Aragorna, Daughter of Arathorn?

by Orangeblossom Took, with responses

This was a musing that came to me while listening to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It is a shame there aren't any fantasy classics where the dethroned/exiled/orphaned/whatever rightful monarch is a female. It is a little surprising to me because both Tolkien and Lewis lived in a country, England, whose greatest monarch, Elizabeth I, was female. Not only that but, since her, they had Anne, though she was too busy making lace and burying babies to rule directly, and, more to the point and very close to these guys, Victoria. Furthermore, there was the legend of Boudecia, the Celtic British Queen who fought the Romans. Did they have the statue of her in Tolkien's time? I think so.

Ah, well. I love Narnia and I love the allegory in it (particularly how Susan and Lucy take on the Mary and Mary M. roles at one point) but this lack of a female ruler bothers me more in it, probably because the villian is a woman. I know Susan and Lucy become Queens but it is not the same. Peter is the "High King" over the others. If Susan was the eldest would she have been "High Queen?" Probably not.

Even Ursula K. LeGuinn, who was a woman, has Ged and Tenar helping a Prince. At least she has a book, Tombs of Atuan, where Tenar, a female, is the main character, and there is not, though I have not read all the Earthsea books and it has been awhile since I read any of them, a main female villian.

Even in the Anne McCaffrey "Dragon" books, we have Mellonny and Lessa but it is Jaxom who rules Ruatha and Mellonny does not become Masterharper of Pern. In fact, the first book with Lessa made me VERY angry because F'lar SLAPS her. And this was written by a woman. Sheesh.

Even in modern fantasy it is mostly a Prince. Princesses are for rescuing, not restoring to thrones to rule. I have never really thought of this before and it has not bothered me. I don't know what about Narnia, which I still love and has 2 Queens, brought this to mind and made it bother me. Yes, I know they are usually Queens and Princesses and even Queens like Susan and Lucy but it is not the same. Tenar is not the same. Lessa and Mellonny are not the same. Arwen CERTAINLY is not, just the typical princess. I can't put my finger on it but it is not.

*Snicker* I wonder is someone has written a fanfic where Aragorn is a woman who marries one of the twins and not Arwen. That actually has angst potential, with one twin remaining to be King Consort and the other going overseas. As with anything, it could be silly or done well. I'm not doing it, though, it would have to be too long and I lack the skill.

Response from AnnaEstel:

You've a point about the lack of strong Queens. Melian is a minor goddess type, and she is still mostly just Thingol's wife. Galadriel is as close as it comes to a female ruler in her own right.

I guess we must take comfort in the fact that Aragorn's line is descended from Silmarien. She should have been queen, granted, and was not simply because at that time the throne went to sons, but it was 'her' line that remained true and was therefore saved to establish themselves in middle earth to begin with.

Response from Beruthiel:

The bard was fond of the strong woman but dressed as a male ,as Eowyn was.This lead to some curly situations and questions raised.
As different behaviour is expected of men and women (eg Aragorn hesitating wrt to his kingly role, or his healing touch) the storyline may not seem as strong in places, when a woman does what comes naturally.
Aragorna is one thing but what of a bunch of girl cousins setting off cross country or Gollumina?

            Orangeblossom Took:  LOL, yes. Froda, Mary, and Pippa. I hadn't thought about how the storyline might not seem as strong with a woman being hesitant and healing. Yeah, Shakespeare did like cross-dressing, LOL. As for Gollumina, *shudders*

                   Beruthiel:  Not much dress to cross , in the case of Gollumina

Response from Lindorie:

You might be interested in a book that I have checked out from the library right now called Warrior Queens by Antonia Fraser. She has a great deal about Boadiceia in the book along with sections on Matilda of Tuscany, Maud/Matilda of England, Tamara of the Caucasus, Isabella of Spain, Elizabeth of England, Jinga of Angola, and many more.

Let's face it, Tolkien bases his story on Western European Medieval society and is heavily flavored with the Victorian and Edwardian beliefs that he grew up with. Women were subservient beings and in most of the 'civilized' parts of Europe in the 1000-1600 a.d. period, had little rights, even as rulers. There were of course exceptions, but had Elizabeth I married, we would have seen most of her power go to her husband.

