Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What do you fear, my lady?

Current book: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Pages read: 23 - 70

I didn't get that far today for some reason, despite the fact that I read for the same amount of time that I always do. I think it's partly that the beginning of this installment is dragging, but I was also just distracted for no good reason.

So, anyway, as I said at the end of the last book, we're switching back to the other storyline for now. Pippin and Gandalf ride to Minas Tirith to speak with Denethor, the steward of Gondor. What about the king? Well, that'd be Aragorn, technically. It seems that, regardless of the fact that the men of Gondor have been kingless for hundreds of years, they've been content to let the steward rule the place as though he were king. (It's fine; I'm just impressed there hasn't been a coup or something.) Point being, Gandalf and Pippin see Denethor to try to impress on him the importance of men joining together and defending their lands from Sauron. Pippin, after relating the story of Boromir's death, swears an oath of fealty to Denethor by way of payment for Boromir's suicidal defense of the hobbits. Denethor seems odd and a little crazed, and Gandalf seems to mistrust him, but that's really about all we get out of the encounter. It is made clear, as well, that Sauron's force could attack Minas Tirith at any moment.

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Theoden decide to take all of Rohan's forces to help defend Minas Tirith. Merry and Theoden and the Rohirrim head off one way, across the plains, to get to the city, but Aragorn, according to prophecy, must go by way of the Paths of the Dead. The Paths of the Dead are so called because they are haunted by the spirits of band of treacherous warriors who betrayed their oaths of loyalty; it is said that only Isildur's heir (Aragorn) can command them, and that he'll have the power to call them to battle in order to repay their debt of betrayal. Legolas and Gimli decide to go with him, and though Eowyn, Theoden's awesome warrior-woman niece (who's in love with Aragorn), begs to go, Aragorn refuses her. They head into the forbidding, cave-like tunnels.

Like I said, it's dragging a little. There's a lot of standing around and talking about things interspersed with warriors massing for battle. You might be thinking, "Hey, warriors massing for battle is exciting," but you would be wrong. It's sort of like listening to a business meeting, only they use the word valour more.

It's funny to me that Tolkien makes this big point about Eowyn wanting to take part in the battle and being discontent to remain only in the woman's caretaking role, but then he almost completely ignores female characters in the rest of the books. Galadriel is the only one with any substance at all, and everyone else is simply a backdrop to a powerful or interesting male. Even Eowyn is one dimensional and seems constructed to serve a purpose. I'm not saying Tolkien was a misogynist at all - let me be clear - I'm just saying that his big lecture about women being able to fight is undermined by his failure to recognize female characters as worthy of complexity and attention.

Also, there's a part with Pippin in Minas Tirith where he's shown around the place by a 10-year-old boy and they become fast friends. Though they have a bit of an argument at first when the boy assumes that Pippin is a child because of his small stature, it's clear that they get along well afterward. I bring this up because I feel like the treatment of the hobbits as men rather than boys is inconsistent in the novel. Tolkien want to make a big deal out of the halflings being heroes and even, in some cases, respected warriors, but he often shows them acting childishly or submissively to their companions. The fact that Pippin gets along famously with this little boy is one such instance, mostly because their interaction is not presented as an adult/child relationship, but rather as a meeting of equals. Merry fits this pattern, too; when he swears to Theoden to help him defend Minas Tirith, he says that Theoden will be his father. Why do men have a proprietary relationship with hobbits? I hate to go all English major on you, but it seems kind of post-colonialist to me. As I said, the idea of that post-colonialist influence is contradicted by the fact that Frodo carries the Ring and will be the great hero, but somehow there's a sense that men are still inherently greater, inherently more worthy of their own dominance and others' submission than is any other race.


  1. Wait, do you mean colonialist, not post-colonialist? I thought post-anything was basically a critique of whatever -anything is (i.e. post-modernism). So, a novel espousing attitudes of the (evolutionary) superiority of a particular group would be colonialist. Or are you saying Tolkien IS post-colonialist, because he subverts this paradigm by making his hero a member of the "inferior" society/tribe/race/whatever?

    I am decidedly NOT an English major, however, so I defer to you. And I do think it's a good observation. But that's probably just the anthropologist in me rearing her ugly head.

  2. I totally meant colonialist. Sorry.



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