What are the women in JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth who play a leading role? Between heralds of change, great leaders and indomitable opponents, here are some examples!
One of the most common places relating to the subcreated world by JRR Tolkien, Middle-earth, argues that women are never protagonists, but largely subordinated and reduced to objects.
A belief that still exists today but which, when compared with the reading of the texts, completely falls away. Indeed, the cases of women protagonists in Middle-earth are innumerable. Indeed, we can really speak of active protagonism, as far as they are concerned.
First, a clarification: Middle-earth is a world inspired by antiquity and the Middle Ages of Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. This affects the social position of the woman in these stories. The social position, however, not the protagonism of the characters. Because in this Tolkien proves, as in other cases (see the conception of the Elves) that he is an innovator with respect to the tradition to which he refers.
Women, in fact, in his stories, often they start from a static and subordinate role for andmerging with one of the protagonists. Indeed, theirs is a real act of rebellion against a situation, with positive or negative effects.
There are many examples, but I think it is more useful to divide them into three different types, which contain various examples on a vast theme of which we can only mention in this article.
Women in Middle-earth: the standard bearer of change
These women in Middle-earth, whether they are of the First or Third Age, take upon themselves the "Weight" of a choice. They do this either by changing a situation that seems hopeless or at least obscure, or by openly rebelling against a prohibition, or by unblocking a situation in which men are hesitant.
Luthièn: active protagonist who brings change
The most famous case is obviously that of Luthièn Tinùviel, of which we read in The Silmarillion.
The daughter of Thingol, the King of the Elves of Doriath, not only decides to love a mortal man, Beren, and to follow his fate of death, but she is an active part in the whole affair. This active attitude can be seen starting from her escape from her house / prison placed on the Hirìlorn tree in which her father had imprisoned her. We then move on to his instructions to Beren on how to get to Morgoth without being discovered, to reach the two most dangerous and sublime moments: the "magic dance" right in front of the terrible Morgoth and his plea, after Beren's first death. , in front of the Vala Mandos, to make him come back with her.
A passage that deserves to be quoted here, taken from chapter XIX of The Silmarillion:
Lùthien's song before Mandos was the most beautiful that has ever been context in words, the saddest song the world will ever hear. Unchanged, imperishable, it is still sung in Valinor, inaudible to the world, and to listen to it the Valar are saddened. For Lùthien intertwined two themes of words, that of the pain of the Eldar and that of the pain of Men, the two Bloodlines that were made by Ilùvatar to dwell in Arda, the Kingdom of the Earth among the innumerable stars. And as she was kneeling before him, tears fell on Mandos feet like rain on stones
Lùthien's story not only shows a woman as the protagonist, but also highlights her role as herald of change, because thanks to her the two Bloodlines, Elves and Men, began to have a bond that will never break off.
Ivorwen: she who knew how to make a decision when everyone hesitated
The other example, related in this case to a woman who unlocks a situation of doubt and / or hesitation of Men, we can find it inAppendix A de The Lord of the Rings.
In fact, here we read about Aragorn's grandmother, Ivorwen, which unlocks the doubts about the marriage of Aragorn's future parents, because he senses that the world is changing and that that marriage can have decisive developments for the future. She has a kind of premonition that prompts her to act while men (in this case her husband) hesitate:
To convince Dírhael was his wife Ivorwen who was sure that with the marriage between her daughter in Arathorn, hope would return among the Dúnedain: “All the more reason therefore we must hurry! The days are getting dark before the storm, and great things are about to happen. If these two get married right away, there may be hope for our people, but if they delay, hope will vanish forever until the end of this era ”.
If we keep in mind the fact that Arathorn will die when Aragorn is just two years old, we understand the importance of the decision that Iworwen manages to make Dírhael make. Without that marriage, Sauron would probably have won the war.
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Women leaders: acquired leadership
In this case, we have women in Middle-earth who are leaders of their people, or become leaders despite it being almost "forbidden" to them.
Eowyn: leader of his own people in spite of the prohibitions
In this second case, the thought immediately goes to Eowyn, who decides to disobey the orders of Theoden and the kind advice of Aragorn (tinged with an unwitting mental closure regarding a woman's leading role in battle) and, disguised as a Rohan soldier, goes to war.
The dialogue between her and Aragorn is emblematic. In fact, as soon as Aragorn begins to say "you have a duty to be with your people", Eowyn ignites:
“Too often have I heard of duty,” she cried. “But am I not of the House of Eorl, a warrior and not a dry nurse? I've been waiting too long on unsteady feet. Since now it seems that they no longer are, why not use my life as I want? (…) All your words mean only: 'You are a woman and your job is home. But when the men have died in battle with honor, you will be allowed to burn together with the house, because by now men will no longer need it. ' But I am of the House of Eorl, and not a servant. I know how to ride and handle weapons, and I fear neither pain nor death ”.
"What do you fear then, madam?" He asked.
