Film Corner: The Desolation of Smaug (or Mmph, Tauriel)

[Content Note: Spoilers for the second Hobbit movie.]

Picture of Tauriel @
So I mentioned on Twitter that Husband and I had seen the second Hobbit movie over the winter break and that I hadn't really cared for Tauriel. Here are some thoughts expanding on that.

I don't really have a problem with Tauriel, to be honest. She's a competent fighter and healer and she has gusto and spunk. Her actress, Evangeline Lilly, has stated that she views Tauriel as young and impulsive, a sort of "baby elf" who follows her heart and romanticizes the world around her, etc. etc. Okay? Fine. Seriously, that's fine. Whatever.

But I am frustrated with Tauriel for what she represents within the world of film industry and within the world of fandoms which cater to (perceived) predominantly male audiences.

I've mentioned in the past that Lord of the Rings was a significant book series in my childhood. It was one of two fantasy series I was allowed to read (the other being Narnia) and it slipped in past the fantasy-ban because it was written by a Christian Author. I've written about my assumption that Legolas was a girl-elf because c'mon, Lego-LASS and she's the bow chick and we all know that the Standard Fantasy Adventure Party has at least one girl. (Fantasy books may have been banned, but fantasy video games were not.) I've seen other women talk about how they were sure, sure, that Merry Brandybuck was a girl, an alternate spelling of Mary Brandybuck. I've read awesome articles about girls who demand that Bilbo Baggins be read as a girl.

I've talked about how horrified I was when I realized that my LOTR books didn't have a girl in the main quest (and no, Eowyn doesn't count for me, I get to make that decision and no one gets to police that, it's complicated and this post is not that post) and how I wrote shitty angsty teenage fan fiction in response to Tolkien leaving out of the main fellowship someone who looks like me. I've additionally written how frustrated I am that he (and every other straight male fantasy author under the sun it feels like sometimes) left out ladies who are queer like me. And I've mentioned, in the comments here and there, how pissed I am that my MMORPG of choice--Lord of the Rings--has a single gender for dwarves, with no ability (that I can find) to map a voice that sounds like mine onto the bearded avatar. (Even though some of the NPC dwarves appear to be using a voice profile recorded by a voice actor who sounds a lot more like me than a lot of the other dwarves.)

I'm sick to the teeth, in short, of male fans telling me in the most condescending tones possible that there are female dwarves in the LOTR universe, really, it's just that you can't tell because they all LOOK JUST LIKE cis male actors who were tapped to play the parts. I was hoping, really hoping, that the first Hobbit movie would tap some lady actors for the role of the THIRTEEN DWARVES because, oh hey look, there's a lot of minor roles there that could hide a few lady-actors if you didn't want them to be front and center (though why wouldn't you want that? Oh, yeah, your sexist demographic might shit a brick HOW AWFUL WOULD THAT BE) and then we'd have an lady-actors playing lady-dwarves but in such a way that Bilbo never realized they weren't male. That'd actually be working within the canon to do something cool and subversive instead of making a movie that can't pass Bechdel because girls have cooties.

So I was cautiously optimistic to hear that we were going to get a girl-character for the new movie.

But then.

We didn't get a gender-bent role with a traditionally "X, son of Y" character being played by a lady actress because fuck your monogender canon. We didn't get a lady-orc being all scarred and orcish and badass, no. We didn't get a lady-dragon being all dragony and scaly and greedful, no. We didn't get a lady-hobbit or a lady-dwarf, being round and rolly and beardy and hairy, no. We got a lady-elf. We got the lady-character we've already had in this series: the lady who is slender and elegant and has long hair that tumbles down her back and is of course white because there are no people of color in this universe and who has kissible lips and sparkling eyes and... yeah. *yawn*

That's fine for her; it's not like being a cis straight thin pretty white woman is Tauriel's fault, assuming she were real which she isn't. But wake me when Hollywood actually decides to do something interesting with casting in this series, ya? Or to put it another way: The first Dungeons and Dragons movie was a steaming pile of shit and I'd still watch it again before I'd see a second viewing of the desolation of fog because it had a black woman (Kristen Wilson) as an elf who stabbed shit with a sword. (And people were pissed about that because HIGH ELVES ARE WHITE BLAH BLAH FART but you know what, LOTR-people? We tell those people to fuck off because they are racist shitbags and we don't cater to the racist shitbag demographic. Why do you want to cater to them? I'm seriously asking.)

