Only one woman has a direct role in the narrative of The Lord of the Rings (two, if you count Galadriel), and there are literally no women AT ALL in The Hobbit. So really, you can’t blame them for adding a girl. And not just a token female; a serious and badass character with a direct influence on the plot.
And damn, what a woman they added. Look, I could talk about how interesting this movie is, how it comments on greed and rulership and how these change depending on which societal lens one uses. I could go on about the sheer brilliance of the metaphor of ethereal elves living in a cave they’ve carved to look like a forest, worshiping stars they never see, ruled by a king filled with fear whose perfect face is a lie. But this is a gender blog, so we’re going to talk about Tauriel–and how impressive it is that the writers managed to make the first Tolkien film to pass the Bechdel Test.
Why Tauriel is Cool
First off, look at her:
This lady came in swinging. She took out five terrifying spiders in about a minute. She charged headfirst into two packs of Orcs. She battled four Orcs at once–all of which were twice her size. She’s the only character in the whole movie whose life never got saved by ANYONE else, and who in fact saved at least two boy’s lives.
I know, Legolas has some unspeakably cool moments (for those of you who’ve seen the movie, OH MY GOD THE ORC IN THE BOAT). But she’s both cool and doesn’t make you want to smack her. She’s cool while not treating people’s heads as a hopscotch board.
Now, aside from the sheer I-want-to-be-you-please coolness, Tauriel also has a very conscious role as the film’s only girl. And this is a GOOD THING. Women and men are obviously equal, but equal does not mean identical. Tauriel brings the film some beauty, old-school feminine healing energy and assorted lovey-dovey stuff, and some compassion and tenderness that no other character offers. She makes the film seem more about people, instead of about men.
Early on, Beorn says that he hates dwarves because they easily ignore the value of all life they deem less worthy than their’s. All through the film, we see characters doing this. Thorin judges more and more lives unworthy. Thranduil clearly judges only his own elves to have lives of value, and even then it is a variable value–Tauriel has less worth than Legolas, for instance. Smaug and the Orcs view all life as valueless.
Tauriel doesn’t think like this. When Legolas tells her to leave Kili to his fate, she doesn’t do it. She judges his life to be valuable enough to save. She judges the lives of strangers in other lands valuable enough to protect. She tells Legolas that they are part of the world, and that they have a responsibility to protect it. She’s not willing to just hide behind her borders, in safety–she wants to walk among the stars.
Power in this film appease most clearly when people make a value judgement of another’s life against their own. Tauriel values other’s lives as worth risking her own, no matter what race they happen to be. Legolas doesn’t, which is what makes him an ass. Same goes for the Master, for Thranduil–who is basically preying off Lake Town, bankrolling a tyrant–and for Thorin, who has to be persuaded to help his friends.
Tauriel has power, and she uses it for good. She tempers her elven holier-than-thou attitude with kindness, with caring. She’s willing not only to kill, but to save.
One of the main complaints leveled against LOTR is the lack of moral ambiguity. Evil is evil, good is basically incorruptible, and no one ever has to challenge these basic ideas. Boromir–and, to a lesser extent, Faramir–is cited as the main exception to this rule.
In “Smaug,” EVERYONE is Boromir. Everyone is sorely tempted, not by the ring but by riches. No matter their race: Thorin, the Master of Lake Town, and Thranduil all long after the treasures of the Lonely Mountain. The rest of the characters are driven more by desires than by noble ideals, more by their hearts than by their honor.
The only two exceptions to this rule are Tauriel and Gandalf. Gandalf is working on a grand scale of “the Enemy” and those who oppose him, but even so he is plagued by self-doubt, painfully aware of how easy it is to make mistakes.
Like Gandalf, Tauriel is a straight good guy, and it suffuses her character. We are always on her side. Unlike Gandalf, she’s working on a far more complex scale. We meet her at a critical time, when her loyalties to her King and to our old friend Legolas are in conflict. She may be the loneliest character we meet in the film, because all her relationships are laden with the racial politics that LOTR skidded over. She’s the person caught in the cultural machine, and she doesn’t really know what to do.
