An Insight into Female Empowerment in J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings

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Although seldom studied as a commentary on femininity, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings offers prolonged insight into female empowerment. Tolkien’s representation of women in his 1954-55 sequel has long been the focus of preeminent controversial debate. Many people have regularly lodged a protest against the scarcity of female characters and their subordinate roles in his narrative which, in fact, is true. Nonetheless, aside from the lack of female roles, the author certainly did not founder to symbolize them as morally good, heroic, and aristocratic individuals, as well as declaring righteous leadership roles. Tolkien’s personal history always had something to do with how critics viewed his manner towards females. Many of whom went as far as to state that Tolkien was a misogynist. His oeuvre, hence, has been analyzed considering how these detractors were convinced he thought of women. It was not uncommon for men to perceive women as the community saw them, since Britain had a very distinct character for women to play in the first 1900s, whether as wives or mothers or seamstress.

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Throughout Tolkien’s university life, he was mostly accompanied by men because of the lack of women’s presence in universities at the time. He had a strong sensory of male camaraderie owing to the fact of the all-male schools. Tolkien further established this sense when he served in the British Army during World War One which, also, was all-male. Women seemed to move in diverse spheres from those where he trained for his army duties. At some point, Tolkien concurred that women could not really go as far as men intellectually, yet, as a university professor, he managed to never treat his students, unequally, regardless of their sex. Tolkien’s marriage life was far from perfect, but, it was clear that he had so much respect and honored his wife, Edith. Moreover, Humphrey Carpenter, a prominent novelist and a friend of Tolkien, explained that Tolkien was “capable of sympathizing with the plight of a clever woman who had been trapped by marriage into leading an intellectually empty life”. However, despite all societal impacts, at Tolkien’s era, he saw more in women than the stereotypical stay-at-home mom: he saw strength. He saw power and ability. He saw powerful and noble roles which are present in his novel sequel The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkien, tells the story of the civilization’s future which lies in the destiny of the One Ring, which has been missing for centuries. Powerful forces continue in the search for it; however, fate placed the Ring in the palms of Frodo Baggins, a young Hobbit, who becomes heir to the Ring and steps into legend. The plot-lines are developed with the wars and battles that occur between the people of the Middle-Earth and Sauron, the Dark Lord, for jurisdiction of the One Ring and dominion over the continent. With the rise of conflicts came the lack of the female characters in the novel sequel which caused great dissension over the tale. However, the reality that the female roles are far fewer than the male, helps appreciate each woman’s uniqueness and significance in the narrative.

Despite the clear misinterpret of the female sex in the British community during the author’s life, he ascribed to a considerable amount of power to the women of Middle-earth (the fictional setting of his novel sequel). Many of J.R.R Tolkien’s female characters are originated from the powerful women of Old Norse and Germanic literature, which aided him in shaping his own judgment on women. West, Tolkien’s workmate, agreed that “Tolkien is far from being a feminist author, [but] his women characters are stronger than they are often made out to be”. Regardless of his dubious beliefs towards women’s intellect, he portrayed his women characters with an exceptional amount of wisdom and intelligence, especially, his female protagonists Galadriel and Arwen. These are not the at most qualities that Tolkien accredited to the women in his novel. He extended their attributes of bravery, sacrifice, and strength. There are three dominant, ageless female characters in The Lord Of The Rings: Galadriel the Lady of the Golden Wood, Goldberry the River-woman’s daughter and Arwen the Elf princess. Each of which symbolizes a diverse aspect that Tolkien represents perfectly as a part of his use of the Middle Age’s motions, and all of them stimulate and positively impact the most prominent male characters in a way that helps them rid Medieval Period of evil. He also presented Éowyn, another significant female character, who is not ageless yet with the immense amount of bodily strength despite her slender and small size. As the theme of femininity progresses in The Lord of the Rings, Éowyn rapidly becomes an important role indeed. Tolkien first introduces Éowyn in his novel by stating that “grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed”.

