Monday, March 30, 2015

Feminism in Middle-earth

In 2001, I went through an acrimonious divorce.  I was so devastated by the experience that I couldn't be bothered to maintain proper grooming habits or keep to a healthy diet.  I became so unkempt and out of shape that I frightened people wherever I went.  When I went to see The Lord of the Rings, kids threw popcorn at me because they thought I was a Balrog.  But I found myself heartened by The Lord of the Rings, which was able to move me on a deeply personal level. 

Let us briefly examine the story.  Central to the story is an evil ring.  It is just a plain band of gold but it terrifies the hell out of everyone.  People see the ring and they sweat buckets.  Of course they do, is it lost on anyone that the ring looks like a wedding band?  This poor guy, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Woods), has been burdened with the ring and he's desperate to get rid of it.  After sharing a few hits on a bong, a group of manly buddies risk their lives to help Frodo take the ring to a fiery pit so he can pitch it in.  This is the only way to destroy its evil powers and be freed.  At the time, I imagined that the man who wrote the script must have gone through a divorce as bad as my own. 

I realized that I misread the Ring trilogy by the time that I saw the last film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).  The trilogy was not at all about the vows and symbols that bind a man and a woman.  The films managed, by adopting decidedly feminist perspective, to wholly reject the notion of men and women engaging in committed relationships.  Marriage, what's that good for?

I should at least be able to escape the harangue of feminists when I sit down to watch a fantasy adventure movie about knights, wizards, elves and dragons.  But, no, that’s not how it worked in this case.  Screenwriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh worked tirelessly to interject feminist propaganda into Tolkien’s Middle-earth trilogy.  They were on a sacred mission.  One feminist blogger felt such devotion to Boyens‘ efforts that she dubbed the screenwriter "St. Philippa of the Screenplay."  

Boyens made herself hero to feminists early on.  While writing the first movie, she decided that Tolkien had made elf princess Arwen too passive and she simply had to do something about that.  So, she took a heroic rescue scene performed in the book by a male swordsman and reworked the scene for Arwen, thereby transforming the enchanting royal lady into a sweaty, muscular Xena Warrior Princess.  Fans protested when they heard about this, which prompted director Peter Jackson to abandon the scene.  However, this did not deter Boyens and Walsh, who would continue to pursue their feminist agenda in less obvious ways. 

Dominant in the feminist dogma is the belief that women are cheapened and fooled by romantic devotion to men.  This presented a problem for Boyen and Walsh as the story’s two leading ladies, Arwen and Eowyn, are willing to risk their lives for the love of a nobleman, Aragorn.  In the book, Eowyn confronts Aragorn as he prepares to ride toward the Paths of the Dead.  She fears for his death and wants to join him on his dangerous journey.  Eowyn falls into despair when Aragon rebuffs her.  Boyens sought to lessen Eowyn’s heartbreak and indicate factors other than Aragorn’s rejection as the reason for her tearful mood.  Boyens said that it weakened this woman to be “suicidal that some guy had ridden off and left her.”  Walsh added, “We didn’t want to victimize her in that scene.”  Let the feminist message go out to the world: To give your heart to a man and to shed a tear over his potential death is to be a victim.

An important moment in the book occurs when Arwen decides not to flee to the safety of Rivendell and remain in Middle-earth in hope of Aragorn’s return from war.  She refuses to believe the two of them will never be together again and she is willing to wait for him even if it means sacrificing her immortality.  Boyens and Walsh changed this significantly in the movie.  They had Arwen leave for Riverdell and, en route, have a vision of a child she will bear if she marries Aragorn.  She decides to turn back and remain in Middle-earth not for Aragorn but for the child.  Boyens said that, without this vision, she could not see “why the hell” Arwen would have reason to stay.  A woman can never be motivated to make a great sacrifice for a man, even though it’s acceptable for a man like Aragon to repeatedly risk his life to protect his loved ones.  Devotion and sacrifice are serious burdens and serious burdens are to be born only by men, who are too thick-skulled to know better and too useless to otherwise matter.

And this came from two women who admitted that, in reading the Tolkien books, the female character they related to the most was Shelob the giant spider.

Films can be highly influential.  It is dangerous and immoral to sneak insidious propaganda into a seemingly innocent film.  Even when its message is out in the open, protest drama is invariably limited in its artistic value and its understanding of human character.  Protest drama is at most times boring and at other times irritating.

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