As both an Elf and a Prince of some high importance, I can tell you as a fact that it was not every morning I spilt wine all over the Esgaroth Herald. Certainly the rag was trash, but today's notices were worse than usual. This morning's fateful headlines proclaimed:
Captain Tauriel and Dwarf Prisoner—love at last?
Prince Legolas gets left for hot dwarf, heir to treasure under the Mountain!
So long, Leggy! There's a new archer in town!
Reluctantly, I read on.
A source close to the couple reports that the Captain of the Guard has her gorgeous blue eyes set on a new beau, Kili, nephew of Thorin Oakenshield himself! The hot dwarven hunk, recently returned from exile over the Misty Mountains, has been seeing the svelte Elf Captain nearly every day! Is it too early to start ringing wedding bells over Erebor?
Trouble in paradise? Our sources say that the Prince's long denied relationship with his half-sized lover, the ruggedly handsome Gimli son of Gloin, were what finally drove the gorgeous couple apart.
Complete with a lengthy tutorial on how to attract your 'very own' devilish dwarven lover. My father was going to kill me.
"What is this?" I groaned aloud, still choking on aspirated wine and mopping up the impromptu mess. "This is a high fantasy literature adaptation, not effing Twilight!"
"You've seen it, then," Tauriel sidled up, reading the headlines over my shoulder. "And as for a pop culture romantic triangle reference, I'd've gone with the Hunger Games," she chides. "At least Katniss has a useful life skill."
"Legolas-Tauriel-Kili love triangle?" I turned to her in disbelief. "What is this nonsense? And where do they get it?"
"A 'reliable yet anonymous source', apparently," she read, one eyebrow arched and frowning. "I'm guessing it was the dwarves' hobbit…" her face twisted into a mischievous grin. "You should hear what they're saying about him and Smaug."
Oh, I'd heard that alright. But after twelve years of such rumors circulating about myself and Gimli, I had every intention to ignore them. "I'm not even certain that Kili is a dwarf," I commented instead. "He looks more like a man/hobbit cross to me. No beard! And that nose—"
"It's called fanservice, Legolas," she rolled her eyes. "Some producer figured no one would watch a movie about a bunch of old bearded dwarves unless some of them looked 'hot'."
"Don't get me started on fanservice," I shook my head. "Have you seen my butt-pose in the last Desolation of Smaug poster?"
"Not to mention every dress Arwen wears," she agreed, nibbling the corner of a lembas square. "I mean nothing says 'I'm a timeless classy Elf-Princess' like some exposed cleavage."
You can always count on Tauriel to hit the mark, archery or otherwise. "Or that side-shot in The Two Towers," I added.
"The 'I'm bra-less, let me show you my nipples' shot?" she mimed.
"That's the one," I said through a mouthful of lembas. "And don't strike that pose ever again—the last thing we need right now is some stupid paparazzi photo together."
"Oh, don't worry, there's already plenty of those," she drawled, flipping through the paper with an expression of malicious glee. "Have you seen the goo-goo eyes you've supposedly been sending my way?"
"That's supposed to be a reaction shot?!" I cried. "That was me at the Cúthalion Archery Convention in early Second Age! You weren't even born yet!"
"I know, right?" she teased. "This photoshop makes you more of a pedophile than Jacob in Breaking Dawn."
"This is worse than the Galadriel-Gandalf hair caress of last year!" I cried out in desperation. "It's a fandom-wide crisis!"
"Don't be a baby, mellon," she sat, pouring a glass of wine in turn. "It's the Esgaroth Herald. No one seriously believes that stuff."
"Tauriel, you misunderstand," I pushed the remaining lembas to her, no longer hungry. I couldn't really expect her to fully grasp the situation. After all, she hadn't gone through the press before with the Lord of the Rings supposed movie 'trilogy' release. "The reputation of our entire fandom has just been permanently altered in the public's eye!"
She sipped her wine carelessly. "You needn't worry. The real fans will know better."
"But there's so few of them—"
"Oh, nonsense, Legolas!" she slammed her goblet down, making the lembas crumbs jump. "There's still the Lord of the Rings Project, there's Amanye Tenceli, there's Ardalambion…and that tengwar calligrapher, Daniel what's-his-name, in Wellington! There's a whole slew of hardcore fans out there who know the difference! What, you think they all just 'grew wings and flew away' because some movie suddenly appears?"
