I’ve continued to see a lot of brouhaha over the character of Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and as near as I can tell, the objections to her presence in the movie fall into these general categories:
- “How DARE they put a character in this movie that Tolkien didn’t actually write!”
- “She’s only in the movie to pander to the female moviegoing audience–because god forbid that a woman would be seeing this movie without her!”
- “She’s a total Mary Sue!”
- “I don’t have a problem with her presence, but I don’t like what they’re doing with her, because putting her into a romantic triangle is stupid.”
As I’ve already stated in my review of the movie, I actually very much like the character. And while I do not expect to change the minds of anyone who dislikes her, I thought I’d speak a little more on the topic on why I like her, and yes, why even the romance angle she’s in works for me.
Needless to say, spoilers for the movie will abound behind the fold. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to skip this post for a bit.
But Tolkien didn’t write her!
I think I’ve already made it clear that I don’t have a philosophical problem with sticking in a character Tolkien didn’t invent in these movies. But just to recap previous arguments of mine on the matter, we know from The Hobbit that Thranduil did in fact have a captain of the guard. About which absolutely nothing was specified above and beyond that he was male–we don’t even get a name for the guy in the book.
Therefore, we know that Tolkien totally had a captain of the guard in there, canonically. So in essence, all this trilogy of movies is doing is expanding that character’s role, genderflipping him, and giving him an actual name. I can’t see a problem with this, particularly because…
She’s only there to pander to the female audience!
… I’ve said this before, too: representation matters.
I’ve had it pointed out to me that Jackson and the others involved in making this movie have outright said in interviews that they wanted Tauriel in there to attract female audiences. Now, you could make the argument that this is pandering to the female demographic–but I ask you, why is this a problem?
Okay, yeah, you may be like me, a lifelong Tolkien nerd who also happens to be female, who would be seeing these movies anyway just because you love Middle-Earth that much. And I can see how you could feel insulted that Jackson and company think they have to go to extra lengths to get you into a movie you would already happily have gone to.
But here’s the thing–that female audience that Tauriel is meant to draw in? It’s not us.
It’s women who aren’t already lifelong Tolkien nerds–or hell, women who may be Tolkien nerds, but who have noticed the genuine problem that his female characters are pretty goddamn thin on the ground. Because they are. The Lord of the Rings gives us Éowyn, and to a lesser degree Galadriel and Arwen, to identify with. But The Hobbit? Not a single female character on camera anywhere. And that is, in fact, a problem.
And if you’re a young, impressionable girl who might be on the verge of deciding that SF/F is really awesome, and you go to a movie and you don’t see a single female character in it, you know what message you’re going to take away from that?
That epic fantasy is only for boys, that’s what.
Now yes, a lot of us women have spent our lives learning how to identify with male characters–I cite Master and Commander as an example of an excellent movie without any important female characters to be found anywhere, and I adore that movie to bits. But see, here’s the thing: we women have learned to do this because we’ve had to. So many movies, books, TV shows, etc., have the male characters doing all the big adventuresome things, drowning out female characters doing them, that we’ve had to learn to identify with the boys swinging the swords and fighting with orcs and suchlike.
Thing is, we shouldn’t have to. And to show a potential young female audience a woman who can take on a horde of orcs every bit as skillfully as her male friend is, from where I’m sitting, a positive and powerful step to take.
You can call it pandering to the female audience. But I think the female audience could stand to have quite a bit more of it.
Which brings me to my next point.
Is Tauriel a Mary Sue?
I’ve seen a LOT of people raise this objection, and I take issue with it on this core principle: a Mary Sue is, by definition, a self-insert character. It’s the author of a story putting themselves into the action, sometimes because they’ve fallen in love so much with one of their own characters, and sometimes to carry out other forms of wish fulfillment. Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane is a classic example of a Mary Sue, as is the character Myste in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels. And of course, fanfic and other forms of fan-produced creative content abound with them.
But in order for Tauriel to qualify as a self-insert character, she has to be standing in for somebody. So which of the screenwriters for the movie, exactly, is she supposed to be the self-insert for? Fran Walsh? Philippa Bowens? Guillermo del Toro? Peter Jackson himself? All four of them at once?
I call bullshit on this, unless somebody can demonstrate to me that Tauriel bears a suspicious physical resemblance to either Bowens or Walsh, or unless you can support the idea that del Toro and Jackson are trying to express their inner redheaded elf warriors here.
Or is Tauriel supposed to be a Mary Sue because of her on-screen abilities and actions?
If people are yelling “Mary Sue” because she’s a competent fighter and clearly Legolas’ equal, I call bullshit on that, too. I’ve seen my share of people rolling their eyes at Legolas’ over-the-top movie fighting, to be fair. But Tauriel doesn’t get nearly as over the top as he does (I mean, seriously, Leggles, body-surfing on fallen orcs and using dwarf heads as stepping stones to get across the rapids?), and yet, she’s supposed to be the Mary Sue?
How about the question of her being in Thranduil’s close trust, despite her relatively (by elven standards) young age and the fact that she’s a “lowly Silvan”? I don’t read this as “Mary Sue”–I read this as addressing a point I’ve seen made by no less than Murray Foster of Great Big Sea that the elves as portrayed in the movies, in no small part, are arrogant assholes. Thranduil in the new trilogy certainly doesn’t dispel this any. Elrond in the first trilogy was assholing it up through most of those films, up until he finally went “OKAY FINE you can marry my daughter” to Aragorn.
And when you get right down to it, a lot of the elves in actual Tolkien canon were arrogant assholes through most of the First and Second Ages. I’ve read The Silmarillion, people. Multiple times. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when the elves spend most of the first two ages of the world fighting each other over shiny holy jewels, they have no moral high ground to stand on.
