Ranking Female Character Development In LOTR

by Katherine Cusumano

Female characters in Lord of the Rings, from The Fellowship of the Ring to Return of the King, are relatively few and far between. (One Time Magazine writer noted, "Tolkien seems to have wiped women off the face of Middle-earth.") Among the speaking roles, there are elves — Cate Blanchett's Galadriel, Liv Tyler's Arwen — and mortals — Miranda Otto's Eowyn — as well as several hobbit ladies — Samwise Gamgee's wife Rosie Cotton and their daughter Elanor. Their male counterparts, the intrepid team that comprises Aragorn, Frodo Baggins, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Legolas, and Gimli the dwarf, far outnumber them. Yet what the women of Lord of the Rings lack in quantity, they make up in quality: Some of the most important back stories come from characters like Arwen and Eowyn, though these nine Lord of the Rings women ranked by character development range from nearly inanimate to fully fleshed-out.

I didn't watch Lord of the Rings, or read J.R.R. Tolkien's novels, until the entire trilogy had been released. But then, how did I watch it. (I read them, too, but was derailed by too many plot diversions somewhere in the middle of The Two Towers . I apologize in advance, but my references are primarily to the films.) I quickly skipped through all three before moving on to the director's cuts of each, a sum total of more than 15 hours of movie time. And part of my intense affection for the series was due in no small part to the strong development of its female characters. It launched my long-lived Liv Tyler girl crush, during which I watched every Aerosmith video she ever appeared in, closely followed her role as the face of Givenchy, and flicked through her IMDb portfolio to mine it for Netflix options.

Fantasy is not a genre that tends to be particularly rich in back story for its female characters — like science fiction, it has historically been a domain of masculinity, which serves in part to explain the giant cheer that went up when a woman was announced as the protagonist of the latest Star Wars movie. Bustle ranked the development of female characters in the original Star Wars movies, too, and the female characters of that franchise are certainly worthy of celebration. But more than 10 years after The Return of the King came to theaters, it's high time we acknowledge the powerful ladies of Lord of the Rings, too.

9. Mrs. Proudfoot

A hobbit woman who appears briefly in The Fellowship of the Ring in order to chastise her childish husband, Mrs. Proudfoot fills the "nagging wife" stereotype to a T.

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8. Freda

Freda is the daughter of Morwen, one of the horseman clan, the Rohirrim, in The Two Towers . She's sent on an important mission — to alert King Theoden of Roham about the risk to his kingdom — but as a young child, she's whiny and tearful. Her brother, predictably, holds it together better than she does when the two children part ways from their mother.

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7. Rosie Cotton

Beautiful, fun-loving, and present in more than one scene, Rosie Cotton had so much potential. Then she married Samwise Gamgee, and her wifely duties began. She stays home to tend the house while the men go off to literally save the planet.

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6. Elanor Gamgee

Sam's young daughter Elanor has more character development than her mother simply because she grows up on screen — she appears in The Return of the King , and she's played by Sean Astin's (who plays Sam) real-life daughter.

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5. Shelob The Spider

The conniving Smeagol, hoping to obtain the One Ring at last, leads the brave Fellowship into the spider lair of an ancient creature known as Shelob. Shelob is a female spider, and she deserves a spot here because she's one of the few, and perhaps the only, female character in the Lord of the Rings universe who is permitted to be a bad guy. There's a recurrent trope among female characters in science fiction, fantasy, and film more broadly, that women must be likable to appear on-screen, and Shelob clearly defies that.

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4. Morwen

Named for a character from Tolkien's Silmarillion, the Lord of the Rings filmmakers actually created Morwen's character for the films. No such woman appears in The Two Towers novel. She comes from Rohan, the kingdom of horseback warriors led by King Theoden, of which Eowyn (more on her later) is also a member. She's both a mother and a kick-ass warrior who sends her children off on an important mission, only to see her son later killed in battle. Though she might not be a part of the official canon, Morwen is a valuable addition to Lord of the Rings lore.

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3. Galadriel

Cate Blanchett's work this year, in both Truth and Carol , highlights that she's one of the most versatile and talented actresses around right now. This was no less true 10 years ago when she appeared in Lord of the Rings as Galadriel, the elf queen who singlehandedly wields power over Lothlorien. (Okay, sure, her husband Celeborn helps out with kingly duties, but it's mostly Galadriel.)

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2. Eowyn Of Rohan

Eowyn, niece of Theoden, king of Rohan, is probably best known proclaiming "I am no man" immediately before she slays the Witch King of the Nazgul. Along with Morwen, she's one of the few human characters, but that doesn't make her weak. What does, on occasin, make her weak is her infatuation with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) — her jilted lover routine is the only thing keeping her from the top of this list.

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1. Arwen

Arwen gives up family and immortality in order to save Middle-earth from the threat of Sauron. Her family and elfin friends flee across the sea to the west, far from the threat of evil, but Arwen remains behind. Peter Jackson's vision for Lord of the Rings gives Arwen more narrative weight — as Alfio Leotta writes in Peter Jackson, "the filmmakers greatly expanded the role of Arwen, who is only a marginal character in the books." Eowyn and Galadriel received a similar treatment, but its impact best translates in Liv Tyler's starring role.

There have been whispers that Tolkien's Silmarillion will follow Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as the author's next big studio treatment, and perhaps with the strides that filmmaking has made in recognizing the importance of developed female characters, there will be a few more roles that have more meat than an evil spider.

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Images: New Line Cinema (10)