"Ugh," I sighed. She was right—I had overreacted. "I do apologize. I'm just imagining all the Bard the Bowman, Legolas, and Kili fanfiction that's about to get written. Not to mention all the stories about you and I from misguided fangirls under the ridiculous impression that we're canon!"
"Well, if they believe the rubbish they read in the Esgaroth Herald, they deserve to be publically ridiculed. And executed," she scowled, crumbling the newspaper up and tossing it behind her. "Obviously the Herald hasn't done any research. Everyone knows that Elves marry as a rule by one hundred, or not at all. With some very rare exceptions."
"Yeah," I agreed. "For women who fancy mortals, apparently—"
"Luthien, Idril, Arwen, Finduilas…" she enumerated.
"And that last one didn't end so well," I reminded her.
"Impaled. By Yrch," she shuddered. "Then Turin married his sister. And Doriath fell, Thingol and Turgon were both slain. Not to mention both Nargothrond and Gondolin were overcome by Morgoth and the majority of their people slain. You'd think we Elf women would've learned our lesson by now: mortal males are trouble."
I smiled ruefully. "Well, at least your supposed lover's already lost his homeland, so they can't fault that to you."
"But it's the woman's people who always have to suffer. Talk about slut shaming," she seethed. "And you know they're already making all those ridiculously nuanced Arwen parallels—"
"All that white light?" I asked as she blanched her affirmation and disgust. "What is that nonsense, anyways? Obviously Glorfindel would have an aura—being sent back from Mandos to return to Middle Earth. And in the movie Arwen was at least of Noldorin kin. But you're Avari, for Eru's sake!"
"I know, right? My people have never even seen Valinor, let alone the light of the two trees. What, every woman in Middle Earth is a suddenly a virginal healer?" she snapped, stabbing the knife holding her lembas down into the grain of the table. "How trite."
"I mean, I'm a modern Elf, I'm all for a female presence…" I offered timidly. "But if women in our culture were all trained doctors and warriors you'd think that in the whole Legendarium it would've at least been mentioned once."
"So it would seem," she scoffed. "Galadriel is powerful, Idril is wise, Luthien had determination and self-efficacy, and Elwing refused to relinquish the Silmaril even though it cost her her people and family. Even Aradhel sacrificed herself for her son…they fought evil when they had to with everything they had, but it's not like they went out looking for it on the battlefield!"
"Sure, give a girl a sword. Or bow—it's always a bow, isn't it?" I asked drily. "And let her kick some ass. But why does she also have to be pretty, smart, graceful and the only one? I wouldn't mind it if they'd made it seem the norm, but this is practically a live action Disney film where men can be all shapes and sizes while the girls are stereotyped—and they didn't even have the decency to make you Mulan!"
"I would've settled for Mulan," she lamented.
"You're an independent, self-actualized woman," I responded. "You shouldn't have to settle for anything."
"I wish," she sighed.
"You deserve better, Tauriel," I insisted. "You're the Captain of my father's guard and my best friend. I mean, for all their hype about making the movie more approachable for girls with a stronger female presence, I don't even think this movie passes the Bechdel test!"
She shut her eyes. Shook her head. We sat in silence for a while. I'd been through all of this before, and I'd always appreciated a silent affirmation rather than clumsy words.
"How could they do this to me?" she finally said, struggling to fit words to the emotions she felt. "To us? To every single woman and girl who sees the movie, not to mention has to interact with men who've seen it even if they haven't?"
"You mean you're not just decorative objects to be admired, or personified plot points?" I prompted her lightly.
"It's pathetic! The fandom is divided, and all the—the absolutely hurtful things they're saying!" she slammed her palm down on the table, somehow not bursting into tears. "I know I'm not canonical, but half the fandom won't even give me a chance, they hate me on instinct rather than for the sloppy, shallow writing I've been given!"
"You really ought to talk with Arwen," I offered. "She went through the same thing after The Lord of the Rings movies."
"And the rest? The rest just accept me as I am—a sex object! And they have the gall to call that empowerment!"
"Well, you and I can always go shoot Miley Cyrus later, if it makes you feel better."
