Lúthien: A “Mere Maiden”?

I am in the midst of reading The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which I have never read in full. They are very illustrative and have spurred many ideas for future HL posts (and I am only one-third through!), but I encountered one statement the other day that refuses to rest in my mind until I write about it.

JRRT was more than a “man of his time” where his regard of women is concerned. A self-described reactionary, many things from his personal life and his writings point to the fact that he was a rampant sexist in excess of what one would expect even from a man who was well into adulthood before women earned the vote in his country. Yet whenever the question of JRRT’s sexism comes into a discussion, someone trots out Lúthien as an example of how, though not all of his books provide fair depictions of women, his sexism clearly wasn’t entirely unmitigated. Lúthien, after all, is not only gorgeous but has enough super-magical powers to outsmart the Dark Lord, bring Beren back to life, and move Námo Mandos to mercy. She’s a superhero in a cape woven from her own hair. JRRT’s defenders like to point to her as evidence that he valued women’s strength and independence (because, no matter what you think of the Beren and Lúthien story, she clearly possessed both).

I don’t normally put much stock in an author’s intent, as I think I make clear here on a fairly regular basis. Texts must stand on their own, independent of what their authors wished them to say when writing them. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever started a sentence with that loathed phrase beloved of canatics: “Tolkien clearly intended …” So this will be a first.

In 1951, JRRT had finished The Lord of the Rings and was corresponding with Milton Waldman in hopes that Collins would publish LotR along with The Silmarillion. In Letter #131, JRRT describes his opus, from the Music of the Ainur to the conclusion of LotR. In discussing the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, we get this revelation:

It is Beren the outlawed mortal who succeeds (with the help of Lúthien, a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty) where all the armies and warriors have failed: he penetrates the stronghold of the Enemy and wrests one of the Silmarilli from the Iron Crown.

Firstly, a show of hands as to who thinks Beren did most of the work in retrieving that Silmaril? Beren would be in a wolf’s belly if not for Lúthien, to say nothing of her later “help,” without which he would also have been dead, many times over. (Impressive for a mortal.) But what struck me here as particularly revealing of JRRT’s attitude towards women is his note that Lúthien is “a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty.”

The sentence before this clarifies what JRRT sees as the significance of this particular story:

Here we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak … .

So, in short, the fact that Lúthien is descended from one of the Powers that JRRT celebrates as exceptionally wise in the very same letter means nothing. (Of course, that Power is also a woman.) Neither does her heritage as the daughter of Elwë, one of the Elves selected as ambassadors to Aman. All of these facts–and her deeds–are attenuated by her status as a “mere maiden,” and the heroics that so many of her fans embrace and cite as evidence that JRRT understood women as competent beings, even a little bit.

(Here we go.)

Tolkien clearly did not intend this. Based on what he told Waldman, he wanted her story to serve in the same capacity as Sam and Frodo’s, illustrating how even the weak can overthrow the powerful. He assumed that his readers would understand this based on her femaleness alone.

Nor do I think that the published story can in any way be defended as a change of heart in favor of recognizing a clearly powerful character as such, rather than a product of her circumstances that serves as an apt vehicle for one of his most valued themes. According to Douglas Charles Kane1, paraphrasing Christopher Tolkien’s notes in The Lost Road, the published Beren and Lúthien story was based on two texts, completed in 1951, the same year that JRRT wrote to Milton Waldman. In short, the story was likely fresh in JRRT’s mind, and the published Silmarillion shows no major edits in favor of shifting Lúthien from a weak to a powerful character. (Furthermore, the basic structure of B&L was among JRRT’s earliest works in The Book of Lost Tales.)

Lúthien is certainly the best evidence that JRRT wasn’t a complete and unapologetic sexist, and I’ve seen it used as such many times. I’ve probably even used it myself in presenting The Silmarillion as a work that presents women more fairly than do The Hobbit and LotR. This quote not only debunks that idea but flips it on its head. When we see Lúthien, after all, we are not supposed to see one strong enough to overcome impossible odds in pursuit of her goals. We are not supposed to see a hero who earned her place as a cornerstone in the legends of her people. Nope, she is a mere maiden. She proves to the rest of us that, on occasion, even the inherently weak can “help” the privileged and powerful accomplish good things.


1. Douglas Charles Kane, Arda Reconstructed, p. 173.

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48 Responses to “Lúthien: A “Mere Maiden”?”

  1. pandemonium_213 says:

    I apologize in advance for this sketchy drive-by comment. I am taking a break in the midst of cleaning in anticipation of the realtors making appraisals of the Halls of Pandemonium, and let me tell you, I could use Hercules’ assistance: my domicile’s right there with the Augean stables.

    Anyway…

    The topic of JRRT and women came up on a certain message board. Scroll down a ways on page 2 (or search for “women”) in this thread. The discussion carries through page 3.

  2. Oshun says:

    Ha! Dawn reads Tolkien’s letters! Ah, yes, “In his own words . . . “: as they say. Hard to argue with that. Give ’em hell, Dawn!

    I cracked up the first couple of times I searched for scholarly articles on “Tolkien” and “Women” and came up with a bunch of references to religious journals which wanted to explore how if Tolkien had lived long enough he would have completed the clean-up of Galadriel and turned her into a model of the Virgin Mary. Maybe he would have.

    I read his Letters before I read The Silmarillion and was pleasantly surprised by a lot of things in The Silmarillion. What can I say except the Letters convinced me that I didn’t want to write fanfiction like people who claim to want to stick to the letter and verse of Tolkien’s writings and his presumed personal world view.

  3. Moreth says:

    Compare and contrast William Morris’s ‘The House of the Wolfings’. *Evil grin*

    I suspect there would have been a very large gap between Morris’s ideal world and Tolkien’s – and yet Morris has a undeniable influence on Tolkien’s writing. It’s fascinating to read them both… I’d love to see your thoughts :)

  4. Lyra says:

    It’s funny, I have interpreted that same line in favour of the “See? See? He’s not all mysogynist” argument, actually. (Though, since I am not a native speaker of English and thus liable to misinterpret things that are clear to native speakers, that doesn’t necessarily mean much.) That is, I didn’t understand it to mean something along the lines of “She’s only a woman (and a young, unmarried one at that) and she’s just lucky that I want to prove a point concerning the weak and the powerful”, but rather along the lines of “She doesn’t succeed as an immortal, semi-divine noblewoman, but simply as a young woman”.

    Whether or not young women should naturally be seen as weak (since “strong” women of any age are still noted as out-of-the-ordinary, they certainly still seem to be considered so by many, even today, frustrating though it is) is a different pickle, of course, but I still don’t quite see how the insistence on Lúthien being rather a young woman like many others than a special creature of special powers turns the argument on its head.

    (Well, and I’m a little heretic who likes to take Tolkien’s commentary about how all he’s writing is totally according to scripture, oh yes, look, maidens and martyrs galore, oh no, I totally didn’t go and invent a whole pantheon of gods, they’re just kinda like angels, no really, with a few grains of salt. I mean, it’s only human. If I believed in hell (and getting there for writing things that don’t go with what the pope thinks), you’d hear me tell everyone how the blatant bisexuality of my pseudo-Elves is actually just… you know, they’re monoicous! Like, um, watermelons! So… yeah. True, or just trying to talk himself out of potentially tricky things? ;))

  5. Dawn says:

    Pandemonium: Thanks for the link! It’s an interesting discussion, though I can’t bring myself to side with those who are triumphantly crowing, “See! He’s not sexist after all!!” He clearly had admiration for female students, colleagues, and authors. But then he clearly had some very disturbing ideas about women as well.

    Oshun: I still mean to look up some of those articles, but I don’t have my Questia account anymore! I have access to JSTOR through my university, though I know that the simple act of typing “Tolkien” into the search engine will mean an entire afternoon wasted. And I still have things on my spring to-do list! 😀

    You know, modern authors who want to inhabit the worldview of someone born more than 100 years ago and, by his own admission, a reactionary even in his own days kind of scare me on principle …

    Moreth: That sounds like a challenge! 😀 I’ve not read it yet, but I just downloaded it on Kindle, so as soon as I’m done with Letters, I’ll give it a try!

    Lyra: Thanks for providing another perspective on that line! :) The word that is the sticking point for me is “mere.” To my (admittedly U.S.-English) ear, that word has a very strong and dismissive connotation. Coupled with the fact that her efforts are clearly placed secondary to Beren’s (when, imo, it should be the other way around; Luthien likely could have accomplished the quest without Beren, but Beren wouldn’t have survived the first week without Luthien), JRRT’s use of “mere maiden,” to me, doesn’t suggest, “I’m simply pointing out that she’s a young woman*!” so much as, “She’s only a young woman, yet succeeded anyway. Didn’t completely bungle the quest in her attempt to ‘help’ Beren. Funny, that.”

    * Nor is she particularly young. The Annals of Aman and Grey Annals both have her born in the Years of the Trees. AAm has her only 10 YV younger than Fingolfin. Of course, AAm were written right around the time that JRRT wrote this letter, so it’s possible that he considered her age after writing this letter. Certainly, the BoLT version, to me, always made her seem much younger than the eventual published version did.
    /obsessive timeline nattering

    She doesn’t succeed as an immortal, semi-divine noblewoman, but simply as a young woman

    But she does succeed because of these things! :) She clearly has powers beyond what one would expect for an Elf maiden … no matter her age. To compare, Finrod loses in his Duel of Songs with Sauron, but Luthien’s song puts Morgoth to sleep and wins Beren his Silmaril. And moves Namo to petition Manwe to change the fate of her kind to allow her to remain with Beren. That’s no “mere” maiden! Frodo and Sam, to whom JRRT compares her in terms of theme, don’t go into the Ring quest with any great powers. It is their humility and tenacity and simple loyalty to each other that gives them the quiet strength they need to succeed … and to resist the Ring. If JRRT had her scrambling over rocks and chugging along half-starved for love of Beren alone, and her success came from that, I would agree with the comparison to the Hobbits and the appropriateness of using her to represent the ability of the seemingly weak to change the world (a theme I particularly like). But as long as he depicts her so overwhelmingly as a powerful character, then what makes him also label her as weak? (Because, given her stature, she’s certainly not “unknown.”) I can’t come up with any better explanation than her femaleness.

