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?

Ruling Queens of Numenor

“The sixth King left only one child, a daughter. She became the first Queen; for it was then made a law of the royal house that the eldest child of the King, whether man or woman, should receive the sceptre”

–          Appendix A, “The Lord of the Rings”

I recently read George RR Martin’s novella “The Princess and the Queen” (review to come separately, hopefully!) and one thing that struck me was the extent to which opposition to the idea of female rulers is very deeply ingrained in Westerosi society. (Wielding power behind the scenes, like Queen Alicent, is fine. Desiring it openly for yourself, like Queen Rhaenyra, isn’t). Although Tolkien doesn’t address these issues as explicitly as Martin, the situation in Middle-earth (or rather, in Arda) appears to be very much the same. Under normal circumstances, women don’t feature in the line of succession or assume leadership roles, even among races where the genders are nominally equal (such as the Eldar). On the few occasions when we do see women actively take charge, it’s usually exceptional characters doing so under exceptional circumstances (such as Haleth).

That is, with one curious exception – Numenor. Not only did Numenor’s sixth king Tar-Aldarion change the law of succession so that the king’s oldest child inherited the sceptre regardless of gender. He also did so while stirring up what seems to have been a minimal amount of fuss (we really only hear about Soronto complaining, and he had a vested interest in keeping things the way they were). And not only that, but Tar-Aldarion’s law was followed faithfully by subsequent generations of Numenoreans, right down to the last ruling Queen Tar-Miriel (whose throne was promptly usurped by her cousin Ar-Pharazon, and…well, the rest is Akallabeth).

(The circumstances surrounding Numenor’s trailblazing introduction of the idea of ruling queens, and its impact on broader society, are one of the many, many areas where I really wish Tolkien had fleshed things out a little more. I would love to know, for example, whether the common people of Numenor objected to the idea of a female monarch, or whether the Elvish strain in the line of Elros was seen as putting them sufficiently above other people that normal gender roles didn’t apply. For that matter, what were normal gender roles in Numenor? Were they less rigid, and did that smooth the way for Tar-Ancalime and her successors? Or, working the other way, did the very visible presence of women as ruling queens (two of whom, Tar-Ancalime and Tar-Telperien, were among Numenor’s longest-reigning monarchs) lead women to take on more visible roles in other spheres?)

Obviously, we’ll never know the answer to these questions. However, I thought that given the unique nature of Numenor’s ruling queens and the fact that only Tar-Ancalime and maybe Tar-Miriel are likely to get their own entries here, I would dedicate a bit of time to looking at each of these four women in turn, seeing what (if anything) they have in common, and what (if anything) they can tell us about Tolkien’s views on female leadership.

Tar-Ancalime (SA 1075-1280)

Daughter of Aldarion and Erendis, Tar-Ancalime was the first ruling queen of Numenor, and is by far the most fleshed-out in the text. I’ve also already dedicated an entire entry to her, so I won’t say too much more here. Strong-willed, stubborn, capricious and deeply damaged, she – like her mother Erendis – emerges as one of the most complex and multifaceted of Tolkien’s female characters. As a ruler, she appears to have been broadly competent and capable of inspiring loyalty in her subjects (we certainly don’t hear that her ability to rule ever came into question, despite her status as the first female ruler, well, ever really!) However, she was less far-sighted than her father Tar-Aldarion, and her failure to continue offering aid to Gil-galad would go on to have serious ramifications further down the line.

Tar-Telperien (SA 1556-1731)

The second ruling queen, Tar-Telperien was the granddaughter of Tar-Ancalime (and incidentally, the fact that she was succeeded by her younger brother proves that the Numenorean system was one of firstborn succession regardless of gender, rather than simply allowing women to inherit provided they had no brothers). The “Unfinished Tales” have little to say about her aside from the fact that she was long-lived (ruling for a whopping 175 years) and never married.

Tar-Vanimelde (SA 2526-2637)

The third ruling queen, Tar-Vanimelde, was really queen in name only. She had little interest in ruling and seems to have been perfectly content to leave things in the hands of her husband. (Interestingly, this is to some extent an inversion of the classic trope of the weak king whose strong-willed wife is the power behind the throne – think Isabella of France, or Margaret of Anjou). While we see a little bit of her personality through Tolkien’s mention of her love of music and dance, we learn nothing at all of her policies (or her husband’s).

