Thoughts on Rereading The Return of the King: This Book Is Dark

Spoilers!

This year, I embarked on a quest to finally reread The Lord of the Rings. (I know: I talk about it enough on the blog that people probably assume I must reread it every year or something, but that’s not true. It’s been a while since I last read the story cover to cover.) In April, I posted some reflections on the geography of Middle-Earth after finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, in which I realized the world is much more isolated than I tend to remember. Now, after finishing The Return of the King, I’ve realized the story is also darker than I often remember.

The Lord of the Rings is generally a story I associate with hope. Small, unimportant people do great deeds. Disparate people band together to fight an incredible threat. Frodo succeeds in his quest despite all odds. I’ve written before about how the ending is bittersweet, as some things blossom and come to fruition (the actual return of the king) but other things pass away (the Elves). However, I don’t generally think of the book as actually dark. That changed with this rereading.

This time around, I really felt the despair of the peoples of Gondor, and slightly less so Rohan, as they prepared to take on the forces of the Dark Lord in battle. I know, of course, that Lord Denethor despairs of victory, but I always have it in the back of my mind that, of course, he’s supposed to be wrong. Gandalf tells him off for his despair, and readers learn that he’s been tricked into by Sauron, who has selectively shown him things in the Seeing Stone that will make him think Gondor has no chance of winning the coming battle. Knowing that, I’ve come to have in the back of my mind the idea that the other characters must be a bit more optimistic about the situation, but upon rereading, I’ve realized that’s not true.

None of the characters really know what’s coming before the battle at Minas Tirith, but they are not hopeful about it. In general, they are convinced they are going to die. Pippin fears the battle and that he will never see his friends again. Gandalf thinks they have a slim hope of winning this battle, maybe, but of course the whole war rests on Frodo’s ability to destroy the Ring. The people of Rohan ride hard to Gondor’s aid but are half-convinced they won’t arrive in time to participate in the main battle but instead will simply have a chance to briefly harry the orcs and Men who have triumphed over Minas Tirith before succumbing to said orcs and Men themselves, with no one even left to sing songs about their deeds. There is truly a sense that all the characters are going to fail. Or, even if the main battle is won, a lot of these characters are going to be dead.

Things get even more dire after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, when Aragorn and the Captains of the West go to challenge Sauron at the Black Gate. They’re not even pretending there’s a chance they are going to come back alive at this point. It’s basically a suicide mission to buy Frodo a little more time and privacy to get to Mount Doom while Sauron is looking elsewhere. This is very depressing! And when a chapter ends with Pippin’s being attacked and subsequently closing his eyes and losing thought, well, it certainly seems as if he’s dead! I cannot remember what I thought the first time I read the book, and didn’t know the ending, but I assume I really thought Pippin was gone, and perhaps Aragorn and all the others were next.

Of course, the Eagles come, Frodo’s quest succeeds, and things generally become happy by the end. It’s the eucatastophe Tolkien wanted, but for many, many chapters in this book, it really feels as if hope is missing. One gets into the minds of the characters, who do not know where Frodo is or if he’s even still alive, who assume they have a part to play in fighting Sauron because, really, it’s the only option, but they’re not convinced it’s going to work or they’re gong to come out alive. In some places, this may in fact be the most hopeless book I’ve ever read! Or perhaps the most realistic about how people feel before a large battle in which they are outnumbered. Why should they expect to be lucky enough to survive?

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, still one of my favorite books. I simply did not remember the amount of darkness and despair Tolkien manages to convey in the first part of The Return of the King, especially since I now know how it all ends. It’s really a masterpiece of writing, and I think this bit of darkness is often overlooked.

Briana

The Geography of Middle-earth: How Isolated Is Everyone?

The Geography of Middle-earth

One of the defining characteristics of the Hobbits in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is their insularity. They’re committed homebodies, and most of them barely venture even as far as Bree by the time of The Fellowship of the Ring. Other people in Middle-earth have all but forgotten about Halflings because they’ve never seen one; the Ring is safe for a while because Sauron and the Ringwraiths have to spend so long traversing Middle-earth asking where this “Shire” place even is.

Yet every time I reread The Fellowship of the Ring, I am struck by the fact that, actually, Hobbits are not the only ones who tend not to leave their own lands. When I’m not actually reading the book, I tend to imagine the other peoples of Middle-earth as worldly and knowledgeable — but it turns out that most of them don’t travel, either, and A LOT of areas of Middle-earth have passed into the stuff of legend for the people who don’t live there.


At the Council of Elrond

One of the first instances we see this is at the Council of Elrond, where a surprising number of representatives of various lands have serendipitously gathered to help decide the fate of the One Ring.

For example, Boromir notes that he travelled for 110 days after his brother Faramir had a dream speaking of “Imladris,” and Boromir set off to find this land that the lore masters of Gondor knew about but no one had visited for a long time:

‘. . . but since the way was full of doubt and danger, I took the journey upon myself. Loth was my father to give me leave, and long have I wandered by roads forgotten, seeking the house of Elrond, of which many had heard, but few knew where it lay.’

Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring

Later at the Council, Boromir gives news of Gondor and the battles they are already having with the forces of Mordor, suggesting that no one there is aware of what the valor of his people is accomplishing. In this case, people know OF Gondor, but it’s clear much news hasn’t come from there recently.

News then trickles in from the other attendees, and readers get the shocking announcement that the Dwarf Balin and some followers went to check out the long-abandoned Moria THIRTY years ago, and no one has heard from them in quite awhile. No messengers to Moria, and no messengers from Moria in years. And apparently this is normal.

The sense readers begin to get is that there are some travelers in Middle-earth, and there are some messengers sent about to give and gather news, but characters like Gandalf and Aragorn who have been all over Middle-earth and familiar with many parts of it are clearly rare.

Lothlórien

Issues of how isolated the peoples of Middle-earth are get highlighted again when the Fellowship exits Moria and comes to the eaves of Lothlórien. Like Moria, Lórien is a place of legend to most of the characters; Boromir in particular is wary of a dangerous woman he has heard dwells in the wood. Gimli is initially skeptical anyone lives in the forest at all, and Legolas — the prince of another Elven kingdom, who one assumes would be in regular communication with both Elrond and Galadriel — seems only vaguely certain Lothlórien is still inhabited:

‘If Elves indeed still dwell here in the darkening world,’ said Gimli.

‘It is long since any of my own folk journeyed hither back to the land whence we wandered in ages long ago,’ said Legolas, ‘but we heard that Lórien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power there that holds evil from the land. Nevertheless it’s folk are seldom seen, and maybe they dwell now deep in the woods and far from the norther border.’

