Tolkien has been criticised for his portrayal of women in his works, with one critic stating that Tolkien's women were
"hackneyed... stereotypes... either beautiful and distant, simply distant, or simply simple"
Catherine Stimpson, J.R.R. Tolkien (New York, 1969)
While it could be argued that one should not hold Tolkien to the standards of modern feminism and representations of women in media given that Tolkien was writing before the genesis of the modern feminist movements, an argument that does somewhat hold true, the continued popularity of Tolkien’s works means that they should be scrutinised through a modern lens. However, this criticism is largely related to The Lord of the Rings, with The Silmarillion, and Tolkien's wider writings, being full of women who occupy prominent places in their respective societies. In this blog post, we will discuss Tolkien's warrior-women and how they will be represented in the mod!
Tolkien's essay 'On the Laws and Customs among the Eldar' provides a comprehensive overview of the customs that govern the day to day life of the Eldar, those Elves who followed Oromë westwards, and details the differences between Eldar men and women. According to Tolkien:
"in all such things, not concerned with the bringing forth of children, the neri and nissi (that is, the men and women) of the Eldar are equal - unless it be in this (as they themselves say) that for the nissi the making of things new is for the most part shown in the forming of their children, so that invention and change is otherwise mostly brought about by the neri."
Morgoth's Ring: 'Of the Laws and Customs among the Eldar'
Thus, the Eldar are equally capable of anything save the bearing of children, which only women are capable of doing. However, despite this equality in ability, there still remains differences between the roles of Eldar men and women “varying in place and time, and in the several roles of the Eldar”. The greatest divide between Eldar men and women is that between the roles of healers and of warriors.
"There are, however, no matters which among the Eldar only a ner can think or do, or others with which only a nis is concerned. There are indeed some differences between the natural inclinations of neri and nissi, and other differences that have been established by custom (varying in place and in time, and in the several races of the Eldar). For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on the care of the body, are among all the Eldar most practised by the nissi; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the nissi in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defence, the nissi fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need."
Morgoth's Ring: 'Of the Laws and Customs among the Eldar'
As we can see, while Eldar men are more likely to be warriors, Eldar women are just as capable, and it would not be frowned upon for an Eldar woman to take up arms and fight among the armies of the First Age. The only reason Eldar women abstain from fighting is to maintain their healing ability, as do Eldar men who are healers. Yet, even healers are expected to take up arms at the most dire need.
There are several Eldar women from Tolkien's writings that are said to fight as warriors, or can be inferred as having fought. The first is Aredhel, the White Lady of the Noldor, who in Valinor often went hunting with the Sons of Fëanor. As Tolkien wrote, healers would avoid the killing of any living being, whether that be at war or during a hunt, meaning Aredhel was not a healer and so not bound by the restrictions concerning members of that profession. Thus, during the early battles involving the Noldor, such as the First Kinslaying or the Battle of Lammoth, it is certainly possible for Aredhel to have taken up arms and fought alongside her kin.
Another example is Idril Celebrindal, daughter of Turgon, King of Gondolin. During the sack of her city
"she fared about gathering womenfolk and wanderers and speeding them down the tunnel, and smiting marauders with her small band; nor might they dissuade her from bearing a sword."
The Book of Lost Tales, vol. 2: 'The Fall of Gondolin'
Idril's actions certainly appear to be her taking up arms and fighting, although she appears to belong to that category of Eldar women who took up arms only at the last need, when every sword was necessary. Certainly, many other Gondolindrim who had not before taken up arms must have found it necessary when the city fell.
The most famous example of an Eldar warrior-woman is Galadriel, called Nerwen, 'man-maiden', by her mother, who "grew to be tall beyond the measure even of the women of the Noldor" and "was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth" (The Peoples of Middle-earth: 'The Shibboleth of Fëanor'). In her youth Tolkien says that Galadriel was "of Amazon disposition" (Letters, 348), which he used to denote warrior-women (see below), and he even envisioned her as fighting "fiercely against Fëanor in defence of her mother's kin" during the First Kinslaying (Unfinished Tales: 'The History of Galadriel and Celeborn'). Given her nature, particularly during her youth, it is easy to imagine her fighting against the forces of Morgoth during the Battle of Lammoth, just as Aredhel may have done.