Tar-Miriel (SA 3255)

Tar-Miriel was the most tragic of Numenor’s four ruling queens. She never got the chance to rule in her own right, as her sceptre was usurped by her cousin (and husband) Ar-Pharazon, who would later lead Numenor to its downfall.

My first thought on getting to the end of this list was that the line of Elros must be affected by some peculiar genetic quirk, given that out of all 25 rulers, only 4 had a daughter as their first-born child (well, 6 if you count Tar-Elendil whose daughter Silmarien was the ancestress of the line of Elendil, and Tar-Anarion whose daughters refused the sceptre). My second, more serious thought was that these four women don’t seem to have had a lot in common besides having been the first-born children of a king of Numenor. None of them seem to have really excelled as rulers, though to be fair the same could be said of most of Numenor’s rulers, who frankly come across as rather an undistinguished lot. They were, in other words, just rulers like any others, not distinguished from the others on the grounds of their sex.

With that in mind, I have one final unanswerable question. Why, when the remnants of the Faithful (whose link to the line of Elros itself came from a woman, Silmarien) arrived on the shores of Middle-earth, do they appear to have completely abandoned this system of succession in favour of allowing only men to inherit (a rule which continued after the extinction of the kings and throughout the rule of the Stewards)?

Ruling Queen of Numenor: Tar-Ancalime

“The sixth King left only one child, a daughter. She became the first Queen; for it was then made a law of the royal house that the eldest child of the King, whether man or woman, should receive the sceptre”

– Appendix A, “The Lord of the Rings”

“She was clever, and malicious, and saw promise of sport as the prize for which her mother and her father did battle”

“Unfinished Tales”

Given that Tolkien has often faced criticism for his idealised depiction of romantic love (and indeed his less-than-realistic character development in general) his works contain a surprising number of dysfunctional families – just think of Denethor and his sons; Eol, Maeglin and Aredhel; Finwe with his two wives and warring sons; even the family of Hurin, though that was hardly their fault. However, no character better embodies Philip Larkin’s maxim that “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” better than Tar-Ancalime, sole child of the matrimonial disaster that was Aldarion and Erendis, and first ruling queen of Numenor.

After Aldarion’s departure and the effective breakdown of his marriage to Erendis, Ancalime (then aged four) was taken by her mother to an isolated farm in the middle of the island, where her mother tried her very best to imbue her with her own bitterness and disappointment: “She (Erendis) sought even to mould her daughter to her own mind, and to feed her upon her own bitterness against men”. As I mentioned in my previous discussion of Erendis, the account in Unfinished Tales also gives us a taste of Erendis’s teachings: apparently she taught her daughter that men were “children in mind, until age finds them” and that they “would be craftsmen and loremasters and heroes all at once, and women to them are but fires on the hearth for others to tend, until they are tired of play in the evening”. Ancalime therefore grew up completely unaccustomed to the society of men, in a house that was devoid of laughter and seems to have had little love either.

This dysfunctional upbringing, and Ancalime’s status as a prize in the struggle between her warring parents, contributed to flaws in her personality as an adult, and ultimately helped to poison her relationships with her husband, son and grandchildren. Her character apparently owed something to both parents: she combined her father’s obstinacy (both were inclined to take “the opposite course to any that was counselled”) with her mother’s “coldness and sense of personal injury”. This rather complicated personality, moreover, was combined with an inclination towards spitefulness and malice that was likely the result of being caught between her parents in their battle of wills. Finally, being a spectator to the implosion of her parents’ marriage and the protracted war between them that ensued, combined with her mother’s teachings against men, made Ancalime hostile towards the idea of marriage in general. We learn, for example, that she “had a profound dislike of obligatory marriage, and in marriage of any constraint upon her will”. Later on, she tells her suitor (and eventual husband) Hallacar that she wishes to marry “Uner (which is ‘Noman’), whom I prefer above all others”.

