Unfinished Tales, Unanswered Questions

“‘Mercy!’ cried Gandalf. ‘If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?

‘The names of all the stars, and of all living things, and the whole history of Middle-earth and Over-heaven and of the Sundering Seas’, laughed Pippin. ‘Of course! What less?'”

– “The Two Towers”

Before I get on to the main topic of tonight’s post, I’m sure it’s not got unnoticed that JK Rowling’s seismic revelations regarding Ron and Hermione produced a small aftershock in Middle-earth, when it emerged that WH Auden criticised the Aragorn-Arwen romance (such as it is) in “The Return of the King”. (If anybody hasn’t seen it, the Guardian covers the story here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/11/jrr-tolkien-advised-wh-auden-lord-of-the-rings. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Silmarillion references on the comments page of an article published by a major mainstream newspaper!)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that Arwen is far from my favourite female character in Tolkien, and that in many ways I think Jackson and company did the right thing in bringing her more into the foreground (though I could have done without the whole “Arwen’s life force is now tied to the ring” complication. What was that about, anyway?) In the books, the fact that she’s such a fleeting, barely-registered presence in the Rivendell chapters only to show up again at the end can make the story of her and Aragorn feel rather like an afterthought, particularly for anybody whose copy of the books doesn’t include the Appendices (or who doesn’t read them). However, I think that quite aside from the merits of the “Tale of Aragorn and Arwen” itself (which I personally think is quite poignant), the inclusion of his marriage to Arwen provides us with a degree of certainty that the succession is assured, and that Aragorn won’t be hailed as the returning king only to fail to reproduce and then become the last king. But that’s just my opinion. What does anybody else think?

Now for something completely different! Spending a fair bit of my free time delving into a mythology as deep and complex as that created by Tolkien gives me a great deal to think about, and raises as many questions as it answers. Thanks to the expansive and incomplete nature of the legendarium, quite a few of these can’t be answered. Leaving aside questions about the wingedness of Balrogs (they aren’t) and the identity of Mr. T. Bombadil Esq. (I don’t care), here are a few questions I’ve been mulling over lately. (Looking back over them, it really stands out to me how Silmarillion/First Age-centric I’ve become of late! Oh well…)

1) If Orcs originate from captured and corrupted Elves, are they immortal? Do they go to the Halls of Mandos? If yes and yes, do they stand a chance of being redeemed and released from the Halls? (Okay, that’s multiple questions. But as cans of worms go, the whole issue of the Orcs, their origins, their relationship to the Elves and their potential redeemability fascinates me)

2) We know from the cases of Glorfindel and Finrod Felagund that Elves can be released from the Halls of Mandos into Valinor. What about those Moriquendi who die – are they also compelled to remain in Valinor? How do they feel about that, given their attachment to Middle-earth and their reluctance to go to Valinor in the first place? (I can’t see Eol, for example, taking it lying down – though he’s surely pretty low down the list of people slated for release).

3) What was the political situation amongst the Noldor once the Exiles started to return (and others began to be released from the Halls)? Having Finarfin in charge of the rump of the Noldor when there were only a handful of them left in Valinor made sense – but by the end of the Third Age, I’m assuming that more of the Exiles were starting to reappear one way or the other. In addition to that, you have Sindarin and Silvan elves making an appearance, who were not previously present in Valinor but would presumably be reluctant to live under the authority of any of the existing rulers. Does each group therefore go off on its own to live as it sees fit, under the auspices of the Valar (and probably of Ingwe, snore…)?

How this would work, and how the different cultures would relate to one another (in addition to the differences between Noldor, Sindar, Silvan etc. you also have the distinctions between different groups of Noldor after so long apart – I always felt that the Gondolindhrim, for example, had quite a distinctive culture) is really fascinating to me. If somebody wants to write a hugely ambitious fanfiction exploring all these issues – maybe with Galadriel seeking to find her place once she returns – then I promise I will be your most attentive reader!

4) Sort of related to the last two questions – how did the Sindar and the rest of the Moriquendi feel about the Noldor dividing up the continent of Beleriand amongst themselves, and later about people like Galadriel setting up realms in Middle-earth proper? We get hints of this with characters like Thingol, Eol and Nimrodel, but more information would be great.

5) Dior Halfelven (son of Beren and Luthien) and his children – are they mortal or not? Elwing obviously chooses to be immortal once she’s given the choice later on, but to my mind it makes no sense for Dior to have been born immortal given that his parents were both mortal at the time of his birth. Obviously this is a fairly minor question, but for some reason it’s always bugged me!

6) I’ve mentioned this one on the blog before – why was the Numenorean tradition of the eldest child of the previous monarch inheriting the sceptre regardless of gender not carried across to Gondor and Arnor? The custom doesn’t appear to have been particularly controversial in Numenor, and the line of Elendil traced its claim to the throne back to a woman (Silmarien). It seems extremely odd for them not only to have abandoned the rule of succession by the eldest child, but also to have apparently adopted a form of Salic law whereby women are forbidden to succeed to the throne outright (there was not a single ruling Queen of Gondor or Arnor, after all).

So, those are my questions. Does anybody have any more?


