— Danna Petersen-Deeprose, independent scholar
Paper given 4 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Sunday session № 2
My project draws from intersectional feminist and postmodern queer theories as well as recent Tolkien scholarship to examine how Tolkien’s depictions of characters, relationships, and ways of loving and existing destabilize contemporary cishetero amatonormative structures. While I offer a queer reading, I do not focus on eroticism or romance; rather, I look at how various characters, relationships, and races complicate essentialist understandings of gender and cisheteronormativity.
Non-heterosexual partnerships, non-normative families, and non-traditional gender presentation are extremely common in Middle-earth. I begin my study by examining non-normative relationships, including Bilbo and Frodo as a non-traditional family; Sam and Frodo’s intimacy and the family they establish with Rosie; Legolas and Gimli’s partnership; and Sauron’s relationships with various powerful male figures, whom he often “seduces” by taking on a beautiful body.
Next, I examine how certain individual character traits and race-defining attributes challenge essentialist ideas of gender. I focus on the representation of dwarves, universally bearded and masculine-bodied; elves, virtually all smooth-cheeked with long flowing hair; the Ainur, who choose a body to match their innate “temper”; and humans and hobbits, zeroing in on Éowyn and Merry.
Finally, I examine the complicated relationship between queerness and virtue in Arda. The books repeatedly reinforce traditional gender roles, especially for female characters, but are simultaneously inhabited by diverse races that embody gender in a multitude of ways. And though Sauron’s feminized behaviour and non-normative relationships threaten Middle-earth at large, it is Frodo and Sam’s intimate queer relationship that literally saves the world.
Ultimately, I argue that while Tolkien may appear to reinforce gender norms and heteronormative ideals, he in fact destabilizes them. In Arda, Tolkien has envisioned a world with a wide range of diverse sexual, romantic, familial, and gender categories.