Norda, a black woman elf with a hood over her curly hair @
Norda, killing things with swords @

And, you know, let me just remind everyone here that Tauriel was completely made up for this movie. It's not like she had to be a cis straight thin pretty white elf because that's how Tolkien wrote her, hands tied. She could have been anything, and this is what we ended up with: someone who I literally cannot tell apart from Galadriel except by hair color and dress style. Welp.

Oh, and also, she's in a love triangle. Which actress Evangeline Lilly had absolutely insisted that she did not want to do in the movie, and she only signed on for the movie after they promised here there wouldn't be a love triangle. But, hey, it's not like we don't have enough of those. And the thing is, I'm not automatically opposed to love triangles. The one in Hunger Games is done well enough, I think, because it gives world-building and flavor to the events surrounding Katniss. But they don't determine her every move--when Katniss is holding up those berries, she's thinking about rebellion and saving a friend and ally who has saved her life multiple times already.

By contrast, when Tauriel exiles herself from her homeland, possibly forever, in order to run after a guy she's known for less than twenty-four hours, it doesn't feel to me like she's going after a comrade. It feels like she's dickmatized and also pissy that the king said she's not good enough to bang his son. I get that there are alternate character interpretations for her actions, but that's what it came across to me in the theaters--the honor and the protecting the prisoners and the fuck-you-king-guy felt like huge afterthoughts to a bog-standard BUT I WUV HIM motivation.

And that just... you know... mmph. There's nothing wrong with it, really, but it's the motivation of the only woman in this trilogy. This is why diversity is so damn important--because I wouldn't give a shit about Tauriel's apparent wuv-motivation if we'd also had a lady-dwarf coming along for honor and family and riches, and a lady-hobbit finding her courage in the great wide world, and a lady-wizard fighting evil in order to protect the people. But since I've got only one lady-character to enjoy, all I can think is OH YAY she's going to leave her ancestral homeland forever and everyone she's ever known for a romance with a guy she literally just met and she's also going to sit out the battle in Laketown because he needs healing, sure.

I'm not saying any of this is bad. I'm the one who wrote an impassioned justification for The Little Mermaid, after all. Like, seriously, just to be clear: I don't have an issue, at a Watsonian level, with any of Tauriel's actions. I get the many reasons why she might want to leave. I get the many reasons why she sits out the battle in Laketown. I get all these things. On a Watson level, I don't judge her--I can even say I would admire her, under different circumstances.

But on a Doylist level, it's just such a damn slap in the face to be denied lady-characters for so long in this series. The first Hobbit movie had to shoe-horn in Galadriel for a five minute scene just to avoid the criticism that it had no girl characters whatsoever. So it feels like Tauriel was given to us in the most backhanded way possible: Here's your culturally-acceptable thin pretty white cis girl, properly motivated by the love of a good man, now quit your damn feminist whining and shut up.

And I'm just so fucking sick of having so few options in my fantasy fare. I wanted a bearded dwarf-lady, and I got Tauriel instead, and I reserve the right to feel sour-grapes about it. Sorry, Tauriel--I realize it's not your fault.

[Note: People who find this page via Google and want to complain about Tauriel being a Wish Fulfillment Character / "Mary Sue" can show themselves out on Legolas' invisible surfboard. I have no issue whatsoever with Tauriel being skilled at all the things after 600+ years of practice in badassitude.]


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