Above and beyond that, Tauriel has a calling like Gandalf’s: to fight evil, wherever it hides itself. She believes in things bigger than herself, bigger than her little love triangle.
Yet, even though Gandalf and Tauriel are the least morally ambiguous characters, they are still faced with conflicts far more complex than anything anyone had to deal with in LOTR. They find themselves forced to make hard choices, which challenge their ideas of right and wrong, of loyalty and love. Their choices have no easy answers, and only time will tell if they were right.
Yeah, it’s a bit annoying that the only lady in the 3 movies is in the middle of a damn love triangle. But whenever I start to get irritated, I think about this: Kili literally has a personality only because of the lady. She straight-up defines his character. And Legolas’s motivations come entirely down to Tauriel. As in that’s literally why he’s still in the movie after a while. Also, he only becomes remotely tolerable when Tauriel’s in the room (seriously, what an asshole). So love triangle it may be, but the boys are in way more over their heads than the girl.
And the writers go out of their way to make sure Tauriel’s motivations–unlike the boys’–aren’t solely down to a love interest. She does this whole speech thing to Legolas, and it makes it clear that this is bigger than a dwarf with a crush, bigger than one land and its borders. This triangle does not define her.
Race in Middle Earth
Race was a really uncomplicated concept in LOTR. Legolas and Gimli were embodiments of their respective races, and had no other individual traits. The hobbits all shared basic characteristics stemming from being hobbits.
Tauriel makes race complicated. Tauriel is the wrong kind of elf (did you know there were wrong kinds of elves?) She’s an individual, one we can empathize with, and she’s caught in the middle of a racially supercharged love triangle. No matter what she does, she’s violating taboos. Her very existence is devalued by her King solely because of her race. Everything she does is loaded with racial judgements. And no matter what sort of choices she makes, the racial politics of Middle Earth are such that she is bound to unhappiness.
This is crap, and these people are kind of crap for buying into it all. Tauriel’s voice breaks when she calls herself “A lowly Silvan elf,” and you know she doesn’t really want to believe that. Kili thinks she walks among the stars, but enchanting as that is Tauriel knows how tightly bound she is to the earth.
I’ll just leave this prediction here:
Tauriel has a 100% chance of dying next movie. Bet you anything.
Partly this is because they have to kill people this time. I mean, for god’s sake, not killing people in this movie was so ridiculous they lampshaded it with that barrel thing. All these damn characters and one has been hurt at all. Unless you count Legolas’s nosebleed, but seriously, I’ve rarely laughed harder, so don’t.
For a big battle to matter, someone’s gotta die. All three LOTR movies had a battle where someone died a big death, even if they had to take liberties with the books. Tolkien describes overwhelming death among all the races in the big Hobbit battle.
Sure, you don’t want to distract from the big death–which I won’t spoil, even though the book is older than my parents. But for that reason, you don’t want to kill members-of-a-certain-race. So you’ve gotta kill (I”m sorry, but SPOILERS) men or elves, and it’s gotta matter so we can feel it.
So, since we’ve got 3 elf characters and 2 are off-limits, Tauriel it is.
Also, they have to do something about Legolas. I mean, seriously, he is such an overwhelming ass. Who the hell freaks about a nosebleed? And hilarious as it is for him to mutter about dwarves being ugly, jealously is very unbecoming.
Then there’s the fact that Legolas went with the Fellowship. I mean, at the time it just seemed like a thing. But now, we know he’s from an isolationist kingdom and that he’s been taught to a) avoid big evil battles and b) not invest trust in other races. So what the hell is he doing tramping across the world, protecting a short person? (Next time you need cheering up, try to imagine what happened when the Mirkwood delegation broke the news to Thranduil).
Something’s gotta give for this character to make sense, and it’s gonna be Tauriel. We now know why he hated dwarves so much, but there’s more than that. There’s nothing like losing someone you love to make you re-evaluate your life, and I bet anything that’s what’ll happen in the next movie.
And seriously, if someone doesn’t slap Legolas or Thranduil in the next movie, I will be so pissed. Maybe Gandalf can practice his staff thing on one of them.