Academic journal article Mythlore

Constructing Lothiriel: Rewriting and Rescuing the Women of Middle-Earth from the Margins

Academic journal article Mythlore

Constructing Lothiriel: Rewriting and Rescuing the Women of Middle-Earth from the Margins

Article excerpt

Scholars of fan studies believes that fan fiction can be seen as an interpretive and analytical act that gives insight into the reception of a text by its audience. This paper will examine the depiction of Tolkien's female characters in The Lord of the Rings and related works through the lens of fan fiction: How do Tolkien's most loving and devoted readers, his fans, view the women of Middle-earth? In the case of significant characters like Eowyn and Arwen, quite a bit is known and thus fan-writers have various resources to work with as source references, including the texts as well as the earlier drafts of the novels as published in The History of The Lord of the Rings.

In the case of other characters such as Lothiriel, their presence is little more than (quite literally) a footnote. As a genre of literature, fan fiction functions both as derivative work (in that some writers conscientiously choose to ascribe to Tolkien's canonical texts and display a wealth of knowledge of these texts, linguistically and historically) and as transformative work as writers choose to select, ignore, or rewrite those aspects of Tolkien's work they find problematic. In the body of scholarly work on Tolkien and fan fiction thus far, little attention has been paid to how writers have chosen to characterize the women characters, or what stories, genres, and tropes have been used in these stories. By reading the poems, short stories, and even novels that fans have written inspired by these characters, a new picture of the women of Middle-earth emerges: one in which women aren't always fabulously beautiful or amazingly brave, but take their place alongside the male denizens of Tolkien's universe all the same.


Popular history and criticism dwell overmuch on Tolkien himself as being a man of his time. As an Oxford don who came of age in the first half of the twentieth century, clearly his attitudes towards women must perforce be antifeminist and patriarchal: idealized at their best, degraded at their worst. However, evidence demonstrates that in both his personal life and in his fiction, this is incorrect. Anwyn writes in the recent movieverse-inspired volume, A People's Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien, that

[T]he text of Lord of the Rings does not for a moment bear out the idea that Tolkien had any kind of derogatory opinion about women. Three things are clear: that he was far from a misogynist, that the female characters in his masterpiece collectively represent everything that is great about being a woman, and less representation does not equal less importance. (Anwyn 115, emphasis in original)

That said, the vast majority of the main characters in his books are still men, and a sizeable percentage--if not outright majority--of his most active and admiring fans are still women. How to make up for this disparity? Traditional scholarly work on Tolkien and women has focused on a variety of critical and historical approaches examining the work of both Tolkien and his mythological and literary inspirations (the Niebelungenlied, Beowulf, El Cid, etc. (1)) from a variety of critical views, but much of the work that has been done to date in Fan Studies has focused on the Jackson film fandom rather than on traditional print fandom. This becomes a complicated issue because much of the contemporary fandom is directly inspired by the films, but the character of Lothiriel is restricted to the original books, thus again creating hybrid texts with mixed canons.

A fannish history of Tolkien demonstrates an enthusiasm for his worlds and mythology from the very beginning. Piecing together fan actions and reactions can be problematized, however, because of the ephemeral nature of fan works in general. Many of these publications were not preserved by their owners or collected by libraries, and in some cases the authors of the work themselves later choose to disown their own work for a variety of reasons both personal and professional. …

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