"Legolas, don't joke. You're absolutely atrocious at it," she reminded me, smiling despite her frustration. "Remember that line about the sun?"
"I still think it was funny," I stated.
"And everyone who ever reads it thinks you've gone swanning off because you're insane," she said.
"So I'm glib in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sue me."
"'That still only counts as one!'" she countered laconically.
"No, Gimli's just an axe," I enunciated with just enough doubt to make her smile.
"I just…I just wish the fans would give me a chance, you know?" she finally sighed. "The real me, not some trope. They don't like me because I'm not canon, they don't like me because I'm 'strong'…I mean, not having female action heroes in a fictional realm under the auspices of 'realism' or 'historical accuracy' is a bit bullshit to begin with, but our entire world was first created in a time when women were denied their rights to vote, to defend their families, homes, and countries—and yet still the most decorated human female soldier of all time was a veteran of the First World War!"
"Really?" I asked, "the same war our Professor fought in?"
"Milunka Sávic," she said. "And she was almost forced into the nursing ambulance corp when her gender was discovered by her superiors!"
"But that's history," she reminded me. "Non-revisionist, accurate history. There were female fighters throughout history, there have always been, but even a soldier as determined and decorated as Milunka faced prejudice despite being adept in her duties. She had to struggle to regain her commander's respect."
"Well, so much for that fan argument," I said. "But you have to admit, our canon is a bit sexist—"
"Almost all canons are inherently sexist," she countered. "They're created by men, for men, internalizing contemporary gender biases, and if women just happen to enjoy them too, then that's an added bonus. Just look at the headlines—Wonder Woman is the most popular DC heroine and she still can't get her own movie, she's got to appear beside both Batman and Superman. For as much as the public says they want strong female characters, and as much as the screenwriters seem to want to write them, why is it that a woman can't be trusted to hold a film on her own? Why can't the women in the Marvel's phase I storylines ever meet in the movies, or even talk to each other?"
"Huh," I mulled my thoughts over. "And to think I enjoyed them." After all, the reference to my skills in The Avengers was rather flattering…
"I don't mind that our canon is inherently sexist," Tauriel continued. "Women fighers weren't the rule at the time Tolkien invented Ëa, we were the exception. Eowyn is a reflection in that she exists as at all"
She sighed. Slumped back into the chair in defeat. "I don't even mind the pressure of being a noncanonical female action hero, Legolas, the exception to the rule of femininity in our fandom rather than the rule itself. Someone has to do it, and I'm proud to stand as an example for girls everywhere…but Eru knows I need more backstory than 'good looking and in love with an unobtainable prince'!"
"You've forgotten impossibly handsome and debonair," I grinned.
"You can't uphold the 'historically accurate' criticism without criticizing the way it's applied across the fandom," she continued, ignoring me with no great ease. "Sure, show the rare woman succeeding as a soldier in a military that has a male majority, but for Eru's sake do it right. I mean, Brienne of Tarth is a fictional female knight but at least she faces ridicule and prejudice for being so! Magically inserting women into warrior roles without ever addressing the myriad of social problems they might have faced is also a historical inaccuracy, not to mention a complete whitewashing of human history. I mean, there have been women warriors and politicians for thousands of years, but for the most part they've had to face oppression and overcome it!" she raced passionately.
"In a land with a young female minority captain of the guard surrounded by other female minority soldiers, you'd think they'd at least let us mention how or why we're so driven to be self-sufficient in defending our homeland, and the unique prejudices and experiences we face as women and minorities. But nope—that gets completely ignored. Everyone wants to see a hot ass-kicking woman on screen, but no one wants to hear her story. Sure, Selina Kyle kicked some ass in The Dark Knight Returns, but Batman not only had two previous movies of backstory he got an entire new reboot and rebirth twice in that same movie! While Selina's backstory is told only through expository dialogue! And even Talia—the true villain—was given the same treatment!" she exclaimed in disgust.
"I know, I know," I sympathized. "At least I have a father to disagree with and a country to help run. You've got…what, a job?"
