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30 June 2009 @ 03:18 pm
The Problem of Ancalimë  
My brother and I have been spending the past few days re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Which is an interesting experience in and of itself, surprisingly lacking in recriminations against Peter Jackson (excepting the elves at HD scene, which was totally unacceptable, especially when the sons of Elrond and the Dunedain could have easily been used for the same role and been far less thematically damaging), constant digressions about how frakking awesome Galadriel was (House of Finwë FTFW), giddy fangirlism of Glorfindel, an impromptu romp through the HoMe series, and finally, sad nostalgia during every battle scene considering how much more epic everything in the First Age must’ve been. And yes, every ridiculous stunt Legolas pulls in the movie just goes to show how much more awe-inspiring Maedhros et al had to have been.

Anyway. This re-watching made me remember just how influential a fandom everything Tolkien related had been to me, and left me rethinking some of the conclusions I had come to concerning it. So what follows is, in short, a look at the gender issues involved in parts of the story (especially where the Eldar are decidedly not consistent), what exactly is going on with the Númenorean Kings (yes, this is me discussing – and perhaps appreciating even above the Noldor – the Edain; shocking, but true), and recasting my opinion of Lúthien Tinúviel in light of some of what is written in the tale of Aldarion and Erendis.

I’ll start with Arwen, because as often is the case, she’s where my feminist digressions begin. For those of you with whom I haven’t discussed Tolkien for about half a dozen years, I’ll explain my problems with her, with the comparison between her and Luthien, and with the discrepancies between book and movieverse!Arwen. The final point is probably where I most differ from other purists. Though I probably don’t even begin to qualify as a purist, shut up.

When I first read the book, I missed Arwen. Literally. When she shows up at the end to marry Aragorn, I’m wondering where the frak this relationship came from, because I sure as hell didn’t see it. Some of that is probably my old high school inattentiveness, but still, her complete passiveness in the book really bothers me.

Thematically, I understand it. The Eldar are leaving Middle-earth; they are intentionally portrayed as no longer having much of any agency outside of giving counsel; Legolas was therefore the least effective of the Walkers, etc. So it follows that Arwen sit out the war – the feminine passive, as opposed to Eówyn’s feminine active like whoa – with the rest of her people, since she herself is still an Elf. Sort of.

Still, I don’t like it. At all. I don’t like it because of the constant favourable comparison between Arwen and Luthien. Arwen is not Luthien. Arwen is nothing like Luthien. Luthien would never have simply stood aside while Beren strove to prove himself to Thingol. Luthien was agency incarnate… she forged her own destiny, challenged every rule, every law, every source of authority, every step of the way. She made Mandos listen to her; she made Morgoth listen to her. She almost single-handedly succeeded where every Eldarin man had failed. (Yes, Beren gets credit as well, but the point is that he here occupies the supportive, secondary role more commonly associated with the heroine. Role reversal FTW.)

It is this, and not her beauty or her ultimate fate, that makes Luthien such a compelling character, I believe.

Arwen is… not Luthien. Not unless we are truly expected to believe that the most important thing about Luthien, the one thing that needs to be reproduced to be able to make that comparison, is the beauty and perhaps a sort of quiet courage.

So for this reason, I actually prefer movie!Arwen (in FotR, at least), who despite all problems in the character, actually has a character, and one that one might begin to compare to Luthien.

So I turn from this character to Galadriel High Queen of the Noldor of Lothlorién, who, in her uncanny, ambitious, and wise beyond words glory, is probably my… fifth? favourite character in the Ardaverse.

And now, looking at this character, I start having serious issues with Tolkien.

Morgoth’s Ring. Laws and Customs of the Eldar. I’m not going to do direct quotes, because all I had with me at the moment is UT, which is where I ultimately want to end up with this post, but. But. The Eldar, male and female, are supposed be roughly equal in all things – granted, males favour some activities, and females other, but they are stressed to be valued equally. Why, therefore, the obvious patriarchy?

House of Finwë.