    I totally didn’t go and invent a whole pantheon of gods, they’re just kinda like angels, no really

    😀 Indeed! I don’t know enough about the Christian much less Catholic religion to say whether he would have felt spiritually threatened by acknowledging a strong female character/hero in his story during that time. Luthien certainly defies the “obedience” expected of Catholic women to their men at the time! (In fact, that’s what I like best about her. 😉 )

  6. pandemonium_213 says:

    Thanks for the link! It’s an interesting discussion, though I can’t bring myself to side with those who are triumphantly crowing, “See! He’s not sexist after all!!” He clearly had admiration for female students, colleagues, and authors. But then he clearly had some very disturbing ideas about women as well.

    Likewise, I don’t buy the “See! He’s not sexist after all!” stance. I have encountered that kind of fellow all too often in my professional career. All supportive and respectful toward their female colleagues, but when the stakes become high, either in terms of professional competition or something that threatens other personal views of women, then their true colors show. I suppose Tolkien is as contrarian in his attitudes toward women as he is in other matters.

    The example given in the thread of Watson and Crick’s treatment of Rosalind Franklin compared to Tolkien’s more magnanimous support of women faculty at Oxford was a bit eyeroll-worthy. The stakes of the discovery of the double helix were extremely high. That brings out some pretty bad behavior. I question whether Tolkien ever encountered such cut throat competition and whether any of it came from a woman’s linguistic or literary work. I tend to think he could afford to be more magnanimous in a bit more genteel surroundings than that which Rosalind Franklin experienced.

    @Lyra — oh no, I totally didn’t go and invent a whole pantheon of gods, they’re just kinda like angels, no really,

    LOL! Fortunately, I swallowed my nice dry Vermentino when I read your quip, and the freshly cleaned monitor of iLugbúrz remains clear.

  7. Lyra says:

    I can’t come up with any better explanation than her femaleness.

    I can. I first wrote up a lenghty half-essay about Mary analogies (there you have the quintessential “mere maiden”!) and apologetism and “the meek shall inherit”, but then I realised that it’s realy much easier. It is right there in the quote:
    It is Beren the outlawed mortal who succeeds (with the help of Lúthien, a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty) where all the armies and warriors have failed:…

    The point is not that “she proves to the rest of us that, on occasion, even the inherently weak can ‘help’ the privileged and powerful accomplish good things.”
    After all, Beren is neither privileged nor powerful. That is part of the point. The “Beren (with the help of Lúthien)” thing has nothing to do with snubbing Lúthien, or saying that she didn’t actually do the greater part of the work. It’s just that the quest, and the story, is initially Beren’s. It’s not “Lúthien honey, be a dear and fetch daddy a Silmaril, will you”. It’s “Ok, mortal man, if you want to marry my daughter…” So even though Beren would not have succeeded without Lúthien whereas Lúthien would likely have succeeded even without Beren, without Beren things simply would not have been set into motion. Hence “Beren the outlawed mortal […] succeeds (with the help of Lúthien, a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty)”. They are both “weak”. The priviledge and power of Lúthien’s birth do not matter. They are two people, and they succeed where all the Noldorin armies have failed. The point is not that Lúthien is female. The point is that Lúthien and Beren together are weaker than Fëanor & sons, weaker than Fingolfin and his armies, and even weaker than Felagund and his merry men. Yet Fëanor (Elf, royal, powerful) is dead, Fingolfin (Elf, royal, powerful) is dead, Felagund (Elf, royal, powerful) is dead, and… Lúthien and Beren win a Silmaril. It’s not whether Lúthien is female (Beren happens to be male), it’s whether she’s weaker than all the armies of the Noldor combined. If strength is in numbers… then yes, she damn well is weak, and her sex doesn’t even play into the equation. Even without the maths, there are social factors other than Lúthien’s femaleness. Fëanor? High King (or so he says). Fingolfin? High King (so say they all). Finrod? Likewise a leader of people. Lúthien? Professional daughter. Oops. 😉
    So if anything, she proves to the rest of us that the powerful and violent eventually fail, whereas the seemingly weak succeed (for a given value of “weak”), period.
    (Which takes us back to Christianity and the meek shall inherit, of course…)

    So – whereas I do not actually doubt that Tolkien was, if not outright sexist, at least certainly anti-feminist – I do not think that the quote you picked proves anything along those lines, or make Lúthien a “weak woman” by Word of God Or At Any Rate The Author. I don’t think the quote actually has any relevance on that discussion. It does shed light on his Catholicism and his fear of hell and also, perhaps, the need to explain to his publishers that his writing is perfectly harmless and in accordance with Scripture. (IIRC, “criminal blasphemy” was an actual crime in the UK until at least the 1980s.) It does show his general philosophy of “You don’t actually get anywhere with war and violence, in the end it’s always the little people who move things.” It does not (I think) have much to do with the gender debate.

    “She proves to the rest of us that, on occasion, even the inherently weak can ‘help’ the privileged and powerful accomplish good things.” would be more like “Lúthien marries Celegorm and, as a healer of his troups, manages to keeps enough of them alive enough to finally win the Silmarils.” You’ll note that this is not how the story goes. 😉

    – – –
    @Pandë: I’m glad no monitors were harmed in the reading of my message! :)

  8. Dawn says:

    Pandemonium: I was thinking more on this last night because I found myself bothered by the attitude that “he was nice to female students and colleagues” = “he wasn’t sexist, no way, no how.” I think that that perspective, too, fails to take into account that teaching was his job, and no matter his personal views, dismissing or mistreating students or colleagues was likely to be frowned upon. Although I have strong views about homophobia and live in a school district where I will likely encounter homophobic students in my classes, I realize that I have to temper my personal beliefs to my professional obligations and not treat those students any differently than those who share my views. Likewise with their parents and my colleagues.

    I have a family member who has, in the past, exhibited very strong racist beliefs and vocalized these. He does so less now, mostly (I suspect) because my future brother-in-law is black and because certain of his relatives (*ahem*) embarrassed him on a few occasions by calling out his racist views in public. However, what is interesting about this particular relative of mine is that he supervised mostly black employees at one time, and they loved him. They would invite him to birthday parties, for example, where he was the only white person there, and spoke highly of him as a supervisor and a person. I’d imagine that they’d be shocked to hear some of the things he said when alone with other white people. (As well as the rhetorical gymnastics he underwent in trying to justify how the black employees that he liked and respected weren’t like Them.) But his support of and respect for his employees doesn’t change otherwise disturbing views.

    Lyra: I am glad that you are commenting here now because I have enjoyed having your perspectives immensely. :)

    From the perspective of military strategy, though, two people are not inherently weaker than an army. It depends on the situation and what you’re trying to accomplish. In this sense, Sam and Frodo aren’t weak either. If you’re trying to overthrow another army then, yes, two people are weak. But B&L aren’t trying to overthrow an army. They are (like S&F) trying to sneak into a highly protected place to acquire (or dispose of) a small object from a single person. Under those circumstances, an army will most certainly fail, unless the object is acquired (disposed of) after the opposing army is overthrown. And while I am invoking modern theory here that JRRT might not have considered (although it’s certainly logical), current thought points to the latter as highly ineffective. Which is one of the many reasons that the U.S. military invading Afghanistan to capture one guy and his operatives was foolish and has proven mostly ineffective.

    However, I do completely agree that B&L’s success versus the success of the various Noldor who attempted the same thing is significant. I just don’t agree with the reason. I’m sorry, but Luthien is not a weak character. I cannot see anyway to justify that short of putting her up against a whole army … and she’d still probably prevail. (Considering that she prevailed against Melkor, who exacted a whole lotta hurt on some very powerful armies.) I do agree that Beren is, comparatively, a weak character, and we see that in the multiple times that he dies, is captured, et cetera. Luthien’s lack of status compared to Feanor et al, to me, is not significant in discussing her strength any more than it would be significant to turn the tables and claim Feanor a weak character because, after all, he lacks lineage with the Ainur.

    As I see it, B&L succeed where the Noldor fail because of motive, not because of comparative strength or weakness. The Noldor are driven by, as you note, a desire to do violence, vengeance, and ultimately, a desire to possess the Silmarils to themselves and use them to increase their own power. (Which is not limited to the Noldor since Dior and Elwing do a pretty fine job of this too.) Even Finrod, who one might argue convincingly has no such motive, is nonetheless touched by the “curse” that afflicts all of the Noldor because he embarked on a quest that was oiled by the blood of kin during a battle motivated by greed and possession. Still, I think it’s significant that Finrod made it as far as he did and that his death is comparatively nobler than those of his kinsmen, who die in battle or ignobly during kinslayings.

    B&L, on the other hand, are driven by love and no desire greater than wanting to spend their lives together in peace. When they do achieve the Silmaril, they don’t use it to muster an army or have it set in shiny jewelry or increase their fish catch. (Or kill their squash bugs. Grr. Actually, if they had squash bugs, even they probably couldn’t resist using it for that! :P) Their motives being “purer” than those of the Noldor allow them to succeed, imo, similarly to how Frodo and Sam could succeed where Gandalf or Aragorn would have failed. But I don’t think this has anything to do with weakness. I think it illustrates more the importance of love and peace versus power and greed.

  9. Vivian says:

    Dawn:

    I am a regular participant on a forum where many Tolkien fanfiction writers congregate. When I expressed my opinion that Tolkien was a misogynist I got my proverbial internet ears pulled.

