Someone requested during the livestream for a Hurin and Morwen so I drew them UuU.
- Hurin and Morwen
- Túrin babysitting Lalaith
- Melian and Túrin
This is a really interesting question! I have a lot of thoughts about this but I’m not going to pretend that they’re very canonically grounded.
So first off, Tolkien almost certainly intended both the Elves and the Ainur to, being the spiritual superiors of Men, be more likely to behave rightly and to innately have instincts for right behavior. Which meant to him to abide closely by early-20th-century conservative Christian values. One of those is the existence of innate differences between men and women (still a feature of conservative Christianity today); as a result, I think Tolkien would have indeed imagined the Valar had innately male or female natures, and that those with female natures preferred traditionally (that is, 20th-century-conservative-Christian) female roles. So, likely few women among the umaiar in the War of Wrath, and likely he would have imagined that they preferred to be healers.
But who needs Tolkien? Personally, my headcanon for the Valar is that most of their early actions are guided by their fragmented glimpse of the world Eru’s song created. They remember a lot of essential features of what it was supposed to look like (the general form of the Children, the ecology, the various human arts and disciplines) but are missing a lot of other ones (the Sun and Moon, the fact the world is spherical, Melkor’s proper role, the future of human potential). It might be hard to imagine that someone would have noticed enough to create grass and trees and living beings, but not have noticed that the world is round or that its major light source is the Sun. But imagine getting a cross-section of ALL INFORMATION about Earth’s geology, ecology, atmosphere, human cultures, and magic in one brief moment, and then having Eru dismiss it and say ‘go build that’. They can be excused for missing the forest for the Trees.
What does this all have to do with gender roles? Stick with me.
headcanon: most of the Valar’s decision making is collective, not in the sense that they all discuss it and then vote but in the sense that they actually just let their thoughts and impulses mingle.
The bodies are a thing they do to be more accessible to the Incarnates, not actually their preferred way of conceptualizing themselves, and they vary widely in the degree to which they actually have a sense of self in the first place (and the sense of self is also highly fluid in the ones who have one).
They would be very hard-pressed to tell you who said what when they’re conferring over something (it wouldn’t even seem like a meaningful question; imagine asking yourself which part of your brain your most recent decision came from). And the transcripts of their discussions are simplified for the sake of the Eldar, with each line of thought or inquiry ‘assigned’ to the Vala whose nature best embodies it. (So, like, enthusiasm for the Eldar will be explained to them as something Aule ‘said’ in discussions, because he most embodies it; pity for the suffering of the world will be transcribed as something Nienna said because that’s her part in things).
The Vanyar, being close to the Valar, mostly get this and therefore think that condemning any Vala on the basis of something they are transcribed as having ‘said’ in a discussion makes no sense at all
The Noldor were never told this and as a result, whenever a particularly awful/objectionable attitude is attributed to one particular Vala, tend to turn cold on him/her.
The Valar notice this and think that the Noldor are petty and intellectually immature, trying to play their favorite lines in the song REALLY LOUD instead of figuring out how the pieces work together.
The Noldor think that the Valar have free license to say awful things and make awful decisions and then explain them away with ‘we don’t process the world like you, your objection literally makes no sense’.
This is a recipe for a problem.
So I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I think it’s a lot more subtle than I first realised. I love personal relationships between elves and secondborn, a lot. But political relationships between the races? I mostly don’t love.
I think there’s a lot to talk about, and a lot of it’s theory and guesswork. But some of the Edain chose to live in close proximity to elves, and call them Lords. Some chose not to. There was a choice, because nobody forced the House of Haleth to call any elf their Lord, or live in any land they didn’t choose.
But all their choices had consequences.
In part one, I want to talk about the problems facing the Edain when they first arrive in Beleriand, how the relationships with the Green Elves, Sindar and Noldor start off, and the immediate problems when they try to relate to cultures so unlike themselves. In part 2, I’ll move onto the different decisions different groups of Edain make in light of these issues, and the pros and cons of each.
