Part Four of the fangirl session – but not the last, because apparently Claire and I have a LOT to say about Tolkien’s works! If you missed the previous posts, you can find Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here. This is part of a series of posts of the two of us discussing Tolkien and all things Middle-earth. Although we are asking each other the questions, we’d love to know your answers to them too – leave your responses in the comments! I ended the last post with the following question for Claire:
Rinn: My next question for you is: is there a moment in any of the books that feels completely pivotal to you? Perhaps it revealed a character’s true self, it changed the course of things, or was completely unexpected.
Claire: That art is so beautiful! I’ve never seen such work like that! And to grow up with it, you’re so lucky. A pivotal moment to me? I don’t think, for me, that Lord of the Rings has a lot of those grand gesture moments but is filled with a number of small moments, small points where the way story unfolded could have changed drastically if someone hadn’t stood up at that point, or made up their mind. I think that’s why I like the stories so much because it is so indicative of real life. There are very few moments when one large point changes everything but our lives are built up of small decisions that the determine the course of everything.
A few moments that stand out:
- When Sam gets caught by Gandalf: Sam could have kept quiet. Gandalf could have pretended to ignore Sam but 100% believe that Frodo would have stopped or died or gotten kidnapped or given up or just gotten tired if Sam hadn’t allowed himself to (1) get caught, and I think he did because Hobbits are uncommonly quiet and (2) went along with the darn plan.
- Boromir realising his mistake: Besides being utterly heartbreaking, he manages to save his friends, repent and in a huge way, proves to Aragorn that the race of men are capable of atoning for past wrongs.
- Eowyn going into battle: She was immensely stubborn and to not go into battle wouldn’t have seemed her, but she could have just gone home. And who would have killed the Witch King?
- Smeagol giving into Gollum: he had many moments to resist but the lure of the ring and Gollum’s strength proved too much to bear. Though bad in a sense, the final ending of the story wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if Gollum hadn’t made that final sacrifice. Even if it wasn’t really sacrifice but a clumsy moment of bliss.
I think this quote might sum it up nicely:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
So those four moments stand out to me as crucial but small, glorious moments when a decision changed the lives of many. Before I ask my question I actually want you to name one or two large or small moments that you thought were crucial to the plot and characters as well.
My question has to do with gender: There aren’t tons of women in the Lord of the Rings series but the women that are there all have some part to play, be it warrior or the guiding hope of another. How do you feel about Tolkien’s portrayal of women?
Rinn: Okay, I never thought about the fact that Sam might have been caught on purpose, that’s a really good point – and I just read that bit today. Although I bet Gandalf has super good hearing too!
- The first moment for me is during the Council of Elrond. I think this is probably pretty pivotal for everybody, because it starts the whole quest proper. Everyone is arguing about what to do with the Ring – the Elves, the Dwarves, the Men and Gandalf, and Frodo is just quietly sat there. That is, until he stands up and offers to take the Ring to Mordor himself. He has no idea what this will entail, and this decision shapes the entire story. What if a Man had taken it? Would he have been overcome by its power, like Isildur, like Boromir? Even Gandalf is reluctant to touch the Ring, and Galadriel shows a darker side when offered the Ring by Frodo. Clearly, he was the only choice – but no-one would have ever thought of him, he had to offer to do it.
- The second is the ‘death’ of Gandalf, and his subsequent revival as Gandalf the White. The rest of the Fellowship had to learn how to deal without their resident Wizard, and it ended up dividing them. Whilst this might sound like a bad thing, it wasn’t at all. Would Rohan have given Gondor aid if Aragorn hadn’t given Theoden that push? Would Isengard still exist if it wasn’t for Merry and Pippin persuading the Ents to march on it? And the rest of the Fellowship been that eager to have Gollum as a guide to Mount Doom? Not only does Gandalf’s resurrection represent hope, but also helped the Fellowship to grow, whilst also taking their own paths.
And in terms of gender: I would of course appreciate more female roles, but I don’t really have a problem with the way Tolkien represents women. Arwen is a lesser role than most people realise, as much of what she does in the film was actually performed by Glorfindel, a male Elf, in the book – for example, saving Frodo from the Nazgul after he is stabbed with a Morgul blade. I’m glad that her role was bumped up in the film. Her main purpose seems to be a reason to motivate Aragorn. Eowyn, on the other hand, has a more active role. The women of Rohan are trained in the use of weapons, because as Eowyn so aptly puts it:
“‘The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them.’”
But whilst Rohan clearly has a lot of badass ladies trained in the art of combat, they are still forbidden from actually going to war or putting themselves into danger in any way, as shown by Eowyn disguising herself as a man named Dernhelm in order to fight. And in one of the most absolute BADASS FEMALE EMPOWERING moments of all fantasy fiction:
‘“Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!”
A cold voice answered: ‘Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”
A sword rang as it was drawn. “Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.”
“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man am I!”’
And with that she kills the Witch King. Like i said: BADASS.
What’s interesting is that all female characters of note are in positions of power. Arwen is the daughter of Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, Eowyn the niece of King Theoden of Rohan, and Galadriel the Golden Lady of Lothlorien, and appears to hold more power than her husband Celeborn. Rosie Cotton might be the exception here, but she is barely more than a mention until the very end. Testosterone definitely wins, but I’ve kind of gotten used to that in fantasy fiction. And that’s really quite sad. The lack of female characters is probably my main grumble with The Lord of the Rings, but I absolutely have no problem with which they are represented.