Female Dwarves, or Dwarf-women, are notably absent from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium. Throughout the histories of the Dwarves, including the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, Dwarf-women are mostly unseen figures, featured only in relation to the male Dwarves, and never encountered in the narratives themselves. Unable to construct their own identity other than that of not being male, the only distinctiveness offered to Tolkien’s Dwarf-woman is fashioned through simple biology: they are female and may bear children.
Reading Tolkien through Julia Kristeva, Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler, this paper posits that Tolkien’s female Dwarves are the ‘invisible women’ of the legendarium, exploring their marginalisation and their consequent situating as the abject ‘Other.’
Using Gondor as a basis for a closer examination, this paper outlines the presence and function of transgender realities within Tolkien’s work in ways the privileged reading of the text ignores or dismisses. Most specifically, Denethor, Finduilas of Dol Amroth, the Ruling Stewardship of Gondor as a concept, and the trajectory and timeline of Gondor’s development are examined. In the process, this paper demonstrates the way reading against the grain provides a crucial expansion of the way both fans and academics currently engage with and think about Tolkien’s work.
Though J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendarium portrays numerous characters with various disabilities, scholarship has primarily focused on Frodo, such as Michael Livingston’s ‘The Shell-shocked Hobbit’ and Verlyn Flieger’s ‘Frodo’s Body,’ which analyze Frodo’s physical and psychological injuries in light of Tolkien’s experience in World War I. Studies focused on characters from The Silmarillion, such as Irina Metzler’s ‘Tolkien and disability’ and Victoria Holtz Wodzak’s ‘Tolkien’s Gimpy Heroes,’ utilize the social model of disability discourse in their analyses.
The social model of disability theory analyzes how societal structures treat people with disabilities, and counters a strict medical model of disability. However, more recent disability theorists argue that a strict social model does not account for the role of physical pain attached to some disabilities. Current disability study has not resolved the role of pain in understanding, analyzing, and representing disability in society or literature. This unresolved tension is also present in Tolkien’s work.
This paper will analyze how Tolkien portrays pain in relationship to physical disability in the legendarium. Frodo experiences physical pain from his injuries, but this pain is subservient to — and inherently connected with — his psychological trauma. He also departs the story before a sustained account of living with chronic pain is portrayed in detail. Beren experiences several injuries, but Tolkien does not portray a vivid experience of physical pain even after Beren’s most severe injury — the loss of his hand — and indeed Beren dies shortly after his injury. The primary characters whose post-injury experiences are documented for a considerable amount of time are Maedhros and Morgoth, where Tolkien describes physical pain at the moment these injuries are received, hints at sustained pain after the fact, but does not portray their experiences of living with chronic pain in detail.
Refugee narratives and displacement are key themes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, with nearly every race and ethnicity in Middle-earth experiencing some type of forced displacement. Inherent to refugee narratives is trauma exposure, and Tolkien himself furnishes descriptions of character behavior and cognition (e.g., Maedhros, Aragorn, Frodo) that map symptomatically onto modern constructs of traumatic stress. Because psychological research indicates traumatic stress disproportionately affects displaced individuals and because experiences of displacement in Tolkien’s legendarium are epidemic, the power and centrality of the refugee narrative in Tolkien’s work must be considered. However, while some scholars have studied Tolkien’s personal- and legendarium-based writing on war and its stressors, these themes are generally only examined in light of Tolkien’s own experiences and personal beliefs. While these are important points that were likely influential in Tolkien’s representations — as he wrote, after all, “the burnt hand teaches most about fire” — the ways in which displacement and traumatic stress function differently across cultures within the legendarium, and how those differences may impact reader experience, are unexplored.
This paper, therefore, proposes to integrate knowledge from refugee and stress research with Tolkien’s texts to address the following: the social-ecological impact of displacement and trauma on cultural groups and associated individuals; how differing cultural and historical responses to displacement modulate outcomes across groups, and, finally, associated implications for cultural meaning-making, personal decision-making, and interethnic interactions. Primary topics of interest for this study are the impact of childhood and prolonged trauma on Elrond’s lifecourse in Middle-earth; differences in occupation and colonization practices post-displacement in the Sindarin princes of the Silvan elves; and continuous displacement and trauma exposure in dwarven communities. Because Tolkien both implicitly and explicitly acknowledges the existence of traumatic stress in Middle-earth, an application of this different but related analytical lens may be illuminating.