“Her enchanted hair”: Rossetti, Lady Lilith,” and the Victorian fascination with hair as influences on Tolkien

— Kathryn Colvin, University of Missouri

Paper given 31 July 2021 at Mythcon 51 Session 2

The Victorian poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti appears upon first glance to be an unlikely inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium: though both were medievalists, Tolkien’s reputation for chaste prose contrasts sharply with Rossetti’s famously fleshly” work. However, a close reading of both — setting Rossetti’s poetry, particularly Lady Lilith” and its accompanying painting, alongside Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and posthumously published material from The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth — reveals a compelling and previously unexplored connection between the Victorian cultural mythology of magic hair (as epitomized by the hair-mad” Rossetti) and Tolkien’s detailed and often supernatural portrayals of women’s tresses. According to my research, I believe my paper (published in Mythlore issue 137, Fall/​Winter 2020) to be the first proposal of Rossetti as an influence on Tolkien, and also novel in its academic attention to Tolkien’s portrayals of women’s hair. One point at which Tolkien’s writing lets down its own figurative hair is in its sumptuous descriptions of female characters’ abundantly flowing locks, the desire they inspire in others, and even their weaponization: in his distinct and sensual attention to women’s hair, I assert that Tolkien was inspired by the Victorians in general, while his depictions of the characters of Galadriel, Lúthien, and Melian are strikingly similar to the femme fatale Lady Lilith of Rossetti’s poetry and painting.

Authoritative information may be found here.

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date recorded 📅2022-01-22
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