"I don't even have a job—I mean, sure, I'm the Captain of the Guard, but it's not like I get any exposition as to why I pursued the position!" she said in exasperation. "I'm 600 years old, a young elf woman in world-torn Arda, a rarity, really…and yet my parents aren't mentioned? I mean, I could be fighting orcs like Elladan and Elrohir because my mother was attacked, I could not be in a relationship for the same reason that most Elves in Arda don't because I think it's too dangerous and damaging for children and I want to make Eryn Lasgalen safer first…I could be secretly leading my Silvan people in a resistance movement against the oppressive Sindar by enrolling them in training as soldiers right under the royalty's noses!" she gestured grandly.
"Oppressive Sindar?" But she simply ignored me.
"But nope. I'm just the female Captain of the Mirkwood Guard. Nothing interesting to see here. Move along," she moped, placing her elbows on the tabletop and her chin between her hands.
We were silent a minute. She, stewing over her treatment, and I trying to come to terms with the fact that my best friend just told me I was racist. I meant to say something in my defense, but oh, Valar. I just realized something—
"You're a Mary Sue," I chortled.
She blinked, affronted. "Don't say that!"
"But it's true, you're totally a Mary Sue."
"Not you, Tauriel," I reminded her, sorry to have offended. Especially given her comment about my people. "The movie's depiction of you."
"I know, I know," she groaned. "I'm gorgeous, kickass, can topple an orc three times my size despite being more petite than River Tamm, somehow manage not to trip over my suspiciously immaculate hair or dress while fighting, have an impossible love triangle with two gorgeous supernatural men, and my only character "flaws" are too much compassion and my need to "always do what I think is right". And I still somehow convince the King and you and all the army that helping the Dwarves is the right thing to do despite having run out on you?" she tutted. "I'm a Mary Sue for sure!"
"I'm sorry—" I began.
"Don't be," she waved me off. "It's not your fault. If the goal had truly been a stronger female presence, the writers would have made more roles for women in this film so one character wouldn't be forced to take them all. Instead, I get stuck with every trope in the book!"
I couldn't help but grin. "They weren't really in the book, though—"
"You know what I meant," she said harshly. "I'm the 'fiery red-head', the 'action heroine', the 'feminine compassion and kindness', the 'naïve yet-politically-savvy idealist', the 'romantic interest', the 'forbidden interspecies love' , the 'can't marry outside her station', the 'love triangle', the 'virgin clothed in white', the 'maternal healer'—"
"Don't forget the Elf in the refrigerator."
"No," she stood aghast. " You don't think—"
"Kili dies. Fact of the matter is the line of Thror was broken at the Battle of the Five Armies. Dain Ironfoot takes the throne. And then I go off and join the Fellowship—"
"And I'm an expendable OC…" she groaned, banging her forehead against the table.
"They kill you off."
"So my entire two movie role turns out to be just emotional fodder for you?" she moaned.
I pulled a grimace. "Pretty much. Sorry."
"This is the worst gig in the world!" she screamed. "How can any girl stand this? How can they think I'm a role model, or a strong female character when all I am is a smattering of tropes rolled together for fanservice and your emotional needs?"
"It could be worse," I told her. "You could accidentally become an avid spokeself for gay rights via a deluge of pornographic fan fictions starring one or both of your best male friends."
"…oh, wait. That's about to happen, isn't it?" Tauriel sneered. "We get to have a three way."
"With a dwarf," I wrinkled my nose. I suspected our fandom was about to revert to 2002 standards of literacy.
"Well, I'm sure you're used to it by now…"
"You will retract that comment, peasant, or I will be forced to feed you to the spiders," I leveled with as much faux-gravitas as I could muster. I am my father's son, after all.
But before she could reply with a witty retort of her own, we were interrupted by an unwelcome presence, and an equally unwelcome smell.
"Heh, heh, good morning, you worthless Elvish Princeling!" Gimli taunted, stumping in dressed only in his white woolen underthings. "As for you, my lady, see these arms? This broad back? Thick neck? The body hair and the voluptuous beard of Durin himself? This is how a handsome dwarf truly appears! Think of the beautiful ginger hybrid children we might make!"
He snatched a plate of sausages from the table and a tankard of ale, then went about stuffing himself as if the Three Hunters might run again this very day.
"Gimli, for the love of Eru would you—" I sent an apologetic look to Tauriel.
"No, no, it's fine. If I have to be sexually harassed by a half-naked dwarf, I'd rather it be one considered attractive by their contemporary racial standards."