    Not only his wording of Lúthien as a mere maiden but also the inclusion of Arwen in the LOTR as the reward for Aragorn after becoming king, as if women were some sort of trophy and the fact that Galadrie,l in order to become the wise, powerful woman she is portrayed as, is almost completely devoid of femininity.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I have a feeling that Tolkien wrote backwards as Oshun worded it once.

  10. Ithilwen says:

    Fortunately Tolkien’s work transcends his limitations – because he very clearly was sexist. His writings make it clear that he views women as having a very different fundamental nature than men possess.

  11. Lois says:

    I’m shocked by that one too – referring to Luthien as a ‘mere maiden’ when she’s the second most powerful being on the side of good in Beleriand for most of the first age! Perhaps Tolkien didn’t actually realise what he had written, and he wrote a wise, powerful woman who keeps having to rescue her toyboy completely by accident.

  12. Lyra says:

    I think it illustrates more the importance of love and peace versus power and greed.

    Oh, definitely. But…

    But I don’t think this has anything to do with weakness.
    …yes it does – if you consider weakness as a positive thing. Weakness is not necessary cowardice, or pettiness, or a lack of strength. I think what we’re looking at here is more the idea of a kind of “willing” weakness, that is, a sort of humility (the sort that takes Eärendil to Aman unpunished whereas Ar-Pharazôn’s armies get there at… um… a higher price). Catholicism prizes humility highly. I hope I do not have to quote the The meek shall inherit line yet more often, but I think that is precisely the point that Tolkien wants to illustrate. And since Beren and Lúthien (or Eärendil, or Bilbo, or Frodo and Sam) inherit, they must be the meek. There we go. 😉

    I’m sorry, but Luthien is not a weak character.
    Oh, definitely not. But then, Samwise isn’t a weak character either. 😉 And Fëanor, despite his glorious origins and creations, is a weak character – not because he lacks Ainurin blood, but because he’s overcome by his greed and pride. Melkor, being fully Ainurin and a brother in spirit to Manwë himself, is a weak character, for Eru’s sake. That’s how that “character” thing is supposed to work, after all. It has very little to do with descent or physical prowess, and is all about virtue and making the best of what one is given and all that jazz.
    But character is not in question. As a person, Tolkien apparently wants us Waldman to understand Lúthien as not particularly special. As a character, her perseverance, loyalty, love and craftiness make her strong. As a person, she’s “just one woman”. Two different levels, both relevant, but definitely not identical.

    Still, I think it’s significant that Finrod made it as far as he did and that his death is comparatively nobler than those of his kinsmen, who die in battle or ignobly during kinslayings.
    Eh, I dunno. Nothing noble to being killed by a werewolf you tried to fight with your bare hands after being chained up for weeks, watching your comrades die. I’ll take a swift kinslaying, thank you very much :p

    Which is one of the many reasons that the U.S. military invading Afghanistan to capture one guy and his operatives was foolish and has proven mostly ineffective.
    My inner heretic is tempted to ask why, if “current thought” realises that, such missions are still undertaken in this our current time and day. *ducks and runs*

    – – –
    Anyway! Back to the topic.

    I see I shouldn’t have deleted the half-essay on the Catholic part of the reason after all, since it apparently is more important than I thought. (I notice that the whole apologetism issue wasn’t followed any further, which is kind of a pity as I believe that it is really, really essential here.)

    So. We do know that Tolkien has on various occasions attempted to explain his writings as “fundamentally” (or was it thoroughly? I shall look it up tomorrow if I remember) Catholic, occasionally illustrating his arguments with examples from his writing. There has been a fine lecture on this at the first Tolkien Seminar, the proceedings of which I surely have buried somewhere in the depths of my room, so perhaps I’ll dig that out and translate it into English at some point.
    Anyway.
    The most popular, I think, is Mary-Galadriel, which doesn’t work particularly well.
    Here we have, pretty clearly if you’re familiar with the myth, Mary-Lúthien. It doesn’t work overly well either. We are told that Mary was a young woman of very humble descent and very humble character. Much of the original popularity of Christianity was due to the fact that it was all about simple, humble people: According to the Bible, God-the-father didn’t choose some royal, influential or at least rich woman to bear and raise God-the-son, but instead the humble betrothed of a humble carpenter – the quintessential “mere maiden”, as I said above. From such simple origins, Mary is then “blessed among women” and raised in reverence, particularly in Catholicism, which occasionally seems to worship Mary more than either God-the-father or God-the-son ;). Mary also happens to be the first woman to overcome the problem of original sin (brought into the world through Eve, who just happens not to have a Y-chromosome either…). In Catholicism (and thus in medieval writing, and shall we remember where many of Tolkien’s beloved inspirations came from? ;)), women are thus either vilified or idealised. There isn’t really anything in-between.

    Now Lúthien, due to her achievements (and of course due to Edith ;)), would clearly have to be one of the “idealisation of womanhood” characters. In strictly Catholic terms, that’d mean that she would have to somehow emulate Mary.
    But Lúthien, as I mentioned, is not actually a good Mary analogy. Whereas Mary’s background is extremely humble, Lúthien is not just a princess but also semi-divine. She also doesn’t appear to spend her time with anything particularly worthwhile – like, I dunno, healing or weaving or teaching or feeding the hungry – but dances around enjoying herself. She is also a famous beauty, something highly suspicious to at least the Medieval mind. (If a woman is beautiful, she’s either a Mary analogy or an evil temptress. ;)) Perhaps she is proud – that’s a deadly sin right there. Perhaps she’s vain, too, all that dancing around on her own could certainly be interpreted so – that’s another one.
    But lo! there is one thing to rescue her, one thing that she shares with That Paragon Of Good Womanhood: she is female, unmarried, and young (or at any rate young enough to be a “professional daughter”, that is, neither a woman with some job to do (like, say, Ioreth or Nerdanel) nor someone’s wife (like, say, Goldberry). Let us assumed that “unmarried” also means “a virgin” in this context. 😉
    So that is what the author must latch on in order to keep the Mary analogy intact. Never mind her descent, never mind her backstory, never mind her powers – look, she’s “just” (a mere) a virgin (maiden).

    And that’s where the religious apologetism really kicks in. It is also the point where I normally just ignore the comment in question, roll my eyes and think “Oh puh-leeeeeease, this is so transparent”.
    And – again – it is why I do not take such comments to be of any relevance to the gender debate at all. I do not doubt that Tolkien was (at least from a modern point of view, and quite possibly even from a contemporary point of view) sexist (I am not decided on the misogynism bit, because I still refuse to believe that anti-feminism is automatically misogynism).
    I just – again – do not think that this quote illustrates that point. The quote works better when exploring the topic of Tolkien’s attempts to bring his creations to terms with his beliefs. It may also be of worth in the allegory/applicability debate, since Tolkien certainly does a lot of allegorical explaining whenever he’s justifying his writings from a religious point of view. But for the gender debate… I keep doubting its relevance.

    – – –
    You did get another comment on the RSS feed on LJ, btw. So at least I’m not the only one who fell for that! *sweatdrop*

  13. Dreamflower says:

    Ooh! This is a fascinating discussion.

    The thing is, JRRT was certainly anti-feminist, and he was clearly unconsciously sexist (I say unconsciously because the word and concept had not even been coined in the early 50s when that letter was written.) However, he was *not* misogynist. He did not *hate* women.

    His regard for them, however, was distinctly old-fashioned: he put them on a pedestal and idealized them. I agree that a great deal of the reason for that is due to his Catholicism and the Marian tradition, and perhaps even more is due to his idealization of hs mother, who in his opinion died a martyr to her faith.

    We know also how much he idealized his wife. I sometimes wish we knew more of Edith personally, and that we had some clue as to how she felt about being his “Luthien”– did it amuse her? annoy her? or did she find it dreadfully romantic? (Or, with my own 34 year experience of a hubby who idealizes his wife, quite possibly all three at various points in time.)

    I also agree that coming from him in that context, he likely would be surprised to find that someone thought the term “mere maiden” was derogatory.

    Lois said:

    “Perhaps Tolkien didn’t actually realise what he had written, and he wrote a wise, powerful woman who keeps having to rescue her toyboy completely by accident.”

    *grin* Quite possibly! Or possibly he had a greater opinion of women than his conscious mind thought seemly to admit too!

    Thanks for the link, Dawn! This is another fun discussion!

  14. Olorimë says:

    Dreamflower:

    I used the definition of misogyny as the hatred or contempt of women that do not fall into certain patriarchal expectations. I can use his portrayal of Éowyn, Irissë and even Galadriel as an example for this qualifier.

    He certainly did not hate women, but he expected women to fall a certain role and through his writings I can note a certain disdain for those that did not follow. Of course, taken into account his upbringing, his religious background and that he wrote archetypal characters one can simply just take it as another one of the characteristics of his writing.

    As someone earlier in the comments say, his writings transcends all of those issues. He was certainly not perfect and he had very ugly biases, like dark skinned = evil? fair and white = beautiful and good.

  15. Olorimë says:

    Dreamflower:

    I used the definition of misogyny as the hatred or contempt of women that do not fall into certain patriarchal expectations. I can use his portrayal of Éowyn, Irissë and even Galadriel as an example for this qualifier.

    He certainly did not hate women, but he expected women to fall a certain role and through his writings I can note a certain disdain for those that did not follow. Of course, taking into account his upbringing, his religious background and that he wrote archetypal characters one can simply just take it as another one of the characteristics of his writing.

    As someone earlier in the comments says, his writing transcends all of those issues. He was certainly not perfect and he had very ugly biases, like dark skinned = evil? fair and white = beautiful and good.

    Edited comment. Bear with me. Sorry.

