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TERM PAPER

Arwen, Galadriel and Éowyn: Women in The Lord of the Rings“

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction 3

2. Context and Theory 4

3. Analysis 6

3.1 Analysis of the description of women´s physical appearance in The Lord of the Rings 6

3.2 Romantic relationships in The Lord of the Rings 9

3.3 The depiction of women´s power in The Lord of the Rings 10

4. Conclusion 13

Bibliography 15

Primary Sources 15

Secondary Sources 15

  1. Introduction


This paper will investigate the role of women, primarily focusing on the roles of Arwen, Galadriel and Éowyn, in J.R.R. Tolkien´s The Lord of the Rings.

I chose to investigate the role of women in The Lord of the Rings, because one has to acknowledge that the plot is dominated by male and therefore scarcely deals with female characters. In addition, little research has been conducted when dealing with women in this particular novel, which strongly suggests its necessity. Dealing with the novel´s female characters on the one hand provides insight into the society of Middle-earth and simultaneously the position of women within the 20th century society Tolkien lived in, as well as the medieval society, which serves as a model for Middle-earth.

The aim of this paper is to illustrate the roles of women in The Lord of the Rings, by analysing the novel through a feminist lens, taking into consideration that J.R.R Tolkien incorporated several medieval elements that will also contribute to the overall analysis.

In my paper I will illustrate the differences and similarities of Arwen, Galadriel and Éowyn, by investigating the description of their physical appearance, the depiction of their romantic relationships and women´s illustration of power, linking the observed passages to their medieval role models which J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by. Before preceding to the analysis, I will illustrate which medieval elements can be found in The Lord of the Rings and explain the approach applied to the analysis of the text.

  1. Context and Theory


As the paper is analysing the depiction of female characters within J.R.R Tolkien´s The Lord of the Rings it is of particular importance to not only provide some context concerning its production and reception but to also illustrate the approach used to interpret particular extracts of the text and simultaneously clarifying certain terminology, used in the course of the paper.

Witnessing two World Wars has largely influenced Tolkien and his writing. Especially in The Lord of the Rings many elements can be observed that suggest allusions to Tolkien´s personal experiences. To begin with, war is one of the central themes in The Lord of the Rings, as the Dark Lord Sauron is fighting a war against the free people of Middle-earth to “rule them all” (Tolkien 2004: 66).

The war raging in the novel can be compared to the Second World War, as Germany also aimed at conquering Europe. In this context, Sauron is likely to be associated with Hitler, as both are dictators who start a war. What is different in the novel from the actual Second World War is that The Lord of the Rings is set in a fictional, medieval setting, featuring fabulous creatures and an entirely fabricated world.

Having now mentioned the term ´medieval´, this idea needs further elaboration and a clear definition. ´Medievalism´ is often mistaken for being the depiction of actual historical events and historical personalities, implying that these really existed. However, the correct definition of ´medievalism´, according to The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism would be that “Medievalism is the reception, interpretation of recreation of the European Middle Ages in post-medieval cultures.” (D´Arcens 2016: 1) In addition on can say that ´medievalism´ can be seen as a social construct, as it is constructed by the members of society, therefore not having a fixed overall definition, but rather a definition depending on the socio-cultural circu.....[read full text]

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  1. Analysis


    1. Analysis of the description of women´s physical appearance in The Lord of the Rings



In this chapter I will analyse the language Tolkien uses when describing the physical appearances of Arwen, Galadriel and Éowyn. Analysing the language used, one can observe, whether women are portrayed in a very traditional way, resembling the description of women in actual medieval texts or deviate from fixed norms, medieval women are commonly associated with, such as remaining in the domestic realm or their need of being protected, due to their physical weakness, when facing a fight.

The analysis of these three characters will show their similarities and differences.

Frodo first encounters Arwen at the feast which precedes the Council of Elrond, while recovering in Rivendell from having been severely wounded by the Black Riders:

In the middle of the table, against the woven cloths upon the wall, there was a chair under a canopy, and there sat a lady fair to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elrond that Frodo guessed that she was one of his close kindred. Young, she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost; her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring.

Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but of her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver. So it was that Frodo saw her whom few mortals had yet seen; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again; and she was called Undómiel, for she was the Evenstar of her people. (Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings: 295-296)

To begin with the analysis of Arwen´s description, one can investigate that she is spatially separated from the other folks by sitting on a chair under a canopy. This does not only foreground Arwen from the rest of the feast, but also underlines her being from an even higher class than the others. This impression of Arwen being superior to some extent is even more emphasised by the jewellery Arwen is wearing.