"Anachronisms," I said in reproach.
"You're one to talk. Last movie you were boyishly handsome and had eleven year old fangirls with cut outs of you in their bedrooms. What happened?"
"Now I have a fat neck and face, not to mention eyeliner," I shook my head. "Don't get me started. Apparently after losing you I developed an eating disorder and stopped being so emo."
"Emo? Well, you were certainly depicted as irresponsible and immature," she chuckled. "'Oh, Tauriel's gone and broken the rules, I guess I have to follow my heart despite my king's orders to go convince her to come back'!"
"Don't get me started," I groaned. "I'm the prince of Mirkwood! You'd think when the Captain of the Army disappears I'd realize that my father, my realm andmy people need me more than ever! Nope—off I go to chase you!"
"And I'm the Captain of the Guard!" she cringed in turn. "You'd think if anyone understood the importance of staying put and protecting her people, it'd be someone in my position! And apparently I knew you'd come after me, which makes me doubly irresponsible for not leaving behind a replacement when I deserted my post!"
"Oh, what, warrior woman leaves behind her duties to go off to battle?" I asked. "I've never heard that one before. Really, it's like they recycled the plot points for both Arwen and Eowyn, gave you a bow and dyed your hair red and thought they could pass you off as an original character."
"Don't get me started on double standards for women," Tauriel said fiercely, grinding a cake of lembas into dust with her fists. "She went AWOL despite being handed the trust of her people, the highest honor a woman had ever achieved in her culture. She might've killed Angmar, but she ought to have been exiled, or executed for her desertion of her post. Any other soldier would have been."
"Right, Beregond at least gets a nominative punishment—"
"But nope, Eowyn risks the lives of everyone in her country and gets away with no consequences whatsoever—she's even lauded as a hero! It's like Princess Leia going off to rescue Han Solo when the fate of the universe is at stake! There was no reason they couldn't've saved the universe then gone back and gotten him!"
"I um…" I said with no small degree of chagrin, "I actually hadn't thought of that."
"Nope. Love conquers all," she sneered. "Even common sense. Because estrogen. And ovaries. And titties. Then everyone is so shocked by how 'brave' we are for being women, they forget we're complete assholes for deserting our causes for what are ultimately selfish, personal reasons."
"Well, at least in this movie you'll ultimately be punished for your poor decisions," I winked. "Gender equality at last!"
She shot me a deadly glare.
I only laughed. "But in all seriousness, mellon, promise me that you will never permit yourself to be represented by the terrible depiction of tropes in The Desolation of Smaug. And that you won't stop fighting, despite the media pressure. I dread to think how bad it will be in the coming days." Or months. After all, There and Back Again was still twelve months away.
"You can be damn straight I won't," she assured me with her characteristic confidence. "And I'd like to have a word or two with the screen-writers about their outdated, double-standards that ultimately don't empower anyone."
"While you're at it, could you stop by fanfiction. net?" I asked. "Spread the word? I imagine we're about to be inundated with a billion fics about 'strong women' without an ounce of character development to be found."
"If my lord commands," she feigned a bow with wicked mock reverence.
"My Lord is my father," I told her testily. "I'm just your dour and emotionally stunted best friend who has to watch you die before considering other races sentient, remember?"
She snorted her derision as she girded herself with belt and bow. "Will do. Would you like me to bring back the heads of the Mary Sues as well?"
"The Mary Sues aren't the problem, Tauriel," I reminded her. "They're merely the symptom of the underlying corruption. The true enemy are the authors and what they chose to internalize."
But before she could respond, we were interrupted yet again by our obnoxious guest. I heard Gimli's laughter, followed by his heavy panting and the jingle of his mail. At least this time he was mostly clad. "Have you seen the latest, laddie?" he asked me breathlessly.
"What now?" Tauriel snatched the River Running Tattler from his hands. Immediately she collapsed, dissolving into a fit of uncontrollable laughter on the floor.
This couldn't bode well.
"What is it this time?" I groaned as Gimli's crooked grin grew even wider over his bristling beard.
Tauriel straightened the crumpled paper with shaking hands, still hiccoughing.
Newly Single Prince Legolas left looking for love—could old Co-Star Arwen be secretly dating him?
"Uuuu! You've got to be kidding me!"