I have no problem with making Tauriel relatively young–for me, it bumps up the chances that she’ll be a bit more open to actually looking at the world, and seeing things that her elders might miss because they’re hunkered down and set in their ways. By the time The Lord of the Rings commences, we even know most of the elves are already bailing for Valinor. But Tauriel is actively interested in the events going on around her, and this makes her a lot more relatable to the audience.
Likewise, I don’t see a problem with an elf of her relative youth making it up to the position of captain of the guard. 600 years is still an awfully long time, people. That’s plenty of time to show her competence and worth, and okay yeah sure, Thranduil may not want her marrying his son, but why not let her lead the guards if she’s clearly very, very good at it?
One more “but she’s a Mary Sue!” objection I’ve heard raised: the scene with her healing Kili in Lake-town. People are complaining that (again, to use the quotes) “lowly Silvan” is showing healing skill on par with Arwen in Fellowship of the Ring, and that this is echoing the previous movie too much. While that argument has some level of credence, I think also that you can argue that Tauriel’s skill is less inherent magic and more she knows what to do with athelas.
There are reasons that athelas is special. Aragorn knew to look for it in the movies, and if you’ve read The Return of the King, you know that Aragorn pulls off major acts of healing with it in the houses of healing in Gondor. And Aragorn? Human. Without any inherent magic. If he knows how to make use of athelas, I have no problem whatsoever with Tauriel knowing how.
Ah, but she’s using it to heal Kili, right? Which seems to be the loudest objection of all.
Putting her in a romantic triangle is stupid!
In my review post I talked about this some and I’ll repeat here: I didn’t read “triangle” in Desolation of Smaug, because “triangle” implies indecision on Tauriel’s part between Kili and Legolas. I see plenty of on-screen evidence that Kili and Tauriel are attracted to each other, and that Legolas is clearly attracted to Tauriel. But all the action on this matter is Tauriel acting on behalf of Kili. Legolas does nothing overt to signify his interest, and certainly Tauriel makes no moves in Legolas’ direction.
So that’s the “triangle” part. What about the “romance” part of this objection?
I’m seeing more than a few women complaining that if you’re going to go and put a female character into the storyline, why does she have to be involved in a romance at all? And okay yeah, I can see a fair argument here. I agree, it would be nice to have the periodic competent female character whose plotline is not primarily defined by which male character she wants to shag.
On the other hand, as I’ve said, I am a documented romantic sucker. And here’s a thing I’ve seen fans of the romance genre pointing out time and again: which is, love is a fundamental part of human existence. It’s not the only means at your disposal when you want to put emotional impact into a story, no. But it remains one of the most powerful, and it was one Tolkien himself used repeatedly.
Aragorn’s love for Arwen is his driving force through pretty much all of The Lord of the Rings–in which you also, I note, have the eventual side love stories of Éowyn and Faramir, and even Sam and Rosie.
In The Silmarillion, my hands-down all time favorite story is the most powerful love story Tolkien’s ever written: i.e., Beren and Lúthien. But that work also brings us the tragic tale of Túrin, realized to eventual complete magnificence in The Children of Húrin. And at the core of that tale, too, you have a love story: Túrin and Nienor.
But there are other love stories in The Silmarillion, too. Tuor and Idril, the parents of Eärendil–who, I note, is the father of Elrond, and who married Elwing, descended from Beren and Lúthien!
Now, if you want to argue to me that Tauriel/Kili is not on the same epic, masterful scale as The Silmarillion, okay fine, maybe not. It is, after all, really hard to match Tolkien’s mastery, and to do it well.
That said, this doesn’t mean the movie’s not delivering us a credible romance.
If you’re going to complain to me about the “love at first sight” angle, which certainly seems to have kicked in on Kili’s part at minimum, I’m going to tell you to go read about Beren and Lúthien. Beren, comma, who had his brains knocked right out of his head just by seeing Lúthien for the first time! And if Lúthien could have that kind of impact on a man, I don’t see it being too much of a stretch for Tauriel to do it to a lesser degree to a dwarf.
If you’re going to object that we have no canon basis to support dwarves being interested in females of other races, as I said in the review post, absence of support does not mean support of absence. The rest of my arguments from that post stand–i.e., that dwarves are clearly lovers of beauty, and that while a lot of dwarves may be perfectly happy to devote themselves to mining and making shiny things, clearly some of them are capable of making attachments. The species is, after all, managing to perpetuate itself.
For me, when you get right down to it, what makes the idea of Tauriel and Kili work is that runestone scene. I wrote before about how it charmed my socks off–because suddenly not only is Kili a character, he’s a charming one at that. But what I didn’t mention before is how that scene ends–how Kili starts actually talking with Tauriel. The scene fades out on their dialogue as it pans up to Legolas, but the point is, he’s talking to her about the world. And we already know that Tauriel is a Mirkwood elf uncommonly interested in the goings-on around her.
Kili’s giving her a glimpse of that. I don’t blame her in the slightest for being interested in him. Or for deciding, when she gets the news that he’s been felled by a Morgul arrow, to run off and do something about it.
Rash? Absolutely, especially given how Legolas catches up with her and warns her that she’s violated his father’s trust. But it doesn’t play for me as a stupid decision on her part–because she does, in fact, have the skills to handle the problem.
For me, Tauriel running off to save the surprisingly engaging short guy doesn’t play any less plausibly than oh, say, Lúthien charging into the stronghold of Morgoth himself to save her man.
Long story short
Tauriel and Kili. I ship it. And yeah, I’m still expecting that both of them are going to die gloriously in the Battle of Five Armies in the next movie–that ultimately, this blossoming little romance of theirs is going to be real short-lived.
But until that happens, I’m going to be over here cheering them on.