  16. Peregrin Ionad says:

    I have to ignore all those things Tolkien says about women, or it would just put me off reading some of his books. I think he probably didn’t even realise what he was saying, because at the time that was the view. Still…
    My brother suggested that the ‘mere maiden’ line might just mean that she was very young, but I pointed out that she was an elf, and he dropped his case ;D

  17. Rhapsody says:

    Having read the letters some time ago and not remembering them all too vividly, I wonder what you will think when the professor writes two different letters to his sons about women and marriage. When I read the entry the other day, I pondered if mere would have the connotation as you say it has. I’m afraid to say that I completely agree with Lyra. In myth and legends (which the tale of Luthien clearly is), there is a well used theme against all odds. It comes back often, Nerdanel having enough of her husband and leaving him (is that weak or strong in the professor’s opinion), noble and strong willed Aredhel falling into the clutches of that black smith are two examples that come to mind. No matter what my Celegorm muse thinks of it (shush now!), I read that line as the against all odds scenario (as Lyra pointed out), in my language the word mere as a translation carries the connotation of against all odds, nothing more than that, pure, clean ect. Not such a negative thing to say or read at all. If you say that mere is used in US English in a rather dismissive way, perhaps it might give you a different insight to look at the word usage of mere in Tolkien’s time to get the intent of his word.

    This being said, I do know very sexist men in my surroundings (still!), and to me the professor might have something against women who do not stay at home to look after their kids, so I am not sure sure if the misogynist bill fits him, especially since no matter the achievements of the feminist movement, society was very misogynistic themselves. He was very much a child of his time that still wasn’t very women friendly but such an opinion was considered rather normal back in the day.

  18. Rhapsody says:

    However, I do completely agree that B&L’s success versus the success of the various Noldor who attempted the same thing is significant. I just don’t agree with the reason. I’m sorry, but Luthien is not a weak character. I cannot see anyway to justify that short of putting her up against a whole army … and she’d still probably prevail.

    I am reading this and I do wonder if you ever considered the perspective of those she did defeat, this combined with analogy the hobbits – against the strong opponent being Sauron and his ringwraiths. If you look at how Melkor & Sauron (or Manwe for that matter) viewed Luthien (probably thinking”: hah such a mere maiden, what can a woman achieve against me, the oh so strong creature that I am, a high-king crusher! Dance woman!) Their perception – being the bad characters as they are, is that a woman cannot achieve much in their eyes, so they utmost underestimate them. The hobbits have always been hidden and sheltered (like Luthien in Doriath), both travel to their destination under cover, both storylines do deal with defeating a big sub-bad character (Sauron for B/L, Shelob for F/S); there is imprisonment and breaking out. All because they are perceived to be lesser characters, (be it that they are a woman, a lesser man or hobbits). The mistakes both evils make in both stories that they underestimate the characters that ultimately will kick their asses, using their (so far) hidden strengths. You might see that Luthien is a very strong character with skills, but that doesn’t mean that the antagonist in the story can see that.

  19. Esteliel says:

    Something that has always annoyed me is the people who claim that Tolkien was really a feminist due to Eowyn and Galadriel’s roles in LotR. But what we see of Galadriel in LotR and Tolkien’s later writings of her is IMHO little more than an archetypical Goddess figure, reminiscent of the Virgin Mary, especially as a giver of lembas, which in Tolkien’s “On Lembas” is quite obviously equated with the Eucharist.

    Eowyn – if one looks at Tolkien’s development of her character through the various versions of LotR – is at first supposed to be punished for her gender transgression with death on the battlefield, and later is “cured” of her desire for glory by marriage, which makes her return to the proper areas for a woman once more when she declares that “I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.”

    Lúthien is a character I’ve always liked a lot – certainly more than Beren, who pales beside her. What I always found most fascinating about her, rather than her power, was the fact that she disobeyed her father and decided to marry the man she wanted. Of course, if I think further about it, the impact of this disobedience and self-determination is at last weakened by the fact that Thingol is tainted by the ofermod Tolkien so criticized in Anglo-Saxon poetry, as well as his falling victim to the curse of the Silmarils. In that way, her rebellion against her father might even be seen as the moral thing to do – she decides to do what is morally right, rather than obey someone who becomes tainted by the sins of pride and greed.

    And then, of course, there are Tolkien’s letters, as well as his own life, that shows us how he himself thought of women. I can’t believe that people would ignore other things Tolkien said about women – how can liking his female students possibly make up for Letter 43, in which he says: “Under this impulse they [women] can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him.”

    How can I, as an (I hope) intelligent woman, who studies literature, not feel insultated by the insinuation that my natural gift is to be fertilized by my male teachers, and that I can go no further in research than where my teachers lead me? I really cannot understand how people can claim that Tolkien was actually a feminist becaused he liked his female students, or because he wrote six or seven female characters as compared to the, oh, almost a hundred male characters?

    It seems to me sometimes that there’s a special brand of fan who cannot take any criticism whatsoever of the author/book/movie they revere – as if any criticism of an author is immediately also a criticism of those who like his/her writing. But this sometimes violent reaction to any criticism of Tolkien is not just constricted to fandom. There are several well-known Tolkien scholars whose reaction to academic studies of Tolkien focusing on feminism or queer theory does not differ very much from the reactions of fanatical fans on online discussion boards. For example, David Bratman sees Esther Saxey’s essay on homoeroticism in Tolkien’s work as wrongheaded, mistaken and unconvincing, claiming that her queer reading is only possible if “one totally ignores what the author is likely to have thought on the subject.” Daniel Timmons, who seems to feel a similar dread at Partridge’s claim of homoeroticism in Tolkien’s fiction, argues likewise that “we need not wonder how Hobbits ‘reproduce’ or whether they have sex or not, anymore than we wonder how our own communities experience these matters,” whereas Patrick Curry condemns feminist readings focusing on gender and sexuality as “silliness.”

    There are several fandoms that have been soured for me by the author’s statements – my first fandom back in the 90s was Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, until she went mad and sicked lawyers and private detectives on a few fans, as well as deciding that she’d really rather write about Jesus than homoerotic vampires. I haven’t felt the slightest inclination to touch any of her books ever since. Or Diana Gabaldon, whose rant against fanfiction has made certain that I’ll only pick up future books by her as used copies. Strangely enough, though, even though there are many, many things about Tolkien’s world-view that I violently disagree with, none of that has so far soured my enjoyment of his writing, whether it be Middle-earth, his other fiction, or his academic writing. I wonder if that might be because he is dead, which makes it easier to ignore what he had to say about women or female scholars. If he were alive and blogging every other day about how the natural order of things is that men have a career while women think of marriage (Letter 43), my reaction might be quite different, but so far, my love of his writing (and of writing about his writing, be it fan fiction or academic essays) has not been touched at all by the many views where he and I differ.

    Sorry for the long comment – I just couldn’t resist this topic when I saw the link at the SWG list. I wrote my MA thesis on Tolkien and masculinity, and have just reached the point where I can bear to look at academic writing on Tolkien again, and gender & queer theory is one of my main areas of interest. And the above quoted reactions by several Tolkien scholars to feminist criticism or queer readings which I came upon in my research really angered me – I would have thought that we were long past the days where feminist criticism could be brushed off as silliness.

  20. It is impossible to divorce people from the society and times in which they live. Who is to say that Tolkien’s perspectives and opinions might not be very different were he writing today. Femenism had not reared it’s head – the vote was not women’s until the 1920’s and on. Women were considered property – given from father to husband and having no vested interest outside of that household. Women did not work outside the home and had no access to credit, banks, or career tracks. That glass ceiling was made of stone in Tolkien’s time.

    I have always had issues with many things that Tolkien wrote. But it does not change my basic admiration of the world that he created and characters that he peopled it with.

    Pulling from his backgrounds – he was Catholic. That is amply displayed in the Valar, Eru, and the Maiar, as well as in some cultural mores. But he doesn’t plaster his work with religious paint – he has a glossing, but no ceremonies (except in Numenor), no churches or temples (again with Numenor being the exception) and no true gods. He does have a basic acknowledgement of higher powers. It is one of the things that makes his works more universally acceptable.

    He was also a man of the early 20th century and, as such, was raised in a time and in a culture where the white male was the king of each personal castle. Thus, his heroes are white, the evil ones are black. The movers and shakers are men and the domestics are women. There are also a bevy of servants who are mentioned but never focused on – a strict class system, and of course, the absolute devotion of children to their parents.

    One of the first things that is mentioned in basic writing classes is to write from and about what you know. Well, he did. We have the ability to be able to look back at his work and analyze it and him, but he wrote within the worldview that he had as an individual, and I praise All Powers that he phrased his world in a manner that appeals to me – a modern, 21st century feminist. :-) – Interesting discussion, Dawn.

    – Erulisse (one L)

  21. Celeritas says:

    Okay, so I’m ducking into the discussion a bit late, and my points are going to be a bit haphazard…

    First of all (and the people who have discussed the Marian connection have already touched on this), I find it very interesting that Tolkien did not use the word “woman” but “maiden”–meaning virginity, and, by extension, inexperience*. Yes, Luthien might have been quite old by our standards, but that depends on what you do with those years, and there is (at least among us writers who tend to focus on mortals) this tendency to think of Elves as very static beings. You can be the most powerful thing in the world, but if you don’t know you have that power, or how to use it, that makes you a lot less.

    Now, compare that to the Perilous Woman that you encounter in literature and myth (especially in Faerie), the one that you have to warn people about because she will change you in that horribly destructive unnerving way… She is rarely, if ever, a virgin, and the truly frightening thing about her tends to be her level of knowledge and experience, which is more than she is supposed to have (compare with the Fellowship’s experience of Galadriel, and Sam’s blushing… !).