Later in her life, Ancalime’s difficult personality and disdain for the institution of marriage led her, in her position as ruling Queen of Numenor and effective matriarch of the island’s royal family, to poison her relationship with her husband Hallacar (whom she was obliged to marry in order to secure the crown), with her son, and with her grandchildren. Not wishing to marry at all, she resented Hallacar from the outset, and acted accordingly. She forbade him to live on his own ancestral land (saying that she would not have a farm-steward for a husband), while he (to spite her) arranged for her serving-women – whom she had forbidden to marry – to be married behind her back. From what little we see of their relationship, Ancalime and Hallacar seem to have behaved with more malice and caused more outright harm to one another than Ancalime’s parents ever did. We don’t really learn anything about her relationship with her son Anarion aside from the fact that Ancalime did not wish for a son and held his existence as yet another reason to resent Hallacar, which hardly seem like preconditions for an ideal mother-son relationship. Finally, her relationship with her granddaughters was certainly highly dysfunctional: Ancalime refused to allow either of her granddaughters to marry, leading them in turn to refuse the heirship although they were Anarion’s oldest children, as a result of which the crown passed to their younger brother Surion.

Aside from her difficult upbringing and troubled relationships with virtually her entire family, the main reason why Ancalime stands out is for her status as Numenor’s first ruling queen. Wanting to ensure that his only child would succeed him to the throne (and to spite Erendis into the bargain), Aldarion formulated a new law that was contradictory to previous Numenorean (and from what we see in the Silmarillion, Elvish) custom, stating either that a king’s daughter could succeed him if he had no son (according to Unfinished Tales) or that the eldest child would succeed him, whether male or female (according to Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings)*. As a result, Ancalime became the first of Numenor’s four Ruling Queens, who represent a kind of overt female leadership rarely seen in Tolkien’s legendarium. (While there are other examples of women in leadership roles – think of Galadriel, Melian and Haleth – for the most part, when we see monarchies in action, women don’t get a look in. Neither the kings of Gondor nor the holders of the High Kingship of the Noldor, for example, included a single woman. What is more, with the exception of Haleth, those women who do clearly exercise a degree of leadership do so in a strictly unofficial capacity, as the consorts of husbands who may be less wise and powerful than their wives, but who are nevertheless more acceptable as figureheads – Thingol being the classic example. Only in Numenor do we see women’s right to exercise leadership in their own right explicitly recognised in this way).

As for what kind of Queen Ancalime was – well, we don’t know a great deal about that. We know that her rule was long (in fact, at 205 years, the second-longest after that of Elros himself!) and that she abandoned her father’s policies towards Middle-earth and gave no further help to Gil-galad, a decision that would come back to haunt Numenor in the end. Her personality, too (combining her father’s stubbornness, her mother’s aloofness, and a capriciousness and malice all her own) hardly seems likely to have made her a great ruler. All in all, she was probably no worse or better than average – no Elros, to be sure, but no Ar-Pharazon either. What was really extraordinary about her was the fact that she was there at all.

*I prefer the latter version – partly because it’s impressively progressive (after all, we’ve only just changed the laws of succession in the UK to allow the first child to succeed regardless of gender), but also because it’s better supported elsewhere in the text, for example when it is stated that Anarion’s two daughters refused the sceptre before it finally passed to their younger brother Surion.

Ioreth And Her Sisters: Relationships between Female Characters in Tolkien’s World

“This stone I gave to my daughter Celebrian, and she to hers, and now it comes to you as a token of hope” – Galadriel, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

Fingolfin’s wife Anaire refused to leave Aman, largely because of her friendship with Earwen wide of Arafinwe (though she was a Noldo and not one of the Teleri) – History of Middle-earth vol. 12, “The Peoples of Middle-earth”

The idea for this post came to me almost completely out of the blue during the course of a discussion about the relationships and interactions between female characters on the show “Game of Thrones” and in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series more generally. Although there are some striking examples of relationships between women in Martin’s world (the whole interaction between Sansa, Cersei, the Queen of Thorns and Margaery in King’s Landing, for example, or the relationship between Catelyn and Brienne), for the most part Martin’s female characters exist on their own, and rarely if ever interact with other women – just think of Asha, Ygritte, Melisandre, even Daenerys (with the exception of her relationships with her handmaidens and Missandei). Somewhat predictably, this got me thinking about the extent to which Tolkien’s far scarcer female characters interact with one another.