Gimli and Legolas, The Fellowship of the Ring

Once the Fellowship runs into some of the Elves of Lórien, readers learn that they do, in fact, rarely leave their own land. Haldir is one of the messengers occasionally sent out, but his command of the Common Speech seems uncertain, suggesting he doesn’t get to practice it that much.

‘Welcome!’ the Elf then said again the Common Language, speaking slowly. ‘We seldom use any tongue but our own; for we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and do not willingly have dealings with any other folk. Even our own kindred in the North are sundered from us. But there are some of us still who go abroad for the gathering of news and the watching of our enemies, and they speak the languages of other lands. I am one.’

Haldir, The Fellowship of the Ring

Furthermore, Haldir indicates that he, like Legolas, is not entirely certain where there are other Elves in Middle-earth; the fact that there are Elf Havens still inhabited near the Shire is news to him:

‘Even if we could come to the shores of the Sea, we should find no longer any shelter there. It is said that there are still havens of the High Elves, but the are far north and west, beyond the land of the Halflings. But where that may be, though the Lord and Lady may know, I do not.’

Haldir, The Fellowship of the Ring

Other Places

Finally, readers get some hints near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring that there are even more places that practically no one in Middle-earth ventures. There are, of course, the various ruins that the characters encounter, from Weathertop at the start of the novel to Amon Hen near the end.

And then Boromir tells readers directly that much of Middle-earth seems foreign to the people of Gondor:

‘Indeed we have heard of Fangorn in Minas Tirith,’ said Boromir. ‘But what I have heard seems to me for the most part old wives’ tales, such as we tell to our children. All that lies north of Rohan is now to us so far away that fancy can wander freely there. Of old Fangorn lay upon the borders of our realm; but it is now many lives of men since any of us visited it, to prove or disprove the legends that have come down from distant years.’

Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring

The statement is a fun foreshadowing of Fangorn, which readers may think is a bit of a throwaway comment about geography at this point, and not somewhere some of the characters will end up, but it also clarifies that anywhere in the surrounding areas, besides Rohan, is not much explored by Boromir’s people.


Conclusion

I don’t actually have a big conclusion about what any of this means at this point. It is perhaps a topic I will continue to ponder and eventually write a follow-up post on. But I am always intrigued while reading to realize that, in fact, many of the characters are as little familiar with the various lands of Middle-earth as the Hobbits are! Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin initially (perhaps always) feel out of their element when they leave the Shire, the only place they’ve ever known, but most of the other characters are not big travelers and have also seen relatively little of the world. They don’t even always know whether certain lands are still inhabited or not! They may be more familiar with stories and legends of these places, but they haven’t been there — and often no one they know has been there either. Middle-earth has a long and rich history, but it also apparently has a larger and wilder geography than I tend to keep in mind!

Briana

A Brief Introduction to Tolkien’s Non-Middle-Earth Books

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


J. R. R. Tolkien's Non-Middle-Earth Works

Although Tolkien is largely known for his works on Middle-Earth, he also wrote a number of other poems and stories, some of which laid the foundation for his Middle-Earth writings.  Below you will find a brief introduction to some of his lesser-known works.

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, Together with Sellic Spell

Tolkien first translated the Old English poem Beowulf in the 1920s.  It was posthumously edited and published by his son Christopher in 2014.  The story tells of a great hero who fights the monster Grendel and a dragon, who is awakened by the theft of a cup.  The poem inspired parts of The Hobbit.

The Fall of Arthur

This unfinished alliterative poem was published posthumously in 2013.  It is based on the tales of King Arthur and deals with his final days.

Farmer Giles of Ham

This comedic story focuses on the titular Farmer Giles, who manages to outwit a dragon and become wealthy as a result.  It is known for Tolkien’s philological jokes.

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun

This poem is written in the style of the Breton lay, narrative poems that treat topics of chivalry and love. 

Leaf by Niggle

This short story follows the artist Niggle as he attempts to paint his masterpiece in a society that does not seem to value his artistry, but always makes other demands upon his time. Eventually, Niggle has to leave his work to go on a trip, but he ultimately finds fulfillment. Some read the story as an allegory of purgatory and heaven, while others believe Niggle represents Tolkien himself and his view of the creative process.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún

Published posthumously in 2009, this volume contains two alliterative poems by Tolkien based on the Norse legends of Sigurd, as well as related texts and commentary by Tolkien’s son Christopher, who compiled and edited the work.

Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

Humphrey Carpenter presents a collection of J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters that shed light on his professional life, his creative inspiration and philosophy, his Catholic faith, and his thoughts on World War II, among other matters.

Letters from Father Christmas

Letters from Father Christmas is a whimsical collection that highlights the extraordinary magic of Tolkien’s imagination.  The stories, written for Tolkien’s children and supposedly from Father Christmas himself, begin as comical accounts of the North Polar Bear almost ruining Christmas each year through his accidents.  Over time, however, the stories become darker.  Goblins burrow into Father Christmas’ workshop seeking presents, then ultimately meet the elves and the gnomes in battle.  Tolkien’s skill at worldbuilding and his talent for telling an engrossing tale are evident even in the shortest epistles. The collection includes images of the decorated envelopes and letters (complete with North Pole stamp), as well as the pictures included by Father Christmas.

The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

This is Tolkien’s influential 1936 lecture arguing that Beowulf should be read as literature rather than simply mined for historical information about Anglo-Saxon culture.  Did you read Beowulf in school?  Tolkien is probably the reason you learned it as a poem full of monsters and heroic deeds, one worth studying as art.

Mr. Bliss

Published in 1982, this picture book follows the titular Mr. Bliss as he takes a ride in his first motor car. His adventures are supposedly based on Tolkien’s own terrible driving.

“On Fairy Stories”

Originally written for presentation at the 1939 Andrew Lang Lecture and later published in 1947, this essay describes J. R. R. Tolkien’s views on what makes a fairy tale distinct from other literary forms and explains his artistic philosophy, arguing that fairy tales are unique in their ability to offer readers the consolation and joy of the happy ending–an effect he calls “eucatastophe”.

Roverandom

As punishment for offending a wizard, the young dog Rover finds himself turned into a toy. His quest to regain his former shape and return to the boy who loves him will take him to the moon and under the sea, but when he finds the wizard at last, it may be too late.