    So I don’t think that the “mere maiden” statement is drawing attention solely to the idea that Luthien is a woman, but rather that she falls neatly into the “inexperienced woman” archetype, despite her latent power. It’d be interesting to look at the function of Melian (who does take on aspects of the Perilous woman) in the Silm by comparison.

    And that falls into my other point–Tolkien was writing in archetypes, and the only non-sexist archetypes that I know of are the ones that are completely neuter. Not only did the Luthien part of his mythos get laid down in his mind early in his life, when he was young and falling in love–stuff that is very easy to idealize–but it is also one of THE foundational myths of Middle-earth. As a Fourth Age writer, I tend to look at the events and characters of the Silm more as the way they became perceived Ages after the fact, to see what exactly the society that preserved and revered these myths valued and what their archetypes were. So B/L was foundational not only to Tolkien, but also to the world of historians that he created. It became an archetype not only for him but also for Middle-earth. Almost all the women in Tolkien come after Luthien, going by the process of his creation, and it’s only then that he starts to (or is able to) play around with that archetype. But in order to get to that point, he had to lay down the basics.

    And if this was one of THE myths of Middle-earth, that means that this was a basic myth to them, too. Women not only relate themselves to Luthien in Tolkien’s mind, but in their own, because the story is so permanent (just as Catholic women are supposed to relate themselves to Mary). What exactly does it say about the elves of Beleriand, and their successors, that they would revere this tale, and this woman (and incidentally make her hotter than all other women past present and future), to the extent that they did?

    *Sidenote: Of course, there’s no equivalent word for men (*eyeroll*), though if we want to look at the comparisons that existed in the initial letter, “Frodo” does mean “wise by experience.” A conventional reading of the text, especially if you want to focus on his sacrificial nature, would have to mean that he was a virgin, and in the passage his mere ignorance is being praised, but still…

  22. Katie says:

    I’ve been lurking here for a while, but this particular post has finally prodded me into making myself known. There are lots of interesting ideas here, both in the original post and in the comments, which is great as I am currently trying to fill the gap between submitting my Masters thesis and starting work by (amongst other things) writing an essay on Tolkien’s portrayal of female characters for the Cambridge Tolkien Society’s print journal. As Oshun mentioned above, it’s pretty hard to find material on this that doesn’t take a Catholic perspective (which is very far from being my intention) so you’ve all given me plenty of ideas. Just goes to show once again that it’s the fans, not the “professional” critics, who often have the most interesting insights!

    With regard to the actual topic being discussed here, I don’t have a great deal of original insight! I must say that I had the same reaction as Dawn on reading that particular passage. In my interpretation at least, the emphasis does appear to be on the apparently astonishing fact that a woman (sorry, “maiden”) had proven her worth in an arena other than weaving and baking lembas, rather than on the fact that a pair of naive lovers had, with the assistance of a talking dog, managed to best a pair of Dark Lords. (The latter feat is IMO a good deal more remarkable, if you couldn’t tell that from the tone ;)). However, to me the most jaw-dropping moment from that passage is without a doubt the part where he claims that *Beren*, with the “assistance” of Luthien, recovered the Silmaril. As Dawn pointed out, what the heck? Not only did the guy have to be rescued more times than even the most accident-prone fairytale princess, he also *fell asleep* while Luthien was dancing for Morgoth and had to be woken up in order to make any contribution at all to his own bloody quest!! In short, if Beren was, I dunno, strutting around the greenwoods of Ossiriand telling everybody who would listen how he rescued a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown, then I sincerely hope she put an end to it pretty quickly.

    To conclude my rather diffuse remarks, then, I thought I’d remind you all of one of my favourite off-hand remarks from HoME 11: in Chapter V (Tale of Years) under 503 we learn that “Great was the chagrin of the Sons of Feanor to discover that the Silmaril was not with the Dwarves; but they dared not assail Luthien”.
    Of course, we don’t know how much of that was due to Celegorm’s abiding shame at having been jilted, but still – it appears that somebody at least had some respect for Luthien’s power. (Of course, having been brought up by Nerdanel, they were probably the last Elves to jump to conclusions regarding women’s inherent weakness :p)

  23. Dawn says:

    Viv: I agree with you, and I have observed similar experiences with respect to fan behavior when it is implied that JRRT’s writings weren’t particularly progressive where gender is concerned. Further on in the conversation, someone remarks that fans tend to be insulted when this is implied, as though their enjoyment of his writing is contingent on acceptance of his worldview. Clearly it’s not, and I’ve always found it bothersome how some fans tend to try to suppress criticisms of his writing/worldview that could open very important topics for discussion.

    Looking at the women in his stories one by one (which I’ve had the privilege to do through Oshun’s monthly biographies), it really is disturbing some of the trends that emerge. Nerdanel, too–one of the more independent women of The Silmarillion–is also depicted in masculine terms, for example. (And punished for her inability to muster unflagging loyalty to her husband’s doomed cause by losing her whole family.)

    Ithilwen: A number of commenters have noted that, despite their own feminist views, they are able to enjoy JRRT’s books. Thankfully, his texts do transcend his worst views! :) (As evidenced by the motley people attracted to his works, if nothing else.)

    Lois: Especially when one considers that he wrote the letter to Waldman right around the same time that he was working on the last extant draft of the B&L story, one does wonder how his statement is so at odds with what he shows about her character!

    Lyra: “Weak” and “meek” have very different meanings, though, and the meanings for “weak” are overwhelmingly negative. Weakness implies a deficiency in some attribute generally regarded positively. I think it’s illustrative that that quote doesn’t read, “The weak shall inherit the earth,” because, as you point out, many people who wield power are, in fact, weak. (Actually, I often fear that the weak are inheriting the earth!) Fëanor is a good example of that; he is weak in some regards, causing his downfall. I have trouble finding a deficiency in Lúthien. If anything, I’ve always felt her character to be poorly written, in part, because JRRT doesn’t give her a weakness or a flaw. She is not an ordinary woman, which is why, when I wrote a story in which Finrod discovered that Lúthien’s beauty and powers were largely exaggerated by loremasters and that she was quite normal-looking and humble in reality, I titled the story “An Ordinary Woman.” 😉

    I don’t particularly see her as “meek” either, though, but I don’t expect my personal view (supplemented by a hearty dose of my own imagination, of course 😉 ) to be accepted by anyone but myself, and there is a lot of text on which to build impressions of her, especially compared to other Silm characters (especially compared to other Silm women). When I think of her, I think of her defiance of … well, just about everyone: Thingol, Beren, Eru … okay, she at least got permission to have her fate changed to mortalkind. But, were I to develop her character from the details JRRT actually gives us about her, I don’t think I would easily arrive at meekness. (Though, what the hey, I’m always up for the challenge!)

    I have to confess that the Catholic stuff really makes my eyes cross. In no way do I see Lúthien as an apt analogy of Mary, if indeed JRRT saw her that way. He certainly didn’t communicate that intention well to this reader. It seems to me predicated on “Hey, she has nothing in common with Mary! But she’s female! And one of two sexual statuses possible for people! (I.e., a virgin, or so we presume.) And he viewed her positively! Therefore … Mary!” I just don’t see it. But even if I did, meek and humble (characteristics ascribed to Mary) are not the same as weak. As with Lúthien, I’ve never seen Mary as weak in any way.

    Dreamflower: I agree that expecting JRRT to have conformed to current ideas about gender equality is rather useless. What interests me more is how We the Fans react to ideas that our modern sentiments find problematic, such as blatant gender inequality (or even stories barren of any independent-minded, well-rounded female characters). What triggered this point more than anything is the number of Tolkien apologists I’ve seen trot out Lúthien as an example of how JRRT clearly isn’t sexist but really had quite egalitarian ideas. “Look!” they say, “He even created a strong heroine and put her in a central role!” Some of his own writings (like this) point to the fact that he didn’t see her in that way.

    Pip: I agree with what Ithilwen said in an earlier comment that JRRT’s stories, thankfully, transcend his antiquarian worldview! :) And, certainly, there is no evidence that Lúthien was in any way young. In a timeline written around the same time as this letter, JRRT indicates that she’s only about ten years (of the Trees) younger than Fingolfin! So unless this letter barely pre-dated that work on the timeline and he changed his ideas radically about her age shortly after writing this letter, then her “weakness” cannot be excused on the basis of age.

    Rhapsody: I did a bit of poking into the meaning and history of the word “mere.” You know that I don’t discount regional differences in how words are used, so I’m not saying that your understanding of it is wrong, but the negative connotation of “mere” is neither an Americanism nor a modernism. By definition, “mere” imposes limitations and is usually used to point out the inferiority of one thing to another by implying that the first thing cannot exceed the limitations imposed upon it by a particular set of inherent circumstances. For example, if I say, “For all of that work, she paid me a mere twenty quid,” that is not complimentary to my employer’s generosity. Or: “You are not allowed to write prescriptions because you are a mere nurse.” That implies that the person in question lacks something that makes her/him inferior to the speaker. Take out the “mere,” and the sentence has far less insulting overtones. If you try reversing it, so that the “superior” person is identified as “mere,” it doesn’t work. Or the famous taunt used by supervillains: “Mere mortal!” In comparison, “Mere god!” just doesn’t work.

    Which is the root of my problem with “mere maiden”: The definition of the word implies that Lúthien’s accomplishments are limited by her status as a maiden, which could be femaleness, age/experience, or virginity. The last one doesn’t make much sense, and as I’ve noted above, JRRT’s timeline from around the same time as this letter was written identifies Lúthien as only ten YT younger than Fingolfin … she is not young, though her circumstances may cause her to lack experience. That leaves me with femaleness. She is limited by her femaleness. That is problematic.

    I agree that many stories are driven by characters who beat significant odds stacked against them, and this is a theme that I enjoy in JRRT’s works. But what exactly are the odds stacked against Lúthien? The B&L chapter is often criticized because Lúthien is so powerful that it lacks the tension created in other parts of the story, where the reader really does wonder about the outcome. That’s a criticism with which I’ve always agreed and, as far as writing her character goes, if I could give JRRT advice, it would be to make her weaker. Because she’s obviously one of the most competent people in the whole legendarium.