The most famous woman-warrior of the First Age is Haleth, leader of the Haladin, who, because of Haleth’s leadership and force of character, became known as the House of Haleth. Despite her fame as a warrior-woman, there is no explicit reference in The Silmarillion to her fighting. Rather, her role during the battle of the Gelion-Ascar stockade appears to be that of a leader, inspiring her people and directing them where necessary, helping them hold out against the Orcs’ assault for a week (The Silmarillion: ‘Of the Coming of Men into the West’). However, she is said to have been a warrior in The Peoples of Middle-earth:
"One of the strange practises spoken of was that many of their warriors were women, though few of these went abroad to fight in the great battles. This custom was evidently ancient; for their chieftainess Haleth had been a renowned amazon with a picked bodyguard of women."
The Peoples of Middle-earth: 'Of Dwarves and Men'
Not only is Haleth a warrior-women, an Amazon, she also had a bodyguard of warrior-women, and the House of Haleth numbered many warrior-women among their ranks long after the death of Haleth. Moreover, it is said that the practise of warrior-women was ancient among the Haladin, possibly even predating Haleth’s leadership during the battle of the Gelion-Ascar stockade. It might have been Haleth’s leadership that brought her people’s customs to the attention of those who would compile the texts that would make up The Silmarillion.
An Halethrim Warrior-Woman
While Haleth is the most recognisable of all Edain warrior-women in The Silmarillion, she is not the only one. Emeldir, of the House of Bëor, in the aftermath of the Dagor Bragollach, is said to have taken up arms to defend her people as they fled their homes in Dorthonion, which was being overrun by Orcs.
"At last so desperate was the case of Barahir that Emeldir the Manhearted his wife (whose mind was rather to fight beside her son and her husband than to flee) gathered together all the women and children that were left, and gave arms to those that would bear them; and she led them into the mountains that lay behind, and so by perilous paths, until they came at last with loss and misery to Brethil."
The Silmarillion: 'Of the Ruin of Beleriand'
Not only did Emeldir arm herself to defend her people, she also induced many other women of her company to do likewise until they reached safety. The "perilous paths" that caused "loss and misery" to her company most likely involved marauding Orc-bands and the spawn of Ugoliant that dwelled south of Dorthonion in Nan Dungortheb which would have had to have been fought off with sword and spear, lest their company be taken as thralls to Angband or worse.
Hidden Dwarves and Orcs
Despite being the most war-like of all Tolkien's races, Tolkien explicitly states that the women of both races do not go to war. Dwarven women are said to be indistinguishable from Dwarven men in all things, including beards, save that they do not go abroad to war (The War of the Jewels: 'Concerning the Dwarves'). Concerning Orcs, Tolkien told us nothing about the workings of Orcish society, but from what he does tell us we can infer that Orc armies were composed solely of Orc-men, with Orc-women remaining in Orc-holds.
"There must have been orc-women. But in stories that seldom if ever see the Orcs except as soldiers of armies in the service of the evil lords we naturally would not learn about their lives. Not much was known."
The Mrs Munby Letter
Mount and Blade: Warrior-Women
As we have seen, warrior-women were present in Tolkien's world, albeit they appear in a wide variety of circumstances, and in some instances not at all. We certainly plan on including warrior-women in The Silmarillion: A Bannerlord Mod given the precedence we have in the source material for doing so. However, we shan't be simply doing a 50/50 split between men and women. To do so would be disingenuous, ignoring Tolkien's own words regarding the matter. Instead, we shall include them when and where it is applicable, and in fewer numbers as men-warriors.
For example, the People of Brethil, the faction of the Halethrim, will include an entirely women-based troop tree to represent the prevalence of women-warriors in their culture. Dwarves and Orcs, on the other hand, shan't have any women-warriors, given how Tolkien explicit references.
A warrior-woman of the Men of Dor-lómin
An Easterling warrior-woman
I hope you have enjoyed this discussion concerning warrior-women in Middle-earth! If you'd like to see if you can help out the modding team, or simply just want to talk about Tolkien, join our Discord!