On the question of what the Eldar could have done to prevent an unintentionally coercive and talent-sucking and culture-overwriting dynamic (I hope that’s not too harsh; I think you did a good job of emphasizing that it truly was unintentional):
Recognize the encampment in Estolad as an independent peoples with a governance structure, and negotiate trade with their council of leaders.
I assume that diplomatic plans for encountering new people already existed, based on Angrod’s diplomatic expedition to Thingol and the presumed emissaries that stabilize Noldor relations with Belegost and Nogrod. Partially because the Men are so scattered (and because I don’t think the Elves perceive Men as having a culture that could be destroyed in the first place) no one ever seems to conceive of them as another nation with whom contact could proceed through diplomatic channels.
Would this solve all the problems you identified? Of course not. But I think that starting off on this better footing would really have made a substantial difference. The Men wouldn’t so quickly internalize that civilization and opportunity meant leaving Estolad, since there’d be more economic and diplomatic and military opportunities that didn’t require leaving there. Elven racism is remarkably resilient, but it would have been less overt if they were dealing with representatives of another nation, one recognized by their own government. It could also have given the Men leverage to get a better resettlement deal (I don’t get the sense they chose Ladros; I get the sense they chose to serve the Arafinweans and were then told that meant Ladros).
So yeah. It’s a tough situation, but one the Elves could have made significantly less coercive just by treating the arriving Men the way they’d treat contact with another group of Elves. :(
The next time I hear someone say ‘Elrond should have thrown Isildur into Mount Doom!’ I will throw someone into Mount Doom, and it won’t be Isildur.
Well. Not really. Actually, I understand why the argument keeps coming up and I understand why the stance is appealing. Sauron’s evil in every conceivable sense, and the power the One Ring gave him made him nigh-unstoppable. The Elves knew that the situation was bad enough that their Three rings had to be protected at all costs. If there was even a chance the ring would do exactly what it did do – bring Sauron back – then even significant loss of life would be worth it to ensure that never happened. How many tens or hundreds of thousands died in the war of the Last Alliance? How many more died in the fall of Eregion, or in the destruction of Númenor? What is one man, no matter how heroic and noble a man, compared to that?
(Here is a hint to the answer. If the Ring is in the immediate vicinity, and you start thinking that you should commit an act of violence toward the Ring’s owner for the greater good of the world, that is a terrible instinct and you should not trust it.)
Something that inevitably comes up in conversations about female character representation is the fact, that, given two minor characters with only bit parts in a work, the male minor character is likelier to acquire an enthusiastic fanbase while the female character gets ignored.
Or if there are shallow, badly-written male and female characters, fans will often contentedly ret-con the male character to build someone more interesting, while saying ‘I don’t care about [female character], she’s shallow and badly-written’.
Both of these are things that happen; in the statistical aggregate, you can pick up a pronounced tendency to develop male characters more. Some of the reason is certainly internalized misogyny.
But lately I’ve seen people claim that the only conceivable reason this happens is internalized misogyny. Posts have circulated saying things like ‘okay, if you want you can go around adoring male characters while saying you just don’t find female characters interesting. But at least be honest that your reason is internalized misogyny.’
And, wow, no. “In the statistical aggregate, fandom focuses on male characters probably because of our sexist society” is completely true. ‘You, personally, random fan who happens to care a lot about a male character, need to admit that it’s because of internalized misogyny’ is not only way out of line but also false.
Thank you, anon! And the megafic is happening… at least, the first ten chapters are written and I”m feeling pretty good about my ability to stick with this one.
…this is also happening. :) And the Nolofinweans and Arafinweans are crossing the Helcaraxe to end up at the Wall, and there are going to be well more than five Kings vying for Westeros, and I have two authors with impressive body counts to rival.
The one thing I am not sure about is whether I’ll post it all on tumblr… it’s not the best format for longfic. If I switch to A03 I’ll let you know.
a while ago, an anon asked me for an interaction between the Kinslayers and the Kingslayer. So, um, if you’ve ever wondered ‘what if the Valar decided to boot the rebel Elves out of Arda entirely? What if they showed up on the shoreline of the wrong continent?’, which you probably have not, or if you’ve ever wondered ‘could Tolkien’s Elves take the White Walkers in a fight’, which you might have, here are the first two chapters of the epic fantasy crossover that will answer that question.
