Archive: The Virtue of Rosie Cotton

August 30, 2009 at 6:13 pm (Lord of the Rings, Writing) ()

One of the criticisms often levelled at Lord of the Rings is that it has an under representation of women, which seems unfair to me because writing is a very personal and complex business in which the author’s own mind and voice play a role, and where characters may wander in unbidden with a voice all of their own.

If representations of gender in Lord of The Rings are to be studied, then I for one am most intrigued not by the quantity of female characters, nor the amount of page time devoted to them, but by the quality of them. I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect upon one of Lord of the Rings’ small-but-important female characters: Rosie Cotton; hobbit lass, and love of Samwise Gamgee.

Rosie doesn’t appear in person until the final book – in the chapter ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ she blithely welcomes Sam back to the Shire with “Where’ve you been? They said you were dead; but I’ve been expecting you since the Spring.” [1] Yet her fondness for Sam is obvious, with her eyes a’shining at him and her demanding him to “come straight back as soon as you have settled the ruffians”.[2] Ultimately, Sam and Rosie wed, and together they have 13 children.

As wife and mother, Rosie perhaps holds the most stereotypical female role in the book – she has no power over the rains on the Old Forest, no Elvish wisdom, no yearning for battle or renown. To all appearances Rosie spends the majority of Lord of the Rings pining for Sam, as Sam explains it to Frodo:

It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so. And I didn’t speak, because I had a job to do first.

This scenario of female repression, whereby a woman cannot even declare her feelings unless a relationship has been made explicit, is not dissimilar to our own past practices and societal conventions. Rosie may appear to be an outdated stereotype, but this doesn’t devalue her as a character. What Rosie represents – more than Wife, more than Mother – is a part of the Shire itself, pure and sweet, unspoiled by the works of Saruman. Rosie is love, and love is genderless.

Rosie is first mentioned in the novel by Sam, as he sits upon the slope of Mount Doom with Frodo, and the knowledge that even if, against all odds, they succeed in destroying the ring, ‘there they would come to an end, alone, houseless, foodless in the midst of a terrible desert’ [3]. Sam reminisces about the Shire, and Rosie is part of this thought, this strength, this motivation to succeed – Rosie is the personification of the home that Sam and Frodo are fighting to protect.

In the wake of all Sam’s trials, Rosie is his comfort and his healing. She is the end of the story, the Happily Ever After. When Frodo has left for the Grey Havens, it is Rosie that draws Sam into his chair, and places their daughter on his lap. We see this image of family, of love, and we know that in spite of the hurt and the loss, everything will be okay. Life will go on, and with love in it, it will be a happy one.

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[1] Tolkien, JRR; The Lord of the Rings; HarperCollins Publishers; London; 1991; p 1045.
[2] Tolkien 1046.
[3] Tolkien 969.

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Archive: The Men of Middle Earth

August 1, 2009 at 8:04 am (Lord of the Rings, Writing) ()

They had a vision as it were of a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim with bright swords [1]

It took me a long time to appreciate and understand the men of Middle Earth. Of more appeal to me was the otherworldliness of Legolas – a fine-boned creature of grace and time, whose memories and awareness stretched far beyond the reach of any man’s. Perhaps this is because I was so disenchanted with our own mortal race, here in the “real world”.

I thought Denethor a mad old fool, Faramir as angst-ridden as he was noble, and Aragorn even more so. Boromir I despised, both for his pride and his weak-will in regards to the One Ring.

My loathing of poor Boromir was of such strength that upon seeing the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring, I – who always cry at the screen for the lost and the lonely – did not shed a single tear for Boromir. (For Gandalf, on the other hand, I wept uncontrollably, despite knowing that he was not truly gone.)

I did not realise the gravitas of Boromir until I read his story written by a talented roleplayer (whose name I wish I remembered, and whose story I wish I’d bookmarked). I think the reason this writer succeeded in “selling” me on Boromir where Tolkien had not, was because their words were wholly devoted to his character. (A canon-based fanwriter need not concern themselves with plot, nor multiple viewpoints). This writer had taken the seeds of Tolkien, and given them what I had not – time.

