The Lord of the Rings / Middle Earth, Female Representation, and Samwise Gamgee

I have long considered myself a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work mainly due to my long relationship with The Hobbit. However, after finally finishing his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy this past December, I have a new and intensified appreciation for Tolkien's imaginative genius.

I don't even know if I can begin to explain my love for the world that Tolkien created. Middle Earth is a magical place that reminds me very much of actual medieval texts, like the Lais of Marie de France or the epic Beowulf. You can see that in every word Tolkien is crafting a new mythology even more epic than the tales of King Arthur himself.

And Tolkien's descriptions are so detailed that I think, even if I wasn't already very familiar with Peter Jackson's movie adaptations, I would be able to picture Middle Earth perfectly. From the landscapes to the different cultures to the winds and songs, I honestly cannot name another fantasy series that brings these to life as well. I might actually enjoy Tolkien's world building more than the actual plot!
Of course, Tolkien's novels are as much about his characters as they are about the mystical universe he created. He crafts the twisted characters like Saruman and Denethor beautifully, while Sauron and his Eye loom so ominously in the background of the entire series that you can't help but feel oppressed and terrified even from the safety beyond the pages of the physical book.

I almost don't feel the need to talk about all of the strong male heroes. We have Boromir and Faramir, the brothers of Gondor who are so different in manner and yet so similar in strength. We have Elrond, Legolas, and Gimli, mythical figures of a fading past. Gandalf, the riddler and light-bringer who sets everything into motion. And of course there is Aragorn, wild Ranger turned king and savior of mankind. 

One complaint I have often heard from even avid fans of The Lord of the Rings is that Tolkien seems to have completely failed when it comes to representation of female characters. I would completely disagree. Yes, there are very few female characters in the trilogy and even fewer in The Hobbit. But I think this is a really clear case of quality over quantity. 

We have the river-child Goldberry, Tom Bombadil's beautiful wife who seems to have the power to heal all of the hobbits' ills. We have Galadriel, the beautiful and powerful Lady of Lothlorien, who can see all and whose gifts effectively allow the Fellowship to succeed. We have Arwen, the maiden who goes against her father's wishes to choose her own path, discarding immortality in favor of the man she loves. Arwen, who becomes a Queen of Men.

But most importantly, we have Eowyn. I probably should just write a whole separate post on this brilliant character but, quite frankly, I can't be bothered. In Eowyn's character Tolkien demonstrates a surprisingly keen understanding of how restricted a woman must have been in medieval society. Eowyn is so aware of the limitations she exists within that she would rather die painfully on the battlefield than return to her golden cage. Tolkien uses Eowyn's depression almost to say: look, this is what happens when you cage a free spirit. Man or woman, it doesn't matter.

And last but certainly not least, we have our little hobbits. I love them all individually and as a whole race, for their innocence and resilience. But I will always find myself somewhat partial to our wonderful, loyal gardener, Samwise Gamgee.

Sam is every bit as good and pure as Gollum is dark and twisted. They are, after all, mirror images of one another. Gollum has been turned and twisted before we meet him in either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. He is a dark and violent character whose pre-ring goodness starts to leak through while he is in Frodo's service. Sam is the opposite, a pure and innocent young Hobbit who starts to display violent thoughts as he journeys further into Mordor. He grows suspicious of Gollum, talks about the creeping creature behind his back and fantasizes about killing him. Sam does actually kill Shelob, going berserk after the apparent loss Frodo. So what is it that I love about Sam and that distinguishes him from Gollum?

Sam remains pure and good because, unlike Gollum, he does not act for himself. Everything he does is to further the life and purpose of his beloved master Frodo.

But most of all, I love Sam because he reminds me that with enough determination, even the smallest of us can change the world.

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