Wise Warriors in Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling

By Fife, Ernelle | Mythlore, Fall-Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Wise Warriors in Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling


Fife, Ernelle, Mythlore


The phrase "wise warrior" sounds like an oxymoron, like "military intelligence." But wise warrior is an apt description of Athena--goddess of wisdom, reason, agriculture, and civilization, who was born, fully armed, from the head of Zeus, and whose shield bears the head of Medusa. She is mentor and guide to numerous heroes, and is seldom a deity of aggression, but of defensive warfare, battling to protect the city and the home. Her philosophy would be best expressed by Tolkien's Eowyn, in her response to the Warden of Gondor, the master healer who laments that "the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them." Eowyn points out that "It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two [...]. And those who have not swords can still die upon them" (Return of the King 292)--witness, for example, the death of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In Tolkien's Middle-earth, the Enemy has already begun the war; that is evil's function, to breed enmity and hatred. To do nothing in response does not prevent a death, but merely turns a war into a massacre. Knowing when to fight, what to fight for, and how to fight take wisdom. In this paper I will analyze the role of the wise warrior, particularly the female wise warriors, in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

Female wise warriors should not be overlooked, discounted, or dismissed as minor characters, sidekicks, or failures. It is only the unwary reader who misjudges them the way Denethor misjudges Faramir, in Beregond's words, being "slow to believe that a captain can be wise and learned in the scrolls of lore and song, as [Faramir] is, and yet a man of hardihood and swift judgement in the field" (Return 44). Substitute the word "woman" for "captain," and similar misconceptions hold for many characters stemming from culturally determined gender distinctions. Rowling's Mrs. Figg is a good example. Readers were probably quick to accept Harry's assessment of her as a batty old lady on her first appearance in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (22), but she is far more. Being a squib, a person born to magical parents but without magical abilities, Mrs. Figg can not protect Harry as can the witches and wizards of the Order of Phoenix, but armed with her string bag of canned cat food, she is a valued watcher whom Dumbledore trusts to help guard Harry (Order of the Phoenix 20-24).

Gender distinctions, however, are not limited to humans; I am not claiming that gender is a masculine construct created as part of men's political oppression of women. Tolkien's Ents are a good example of gender distinctions that can produce harmful consequences even among non-humans. The Ents, such as Treebeard or Fangorn, are wanderers; in anthropological terms, they are at the hunter-gatherer stage of development. The Entwives are more settled; they have progressed to the farming stage. In Treebeard's story, the Entwives seem to be a combination of Hobbits and the deity of the first creation story in Genesis: the Entwives ordered the flowering trees and plants, herbs and grasses, "to grow according to their wishes, and bear leaf and fruit to their liking; for the Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them)" (The Two Towers 99). The later parenthetical phrase always brings to my mind a picture of Tolkien carefully laying out all his story notes and linguistic references on the dining table, deliberately and thoughtfully beginning to craft the next few chapters of his epic ten minutes before Mrs. Tolkien wants to set the table for dinner.

Entwives, keepers of the garden, along with hobbits and elves, seem to have a sense of place; they are grounded, as are the mature farandolae in Madeleine L'Engle's The Wind in the Door. The Entwives have much in common with hobbits, particularly with Samwise Gamgee. …

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