The main type of relationship we see between female characters in Tolkien’s world is between women who are closely related, and primarily between mothers and daughters. (The unusual rule by which 80% of characters must be male, and the fact that there appears to be a ceiling of one female child per family – see Galadriel, Aredhel and Elwing – means that with a couple of obscure examples such as Pippin’s three older sisters and Ioreth’s sisters to whom she likes to blather on about the wholesome properties of kingsfoil, we don’t really see any sisterly interactions). As far as the mother-daughter interactions are concerned, the one we learn the most about up close is the relationship between Erendis and her daughter Tar-Ancalime, the first ruling queen of Numenor. As we saw in Erendis’s biography and will explore in more detail when looking at Ancalime on her own, the relationship between the two women appears to have been close due to Aldarion’s absences and Erendis’s seclusion of her daughter, but also complicated and ultimately damaging to Ancalime’s character. In particular, Erendis’s jaded, embittered views on men appear to have rubbed off on her daughter, poisoning Ancalime’s relationship with her own husband Hallacar.

The relationship between Erendis and Ancalime is definitely the most developed on the page, and I’ve hardly had time to do justice to it here (hopefully I’ll dedicate a bit more time to it in my upcoming biography of Ancalime). However, the “Silmarillion” gives us glimpses of a couple of other mother-daughter pairs: Morwen and her daughter Nienor, and Melian and her daughter Luthien. With regard to the latter, what we do learn is intriguing (Melian is supportive of her daughter’s union with Beren – or at the very least perceives its crucial role in the unfolding of the First Age – and even helps the pair at certain strategic junctures, such as when she apparently aids a tongue-tied Beren as he speaks before Thingol), but the development of the relationship between the Maia and her half-Elven daughter is frustratingly scanty, and ultimately it is Galadriel rather than Luthien who emerges as the true heir to Melian in Middle-earth. Even more frustrating is the near-total lack of information about the relationship Galadriel shared with her own daughter Celebrian and granddaughter Arwen. Aside from the reference to the Elessar being passed down from mother to daughter and a couple of mentions of Arwen spending a lot of time in Lorien with her grandparents, there’s really very little evidence to hint at how Middle-earth’s most powerful woman interacted with her daughter and granddaughter, or why Arwen appears to lack her grandmother’s power and personality, despite having spent so long in her sphere of influence.

The other main type of relationship we see between female characters in Tolkien’s world involves one woman acting as a mentor towards another. As I mentioned earlier, a clear example of this is Melian and Galadriel, who is in many ways more clearly the heir of Melian than Melian’s daughter Luthien. We learn that of Melian, Galadriel “learned great lore of wisdom concerning Middle-earth”, and there is little doubt that her apprenticeship with the Maia played a crucial role in her evolution from the headstrong young woman who was inflamed by Feanor’s words and longed to rule a kingdom of her own, to the powerful, wise figure she cuts in the Third Age. (Indeed, Galadriel by the Third Age has become a kind of mini-Melian, complete with the forest kingdom and doltish Sindarin husband!) We see another example among the mortal women of the First Age: we learn in HoME 10 (“Morgoth’s Ring”) that Andreth (she of “Athrabeth” fame) learned much of her lore from Adanel of the house of Marach, who married into the House of Beor. Certainly, the title “Tale of Adanel” given to the strange and  intriguing tale of the corruption of Men by Melkor suggests that it was from Adanel that Andreth learned this particular oral tradition, while the relationship between the two, together with the references to women being particularly esteemed for their knowledge of ancient lore, is a tantalising suggestion that there may have been more relationships like that between Adanel and Andreth, that were never recorded because the women in question never lusted after Aegnor or debated the nature of mortality with Finrod Felagund.

So, we see women interacting with close family members, and on rare occasions we also see them acting as mentors to other, younger women. What we rarely see is women as friends: with the exception of Ioreth instructing her kinswoman from the country about how she deduced Aragorn’s true identity, and the fleeting reference in HoME 12 to the close friendship between Anaire and Earwen, I can’t think of any. We never see Galadriel interact with her cousin Aredhel or with Luthien, for example, even though she must have known both very well. We don’t know how Arwen and Eowyn got along (though I like to imagine they went on double-dates with Aragorn and Faramir). Did Nerdanel get along with her sisters-in-law Anaire and Earwen, or help smooth the waters with Indis? What was her relationship with Galadriel like, especially after Feanor started following his niece around and asking for bits of her hair? Did Aredhel develop a close relationship with Idril after the latter’s mother was killed crossing the Helcaraxe? Did Goldberry and Mrs Maggot ever get together for a gossip while their husbands pranced about the countryside and gathered mushrooms together? We’ll never know, but I guess that’s part of the fun.

