fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

Tolkien meta-ish on Tumblr

Remember that long post I wrote a few weeks back about whether Tolkien was sexist? It was reblogged again to a popular Tumblr site and is attracting some more reactions. I really do appreciate the attention, but I wonder why this post of all things has to keep finding the spotlight when I've spent a lot of the last two weeks trying to give it more of a structure and a definite thesis.

Anyway, someone challenged my statement that people dismissing Tolkien's books as sexist did so at their own peril. So I talked a bit more about what I was trying to get at with the original piece, the ways in which I think Tolkien probably was sexist, and why I still think he offers some great role-models for girls - I certainly found better "strong female characters" (of all stripes) than I have in stories with better gender ratios and more central women characters. There are women waving swords and sewing standards, and in some cases even women that you have to really know what you're looking for to even tell them apart from the men.

As I said, I'm working on a revision and it's not ready by a long shot. At this rate, may never be. (Though I hope to get it done!) In the meantime, though, if you want to read my latest thoughts on this issue, here it is.

Also, did I ever mention my own history reading Tolkien around here? I didn't finish LOTR until the movies came out, specifically when I was laid up with a hurt ankle the spring after TTT was released. But I'd actually picked it up off my grandmum's book shelf at the age of twelve or so but due to some parental nudging never made it past the... Anduin chapters, I think? Not that I was forbidden, but I got weighed down in those chapters and then distracted by what I'm now sure was a strategic gift of Little Women. Ironic, that - I'm sure it seemed a safe "girls'" book, but if my mum was concerned with my tomboyish tendencies she couldn't have done worse than introduce me to Jo March. (And yes, I do conveniently ignore the last few chapters - having Jo marry Professor Baehr felt like selling out to me. Anne of Avonlea wasn't much better, and if the fact that "The Wizard of Oz" focuses on a girl is supposed to be helpful, the fact that she has adventures exactly like in the other books I read wasn't exactly drawing the parallel I'm sure was intended. Narnia bored me to tears, and I was always much more impressed by the fact that a female character didn't have to be good or pure to be interesting than I ever was by Susan and Lucy. And then I found Holmes and Watson and saw that a story could could thrill and involve me even when there wasn't a worthwhile female character to be seen - which only meant (to me) that there was more to me that I brought to stories than my gender. And it took me nearly a decade before I finally properly discovered Middle-earth. And really, the less said about Katniss, Hermione and most women who have graced the covers of Star Trek novels, the better for my poor mum's "wisdom" at encouraging me to read the right kinds of books.

Aside from a bit of biography that I personally think some of you might find interesting, I was reminded of all this because it shows (at least to me) that there's no such thing as a "safe" or "helpful" role model in fiction, when it comes to gender. Things are almost always imperfect, and so much more complicated than whether the character or book is sexist or not, because we readers are complicated, messy beings. Or at least I am.
Tags: sexism, tolkien
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