J.R.R. Tolkien and the Women of his Imagination

Today, March 8th, we celebrate an important day: happy international women’s day! But at the same time, Middle Earth celebrations have not stopped. I decided to write a post commemorating those two special events. I am going to show you what eight female characters from J. R.R. Tolkien’s works taught me.

It has always seemed to me that Tolkien’s works are for everyone, no matter their gender. I inherited most of my copies from my paternal grandmother, who loved The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and The Hobbit. I fell in love with Tolkien’s works when I was a girl of twelve years old. As a girl, I was delighted to see strong women inside that world. It was not until I was studying at the university when I heard someone saying that there are few women in Tolkien’s works. And I realised that that was one of the main criticism of the works written by Tolkien. But as I said at the Oxonmoot 2021, what truly matters is not the number of women present in a novel but how they are represented in the narrative!

What did female characters from J. R. R. Tolkien’s works teach you?

1.- 𝑬́𝒐𝒘𝒚𝒏

𝑬𝒐𝒘𝒚𝒏 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒂𝒏 𝒘𝒉𝒐 𝒔𝒂𝒚𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒔𝒐𝒆𝒎𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒄𝒂𝒏𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒃𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒓𝒖𝒎𝒑𝒕 𝒂 𝒘𝒐𝒎𝒂𝒏 𝒅𝒐𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒊𝒕.

Because of Peter Jackson’s adaptation, Éowyn is well known for defeating the Witch King of Agmar with Merry’s help. But in The Lord of the Rings book, this scene has crucial details that were omitted in the movie. In the book, Merry and the reader do not know that Derhelm is Éowyn until she speaks. The dialogue between the Witch King and Éowyn is the following:

“Hinder me? Tho fool. No living man can hinder me!” Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Derhelm laughed, and a clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man I am! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and my kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him!”… But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders”.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Éowyn had to masquerade herself into a man to march to the battle. But in the most crucial scenery, her femininity is revealed and released. By no means the narrator covers the female character into a masculine one giving the triumph of masquerading over Éowyn´s own identity as a woman. She is a woman, and a woman is the one who ends with the Witch King and the Nazgul. Not because she was a woman masqueraded as a man, but because she showed and embraced her own female identity.

Now, Éowyn is not only memorable in that moment of the book but when Theoden has to leave someone in charge of Rohan when he and Éomer are going to Isengard. Théoden insists that his son has passed away and Éomer is going with him, and Háma answers:

“I said not Éomer. And he is not the last of the House of Eorl. There’s Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone”.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien. “The King of the Golden Hall”. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Tolkien gave us a moment when women’s position in society is reconsidered. There should be equality between men and women in terms of power. If Éomer was capable of ruling, so was Éowyn.

2.- 𝑮𝒂𝒍𝒂𝒅𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒍

𝑮𝒂𝒍𝒂𝒅𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒍 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒂 𝒘𝒐𝒎𝒂𝒏 𝒉𝒂𝒔 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒐𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒅𝒐𝒘𝒆𝒅 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒉𝒖𝒔𝒃𝒂𝒏𝒅.

Galadriel is one of the most powerful elves that remain on Middle Earth during the third age. Even if she seems to appear only once, in Lothlórien, an attentive reader would notice that she plays a fundamental role in The Lord of the Rings. She is present in the gifts she has given the fellowship, without those gifts the quest would have failed. She is the one who helps Gandalf to return to encounter Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Pippin and Merry. Gandalf tells Gwaihir to take him to Lothlórien, and he replies the following:

“That indeed is the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you”

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “The White Rider”. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Tolkien narrates that Galadriel plays an important role. She is also the one who helps Gandalf to return from the shadows.

Galadriel also helps Sam to defeat Shelob. She is the one who gives him hope. Galadriel’s name means power and hope. When using the phial that contains Ëarendil’s light, Sam and Frodo also shout her name. A fundamental detail omitted by Peter Jackson. Frodo also shouts:

“Galadriel!” he called and gathering his courage he lifted up the Phial once more.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Shelob’s Lair”. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

As I already spoke in the Oxonmoot 2021, to face Shelob, Sam and Frodo use Galadriel’s help. Not her physical strength, but her name. Naming means power.

In the ending, Galadriel also saves the Shire’s garden which was the most beloved element of the Shire.

3.- 𝑳𝒖𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒆𝒏

𝑳𝒖𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒆𝒏 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒘𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒏 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒓𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒅𝒂𝒎𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒔 𝒊𝒏 𝒅𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒔. 𝑾𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒏 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒍 𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒆𝒍𝒑 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒊𝒓 𝒅𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒐𝒏𝒆𝒔, 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒏 𝒊𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒎𝒆𝒂𝒏𝒔 𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒔𝒕 𝒅𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒐𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒔 𝒑𝒂𝒕𝒉𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆𝒔.

