Does Gender Matter?: 5. Does gender matter?

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5. Does gender matter?

I posited my questions to the women writers in the Tolkien fanfiction community precisely because I thought that gender would be a factor in their writing. The responses that I received, however, made me rethink the whole question and the relevancy of it to those women writing Tolkien fanfiction. It is impossible to judge or summarize the Tolkien fanfiction online community as it, as with Internet-based communities in general, is in a constant state of flux. That being stated, my initial reaction to reading fanfiction was, “Where are the explications and ‘what-if’ stories that could be written about the women characters in Tolkien’s world?” It was in slash-centric websites, where male/male couplings and relationships held sway, where I began reading Tolkien fanfiction, and that colored my questions as I posted them to the fanfiction community. I had heard of writers who eliminated women characters, especially within the Third Age time period, in order to better accommodate the male relationships, so I was especially keen to hear from those writers outside of the non-Third Age time period, those who write Silmfic as well as those fanfiction Yahoo.groups which appeared to be more women-character centric, such as Aragorn_Arwen and Éowynfic. Mary Borsellino, who in her story series “Pretty Good Year” focuses on Rosie Cotton/Gamgee as a main character, also replied. Her series posted at her website (listed in the Appendix) is especially of interest in that it now has multiple writers contributing to the serial that she began, making it a shared universe within the fanfiction community. Overall the responses I received were quite varied, and a pattern has been difficult to distinguish.

There are many strong women characters included in Tolkien’s works, though it is acknowledged that there are more in The Silmarillion than in LotR. Éowyn is a shieldmaiden, and yearns for battle, yet after the war of the ring she marries and, it is assumed, retreats to a more conventional domestic life. Arwen’s story of choosing love over immortality is mostly left up to the reader to find in the Appendices. The Lord of the Rings is primarily a story of male friendships and the very real struggle of good against evil, as well as bravery, loyalty, sacrifice, joy, all things present in an epic work. I was curious as to whether or not women writers felt miffed or left out, and if so, would they “correct” the situation in their fanfiction. This has been done by some modern women fantasy writers who grew up reading J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1960’s. In her essay, “Women Fantasists: In the Shadow of the Ring,” Faye Ringel makes reference to this phenomenon:

    “The late twentieth-century writers are unanimous in believing that Tolkien should have swerved from this presumption in his attitude toward women, whether expressed overtly in characters such as Rosie Cotton or Arwen, or implicitly by their absence. They ask: Where are the Dwarf women? Must the Companions of the Ring be male? Gilman [Greer Gilman] notes that from her first reading of LR, she was disappointed in Tolkien’s women, but adds, ‘he’s English- it’s what you have to take.’” (Ringel, 166)

Some writers indicated that they do indeed supplement canon characters with OFCs while other writers had no interest in writing about women characters regardless of whether they were in the stories or not. Others indicated that the characters written by Tolkien were sufficient and they were content to write about them. Once I began receiving replies, I realized that my personal bias was unfortunately implied within some of the questions themselves, due to my enthusiasm and recent exposure to this particular fandom. Below are some responses, affirmative and then negative, to the question “Do you involve Tolkien’s (albeit few) women characters? Why or why not?”

    “I feel that there are enough women characters in Tolkien’s works. Most of them don’t have too much background, so it’s a bit more time-consuming to build a believable backstory for them. I personally tend to write about the characters with more background, just so I can be more sure of not contradicting too much. Still, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales offer plenty of interesting female characters to write about. The only reason I haven’t written much about them is due to lack of time.” Aralanthiriel

    “I like the idea of reading and rewriting the text from a feminist perspective - finding female characters to work with, and writing about their lives. I’ve not really done this as much as other writers have, I think.” Altariel

    “I actually have more fun filling in the gaps around the edges, putting (mostly female) people into places like the Prancing Pony, or the halls of Minas Tirith, or a dockside haven in Pelagir. At the moment, I’m simmering on an AU where the only child of Gilraen and Arathorn turns out to be a girl, rather than a boy.” Meg Thornton

    “I think that there is a need for some balance in the Tolkien Universe. There are many strong male characters, but few main females. And then, they resemble the stereotype of his time, I guess. What I don’t like, I rewrite.” Maram68

    “Why not? To be painfully honest, because the woman characters just don’t interest me to write them. I mean, I like reading about them in the books, and watching them in the movies (although not as much as the men I’m afraid) they do not interest me to write. Honestly I don’t know why. Probably because I’d just much rather think about men. *blush*” Cassia

    “Added to that is the emotional exploration of a male character, which to a female writer is the unfamiliar unexplored territory. It is interesting. In advertising it’s often females who are used because it is assumed that it’s what women want to be and men want to have. In fic women ‘become’ a male character and in slash it’s what the other male characters want. Or I could just be perverted. Maybe its cos female characters by female writers always become Mary Sues.” Alison Geller

    “…on the whole, my writing stays mostly with the male side of things. After all, I cannot completely exclude Arwen or any other female character of the books since they did play some role in the masculine side of life Though my portrayals are strictly as book based as I can get. If Tolkien did not spend hours describing Éowyn’s hair, then why should I?” Bill the Pony

    “I don’t find them as interesting as the interactions between the male characters. The problem is that Tolkien kept them out of the “action” so well, he made it difficult to incorporate them into any reasonable plotline in the story. And he kept them well out of the intense relationships that developed between the major characters. The only possible exception to this is Éowyn, but even when she traveled with them, she was dressed as a boy. This was done to death by Shakespeare, and since I don’t consider myself anywhere NEAR that level, I tend to leave it to the experts.” Anonymous

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Thevina Finduilas

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Other

Genre: Research Article

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/04/04

Original Post: 03/19/03

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