Presentation Title

Women of the North: Defining Heroism in The Lord of the Rings and Medieval Germanic Literature

Presenter's Name(s)

Briggs M. HeffernanFollow

Time

3:20 PM

Location

Chittenden Bank Room

Abstract

This summer, I attended the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, England, where I attended numerous talks on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, warfare in medieval Europe, Old English literature, and the role of women in medieval European society and literature. This strange medley of subjects inspired me to delve into a major issue many readers have found with Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings trilogy: the incredibly few female characters. This holds true across most of the Northern European, or Germanic, literature we have from the medieval period— texts which heavily inspired Tolkien. To look into this relationship, I read everything I could on women throughout the scholarship on Tolkien. I then compared those findings with what experts on Old English and Old Norse literature have said about female characters in their fields. Considering that the Lord of the Rings primarily tells the story of a war and medieval Germanic writings are similarly focused on conflict, I thought it might be interesting to specifically look at the way woman are portrayed in and around combat. I was able to determine that the roles of female characters in both Tolkien and the Germanic literature help to define heroism for the texts at large by demonstrating proper motivation for combat. This disproves a common accusation that women are not relevant to Tolkien’s classic. For those others who have argued that this is not the case, my research finds a way Tolkien’s Germanic resonances qualify the importance of women in the story.

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Christopher Vaccaro

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

English

Primary Research Category

Arts & Humanities

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Women of the North: Defining Heroism in The Lord of the Rings and Medieval Germanic Literature

This summer, I attended the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, England, where I attended numerous talks on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, warfare in medieval Europe, Old English literature, and the role of women in medieval European society and literature. This strange medley of subjects inspired me to delve into a major issue many readers have found with Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings trilogy: the incredibly few female characters. This holds true across most of the Northern European, or Germanic, literature we have from the medieval period— texts which heavily inspired Tolkien. To look into this relationship, I read everything I could on women throughout the scholarship on Tolkien. I then compared those findings with what experts on Old English and Old Norse literature have said about female characters in their fields. Considering that the Lord of the Rings primarily tells the story of a war and medieval Germanic writings are similarly focused on conflict, I thought it might be interesting to specifically look at the way woman are portrayed in and around combat. I was able to determine that the roles of female characters in both Tolkien and the Germanic literature help to define heroism for the texts at large by demonstrating proper motivation for combat. This disproves a common accusation that women are not relevant to Tolkien’s classic. For those others who have argued that this is not the case, my research finds a way Tolkien’s Germanic resonances qualify the importance of women in the story.