    I agree with you too about the antagonists’ pride and underestimation of others in the story contributes to their downfall. I’ve no doubt that Melkor felt not a bit threatened by her, which contributed to her ability to outwit him. But what I found disturbing here was Tolkien’s assertion that Lúthien was a “mere maiden” and counted among the weak characters in the story. Considering that her actions in the story point at the exact opposite–she is one of the strongest and most competent characters, and most fans recognize this–this statement seemed illustrative to me about how he viewed female characters.

    Be back soon to answer the rest–it’s back to work for me! :)

  24. Russandol says:

    Lucky you posted a link from LJ, otherwise I would have missed this! Thanks!

    I know this comment is going off-topic, but I will add my two-pence anyway, without trying to repeat what has already been said so far. When I was reading the Letters I found that Tolkien’s wife was almost non-existant for long periods. I even thought she may have died early or they might have separated, she featured so little. Taken for granted?

    I have long ago accepted that he was most probably sexist, and moved on, or at least I don’t get too incensed. There are fanfic writers out there – you on this forum! – who have worked wonders to remedy the situation, adding a substantial female element (both canon and OFC characters) to the equation, in order to restore a little balance. I can’t think of Tolkien’s canon without thinking of those characters too, and the whole picture is now much more to my taste.

    And, yes, Luthien rocks! Beren would have joined Finrod Felagund in the werewolf’s belly if it hadn’t been for that “mere maiden”.

  25. Katie says:

    “And, yes, Luthien rocks! Beren would have joined Finrod Felagund in the werewolf’s belly if it hadn’t been for that “mere maiden”.”

    Indeed, yes! And Sauron really can’t bitch about it too much when his chief lieutenant gets his arse kicked by a girl at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, given how humiliated he was by a “mere maiden”.
    (Then again, Ungoliant made Morgoth scream like a little girl, so there seems to be something of a pattern here!)

    As for Edith Tolkien, the Professor definitely loved her in his way, but he doesn’t seem to have understood her or her needs, or to have paid a great deal of attention to them. Tom Shippey, in his biography, says that:

    “In those days there was in normal circumstances no question of a middle-class wife continuing to earn her living after marriage (…) He did not encourage her to pursue any intellectual activity, partly because he did not believe it to be a necessary part of her role as wife and mother, and partly because his attitude to her in courtship (…) was not associated with his own intellectual life”. (pp.152-4)

    Apparently his wife was also shy and found it difficult to socialise with the other Oxford dons and their wives. What is more, she doesn’t appear to have been overly involved in his creative work. (Apparently, the Tolkiens even moved into separate bedrooms so that he could do his writing late into the night). Between her husband’s academic career, his creative work and the Inklings, it’s pretty understandable why she would have felt rather excluded from large parts of his life.

    Wow. Thinking about Tolkien and his wife raises a whole new set of questions. I mean, what must it be like to be actually *married* to a woman who you’ve set up on a pedestal like that? (Or to a man who idealises you in that way?) I’d love to see Luthien complaining about Beren’s snoring, or his expression when he sees her shaving her legs for the first time :p

  26. Rhapsody says:

    It must be a cultural difference then, even though our languages are sister languages, but the phrase nothing more usually carries the sense of look at me how I achieved something with so little, ain’t I the best. Or that person achieved this and that with only that!

    For the negative connotation (looking at the etymology, the first appearance (1400) refers to pure and not to a dismissive meaning, actually the opposite) and there I agree with Lyra where mere maiden would carry the meaning of a pure virgin (however once she has Dior both retire as it was a logical thing or a must in those days: once a woman got pregnant or even got married, they gave up their jobs and retired. The opposite is quite the standard now these days). Perhaps us tradesmen always like to price the good sides of stuff when trying to sell a bargain? I am hard oressed to find a dismissive word right now (or perhaps I am not wired to thinking like that?). The negative usuage came in 1530. Too bad we can’t ask him what he meant with mere… was it referring to her being untainted or being a nobody in the author’s eyes… I am going with the first one.

    <I. But what I found disturbing here was Tolkien’s assertion that Lúthien was a “mere maiden” and counted among the weak characters in the story.

    Or not, if mere refers to her untainted and unmarried status 😉 Then he uses Luthien to make a strong point on the female character’s behalf, outwitting and shaming the villians by continously being a sidekick rescueing a man’s ass. 😉

    I do wonder about one thing: Tolkien always compared him and Edit to Beren and Luthien. It makes me wonder if he viewed his own wife in such a view or wanted to show his wife’s strength in that story… (hehe, who would have been the archetype of Celegorm then in his RL?).

  27. Katie says:

    Hey, the site ate my post! No fair!

    ” Beren would have joined Finrod Felagund in the werewolf’s belly if it hadn’t been for that “mere maiden”.”

    – Yes, Russandol, I agree! Sauron certainly can’t bitch about it too much when his chief lieutenant gets his arse kicked by a girl at the Pelennor Fields – after all, he suffered his own embarrassing humiliation at the hands of a “mere maiden” ;). (Mind you, Morgoth also screamed like a girl when Ungoliant attacked him – am I detecting a trend here?)

    As for Tolkien’s relationship with his wife, from what I have managed to find out he seems to have loved her in his way – but at the same time, he appears not to have really understood her and her needs. In Tom Shippey’s biography of JRRT, he says that:

    “In those days there was in normal circumstances no question of a middle-class wife continuing to earn her living after marriage (…) He did not encourage her to pursue any intellectual activity, partly because he did not consider it to be a necessary part of her role as wife and mother, and partly because his attitude to her in courtship (…) was not associated with his own intellectual life” (pp.152-4)

    In addition, his wife seems to have been rather shy (especially around the Oxford dons and their wives) and to have been very little involved in his creative work beyond inspiring the initial image of Luthien and copying up a few of the early manuscripts for him. So all in all, between his academic career, his creative work, and male friends such as the Inklings, she appears to have had no part in quite a lot of what went on in his life. And that, at the time, appears to have been pretty much taken as normal.

    Wow, reading about Tolkien’s views towards women, and about women during that time in general, makes me feel incredibly fortunate for having been born a good few decades later. (In case any of you would be interested to learn a bit more about the specific context in which Tolkien was writing, I recently read a book called “Bluestockings: The Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education” by Jane Robinson, which is about women in British universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the details, and particularly the attitudes towards female education on the part of the Establishment at the time, are frankly mind-boggling. And I was shocked and somewhat ashamed to learn that the University of Cambridge, where I was studying at the time, didn’t award full degrees to women until after the Second World War!)

    In addition to that, all this thinking about Tolkien and his wife has got me wondering what it must be like to be *married* to a woman you’ve put up on a pedestal like that – or, for that matter, to a man who idolises you in that way! I’d love to see Luthien reacting to Beren’s snoring, or him seeing her shaving her legs for the first time :p

  28. Oshun says:

    Rhapsody, I think you are doing some complicated calisthenics to try to argue that Tolkien was intended an obsolete/archaic definition of the word “mere.”

    In this case, we are not trying to dissect or parse one of Tolkien’s more obscure phrases like, for example, some of the most difficult, archaic words or syntax that he used in parts of his earliest Lays—the verbal enthusiasms of a geekish young man and a more difficult style than he used in his more mature writing (for example, LotR and later). In fact, he intended the Lays to sound obscure and archaic.

    The cite Dawn references here is from a straight-forward letter which he hoped would hold a meaning that would be transparently obvious to its recipient. The standard usage for mere which is clearly his intent from its context within the sentence is “nothing more than” or “only,” as in: he was a mere boy when he wrote that poem. She was not a powerful, burly man cast in the heroic mold, but a mere maid.

  29. Oshun says:

    Oh, darm it! I misplaced my copy of Tolkien’s biography, which I think is where I read something about him not allowing a refrigerator in his house? Green is green and all that, but who wants to be a stay-at-home wife and mother without a refrigerator? Maybe they had an icebox?? My own mother, a working class woman with a big family did not get a real modern refrigerator until after WWII. Still not convinced that the man is nature’s nobleman when it comes to women. He gets my standing ovation for his creative genuis and not his positions or lack thereof on women’s equality.

  30. Oshun says:

    One that thing and that’s it: on Beren the boy toy! Someone said recently in another forum, that for all the good that Beren did Luthien in their joint questing, one has to assume they guy was good looking and/or great in bed!

  31. Katie says:

    I agree – Beren must’ve been hot stuff. Either that or Luthien was after a “bit of rough” to annoy her dad and it all got a bit out of hand…;)

    (The Tolkien group I’m part of in RL have come to a very similar conclusion – i.e. “must be good in bed” – about poor dear Celeborn. Something which his Quenya name does little to disprove…)

  32. Dawn says:

    Esteliel: The notion of Éowyn as a female-positive character boggles my mind! She certainly starts that way, though the whole bit you quoted strikes all of that. Going down the list of female characters (it’s relatively short considering the number of characters in the legendarium as a whole), those who are punished for independence is quite boggling. Lúthien was one of the few that I felt shook off that yoke.

    I totally agree with you on her character’s strengths. She defies not only Thingol (which, you are right, might be viewed as justifiable) but also Beren, when he sends her away and she basically ignores him. Going to the Valar and saying, “Hey, I know I’m immortal but thought it couldn’t hurt to ask …” that took some guts too.

    I agree that quote from Letter 43 is very revealing; it sort of cemented what more circumstantial evidence about Tolkien’s sexism I already had. It was glossed over in the discussion Pandemonium linked; I think it was only addressed by one person, who pointed out the context as a letter to Michael Tolkien when MT was thinking of marrying a nurse he met while wounded in the hospital. In this case, I don’t see what the context has to do with it; his views are made pretty clear, no matter the context. In fact, if anything, the context being a letter to a family member frees him of censoring unsavory opinions that he might be reluctant to express around colleagues.

