I had originally intended to post about my re-reading experiences "in order" (Silmarillion - Hobbit - LotR) but then life happened and anyway, I had to read The Lord of the Rings for school, so we're going to talk about it now. Cool, cool?
So. I think the last time I read anything Tolkien was ~2011. So it's been a good five years since I've jumped into Middle-earth, and in that timeframe I've become an adult and dedicated a significant portion of my time to literary analysis and cultural criticism. Naturally, I no longer approach the legendarium with the same mentality I did as a teenager. Some standout points for me are Tolkien's ~gender issues~ (to be kind) and the anti-science nature of The Lord of the Rings. There are other things to talk about, of course, and I might touch on those later, but for now,
Problematic gender representation
So, Tolkien as a fairly conservative mid-century Catholic is likely to approach gender relations differently than most of his modern-day readers today, even those readers who are also conservative Christians with complementarian ideals. Anyhoo. Complaints about the paucity of named female characters within Tolkien's Arda aren't new, and I'm not going to add my voice to that argument. (Not that anything else I'm saying is particularly new, either.)
Aragorn, Faramir, etc.
I did want to talk about Aragorn's character, as this is the first time I'm reading The Lord of the Rings after also reading Virtuella's Very On Point essay, "Aragorn - a feminist's nightmare?" which I highly recommend you read. ASAP. I pretty much agree with all points regarding Aragorn and his interactions with women in the novel, especially with Galadriel. A, because Galadriel is pretty much my fave, and B) because it seems super rude to meet one of the oldest, most powerful people in the land and just comment on how hot her granddaughter is. A+ work there, Aragorn. Anyway, I obviously don't much care for Aragorn.
Compare this, though, to Faramir, who's basically the best. For many reasons I'm not going to get into here. But I just wanted to bring out this conversation he has with Éowyn:
'I wished to be loved by another,' she answered. 'But I desire no man's pity.'
'That I know,' he said. 'You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain my to a young soldier he seem to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle. Look at me, Éowyn!'
And Éowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily; and Faramir said: 'Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?'
ALL RIGHT THAT'S IT. Need me a man like that, am I right? Like, this is not a conventional declaration of love, this is a guy who starts off saying “Look, I know wasn’t your first choice and that doesn’t bother me.” And the reason is that he understands her strengths and her weaknesses and gets that sometimes a strength is also a weakness, and he says, “Don’t be too proud for my pity, because I can’t help being saddened by it when someone I value so highly and has so much to live for wants to die for unrequited love of a man she’s idealized and only actually talked to once or twice. That’s foolish, and I love you enough to call you on it, even though that might not endear you to me.” He doesn’t idealize her or even pretend to. He sees her exactly as she is, with all her flaws, and loves her for all of it, unconditionally. YES. THIS. MORE OF THIS KIND OF LOVE STORY.
I'm sorry, I was talking about problematic gender stuff. Then Faramir happened.
Worth mentioning that Aragorn's response to all this is basically, "Good job, Faramir, for bagging the best thing Rohan has to offer. Hot wives rule!!!"
Shaking my head, Aragorn. Shaking my head.
Trees have gender roles, too (really???)
Switching to a new genderish topic: ENTWIVES.
Seriously, adult-Morcondil is so troubled by Treebeard's discussion of the "loss" of the Entwives. I wouldn't personally call it a loss so much as an instance in which women are tired of neglectful behavior and decide to seek something better.
Let's break this down.
First, to examine merely the name of the Entwives. Why not just “female Ents,” or “Enthusbands” and “Entwives”? That is, why are the male members of a species the default, while the female members are labeled only in terms of a relationship with the males? In this way, fully one-half of a population is known only by their function in regards to men. An "Ent" is an independent being on its own, but an "Entwife" is, by the nature of its name, always known in relation to its spouse/partner.
Second, there’s the gender-based stereotyping of the Ents and Entwives to consider. Entwives are settled, domestic, not scholarly, and minor (but presumably benevolent) tyrants: “They did not wish to speak with these things; but they wished them to hear and obey what was said to them. . . . the Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them." Under this view, Entwives take up a traditionally female role, one where they are homemakers and, to use a modern word with very gendered connotations, "bossy".
Meanwhile, the Ents are wanderers, explorers, absent-minded, and not willing to put that much effort into relationships: “Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. For many years we used to go out every now and again and look . . . . But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far."
Considering these two portrayals of Ents and Entwives, it is easy to see "traditional" gender roles and stereotypes working within Tolkien's vision. Entwives stay at home and tend household things (small gardens), while their husbands refuse to be tied down and wander at their own will, presumably doing "grander" deeds than cultivating stationary gardens—for though the Entwives are fresumably "honored" for their work, the sense Tolkien gives is also that whatever it is the Ents do during their wandering is more important somehow, at least in the eyes of the Ents themselves. Though, in the end we see what a mistake this was, as without their female counterparts, the Ents' powers are, if not diminished, not as effective as they once were.
Thirdly, there’s the Elvish song Treebeard relates to Merry and Pippin. This song more or less casts the separation between the Ents and the Entwives as the fault of the Entwives, who refuse to come when the Ents ask them to return. This is interesting, considering the Entwives lived stables lives and were more or less abandoned by their wandering spouses. "So the Entwives made gardens to live in. But we Ents went on wandering, and we only came to the gardens now and again." While the eventual loss of an entire race of humans (the Ents) is regrettable, it is interesting how even at the prospect of extinction, Treebeard and his fellow Ents do not take responsibility for their part in their kind's eventual doom. It is the Entwives who are classified as unfaithful, though Treebeard himself provides plenty of evidence that puts most, if not all, the blame on the Ents themselves, for being neglectful and failing to provide companionship and support for their spouses. I don't mean to cast the much-maligned Entwives as blameless, but I do wish to mention that Treebeard and his buddies are far from being in wholly in the right.Anyway. That's it for now.
(Note: the thoughts on Ents/Entwives are probably going to be developed into a longer, more formal essay at some point. I will keep you updated on that.)