Half-History, Half-Legend: Nimrodel

“She was of the Silvan Elves, and regretted the incoming of the Elves from the West, who (as she said) brought wars and destroyed the peace of old” – Unfinished Tales

 As many readers have remarked before me, one of the greatest strengths of Tolkien’s work is the fully-realised world he creates, complete with its own history and mythology – something the Professor himself recognises in Letter 96 to his son Christopher when he says that “It is the untold stories that are the most moving. I think you are moved by ‘Celebrimbor’ because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed”. Many of these “unclimbed mountains” are glimpsed from afar in The Lord of the Rings. Some, like the tale of Queen Beruthiel and her cats, are never told, or given the briefest of outlines elsewhere. Others, like the tale of Beren and Luthien, or the story of Celebrimbor himself, are told in detail in the appendices, in The Silmarillion, or elsewhere. One story that particularly interests me because it feels like it belongs more to the realm of oral history or even mythology than to the chronicle history of the appendices is the tale of Nimrodel and her lover Amroth, king of Lorien.

 For anybody who doesn’t remember (or who might be thinking at this point “wait – why is she writing about a river?”), the story of Nimrodel – after whom the river in Lothlorien was named – is helpfully outlined for us by Legolas in chapter 6 of book 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring. Nimrodel, a generically beautiful Elf-maiden (you know, pale lissom limbs, long hair, impractical white clothing in a forest environment, all the rest of it) left Lothlorien to sail to the Undying Lands with Amroth after the Dwarves awoke evil (read: the Balrog) in the mountains, but she got lost along the way and didn’t get to the port in time. When a strong wind blew the ships out to sea, Amroth, unable to countenance the idea of leaving Nimrodel behind, jumped overboard and was presumably drowned. Nimrodel herself was never found.

 The story is fleshed out a bit more in the Unfinished Tales: here we learn, for example, that rather like Nellas in the tale of Turin Turambar, Nimrodel insisted on living alone – in her case, in a flet near the falls of the river that bears her name. We also learn that while Amroth’s love of her was reciprocated, she initially resisted his advances owing to her resentment of the “elves of the West” (in this case, presumably the refugees from drowned Beleriand rather than the Noldor per se). And we find out a bit more about her disappearance and Amroth’s drowning – though not about her eventual fate (meaning that she joins Maglor and Daeron in the camp of mysteriously-vanished Elves. I hope they are having a fun time together somewhere). Even here, however, there are numerous uncertainties surrounding her story. Did Nimrodel really originate the custom of living in flets, or is that simply a legend that has grown attached to her since her disappearance? Whatever did happen to her, and what are these “many legends” that are told about her fate, according to the account in Unfinished Tales? The tale of Nimrodel is one of the few instances I can think of in Tolkien where the speculation and apocryphal stories that have growth up around a character outweigh the few concrete facts we really know (which boil down to: she was a Silvan Elf; she loved Amroth; she eventually disappeared). And while this may have been unintentional on Tolkien’s part, I actually think that the existence of a character like Nimrodel – who certainly “existed” within his secondary world, but who survives now more in the form of a figure of legend than a flesh-and-blood woman – adds to the depth and realism of the world he has created. After all, such figures (Robin Hood, King Arthur, Boudicca) are common throughout human history.

