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Tolkien has been criticised greatly for his portrayal of women in his works. However, this criticism largely applies to The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion is instead full of powerful women, many of them taking up arms and fighting in the War of the Jewels. Read on to find out about women-warriors in Tolkien's world!

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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!

Equal Eldar

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.

Amazon Edain

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
by Ubal

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
by Ubal


An Easterling warrior-woman
by Ubal

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!

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Yes, Tolkien HAS been criticised greatly for his portrayal of women. But this criticism was always based on ideological dogma.
There is nothing wrong with his portrayal of women whatsoever. So far noone has been able to attack this portrayal based on facts and reason.

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The Fellowship was a sausage fest lmao

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And how is that bad? Do you dislike men? Do you think stories should not feature a group of men?
You are just proving my point. The idea of complaining about "sausages" always comes from the same ideology.

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Yep, the moment I see the word "Man" I enter an unfathomable rage. Clearly I am the only person here who has any kind of ideology.

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Arwen rejected the pleas of her father and her culture to choose the life she wanted for herself, even if it meant death.
Galadriel is like, one of the most wise and powerful beings in existence, and she outright denied Fëanor when it became clear he wanted her.
Éowyn is basically a fictional Mulan,
who was so independent and courageous that Disney made a film about her.

Arda is absolutely full of greedy, corrupted, and straight-up evil males. Whereas there was only one evil female in the history of the world, and that's Beruthiel. Maybe people would've liked if Tolkien had portrayed more women as crazed or untrustworthy?

Well it's just a story after all! One very loosely based on WW2. Maybe those same people would've preferred if more women had historically been sent off with strangers to die in wars they'd nothing to do with.

By the way, this ideology annoys me. Perhaps you can tell.

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I forgot to mention that I find it worrying that a political activist like Llyngeir, the author of this article, is part of the team for Silmarillion. That bodes ill for the project.
How do I know it's an activist? Someone who presents modern feminism (see beginning of the article) as if it is sane and reasonable and propagates scrutinising Tolkien through the lens of the currently dominating ideology does not care about characters, stories, Middle-earth or Tolkien. Those are the methods of an activist.

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Llyngeir Author

I simply meant that texts that remain popular long after they were written should be observed with a modern lens. That Tolkien's works should be treated as literature and not gospel. In doing so, we can engender a greater appreciation of the work.

What I am not doing is advocating for a complete disregard of the texts or for rewriting them as I or anyone else sees fit. I feel like my work on the mod demonstrates that I take Tolkien's work very seriously - seriously enough to devote my free time to adapting it. I appreciate your position, particularly with the disingenuous methods by which big companies and media outlets go about mangling history in an attempt to appear liberal and correct, simply to sell more of a product. The most recent, big name example being Call of Duty: Vanguard which, by having a Black main character in a WW2 setting without confronting the issues of racism at the time, completely ignores the true history in the hopes that having a Black man as a main character will sell more.

I am sure my words won't dissuade you from your position, you obviously feel very strongly about it. However, I hope that I have clarified my position, or at least demonstrated that I am not trying to adapt The Silmarillion to fit some sort of imagined agenda. Of course, if you still feel as you do, feel free to not play the mod when it comes out.

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I'm glad you admit there is such a problem in media and thus a very real agenda, though you omit that this is based on producing propaganda, not profit (it creates huge losses instead).
Since you insist that works should be "observed with a modern lense", may I ask why you think that? I can't imagine a good reason to do so, and in addition have only encountered indviduals who wanted to change the material to suit their favorite world view.
I will definitely play the mod and give feedback. I like to roleplay a lot in M&B and care not only about the battle mechanics but also characters and dialogue.

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Llyngeir Author

The reason why I believe works such as Tolkien’s should be criticised with a modern lens is because of their continued popularity long after they were written. Tolkien was raised and was writing in a substantially different world than ours. The Lord of the Rings was first published in the mid-1950s, and since then the world has changed dramatically, modern feminism and the civil rights movements around the world being two of the more significant changes. This means that Tolkien’s writing may or may not represent modern values, and by applying modern criticisms to his work we can learn about the inherent flaws within his work so that these flaws are not propagated.

Feminist criticism was one of the earliest forms of major modern criticism of Tolkien’s works. Criticism can take many forms, both positive and negative, and early criticism was more negative, such as the quote by Catherine Stimpson that I quoted at the beginning of the blog post. However, this criticism created responses, and if you read the wikipedia page ‘Women in The Lord of the Rings’ you can see how there is a divide between interpretations of Tolkien’s portrayal of women, with some following Stimpson’s line of thought, while others stating how, while women characters are in the minority, those that are in the text are well-rounded, diverse, and powerful characters. The modern criticism of Tolkien’s portrayal of women boils essentially down to a quantity vs. quality approach, with some arguing that Tolkien’s women are in the minority and thus does not hold to modern standards, while others argue that, yes, while Tolkien’s women are in the minority, those women that are portrayed are well-written and have a significant impact on the plot, often more so than many male characters (the belief I subscribe to). We wouldn’t have this debate, and the varying results of it, without feminist criticism. (See this post, which argues my point better than I do: ).

Another form of modern literary criticism concerns Tolkien’s views of race. In recent years there has been vocal negative criticism of Tolkien’s works, including claims that Tolkien was racist. I don’t believe Tolkien was racist, his letters demonstrate his own antagonism to such ideas, but that does not mean that he was not unconsciously perpetuating older racial ideologies, most notably in his descriptions of the Orcs. In Tolkien’s literary treatment of Orcs there are parallels with Victorian anthropology, an area of study that was used to justify imperialism and colonialism based on racial characteristics. Now, this does not mean that Tolkien was racist, only that the culture that he was raised and was writing in had prevalent racist views that were the societal norm, and this norm would have imprinted itself on Tolkien’s subconscious, just as our own upbringing today imprints itself upon our own. However, these beliefs are outdated and are no longer the societal norm, but the popularity of Tolkien’s work risks perpetuating these beliefs. In recognising these flaws we can read Tolkien with a critical eye and understand how and why his unconscious biases, developed through societal factors, influenced his text and we can ensure that these outdated views are not perpetuated. (See this rather lengthy post about Tolkien and race that, once again, argues the same as me, that Tolkien and race is a complex topic, but much better than I can: ).

What I am not suggesting with my advocation of criticism of Tolkien’s work is the aim of rewriting the text - to do so would be no better than book-burning, in my opinion. Rather, as I hope my response has demonstrated, it is more about understanding Tolkien in his cultural context, and in doing so developing a more nuanced and complex understanding of his work. You can like a work, even love it, and still recognise its flaws.

I hope this has given you something to mull over.

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...So what does any of this have to do with the mod? Is it being worked on? Is there any progress?

EDIT: Nvm, this article was posted almost a full year ago. I'm going to guess the answer is no on all counts.

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