Women could inherit properties from their fathers but the rights to govern them generally passed to their husbands. There were some men who were intelligent enough to keep their paws off of their wives' lands, but most took full advantage of their husbandly rights.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the greatest heiresses of all time and the only woman ever to have been queen of both France and England. When she and Louis were divorced, she was nearly abducted and forced to marry at least twice.

No doubt there were some remarkable women warriors, but unfortunatly we are left little evidence of such by the typically male recorders of history of that era.

I have recently come across information by the name of Nicolaa de Haye who was the Castellan of Lincoln Castle during the reigns of King John and Henry III. She was also the Sherrif of Lincoln, but I haven't been able to find out a lot of details about her. I know that she inherited the Castellan position from her father, but that she maintained the power associated with the position even though married is rather surprising. I know that during her tenure, Lincoln was besieged at least twice and that John's troops were sent to break the siege.I am currently researching women and archery in the middle ages. Not much to go on there, either, hehehe.

Unfortunately, the impression that women were the weaker gender has meant that little was written about these remarkable women and when we do find something about them, it is usually negativly colored. The medieval period is highly male dominated and the scholarship of the Victorian and Edwardian periods about the medieval era has romanticised women and their femaleness even more. Trying to get an accurate picture of 'real women' is not an easy task.

Response from Varda:

I have put up quite a few posts about Tolkien's failure to provide us with credible, feisty females. He gives us Eowyn, but something is wrong with that picture; when she wakes up in the House of Healing, Eowyn says 'oh well I suppose it is ok to be alive if I can fill an empty saddle'

Does any woman, in fiction or real life, talk like that? Tolkien's shieldmaiden is a rather terrifying valkyrie in danger of losing her femininity. Then the next moment she is all butter in Faramir's arms. (messy.. Shocked ) It is not the character at fault, but the vision of the writer. He just could not comprehend the total mind and heart of a courageous, intelligent woman able to be the equal of men in war and statecraft.

I would put the blame on Tolkien's generation, but that does him no credit, he wrote in the 1950s, not the 1050s. Shakespeare has more powerful women than Tolkien. Think of Cleopatra. Charlote and Emily Bronte created powerful, intelligent passionate heroines a hundred years before Tolkien, but he falls into the Arthurian romance way of seeing women as prizes, or inspirational visions, not doers and makers and leaders.

And yes, Britain had the two most influential female rulers of modern history, Elizabeth the First and Victoria. So, Englishmen, what gives with the wimpy heroines?

It is interesting that transferring the story to the big screen, Jackson knew he could not get away with wimpy females; film is a modern idiom, which gave us modern women heroes, Ripley and Sarah Connors (Alien and Terminator) not to mention powerful females back to the start of the age of sound, Marlene Dietrich (The Scarlet Empress) Garbo (every woman she played) Bette Davis (Jezebel) Scarlett O'Hara etc. My own favourite was Julie Christie, who gave a romanticism to the beautiful, headstrong, intelligent women she played, like Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd.

It saddens me that Tolkien's treatment of women, being so apparently outdated, leaves him open to detractors who belittle his whole oeuvre as worthless escapism. I think Tolkien himself lived in a very male world, of Oxford dons, a world never really breached by women, and he takes that into his work. And also he is embued with medieval romance, which has female heroines but these exemplify virtues then associated with women, courage certainly but also modesty, chastity and obedience to their male betters.

No way!

many thanks, OT for bringing up this fascinating subject....

Whatever influenced Tolkien to create his beautiful but remote Elven ladies and queens, his studies of Anglo-saxon literature must have influenced his portrayal of the Rohan people and their rulers.

Here is a description by the Roman historian Tacitus of the Germanic warrior tribe the Franks on the Northern border of the Roman Empire (these occupied lands adjacent to the tribes who would migrate to England as the Angles and Saxons)

"the warlike and boldest men have no regular employment (except war) and the care of house, home and fields is left to the women, old men and weaklings of the family..."