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages

This volume presents Tolkien’s 1931 lecture on constructed languages and the relation of mythology to language, along with editorial additions explaining some of the contemporary linguistic theory that informed Tolkien’s work on languages.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo

Tolkien’s translation of three Middle English poems by an anonymous poet. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” follows a knight of King Arthur’s court as he sets out on a journey to meet the challenge of a mysterious knight. “Pearl” is an elegy for the death of a child. And “Sir Orfeo” follows a king as he tries to rescue his wife from Fairy.

Smith of Wooton Major

This tale is not related to Middle-Earth, but reveals some of Tolkien’s thoughts about the nature of the land of Fairy.  It tells the story of a blacksmith’s son who swallows a star, which allows him to roam Fairy unharmed, until the day comes when he must pass the star onto another.

The Story of Kullervo

This is Tolkien’s prose version of the Finnish hero Kullervo, who appears in the Kalavela.  Kullervo was a model for Tolkien’s character Túrin Turambar.

Tolkien Reading Day – A Shelf Tour by Between Pages (Guest Post by Rucha)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Tolkien Collection Shelf Tour Guest Post

Hi, I am Rucha and I blog at Between Pages. Although I have always been an avid reader, my blogging journey began only about six months ago, largely thanks to the lockdown. In the past six months, I have blogged a couple of times about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings – each time feeling a little intimidated by the sheer scope of his works.

I am somewhat of a late comer to the world of Tolkien and Middle Earth having read the books only about 6 years ago. That was a different world, when I would spend about 2 hours travelling to and back from work, and it was a perfect time to finally pick up The Lord of the Rings. I fell in love almost instantly – and hopelessly – with Middle-earth, and till date if anyone asks me a fantasy world where I’d like to live, my answer’s always been Middle-earth. 🙂

So naturally the first on my Tolkien Shelf Tour are my very first beloved copies of the trilogy that I’d bought second hand. I nearly sold them off as my book collection started growing, and also since I recently acquired a more coveted LoTR box set, however, fortunately, I changed my mind and decided these are far too precious to let go off. I really love their worn-out spines and beautiful yellowing pages and I think someday I’d like to hand these down to my children and grandchildren.

The new collection I own is the 60th anniversary edition by Harper Collins. I bought it recently, largely out of vanity I should admit. These are hard backs with a slip case and the dust jackets feature Tolkien’s own original (and unused) designs.

I especially love the fold-outs in these books. Each of the three books have maps, and The Fellowship has a bonus foldout of the runes from the Book of Mazarbul.

This box set also comes with a Readers Companion, which is a perfect resource especially for those who wish to delve deeper into the marvelous world of Middle-earth.

And finally, almost perfectly timed for Tolkien Reading Day, this is my diary, with a stunning gold foil illustration of Frodo, Sam and Gollum at the foot of Mount Doom dated 24 March 3019. It is a special edition Moleskin that truly commemorates the epic tale of The Fellowship. 

I especially loved the accompanying (fold-out) timeline of Frodo and Sam’s journey and a guide to the Cirth Alphabet.

As book lovers, we cannot help buying beautiful books the moment we see it; however, building my Tolkien collection over the years has taught me the importance of not only mindful book collection but also cherishing and preserving old books.

Once again, I’d like to thank the lovely folks at Pages Unbound for letting me guest blog and geek out about my love for The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth and Tolkien. It truly forms a very important part of my life and more often than not I have found myself leaning on its themes of hope, friendship and comradery whenever I’ve needed to bring some perspective in my life.

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Hi! I’m Rucha, an avid reader who loves to find inspiration between the pages of the books she reads. I created my blog Between Pages mainly to share book reviews but it has now grown into a dedicated space to share my immense love of books and book inspired experiences.

Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Perilous and Fair book photo

Information

Goodreads: Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2015

Official Summary

Since the earliest scholarship on The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, critics have discussed how the works of J. R. R. Tolkien seem either to ignore women or to place them on unattainable pedestals. To remedy such claims that Tolkien’s fiction has nothing useful or modern to say about women, Perilous and Fair focuses critical attention on views that interpret women in Tolkien’s works and life as enacting essential, rather than merely supportive roles.

Perilous and Fair includes seven classic articles as well as seven new examinations of women in Tolkien’s works and life. These fourteen articles bring together perspectives not only on Tolkien’s most commonly discussed female characters—Éowyn, Galadriel, and Lúthien—but also on less studied figures such as Nienna, Yavanna, Shelob, and Arwen. Among others, the collection features such diverse critical approaches and methods as literary source study, historical context, feminist theory, biographical investigation, close-reading textual analysis, Jungian archetypes, and fanfiction reader-response.

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Review

Overall, this collection is essential reading for anyone who loves Tolkien, and it will provide some eye-opening arguments for anyone who thinks Tolkien’s women are flat or his portrayals are sexist. The authors consistently offer evidence that while, of course, Tolkien would not have held the views of a 21st-century feminist, the women in his books are nuanced and powerful and generally subvert gender expectations rather than fulfill them. Tolkien was also a champion of women academics in his personal life, and we have no evidence to suggest he didn’t like or respect women.

Here are some brief thoughts on the individual essays:

“The History of Scholarship on Female Characters in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium: A Feminist Bibliographic Essay” by Robin Anne Reid

This essay lists feminist articles about Tolkien’s work, beginning in the 1970s (when there were only two) and continuing to 2013, right before Perilous and Fair was published. Reid summarizes the articles and gives readers an idea of what feminist Tolkien scholarship has looked like and where it might go, but I admit I’d probably find this bibliography much more useful if I were planning to do some research myself. For pure reading value, this is mildly interesting, but I think it can be skipped unless you actually want to go read some of the articles listed.

“The Missing Women: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lifelong Support for Women’s Higher Education” by John D. Rateliff

I understand what this essay is doing. The idea that Tolkien was mired in a nearly all-male world (and that he preferred it that way) in ingrained in many people’s understanding of Tolkien and his life. Rateliff even quotes parts of Humphrey Carpenter’s biography that argue explicitly this point- and this may be why so many people believe it, since Carpenter’s biography is generally considered the definitive one. However, it’s still a bit funny that, in order to correct this misconception and demonstrate that Tolkien knew women and was even a staunch supporter of them academically when others weren’t (coughLewiscough), Rateliff found it necessary to comb letters, archives, and people’s personal memories in order to make a list of every time Tolkien ever interacted with a woman.