The author is found to make women seem grave and even standoffish by portraying them as durable and impressive — even soldier-like, and in this case, Éowyn. In spite of that, Tolkien describes her as stern as steel and fair and cold. Not one of these expressions makes her seem very human. It's as though Tolkien condemns Éowyn's aspiration for glory. Nevertheless, the author makes this anti-ambition message very distinctive and complex, with regards to Éowyn, by Boromire, Captain of the White Tower, and his company, striving with their own souls to find an internal stability between virtue and their aspiration for glory. Éowyn cannot pursue her own glory in battle owing to external motives; she is a female in a world full of males. Seeking power may evoke immorality in this moral society; however, Éowyn’s role does not seem to be wrongful by desiring the equivalent amount of power as everyone else; seeking power is seen as seeking equality. Éowyn alone is frequently capable to convince Tolkien’s audience that he isn’t the misogynist that many denounce him to be. Éowyn’s character evolves when she begs to be permitted to go to the combat, like her brother. She then fights for the rights of women to attend army battles: “If you must go, then let me ride in your following. For I am weary of skulking in the hills, and wish to face peril and battle.” “Your duty is with your people,” [Éomer] answered. “Too often have I heard of duty,” she cried. “But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will? [...] Shall I always be chosen [to stay behind with those who cannot fight]?” she said bitterly. “Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return? [...] All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honor, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”Although she is not granted permission, Éowyn defies her male relatives and rides to battle with her male comrades anyway. In fact, she is the one who deals the mortal blow to Sauron’s most powerful minion, the Witch-King of Angmar.

Notwithstanding her brother’s refusal, Éowyn still disobeys the orders and rides to war with her male companion. Tolkien’s theme of femininity is, in fact, fortified at this point of the novel sequel as the Witch King of the Nazgul states that no living man can kill him, she proclaims that “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am”, immediately before she slays him. The author makes here a captivating point: Éowyn’s victory is no passive feminine win, but alternatively comes from the dominion of masculinity of a woman, and not a man. Clearly, the writer could not resist the desire to idealize the feminine, and so Éowyn is also given her share of ordinary characterization of her beauty, yet, she is permitted to be both attractive and strong — “her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver”. She is often described by her status as a pretty woman. Éowyn is a maiden, and her virgin clarity is highlighted as one of her key attractions. She is portrayed as “fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood”. Despite that, she is disregarded from the assembly of men —“Go, Éowyn sister-daughter!” said the old king, “the time for fear is past” – and yet, after she demolishes the Witch-King utterly, whom is told that no man could put to death, Aragorn tells her, “Alas! For she was pitted against a foe beyond the strength of her mind or body”. For each approach in which Éowyn is given exceptional ability, she is, as well, given a shove back toward standard female roles. This emphasizes the theme of femininity in The Lord of the Rings and how the author has not allowed Éowyn to have an impeccable victory. She nearly wrecked herself by the immorality that is brought upon her through her impudence to kill a male enemy. Although she eventually recuperates from her injuries, it is the power of a man that relinquishes her former ways, as a replacement for her role as a traditional mother and wife. This is established once she falls in love with Faramir and so her chilly, unwomanly soul fades. Yielding to the implied typical way of life, she states: “I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren. [...] And would you [Faramir,] have your proud folk say of you: “There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North!”.

As the theme of femininity further enhances in The Lord of the Rings, Galadriel instantly becomes a significant character. The Lady Galadriel was an Elven Queen of remarkable beauty, with timeless qualities and golden river of hair. Galadriel was exceptionally commended for her charm, particularly that of her hair, which was rich and radiant gold, touched with silver. Tolkien stated that, “even among the Eldar she was accounted beautiful, and her hair was held a marvel unmatched. It was golden […]”. As well, she was the tallest of elf-women. Owing to her wisdom and abilities, she had a very momentous part throughout the historical events of Middle-earth, especially during the War of the Ring. Tolkien described her as “tall beyond the measure even of the women of the Noldor; she was strong of body, mind, and will”. Her intelligence caused her to be one of the very few who were not deceived by Sauron, the Dark Lord, in the Second Age, and consequently suggested to Celebrimbor, another character, to hide the Three Rings. When Frodo put forward the One Ring, she still succeeding in the rejection of the indisputable temptation, for she was wise enough to be aware that, notwithstanding the fact that she might commence with good intentions with the One Ring in her control, she would at most end up as a cruel ruler as dreadful as Sauron. This could be viewed as Tolkien’s portrayal of female’s, specifically Galadriel’s, testament to their outstanding understanding of the seductive nature of power, as well as their consciousness of their personal restrictions. Galadriel depicts both traditional masculine and traditional feminine attributes. She is initially introduced as assembling “side by side” with Celeborn, the male Elven ruler. Tolkien describe both characters as “Very tall they were, and the lady no less tall than the Lord, and they were grave and beautiful”. Designating both the male and female rulers as ‘grave’, a traditionally male-oriented trait, and ‘beautiful,’ a description traditionally female-oriented. Thus, Tolkien portrays these characters to suggest that both the male and female characters are equivalent in state and that they both contribute to masculine and feminine qualities.

