I just finished reading Return of the King, thereby completing the LOTR series. Wheee! for me! Mr. Rilch congratulated me, adding, “You’re one of the probably 10% of the female population who’s read the whole series.”
I’m not sure about that. He says that for every one female who has read LOTR, there are probably 15 males. I think it can’t be that disproportionate, if at all. It doesn’t seem like there’s much in Tolkien to actively turn females off, and I’m acquainted with several females who have embraced the series. He said, “Why don’t you ask your Straight Dope pals.” So here I am.
Well, I’m female and I love Tolkien! I’ve also heard that JRRT’s readership is disproportionately male, but I don’t know if I believe that – I know lots of female Tolkien fans. (My mom and my sister are also huge fans.) Some people have called it “boyish fantasy,” but they’re obviously jaded.
I’ve also heard it said that LotR doesn’t appeal to women because of the lack of female characters, but I was never too upset by that, because the few there are (Galadriel, Eowyn, even Arwen) are very strong, and anyway the books (and the upcoming movies!) are full of sexy, sexy men.
(A more scholarly comment on the female roles in LotR: they’re analogous to the women in Beowulf, who appear infrequently but are crucial to the world of the poem in that they serve as peacemakers. Tolkien’s specialty was Anglo-Saxon literature – he wrote a very well-known critical essay on Beowulf – and Tolkien intended LotR to be a part of that epic tradition. In both cases, the stories seem to be set in a “man’s world,” but on closer inspection, you can see the importance of women.)
OTOH, SF&F fandom as a whole seems to be disproportionately male…but then, LotR is still a huge seller, and many of those who read and love it wouldn’t consider themselves part of fandom, necessarily.
(And as a female reader, I’m having a lot more trouble with Dune than I ever had with LotR…)
Forgot to add this: when I read LotR for the first time, I got a similar comment from a guy I know; he really wanted to hear my reactions to the book, because he said he’d never heard a female perspective on it before.
I’ve read Tolkien too many times to count, and I am most emphatically female. But, being a fan of sword and sorcery, knights in armor, and mythic coming of age stories, I was told that I was reading “boy” books by several of my teachers. I never really put Tolkien into that mix–mostly because I stopped paying attention to what adults were saying about my reading habits when I was about nine, and didn’t read Tolkien until I was ten.
That being said, I think it is a mistake to think that people, especially children, will only be interested in books with characters like themselves (same gender, for example). The fact that all the good parts in the King Arthur stories were held by men did not stop me from imagining myself to be Gawain, and I was Robin Hood or Little John more often than I was ever Maid Marian (and when I was Maid Marian, she could kick ass with the best of the merry men). This did not screw up my gender identification, in fact, Strider, quite naturally, became the romantic leading man in my healthy adolescent fantasies as soon as I was ready to have them. A good story is a good story, period. And it’s a good story if it strikes a chord in human nature. Dammit, I know men who like Jane Austin. It’s like “women’s issues” in politics. What is that about?
Hmmmmmm. I seem to have gotten off track here, must have hit a button. Sorry.
I’m female, and I like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
This is the first I’ve heard that anyone thought Tolkien fans were mainly male. I would have guessed that, if any disparity existed, it would be that more women and girls read them. They are fantasies, and I’ve gotten the impression that at least some guys think fantasy is a girl thing.
I’m female. I’ve read The Hobbit and I got halfway through The Lord of the Rings before I realized that the book wasn’t compulsory and finishing it might have drastic and irreversible consequences on my outlook, personality, and sanity. (Sorry, folks. Don’t mean to offend. But you wanted the facts.)
FWIW, I have observed (in no statistically rigorous way) that:
Lots and lots of females read JRRT, more perhaps even than males.
The fantasy genre used to be much more of a guy thing, but is now definitely becoming more and more popular with girls.
That said, most of the people I’ve seen become deeply, scarily, painfully obsessed with JRRT’s books (and it frightens me to reflect on just how many cases of this I’ve seen) have been men. If women are going to get scarily into a certain world or series (another thing I’ve seen entirely too much of), it’ll most likely be something else.
So I figure your husband is probably basing his observations mostly on a combination of 2 and 3. In other words, when he was a kid, the girls he knew didn’t read books like LotR, and his peer group is probably still more or less divided along those lines. And even now, the people he sees on the street radiating their LotR obsession so that it’s obvious even to passing Martian infants are mostly men. So he figures, hey, women don’t read JRRT.
He’s wrong, of course. (But in my case, he’s right. Never again.)
My opinion? The same number of females read the books as males, but guys read it MORE than gals. Case in point: Me (although you should always be wary when I’m being used as a representative of the gender). Read the trilogy first when I was ten, and have read it at least thirty times since then. In fact, the only reason I haven’t read the books in the past three years was because I heard they were making the movies, and I wanted it all to be “new” in my mind.
However, my sister and mother both greatly enjoy the books, and a few other female friends I know (mostly women who are in their late twenties or early thirties). Unfortunately, most of the girls around my age haven’t touched Tolkien, and instead spend all their time going ga-ga for Harry Potter (I don’t care HOW well-written those books are, they’re a poor substitute for ol’ J.R.R.).
That’s about what I thought. Until Mr. Rilch said that, it had never occurred to me that Tolkien was either a guy thing or a girl thing; it was just a people thing. Or a reader thing or a book thing.
I’ll show this to him tomorrow. And of course, he’ll shrug it off by saying that the Teeming Millions are not a representative cross-section of society…
[hijack]While I was waiting for the board to come back up (“maintenance”), I went to the LOTR site and looked at the trailers. I had an awful thought: The films might actually discourage new readers of the trilogy. Some people might think they don’t have to read the books, having seen the films, the way many people have never read Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind, thereby cheating themselves of the authors’ true visions. Even worse, since the film appears to be so beautifully photographed and well-acted, some people who are lacking in imagination might read a few pages of Fellowship and pronounce it boring, being unable to reconcile it with the images they’ve been spoon-fed.
An unpleasant thought, I know, but every silver lining has a cloud.
Male here. I’ve tried to read The Hobbit, but couldn’t get even halfway through it. Wasn’t terrible, but couldn’t hold my interest. Many of my students in my adolescent literature class have recommended it to me, and mostly they have been female, but that could be because most of my students are female.
I think what may be happening is the mistake that some people make of lumping fantasy and science fiction together as if they were the same thing. Science fiction in general has a predominately male following even today, but fantasy, especially high fantasy such as Tolkein, has for a long time had a much higher female following than science fiction.
I too am female and LOVE the LotR. I have read the series many times from the age of twelve to my current twenty-nine.
I think that part of the attraction of the male characters is their open, uncynical, and (dare I say it) sensitive attitudes. This allows men and women to empathize with them.
You could even take this as far as Shakespeare. In my high school english class I read the part of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, because the only female part was too gushily female and not exiting enough.
BTW, I don’t want to see the movies. I like my LotR movie just fine.
I forgot to mention that I am a computer geek (of sorts) and the wife is an artist for Disney. I’ve read my share of fantasy (L’Engle, Le Guin, Robert Asprin, Piers Anthony, etc.) just never got into the Middle Earth thing fully. That said, I am looking forward to the upcoming Film Version.