I finished reading The Hobbit over the weekend. I read slowly, and I started this book several weeks ago. I think it was around the beginning of October, but it might have been the end of September. So I feel proud of finishing it, especially when I was sure it would bore me. It didn’t, though. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As I enjoyed it, however, I could not help but notice that it completely lacks a Smurfette. Not one. Part of me likes the fact that at least it didn’t turn into a love story, but the rest of me wishes that some of the dwarves were women, that some of the people (or Men, as Tolkein calls them) were women, that some of the Goblins and Wargs and Elves and Wizards were women. Smaug could have been a woman. The spiders could have been women. There is a woman spider in Lord of the Rings. I think she is one of four women in the entire trilogy. I can’t blame Tolkein completely for writing a story with no women in it. He’s a product of his time, in some ways, I guess. But it sucks. He should have written a few women in there.
As I get older and become more critical of the world around me, I find it easier to like things while I criticize them. I guess that’s the only option I have, since hating everything I see, not seeing anything at all, and ignoring the nagging criticisms I feel when I see sexist, racist, classist, ablist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted things don’t feel like options at all. I can hate the fact that The Hobbit has no women in it while I love the story. I love how Gandalf leaves the dwarves and Bilbo to screw up so that Bilbo learns to step up and save everyone several times. I love how Bilbo feels like an impostor for using a ring to turn invisible, but then gets congratulated for being clever and resourceful for using the ring when he finds it. I love how Bilbo disregards direct orders and instructions, and everyone is better off for it. I love how conflicted Bilbo feels when he tricks Gollum and steals his ring, and how Gollum manages to come off as both despicable and sympathetic within one paragraph. I love how Beorn turns into a giant bear. I hate that the Goblins and the Wargs and Smaug are pure evil, with no motivation for their behaviour other than mischief or malice. I hate that we hear about the mothers of some of the characters we meet, but never once meet an actual woman. The things I hated didn’t take away from the things I loved, but I couldn’t ignore them. They were there, and I noticed them over and over and over again as I read.
There is a lot to learn from The Hobbit. There are lessons on friendship, on bravery, on greed, on compassion, even on good teaching practice (the way Gandalf behaves, mostly). But there are a few unintentional lessons too. Lessons like, don’t write a book with zero women. Lessons like, don’t write about pure evil. Thinking about those unintentional lessons that come from what I see as Tolkein’s mistakes doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the book. But it does mean that the next book I read will need to have several women in it who pass the Bechdel test several times, and will also need to have a slightly more nuanced take on the difference between good and evil. The world needs progress, and progress comes from pointing out problems and then fixing them. It doesn’t mean that the solution will be perfect. Progress never ends. But I think that if we want to move forward, we need to be able to critique things that we love.