18

Was there any notion of homosexuality in Middle-earth?

A good answer would be either showing a specific example, OR a passage in Tolkien letters stating the reason for its absence.

A bad answer would be simply generically pointing out Tolkien's religious views.

  • Well, Sam and Frodo do sometimes kiss and otherwise act differently than straight guys would in current US culture. Maybe it's just different times and customs, but I don't offhand recall any other instance of men kissing in books of the period say 1910-1950. (And personally, I wouldn't kiss someone, male or female, unless sex was at least a possibility.) As noted below, if there were any open homosexuality in LOTR, it could not have been published, so I've sometimes wondered whether Tolkien was perhaps slipping in an oblique reference. – jamesqf Jun 13 '15 at 0:15
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    @jamesqf - It's very culture specific. Russians hug and kiss a lot (despite being majorly homophobic). In general, physical platonic affection between males was a thing prior to 20th century. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 13 '15 at 0:23
  • Sure, but the question remains why Tolkien, a product of early 20th century British culture, would have had them act that way. It's much the same as with the few women in LOTR: two of them seem good for nothing much beyond sitting on a pedestal, while Eowyn is a pretty modern warrior woman. – jamesqf Jun 13 '15 at 21:53
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    It is worth to point that homosexuality was illegal in UK till 1967, so its not very surprising Tolkien doesn't mention it in any way. – Yasskier Mar 17 '16 at 1:55
23
+50

The answer - a resounding "no" - can only be explained in an out-of-universe manner, and can (and should) be discussed without reference to Tolkien's religious views.

In fact, Tolkien's devout Catholic beliefs didn't prevent him from enjoying Mary Renault's story The Last of the Wine, which dealt with an Ancient Greek man and his male lover. He may have also read, and served as an unofficial editor and critic of, Renault's The Friendly Young Ladies, which was about a lesbian couple (Renault was a former student of Tolkien's). He even wrote in a letter that he had been reading two other books by Renault (both of which focus on homosexual characters), and had shortly afterwards, and purely coincidentally, received a postcard from Renault herself, which became his favorite piece of fan mail:

I was recently deeply engaged in the books of Mary Renault; especially the two about Theseus, The King Must Die, and The Bull from the Sea. A few days ago I actually received a card of appreciation from her; perhaps the piece of ‘Fan-mail’ that gives me most pleasure.
-Tolkien, Letter #294

Similarly, Tolkien enjoyed the novels of Iris Murdoch, who also frequently included gay characters in her works, and was apparently bisexual herself; he was excited when he received a bit of "fan mail" from her. Clearly, if his religious beliefs predisposed him to hold negative views towards homosexuality, he didn't let that interfere with his pleasure in reading a good book.

There is one alleged instance of Tolkien ever having commented on homosexuality, found in Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien:

"Certainly the older boys [at King Edward's School, which Tolkien attended] did have prestige in the eyes of the younger, but it was the prestige of age and achievement rather than of caste, while as to homosexuality Tolkien claimed that at nineteen he did not even know the word. Nevertheless it was into an all-male society that he now threw himself."
-Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography; p. 53

Now, let's move on to social and legal considerations:

Tolkien did most of the work for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the 20's, 30's, and 40's. He was a conservative British man, a fairly well to do author and professor at a world renowned University.

At that time, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness, not a sexual orientation. Homosexual activity, then referred to as "Sodomy", was illegal in Britain until the mid-60's, as far as I know. People could be arrested (and many were, with disastrous consequences for their social relations and reputations) for engaging in homosexual relations, or for merely flirting with someone of their own gender. One famous example of a person being arrested for propositioning someone of the same gender was Beatles' manager Brian Epstein; fortunately for him, his family was wealthy enough to ensure that the charges were quietly dropped and the arrest was largely concealed from public attention (until biographies were written after his death in 1967).

In fact, there was a widespread trend, beginning in the U.S., of chemically castrating gay men. Tens of thousands of people suffered this treatment in the U.S., and many more endured the same procedures in Europe, including Alan Turing in Britain.

Simply put, homosexuality wasn't on the average person's radar, so to speak. It was considered a disease, not a legitimate sexual orientation. It was also not something to be discussed in polite company, and certainly not in popular literature which might be read by children.

The following comparison seems appalling to our modern day, equality-minded sensibilities, but it would be fair to say that Tolkien didn't mention homosexuality for the same reason he didn't mention people going to the bathroom - it was considered crude and disgusting, not fit for publication. Homosexuality was thought of as grossly unnatural, morally repugnant, and unimaginably deviant in the worst possible way. It was treated as an affliction or a willful violation of universal norms of behavior and morality.