 In addition to injecting a nice bit of unreliable oral history into Middle-earth, the tale of Nimrodel also raises a couple more interesting points about Tolkien’s world. One of these has to do with the relations between the different sub-groups of Elves. One of the areas where Tolkien’s world is comparatively underdeveloped is when it comes to exploring how the various societies work internally, so I love the glimpse we get in this story (and specifically in the Unfinished Tales version) of the tensions that apparently existed between the Silvan Elves and the refugees from Beleriand, whom Nimrodel at least apparently viewed as responsible for the strife that had begun to affect previously peaceful communities such as Lothlorien. Nimrodel’s feelings towards the “elves from the West”, and her stubborn insistence on speaking only the Silvan tongue, echo the resentment felt by Sindar such as Thingol and Eol towards the Noldor during the First Age, and offer a rare insight into the perspective of the Silvan Elves, who appear to form the majority of the population in communities such as Lothlorien and Mirkwood, but to be ruled over in both cases by Sindar (or, in the case of Lothlorien later in the Third Age, by a Sinda-Noldo combo). It also raises huge questions about how Galadriel’s rule in particular was received by the Galadhrim, and why she believed that she had the right to rule over them in the first place – do we perhaps see here an echo of her earlier desire to go to Middle-earth in order to “rule there a kingdom at her own will”?.

 Another interesting question raised by Nimrodel’s story concerns the frequency of Elven-human marriages and liaisons. According to the Unfinished Tales, one of Nimrodel’s companions (later named as Mithrellas) is supposed to have married the Numenorean Lord of Dol Amroth and borne his children, infusing the line of Dol Amroth with an Elvish strain which, judging by Legolas’s remarks to Prince Imrahil in The Return of the King, is still in evidence by the end of the Third Age. Now, Finrod Felagund himself remarked to Andreth way back in the First Age that the first- and second-born of Iluvatar could be joined in marriage only “for some high purpose of Doom”, and indeed the three Elven-human marriages that are confirmed in the legendarium fit this pattern. Beren and Luthien rescued the Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown and provided an example of hope and success against the odds that has echoed throughout the ages. Idril and Tuor produced Earendil, the hope of Elves and Men. And Arwen and Aragorn rejoined the two long-sundered branches of the half-Elven. Imrazor and Mithrellas, however, appear to have had no “high purpose of Doom”, and to have achieved little of note beyond perpetuating a minor princely line of Gondor. This raises the question of whether Elven-human marriages (or at the very least liaisons) might happen with considerably more frequency than the official histories would have us believe – maybe the three big ones get all the press because they achieved something of note (and involved famous and high-born individuals) rather than because they were truly unique . And who knows, maybe the tale of the Took who took a fairy wife wasn’t so far-fetched after all?

The Mariner’s Wife: Erendis

“They (men) would be craftsmen and loremasters and heroes all at once; and women to them are but fires on the hearth – for others to tend, until they are tired of play in the evening. All things were made for their service: hills are for quarries, rivers to furnish water or to turn wheels, women for their body’s need, or if fair to adorn their table and hearth”

–          Erendis, “The Tale of Aldarion and Erendis”

 As I hope I’ve gone some way towards proving with this blog so far, Tolkien’s women – from wise Nerdanel to stubborn Miriel and wilful Aredhel – are far from the one-dimensional passive princesses they are sometimes painted as by the Professor’s detractors. To my mind, however, one of the most vibrant and fully-realised female characters in the legendarium is the protagonist of an unfinished, rather obscure story in the volume “Unfinished Tales”. As the above quote suggests, Erendis is a bitter and resentful woman, with a jaded perspective on men that would not be out of place coming from Cersei Lannister. Unlike, say, Nerdanel or Andreth, she’s not somebody I’d like to meet. Nevertheless, the story that bears her name is a fascinating and curious one, raising questions about the nature of the marital bond and about how patriarchal societies affect women that are not addressed anywhere else in Tolkien’s writings and show him to be far more aware of gender issues than many of his detractors would suggest.

Even for Tolkien fans, Erendis is probably an obscure enough figure that I can provide a brief summary of her story here without appearing overly patronising. Erendis (also known as Tar-Elestirne, or the Lady of the Star-brow) lived in Numenor during the Second Age, and married the sailor-king Tar-Aldarion. Following a lengthy and often rocky betrothal owing to Aldarion’s frequent absences at sea or in Middle-Earth, the early years of their marriage were happy – but Aldarion soon began to hear the call of the sea, and Erendis became resentful of having to share her husband with the “Lady Uinen”*. The two ended up becoming completely estranged, and Erendis took refuge in the centre of the island, far from the sea, where she brooded on Aldarion’s perceived mistreatment of her and taught their daughter Ancalime to be mistrustful towards men. Although the story is unfinished, we learn from Tolkien’s notes that he planned for both Aldarion and Erendis to realise in old age that their happiest years were those they spent together, and that Erendis was to have ultimately drowned off the coast of Numenor (whether by accident or in an act of suicide, we are never told).

