Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christine O'Donnell, Arwen, and Belladonna Baggins

How can you resist this woman? With a fantasist like Christine O'Donnell, it's hard to know if anything she says about herself is true, but she sure has said some crazy stuff. From an appearance with Bill Maher:

"I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven," she said. " ... I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do," she said.

"... One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn't know it. I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that," she said. "We went to a movie and then had a little midnight picnic on a satanic altar."

If this is true, it certainly makes one wonder. Is she one of those religious questers who ended up with conservative Catholicism after trying lots of other cults?

And then there's her obsession with fantasy literature. Just this week she compared the Tea Party to C.S. Lewis' Aslan -- "not a tame lion" -- and back in 2003 she wrote a whole essay on the women of The Lord of the Rings, even sparing a few lines for Belladonna Baggins:
a hobbit who is mentioned in just four lines out of thousands of pages. Yet, it is from her bloodline that Bilbo Baggins inherits his atypical adventurous streak. This whisper of her presence ignites what has become a legend.
Mainly she writes about Arwen and Eowyn; as she said on CSPAN, "I mean, I aspire to be soft and gentle like Arwen, but realistically, I’m a fighter, like Eowyn." From the essay:
Tolkien’s most popular female character is Arwen, the elven princess in love with the warrior Aragorn. In Tolkien’s writings, the immortal character of Arwen presents the softer virtues of femininity: she’s beautiful, gentle, and longsuffering. Everything about her is pure. Waiting for her beloved to return from his quest, she demonstrates faith and devotion, believing beyond all doubt that they will be reunited. In Arwen we see a tragic, romantic heroine, for Aragorn’s return means she must leave her people and face the knowledge that her mortal lover will someday die. Through her character, Tolkien shows us the challenge and the value of virtue and sacrifice.

I cannot understand why film critics praise Peter Jackson for his more masculine, modern adaptation of the elven Lady. Recall, if you will, the scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which a Ringwraith stabs Frodo. In the book, as Frodo escapes to Rivendell, the elven lord Glorfindal sends Frodo alone riding Asfaloth, Glorfindal’s white horse. The horse races across the ford with Frodo on his back just in time for a flood to engulf his pursuers. Later we learn that Elrond, the Elven King and Arwen’s father, summoned the flood.

Yet, in the film, Peter Jackson causes Arwen to perform the heroic tasks of Elrond and Glorfindal, making her appear more a stereotypical warrior princess like those popular with today’s audience. It is as though he is introducing her character as a warrior so viewers won’t notice that she becomes a passive heroine later in the story. It’s as if Jackson is justifying her later passive portrayal that is true to Tolkien’s Arwen.

Some critics claim that Tolkien’s serene version of femininity is offensive to the modern female viewer. As a modern female viewer, I find the assumption itself offensive. Just because women can be warriors doesn’t mean they have to be. Everything about Tolkien’s Arwen is tranquil, serene, calming. These qualities are part of the charm of the womanhood she expresses. There are many types of women in the world. Arwen represents one of them. She represents a pillar of calm that is a source of strength for her man. Her great contribution to the war is the strength she provides to the future King.
Besides the undergraduate prose and a bad habit of taking fantasy too seriously as a practical guide for living, O'Donnell reveals herself as another case of the socially conservative female careerist. These women keep popping up, making lucrative, high-powered careers out of telling other women to stay home with their children. They write books, have grandiose book tours, go on tv, make videos, and so on, extolling the joys of stay-at-home motherhood. O'Donnell likes the ideal of the soft, passive woman, when by her own admission she is anything but:
And I’ve actually had people say to me, ‘Why do you choose a career over marriage?’ Honestly, I’ve had only a few significant relationships, and they’ve broken up with me. And one of the things I’ve been told is, ‘If you weren’t so strong, you’d be married by now.’
In fact she once filed suit against the conservative advocacy group that employed her, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, because "she suffered 'mental anguish' after being demoted and fired because the institute’s conservative philosophy deemed that women must be subordinate." Nothing wrong, I suppose, with a single career woman wanting to fantasize about soft, long-suffering heroines, but it's a weird world in which a woman like Christine O'Donnell can run for the Senate as an anti-feminist.

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