It simply would not have occurred to Tolkien to write about such things in his books. It wasn't something that "respectable" people discussed, or even thought about.

Yes, Tolkien's religious views would probably have informed his opinion of homosexuality if he ever gave any thought to the matter (which he probably didn't do very often, if at all), but the more important factor was the social environment in which he was living. It was not a subject that people were talking about, or even thinking about, back then.

I would imagine that, had Tolkien mentioned the topic in his books, he would have had a very hard time trying to find a publisher. It was illegal to publish material that might be interpreted as "promoting sodomy" - such a book would likely be deemed pornographic in nature, according to the Hicklin Test, which was formal law in Britain until 1959.


*Note: Renault and Murdoch published most of their works a good deal later than Tolkien was writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which allowed them to circumvent the earlier laws regarding indecent and obscene literature. Renault's tendency to set her stories in Ancient Greece probably helped her avoid legal complications as well.


From a summary of Mary Renault's comments on Tolkien and his attitude towards her work, which was pioneering in its bold (for the time) references to male and female homosexuality:

Ms. Renault and Tolkien did have a dispute over the publication of her first novel, Purposes of Love. It was very racy for its time, and had hints of male and female homosexuality. Anyway, Ms. Renault wanted to use a male pseudonym, but Tolkien strongly objected, urging her to publish under her own name, or at least a female pseudonym. Indeed, she says that Tolkien strongly encouraged all the young aspiring female writers he came into contact with to reject the trend of the time for females to write under male pseudonyms and instead use their own names.

[It bears repeating that the dispute between Tolkien and Renault had nothing to do with the content or subject matter of the book, which included homosexual themes, but rather, the dispute consisted of Tolkien urging Renault to publish the book under her own name, rather than a pseudonym.]

As for Tolkien, from Letter 294:

"There are exceptions. I have read all that E. R. Eddison wrote, in spite of his peculiarly bad nomenclature and personal philosophy. I was greatly taken by the book that was (I believe) the runner-up when The L. R. was given the Fantasy Award, 'Death of Grass'. I enjoy the S.F. of Isaac Azimov. Above these, I was recently deeply engaged in the books of Mary Renault; especially the two about Theseus, The King Must Die, and The Bull from the Sea. A few days ago I actually received a card of appreciation from her; perhaps the piece of ‘Fan-mail’ that gives me most pleasure."

Note that like most of Renault’s novels, The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea dealt sympathetically with male and female homosexual characters.

Ms. Renault died in 1983, renowned as one of the 20th century's greatest authors of gay literature.


From an article on Tolkien, mentioning his correspondence with Iris Murdoch:

Iris Murdoch, interestingly, was a tremendous fan, and loved talking to the old professor about the more abstruse points of elvish lore. When her husband John Bayley exclaimed that The Lord of the Rings was "fantastically badly written" she would look astounded, and say that she did not know what he meant.


Further information about laws regarding homosexuality in Britain, and publication of "indecent material":

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_Kingdom#Homosexuality_as_an_offence

The list of notable cases on this Wikipedia page includes a ban on publishing James Joyce's Ulysses.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_in_the_United_Kingdom

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscene_Publications_Act_1857

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscene_Publications_Acts

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_law#United_Kingdom

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28

http://www.banap.net/spip.php?article156

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/423999/Obscene-Publications-Act

See also this blog entry about Elven sexuality.

  • 3
    This seems to be flirting with DVK's definition of a bad answer -- you've skirted around Tolkien's religious views by blaming his "social environment" without demonstrating that his social environment was more important than his religious views. But Tolkien was a devout Catholic and his religious views were likely even more important in his case than his social environment. – Null Jun 9 '15 at 21:57
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    @Null - I disagree. Religious convictions can only come into play if you actually think about a subject. Most people didn't think about homosexuality back then. For example, many Christians disapprove of same sex marriage. But this subject wasn't really an issue, or even much of an idea, until very recently. So a person living in the 40's wouldn't have an opinion on it, because it had never crossed his mind. – Wad Cheber Jun 9 '15 at 22:04
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    @WadCheber I've removed my downvote (not that it matters much now that the answer is CW) for the useful "Ask Middle Earth" links, but I disagree with large portions of this answer. I see no point to the commentary on Tolkien's enjoyment of stories about homosexual behavior -- even if he disagreed with it why should we think that he couldn't enjoy stories which involve it?... – Null Jun 10 '15 at 2:41
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    @WadCheber But mainly I disagree with the idea that Tolkien didn't think about homosexuality just because it was socially unacceptable (indeed, how could he not think about it if he's enjoying literature about it?...). Slavery is almost universally condemned in the West, but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about how evil it is. – Null Jun 10 '15 at 2:54
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    @WadCheber No, the automatic bumping is a purposeful feature of Stack Exchange. Just don't edit so much, post a more thorough answer the first time. – user1027 Jun 10 '15 at 4:02
34

