“Except for The Hobbit (which only mentions one woman, Bilbo’s mother, and offers a brief off-stage cameo by Lobelia at the end) and The Lord of the Rings, most of Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories revolve around relationships between men and women.”
Here is a brief excerpt:
Someone recently asked me if there was much appeal in Tolkien for women readers. Curiously, this came at a time when I’ve found myself discussing Visualizing Middle-earth with a lot of women.
What is it about fantasy fiction that gives people the impression certain stories or authors only appeal to men or women? Take a C.J. Cherryh story, for example. She writes a pretty hard and fast science fiction story, but her fantasy can be both deep and moving, sonorous as Tolkien might have put it. A good dip into Cherryh fantasy brings the reader into close quarters with women, men, love, hate, anger, and flashing swords. But I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone say, “C.J. Cherryh — there’s a women’s author if ever I’ve read one!”
Tolkien for some reason has a reputation for leaving the ladies out of his books, although as near as I can figure he puts a female character into most of the important sub-plots: there is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her quest for control over Bag End; Rosie Cotton is an undercurrent of wistful longing for Sam; Goldberry enchants the Hobbits while they visit Bombadil (and she foreshadows Galadriel and Eowyn in curious ways); Arwen graces the feast held in Frodo’s honor and later sings a hymn of Valinor which captures Frodo’s attention; the Balrog dances a jig with the serving girls in Moria.
Well, okay, Tolkien didn’t actually say that about the Balrog.
The point is that even in many scenes where no female characters are present, Tolkien manages to bring women and lost loves into the picture. Ask anyone what they remember most vividly about Merry and Pippin’s encounter with Treebeard and they will probably say something about the Entmoot or the storming of Isengard. But ask them what the most interesting question concerning the Ents is and they’ll probably say, “What happened to the Ent-wives?”
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