“She-who-must-not-be-ignored: Gender and Genre in The Lord of the Rings and the Victorian Boys’ Book” by Sharin Schroeder

An interesting comparison between Tolkien’s work and the “boys’ book” genre that early critics dismissively accused The Lord of the Rings belonging to. It seems weird today that anyone would accuse LotR of being a children’s book and I don’t 100% see the need any longer for people to “defend” Tolkien’s work. However, Schroeder does go beyond that to explain how gender in LotR compares to that in popular Victorian boys’ books and touches briefly on some books Tolkien might have been familiar with or read in his own youth. It focuses heavily on She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard (as it’s one of the few books Tolkien explicitly mentioned in an interview), which frankly didn’t mean much to me as I’d never heard of the book before.

“The Feminine Principle in Tolkien” by Melanie A. Rawls

An excellent look at masculine and feminine characteristics and Tolkien and the important point that both men and women need to embody both characteristics. (This essay is quoted in a few of the other essays, so definitely an influential piece to pay attention to.)

“Tolkien’s Females and the Defining of Power” by Nancy Enright

Enright explores the power that Tolkien’s women have. She has an interestingly extensive discussion of Arwen, considering many readers write her off as barely even being in The Lord of the Rings.

“Power in Arda: Sources, Uses, and Misuses by Edith L. Crowe

Crowe argues that Tolkien’s works can fit in with some definitions of feminism and also points out the importance of female power and involvement in creation in The Silmarillion. She also makes the intriguing point about how important renunciation of power in Tolkien is and how not killing plays such as important role, rare in modern fantasies.

“The Fall and Repentance of Galadriel” by Romuald I. Lakowski

This is one of those essays that really highlights how much Tolkien revised his writing and how much was never fully resolved. There are different versions of Galadriel’s story, but the only things we can say for certain about her are in The Lord of the Rings because otherwise Tolkien was constantly revising his material concerning her. However, this is an insightful look at what we do know and what different information would mean for readers’ interpretations of her character and her power.

Cami D. Agan, “Lúthien Tinúviel and Bodily Desire in the Lay of Leithian”

This essay reads into silences in the text and asks, “How then might it affect the text to assume that Lúthien and Beren consummate their love in the forest?” (172). This is not my favorite approach to literary criticism (How would it affect the text to assume something happens that readers have no direct evidence actually happens?), but Agan still manages to make interesting arguments about Lúthien’s power and how it’s tied up with her body. Personally, I haven’t read Lúthien’s story recently, and I would like to be more familiar with it to have any stronger opinions on this essay.

“The Power of Pity and Tears: The Evolution of Nienna in the Legendarium” by Kristine Larsen

Nienna is another figure I’m not 100% familiar with, but this look at the value of pity and tears is convincing, and of course one can see the importance of pity in The Lord of the Rings, as well. Larsen also discusses whether pity is considered a particularly feminine trait and what that might mean.

If this topic interests you, you can check out one of our previous guest posts, “She Who Weeps:” The Value of Sorrow in Tolkien.

“At Home and Abroad: Éowyn’s Two-fold Figuring as War Bride in The Lord of the Rings” by Melissa A. Smith

I dislike assertions that Tolkien’s writing was “influenced” by his wartime experience (though, of course, one’s life experience must imbue one’s creative works in some way), but the argument that Eowyn can be read as a war bride is persuasive and explains things like how quickly she and Faramir develop a romantic relationship. Smith points out that Tolkien seems to acutely understand something of women’s psychology here, what it means to be left behind in war, what it means to fall in love with someone you recently met, etc.

“The Valkyrie Reflex in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Galadriel, Shelob, Éowyn, and Arwen” by Leslie A. Donovan

This piece stands out in the collection for bringing in Arwen and Shelob, along with Galadriel and Eowyn. I do think the lists of “and this is how Character X has valkyrie characteristics!” went on a bit long for my tastes. (Apparently luminous eyes are notable, and all these characters have descriptions of their eyes?) But the look at how Tolkien might have been influenced by depictions of valkyries is intriguing.

“Speech and Silence in The Lord of the Rings: Medieval Romance and the Transitions of Éowyn” by Phoebe C. Linton

A very good essay looking at Eowyn, as well as what her apparent silences in the book indicate. I think, however, it raises similar points as other essays in the book do, as Eowyn is an obvious subject for a look at “women in Tolkien,” and I probably would have enjoyed this more if I’d read it on its own or if I’d read it first rather than practically last. I can only read the same quotes about Eowyn and what they mean so many times, no matter how interesting I think they are.

“Hidden in Plain View: Strategizing Unconventionality in Shakespeare’s and Tolkien’s Portraits of Women” by Maureen Thum

I’m always on the fence about comparative essays. Thum makes insightful points about the subverting of gender expectations in Twelfth Night and The Lord of the Rings, but I think she could have written two entirely separate essays; the points about Shakespeare don’t really illuminate Tolkien. Additionally, her arguments about Eowyn and Galadriel are convincing but don’t strike me as overly different arguments from other essays in this collection. It’s a fine essay but certainly not my favorite in this book.

“Finding Ourselves in the (Un)Mapped Lands: Women’s Reparative Readings of The Lord of the Rings” by Una McCormack

A good look at Tolkien fan fiction and the way women authors have chosen to write themselves into the story of LotR where they feel they have been excluded. This is interesting from an academic viewpoint, but I can’t say it made me particularly curious about reading the fan fiction itself, as McCormack herself admits some of it can be Mary Sue-ish as authors work out how to insert female characters– as female knights, as original side characters, as lovers of existing female characters, etc.

Briana
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Tolkien Opinions and Habits Survey Results!

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Tolkien Survey Results

Introduction

Usually for our annual Tolkien Reading Event, I crowdsource one or two questions like “What is the most impactful scene from Tolkien’s works?” and compile the results, but this year I decided to mix things up by making a survey and asking a bunch of random but fun questions about Tolkien and his works. Thanks to the magic of Twitter and everyone who helped spread the word about the survey, 108 people responded! (All questions were optional, so there are a few questions that not everyone answered.)

Check out the questions below and let us know if you agree with responses or if any of them surprise you!

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Survey Results

This skews young, but it’s fun to see some readers came to Tolkien when they were older, as well!

Everyone who said no…check out our posts on why you should read The Silmarillion!

It would have been a bit funny if someone said no to both the book and the movies because…why are they taking a survey about Tolkien then? But I guess one could have read only The Hobbit or only Tolkien’s other works somehow!

A nice mix of answers here, though I am not surprised Sam is a favorite.

I was sort of hoping this number would be higher because I think it would be fun if all of us were writing about Tolkien in school, but 12% is a pretty good showing!

I added an “other” option for the Tom Bombadil besides yes/no/no strong opinion, and for some reason a lot of people used it to write out why they were essentially voting no or no opinion, lol.

