I was eleven years old when you helped introduce me to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Eleven-year-old Me got excited about it in a way that I’m pretty proud of. I watched your movies over and over, gobbled up the books and read them repeatedly too. I loved the chance to walk with heroes. It was the first time I was told about all the different kinds of heroes there could be, or at least the first time I really heard it.
I loved Boromir, the broad, tall man who could clear the snow from a mountain path all by himself. I loved that we remembered him for the fact that he would protect those weaker than himself, for the number of arrows he took to the chest as he fought for someone else, not for the moment that he broke and would have taken what he wanted because he could. I loved that he could be forgiven.
I loved Samwise Gamgee, the hobbit who whacked cave trolls with frying pans. I loved that he followed and trusted those who he knew were intelligent, brave, and true. I loved that we called that strength, that he could hold onto faith and hope in the middle of the exhausted dark and follow the one in front of him even when that one didn’t know why they were doing this any more.
I loved Eowyn, the woman who rode horses, and walked in king’s halls, and killed what could not be killed. I was never sure if she had managed what she did because there was some magic in being a woman, or if she managed it simply because she dared when everyone else trembled, and I didn’t care which it was. I loved that there could be magic in what we were, and I loved that the will to try could be strength as well.
Eowyn especially made me feel less alone in my own skin. Even today, I can watch The Two Towers, and every time be blind-sided by how well she speaks my fears aloud: “[I fear] A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.” Eleven-year-old Me wanted to be her. Twenty-five-year-old Me recognizes that what I really wanted was permission to be beauty and strength, iron and gold, summer and frost, and that she gave me a little of that exactly when I needed it.
Mr. Jackson, when it was announced that you would be making a film version of The Hobbit, I was excited. When I heard that you would be adding some female characters – Galadriel, Tauriel, Sigrid, and Tilda – because you found it ridiculous to make young girls sit through nine hours of film without a single named woman on the screen, I was intrigued, and I was grateful. While I have grown into some disagreements with your story-telling style, I like to hear that you also understand that good stories are the ones that make an audience feel less alone.
You didn’t really tell the story of the The Hobbit. At least not the one in the book. I hope I can say that without you getting offended, because it didn’t really offend me. You borrowed characters and plot points and you did what story-tellers do: you told the story you wanted to tell.
You talked about home. You invited us to ask whether it was only important to protect our home, or whether there was value in the concept of home itself, and defending everyone’s right to have a place to belong. You questioned whether we could just defend our own homes, or whether we risked our safety down the line by not fighting for others’.
You talked about the danger of putting someone else’s home in jeopardy in order to secure your own. You asked whether our leaders had a greater responsibility than a citizen in defense of our security. You made us ask what a citizen had a right to do when they faced a leader who was not living up to his station.
I’ll admit that I missed the smooth simplicity of the book, but I can’t let go of your exploration of home, because I found it utterly worthwhile.
One of the first times the themes deeply impressed me was in The Desolation of Smaug when Tauriel questions King Thranduil’s decision to protect only their own borders from the growing dangers in the world. To her mind, it would have been better to reach farther out, if only to create a more permanent safety for their own lands by destroying the threat entirely. It’s a powerful scene, with a Captain of the Guard standing before a King – her King – and asking him to reconsider his opinions and responsibilities.
Later, Tauriel makes a more forceful declaration to her prince. He is her friend so her boldness is understandable, but he is still a prince, and she directly contradicts him when she declares that the fight beyond their borders is their fight. The statement seems so key that it is included in the trailer for the film, and it’s a moment that directly influences the players in the final battles of the movie.
And yet, I’m not convinced that Tauriel was as an excellent addition to the story as you could have made her. I’m not convinced that including a Captain of the Guard in a story about home, citizenship, and responsibility, but never showing her deliver an order, uses the character to its fullest potential.
Walking out of the second film, all I wanted was to have seen the soldiers that Tauriel commanded. The final battles would have made more sense to me if a whole squad of elves had followed Tauriel and helped to defend Laketown. It would have meant more to me to see her soldiers decide to follow her than to see her prince decide to tag along.
Walking out of the third film, I wanted it even more.
The Battle of Five Armies focuses highly on leadership and responsibility. Tauriel’s effect on the conversation is confined almost to a single moment where she stands opposite Thranduil. The moment is impressive, and again, was included in the trailer, but it was included because of its threatening appearance, and it is over quickly. How much more could she have been utilized if she was herself responsible for those who had followed her? How much more could she have contributed to the engagement of the story if she was treated as both leader and citizen and we could see the middle ground that forces her to navigate?
As a writer, I can see many ways that taking the character through this extra step would have helped to polish the narrative. As with most jobs only half-done, the addition of a new character can make the story line messy if she hasn’t been fully integrated into the plot. As a woman, I see how much more encouraging it would have been to see a female character contribute consistently, rather than to see her simply included.
I am grateful for the addition of characters like Tauriel, and for the writers that recognize how important it is to have an array of named women on screen. But how much more beautiful would she and the story have been if she was not just named Tauriel, Captain of the Guard, but treated as Tauriel, Captain of the Guard?