Although the jewellery underlines Arwen´s shining appearance, especially the “small gems, glittering white” (Tolkien 2004: 296) which might already indicate her being the “Evenstar of her people” (ibid.), it is not the most prominent feature about her physical appearance as the gems do not make her “queenly” (ibid.), but rather underli.....

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Galadriel is dressed entirely in white, which can be interpreted in two different ways. On the one hand, the whiteness of her clothes symbolises Galadriel´s innocence and pureness, as she is shielded from war in Lothlórien, which has never been entered by an enemy and wears one of the three great rings made for the Elves, which “were not made as weapons of war or conquest […] but understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained.” (Tolkien 2004: 350) On the other hand, her white clothes deviate from the other character´s clothes, which suggests that Galadriel is superior to the others.

Another aspect of that passage which is very prominent concerning the characterisation of Galadriel is that she is primarily described by traits characteristic for men, such as being tall and having a deep voice. This underlines the assumption that Galadriel is in every aspect equal to her husband if not superior, which opposes the traditional medieval role of women and is therefore foregrounded.

In addition, these male traits hint at Galadriel´s powers, which will be discussed in the following chapter. Similar to all other Elves, Galadriel is immortal, which mirrors itself in her appearance. In most of Tolkien´s descriptions, the Elves´ immortality is particularly expressed by the “depths of their eyes” (Tolkien 2004: 461), which can also be investigated in the previous passage, dealing with Arwen.

Éowyn, is distinctly different from Arwen and Galadriel as she does not belong to the Elves but belongs to mankind. However, she does not only share an important aspect with the two before-mentioned characters, namely her social status, but is also described in a similar manner to Galadriel:

Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe, girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood. (Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings: 672)

Similar to Galadriel, Éowyn is portrayed as a tall woman, wearing a white robe. Once more one can investigate that this robe suggests Éowyn´s innocence, as she has not directly been confronted with evil so far. In this passage not only the colour white stands for the frost that surrounds Éowyn, but also the fact Tolkien uses a simile that compares her to steel which also associated with being cold.

Additionally, the whiteness of her robe also correlates with Éowyn´s emotional state, as she is bitter about the king´s condition and also bitter about being trapped within her duties of being a court lady of Rohan and not having the possibility of being a knight of Rohan because of her gender. This resembles the position many court ladies in the Middle Age.....

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Arwen´s relationship to Aragorn also does not mirror courtly relationships as they were in the Middle Ages, although it features many romantic elements. Their relationship is to some extent to be considered prototypical for courtly love, as this term commonly refers to a romantic relationship between a noble woman and a noble man who is usually a knight. Additionally, the knight in medieval literature goes on a quest in order to please his lady.

In comparison to The Lord of the Rings one can observe a similar pattern, as Aragorn joins the Fellowship of the Ring and goes on a quest to save Middle-earth from destruction and therefore protecting his lady Arwen. The most prominent aspect of their relationship, however, is Arwen sacrificing her immortality for a mortal life out of love, which Enright defines as “a Christ-like choice of taking on mortality out of love” (Enright 2007: 97).

This, on the one hand, marks the culmination of Aragorn´s and Arwen´s relationship and simultaneously deviates from the tradition of courtly love, as sacrifice is scarcely made by women. On the other hand, Arwen´s sacrifice can be interpreted as another criticism by Tolkien of chivalric actions being primarily associated with the male. Applying this criticism to 20th century Britain, facing the Second World War, one has to acknowledge that no women were allowed to participate in fighting either, which is a chivalric action indeed.

Arwen choosing mortality in order to be with her betrothed Aragorn is clearly a chivalric act and is used to break with the conventions imposed by society.

After having defeated the Nazgûl, Éowyn recovers in the Houses of Healing, where she encounters Faramir. Feeling connected to each other due to their similar fate, as Éowyn is not allowed to be a knight of Rohan because of her gender and Faramir is not perceived as a great warrior. Enright suggests that Éowyn does not immediately feel that big an affection towards Faramir, as she still struggles with Aragorn not returning her love. (cf.