Predictably a lot of votes for Eowyn, but at least the others got votes, too! I imagine Luthien didn’t have as much of a chance, since fewer people have read The Silmarillion.

I was worried this was going to be 99% people saying Lothlorien, and it was early on in the survey responses, so I am glad to see some votes for other forests!

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What is an unpopular opinion you have about Tolkien or his works?

*Don’t murder each other in the comments. 😉 (Someone has a point about throwing Isildur into Mount Doom though….)

  1. Not sure if this counts as unpopular, but the female characters are mostly underrepesented in the books.
  2. His poetry sucks.
  3. The world is a little too black and white, evil and good.
  4. Frodo was not the best person to look after the ring. He was unreliable. Also Gandalf helped a minimum amount. He could have helped them so much more in LOTR. In the hobbit I get his lack of investment but LOTR it was much more important to support and help the hobbit more than he did.
  5. The Movies (LotR, NOT the Hobbit!) are better movies than the books are novels (seen in isolation, not talking about all world building, history of ME etc.)
  6. He can be a little convoluted.
  7. Could happily go without the songs.
  8. Elves are better than humans at literally everything; they are too good at everything – and that’s no fun at all.
  9. Sam shouldn’t have gone into the West
  10. I wish this family would give more creators access to make movies, tv shows and other media with the lord of the rings, and this gatekeeping only serves to keep it out of the publics attention. i am not saying we need 20 plus movies but an animated show done by people who care would bring it to new audiences
  11. The Hobbit shouldn’t have been split into 3 movies – the original animated movie was better.
  12. Fanfic is as valid an exploration of Tolkien’s world as academic analysis.
  13. I feel like his stories are wonderful but his writing is a bit over-descriptive.
  14. I don’t need 3 pages of adjectives for the rocks around Mordor
  15. Other than Tom Bombadil being cut from Fellowship, the film is a better version of that story. I could do with less walking.
  16. I do not know if this counts, but in my opinion, the Silmarillion is not an overly difficult book to read/understand like many people say it is.
  17. If you read them after a ton of other fiction, it feels oddly dated.
  18. Most people read the books in the wrong order. The Silmarillion should be read first to get a base for the rest of the books.
  19. Fucking spiders – just unnecessary
  20. Boromir should have lived.
  21. The Silmarillion should have been left unpublished.
  22. The Ring is not sentient.
  23. LOTR could do with being more concise.
  24. Not a complaint per say, but a difference of stylistic opinion. I generally prefer novels that emphasise narrative over world-building. From that perspective, I feel that Tolkien’s emphasis on world-building can occasionally result in a clunky narrative, detracting somewhat from the story. Even then, however, fantasy as a genre is heavily defined by the world it seeks to create, rendering this point effectively moot. It’s an unpopular opinion for sure, but in the context of Tolkien – and fantasy more broadly – it scarcely detracts from my enjoyment of his work.
  25. That the entire saga wasn’t meant for the big screen, I feel as though Tolkien wanted our imagination to imagine these magical places.
  26. The movies have way better pacing than the books do. Two Towers is too long and too slow!
  27. Tom Bombadil rules.
  28. Tolkien was a man of his time and we should examine his works that way. We should also be allowed to take some liberties with the canon for adaptations and other creative works. For example, the new Amazon tv series. I’m ok with small changes being made to better serve a story for the screen.
  29. Tolkien was not the greatest fantasy writer. He was a very good fantasy writer with the advantage of being the first.
  30. Gandalf was a con man,
  31. Jackson films are garbage.
  32. They are always walking.
  33. Elrond should have pushed Isildur in the volcano.
  34. Too much poetry!
  35. You can be racist, even without meaning to.
  36. He wasn’t good at depicting women and routinely made them one-sided caricatures instead of actual developed characters.
  37. The books were better than the movies.
  38. The man died too soon to bring another layer of depth to his story, which would probably put him up on the pedestal along with Homer or Virgil.
  39. The Silmarillion is so much better than The Lord of the Rings.
  40. Frodo had no personality.
  41. Not all of his poetry is that good.
  42. The stories are great, but once his focus went to creating a history (The Silmarillion) it turned to a snooze fest.
  43. It is a bit over written.
  44. The Lord of the Rings is plodding and unmemorable. The Hobbit is much better.
  45. The only non-white people you come across are ‘bad guys’ (the Haradrim and the Corsairs) which isn’t a good look these days.
  46. LOTR is far too padded (don’t know if this is unpopular though!)
  47. Turin was THE WORST. Giving yourself eighty-five names doesn’t erase all the terrible choices you’ve made. Morwen was the only redeemable character of that family, though she was pretty amazing.
  48. Tolkien doesn’t *need* more female characters any more than Little Women *needs* more male characters. Tolkien was writing about his world, and the female characters he did write about were ones that left a legacy. As a kid, I was still able to find myself in his world and enjoy his dense mythos even though I’m female. It always felt like there was room.
  49. They are unevenly written.
  50. All my opinions are popular.
  51. I like the songs in the Lord of the Rings books.
  52. Reads a little stale in the beginning, specially the Hobbit. Takes a while for it to pull your attention.
Briana

Would You Survive As a Member of the Fellowship of the Ring? (Quiz)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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Instructions

*Click on the flow chart to make it bigger.

Would you survive if you joined the Fellowship of the Ring and went on the journey to toss the One Ring into Mount Doom? Take our short quiz to see if you have the skills to make it all the way to Mordor and back– or if you’ll suffer the fate of Boromir.

Let us know in the comments if you survived!

Other Lord of the Rings/Tolkien Quizzes

Review: Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien (Guest Post by Kim)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Roverandom Review

In the summer of 1925, J.R.R. Tolkien, his wife Edith, and their three young sons went on an unexpected holiday to the Yorkshire coast. Tolkien’s second son, Michael (aged four), brought his favorite toy– a little black and white dog figurine. Michael took the dog everywhere, ate with it, slept with it, and refused to put it down no matter the circumstance. Except for the day when Tolkien and the older two boys went for a walk along the seashore. Excited to skip stones into the water, Michael put his beloved toy dog down on the beach. The toy disappeared among the beach’s white stones, and though Tolkien and the two boys returned to look for it the little dog was gone. Michael was devastated by the loss of his beloved toy, and to help make him feel better, Tolkien did what he always did best: he told the children a story about a little dog– a real dog– named Rover, who barked too much and annoyed a wizard, who turned him into a toy. Rover ended up in a shop window, where he was purchased by a woman and given to a little boy. While the boy loved Rover, all Rover wanted was to be a real dog again.

