Saturday, June 27, 2015

Genderbent Lord of the Rings

The girl aspect of Lord of the Rings bothered me most of the week. Great movies, super music, seven meals a day, and not the worst portrayal of women in the world. What’s not to love? In spite of all that, I had to ask: what “girl movie” portrays nine women saving the world? Is there a “girl movie” where the central focus is about a ring, but not a wedding?

via 9gag
“Girl movies” usually focus on romance. With the exceptions of Aragorn and Sam, the fellowship goes out relatively unattached. From here, I can see the shelves that hold Princess Bride, Fiddler on the Roof, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Pirates of Penzance, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Song of the South, Brigadoon, and some other stuff I haven’t watched. Of those eight movies, five depict lead females whose main goal is to get married, one includes women because sex, and we can talk about Padme and Leia some other time.

Of all those movies, Song of the South is the only one where the female lead isn’t obsessed with romance, and that’s because she’s like, eight.

Girls seem almost limited by romance, especially in movies, and the guys in Lord of the Rings aren’t. Some of them never get married. I wonder—how would the story be different if the nine were girls, three women were guys, and everything else in Middle Earth stayed the same?

via my computer apparently

Scenario #1: Middle Earth is Screwed

Only guys attended the secret ring council in Fellowship, and without suitable replacements, the saving-of-the-world fails. Sauron wins.

via my computer again

Scenario # 2: Ladies of the Rings, A Chick Flick

I actually have treatments of the movie trilogy drafted for a satirical post. Suffice it to say that between Frida Baggins’s accidental romance and Aragloria’s forbidden love, Gandahlia the matchmaker has a lot of work on her hands.

via my computer again I guess

Scenario #3: Against All Odds Female Characters Find Themselves on a Quest Involving a Ring and Not Marriage 

Here is a quick key to the colored things you might find in bold:

no female precedent // male requirement // no male precedent // female requirement

Frodo Baggins
Ring-bearer, Bilbo’s nephew and heir, interested in the world beyond the Shire, seeks the Ring’s destruction Ring-bearer, Bilbo’s niece, interested in the world beyond the Shire, seeks the Ring’s destruction
Sam Gamgee
gardener, Frodo’s closest companion, uneager to travel, loyal, steadfast gardener, Frodo’s closest companion, uneager to travel, loyal, steadfast
Merry Brandybuck cousin, heir to Buckland, Pippin’s best friend, hobbit-warrior cousin, Pippin’s best friend, could be a shield maiden like Éowyn; if an unsympathetic, male Éowyn would have been a warrior anyway, he might leave Merry behind
Pippin Took young, foolish cousin, engages in politics in Gondor young, foolish cousin, engages in politics in Gondor
Gandalf the Gray wise leader until death at Moria, mentor, advisor, encourager, holds Ring of Power, chief wizard wise leader until death at Moria, mentor, advisor, encourager, holds Ring of Power, potentially Maia (wizards are male, but here are 12345 examples of female Maiar)
Aragorn Ranger, heir of Isildur and Elendil, lord of the Dúnedain Rangers, Arwen’s forbidden love, King of Gondor, Gandalf’s successor  Ranger, Arwen’s forbidden love, Queen of Gondor, Gandalf’s successor
Boromir Heir to the line of stewards, warrior, wants to use the ring of the line of stewards, wants to use the ring, shield maiden
Gimli representative of dwarves, distrusts elves, falls in love with Galadriel, Legolas’s best friend representative of dwarves, distrusts elves, falls in love with Galadriel, Legolas’s best friend
Legolas king, elf representative, great archer, Thranduil’s son queen, elf representative, great archer, Thranduil’s daughter

(By the way, here are some sources I used: source, source, source)

princess, Celeborn’s wife, Celebrian’s mom, Ring-bearer, helps destroy the Ring by contributing supplies, even though it will destroy her own power prince, Celeborn’s husband, Celebrian’s dad, Ring-bearer, helps destroy the Ring by contributing supplies, even though it will destroy his own power
second elf to love a human, chooses Aragorn over immortality, guarded by her father until Aragorn becomes king second elf to love a human, chooses Aragorn over immortality; admittedly, the stories both have a female elf and a male human mating, and if Arwen’s values as a male veered away from this situation, then it could be that Arwen and Aragorn’s love would never come to fruition
Éowyn desired by Wormtongue, custodian of Edoras,  shield maiden with aspirations to achieve valiant deeds and die in battle, loved Aragorn but was rejected, led the women of Rohan to Helm’s Deep, was the last-resort heir, avenged Théoden, married Faramir  soldier with aspirations to achieve valiant deeds and die in battle, loved Aragorn but was rejected; probably would be trained in the art of war with Éomer and Théodred, so probably would not be left to care for Théoden in his illness or escort the women and children to Helm’s Deep, and probably would not have been desired by Wormtongue 

Of course, this is basically what I have from watching the movies a lot of times, reading the books once, and doing a lot of Google searches as I went. If you think you can argue for or against any of my thoughts, please let me know, because I am by no means an expert!