Enright 2007: 105) Faramir and Éowyn eventually falling in love, however, illustrates that they have found their connection in being misunderstood by society. Simultaneously, the affection for Faramir disperses Éowyn´s grief and bitterness of either the loss of her king and being trapped in her courtly duties. Their relationship corresponds medieval relationships, depicted in medieval texts, as both Éowyn and Faramir belong to a high social class.


    1. The depiction of women´s power in .....


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Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.” […] Still she did not blench; maiden of the Rohirim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair yet terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outsreched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. (Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings: 1102)

In this passage Éowyn fights the Nazgûl at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, who aims at killing king Théoden. This illustrates her courage, as she is supposedly without a chance against the gigantic Nazgûl and its Dark Rider but still starts fighting them to defend her king. However, Enright argues that Éowyn´s victory over the Nazgûl has not necessarily changed her view on power which is still male-dominated and physically-oriented, as she was only able to join the battle by disguising herself as her alter ego Dernhelm and demonstrated her power by fighting their enemies. (cf.

Enright 2007: 104) This behaviour clearly deviates from the prototypical medieval behaviour of women, emphasised by the fact that without her disguise Éowyn would have never had the opportunity to join the Rohirim. Simultaneously this suggests that it is impossible for women to leave their courtly duties and pursue their aspiration in warfare. Éowyn is only able to escape her duties as maid of Rohan, because she invents her alter ego who is deliberately male and therefore not bound to courtly duties.

Tolmie underlines my assumption by claiming that:

In many contemporary fantasy novels, much as in many medieval sagas and romances, literary heroines remain at their best when rising above external conditions that are against them in gender-based ways. They dress up as men to escape restraints on their freedom, run away from abusive fathers, escape unwanted marriages, avoid, avert or survive rape, or take up arms. (Tolmie. Medievalism and the Fantasy Heroine: 148)

While Éowyn´s power is primarily defined by her physical actions, Enright states that Arwen´s power is conveyed in a more subtle manner, but still present throughout the entire novel. According to her, it is Arwen´s power that inspires most of Aragorn´s actions from afar without having the need of being physically present. (cf. Enright 2007: 97) It is Arwen who continually sends messages and gifts to Aragorn, such as the banner.

In addition, Arwen also begs her father to reforge Narsil, Isildur´s sword, which eventually is give.....

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Galadriel´s biggest power, however, lies in her strong will. This is demonstrated by resisting the temptation of taking the ring from Frodo who offers it to her: “You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel”, said Frodo. “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.” (Tolkien 2004: 775) Instead of taking the ring, and becoming the most powerful character in Middle-earth, she refuses and decides to diminish.

This illustrates Galadriel´s power to withstand the One Ring which has tempted many, regardless Men, Elves or dwarfs:


I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to as what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp.” […] “And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth.

All shall love me and despair.” […] “I pass the test”, she said, “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” (Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings: 776)

This passage emphasises the vision of Galadriel´s future if she would take the One Ring. The Ring would not only make her even more powerful than she already is, but also corrupt her in a certain way. This corruption on the one hand, would provide Galadriel with enormous might but on the other hand change her personality to a considerable extent that she would not “remain Galadriel” (Tolkien 2004: 776)




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In the course of this paper I have discovered that women dominating men results in a lack of romance in their relationships which indicates that courtly love cannot be established if the woman is mightier than the man. Additionally, female power and strength is mostly illustrated by their mental strength, although Éowyn can be seen as an exception to that, as she demonstrates her power and courage both mentally and physically when battling the Nazgûl.

Although there are few female characters in The Lord of the Rings, each woman is of particular importance and shapes the novel´s plot. Having investigated medieval aspects of women, one can say that women in The Lord of the Rings do share certain characteristics with medieval women. However, these similarities are largely limited to physical appearances rather than women´s behaviour or actions within the novel.

Other factors that would be of considerable interest, but would have gone beyond the scope of this paper, would be either the relationship between women and nature and its depiction, as well as female relationships in The Lord of the Rings.

Bibliography


Primary Sources


Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [1954]. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [1954]. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [1954]. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Secondary Sources


Barry, Peter (1995). Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Curry, Patrick (2004). Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

D´Arcens, Louise (2016). The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Enright, Nancy (2007). “Tolkien´s Females and the Defining of Power.” Renascence 59.2: 93-108.

Tolmie, Jane (2006). “Medievalism and the Fantasy Heroine.” Journal of Gender Studies 15.2: 145-157.

Tyler, J. E. A. (2012). The Complete Tolkien Companion [1976]. New York: Dunne.

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