    I love JRRT’s writings, enough to have spent five years now devoting a healthy chunk of my free time to participating in the “deplorable cult.” But I make no bones about the fact that, if JRRT and I were ever to meet, I doubt we’d agree on much of anything, and we would probably loathe each other on principle. As Ithilwen noted, his works transcend his more disturbing views in most regards. But, yes, the silencing of criticism against JRRT by some in the fandom is troublesome, imo. The books exist and they are what they are, and JRRT was what he was, which was, to a degree, a “man of his times.” (Which I don’t think wholly excuses him since plenty of other “men of his times” managed to accept female equality by the time women had been voting for thirty years.) But that doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize how oppression and privilege operate in them so that we can better realize justice and equality in our own world.

    Your observations on the reactions of scholars to feminist and queer theory are interesting. I’ve certainly noticed a similar pattern in the fandom, where an awful lot of discussions on the role of women in the stories are preceded by, “I’m not a feminist, but …” if you can get fans to discuss gender roles at all. (And queer theory? OMGLMFAO.) In my last HL post, I noted that Tolkien fandom (compared to fandom in general) tends to be conservative and avoid social justice issues; I wonder if this also extends to study of the works in academia? Your observation certainly makes me wonder.

    And please no apologies for long comments! We loves them here, precious! :) Congrats, too, on your thesis! The last time we spoke, you were still working on it–how exciting that it’s done!

    Perhaps being a United Statian, where we still have mainstream presidential candidates who openly promise not to vote for things like equal pay legislation and where the attempt to provide health care for our whole population was nearly derailed over worries that women might use taxpayer dollars to get on the Pill, I find the dismissal of feminist theory less surprising. The current line among conservatives over here is that equal rights have been achieved and all feminism, civil rights, et cetera can do now is turn women, racial minorities, et cetera into victims. The truly “feminist” thing to do is, when someone steps on you–like, say, not hiring you because you’re of an age where you might take (unpaid) time off to have a baby or when a pharmacist rips up your birth control prescription and you go without because he’s “pro-life” and the Pill is “abortifacient”–isn’t to say “ouch” but to ignore it and just try harder to get ahead.

    (Still trundling along to catch up! There are many good insights here and I want to give proper time to them all. Thank you, everyone! :) )

  33. Rhapsody says:

    I am doing what exactly here Oshun? The mere with the connotation pure/virgin agurment comes from Lyra and etymology shows it was the first definition of that word, therefore I agree with Lyra on this. It’s quite simple and no I am not in the mood for argueing, I can just see Lyra’s point quite well.

  34. Dawn says:

    Rhapsody, the definition of “mere” that you are citing is obsolete. I checked four dictionaries, and only one has it listed as a current definition (the other has it noted as obsolete, and it doesn’t even appear in the other two). Ordinarily, I’d think it fully possible for JRRT to be engaging in some wordplay–I’m sure he was aware of both definitions–but given the context as a letter to a publisher (rather than, say, a letter to a fellow linguist or as part of one of his poems or tales) and especially given the common understanding of the word “mere,” in its adjectival form, as meaning “nothing more than,” I don’t think it likely that he was using an obsolete word in this case. Ordinarily, I’m very open to different meanings of different words (in fact, I was here as well) and how they influence the interpretation of a passage, but I’m 99.9% certain that the standard meaning was intended here–and that’s the best you’ll get out of me! :)

    I don’t think that Lyra was arguing for the obsolete definition (and Lyra is welcome to correct me if I’m wrong, as I hope she knows) but, rather, that “mere maiden” indicates that Luthien succeeded as a woman rather than a semi-divine superpower, which was what made her story relevant to the theme of the weak succeeding over the strong. I think Lyra makes a valid point, and she’s certainly given me a lot to think about over the past few days, but my conclusion remains that the story itself points to the fact that Luthien did succeed because she was a semi-divine superpower, triumphing where just about anyone else short of the Ainur (and a goodly number of them as well) would have failed, and this means that she is not a “mere maiden,” making JRRT’s insistence that she represents a “weak” person, to me, troubling.

  35. Oshun says:

    Sorry, Rhaps, if I seemed grouchy–it is very hot and miserable here. That was not my intention. But I do believe that the phrase is hard to understand in any other context than the way in which Dawn read it. The sentence flows so naturally to me. I was simply noting that to read it in the way that you suggested–with the obsolete definition–was a stretch too far for me; turned an ordinary sentence with a familiar cadence and a clear meaning into an arcane puzzle.

    The conclusion is a different discussion altogether. Ditto on what Dawn said above on how I understood what I thought Lyca was saying. I think hers is an arguable and interesting position. Not to say that I necessarily agree with it 100%.

  36. Rhapsody says:

    Oshun, the sentence reads just the same.. but without the negative connotation. As I said before, it just has to be a cultural difference, for me mere has an epic feel for a superlative and not a dismissive one. We can go around in circles around this, but I am not in the mood to argue about something that you or me just read differently. At least I am not going to argue about this, knowing there are some more letters that made me go like, wth Tolkien how can you say that about women!

    Dawn, even the Oxfore dictionary has pure, and with a few clicks I see pure listed as a meaning (adjective/superlative) for mere. I really don’t know why you don’t have it in yours. I just have to keep on thinking about Luthien’s super powers and yet being described as weak (to you). I never gave this lady that much thought, but if the Valar has issues bringing down Melkor (with a superspecial chain at that), then Luthien being a daughter of a lesser being (half-Maiar) could be seen as less from the Valar’s point of view. I mean they have to break down Angband, remove the roof and she just dances and batters her eyelashes? 😉 Compared to them, the dismissive statement would make more sense (but then I am no big fan of the Valar, two exceptions there), but I can see them thinking like that.

  37. Pink Siamese says:

    I’m not sure if anyone else has addressed what I am about to say, because quite honestly? I skimmed.

    The assertion by anyone, canatic or heretic, that Luthien is a “strong heroine” doesn’t hold for a couple of reasons.

    One, Luthien’s locus of control is centered on Beren rather than on herself, and to a lesser extent centered on her father as well.

    All of the great things she did: escaping her treehouse, besting Sauron, bewitching Morgoth…she did all of them so Beren could climb up there and steal a Silmaril. One could argue that yes, she did all those things for Beren because the Silmaril was her bride price, and she loved Beren and wanted to marry him, but…bride price? Come on! A strong heroine, a female character whose locus of control is centered on herself, would’ve told her father that she was marrying Beren, packed up her shit, and ridden off with him into the sunset.

    Two, and I’ll admit that this is possibly the weaker of the two points: all of Luthien’s magically magic powers are conflated with her beauty. Just about all of her enchantments can be connected somehow to an artifact of her person: her hair, her voice, her body.

    Feanor, arguably the ultimate Elvish male, is defined by the things he made. Tangible things, things with practical use: letters, jewels, armor, palantiri. Even Elvish men, who due to heir racial origin are depicted as being beautiful beyond compare, aren’t making history with their hair.

    The power of beauty is a passive one. Strong heroines aren’t passive. This isn’t to say that they can’t be beautiful, because of course they can…but the power of a strong heroine is about will and skill that is separate from a quality like beauty, which seduces men into doing the things they could do themselves.

  38. Pink Siamese says:

    Addendum: Which seduces other people into doing the things they could do themselves. I didn’t intend for that to come across as gender-essentialist as it did.

  39. Adlanth says:

    I think “maiden” connotes innocence and inexperience, rather than simply being female.
    I’ve searched thourgh The Silmarillion quickly, and I’ve noticed that “maiden” refers to Finduilas and to Niniel, but that Galadriel and Haleth are explicitly called “woman” (even though, technically, they are in fact maidens at the time.)
    Therefore, to me, “mere maiden” does not mean that she’s weak, only that, never having left Doriath, she’s led a very sheltered life -much like Frodo; and that her deeds (like Frodo’s) are all the more admirable because she wasn’t experienced, and perhaps not very adventurous by nature.

  40. fantasywind says:

    Ughh this discussion again I’ll tell one thing I actually agree with all Tolkien personal views about women happy? Buahahah, he has more common sense in many matters than modern people ;), now hate me hah! Why because in spite of all teachings women and men are made different in their very nature and he understands this as a way our species was made. Also someone haven’t seen the writings in which Tolkien says that elven women and males are equal in rights if different in attitudes, interests and predispositions.

  41. Dawn says:

    You do realize that this post is four years old, right? So your “Ughh” looks kind of stupid in that context.

    I’m glad Tolkien’s views work for you. They don’t work for me, though, and no, I don’t hate you because you have a different opinion than I do.

    You say, “Tolkien says that elven women and males are equal in rights” (emphasis mine). I emphasize “says” because what he says and what he shows are very different things, beginning with the most obvious that women are not included in the royal succession of the Noldor. No, you are not equal if the succession skips you for your dumb-bunny brother because of what you have between your legs. Also, the fact that his woman characters are so easily written out of history by his fictional loremasters (who understandably reflect many of his own biases) suggests that he doesn’t see their contributions as equal, or that they lived in a society where they were unable to contribute equally. Most people would say that the United States, for example, is an “equal” society but the truth is far more complicated than that. I suspect Elven society–while it may pay lip service to “equality” in a similar fashion–actually had far more complex views of equality as well.

  42. Tolkien was definitely Sexist, but the kind of Sexist who still got off on strong women. Like the Greeks and their Amazons (the caricature you here that the Amazons exist in Greek myth only to be conquered by men is NOT true).

    As far this comment goes, I feel the key to understanding lies in the context that he’s comparing Beren and Luthien’s story to The Hobbit and LOTR. And that he’s trying to convince this publisher it’s worth selling.