From the way it looks now, though I think that Sam, Pippin, Gimli, Legolas, and Galadriel could more or less have the same story if they were the opposite gender, whereas Frodo, Merry, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Arwen, and Éowyn might have very different stories!

via I saved a lot of random pictures to my computer in my youth okay
Having examined that, I don’t think it’s particularly good or bad for Lord of the Rings—it’s good that for some characters have roles that depended on that physical element, but it’s also okay that some characters don’t need a role that’s gender-specific to make a story work.

However, this does tell me that you CAN write an adventure story that has girls romping around Middle Earth in any way they damn well please, so if you ever feel the urge to write thusly: go ahead.

How do you think a Lord of the Rings story with girls instead of guys would go? 


  1. *echoes* We can talk about Padme and Leia some other time. I actually really liked Ahsoka, though, even though I have to blind myself to the outfit and that horror of a love interest. OH AND BO KATAN. And basically any lady Mandalorian.

    *gets back on topic* ANYHOW. I totally agree that female leads at least on TV or the big screen are far too defined by romance. BUT OMG. That pin though. It is the best. Oh and I am certain that there are female Dunedain rangers. Can't remember for the life of me where that source is though.

    I think a fem!Aragorn plus a stillfem!Arwen would be an interesting couple. I mean. It would certainly make their love a lot more forbidden and interesting.

    1. *feels like an inadequate Star Wars fan because she only watches the movies and doesn't know those names*

      Yeah, it is kind of annoying how the romance card is the only one ever played. And now that I think about it, I'm sure it would make sense that there are Dunedain chicks, but at the very least all of the chief leaders were men, according to Wikipedia.

      I mean, I don't think it would make sense according to how Tolkein wrote his series, but it definitely would be extra-forbidden and extra-interesting.

  2. That gif is AMAZING though. I've only read the books once (when I was ten) and I haven't seen all the movies (orcs are terrifying. Lets' not discuss my desolation of Smaug experiences) This was such and interesting idea, and it would be so awesome to see/read. But there's nothing wrong with chickflicks, it's morer about who society percieves watches chickflicks- fashion obsessed airhead girls who's opinions aren't important ( yet people who watch Snakes on a Plane, where the entire plot is revealed in the title, aren't judged in the same way)

    1. I love that GIF, too. I've only read the books once, too. I... don't find orcs as terrifying, I guess, but I'm sorry they were hard to watch. :/ But yeah, I think chick flicks are kind of designed for the people they assume watch chick flicks, which thus cause the airheadedness. I haven't seen Snakes on a Plane, so I can't comment.

  3. There's a surprising underepresentation of women in Lord of the Rings...besides women characters who's main purpose is to be in a relationship with a greater man character. Which is why I like Eowyn so much. :') I can imagine Frida Baggins and loyal Samantha (Sam in my head would be like the lil sis to Frodo). Actually, I'd love to see Lord of the Rings just completely genderbent, in which boys become girls and vice versa. That would make for an interesting change. QUEEN ARAGORN. :D

    1. I feel that way too, but whenever I mention it Eowyn is brought up as though she redeems the rest of it. And It's not that Eowyn isn't awesome, it's just that she's kind of lonely, you know? A completely genderbent LOTR would definitely be an interesting story, and I imagine hard to pull off. Still, I would go for it.

  4. I don't understand much about LotR. I've seen the movies, but I couldn't finish reading the book. I can't say I noticed the lack of women in it, mainly because I guess I didn't expect to see any :/
    Which does bring to light that to often women aren't main characters unless the movie is a romantic one.
    However, a version of LotR where it's girls fighting to save Middle Earth sounds interesting :)

    1. The books are pretty hard to get through, no? I mean, Peter Jackson does a good job of expanding the worldbuilding, but at least for me, I do look for female characters, which is why it bugged me.

      I'd definitely see a girl power LOTR, though. I'd enjoy it. :D

  5. I think this pretty much also proves, that as soon as you have at least one strong female character, this means, it's already difficult to genderbend a story. I'm thinking especially of the Eowyn part. The idea of a genderbent LOTR sounds really cool, and many characters still work, but in the whole, I think, it isn't easy. You can pick single interesting examples out of the story, because some of it works, but never the whole.
    Reminds me also of a genderbent version of "Let it go" from Frozen, wherein Elsa is a king instead of queen. It's really cool actually, but when you start thinking about genderbending the other characters too, you realize that it's getting weird.

    1. Yeah, the whole wouldn't work, but since you could potentially argue that the girls aren't completely strong female characters, since at least in the books they'd never pass the Bechdel test or anything. Still, it's mostly the idea that matters, not exactly the execution.

      But yeah, there are aspects that seem interesting when you think about them like your Frozen example, but at least for me, I think it's interesting to at least think about how it might be different, even if it never comes to happen.

    2. Yes, but I think the girls in LOTR are interesting for the time they were written: they aren't characters in a modern book, where it is good manner to write a strong female character, but in a time, where this wouldn't be fussed about. Of course, many classical pieces in literature, older than LOTR already have women acting stronger as Arwen and Eowyn, but actually that was the turning point of the last century: It had actually become possible, that women didn't need to work at all, but then they started to realize, they didn't want to stay at home... the gist.
      Also, that one phrase "I am no man" (I'm no bro :'D) totally makes it for me...