In versions where Gil-Galad is the son of Fingon, I can accept the way in which the High Kingship is passed down, minus the bit of weirdness of Turgon taking the throne for a bit. However, where Gil-Galad is Orodreth’s son, I cease to understand. Fingon leaves no heir; why does the High Kingship not pass to Idril’s descendents (unless the human blood is a problem), and thus remain within the House of Fingolfin, rather than skipping to the House of Finarfin? In any event, why the hell doesn’t Galadriel get the crown after Gil-Galad’s death, seeing as how she is every bit as much a member of the House of Finwë as any of her uncles, cousins, or brothers, and likely a more capable leader than all but… two? three? of them (Finrod certainly, I'd argue Maedhros, possibly Turgon, and I laugh at just about all of the others).

It bothers me, particularly because Tolkien comes right out and tries to claim that gender equality is a given among the Eldar.

Thinking on this always makes me think more favourably of Númenor, so I went back the other day to check out everything available on the Numenorean Queens – all two and a half of them – and rediscovered a couple characters I’d overlooked.

Tar-Ancalimë FTFW.

Actually, to be honest, she’s kind of scary. She’s kind of incredibly scary, and I still haven’t decided exactly what to make of it. Ancalimë, first Queen of Númenor, is presented as a child of a broken marriage who, through her own contrariness, manages to undo a lot of the work her father had done. I love the touch of feminist critique that Tolkien brings to his own works concerning Erendis and Ancalimë, but there are elements in it that are extremely disturbing.

My biggest criticism of the Silmarillion (wives of the sons of Fëanor, where, much less who, are you?), voiced by Erendis, and thus Tolkien:

“Thus it is, Ancalimë, and we cannot alter it. For men fashioned Númenor: men, those heroes of old that they sing of – of their women, we hear less, save that they wept when their men were slain” (UT 207). She says more, of course, but this is what jumped out at me most, not simply because it’s so true, but because it has made me recast my criticism of Luthien Tinuviel. But more on that later.

Why is this troubling to me? Because right here is as honest, painful a criticism as can be made, and I look at the characters who are making it, and I wonder exactly what is intended to be read from this. Erendis and Ancalimë are both powerful women deeply – fatally, in Erendis’ case, and in more ways than one – wounded by the patriarchal society in which they live. A patriarchy so pervasive that the original rule concerning women inheriting the sceptre was that if they did not marry by a certain time, they would have to step down. And they don’t overcome it. At all. Erendis self-destructs, and Ancalimë, now distrustful of all men because of her mother's influence, strikes out at everyone around her, going so far as to deny her women and then her granddaughters the right to marry. Pursuing her own incredibly dysfunctional marriage, seemingly out of spite.

So there you have it – the old stereotype of the raging misandrist feminist who is more an object of scorn than anything else. Am I supposed to be sympathizing with such a character (I do regardless, obviously, as I do with the House of Fëanor), and in the midst of such rabid hatred, how now might one interpret Erendis’ criticism of the stories of the heroes of old? Is it meant to be just another example, like so much else in the story, of a woman blinded by hatred and rather insane, or… a legitimate criticism?

It is a legitimate criticism, nonetheless; I’m simply not certain that Tolkien himself intended it is much, and it does seem somewhat problematic that it would be brought up in such an ambiguous light.

Oddly enough, I’d never actually taken this criticism into account when I tried to decide how I felt about Lúthien (as it is, I vacillate without warning between adoration and rage). On one hand, all of the old fairytale tropes are shattered in her story. The Princess rescues the Hero from the Monster, first and foremost. The Hero then attempts to dissuade her from his Quest, and fails. Quite miserably. Under her power more than anything else, they then manage to accomplish more than any Elvish male ever has before well, Maedhros managed to get into Angband, but I don’t think that counts, and then the ultimate choice falls to her and her alone: Valinor or mortality.

(To be completely honest, yes, there is a large degree of idealization going on in the character, but this is an epic mythology of a higher age. She is no more idolized than any of the Noldorin Kings, and considering her self-destructive obsessive tendencies, hardly more perfect than some of them.)

On the other hand, here we have the most powerful living weapon the Eldar have, and she sits out of the entirety of the First Age until one mortal man arrives, and then, as if her agency is tied entirely to his being, she becomes active. And then, after he fades from the story, she does as well, as if the only thing that ever mattered with the character was how she related to her spouse.

This is a flaw. This is an enormous flaw, but one of the story, not the character, I’ve come to decide.