One day, the boy took Rover to the beach, and Rover was separated from him. Rover didn’t mind at first, given that he was free to do whatever he wanted, but upon realizing that being a tiny toy on a big beach presents its own problems, Rover was suddenly afraid. What if the waves got him? How would he ever get off the beach?

Fortunately, another wizard appeared to help Rover escape the incoming tide while a friendly gull flew Rover to the moon, where he encountered other dogs and began a series of wonderful adventures.

Like all J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories, Roverandom grew in the telling. From its origin in the summer of 1925, it was lengthened with new adventures and gained story elements and imagery that sharp-eyed readers of Tolkien’s primary works (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion) will recognize, though it never actually touches Middle-earth.

What Roverandom does share with The Hobbit is Tolkien’s respect for his young audience. Though many children’s stories of the time would talk down to children, use very simple vocabulary, and shy away from danger, Tolkien saw this as disrespectful to children, whom he believed were braver and more sophisticated than many other adults thought. Both Bilbo Baggins and Rover encounter mortal peril, which they survive thanks to help from friends or by their own wits. Once they have faced danger, they discover that they are braver than they thought. And both have grand adventures they never would have imagined had they stayed inside the day a wizard showed up at the front gate.

Another mark in Roverandom’s favor (at least in this reader’s opinion) is the lack of a grand moral lesson. In Tolkien’s works, the wicked do not always receive their comeuppance, Good does not always win out in the end, and beautiful things do not always last forever. But that is the nature of the world and the tales we invent. Tolkien is quoted as saying, “A safe fairyland is untrue in all worlds”, and this holds true even in the stories he wrote for children. If there is any great lesson to be learned here, it is that small people– and smaller dogs– have the courage to overcome frightening things. And also, maybe, that it is a good idea to be polite.

While The Lord of the Rings and its attendant works receive the bulk of the literary world’s attention, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a variety of stories outside his legendarium. But even among these, Roverandom receives even less attention than, say, Smith of Wootton Major or Leaf by Niggle. And that’s a shame because Roverandom has all the charm and appeal of The Hobbit and will appeal to adults and children alike.

As with The Hobbit, the seed of the story of Roverandom did not come from Tolkien’s desire to be a successful children’s author or to even be published at all. Both books grew out of the bedtime stories Tolkien told his children. It was fortunate for those children, listening raptly back in the 1920s and 1930s– and for the rest of the world– that he decided to write the stories down, and then expand upon and polish them until they became the works we know and love today. The Hobbit may be the most famous of Tolkien’s books for children, but it is not the only one. Roverandom is a delightful story that deserves more recognition and will appeal to anyone, whether they are four years old and grieving the loss of a toy dog, or are much older than and looking for someone to take them on a grand adventure.

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Visit Kim at Traveling in Books.

Why You Should Read The Silmarillion (Guest Post by Mary Drover)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Growing up, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was one of the first classic epic fantasies that I ever read.  I read the books out of order–trilogy first, The Hobbit second–though that was entirely because my father wanted to see the movies in the theater, so he handed me The Fellowship and told me to get reading so I could join him.  I’ll never forget sitting in the dark theater, absolutely sobbing as Gandalf fell after the Balrog in Moria.  My dad leaned over and whispered, “Have you read the second one yet?”  I had, but it was still the saddest thing ever to witness, and, to this day, I still cry over his death in that scene.

I fell hard for the stories of Middle-earth.  I read the trilogy as fast as my little preteen brain could comprehend, devoured The Hobbit, and decided that wasn’t nearly enough.  My dad had this small bookshelf next to his bed, and I went scrounging through it, trying to see if there was anything else with Tolkien listed as the author.  My dad found me there, frowning at his bookshelf, wondering why there were only these four books when all the other series I loved usually had many more.  I wanted this world to be endless, and when I told him that, he said, “Oh, there’s The Silmarillion, but it’s impossible and terrible.  I threw it away years ago.”

Because I was still a child and my dad was basically a wizard straight out of Middle-earth come to grace my life with his magical presence, I took his word for it.  For years and years, despite shifting pretty quickly from everyday love to outright obsession over Tolkien’s stories, I never once questioned my dad.  At that young age, the trilogy had been tricky for me to read, and so, I assumed that The Silmarillion would be even harder.  Plus, it wasn’t about the characters I’d grown so fond of, so what was the point?

Fast forward to a few years ago, headed toward the end of my twenties, writing my own novels, reading everything in sight, and trying to clear out some of my long overdue unread owned books.  And there, sitting on my shelf, was The Children of Húrin.  I’d never read it, though I always planned to.  As I researched it a little, it was to find that although it didn’t contain any characters I was familiar with, it was still firmly set in Middle-earth, and it told the tale of characters from before.  I thought about the Battle of Dagorlad, that we only see for the briefest of seconds as a setup in Fellowship.  I wondered if the Balrog that had slain Gandalf might have a name and a history.  I remembered, all at once, something that had always niggled at me.

‘This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore.’ – The Hobbit

I’ve long been a huge fan of swords, but who wasn’t as a child?  Pair that with the camera work in The Return of the King when they’re finally showing us Andúril reforged from the Shards of Narsil, and this line in The Hobbit has always struck me.  When Gandalf falls with the Balrog, he’s wielding Glamdring, and it wasn’t the things he shouted at the Balrog that had niggled at me, but this mention of Gondolin.  Why did they call this sword Foe-hammer?  What was so special about this king?  And why did Gondolin no longer exist?

At some point in your life, you’ve wondered a similar question while reading the main works in Tolkien’s legendarium.  He drops these little hints all around the books, things that reference untold adventures, mentions of extraordinary feats from unknown characters, the possibility of a pantheon of gods and so much more lore.  And, for the first time since I picked up Fellowship as a child, I started thinking about The Silmarillion again.

Currently, I’m hosting a four-week read-along on my blog for The Silmarillion, and, when I first announced it, I got a lot of the same responses as my dad all those years ago.  People think it’s too dense, too convoluted, too hectic.  They think it’s impossible to read or just plain difficult.  They think it twists and turns too much.  Inevitably, though, everyone with that opinion has never actually tried to read it.  Like me, they’ve just been influenced by other readers, and they’ve wiped their hands of it.  The trilogy is good enough.  Right?

