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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Women of the Beornings

Beren IV

Feb 20 2007, 1:25am

Post #1 of 16 (4502 views)
The Women of the Beornings Can't Post

This question occurred to me as I read and was responding to Squire's post on Beorn's hall in our art discussion. My question, in essence, is, what were the women of the Beornings like?

Beorn of course is portrayed as an apparently very masculine individual: the thick dark beard, and the "knotted" muscles are both characteristically male descriptive attributes. Even chopping wood has a very masculine image, although certainly women would chop wood just as men would. We are given the impression that all of Beorn's folk are able to transform into bears, or at the very least a lot more than just Beorn can. As a large, immensely strong, and very hairy predator, bears also have a masculine image, despite the fact that the most dangerous of bears is a mother protecting her cubs. Tolkien alludes to, or implies, that some of his peoples, the Dwarves in particular, have women capable of otherwise passing themselves off as men, even to the point of having beards. One person I can remember even posed the possibility that Gimli may be female, or asking how we would ever know. I'm sure Tolkien never intended that to be true, or that any of Thorin's companions may be female either, although given what I understand about Dwarves in Tolkien, I would hardly be averse to a fanfic in which some of Thorin's companions were female. Nonetheless, Beorn is a Man, or a Man-bear, and not a Dwarf, and the women of Men (kinda inappropriate as a name for a race, huh?) definitely do have some characteristics that identify them as females. Are the Beornings the exception? Or, if not, what are the women of the Beornings like, both physically, culturally, and magically (i.e. can they turn into bears as well)?


Feb 20 2007, 2:41pm

Post #2 of 16 (3902 views)
Paging Mrs. Beorn [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, Gloin says this to Frodo at the feast in Rivendell

"Indeed, if it were not for the Beornings, the passage from Dale to Rivendell would long ago have become impossible. They are valiant men and keep open the High Pass and the Ford of Carrock."

If there were Beornings, I suppose there must have been a Mrs. Beorn. I'll put Gloins reference to valient men down to Dwarvish chauvinism. As far as I know Tolkien has nothing more to say on the subject. I suspect Tolkien originally invented Beorn as a more or less minor character in the Hobbit, and never expected to deal with the subject of Beornings, much less Beornesses. Back when I read The Hobbit I thought of Beorn as being the last of his kind, or one of a kind like Bombadil, but Gloin's words make it clear that this is not the case.

Apparently, the field is wide open for UUTs. My own theory is that the females were shapeshifters just like the males, but for the most part took on traditionally female roles, caring for the young and keeping the home, although I'm sure they could fight like, well, wild bears, if the need arose. Physically, I imagine them strong and healthy but with a definite female form (no beards). With a few notable exceptions, the females in Tolkien's world tend to be seldom seen or heard.

Another thought--Does Gloin's comment imply that Beorn has died? Again, unless there's something on the subject I haven't read, Tolkien never addresses the issue of Beorn's mortality either.

A day without sunshine is like, you know, night

Reera the Red

Feb 20 2007, 3:06pm

Post #3 of 16 (3861 views)
Grimbeorn the Old, son of Beorn... [In reply to] Can't Post

...is mentioned in the paragraph just prior to the one you quoted as being "now the lord of many sturdy men." And The Hobbit says:

Beorn indeed became a great chief afterwards in those regions and ruled a wide land between the mountains and the wood; and it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the power of taking bear's shape, and some were grim men and bad, but most were in heart like Beorn, if less in size and strength.
[The Hobbit, Ch. 18]

Tolkien stated in a letter (#144) that Beorn was a Man, with a lifespan no greater than that of ordinary Men. He is presumably dead by the time of LotR, since his son seems to have assumed the chieftainship. The origin of his shape-shifting ability is not given.

Idril Celebrindal
Tol Eressea

Feb 20 2007, 4:45pm

Post #4 of 16 (3861 views)
Will the real Mrs. Beorn please stand up? [In reply to] Can't Post

I always thought that Beorn was the only person who could change shape into a bear. He seems to be a solitary sort, living apart from other people with only his fantastically-trained animals (and some visiting bears) for company. But of course, he could a member of a clan of shape-changers who simply don't come into the story. Still, shape-changing seems to be an unusual talent for mortals in Middle-earth. So I'd hazard a guess that would not be many other were-bears besides Beorn, if any.

The Hobbit mentions woodsmen who live in the same general area as Beorn and my guess is that some of these folk eventually became the Beornings. Beorn would have been viewed as a powerful, magical man by these people and they'd have looked up to him as a leader, especially if he helped defend them from goblins and other evil creatures from the Misty Mountains. Perhaps he invited some of the woodsmen to settle near his lands to help him keep an eye on the ford at the Carrock and the passes of the Misty Mountains after the goblins were defeated. It could be that he married one of their women. She'd have to be a fine, big, strapping girl with a strong will to take on such a rough-edged husband (let alone one who can change into a bear)! I can't imagine Beorn marrying a frail, ethereal little thing -- not that a rough pioneer settlement would have produced many such.

With caffeine, all things are possible.

The pity of Bilbo will screw up the fate of many.

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(This post was edited by Idril Celebrindal on Feb 20 2007, 4:47pm)

Daeorn AldalůmŽ

Feb 20 2007, 5:06pm

Post #5 of 16 (3842 views)
With that "nature wizard" so close [In reply to] Can't Post

I like to think that Radagast had something to do with Beorn's powers. Perhaps since they lived so close, and it does mention in The Hobbit that they knew of each other, that they became good friends and when an attack was made on Beorn Radagast gave him this power.