    What he’s doing is using every remote basis he has for comparing these stories to what he’d already been successful with. Like how for awhile studios were comparing every pitch for a Comic Book Superhero based TV show to Smallville, even if it had nothing in common with it. It was the only successful example of one they had.

    That his comparison doesn’t make sense shouldn’t surprise us.

  43. Dawn says:

    Where do I say anything about Amazons existing to be conquered by men? Since I’ve done no research on the Amazons, I wouldn’t presume to interpret the significance of their myth.

    Yes, you are right that the purpose of this letter was to make a sales pitch. I have seen this argument made before to dismiss the significance of the choice of “mere maiden” and what it shows of JRRT’s sexism. I think it’s beside the point. JRRT has no problem in this letter attributing success to Beren while placing Luthien in the role of a “mere maiden” providing “help” to Beren on his quest. I call bullshit. JRRT could have presented the pair as the weak attempting to overcome the strong–that’s what they were! Melkor was the most powerful being on Arda!–without making Luthien’s role secondary to Beren’s, which it was not. The fact that he depicts Beren as the one who is successful is where the problem arises, not that the pair are being depicted as weak in comparison to Melkor.

  44. The thing about Amazons wasn’t directed at you, I was jsut throwing that in.

  45. Chad Hale says:

    wow, what idiocy.
    I am for civil rights and women’s rights.
    I know we all are a long ways from true equality for women.
    yet, did anyone take into account that Tolkien started writing these books in the trenches of WORLD WAR ONE! almost 100 years ago. It was a different time. Much of the liberties and rights women have now DID NOT EXIST. by comparison Tolkien’s female characters: were strong, independent, educated, and didn’t take crap from anyone.
    Think I am wrong?
    Galadriel,
    Arwyn,
    Eowyn,
    And Luthien,

    Yet Luthien heads out ready for war for the sake of others. Luthien defies the commands of her family, refuses an arranged marriage and chooses who she will love. Luthien stands up for herself and for others. More of today’s women could learn from luthien.

    If Luthien is “just some girl”, she is every bit the kind of woman that I would respect. Got problems with that, take them up with Tolkien….
    oh, wait. You can’t HE’S BEEN DEAD since 1973. yeah, go on assassinate his character some more by holding his works up to 2015 cultural whims.

    “LOTR is a bunch of white guys running away from a burning Vajayjay and black guys in hoods” some moron said. I have to ask, who did you see in the trenches of world war one? okay, world war two? any women going out with a rifle and gas mask? okay, would the female characters I mentioned above, be perfectly accepted by 1915 cultural views regarding women. How about today?
    Tolkien being accused of misogyny is like attacking Mark twain as a racist for writing Huckle berry Finn…

    It seems to me that people have got Tolkien all wrong- He wasn’t a backward crumdrudgeon, He was a progressive forward thinker who wanted “just-a-girl”s everywhere to be as strong, prominent and powerful as the women he wrote about.

    • Dawn says:

      Chad, you are welcome here. But let’s get some housekeeping out of the way first: I know that it is commonplace on the Internet to forget the manners your mama taught you and start out an address to another human being with “wow, what idiocy.” But that is not how we roll here. I am not a blank comment box on your screen; I am a human being, and if you cannot speak to me (or the other human beings who participate on this blog) with respect, then I have no problem banning you from commenting.

      You and I disagree on an issue in Tolkien studies that has resulted in the expenditure of a lot of ink from scholars much more knowledgable than both of us. Neither of us are “idiots”; we simply see things differently.

      Now that that’s out of the way, go ahead and take a woosah, back up a step, and reread what I wrote. Because you’re arguing with points I didn’t even make and people who aren’t even on this blog.

      My purpose in writing this post was to contend with Tolkien fans (not Tolkien) who hold up Luthien as an example of Tolkien’s progressivism. In my experience in the Tolkien fandom, many of his fans have trouble accepting that he wasn’t perfect. They–not I–want to hold him to 21st-century standards and insist that he met them, even though he was born over 100 years ago. He didn’t, and that’s cool. We can admit that he has some issues with sexism in his books without condemning those books.

      I personally find his views on women to be out-of-touch even with the early 20th century in which he lived. If you’ve not read Letter 43 to his son Michael, I recommend checking it out. (If you need a copy and the email address you’ve entered in your comment is correct, then I will send it to you.) Here is a paragraph from that letter:

      Women really have not much part in all this, though they may use the language of romantic love, since it is so entwined in all our idioms. The sexual impulse makes women (naturally when unspoiled more unselfish) very sympathetic and understanding, or specially desirous of being so (or seeming so), and very ready to enter into all the interests, as far as they can, from ties to religion, of the young man they are attracted to. No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient, helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him.

      To me, as a woman, this is a pretty abhorrent view and one that places me inherently as the inferior to men. This is not progressive. This is not even a “man of his times.” And given this, what he later writes of Luthien makes a lot of sense.

      Now I’ll bounce the ball back to your court and ask for a source on his supposedly progressive views of women. Because, as a woman who is also a graduate student, knowing that I had a male professor who believed that my ability to learn from him was solely dependent on my interest in him and that I’d never develop as a scholar beyond what he could teach me would not give me the sense of believing that he wanted me to be “strong, prominent and powerful.”

      It is not assassinating the character of Tolkien to acknowledge that he held views with which I disagree and that have become out-of-date in th 21st century. I’m not sure why some Tolkien fans feel the need to sanitize his views to make them compatible with 21st-century notions of social justice. I’m not sure why some Tolkien fans get so offended when other fans point out that he had some opinions that we’ve thankfully (mostly) moved beyond. What is your personal attachment to this long-dead author whom you do not know personally?

      Also, just some questions for thought: Are you bothered at all by the fact that, out of hundreds of characters in Tolkien’s books, you could list only four whom you class as strong women? Does it strike you as unbalanced that there are so many men who behave in admirable ways and relatively few women? That there are so few women, period? (Just 18% of named characters?)

      Why do you include Arwen?

      What do you think of the fact that Eowyn–after being depicted as strong and independent–only becomes truly happy when she assumes her place as Faramir’s wife?

      As for Luthien, I have presented evidence here that Tolkien didn’t see her role as the heroic one that many of her fans do. What do you think of that?

      • Chad Hale says:

        You said, “Also, just some questions for thought: Are you bothered at all by the fact that, out of hundreds of characters in Tolkien’s books, you could list only four whom you class as strong women? Does it strike you as unbalanced that there are so many men who behave in admirable ways and relatively few women? That there are so few women, period? (Just 18% of named characters?)”

        And I have ALREADY SAID, “I have to ask, who did you see in the trenches of world war one? okay, world war two? any women going out with a rifle and gas mask? okay, would the female characters I mentioned above, be perfectly accepted by 1915 cultural views regarding women. How about today?
        Tolkien being accused of misogyny is like attacking Mark twain as a racist for writing Huckle berry Finn…”

        So, if the movie platoon has an almost male cast, are you going to hunt down Charle Sheen? The Lord of rings should perhaps have been called, The War for middle earth – if that will help some understand. Tolkien was a soldier in the trenches and if you got into a time machine to go look for yourself – you would likely see nothing but men fighting and dying. where are the 18% of women in World war one? don’t you get it? A century ago, the world was different culturally and *YOU* are holding Tolkien up in comparison to 2015 cultural morals. The fact that there were any female characters at all, let alone those who lead nations like lothlorien, or the horse lands speaks volumes. Luthien LEFT the safety and comfort of her home. Luthien defied the commands of her father. Luthien choose Beren. Luthien Left to find and save Beren.

        …I guess standing by the one you choose isn’t on the feminist agenda?

        Eowyn is not to be downplayed because she finds love and decides to become a doctor…
        Seriously, what is wrong with you people? Do you have ideas of your own or do you just regurgitate whatever sounds unbeatable to your ego?

        What do I think of your Evidence? well, let’s see. what is the date on that letter?
        What did the culture of the time think about women? Hrmm, what was that? 1950 something?
        Other books written in 1915 through 1950 are not going to fare any better than your currently Pre-programed view of Tolkien. How about you looking up, “the good house wife” pamphlets so you can compare them to the depiction of the characters in the books Tolkien wrote.

        Tolkien is not the monster feminists make him out to be – far from it. The question I ask legitimately is “Why attack a dead man who actually lived in the previous century?” what, aren’t there enough vintage adds for you to be disgusted with?

        There is work that still needs to be done to promote equality for women – absolutely, but it is the bleating cries of extremists who don’t think independently, don’t investigate for themselves independently, and don’t act independently – that robs such efforts of any momentum by virtue of their canned and rehearsed arguments…

        Arguments that are intellectually dishonest, badly conceived, and froth with sadly abused pathos claims. Stop beating yourself up, please. it is embarrassing.

        Good bye

        • Dawn says:

          Chad, why are you so angry? What is it about my having a different opinion that makes you so froth-at-the-mouth rageful that you are making a fool of yourself on an Internet forum? For someone who opened with the claim of supporting women’s rights, you sure are angry at a woman expressing her opinion on her blog.

          You have been warned and now placed on moderation. Your off-topic comments below have had approval revoked.

          If you want to return to have a civilized discussion here with me or anyone else, your comments will still come through via email but will require approval. Anything like the above will not be approved. Continued spamming of my blog with uncivil or off-topic comments will result in my banning your email and IP, which means I will no longer see anything you write and you will go to the dustbin with other unsocialized trolls who cannot be arsed to speak politely with another person online.

          In the meantime–and I am totally serious–do give thought to why a discussion in a small Tolkien blog about a line in a letter about a novel is making you so angry.

          And again, your comment reveals that you have not read what I’ve written, either time: the post or my reply to your comment. You are arguing with the point you think I am making, or maybe wish I was.

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