Masculinity in Tolkien

Author: Esteliel

Nominator: elfscribe

2011 Award Category: Non-Fiction: General - Honorable Mention

Story Type: Non-Fiction  ✧  Length: N/A (Non-Fiction or Poetry)

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: Tolkien is often criticized for his simplistic, knight-in-shining-armor heroes. This series of essays argues that heroism and masculinity in Tolkien's works are not premised on this, but on love and loyalty.

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Reviewed by: Oshun  ✧  Score: 10

I am not checking spoilers! I don't believe in spoilers for non-fiction essays. I have delayed reviewing this essay, hoping against hope that I would find a better words to describe the ways in which I appreciate it. I am also rather embarrassed because in another Age and another reincarnation, back in the shadowy mists of my youth, I actually studied this subject matter at the reputable university. Life intervened and I forgot most of what I knew. It has only been for the last few years, that I have somewhat returned to my roots and begun to look at the early history and influences upon some of my favorite literature. Talking about Tolkien and the question of women, gender, and masculinity is one of the non-fiction subjects which pops up in essays with some regularity in the fandom. Not to discourage informal discussion, but these opinions are rarely presented in a serious context, with actual references of a scholarly nature--perhaps the occasional quotation from {The Lord of the Rings} or {The Silmarillion}. In contrast Esteliel presents arguments based in broader thought and research. I find myself checking her work when I am doing my own research to see if she has gone there before me. She is a real resource. Tolkien complained about the lack of a uniquely English mythology and lengendarium. I cannot for the life of me understand why that mattered so much to him. The strength of English literature on a world scale is its incredibly rich influences from so many different areas, from the legendary of Norse folklore, myths passed onto us from Germanic tales, and those inestimable Celtic influences which Tolkien takes so much pains to deny or explain away. I love my native language in part for all of this fantastic adaptation from other places, whether in its vocabulary or its storytelling traditions. This essay is the second of Esteliel's research which she has shared with us. I also refer you to the essay [Exile, Wyrd and the Anglo-Saxon Warrior Ideal in The Wanderer and Tolkien's Quenta Silmarillion] at The Silmarillion Writers Guild. I look forward to more of Esteliel's work in the future. She claims this phase of her studies is behind her; but I for one will not stop asking for more.

Reviewed by: Lyra  ✧  Score: 10

I'm often annoyed by discussions about gender issues in Tolkien's work - not because there isn't plenty to discuss, but because the discussion is generally limited to always the same arguments, and rarely keeps in mind the background not so much of Tolkien's own views, but of the sources that inspired him. (Actually, that is a problem with much of Tolkien criticism, but I digress.) So I enjoyed this essay immensely. Esteliel finally addresses the medieval sources - in this essay, the main focus is on "Beowulf" - that influenced the creation of Middle-earth, and looks at the conventions Tolkien borrowed from them - not because he agreed (I'm pretty sure Tolkien didn't think that what Fëanor and his sons did was all great and noble), but because that was the sort of story he enjoyed, and the sort of code he wanted his characters to follow. Looking beyond Tolkien's fictional work and taking his scholarly writings into account, Esteliel arrives at the conclusion that Tolkien's understanding of genuine heroism was based only on specific elements of that code. Obligations felt out of love and loyalty are key to the heroic deeds as depicted in the "Silmarillion", rather than a mere desire to appear heroic and (for lack of a better word) macho. While this doesn't set the wrongs right, it shows that Tolkien's (male) heroes are not as simplistic as popular opinion often makes them. Unfortunately, this insightful and well-researched study is only the first part of a series, the other parts of which are not yet published. I hope to be able to read more of Esteliel's research, as outlined in the introduction to this essay, soon.

Reviewed by: The Lauderdale  ✧  Score: 8

I was surprised by this essay (the first installment of a series), which examines the code of masculinity in [one of Tolkien's main sources of inspiration, Anglo-Saxon literature]. Whenever someone says that they are going to talk about the Anglo-Saxon influence in Tolkien's universe, my brain immediately does this: "Men, probably Third Age, probably Rohirrim." Esteliel looks at the Germanic "heroic code" and three key features (reciprocal loyalty between retainer and lord, obligation to revenge one's kin and/or lord, and the courage [to win glory in battle, especially when victory is impossible]), but her focus, in this essay at least, is Elves of the First Age, with examples involving Fëanor and Fingolfin, Finrod and the House of Bëor (okay, there are Men there), Finrod and his people, and Fëanor and his father-king. I'm interested to read more in this vein, and curious to see Esteliel's take on how women fit into the paradigm: obviously the focus is [masculinity in Tolkien], but I'm assuming that models of womanhood and femininity must eventually be drawn on to some degree, since it is hard to discuss one gender as such without mention of the other.

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 5

I truly enjoyed this essay! So often we read meta in which Tolkien's view of femininity in Middle-earth (or lack of it)has been discussed. But it is seldom that we see such about the male characters, unless it is to inveigh against their chauvinism. This essay puts the males of Tolkien's Arda-verse into the context of the historical traditions within which JRRT was writing, most especially the literature of the Anglo-Saxons. I remember reading and being highly moved by _The Wanderer_ years ago, but I never realized before just what his solitary state meant. And it is very apt when applied to the various male characters of Arda-verse.

Reviewed by: Himring  ✧  Score: 5

A timely reminder that Tolkien is so steeped in his sources that his attitudes to gender are not simply those of his time or those of his milieu, as is sometimes said, but are layered and complex and influenced by the sources he is drawing on--both in general and during any given passage. Esteliel concentrates on Tolkien's background in Anglo-Saxon literature here, certainly one of of the most important influences--and not only in the case of the Rohirrim, who are most clearly linked to the Anglo-Saxons by their names and their poetry. It is to be hoped that she will post the subsequent chapters of her discussion as well.

Reviewed by: Linda Hoyland  ✧  Score: 3

A fascinating essay showing how Tolkien was influenced by the ethics of the Anglo Saxon heroic ideal in his work. One admires Tolkie's heroes for their loyalty and courage and devotion to each other for precisely these virtues.

Reviewed by: Liadan  ✧  Score: 3

There is more to the world of Tolkien than mere heroic stories and legends. This essay helps the reader to better understand the medieval society which forms the basis for heroic legends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much information about that society has been lost and misunderstood by succeeding generations.