Crossovers, slash and Mary Sue

Earlier in the week, I really enjoyed this BBC radio documentary on the weird and wonderful world of fanfiction, presented by novelist Naomi Alderman: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p0bmx

I particularly enjoyed the parallel drawn between modern fanfiction and types of literature which were very popular in previous eras (notably the Middle Ages), although at one point the discussion also touches on the fact that fanfiction is overwhelmingly written by (and apparently also read by) women, and what this says about female readers and how we respond to texts. I must say that a lot of Tolkien fanfiction in particular seems to respond (whether intentionally or not) to the paucity of female characters in his work, whether that’s through the inclusion in the Fellowship of a spunky teenage girl with a gift for archery who ends up getting with Legolas (the infamous “Mary Sue”) or by trying to breathe life into some of the women who are only fleeting presences in, or even entirely absent from, the texts (such as Amarie, or Celebrian, or Finduilas). Some time down the line, I am planning to have a good look at women in Tolkien fandom and the representation of female characters in fan works – not sure whether I’m looking forward to the research, or sort of dreading it…

Off-topic – Women in Westeros

Don´t worry, I´m not abandoning Tolkien – in fact, I have a new post (about women´s limited involvement with subcreation in Tolkien´s works) on the way. However, the new series of “Game of Thrones” has featured some really fantastic scenes involving women (Dany´s Dracarys moment was a meme-spawning instant classic, but I´m loving Diana Rigg´s Queen of Thorns as well), and has sparked some interesting discussion about women in the world of Martin (and HBO).

For book readers, there´s the Boiled Leather Audio Hour podcast, hosted by Sean T. Collins and Stefan Sasse. They have so far done four episodes focussing on different pairs (or, in the last episode, a trio) of female characters. The discussions are invariably insightful and make me think about the characters in new ways (I particularly enjoyed their observations on Daenerys), but are definitely for book readers only, with spoilers right up to the very end of “A Dance with Dragons”!

Episode 1 was on Sansa and Cersei.

Episode 2 moved on to warrior women: Asha and Brienne

Episode 3 was on a pair that involved a bit more lateral thinking, but makes sense when you think about their identity as mother-figures: Catelyn and Daenerys.

Episode 4, which came out very recently, was on the trio of Margaery, Melisandre and Lysa,.

I don´t know what their schedule is or if they plan to do any more, but I would hope so – after all, we have yet to hear them talk about Arya, Ygritte, Arianne or the Queen of Thorns (just off the top of my head!)

BLAH´s discussions are definitely the most in-depth and thought-provoking I´ve come across so far. However, I´ve also enjoyed Wine, Women and Westeros´s recent discussion of interactions between female characters (unfortunately limited to the show, but still a topic I haven´t really seen discussed in depth before, and something I now plan to look at with regard to Tolkien). And finally, also in show-verse, Alyssa Rosenberg is doing a weekly power ranking for the ladies of Westeros (and Essos – sorry Dany. Please don´t Dracarys me). Poor Gilly.

The truth about the Vanyar?

Browsing the Silmarillion Confessions blog. I came across this:


Certainly made me chuckle, even though researching my next entry on Míriel is making me see poor Indis in a new, far more sympathetic light. Really she was in a no-win situation with Finwe & Son, and would probably have been better off staying up her mountain and singing hymns of praise to the Valar or whatever it is Vanyar do all day. (I´m serious. Noldor make stuff, including weapons, jewellry and a whole lot of trouble. Teleri build ships, and presumably go fishing. Sindar commune with the forest and get hitched to strange Maiar after looking into their eyes for decades. The rest of the Moriquendi are presumably occupied with the business of survival. What in Arda are the Vanyar for, apart from marrying high kings of the Noldor and annoying Feanor?)

Martin, again

Amid all the buzz generated by Season 2 of Game of Thrones, there’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff on Martin doing the rounds at the moment. I’m a particular fan of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour podcast, and by a happy coincidence, the latest episode was on a topic central to the study of women in Martin’s fiction – that is, the depiction of sex and particularly sexual violence in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Cllick here to listen and comment: http://boiledleather.com/post/25851959047/the-boiled-leather-audio-hour-episode-11

The special guest on the episode, Alyssa Rosenberg (who writes on pop culture, including but not limited to Game of Thrones at Think Progress http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/issue/) has also penned an essay on this very subject for Beyond the Wall, a series of studies on the ASOIAF books and the broader phenomenon. I just got the book today and haven’t read it yet, but watch this space for my thoughts (and no doubt comparisons to Tolkien).

Not Tolkien…

…but of interest to women-in-fantasy fans anyway. The team behind Cast of Thrones (http://castofthrones.com/), a highly irreverent and extremely funny podcast focussing on the Game of Thrones TV series and the Song of Ice and Fire books have just released the second of what I hope will be many episodes specifically looking at female characters and the role of women within the series.

The most recent episode (focussing on women in A Clash of Kingsand the second season of the TV show – so that’s Her Amazingness Brienne of Tarth, Ygritte, Margaery, Melisandre and Asha/Yara/whatever the hell her name is in addition to old favourites Cersei, Daenerys and both the senior and junior Stark ladies) is available here: http://castofthrones.com/2012/06/wine-women-and-westeros-season-2-a-clash-of-queens/.

The first episode, which was released back in February and looked at the ladies of A Game of Thrones/Season 1, is available here: http://castofthrones.com/2012/02/wine-women-and-westeros-episode-1/.

(This is probably a good moment to add in a brief for-your-information. This blog will focus primarily on Tolkien – that is, on the female characters he created, and on various themes relevant to the role of women in his fictional world. Hence the name. However, I’ve never been particularly good at talking about one thing to the exclusion of all others, and at any rate I’m doing this for my own enjoyment, so posts about the role of women in other fantasy series such as Harry Potter andA Song of Ice and Fire are going to slip in from time to time. I hope at least some people will find these interesting on their own merits or as a point of comparison with Tolkien’s very different works – but if not, you’re more than welcome to skip).