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Posts Tagged ‘LoTR’

Elf or chemical?

Can you tell which is which? (I’m not going to post an answer key.)

  • Amorolfin
  • Amrod
  • Caranthir
  • Cefaclor
  • Celecoxib
  • Curufin
  • Duilin
  • Elemmakil
  • Elemicin
  • Elurin
  • Elured
  • Enerdhil
  • Enediol
  • Enol
  • Etodolac
  • Fenoprofen
  • Finarfin
  • Fingolfin
  • Furfural
  • Galathil
  • Geraniol
  • Ibogaine
  • Maglor
  • Nylidrin
  • Oropher
  • Sildenafil
  • Sulindac
  • Tadalafil
  • Thingol
  • Threitol
  • Tolmetin
  • Vardenafil
  • Volemitol

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It takes a certain strange sort of imagination to put a plant at the centre of a horror story—the sort of imagination that not only sees the twigs brushing a window as tapping fingers, but that also assumes that the tree itself has hands.  In the spirit of my recent review of The Day of the Triffids, here is a brief, undoubtedly incomplete list of horror/weird fiction featuring botanical antagonists. Anyone with additions, please chime in in the comments. (All links are to free full texts when they’re available.)

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

As discussed in my previous post, this is an eerie dystopian book in which most of the population goes blind and is then preyed upon by mobile stinging plants. Subtle, unsettling, and deep.

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

“It’s the willows themselves humming, because here the willows have been made symbols of the forces that are against us.”

Two friends go on a canoe trip down the Danube. When they stop to camp on a willow-covered island, strange things begin to happen. Things go missing, strange prints appear in the sand, and the canoe is mysteriously damaged. All the while the river is rising, and the tangled willows seem to have a mind of their own. In addition to being charged with suspense, this tale has some lovely descriptions of the riparian scenery.

The Man Whom the Trees Loved – Algernon Blackwood

“It really is extraordinary,” said a Woman who Understood, “that you can make that cypress seem an individual, when in reality all cypresses are so exactly alike.”

This Blackwood guy has a thing for evil trees. In this short story, an artist by the name of Sanderson has a knack for painting trees. And to him, each tree is indeed an individual, and they seem to know that he knows this. They seem to call to him, and he is drawn out into the forest around his house for longer and longer walks. It sounds incredibly cheesy, I know, but it’s phenomenally gripping, as the view shifts from that of the artists who really gets trees to that of his wife, who fears but can’t quite believe that the trees are after her husband.

Specimen 313 – Jeff Strand

It’s basically Little Shop of Horrors with an added love story—featuring not the gardener but the plant. And somehow, that’s adorable.

The Tree – H. P. Lovecraft

An old beekeeper tells the tale of an ancient, gnarled, sinister-looking olive tree, a tale of a competition between two skilled sculptors in ancient Greece. One of them sickens and dies, first instructing his friend and rival to bury olive branches by his head. As the surviving sculptor finishes his statue, an unusual tree grows above his studio. It’s far from HPL’s best work, but unusually understated; one that leaves you scratching your head.

The Tree on the Hill – H. P. Lovecraft and Duane W. Rimel

Just your standard dimension-jumping cosmic horror tale. A man sits down under an odd-looking oak and glimpses an evil dimension. His learned friend hastily prevents humanity’s doom at the expense of his sanity. The usual, but not up to HPL’s best—I’ll blame Rimel.

The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

LotR has some classic nasty vegetation. The Ents, of course, are only horrific to Saruman’s lot, but Fangorn forest has an evil reputation. But when I first read the saga as a young’un, I was really creeped out by the Old Forest outside the Shire, which Frodo et al. have to cross as they flee towards Bree. The menacing trees trip people deliberately and gradually channel the travellers towards the river Withywindle, where they are nearly devoured by a sly old willow.

The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling

Vines…vines are great subjects for creepy stories, the way they twine around things and climb up walls. My memory of this is dim, but in Philosopher’s Stone, a trapdoor in Hogwarts hides a Devil’s Snare vine that tightens as its victims struggle. And, of course, the Whomping Willow (again with the willows!), introduced in Chamber of Secrets, has it in for anyone within reach of its bludgeoning boughs.

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My job requires me to spend a lot of time literally wandering in the wilderness, if the presence of a GPS, map, and compass allow me to call it wandering, and as a result I spend unhealthy amounts of time alone with my own thoughts. (Or, in other words, alone. Har har.) Recently those intruding thoughts have, for some reason, had a lot to do with The Lord of the Rings.

It’s self-evident that Tolkien’s writing has a gender problem. I mean, there are four female characters in LotR*. They are totally kickass characters, and I wouldn’t change anything in LotR for the world. But still. Four characters. One of whom is an evil giant spider.

I used to attribute this lack of women to a combination of tradition—after all, warrior and adventurer are pretty traditionally masculine roles—and lack of awareness—Tolkien wasn’t writing to create female role models. But I think there’s something more pernicious going on. Consider. Theoden’s wife? Dead. Denethor’s wife? Dead. Elrond’s wife? Sailed to the Undying Lands. Sam’s mother? Probably dead too, or he would’ve been pining for her in Mordor. These are opportunities where a female character could easily have been inserted, even in a tiny, nonspeaking role. Instead they’re conspicuously absent.

Gimli’s father Gloin is present at the Council of Elrond. Presumably Gimli has a mother; where is she? (We find out in one of the appendices that Dwarf women are rare, and some Men think they’re actually a myth.) Legolas’s father Thranduil appears in LotR and The Hobbit, but his mother is never even mentioned; has she gone Grey Havens-ward already?

Was Tolkien even aware of this pattern? Was he subtly affected by the “conveniently an orphan” trope? Or did he just think these female characters were unnecessary? Or, like most things Tolkien, is there some subtle underlying meaning?

Is Middle Earth simply more dangerous for women? Celebrian, Elrond’s wife, is the only one of these women whose fate is ever reported, and she left Middle Earth because she never fully recovered from the trauma of an orc attack. If women were disproportionately affected by the growing power of Sauron, it (a) makes the bad guys look nastier, (b) plays into the “weaker sex” stereotype, and (c) makes Eowyn look even more badass. And what does this say about the valiant men who are supposed to be defending their womenfolk?

At least some of Tolkien’s characters have noticed the male-biased sex ratio: the Ents have an entire song about how all the Entwives disappeared. Maybe the same thing that happened to the Entwives is now occurring to female elves, hobbits, and humans. Maybe the Entwives never left—maybe they were killed off. Or maybe the non-Ents are following in the Entwives’ footsteps. After all, it’s never explicitly stated that the absent wives and mothers are dead.

One last thought: I meant this to be a serious line of inquiry, but I also can’t help thinking that “where are Tolkien’s women?” would be a great plotline for a Thursday Next novel.

*Excluding Rose who eventually marries Samwise, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the matron in the Houses of Healing whose name I forget, and Goldberry. And I like to think the Nazgul’s creepy pterosaur mounts are female.

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I’ve been ignoring American politics. And I’m going to keep ignoring American politics! I’m going to ignore Christine O’Donnell’s views on the proper use of genitalia and instead comment on her views on a much more important subject, the women of The Lord of the Rings.

You see, much as I disagree with her on just about everything, she’s articulate and she’s a Tolkien fan. And she’s written an article about her thoughts on the women of the LotR trilogy. (more…)

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