Honestly, if you want to just surface level read the trilogy and be on your merry way, yeah, it is enough!  But if, like me, something like an offhand mention of the king of Gondolin has always had you wondering, I’m begging you, read this beautiful, insane masterpiece.  Because that, in its essence, is why you should read The Silmarillion.  There’s so much packed into it, even more than you’re possibly thinking of right now.  When I decided I was going to read it, I knew I wanted to read the trilogy after, and the experience of rereading the trilogy post-Silmarillion knowledge is unlike anything I’ve ever felt with a book.  Are there things I still missed?  Yeah, definitely, Tolkien was actually out of this world brilliant.  But now, there’s so much more that I understand.

Gondolin, now, is not just this mysterious city in history.  It’s the place where Ecthelion and Glorfindel fought off the Balrogs long enough to save their people.  It’s the place where Turgon hid from the world until the moment of greatest need, and then an entire army poured out of the mountains to rise up against Sauron.  It’s the place with seven gates, each more wondrous than the last.  It’s the place where Maeglin was fostered, where Eärendil was born, where Gandalf’s mighty sword was forged.  And that’s just the beginning.

In truth, The Silmarillion is no more difficult to read than the trilogy.  If you’ve ever suffered through George R.R. Martin’s endless cast of characters, there’s probably fewever in The Silmarillion.  Sure, many of them–looking at you, Túrin–have half a dozen names, and Tolkien likes to name things in not just different languages, but different dialects.  Yes, there are no hobbits, everyone is mean to the dwarves, and the elves are actually the worst.  But you also get to see Sauron before he went over to the dark side.  You get to read about Aragorn’s ancestors and the great love that he often sings about.  You get to see the creation of the world, understand why there is so much strife and sorrow in the Third Age, and witness the truly badass natures of characters like Fingolfin and Maedhros.

In a letter to a potential publisher, Tolkien was asked to describe, in detail, why The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings needed to be published together, as a single unit.  Over the course of ten thousand words, he did exactly that, and honestly?  I’ve got to agree with him.  To fully appreciate the majesty that is the trilogy, you also need the knowledge contained within The Silmarillion.  And, even beyond just having that knowledge to understand all the hidden aspects of the trilogy, The Silmarillion is good.  It’s an expertly written book, or I wouldn’t still be weeping over it years after my first read, enough that I needed to reread it and try to convince even more people it was worth their time.

I could go on and on and on, until my words run dry, listing out all the reasons why you should read The Silmarillion.  At the end of all things, though, the only way to truly understand its worth is to dive right in.

Read Mary’s 2020 guest post: History Repeats Itself: Tolkien’s Primary Villains.

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Mary Drover finds adventure along the New England coastline, deep in the White Mountains, and always on a yoga mat.  She spends her days in an office, her nights drinking tea, and all the in-between moments snuggling her sister cats or writing about magic, pirates, witches, faeries, planets, and romance.  She has a BFA in Creative Writing & a BA in English from the University of Maine at Farmington, practices Tibetan Buddhism, has too many candles, and cannot stop buying crystals or plants.  She is a registered yoga teacher, a part-time witch, and was an astronaut in a previous life. Visit Mary at Mary and the Words @ https://marydrover.com/.

The Richness of Tolkien’s Female Characters: Eowyn

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


J. R. R. Tolkien has received much criticism over the years both for the lack of female characters in The Lord of the Rings and for their characterization. Some readers, for instance, may feel that even though The Lord of the Rings does include a handful of interesting women from Goldberry to Galadriel to Eowyn to Lobelia, they do not get enough page time or, if they do, they do not quite meet modern feminist standards. However, Tolkien’s women are varied, rich, and intriguing, just like his male characters. The difficulty? Readers generally do not get the story from their perspectives, and so do not have more direct information about their internal lives and motivations. Lobelia’s story, for example, is told in retrospect from a secondary character; readers do not get to follow her in her footsteps, as they do with Sam as he approaches Mordor on his own. Without this direct focus, it is easier to dismiss Lobelia, her character, and her actions.

However, if readers take the time to look more deeply into The Lord of the Rings, as well as Tolkien’s other writings on Middle-earth, the richness of his female characters becomes more apparent. Even though they may be few in number, Tolkien’s women are often powerful movers of events, their intelligence, wisdom, and courage on par with or even exceeding that of their male counterparts. This series of posts will take a look at a few of Tolkien’s female characters and explore their character development, and what it can tell us about Tolkien’s vision for Middle-earth.

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Eowyn is possibly Tolkien’s most famous female character, and one of the ones most beloved by fans. While Tolkien’s other female characters may be criticized for being flat, boring, or simply not feminist, Eowyn escapes much of this censure with her decision to disguise herself as a man and fight on the battlefield. In the process, she achieves much honor and glory by slaying the Witch-king, with the aid of Merry. Still, some readers still find it disappointing that Eowyn later renounces her desire for glory and death in battle and instead retires with Faramir to restore Ithilien. Surely deciding to heal things instead of chop them up with swords is anti-feminist?

To understand Eowyn’s character arc, however, readers must understand how it fits in with the entirety of Tolkien’s perspective on war. Although The Lord of the Rings contains many battle scenes, often with stirring war songs and inspirational feats of courage, Tolkien balances this idealistic vision of war with a more sombre understanding of the costs of fighting. One suspects that, as a soldier himself in WWI, Tolkien understood better than most how a glorious vision of battle and an admiration for deeds of daring could co-exist with the realization that war itself is still a horrible thing. And, so, The Lord of the Rings provides two important moments where Tolkien reveals a more realistic vision of the effects of war. This is the lesson that Eowyn must learn in order to mature and complete her character arc–that war means death and destruction, and the glory of war does not outweigh that harm.

The first moment to draw readers’ attention away from the glory of war occurs in Ithilien, when Sam sees fighting up close for the first time, and witnesses the death of a Southron man in battle. Tolkien writes:

“It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was, and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really have rather stayed there in peace…”

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Up to this point in The Lord of the Rings, the effects of fighting have not received much attention. Usually the heroes are set upon by their enemies first, and they draw their swords and their bows in order to defend themselves. Readers cheer the heroes on–because they are the heroes–and delight in their battlefield deeds because they illustrate the superiority of the good side. The enemies, until now, have been merely blank slates for the heroes to perform their heroics upon.

Sam, however, has not grown up in a warlike city, nor has he been trained in arms or to see the enemy as simply an obstacle to overcome. And so, Sam so can see the humanity of his enemy who has fallen before him. He possesses vision Eowyn does not. Eowyn imagines battle as merely an opportunity for her to gain fame and then death. She does not consider the people who must die in order for her to achieve her goals, nor does she concern herself with where they came from or if they are really her enemy (or simply mislead by Sauron) or whether they have families who might miss them. Eowyn’s thoughts are, indeed, largely for herself–a short-sightedness she will need to overcome in order to mature.