Erendis’s story is fascinating in part because it is a portrait of a marriage gone bad – a bracing antidote to the star-crossed love of Beren and Luthien, or the lightning-fast courtship of Faramir and Eowyn. Here as nowhere else in his work, Tolkien explores how difficult it can be for two individuals to join their lives together. In Erendis’s jealousy of her “rival” the sea, and in her mother Nuneth’s admonition that “a woman must share her husband’s love with his work and the fire of his spirit”, we can see an echo of Tolkien’s warning to his son Michael about “the glass of beer, the pipe, the non-writing of letters, the other friend etc. etc.” that could cause strife between a man (with his life and interests outside the home) and his wife (who, in both Tolkien’s Oxford and Erendis’s Numenor, was supposed to confine herself to the domestic sphere). Like (one presumes) many a housewife of Tolkien’s day, Erendis has invested all her energy and hope of happiness into her marriage, leading her to become resentful of the other interests which take him from her.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Erendis is by no means an entirely sympathetic character, Her steadfast refusal to share her husband with the “Lady Uinen” and her refusal to even countenance the idea of sailing with him come across as petulant, and her later removal of her daughter to a life of seclusion away from all men clearly blighted Ancalime’s life. But Aldarion, too, must shoulder some of the blame: His long voyages took him away from Erendis for years at a time, making them a rather more significant imposition on his wife than a 9-5 job, or indeed the odd pint and pipe with CS Lewis at the Bird and Baby. Worse, he undertook frequent long voyages during their engagement and the early years of their marriage, in the full knowledge that Erendis (who did not come from the line of Elros) was likely to be significantly less long-lived than him. In short, he effectively ensured that the best years of his wife’s youth – not to mention her optimal years for childbearing – were spent alone (as Erendis says herself, “The years are unrelenting, and you will not bring them back with you. And mine are briefer than yours. My youth runs away: and where are my children, and where is your heir? Too long and often of late is my bed cold”).

While Aldarion’s unwillingness or inability to remain long on land is explained by Tolkien as the product of the “sea-longing” (the same thing that afflicts Legolas part-way through “The Return of the King”), his willingness throughout his engagement and marriage to indulge this yearning with little thought for his wife’s needs and wellbeing can also seem immature and selfish – something that Erendis herself clearly sees when she says that the men of Numenor  “dally in the world, childish in mind, until age finds them (…) They would be craftsmen and loremasters and heroes all at once; and women to them are but fires on the hearth – for others to tend, until they are tired of play in the evening”. Aldarion’s likening of his wife to “a nurse anxious only about the tearing of clothes and the due time of meals” also leaves a bad taste in the mouth, reminiscent as it is of so many portrayals (both historical and contemporary) of women as uptight nags with limited imagination, anxious only to keep the men from their fun. It’s true that Erendis’s all-or-nothing attitude likely doomed the marriage from the start, and that life with her can hardly have been pleasant – but that doesn’t change the fact that what she is asking for (a present husband, and a chance at a family life) is far from unreasonable.

Erendis is also the mouthpiece for some fairly pointed criticism of men’s treatment of women (and indeed of men in general( which although it’s a reflection of her bitterness at her treatment by Aldarion, is nevertheless interesting as the one place in Tolkien’s writings where the patriarchal order of things is openly questioned. Her thoughts, expressed to her daughter Ancalime (later the first ruling queen of Numenor) are worth quoting in full:

 “Men in Numenor are half-Elves (said Erendis), especially the high men; they are neither the one nor the other. The long life that they were granted deceives them, and they dally in the world, children in mind, until age finds them – and then many only forsake play out of doors for play in their houses. They turn their play into great matters and great matters into play. They would be craftsmen and loremasters and heroes all at once; and women to them are but fires on the hearth – for others to tend, until they are tired of play in the evening. All things were made for their service: hills are for quarries, rivers to furnish water or to turn wheels, trees for boards, women for their body’s need, or if fair to adorn their table and hearth; and children are to be teased when nothing else is to do – but they would as soon play with their hounds’ whelps. To all they are gracious and kind, merry as larks in the morning (if the sun shines); for they are never wrathful if they can avoid it. Men should be gay, they hold, generous as the rich, giving away what they do not need. Anger they show only when they become aware, suddenly, that there are other wills in the world beside their own. Then they will be as ruthless as the seawind if anything dare to withstand them.

