Jesus), Tabitha, to name a few…

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  • Carolina M.

    I completely agree with your opinion. One of my favourite characters
    while watching the movies (I’m halfway through with The Fellowship of the Ring)
    was Eowyn. I loved how she was both feminine yet wanted to fight. My
    favourite part is exactly when she kills the leader of Nazgûl, when he say, “Hinder
    me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!’, and Eowin responds with ‘But no
    living man am I!’, and then proceeds to kill him. I think she’s a brilliant
    character and Galadriel is also empowering in her own way. I understand the contest
    from which Tolkien was coming from, but I do wish there were more girls like
    them in the books. Maybe a lady Hobbit making the journey with the Frodo and company
    would be nice. I think they’re brilliant and all, but I do wish there were more
    like them in the books.

  • Carlos Saldivar

    I agree with your opinion my friend. In here Tolkien´s show that girls have big capacities to and can do things as same as men. Eowin is a big example of it. She is courageous and brave. With such things she was able to kill the the leader of the Nazgul, the witch-king of Angmar. Even thought she was not able to enter the army, she demonstrated the strength and the capacities she had. In the other hand we have this girl named Galadriel that she shows that girls have also different capacities. As men train hard and go to battle, women as Galadriel equips the hobbits with the tools they need to destroy the ring. You need both capacities and these different strengths to achivie goals.

    With this we can conclude that women are as powerful as men and when both capacities join (women and men) they can create wonderful things.

  • Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is hardly submissive, even if she is also portrayed as shrewish and sneaky. She stands up to Sharkey’s men when almost no one else does. She survives imprisonment and endures the loss of her child. This makes her a heroine in the end, a figure of strength and courage, and she and Frodo become reconciled. (I can easily imagine a scene the day after Frodo left Bag End, with a Black Rider showing up at the door asking for him, and being hit by Lobelia with her umbrella.)

    Nor should we mistake the domestic harmony of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry for a sign of submission on her part. When we meet him he is running an errand for her, and his frequent refrain is “Goldberry is waiting.” Tom may be the Master, but she is the Mistress. He’s gotta get back.

    Arwen is harder to speak of, but I have a hard time believing that the daughter of Elrond and the granddaughter of Galadriel would be submissive. She is serene, but the choice she makes in pledging herself to Aragorn is a choice of strength. She knows what she is giving up, and that none of what they hope for may come to pass. But she does not look back or hesitate (talking about the books here). We should not confuse her being quiet and great at needlework with being weak and submissive any more than we should think her part is unimportant because she has only a few lines and is rarely on stage. How many lines does Sauron have? How often does he appear?