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 Rosie may appear to be an outdated stereotype, but this doesn’t devalue her as a character.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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