      I think, discussing i and thinking about it, is possible, but a character also is partly bound to his or her gender, in way. You can't deny you're gender doesn't influence you, which you already see in your example: Eowyn would never have needed to hide as a man anyway, because she was a man. So making a whole plotline useless, because of a persons sex and gender.

      I'd rather tend to think about those less developed characters, like Rose and Elanor, Sam Gamgees wife and daughter, you could probably easily make a kick-ass underground rebel out of Rose during the time wenn Saruman ruled the Shire for example or imagine the journeys of Elanor, the Brave... and there's never talk about it, but what if Arwen and Aragorn have a daughter together? Of course, it's only fanfiction making. But a part, which doesn't destroy my straightforward imagination about Middle Earth :'D

      I'm not sure, if the Bechdel test is always that proper working. Fo example, I realized for my personal writing projects, that they actually wouldn't pass the Bechdel Test if you reversed it -too many girls and woman and almost no boys. I've gotten better, but there's a handful of quite matriarchic stuff...

    3. That's true; at the time when this was written, women wouldn't ever be considered for warrior roles necessarily, but things like World War II showed elements of strength in women that had previously not been counted upon. (And yeah, the Eowyn meme is one of my favorites ever.)

      That's very true that your gender will always be a defining element of who you are, and often your role in society, but in some cases it's not always fair if people are limited by their gender, which seams to be at least some of the case in the Middle Earth scheme of things.

      Rose acting as an underground rebel would be a totally awesome story! I'd read that. :) You have to wonder what she'd do, and who everyone would need to be under Saruman's watch. Canonically speaking, I believe Aragorn and Arwen do end up having two boys and a girl (much like Arwen's parents, actually), so it's not out of the realm of reason that their daughter could have risen to do something great as well.

      Matriarch stuff would be interesting, at least to me, just because it was historically rare. Not in North America, maybe, but at least in the European civilizations. The Bechdel test doesn't define how awesome something is, obviously, but it is an indicator as to how women are portrayed, and that can be kind of a big deal. So I don't think the Bechdel test should ever be taken as a sole indicator, but it's always something to think about—and something to think about when you turn the tables and make a matriarchal society, as well.

    4. I think, World War II wasn't much different about the role models of women in war. It was usual practice, that men didn't let women do anything, until war came, and they needed every helping hand for their bloody work, was it a man's or a womans. In World War II women drove trucks and worked to armor their men, but already in ancient times it actually happened, that women had to do all the work nobody was doing anymore too, when all the men headed for war. Probably the difference is that this was never questioned in ancient and middle ages while only a few years after World War II already a lot differences shone out.

      Eowyn isn't limited t her gender, she would be probably even much more herself if she was a man/boy but it makes a difference how she can live her personality...

      Yes. I really need to read that part again. I tried a reread ot LOTR lately, but haven't even left the Shire yet. The Hobbit is in a way so much more straightforward.
      I'm not sure if I'm really going to write fanfiction :'D but of course, this is tempting.

      True, in Europe people started very late with even considering women as possibly equal. I mean, of course greek philosophers already had that idea before, but somehow, it never spread well around.

      The irony in all this is, that the story I plotted intentionally matriarchic has a male point of view, while some other fantasy story I'm writing has two minor male characters and not much more, even though it's just a meaningless little adventure. Also, in another story, which should be a story about a matriarchic warrior people making war against a democratic city, the city was actually mainly ruled be women too. Oops. I think I need a bit more practice in writing, until I'll manage this properly :P

    5. Exactly. WWII made women step up to a challenge they'd never been allowed to step up to before, but I guess it shows how history can get muddled and repeat itself. It shows interesting things in the literature of the time.

      Eowyn definitely wouldn't have the same story if she were a boy, but I guess it's hard to say how the culture exists without actually living in Middle Earth.

      Lord of the Rings takes forever to read. Trust me. IT IS HARD. I haven't read the Hobbit (gotta do it) but if you do get tempted to write fan fiction, I wish all the awesomeness you can come up with. :)

      Well, some Greek philosophers. I know that Aristotle in particular thought women very inferior to men. But in Sparta, women had a much greater role in the warring society. So, there have been a lot of portrayals of men and women in cultures around the world, but hopefully someday both genders will be equal everywhere.

      Hey, I think those ideas sound fascinating! Even if there are some unexpected twists and turns, I think matriarchal societies can still be interesting to examine in writing and challenging. Keep working at them!

  6. I've always loved the Lord of the Rings, but the fact that they're only two main characters who are girls (and, especially with Arwen, that kind of depends on your definition of 'main character') has always bugged me--I've always thought it would be super cool if one character in the Fellowship was a girl. In a way, though, I can't complain, because it's inspired me to write my own stories with main characters who are girls.

    1. I'd argue that all of the girls are supporting characters, because the original members of the Fellowship are the real central characters to the story. I'd actually like it if more than one girl was in the Fellowship! Anyway, even if we have to be disappointed, I'm glad it inspired you to write female MCs, because that is great! :D


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