Among the main stories told in The Silmarillion, one is called Beren and Lúthien. Lúthien is an elf maiden, daughter of Melian, a Maiar like Gandalf, and Thingol, an elf. She falls in love with Beren, a mortal man. Thingol disapproves of their union and mocks Beren by saying that he may marry Lúthien only if he brings him one Silmaril from Melkor’s crown. Melkor is Sauron’s master, a powerful Valar. Beren chooses to accept the challenge. Lúthien is held captive at the top of a tree as Thingol is aware that she could follow Beren to face the peril. But instead of staying there with crossed arms, Lúthien flies to encounter Beren and help him to face the danger:

In the time when Sauron cast Beren into the pit, a weight of horror came upon’s Lúthien’s heart; and going to Melian she learnt that Beren lay in the dungeons of Tol -in- Gaurhoth without hope of rescue. Then Lúthien perceiving that no help would come from any other on earth, resolved to fly from Doriath and come herself to him.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Of Beren and Lúthien”. The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien

Lúthien helps Beren and Fingorn Felagund who had been held captive by Sauron. But Felangurd was already dead and his people:

lamented bitterly the fall of Felangund their king, saying that a maiden [Lúthien] had dared that which the son of Fëanor had not dared to do.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Of Beren and Lúthien”. The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien

Lúthien was brave and confronted Sauron, as she:

took the mastery of the island and all that was there…Then Lúthien stood upon the bridge and declared her power…

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Of Beren and Lúthien”. The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien

But after facing Sauron, the quest was not completed. Melkor is the one who had the Silmaril. Melkor is terrifying and none had dared to confront him in his own land. Lúthien insists that she will go with Beren to confront Melkor. She casts a spell on Melkor and makes him sleep while Beren takes a Silmaril from his iron crown.

4.- 𝑳𝒐𝒃𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒂 𝑺𝒂𝒄𝒌𝒗𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒆 – 𝑩𝒂𝒈𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒔

𝑳𝒐𝒃𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒂 𝑺𝒂𝒄𝒌𝒗𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒆 – 𝑩𝒂𝒈𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒔 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒘𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒏 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒇𝒆𝒄𝒕 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒚 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒂𝒍𝒔𝒐 𝒃𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒐𝒆𝒔 𝒖𝒏𝒆𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒆𝒅𝒍𝒚.

Who didn’t dislike the Sackville- Baggins at first? But despite Bilbo and Frodo didn’t like them very much, Tolkien’s narrator justifies some of their behaviour as they had to wait so long to dwell in Bag End.

“Lobelia perhaps can be forgiven: she had been obligated to wait about seventy-seven years longer for Bag End than she once hoped, and she was now a hundred years old”.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Three is Company”. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Lobelia is portrayed as a villain at the beginning of the novel, but when Saruman arrives in the Shire, she chooses not to follow his orders but rather support and defend her people and her own ideas. She is imprisoned for that choice. When Sam asks Young Tom what is going on in the Shire after he wents back with Frodo, Tom comments:

There is no denying that she showed more spirits than most.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “The Scouring of the Shire” The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

When she is rescued, Lobelia:

“insisted on hobbling out on her own feet, and she had such a welcome, and there was such a clapping and cheering when she appeared, leaning on Frodo’s arm but still clutching her umbrella, that she was quite touched, and drove away in tears”.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “The Scouring of the Shire”. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

At end of The Lord of the Rings, Lobelia proved to be a hero, even though we could have less expected that to happen.

5.- 𝑨𝒓𝒘𝒆𝒏

𝑨𝒓𝒘𝒆𝒏 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒏𝒐 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒉𝒂𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒄𝒉𝒐𝒐𝒔𝒆 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒐𝒘𝒏 𝒅𝒆𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒚. 𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒐 𝒅𝒆𝒄𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒔 𝒘𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒅𝒐 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒇𝒖𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆.

In the Lord of the Rings, when some characters are introduced, they are described from the protagonists perspective, which might not be objective. This introduction frequently occurs with the description of female characters like Éowyn, Arwen and Galadriel. When Arwen is presented for the first time, the reader may picture her because of Frodo’s impressions:

There sat a lady fair to look upon…thought and knowledge were in her glance, as one who has known many things that the years bring… Such loveliness in living thing Frodo had never seen before, nor imagined in his mind.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Many Meetings”. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Arwen is portrayed as an object of contemplation, a fair and beautiful creature to admire. She does not seem to speak nor through words, though, her glance suggests knowledge. That is Frodo’s impression when he sees her for the first time, the narrator makes clear that it is Frodo’s impression.

As the chapter goes on, Arwen is seen again with Aragorn, and the narrator mentions that Frodo was surprised to see them speaking together, and:

it seemed to Frodo that Arwen turned towards him and the light of her eyes fell on him from afar and pierced his heart.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Many Meetings”. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

This gaze seems to foreshadow Frodo’s destiny and end. Arwen seems to be the one that realises Frodo’s burden and pain from the beginning and is willing to help him in her own way.