From an in story perspective (from an out of story one, the culprit is clearly the gender problems of the time period and the teachings of the Catholic Church), this is… exactly what Erendis says it is. It is story told by men, recounted, possibly orally, over generations by Eldarin and then mortal men, because women are by and large not the tellers of tales. Even among the Noldor, the women love histories, as is told in L&C, but it is the men who are the chief poets, and thus it is their stories that get passed down and then subtly perverted by mortals.

I’m uncertain as to why I never before considered the absence of a voice and inability to tell one’s own tale in Lúthien’s case, since I’ve attributed it to the Fëanorian legacy many times (those who have survived to tell the tale are largely those who would have no incentive to be remotely sympathetic to the circumstances of the House of Fëanor, considering which… his eldest sons come off surprisingly well), and thus wondered just what was left out in the retelling.

In Lúthien’s case, everything apart from her tragedy, I would imagine, which does not necessarily mean that she was sitting idly in Doriath, awaiting her Destiny, but that, as Erendis says, “of their women we hear less, save that they wept when their men were slain.”

TL;DR: Lúthien’s hard-core awesome and I’ve finally decided I love her, though the Fëanorions (and Finarfinions and Finarfiniel) still come first.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Rhaella: Artanis Nerwen Arafinwielrhaella on August 10th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: And Part II
Your problems with Arwen make a lot of sense, actually. I can see it better than the normal rant I see about movie!Arwen, i.e., she stole Glorfindel’s role, which annoys me, because as much as I like Glorfindel I don’t see it as a problem per se. But yeah, that whole tied in with the Ring’s fate, etc. etc., made no sense at all and I try to ignore it. But really, the RotK movie bothers me in general, because there’s so much in it that makes no sense or is blatantly inaccurate, and the Extended Edition is even worse. Gandalf – the bloody favourite of Varda and Nienna – being overcome by the Witch-king? No, that’s never going to happen. And then putting in Aragorn’s Palantír scene just so we can see him fail? Yeah, you’re missing the point there too.

As far as agency goes, I really don’t remember Legolas being overly effective in the books. I think Elladan and Elrohir might have been more so, actually, which fits in with the whole Peredhil thing. I mean, Glorfindel’s much more effective as well when he shows up, but I think born-again Balrog slayers have the right to whatever agency they want to show, fading be damned.

The weird thing about considering the male line the only one that counts, I’d say, is Maeglin’s reaction to Idril, because I get the impression that he saw her as, among other things, Turgon’s heir. Not that she could rule herself, because I think we’re led to believe that Eärendil did afterwards for the people of Sirion, just like Dior did in Doriath (though Lúthien had an excuse not to be around, of course). I actually wouldn’t fully discount the possibility that Elrond was disqualified because of human blood, because it’s possible that the Noldor in exile would have reworked some of the rules of inheritance. Actually, it’s also slightly possible that away from the peace, stability, and enlightenment of Aman, they would have become more chauvinistic in their ways, because I think what little we know of someone like Nerdanel is actually kind of encouraging.

Idril… well, I think she shows a good deal more agency than poor Helen ever did, because she was concerned, capable, and foresighted enough to actually make an escape route in complete secrecy and help with the evacuation of Gondolin, which puts her head and shoulders above Helen. The Tuor/Idril thing weirds me out a bit, because I don’t remember it ever coming right out and saying that she loved him back, so she does feel a little bit like a trophy to me all the same, though I doubt she’d have agreed if she didn’t really want to (but then there was Aredhel, so who can say). As far as Maeglin goes, that’s one of those cases where I do not trust the story at all, because who can say what Morgoth may or may not have done to him in Angband, and the whole thing just feels like more propaganda.

Oh, Aredhel. It’s interesting, because she shows so much agency – leaving Gondolin, snapping at her brother when he tells her whom she can and cannot visit, wandering around by herself through fairly dangerous terrain, and being friendly with the Fëanorions says quite a bit in and of itself, because you can’t exactly be a pushover and get along with them. And then… completely dominated by Eöl. As much as I’m troubled by the fact that she married him, since when it comes to willingness, this is another case where I don’t quite trust the text, what bothers me most is how much he dictated her life afterwards, because… what? You can tell your brother off for commanding you, but your husband has that right?

Galadriel’s Silmarillion would be v. interesting, I am sure.