Take, for example, this quote from Boromir, at the Council of Elrond:

sudden war came upon us out of Mordor, and we were swept away. …Only a remnant of our eastern force came back, destroying the last bridge that still stood amid the ruins of Osgiliath.
I was in the company that held the bridge, until it was cast down behind us. Four only were saved by swimming: my brother and myself and two others. [2]

Boromir’s tale echoes with images of bloodiness and despair, yet I had glanced over it several times. It is pieces like this – whole stories and histories hidden in a few sparse sentences, that make Lord of the Rings a delight to re-read.

I am grateful to that roleplayer, not only for introducing me to the character of Boromir in a new and wonderful way, but also for teaching me a valuable lesson about how to read Lord of the Rings – savour it. Give it time. Let the seeds take root and grow.

I now know the men of Middle Earth to be mighty. They are builders, they are hunters, and they are warriors. They are not infallible. But their strength and their courage, especially in light of their mortality, is inspiring.

Through that roleplayer’s story of Boromir, I now know the true weight of the expectations placed on his shoulders by his father; and that his pride was for his people, for his hope for their future in the face of almost-certain doom.

Through that roleplayer’s story, I finally understood the tragedy of Boromir, and I wept.

(Note: this YouTube user has disabled the embedding feature, so it will not play on-screen. I highly recommend following the link [click the video] to watch it on YouTube, as Melina’s fanvids are beautifully done.)

(This post was inspired by a conversation with the Urban Mariner, a modern-day Faramir.)

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[1] Tolkien, JRR; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollins Publishers; London; 2001; p 192-193.
[2] Tolkien, JRR; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollins Publishers; London; 2001; p 321-322.

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Archive: The Fellowship of the Ring

August 1, 2009 at 6:45 am (Lord of the Rings, Writing) ()

It’s difficult to be blasé about The Lord of the Rings. One of the book’s most appealing features is its ability to inspire. Every person I’ve met (to date) that has read Lord of the Rings – in its entirety – has been enthusiastic about it.

There are so many great stories of Lord of the Rings being passed down through the family. The first copy that I read was my father’s old paperback – a squat and hefty tome containing all three parts, it was rather the worse for wear after I’d carted it about (to maximise reading opportunities, naturally).

There are so many great stories of Lord of the Rings providing solace through familiarity in new towns, and new schools. The Lord of the Rings binds us (in a non-Sauronesque way), both to the book and to other readers. We’ve all been on this epic, thousand-plus page journey together. In a rather beautiful parallel, Lord of the Rings literally builds a fellowship amongst its readers.

Its always such a buzz for me when I stumble across a fellow Tolkien enthusiast, or fall into a Lord of the Rings conversation. I’m currently very fortunate to have a few Lord of the Rings compatriots amongst my close acquaintances, but it hasn’t always been this way.

When I first immersed myself in the world of Tolkien, not one person from my circle of high-school friends had read Lord of the Rings. I believe they thought me whimsical when I started scrawling excerpts of songs and poetry from the book on scraps of paper and spare polystyrene cups. I’m sure they thought me odd when my school diary shed its pictures of Freddie Prinze Jr. in favour of pictures of small, rotund men with hairy feet.

Fortunately for me this was the age of the internet, and I found many like-minded companions on various Tolkien oriented boards and forums. The people in these places were similarly impassioned with Lord of the Rings fever, and were unfailingly kind and generous in nature. I have listened to their stories, and they have listened to mine, with a sympathetic ear, and a knowing nod of the head. Of these numerous online encounters, I have met several in the flesh, and let me tell you – if we are descended from the Kings and Queens of Númenor, they would be proud.

Of course, not everyone finds such appeal and attraction in Lord of the Rings. Many a time I’ve had people confide in me that they couldn’t finish it – the pace was too slow, the poetry too abundant, Bombadil too absurd. Yet for those of us who enjoy another night unwinding in Middle Earth, another tale of yester-years woven into rhyme, who may even secretly delight in the occasional “ring a dong dillo”, there is a whole world of camaraderie and geeky conversations out there. So… won’t you tell me your Lord of the Rings story?

Anke Katrin Eissmann: Tom Bombadil

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