Chapter 1: CARANTHIR
The sea was misleadingly calm when they left Araman. The winds were in their favor. His father’s eyes were exhilarated. Their followers huddled below decks, reliving trauma or shutting it out or perhaps worrying about those who’d been left behind. But after a few hours they crept up to the decks, too, relaxing infinitesimally, straining their eyes for a glimpse of the distant shore.
It was a clear night; the stars were shining. This far north they were unfamiliar.
The wind carried angry cries and outraged shouting from the rapidly receding shore. Carnistir felt himself smiling. You wish we’d never stolen these ships, Nolofinwë? Wish granted. See how well you do without them.
It was a bitter and not especially satisfying thought. Everyone wished they hadn’t stolen the ships, even the people now clinging white-knuckled to the railings.
The winds were picking up; abruptly irritable, he shooed his charges back below the decks. Amateurs in stolen boats crossing an ocean, and they were treating it like a sightseeing expedition. It would have been more forgiveable if there’d been anything to see. But clouds had stolen in to cover the stars, and even eyes born to Cuivienen could hardly pick out the coastline now.
Not that his crew seemed to realize that.
“There’s a storm moving in,” he hissed at Risilyon, “don’t you have a job to do?”
“Can’t be,” his hastily-appointed captain said, “a minute ago it was smooth as glass-” And then, wheeling wildly to watch the clouds, “Manwë.”
It was not a prayer.
A while ago I read a conversation about Túrin’s decisionmaking. The forum consensus was that Túrin was too hot-headed and things would have worked out better if he’d just been more level-headed and reasonable.
(I am always really sad to stumble across these discussions months after they happened; I seem to come up with the best things to say when my interlocutors haven’t existed since 2002.)
Saith one poster:
Your comment made me wonder how Turin’s life would have turned out if he were a male Morwen: cold, calculating, reserved. He wouldn’t have made the hot-headed decisions that upset his life. But maybe the curse would have worked on him anyway, and cold calculators can make mistakes too.
To which someone replied
Hmmm…I think if Turin were less ‘human’ and less flawed and reactionary (like the summation of all of us) his tale would have been very different…
It’s not really my intent to criticize either of the posters here, but I think that word choice is really, really telling.
a male Morwen: cold, calculating, reserved
and the other poster runs with the idea, agreeing: if Turin were less ‘human’
Yeah, let’s talk about that.
At first I was confused by this, because I feel like I’m very obvious on my Fëanor-opinions. Then I remembered that I’m never as clear as I think I am and a lot of things which are obvious to me aren’t obvious to my readers. Then I started writing this up and realized that in fact my thoughts here are absurdly complicated. Which is probably why they don’t come across as obvious at all.
Anyway, how do I really feel about Fëanor?
Oh, believe me that there is female character hate. That stretches from OFCs like Tauriel to Arwen and Celebrían, there has been hate for Galadriel, Lúthien of course is a horrible Mary Sue and a thief and ungrateful for not loving Daeron, Indis is a slut and a homewrecker (who also bewitched Finwë with her evil song-magic), Míriel a horrible mother, Morwen is a cold bitch, Melian bewitched Thingol with her evil song-magic, Finduilas is horrible for falling in love with Túrin and out of love with Gwindor, Idril should have taken pity on Maeglin, Elwing is the worst of the worstest worst and of course completely at fault for Sirion and oh, she abandoned the sons she thought were dead, what a horrible person. Oh, yeah, and Aredhel “asked for it”, on top of her horrible taste in men causing the Fall of Gondolin.
