Monday, December 29, 2003

Back. Had a ball.

Before I go into that, though, I've got unfinished Lord of the Rings business to which I must attend. First, what he said. Second, I have a few words regarding women in the books and movies. This was prompted by a review of Return in the Onion (I think) but it has been in the back of my head for some time. It moved into the front of my head a few weeks ago (months?) because some of my colleagues were using the Fellowship film in their English classes and had some questions about the books. One of the questions was about the (very small) role of female characters.

Put on the spot, I came up with an argument. Tolkein was very very Cathoholic. He was also very close to his mother. These two things are important (as is, no doubt, his status as penis wielder in his time and place and social class). First, mum. That's too easy. Second, Catholicism:

I pick the following as the female characters of note in the Lord of the Rings novels: Arwen, Galadriel, Eowyn, and the healer in Gondor (name?). I will leave aside Rosie Cotton, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, and Shelob for my purposes. Of the ones I picked, only the healer has a flaw of any consequence, and it is basically that she talks too much. Otherwise, she is wise in her way and is (duh) a healer. Arwen, Galadriel, and Eowyn, on the other hand, are pretty much perfect. A and G are elves, to boot, and Eowyn is noble (to boots). There is quite a tradition of Cathoholic female saints, and oft as not they are saints due to their wisdom, perserverance, and all around flawlessness (I'm thinking particuluarly of Mary, mrs. Joseph, on this).

Galadriel is not only an elf, she is one of the oldest elves in Middle Earth. Not only that, she is widely hailed as the wisest and most powerful of the Wise (with possible exceptions for Elrond and Gandalf). Not only THAT, but she is so ethereally purdy that Gimli is ready to hew your ass for speaking ill of her. Not only THAT, but she refuses to take the one ring, even though she is probably the only person who could probably control it a bit. Galadriel, in other words, is just left of perfect.

Arwen is not as clear a character as Galadriel (in the books), but she is clearly important (hence Liv Tyler). Maybe she isn't as old or wise as Galadriel, but she is alleged to be purdy by Eomer (who was prepared to hew Gimli, should need arise, over the debate), and clearly Aragorn saw her as worth a second glance. And note her patience. She waits for Aragorn. She casts aside her father -- her elfness -- for him. She stands by her man, in other words. This is classic female saintliness in action: substitute Aragorn for God and you've got Saint Barbara.

Eowyn first appears as the long-suffering girly girl (doting on Theoden, weeping for Theodred, weeping for Eomer, in need of rescue from Wormtongue, swooning over Aragorn, weeping for Aragorn, etc.), but she soon reveals herself as nothing less than a feminist hero. She even cross dresses! Without Eowyn, you've got no Merry at Pelenor. Without Merry and Eowyn, you've got no wraithkilling, and arguably no victory. After a bit of stony solitude, furthermore, she goes and hooks up with Faramir. She could have found a macho he-man, but she picks, instead, the wisest of the Gondor men (other than Aragorn), and she is every bit his equal as a hero.

In other words, there are few women in Tolkein's LotRs, but they are women of almost unbelievable quality. Flawless, essentially. Rosie Cotton has no visible flaws, either, and Lobelia dies a heroine. Shelob, even, is perfect in her way (a perfect predator: beyond any concept of good or evil).

Look at the men, on the other hand. Bilbo, Merry, and Pippen are frivolous. Sam and Barliman Butterbur are a bit thick. Frodo is a drag. Aragorn has no self esteem. Boromir has too much self esteem. Gimli and Legolas start out as petty racists (many of the other elves do too: I'm looking at you, Haldir!). Elrond is a snob. Celeborn is useless. Treebeard is too patient. Denethor is nuts. Theoden is none too bright. Gandalf almost blows it several times. Faramir has younger brother syndrome, etc. And the bad guys? All boys.

No healer woman: no healing. No Arwen: no king. No Galadriel: no wisdom for Gandalf, et al.

Tolkein's women are pretty much the only sort of women I reckon he could imagine: saintly and REALLY important (if a bit boring).

Whatcha reckon?


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