Tolkien is frequently accused of being sexist. While most of the main characters in his stories are men, he also wrote some fascinating female characters. Here are a few of the most intriguing.
Mentioned in passing in The Fellowship of the Ring, Berúthiel was a crazy cat lady. Seriously. Aragorn assures the rest of the Fellowship that Gandalf is “surer of finding his way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel” (FotR, 303). In Unfinished Tales, a brief note mentions that she was the “nefarious, solitary, and loveless wife” of one of the kings of Gondor (UT, 419). She had nine black cats and one white cat, all of whom she would send out to learn all of the secrets of the kingdom. The cats could either speak to her or she could read their minds. Her husband eventually put her on a ship, along with her cats, and cast her adrift at sea. Creepy and fascinating.
Also in Unfinished Tales is the story “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife.” Erendis is a woman of Númenor, beloved of Aldarion, the son of the king. Aldarion is also enamored of the sea but Erendis hates the sea. They marry but eventually Erendis forces Aldarion to choose between her and the sea; in a fit of anger, he chooses the sea. She never forgives him and they separate for the rest of their lives. It’s a sad story and one of the most relatable that Tolkien wrote.
Goldberry is the wife of Tom Bombadil, the “River-daughter” (FotR, 120). There’s been speculation for decades about what Tom really is. Some say he’s a Maia, some say he’s Eru, the creator. I even read a theory on Tumblr that he’s actually Melkor. But what is Goldberry? She certainly has a power of her own. Is she a Maia?
One of the most beloved female characters Tolkien wrote is Éowyn. She is driven to despair by the crumbling of her family and her country; she falls hopelessly in love with Aragorn. She goes to the battlefield to seek death. Although she doesn’t find it, she finds love and peace on the other side.
Of course, Lúthien has to be on a list of Tolkien’s female characters. Honestly, it’s almost become a cliché. Lúthien was the most beautiful, and possibly the most gifted/powerful, Elf who ever lived. She not only fell in love with a mortal man but gave up her immortality for him. “So it was that alone of the Eldalië she has died indeed, and left the world long ago” (Silmarillion, 187). I wrote a lot more about her in my post The Choice of Lúthien, but there’s really so much depth to her and her story.
When thinking of willful female characters, Galadriel and Éowyn are often the first who come to mind. Aredhel prized her freedom so highly that you could almost call her wild. She defied her brother’s law (albeit with his permission) and left Gondolin. She married an Elf whom none of her kin loved. When she grew tired of his rules, she ran away with her son, hoping to never see her husband again. In the end, she died protecting her son, the willful child of willful parents.
Melian is the only Maia who married an Elf. She was essentially an angel who took on a physical form in order to marry Thingol. Not only that, but she also gave birth to a daughter, Lúthien. And Melian never seemed to regret it, even when Thingol died. In fact, her attachment to him was so great that after he died, she cared no more for Middle-earth and fled to Valinor.
Again, you can’t leave Galadriel off a list like this. Aside from her power, beauty, wisdom, and kindness, there’s another element that makes Galadriel fascination: her mystery. Tolkien never quite settled on her origins, as noted in Unfinished Tales. There were so many different versions of her history, why she left Valinor, what she did in Middle-earth, who her children were, and how she received a Ring of Power that it’s impossible to really give the final word.
2. Varda: the exalted
Varda isn’t discussed enough but she’s incredibly important. Even those who aren’t familiar with The Silmarillion have a vague concept of who she is–she is Elbereth, the lady of the stars. She is the one called upon in Middle-earth when all hope seems lost. Although it isn’t clear if she takes an active part in anything that happens, her very name grants power.
Possibly the most obscure on this list, Andreth still stands tall. She was a Wise-woman of men, related to Beren. She was close to Finrod and learned many things from him. But what makes her truly fascinating is that she is the only mortal woman to have been loved by an Elf: Aegnor, Finrod’s brother. They never married because Elves don’t marry in time of war. Interestingly, Andreth seemed never to know the true reason until Finrod told her. One wonders if there was a bitter separation, similar to Aldarion and Erendis.
Photo Credit: Roksolana Zasiadko