Arwen is not a damsel in distress but an independent being. She is free to choose her destiny. She gives her place to Frodo and chooses to marry Aragorn and remain in Middle Earth. She did not want to become an immortal elven maiden and remain as the Evenstar of her people. She chooses, like Lúthien, she says:

“A gift I will give you, for I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead, you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes and you decide it. If your hurt grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West… But wear this now in memory of Elvestone and Evenstar with whom your life has woven! …When the memory of the fear and the darkness trouble you, this will bring you joy”.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Many Partings”. The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King

And she also decides to give her place to Frodo, as he is not completely healed from his wounds. This gift seemed to be planned ahead when he first saw him in Rivendell.

6.- 𝑼𝒏𝒈𝒐𝒍𝒊𝒂𝒏𝒕

𝑼𝒏𝒈𝒐𝒍𝒊𝒂𝒏𝒕 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒘𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒏 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒃𝒆 𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒑𝒆𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒏𝒕.

I already talked about Ungoliant and Shelob during Oxonmoot 2021. In case you missed it, I am considering writing a brief post summarizing the main points in the future.

From the beginning of the narrative, Ungoliant wants to be independent of Melkor despite having aimed to dominate her. The reader is introduced to Ungoliant as a female spirit who:

 descended from the darkness that lies about Arda when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwë, and that in the beginning, she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her Master desiring to be mistress of her own lust.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “Of the Darkening of Valinor”. The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien.

Ungoliant wants to be independent of Melkor, she wants to make her own decisions on her body and life. Despite she is then betrayed by Melkor, after she helps him to destroy the Two Trees that illuminated Valinor, she stands still. She does not die or stand in the darkness, instead, she decides to give birth to her own offspring, being one Shelob.

7.- 𝑹𝒐𝒔𝒊𝒆 𝑪𝒐𝒕𝒕𝒐𝒏

𝑹𝒐𝒔𝒊𝒆 𝑪𝒐𝒕𝒕𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒘𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒏 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒅𝒂𝒎𝒔𝒆𝒍 𝒊𝒏 𝒅𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒔, 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒚 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒄𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒗𝒆𝒔.

After the quest ends, the hobbits return to the Shire, and Sam Gamgee shows his concern about Rosie Cotton. But Tolkien instead of writing a scene showing Rosie in danger or in distress, or even jealous about Sam being away for so long, wrote a wonderful scene.

Rosie is aware that Sam loves her, and she returns the love but she is also conscious about her own independence and braveness. She is more concerned about Frodo not being with Sam after all the peril they had faced together. She says:

“Well, be off with you! If you have been after Mr. Frodo all this while, what’d you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?”. This was too much for Sam. It needed a week’s answer, or none. He turned away and mounted his pony. But as he started off, Rosie ran down the steps. “I think you look fine, Sam”. she said. “Go on now! But take care of yourself, and come straight back as soon as you have settled the ruffians!”.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. “The Scouring of the Shire”. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Rosie does not beg Sam to stay with her and save her from the dangerous things that are happening in the Shire. Instead, she insists she is all right and someone else needs help.

8.- 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑬𝒏𝒕𝒘𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒔

𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑬𝒏𝒕𝒘𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒊𝒇 𝒘𝒆 𝒅𝒐 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒄𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝑵𝒂𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆, 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒔𝒕 𝒃𝒆𝒂𝒖𝒕𝒊𝒇𝒖𝒍 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒃𝒆 𝒅𝒆𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒐𝒚𝒆𝒅 𝒇𝒐𝒓𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓.

The Entwives do not appear but are mentioned in the story. They are remembered by Treebeard, he tells Pippin and Merry about them, he sings a song but confesses that he cannot remember how they look like because they are long gone. Treebeard seems to believe that the Entwives might be in the Shire because of the hobbits agricultural development.

Tolkien was asked about the fate of the Entwives, and in Letter 144, he replied:

I think that in fact, the Entwives were destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance. when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien. from “Letter N° 144”. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien

If they were indeed destroyed, they are not going to be seen anymore. It is the same that occurs with nature. Every single creature and landscape is unique, if we do not preserve it, it will be gone forever and become no more than a faint memory.

𝐹𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑙 𝑇𝘩𝑜𝑢𝑔𝘩𝑡𝑠

Did you know that the works written by J. R. R. Tolkien feature female characters in the narrative numerous times? If someone says the opposite is because it is not an attentive reader.

I can say that every single woman present in Tolkien’s works taught me something, and I was so upset by reading that criticism that I decided to count them when reading The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. Guess what? I lost count with all the times they appear. One of my copies has sticky notes indicating where a female character appears in those books.

Women in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are marked with pink post-its:

Today, I had shared what eight women from Tolkien’s works have taught me. If you love Tolkien’s works, I know that you are aware that the professor’s works are for everyone! But if you are a woman you might encounter someone who cannot believe your Tolkienist knowledge because you are a woman. If that is the case, tell them this: J. R. R. Tolkien never intended to write his books for an exclusive masculine audience!

✶⋆Happy International Women’s Day! Which one is your favourite female character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s works?

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