I think it’s really important not to conflate ‘the description of Melian’s enchantment of Thingol sounds dub-con-ish’ with ‘everything is the women’s fault let’s blame it all on them’
because there’s absolutely a trend in fandom to pin the behavior of men (or, at least, some share of the blame for that behavior) on the women around them, and that’s gross and rightfully being called out
but in my experience, people who’ve expressed discomfort with Melian’s meeting with Thingol in Nan Elmoth, or people who’ve tried to start a conversation about their relationship and how it subverts or plays into the ‘seductive faerie/goddess’ tropes common in mythology, and who point out that all those tropes play pretty fast and loose with consent, are not at all the same people who are bashing female characters for the actions of the men around them, and it’s pretty upsetting for me to see the first group of people thrown under the bus.
similarly, people who take issue with Galadriel’s taking command of the Silvan Elves because she believed they ‘needed a ruler of greater strength and wisdom than they possessed’, and who connect that comment with the long-running colonialism in intra-Elven dynamics, are not at all the same people who use slurs to dismiss female characters.
criticizing characters for things their husbands or sons do is not okay
criticizing characters on gendered terms (bitch, slut, homewrecker, bad mother, should have given him a chance) is not okay
criticizing characters for their own choices and actions is really important
sweeping both types of critique into one lump of ‘here are all the fucked up things the fandom says about women’ is really really not something I’m comfortable with
I’ve gotten a bunch of ASOIAF anons lately. I’ve also nearly finished the (very long, and likely to be published in parts) ASOIAF/Silmarilllion crossover. Those of you disinterested in all of that can blacklist #a song of elves and fire.
Túrin or Theon? (Interpret how you wish.)
Who would win in in a fight?
Who would I rather hang out with?
Túrin, even though everyone who becomes friends with Túrin tends to die.
Who would I want to meet my parents?
…um, Túrin, even with the curse.
Who do I like better?
This little impromptu questionnaire is turning into a Theon-bashing exercise, and that wasn’t my intent. I have a lot of sympathy for his situation and I was impressed with how well GRRM executed his character arc.
But Túrin is just one of my all-time favorite characters. There’s just a particular combination of traits I find utterly irresistible in fictional people (I think I’ve called the type reckless pragmatic idealists) and he exemplifies it. He’s passionate and straightforward and while he makes a lot of bad choices I don’t think he ever makes cynical ones. Add that his character description has a bunch of traits I identify with - flat affect, intense-but-unusually-displayed empathy, dislike for authority, relentless self-expectations that are easily mistaken for overconfidence - and you’d have a hard time designing a character I liked better. This really isn’t a fair fight.
Who has the best sister?
Túrin ,probably. I like Asha a lot, but I believe Nienor is one of the most underrated characters in fiction. Her conversation with Glaurung is one of the (many) scenes in the Silmarillion that reliably leaves me rocking back and forth with sheer glee.
Who is best at flirting with his sister?
…actually, anon, let’s leave it there.
In the original edition of The Lord of the Rings Bilbo gave
to Frodo at Rivendell as his parting gift ‘some books of lore that he had made at various times, written in his spidery hand, and labelled on their red backs: Translations from the Elvish, by B.B.’ In the second edition (1966) ‘some books’ was changed to ‘three books’, and in the Note on the Shire Records added to the Prologue in that edition my father said that the content of ‘the three large volumes bound in red leather’ was preserved in that copy of the Red Book of West- march which was made in Gondor by the King’s Writer Fin- degil in the year 172 of the Fourth Age; and also that
These three volumes were found to be a work of great skill and learning in which… [Bilbo] had used all the sources available to him in Rivendell, both living and written. But since they were little used by Frodo, being almost entirely concerned with the Elder Days, no more is said of them here.
In The Complete Guide to Middle-earth Robert Foster says: ‘Quenta Silmarillion was no doubt one of Bilbo’s Translations from the Elvish preserved in the Red Book of West- march.’ So also I have assumed: the ‘books of lore’ that Bilbo gave to Frodo provided in the end the solution: they were ‘The Silmarillion’.
The Red Book of Westmarch, of course, is the supposed in-universe source of the tale of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. A copy was made by Pippen and kept in the Shire; Tolkien writes that he found it and translated it into the narratives he published.
(There’s a pleasantly surprising amount of scholarly discussion of the Red Book of Westmarch and Tolkien’s in-universe narrator conceit; I’m not the only one who can expound on that topic forever. I recommend Richard West’s ‘The Interlace Structure of Lord of the Rings’ in particular.)