Reera the Red

Feb 20 2007, 6:27pm

Post #6 of 16 (3840 views)
That's a good thought. [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf says of Radagast: Radagast is, of course, a worthy Wizard, a master of shapes and changes of hue; and he has much lore of herbs and beasts, and birds are especially his friends.

It's not too big a stretch to think that a "master of shapes and changes of hue" might have had something to do with Beorn's abilities.

Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea

Feb 21 2007, 2:59am

Post #7 of 16 (3792 views)
That's what I was thinking [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for posting it so I didn't have to sit here for a month and figure out how to say what I wanted to say!

Where's Frodo?


Feb 21 2007, 7:28am

Post #8 of 16 (3814 views)
That's what I'd imagined. [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd always thought that after the destruction of Smaug there was a kind of mini-Renaissance around Beorn's region. It seems to me that trade increased, and possibly coming and going between Dale, the unknown woodmen (some of which were victimised by Gollum presumably from Aragorn's and Gandalf's stories) and so on. So as the region became less dangerous people were more likely to settle down, farm and have families. Of course, if Aragorn hadn't managed to win the War of the Ring (with a little help from his friends) these good folk would have become outlaws like Barahir's people did all those long years ago.

Not that Tolkien ever repeats a motif, of course. (imagine non-scary smilie here)

Beren IV

Feb 22 2007, 1:32am

Post #9 of 16 (3777 views)
Beorn has more than one bear, [In reply to] Can't Post

which implies to me that it is possible that all of the Beornings can turn into bears. What I was initially wondering was if their women turn into bears or into something else. I would assume that they would be tough pioneer sorts. As usual with women in Tolkien, of course, they don't act like human beings.

Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 22 2007, 3:57am

Post #10 of 16 (3759 views)
That seems to make the most sense. (nt) [In reply to] Can't Post


Still 'round the corner there may wait
A new road, or a secret gate...


Feb 22 2007, 4:17am

Post #11 of 16 (3808 views)
Human beings and other animals [In reply to] Can't Post

Your post made me laugh. 'As usual with Tolkien they don't act like human beings'. I don't know that anyone in Tolkien acts much like a human being, to be honest. As we've discussed before he's not that into psychological realism.

I always thought that the other bears were just bears. It wouldn't surprise me all that much if Beorn had a bear family instead of a human family, but I don't imagine him having a shapeshifter family. Being Tolkien, I don't imagine he had a bear family and a human family, as I would assume with some other authors.

What animals do you think Tolkien's women generally behaved like? My bet is on playtpuses; funny looking yet elegant, unlike any other creature and very loyal.

Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 22 2007, 3:54pm

Post #12 of 16 (3815 views)
What if there wernt any female beornings? [In reply to] Can't Post

I could imagine that everyso often a woodsman would exhibit the shapechange ability. They would then be exiled living on their own on the fringes of civilization. They might then form a loose group under a powerful leader such as Beorn. I could see that this ability might only affect males and so therefore you wouldn't have female beornings.

Now there is as Reera said Grimbeorn which puts a kink in the theory but maybe there was a particularly brave woodswoman?

If they proved themselves like Beorn to be "good" they might attract other settlers to their area but who would have to show fealty to Beorn or whomever and become non shapechanging Beornings?

I meant," said Iplsore bitterly, "what is there in this world that makes living worthwhile?"

Death thought about it. "CATS," he said eventually, "CATS ARE NICE."

-- (Terry Pratchett, Sourcery)

Reera the Red

Feb 22 2007, 4:28pm

Post #13 of 16 (3802 views)
It seemed to be a family trait. [In reply to] Can't Post

As we're told: it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the power of taking bear's shape...

So, Beorn's descendants retained the were-bear trait for a long time, but where he got it we don't know. And "the men of his line" could mean it was only the males, but it's not entirely clear whether this means "men" (males) or "Men" (humans). Nor can we be sure there weren't any others out there, but Beorn's family are the only ones mentioned.

Beren IV

Feb 23 2007, 12:32am

Post #14 of 16 (3772 views)
Like something instinctual and nonsentient [In reply to] Can't Post

Variability in behavior is among the most significant and obvious indicators of inteligence among animals. Different individuals have enough mental presence to have their own experiences, thus their own personalities, and their own behaviors. They are adaptable.

Tolkien's women aren't variable. You would expect them, if they are intelligent, to exhibit differences in their actions. Many of them might well have no ambitions beyond being housewives, but some would, and they would be a lot more common than he makes them appear to be.

I don't know what Tolkien's opinion of women here was; I seem to recall that he believed that women were less intelligent than men, but he certainly realized that they were and could be quite intelligent. I don't know why he made them so uniform, as a result.


Feb 23 2007, 8:16am

Post #15 of 16 (4193 views)
maybe... [In reply to] Can't Post

in the Silmarillion it was said that Men got 'strange gifts' compared to the Elves who got more beauty and wisdom. Maybe this was one of them, like Bard knowing bird-talk?


Dec 31 2014, 9:13pm

Post #16 of 16 (3624 views)
good question [In reply to] Can't Post

Would LOTR pass the Bechdel Test? Seems not.

Since evidence can be adduced and interpreted to corroborate a virtually limitless array of world views, the human challenge is to engage that world view or set of perspectives which brings forth the most valuable, life-enhancing consequences.

- Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind

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