Lord of the Rings is, and always has been, and probably always will be my favorite movies of all time. The unparalleled story-telling of J.R.R. Tolkien coupled with the cinematic direction of Peter Jackson a Howard Shore original score to top it off? It is nothing short of perfection in my book. If you don’t believe me, here are a few stats to prove it!
The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for a whopping 158 awards, receiving 98 of those, including Academy Awards, Grammys, and Golden Globes. The Two Towers blew that out of the water with 222 nominations and 136 awards received. What about Return of the King, you ask? 337 nominations and 258 of those were awarded. In total, that brings the trilogy to 717 nominations and 492 awards, which is absolutely mind-blowing.
As a young girl, I can remember reading the books and watching the movies, and wondering why there weren’t more female characters. In the grand scheme of the trilogy, there are really only three women who are prominently featured: Arwen, Galadriel, and Eowyn. Yes, there are common folk females, and we can’t leave out Rosie Cotton, Sam’s beloved wife, but other than that, the trilogy is a real bachelor party. The Fellowship is exclusively men, and thus, men carry the storyline for the majority of the time. During my formative years, this saddened me as I looked to strong, female portrayals in the media to shape the character I wanted to possess.
However, as I have aged (and rewatched the movies close to a hundred times), I began to realize the Tolkien didn’t need a plethora of females in his story to show that women are powerful and that they have a role in shaping Middle Earth. He just needed three.
Arwen is the first major female character we are introduced to in the trilogy. She shows up in The Fellowship of the Ring after Frodo is stabbed by the Ring-Wraith on Weathertop. A few short minutes after meeting her, we are acquainted with her tenacity as she single-handedly outpaces nine Wraiths on Asfaloth as she rushes to get Frodo to the land of her people before he passes into the shadow realm. At the banks of the river that separates the land, she turns to face them head-on, and utters the line that never fails to give me chills (even if it isn’t canon Tolkien):
If you want him, come and claim him.”
From this moment on, Arwen proves herself to be as fiery of an Elf as can be. She pledges herself to a mortal, giving him her Elvenstone. She stands up to her father, the noble Lord Elrond, and fights for her chance at true love, even though it will mean heartache for her in the future. The mere thought of her revives Aragorn when all else seems lost.
Through her example, I learned that it is okay to be ferocious and that such ferocity doesn’t negate femininity. It is acceptable for me to “ride with the big boys” one moment, and be the picture of beauty the next.
I learned that true love is achievable, though it may not be as conventional as I had thought. I realized that such love doesn’t just happen, but it takes time and effort by both parties, although often at different times throughout the relationship.
Arwen taught me that the things in life worth fighting for may require me to make tough choices, decisions that will ultimately affect the trajectory of my life. These choices may not be popular, or what the people around me would suggest, but if I follow my heart, these types of choices will shape the person I am.
The Lady of Lothlorien. The absolute QUEEN Cate Blanchett herself. We are also introduced to this Elven Queen at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. As the remaining members of the fellowship take refuge in Lothlorien following the “death” of Gandalf, she welcomes them into Caras Galadhon and provides them rest and revitalization, except for Frodo, who gets to witness the “Terrible Corrupted Evil Queen”. Though she was a wielder of a Ring of Power, Nenya, she tested Frodo by asking him to give her the One Ring. In the end, she “passes the test” and confirms that she will travel with her people to Valinor.
As a side note, in addition to being absolutely gorgeous, I am fairly convinced that Cate is an actual Elf because she is clearly immortal and isn’t aging. But I digress.
Through her example, I learned that power is not something that should be lusted over. She had wielded Nenya for millennia and had only used its powers as a way to protect and provide for her people. She never used it for personal gain. When presented with more power (the One Ring) she resisted, understanding the ruin that would come to Middle Earth through her. In today’s society, we are taught that power, whether through socio-economic standing or career-driven methods, etc., is the goal that everyone should strive towards. Just get that promotion, then you’ll be in charge of more people and can make a bigger difference in the company. Just have a little bit more in your bank account and you will have a better life. More power is equated to better living.
However, Galadriel lives the complete opposite of this. She instantly realizes that more power will harm herself and those around her, and shuns the advancement of power. I, too, should take a page out of her book and be wary of the “power struggle” that so many face today.
We meet this noble lady of Rohan in The Two Towers. The shield-maiden of Rohan is first introduced as Grima Wormtongue is framing her brother for treason. After Gandalf the White releases her Uncle from the clutches of Saruman’s magic, she rides beside Aragorn and Theoden, leading the people of Rohan to Helm’s Deep when the Orcs attack. In Return of the King, she famously rides with the Rohirrim against her uncle and King’s orders. Furthermore, with a little help from Merry, she kills the Witch King of Angmar (after being told no man can kill him, I might add). All around, she is a valiant warrior, a wise leader, and a gentle friend.
Of all the ladies of Lord of the Rings, I have learned the most from Eowyn. I learned not to tolerate unwanted advances from men who only want what my physical body can give them (looking at you, Grima). I was taught that sometimes, even though I want to be a part of the action, my talents are better suited in other places.
More than anything, though, in my own life, I resonate with the words she speaks to Aragorn in The Return of the King. I don’t live my life in fear of death or pain. Instead, much like Eowyn, I fear that every effort I do put into this life won’t matter. That I will fail to go down in history as someone who made a difference. I fear the cage that I often place on my own mind by telling myself I am not good enough, that I don’t make the cut. That other people are better, stronger, more capable than I am. That I’m just some silly girl trying to reach for the stars who will inevitably just end up falling on my face.
Eowyn gives me hope that this will not be my fate. Just as she defied boundaries and rode to war with her uncle and brother, and ended up shifting the entire trajectory of the battle by killing the Wraith, I, too, am not defined by the boundaries other people set for me. I can be just as big of a renegade as the lady of Rohan, fighting my metaphorical oliphants and orcs. I WILL make a difference in this world, for even a small difference can shape the outcome of another’s life.
Three wonderful, powerful, iconic ladies. That is all the Tolkien needed to instill countless life lessons into a young girl a decade and a half ago who was watching Lord of the Rings for the first time. strength and beauty can coexist. Power isn’t something to strive to achieve. True strength comes from pushing the boundaries other set for you. Frodo may have carried the Ring to Mordor, but we can all appreciate the heroism of the women of Lord of the Rings, and how these ladies shaped the future of Middle Earth. I will leave you with the single most powerful statement ever uttered by a female in cinema. Go forth, and shape the world.
“I am no man.” — Eowyn