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The women of Lord of the Rings

Somebody once advised me that the Lord of The Rings “is like totally cliché.” I conceded that since pretty much everyone has copied it, it probably is.

two towers

It's cliché don't you know

The same person also pointed out that there are undertones of sexism and even racism in the great tome. I guess some … and I suppose the academic term would be ‘post colonial’ criticism is inevitable.

So I thought I’d check out at least one of these criticisms … Is the Lord of The Rings Sexiest?

Well, it’s certainly true that Tolkien couldn’t write female characters to save his life. (Or perhaps more accurately he could, but just didn’t bother.)

True enough, the guy possessed an intellect of epic proportions. A veritable goliath of the mind, Tolkien forged entire worlds out of words and imagination, invented species, peoples, histories, and pretty much kick started the whole epic fantasy genre. But ask him to figure out why the missus’s knickers are in a twist and I’d wager you’d get a blank look.

The truth is there is only one decent female character in Lord of The Rings – Éowyn.

Eowyn

Am I the only one who thinks its messed up that Aragorn went for the elf instead of this?

If you disagree and say, ‘oh but what about that elf queen, Galadril? She’s female and brilliant!’ you may as well stop reading now. Galadril was practically a half god, immortal super being. She may as well have been an asexual twenty foot tall, fire breathing preying mantis. And if you mention Aragorn’s elfin crush, well, can I just say, I’m talking about the book not the films. Believe it or not, Liv Tyler barely appeared in the book.

Yup, there’s only one good female character in the whole trilogy. Of course the problem that some people point to here, is that Tolkien only manages to make her decent by making her a complete Tom Boy. Would it be too much to say, he basically writes another male character and then simply sticks him into a skirt?

Okay that’s overly harsh, we’ll stick with Tom Boy and as I said, she is a good/great character. So that’s one.  But if you were to compare Tolkien to the man often regarded as the modern Tolkien, George RR Martin, you’d see the difference a few decades makes. George’s books are populated by a plethora of very strong, multi faceted and above all, believable female characters. Just look at the likes of Cat, Cersei, Dany and the naïve but very underrated and to my mind brilliantly written character – Sansa. Okay, Arya is the kick ass Tom Boy, but no harm there. No doubt if Tolkien had written ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ Arya would be the only girl in the whole series.

Yeah, one thing I find to be a bit of a cop out, is the way some authors, (particularly fantasy authors) believe that to make a strong female character she has to kick ass with a sword, or be a better shot than all the guys with a longbow, or whatever, i.e. she has to be this …

And that’s where they’re wrong. A woman doesn’t have to be Xena to be strong.

Now that’s not an indictment of Tolkien, but it is most certainly an indictment of some modern authors who repeatedly fall into what I like to call the ‘Xena’ trap. If you ask me they fall into it because it is easy. You’re faced with a conundrum ‘how do I write a strong female character into my world of warriors and dragons? Oh, I know I give her a great big sword and have her bash up a half dozen guys every other chapter. Girl Power!’

Now THATS cliché. I’d rather start with a picture of a woman that I know, say for arguments sake the missus. Now, she’s a strong character, but more importantly, she’s real. She’s not going to beat up Vitali Klitschko, but I bet you any money, if he was threatening something, or somebody she cared about, or loved, she would try to stand up to him all the same. That’s real courage, real strength. Not phoney, Xena strength.

Oh, and before you start, I’m not saying Xena characters are wrong per say, but I’d just be extra careful when writing them. After all, even if your book is fantasy, your characters should still be real.

Anyway back to Tolkien, I’d say yes, one decent female character in a book anywhere near LOTR’s scale and scope, would be a major flaw in a modern novel. But to say the same of LOTR is to ignore the fact that the book was not written yesterday, it is of its time and should be judged as such. The older the book you’re reading, the more detached you are from the author and time in which it was written. Besides, I think most of us can agree that Éowyn’s “I am no man!” assurance rocked big time.

So yes from a modern perspective (and not even including the incessant singing and poetry) there are flaws in Lord of the Rings. If you’re hyper sensitive to such things and are looking out for them, I guess you can point to various passages and themes shouting, “ Racism! Sexism!” or whatever. You could do that all day and I’d say, “Sure, you got a point, but you know what? The book still rules.”

And in answer to the question, is The Lord of the Rings sexiest? Well the answer is simple. NO. It’s just male orientated, and at risk of a backlash, in my mind that makes it no more sexiest than a ‘chick lit’ that centers mainly around female characters.

 

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