The juxtaposition of Galadriel’s characteristics suggests that masculinity and femininity are not clearly defined ways of being; there can be movement between masculine and feminine characteristics which can be admired, no matter whether a male or female portrays them. As Tolkien progressed the plot of his novel, Galadriel became more powerful and self-governing. Galadriel appeared to not to have existed up till Tolkien wrote the relevant sections of The Lord of the Rings. The inception of her was mysterious and puzzling yet very beautiful, a real forest monarch. She, however, desired the Ring in order to grow into a great queen. Nevertheless, she had the power of will to refuse. Therefore, Tolkien symbolizes her as Elven-ness: its sadness, its mystery, its almost unimaginable beauty.

The elevating veneration of Galadriel was somehow a signal to the author’s respect for females specifically his thoughts of his mother, who was placed on a very high plinth. It was, of course, Tolkien’s mother who turned to the Catholic Church and the influence for him to do so. Tolkien’s Catholic faith was a very significant feature of his being and progressed into Galadriel’s character. Tolkien once wrote that Mary, whom he believed is Mother of God, gave him his comprehension of “beauty in majesty and simplicity.” In Catholicism, it was believed that she was born with no sin, lived and passed without ever sinning. In many attributes, Galadriel epitomizes Mary’s qualities.

Primarily, Mary is frequently portrayed in the same way as Galadriel: delicate, soaked in light, sympathetic, beautiful, and inspirational. Tolkien viewed both as a queens: Galadriel as the Queen of Lothlorien and Mary as Queen of the Catholic Church. Numerous in the history of the Catholic Church have been changed and reconciled by Mary’s gracefulness and compassion. Likewise, Gimli, a Dwarf, a nation that loathe the Elves, has a move of opinion after meeting Galadriel. Tolkien stated: “And the dwarf . . . looked up and met her eyes, and it seemed to him that he looked into the heart of an enemy and saw their love and understanding. Wonder came into his face and he smiled in answer”. She conveys what perfect religion is to Tolkien, and that perfection fits perfectly within the guidelines that the Middle Age’s anchoresses followed. By doing so, Galadriel manifest her sagacity and virtue, which remains in sharp contrast with the actions of some of the male heroes in Tolkien’s novel sequel. The juxtaposition of Galadriel’s attributes proposes that femininity and masculinity are not clearly interpreted ways of being; there can be motion between male and female attributes which can be admired, no matter whether a male or female depict them.

Similarly to Galadriel, who was allured by Frodo’s offer of the One Ring yet successfully declined the temptation, Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife in The Lord of the Rings, makes the One Ring disappear in order to advocate the hobbits. Likewise, Goldberry is also an evidence of her wisdom: she can identify the boundaries of her own abilities and powers. Goldberry, also known as “River-woman’s daughter,” possesses capabilities and powers associated to nature, she goes beyond the limits between the material and spiritual world. Therefore, it can be recognized that Tolkien based more than one female character on his own respect for Mary. It is into this particular aspect of the story that the author brought Goldberry, a role strongly linked to nature, if not more so, than her husband, Bombadil. She is very present as the River-woman’s daughter; when Tom Bombadil interrupts the creatures of the river with his singing, she swims up and rebukes him, just to be rapidly persuaded to “sleep again where the pools are shady”. Goldberry is, then, both significant to Tolkien and linked, not only to nature but in his mind to England. If Bombadil is the landscape, then Goldberry is England’s vital spark. It is no fortuity that Tolkien made her the River-daughter. It is, certainly, strenuous to portray an individual’s idealizations of nature, however, Tolkien does his best to convey that through Goldberry, his sense of national pride. She provides more than enough food for the travelers, just as she protects them from the misery and distress that menace their welfare. And in Tolkien's use of Shelob, the female giant spider, as a foil of kind, he reveals his strong sensation towards England, both in his constant commitment to his country and his objection against industrialization. Thus, Goldberry’s characteristics helps Tolkien make clear that although the spirits, in The Lord Of The Ring, are constantly inclined to be a service to those in need, their powers and their interests do not expand beyond the borders of their land, the Old Forest. Therefore, Tolkien persuades his readers that no matter what calamities man impose upon England, his ideal – a sense of a powerful country that protects the significance of nature – is enduring, waiting to be occupied with and appreciated once again.J

ust like Galadriel, her granddaughter Arwen is another very significant female character in Tolkien’s writings, the elven princess in love with the soldier Aragorn. In The Lord Of The Rings, the immortal role of Arwen demonstrates the more gentle virtuousness of femininity: she’s attractive, benevolent, and patient. Her virtue was present even in her simple movements, Tolkien states: “She took a white gem like a star that lay upon her breast hanging upon a silver chain, and she set the chain around Frodo's neck. 'When the memory of the fear and the darkness troubles you,' she said, 'this will bring you aid.” Waiting for her love to come back from his voyage, she shows faith and loyalty, trusting beyond all suspicion that they will be reunited.

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