There are no homosexual references in the Hobbit or LOTR and I don't recall anything in the Silmarillion, either. When the book was written, it was rare for homosexuality to be mentioned in literature in any way.

What is noticeable are the number of close male relationships in fiction. From Watson and Holmes, Frodo and Sam plus the entire cast of Biggles, it wasn't unusual. The idea of one man loving another is quite open but it's always portrayed as entirely platonic. It's up to the reader to decide whether there is anything more to it.

There was an interesting article I read... somewhere... where a woman was reading LOTR to her daughter who was convinced that Sam should be a girl. If you think about it, it doesn't make much difference to the story (although the marriage to Rosie becomes a more modern proposition).

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    Tolkien based the relationship of Frodo and Sam on that of an officer and his faithful batman in World War I. There is no sexual component whatsoever. – TheMathemagician Jan 10 '14 at 13:45
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    I think the article you're almost remembering was a little girl who was convinced that Bilbo was a girl, and her Mom read The Hobbit changing the gender pronouns throughout, and it was still a good story. boingboing.net/2013/12/30/genderswitched-bilbo-makes-the.html – Wrathchild Jan 10 '14 at 14:18
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    I don't see any sexual relationship between Sam and Frodo, but I would not be so quick to categorically state that the relationship between batman and officer was never sexual, @TheMathemagician. I imagine a fair few of them were. – TRiG Apr 11 '14 at 9:25
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    Although Legolas' comment about being comforted by Gimli's "stout thighs and sturdy axe" at the battle of the Hornburg had a certain subtext about it. :) – Lexible Jun 10 '15 at 0:08
  • @TRiG - Speculation about "a fair few" isn't really relevant to the point- until about 10 years ago, homosexual relations were forbidden in the military of the U.K. I would imagine that you are right- there were probably a good number of relationships between batmen and officers in WWI. But we're discussing the typical relationship between a batman and an officer, not the probable cases of atypical relationships between some batmen and officers. No one, including the mathemagician, was saying that no batmen ever had romantic feelings for their officers. – Wad Cheber Jun 10 '15 at 0:45
5

Only by chance.

Even the Valar and Maiar were distinctly paired up as male and female when they took visible form...so you had inherently non-sexual beings take specific sexual physical forms and they were always paired with an opposite sex.

All couples mentioned were male and female. The only odd reference that I recall is that female dwarves appeared to look like male dwarves...but even if they looked similar, they were distinctly different sexes. Even the intelligent Trees were paired with different sexes.

1

There is not explicit mention of it, but there isn't a explicit negation of its existence either. Religious or not, Tolkien must have been aware that homosexuality existed in real life and possibly conceived it in his Middle Earth as well. There are many things that his books don't portray because of censorship or his own religious ideas, but it doesn't mean they're not there. For example, you don't see heterosexual sex either, but it must have existed since people were born. And while he certainly didn't conceive any of his heroes as capable of having gay sex, I don't think the same could be said about evil characters like Orcs.

-2

It was mentioned that Androg wondered if Turin and Beleg had a tryst. I think that if there were allusions to homosexuality then it was not explicitly stated or acted upon because it would have still been a taboo even in Middle-earth. I don't think its something that should be excluded from the realm of possibility but don't look too far into it, I think most of the same sex couplings were just friendships.

-5

No and you shouldn't be surprised. Not only was Tolkien a very strictly by-the-book catholic but homosexuality during those times was not only conceived as abominable by society but also illegal and men found guilty of it were chimically castrated, if not worse. So Tolkien probably dispaise homosexuality. Whetever or not he would have change his mind if he reach our more open-mind times is debatable.

  • 3
    There's no evidence that Tolkien "despised" homosexuality and plenty of evidence that suggests he had a progressive and permissive attitude towards it. Many Catholics (then and now) go against official doctrine on a wide variety of topics. – Valorum Nov 8 '15 at 15:24

protected by Wikis Nov 8 '15 at 15:39

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