The second moment that reveals Tolkien’s thoughts on war comes from Faramir, who tells Frodo:

“War must be while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.”

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Here, Tolkien simultaneously acknowledges the attractiveness of war–the sharpness of the sword and the glory of the soldier–along with the devastation they may cause. War is, for Faramir, a necessary evil, something to be done only in defense because it defends something truly valuable: wisdom, knowledge, and beauty.

This is a telling moment because Faramir stands in direct contrast to his brother Boromir and his father Denethor, as well as the current state of the city of Minas Tirith, which has come to value feats of arms over lore and wisdom. By contrasting Faramir with Boromir, Tolkien illustrates that the desire for glory can be intertwined with a lust for power, which will ultimately prove destructive both for the individual and for his cause. If Boromir had taken the Ring to achieve greatness and save his city, Minas Tirith would have ultimately fallen to yet another corrupt ruler, or to Sauron, who would have overpowered a weaker Ringbearer. It is only because Faramir is able to see the bigger picture, the whole point of fighting, that he is able to reject the lure of the Ring in order to preserve peace for years to come. Faramir chooses a city full of wisdom and beauty over a warlike state renowned for its soldiers because he understands that war and glory are not good in and of themselves.

Eowyn’s personal journey is, interestingly, one that ultimately leads her to Faramir’s conclusions. And, so, readers should not be quick to assume that her rejection of arms is a sign of weakness or an anti-feminist statement on the part of Tolkien. Tolkien is, in fact, very interested in showing men as healers, as well: “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known,” says Ioreth (RotK). Both Aragorn and Faramir become healers of the realm of Gondor, just as Sam goes to work healing the wounds of the Shire. Healing, for Tolkien, is a sign of strength and wisdom, and it is possible that readers’ own dismissal of healing as “women’s work” can make them so uncomfortable to see Eowyn say, “I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren” (RotK). But, for Tolkien, this moment is the moment of Eowyn’s maturity, when she recognizes that life and growth are more valuable than death.

Eowyn’s personal journey is indeed very nuanced, though it can be overlooked since much of it comes in scattered hints and fragments, and readers must use their imagination to recreate the circumstances of Eowyn’s life until the moment when she confronts the Witch-king. What readers do know is that Eowyn has felt trapped at home, watching her uncle the king deteriorate into impotency under the influence of Wormtongue. While her brother, as a man, could escape, she was always left behind, and she, too, fell under the sway of Wormtongue’s poisonous words. “But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?” asks Gandalf (RotK). He suggests she began to believe Wormtongue’s lies that Rohan was bereft of dignity.

Eowyn felt that the nobility of her house was fading and that she was doomed to stay at home and watch, until all the men at last died in glory, leaving her and the women and children to die in the homes they left behind. The women were, she felt bitterly, undervalued by the men who simply took them for granted, expecting them to keep house for them whenever they bothered to come home. And she felt increasingly certain that housekeeping would be unnecessary in the dark days to come, when Rohan would be overrun with enemies. To Aragorn, Eowyn says: “All your words are but to say: you are a woman and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more” (RotK). For her, since death seemed certain, death in battle, with honor, was the way she wanted to go. But men denied her even that.

Eowyn’s understanding of war is thus shown to be rather limited. Since she has never been on the battlefield, but likely only heard the songs and stories of those who have returned, she imagines war to be incredibly glorious, and does not consider its more horrible effects. To go to war and die in battle is her one escape from a life of ignobility, and so she does not concern herself much with how war might affect her country or her family, much less her enemy. Indeed, she does not even have the excuse of wanting to protect Rohan; her love of war is all about gaining honor for herself. She goes so far as to forsake her duty to lead the Rohirrim in the absence of the king in order to join the king in the field.

This childlike enthusiasm for battle, as well as a desire to get out of Rohan, is also what first attracts Eowyn to Aragorn. He represents masterful deeds of arms on the battlefield. He has the love and respect of men as a result. Furthermore, if she could marry him, Eowyn would be able to escape Meduseld and the life of uselessness and neglect she has experienced there. She would have a new start, though, as a woman in a patriarchal society, she still understands that she will need to marry a man in order to get it.

Through Eowyn, Tolkien demonstrates that he thought extensively of what it might feel like to be a woman left home, waiting, while all the men go to war. Eowyn, though certainly individual in her response to this waiting, also comes to represent a glimpse of life on the homefront. She gives voice to the powerlessness felt by those left behind, as well as the anger, bitterness, and resentment women might come to feel when they realize that they are doing their part for their country, but that they receive no recognition for it, no remembrance in song or story when the warriors come home. The men, busy with their work, actually seem to forget about the women, and what their sacrifices might look and feel like. Eowyn, however, refuses to be content with this lot, and, after being rejected by the men around her, takes her destiny into her own hands and sneaks off to battle.

Eowyn’s destruction of the Witch-king is undoubtedly one of the highlights of The Lord of the Rings, a satisfying moment where a woman shows that she can what no man was able to do. For this act of bravery, Eowyn surely received the honor she always craved and most likely was praised in song in Meduseld for many years after. But this is not the end of her story because, as we have seen, Tolkien does not let the glory and excitement of battle overshadow the recognition that war is ultimately terrible. Eowyn is wounded, nearly unto death. And, when she awakens, she finds that her glorious deed is still not enough for her to want to live. Not if she cannot have the love of Aragorn.

Eowyn’s stay in the Houses of Healing is an important moment for her because it is there that she undertakes the journey of self-revelation that allows her to see that life is still worth living. Unrequited love may sting, but Faramir helps Eowyn to see that there is still much for her to do, and to be. It is notable that Eowyn ends up falling in love with Faramir, because he represents the opposite of all she has hitherto valued: Faramir prizes peace, and wisdom, and beauty over the glory and deeds of war. Faramir longs to heal Ithilien and to bring growth back to lands that Sauron had destroyed. Previously, all this would have no doubt seemed silly to Eowyn, who longs for glory more than she longs for usefulness, and for death more than she longs for a seemingly unremarkable life. But Eowyn has reached a place where she can understand that healing is worthwhile, even if it is a task that goes unpraised.

Eowyn’s journey gives readers not only a deeply realized female character, but also a representation of Tolkien’s views on war. She moves from seeing battle as merely the possibility for great deeds and undying fame to realizing that war destroys, and that healing is worthier than destruction. Eowyn’s most note-worthy deed might be the slaying of the Witch-king. But perhaps her most difficult action is admitting that she was wrong, and choosing a life without glory, but one with meaning.