"A cage," she replied. "Staying locked behind bars until time and age have made it a habit, and any possibility of doing great deeds will forever be gone."
Since then, Eowyn will truly become one recognized leader of his people. His example would be enough to demonstrate how in Middle-earth women are not only protagonists, but also leaders.
However, an example can be read in The Silmarillion it will be even more clarifying.
Haleth: the leader freely elected by her own people
It concerns Haleth, called The Lady, beloved and undisputed ruler of the Haladin, one of the Human bloodlines in relations with the Elves that we learn about in the First Age of Middle-earth.
Due to the wars against Morgoth, the male lords of that people all die and Haleth becomes their leader.
But unlike our world, this "rise" does not cause any negative reactions among the Haladin. Indeed, while one of Feanor's sons, Caranthir, proposes to them to go to his lands and become his vassals, Haleth and his people refuse. In fact, she
she was proud, unwilling to let herself be commanded or ruled, and most Haladin thought the same way. So, he thanked Caranthir, but added: 'Now my soul, sir, is determined to leave the shadow of the mountains and to go west where others of ours have already headed'. (….) They chose Haleth as their leader, and she led them to Estolad.
In short, here we see not only a proud and independent people, but also happy to be ruled by a woman, so much so that they decide to freely "elect" her as their leader. The Haladin will follow her everywhere on her wanderings, and no one will pressure her to marry. Haleth, in fact, will always remain unmarried and will then pass her command to her nephew.
This character, although apparently minor, demonstrates how Tolkien could and wanted to conceive women who were proud, free and independent, as well as endowed with power.
Galadriel is also an example in this sense. But I chose Haleth's case because it clarifies how this could happen not only with exceptional women like she could be an Elven Lady, but even with mortal and apparently lesser-ranking women.
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Women "against" men: conflictual protagonism
A third type of female protagonism on which I would like to dwell is that relating to women in Middle-earth who explicitly place themselves “against” some man in a conflictual way, which causes various kinds of consequences.
Galadriel: she who opposed Feanor
The first case concerns Galadriel, whose leading role is undisputed on many aspects. Here, however, I would like to focus on a particular facet: yours opposition against Feanor, the creator of the Silmarilli and the creator of the terrible Oath that will spread so much mourning between Elves and and Elf (if you want to know more, go to read the The Silmarillion).
Galadriel, from the beginning, shows that he has very little esteem for Feanor and his ambitions, as we can read in the Unfinished Tales.
Refuse to give him a lock of his golden hair (which he will do with the Dwarf Gimli instead). Fight him and him in the Ports of Valinor while defending the Teleri Elves who are slaughtered by the people of Feanor. And then she decides, despite that massacre, to go to Middle-earth too:
by now he was burning with the desire to follow Feanor, armed with all his anger, to any land he went and to put a spoke in his wheel by any means.
Feanor will die in Middle-earth before she can succeed. But this opposition to her is among the springs that push her to go and that allow Middle-earth to have a female character among its protagonists for a long time, to say the least of the foreground.
Erendis: “So don't bow down, Ancalimë"
The second example of conflictual protagonism is also taken from Unfinished Tales, and it concerns one of the most fascinating female protagonists of Middle-earth.
It is Erendis, the woman of Nùmenor who has a conflictual relationship with her husband Aldarion, which will lead her to educate her daughter in a way that can also be defined as "opposition to men". In this regard, Tolkien puts a great speech in Erendis's mouth female pride, which shows how Tolkien was not at all insensitive towards women, quite the contrary.
It seems to me appropriate to propose it again here, as a conclusion of this article, as further evidence of the profound importance that female characters have in the Legendarium:
All things have been done for their benefit: the hills are used to quarry stones, rivers to provide water or move wheels, trees to make tables, women for their physical needs or, if beautiful, to adorn the table and hearth; and children to pet them when there is nothing better to do, but just as willingly they play with their dogs' puppies. They are polite and kind to everyone, cheerful as larks in the morning (as long as the sun shines); because they are never angry if they can do without it.
Men, they think, should always be gay, generous like the rich, and give away what they don't need. They are angry only when they suddenly realize that there are other wills in the world besides their own. And then, if anyone dares to oppose them, they are as merciless as the sea wind.
So it is, Ancalimë, and we cannot change it.
In fact, it was men who shaped Númenor: men, those heroes of ancient times they sing about, and far less are we told of their women, except that they cried when men were killed. Númenor was supposed to be a resting place after the war. But if they get tired of rest and the games of peace, they are immediately back to their great game, slaughter and war.
That is the way it is, and we are here among them.
But our consent is not required. If we love Númenor too, well, let's enjoy it before they ruin it. We too are daughters of the great, and not even we lack will and courage.
So don't bow down, Ancalimë.
Once you are bent even a little, they will bend you again, until they crush you completely. Bury your roots in the rock and resist the wind, even if it blows all your leaves away.