Remember in the film how Eowyn rails at being left to 'find food and bedding for the men when they return from battle'? And Aragorn tries to tell her that is a good idea (shame on you, Aragorn!) I think Tolkien knew that in the kind of society of the Saxons/Rohan women, with the old and the weaklings, got to do the menial work. That is why Eowyn wants to fight so badly; not only to gain freedom from the chores of the palace but to gain status.

The problem for Tolkien is his world is based on virtues of warlike valour, and in such society, as in the Frankish society of the 6th centure, women just did not matter. Neither did children or the old. This brutal climate was inimical to all but the very strong and violent.

Let's face it, increased freedom and influence for women is a sign of a more advanced society, and it is noticable that Tolkien does not give us any convincing Gondorian women except that stupid Ioreth. In fact Tolkien has problems with Gondor, as an urban culture is not his thing, he yearns for the rural Shire or the romantic warrior plainsmen of Rohan. But he indicates, from his powerful portrayal of Denethor and Faramir, that the future of Middle Earth and its human occupants, depends on a strong, fair and cultured regime in Gondor.

So the problem of Tolkien's treatment of women is just part of a larger set of issues in his work.

        Response from sarahstitcher:

Also, Tolkien's intention in Middle Earth in general and in LOTR as well, was to write mythology. The characters in mythology should not be mistaken for role models in society. It's even more pronounced in the Sil, of course. And this is in addition to the influences/streams/tendencies/upbringing etc. that has already been mentioned.

             Response from Varda:

Don't you think myths are role models, as they transcend societal norms,and we should do what is right, not what society demands?

Not many writers set out to write myth, deliberately, although some (like Shakespeare) create them from the excellence of their writing. Hamlet has created the myth of the sullen, disaffected young man. Who actually has a reason to be sullen and disaffected, but James Dean did the same thing without a reason, so the myth was true for two very different societies.

Tolkien's creations are less myths than archetypes, for they are often not human, and sometimes lack human traits. His Gandalf is an archetypal wizard, a true myth, but not in any way that could influence our perception of people, whereas we all know a sullen young man.

I think Tolkien succeeded in creating myths, but not in the high, idealistic sense he wanted. The recurring theme in his fiction is the impossibly beautiful Elf maiden, who falls in love with a mortal. But that has not impacted on modern sensibilities. What has is Gollum, the eternal addict, and Frodo, the little hero who takes on an evil giant and defeats him at the cost of his own sanity. Parallels with drug or power junkies for Gollum, and little people who take on great corporations for Frodo are obvious, as is the difficulty people have with remote, impossibily beautiful and virtuous Elf-princesses. Tolkien idealised women, and his myths followed suit. But the modern world has not taken up that myth, but has seized upon other, perhaps more true ones anyway, of the soul-destroying nature of addiction, and the saving power of friendship in Sam's self-sacrificing love for Frodo.

And sadly, these myths are predominantly male. They are relevant to our society and they were to Victorian society as well, but the relevance of the Elves is less sure, and the Elf-princesses less again. There is Galadriel, but she is not a typical Elf, and her beauty and power, her magic wood and her machiavellianism makes her closer to the myth of an Enchantress, which is what Tolkien strives to move his Elves away from, as Witch kings and their like are on the 'other 'side, the Dark side, hehe.

Thanks, Sarah....more food for thought...

    Reply from Orangeblossom Took:
       I think you are right about myths and about Tolkien's myths, Varda. I can relate to and even Gollum but not Arwen and myths are the templates we use in our lives.

Response from sarahstitcher:

Myth operates on a much deeper level than role models. The union of Luthien and Beren, or Arwen and Aragorn, isn't simply about a man meeting an impossibly beautiful woman and marrying her. It's also about integrating different aspects of a single person's being, whether that person is male or female. Each of us has these different aspects, and in a story they get represented as separate characters who join together. I'm afraid it's a little late at night for me to go into more depth here, but in this respect, it *matters* that Aragorn marries Arwen and not Eowyn, for instance. And what makes Arwen "miss right" isn't about her *doing* but her *being*.