30

As far as I remember, Eowyn, Arwen, Galadriel, & others are catastrophically beautiful (as in 'if you go across the street looking at her you risk being trampled by a troll').

Are there any female characters whose appearance is:

  1. described at all
  2. described in a non-superlative manner by Tolkien (mind you, Ungoliant is superbly terrifying)?
  • 46
    Lobelia Sacksville-Baggins – Edlothiad Aug 19 '17 at 14:00
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    Are you asking for a simple list or a look at why Tolkien's women were majority beautiful? – Edlothiad Aug 19 '17 at 14:52
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    IIRC, even the women you list aren't really described. Galadriel's an Elf, Arwen is half-elven, so human descriptions don't really apply. Eowyn? I don't recall an explicit description, but as a shield-maiden, she'd hardly qualify as Playboy centerfold material, would she? – jamesqf Aug 19 '17 at 18:06
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    @jamesqf - Eowyn came to mind, too. Although the Standard Hollywood fair of AAA cast of the movies somehow muddles that, I don't specifically recall her being described as "catastrophically beautiful". I may just have forgotten. >iIiIiIiIiIiIiIiIiIiIiIiI - care to add a quote for Eowyn? – Martin Aug 19 '17 at 18:41
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    Another factor to keep in mind is the difference between beauty and sexual attractiveness. My horse is beautiful, so's my dog (not just my opinion: people stop and tell me this when we're out), but I doubt many find them sexually attractive :-) So when Gimli says Galadriel is beautiful, we might assume that he means beautiful in the same sense that the caves behind Helm's Deep are beautiful. – jamesqf Aug 20 '17 at 17:19
33

If you're looking for an explicit, just-decent portrayal of a woman in Tolkien's writings, it's near futile.

However, we do have some women who are not noted to be extravagantly beautiful (e.g. Galadriel, Arwen), nor horrendously ugly (e.g. Shelob, Ungoliant), but can be inferred as plain-looking:

Hobbit examples

  • Dora Baggins

    For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo, on a large waste-paper basket. Dora was Drogo's sister and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century.

    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 1, A Long-Expected Party

  • Angelica Baggins

    For ANGELICA'S use, from Uncle Bilbo, on a round convex mirror. She was a young Baggins, and too obviously considered her face shapely.

  • Lobelia Bracegirdle

    'That's right!' put in Young Tom. 'Why, they even took Pimple's old ma, that Lobelia, and he was fond of her, if no one else was.

As Skooba points out in the comments, these examples are all relatives/relations of Frodo, the "author" of The Lord of the Rings. However, in The Silmarillion, we have a description of one particular Elf, who isn't considered astoundingly beautiful, nor not good-looking, but sort-of plain-looking:

Elven examples

  • Nerdanel, wife of Fëanor

    Fëanor wedded Nerdanel, a maiden of the Noldor; at which many wondered, for she was not among the fairest of her people. But she was strong, and free of mind, and filled with the desire of knowledge.

    The Silmarillion

This all being said, the term "plain-looking" is very ambiguous. One race might not find another race's women attractive and so on. For example, Dwarves may not consider a beardless women/elf-maiden attractive, but consider their bearded women attractive and vice versa.

23

I don't recall any examples of this. It would surprise me if there were any, though; Tolkien was writing an epic, and the focus is on the extraordinary (and the ordinary mostly by contrast).

If a character was plain-looking, why say so? We aren't told that Beregond, Háma, or Nob weren't handsome; we just assume that there was nothing remarkable about their looks. Likewise Ioreth, Mrs. Maggot, or Mrs. Cotton.

Besides which, it seems very unlike Tolkien to point out that a woman was plain-looking. I suspect he'd have considered it rude.

  • 7
    Ioreth is a great example of someone who's described in a non-superlative manner. There's every likelihood that Tolkien may have described a plain woman. He described Ghan-buri-ghan explicitly, as well as the talking fox in the Fellowship :) – Edlothiad Aug 19 '17 at 21:34
15

Plain women in Tolkien are rare, but "plain-er" races exist.