 Thus it is, Ancalime, and we cannot alter it. For men fashioned Numenor: men, those heroes of old that they sing of – of their women we hear less, save that they wept when their men were slain. But if they weary of rest and the plays of peace, soon they will go back to their great play, manslaying and war. Thus it is; and we are set here among them. But we need not assent. If we love Numenor also, let us enjoy it before they ruin it. We also are daughters of the great, and we have wills and courage of our own. Therefore do not bend, Ancalime. Once bend a little, and they will bend you further until you are bowed down. Sink your roots into the rock, and face the rock, though it blow away all your leaves”.

 In the end, of course, the battle of the sexes between Aldarion and Erendis does neither of them much good – and it has a terrible effect on Ancalime their daughter, who is a definite topic for a future post here. Erendis stews for years in bitterness and dies in regret: hers is fundamentally a tragic story. However, the story’s unflinching depiction of a marriage gone horribly wrong is a challenge to the critics who would claim that Tolkien only deals in star-crossed lovers. Erendis’s plight, meanwhile, shows that while the society Tolkien created is male-dominated both structurally and demographically, the author was nevertheless not blind to the effects such a society could have on the lives of individual women.

*Named for Uinen, together with Osse one of the two Maiar of the sea.

Tolkien’s Women Speak

I’m currently ploughing through the “Letters” to see what Tolkien has to say about women, both in real life and in his work. In the meantime, I thought I’d post a few quotes from the women of Middle-Earth which, while not feminist exactly, display a considerable amount of respect for women’s abilities and (in some cases) sympathy with the limitations under which they are placed by society. For all that Tolkien doesn’t seem to have dedicated a great deal of time to thinking about how women fit into his fictional world, these quotes show that when he did give them a moment in the spotlight, he was far from an anti-woman author.

“You must choose, Beren, between these two: to relinquish the quest and your oath and seek a life of wandering upon the face of the earth; or to hold to your word and challenge the power of darknesss upon its throne. But on either road I shall go with you, and our doom shall be alike”.

–          Luthien, “The Silmarillion”

I’m not the biggest Luthien fan (I know, I know – I just don’t find her appealing and complex as a lot of the other First Age ladies. For the record, Idril is by far my favourite of the three elven women who married mortals). However, I have to say that while it would have been easy for Tolkien to write yet another story about a man who braved endless perils to win the hand of a fair maiden sat at home, Tolkien goes beyond that and gives us instead a story about the importance of teamwork and playing to your strengths, decades before Princess Leia took charge of her own rescue mission and promptly led the gang into the Death Star garbage compactor.

“They (men) would be craftsmen and loremasters and heroes all at once; and women to them are all fires on the hearth – for others to tend, until they are tired of play in the evening. All things were made for their service: hills are for quarries, rivers to furnish water or to turn wheels, trees for boards, women for their body’s need, or if fair to adorn their table and hearth”.

–          Erendis, “Unfinished Tales”

Erendis, whom I hope to do a full entry on very soon, isn’t a happy woman. Her anger at her husband Aldarion has morphed into a general bitterness against all men, and leads her to mar both her own life and that of her daughter, Ancalime, later queen of Numenor. However, her observations about women being essentially the playthings of men ring very true as a description – even a condemnation – of the status of women in a patriarchal society – something you might expect from George R.R. Martin, but not from Tolkien.

“I am your sister and not your servant, and beyond your bounds I will go as seems good to me. And if you begrudge me an escort, then I will go alone”

–          Aredhel “The Silmarillion”

I’ve discussed Aredhel’s behaviour in depth in my biography of her, and yes – I agree that her behaviour can be seen as a bit capricious given the context (war-torn continent swarming with orcs and all the rest of it). At the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that her angry retort to Turgon here points up the essential paternalism of Elven society despite what Tolkien says in the “Laws and Customs Among the Eldar”. If neri and nissi are so equal, then why is Aredhel’s brother allowed to boss her around like this?

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death”.

–          Eowyn, “The Return of the King”.