Tolkien had no need to portray plain women as that was not what he was writing. He was writing about the great feats of Men and Elves in the West of Middle-earth as a mythology for England. Therefore, most of the women described are those of great power and beauty. Women who weren't were mostly either left out or hardly described. For example, most of the possibilities in the Lord of the Rings are merely of old women, who aren't described as plain or fair, but simply as old. Tolkien, however, did describe some races generally as either non-superlative or plain.

Hobbits

Hobbits were given quite a rudimentary description by Tolkien in 1938 when asked by Houghton Mifflin Co. to describe them.

I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown).
Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Letter 27, March/April 1938

Although not describing them as ugly, the description does not give the reader a hopeful feeling with the looks of Hobbits. With the non-superlative description given by Tolkien in 1938 as well as the examples in LotR and the Hobbit provide evidence of the plain nature Tolkien intended for his Hobbits.

And example of a female hobbit that's described as plain is Lobelia, but you need to reach the end of the story before you find that out.

Then there was Lobelia. Poor thing, she looked very old and thin when they rescued her from a dark and narrow cell.
Return of the King: Book Six - Chapter 9, The Grey Havens

Dwarves

Dwarven women are definitely the most consistently unattractive out of the races. (Assuming all of the evil races are male).

Tolkien describes Dwarves as being bearded. Regardless of age and gender. And unless one has a particular liking to bearded women. Most will agree that any descriptions would be non-superlative.

... no Man nor Elf has ever seen a beardless Dwarf - unless he were shaven in mockery, and would then be more like to die of shame... For the Naugrim have beards from the beginning of their lives, male and female alike, nor indeed can their womenkind be discerned by those of other race, be it in feature or in gait or in voice, nor in any wise...
The War of the Jewels

Men & Elves

Tolkien reserved his most prominent females as those with great power and beauty. This was often because his tales were centred around the "greatest" of the races. With the Silmarillion being a mostly a tale about the Noldor and the Silmarils, it also included some houses of Men, most prominently the Edain.

Within the races of Elves and Men Tolkien differentiated between various houses. With the Cali-quendi being the fairest of all the races, having been the only peoples to have seen the Light of the Two Trees. They were described as being the even more fair than their counterparts who did not cross into Aman. Furthermore, the Avari (those who did not answer the summons of the Valar and start The Great Journey") are described as the least fair of the Elves.

A similar comparison can be seen amongst the Houses of Men. The three Houses of the Edain who crossed the blue mountains and became Elf friends were considered to be more fair than the houses who did not. Some examples of fair women from the great houses are Nienor and Lindórië. The difference in the Houses is evident when you look at the descriptions of the Dunlendings and Druadan as opposed to the Edain women described in the First Age. Although only male descriptions are provided of the lesser houses, it would be very unlike Tolkien to make a large differences within peoples.

2

Elanor Gamgee:

"...as pretty a maidchild as anyone could hope for, taking after Rose more than me, luckily.”

  • 10
    That seems like a pretty non-plain description to me. – Edlothiad Aug 19 '17 at 15:17
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    @Edlothiad "Pretty" is non-superlative, which is what the question was asking for. – Mike Scott Aug 19 '17 at 15:19
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    "As pretty as you could hope for" does not mean "plain", as becomes clear two paragraphs later when Sam says "I think she is very beautiful, and is going to be beautifuller still." – Peter Taylor Aug 19 '17 at 22:33
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    Seriously? Calling Elanor the Fair homely? – Buzz Aug 20 '17 at 1:18
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    "Pretty" might not be superlative, but "as pretty as one could hope for" certainly is. He's saying she's the prettiest that one could reasonably expect from a Hobbit. Of course, coming from her father, it probably means she's not that pretty, but the description is not in a "non-superlative manner". – muru Aug 20 '17 at 5:36
2

Hobbit women were described or (as @Petruchio said) implied to be homely; Elven women were described as beautiful because they were exotic, unnaturally tall, slender, fair-skinned, graceful yet strong, keen of sense...

As such, Tolkien is the literary founder of the elf-maiden fetish genre.

By the way, Shelob the spider was female, extremely hairy and "bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts".

  • The word ‘fetish’ has certainly come a long way, hasn't it? – can-ned_food Aug 21 '17 at 5:19
  • @can-ned_food: As Tolkien would definitely not have said "The Fetish Road goes ever on and on... Down from the dungeon where it began..." – smci Aug 21 '17 at 5:20

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