Aragorn - a feminist's nightmare?

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Title: Aragorn - a feminist's nightmare?
Creator: Virtuella
Date(s): 4 June 2009
Medium: online
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Topic: Aragorn, sexism in LotR
External Links: @ SoA; @ MPTT
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Aragorn - a feminist's nightmare? is an essay by Virtuella in the Tolkien fandom, first posted in 2009.

It dissects Aragorn's interactions regarding women during The Lord of the Rings and its appendices, and compares them with those of other characters, particularly Faramir.

The author summary is A slightly tongue-in-cheek look at Aragorn's attitude towards women. The author states in a note:

This essay has annoyed some people in a way that I did not intend. Please read this carefully. I am not, repeat: not saying that Tolkien was a mysogynist. I am asking, and this is a serious question, whether he had a purpose in mind when he portrayed Aragorn (and Aragorn only!) in this way. Dreamflower keeps reminding me that Tolkien mostly identified with Faramir. Aragorn and Faramir are two different, contrasting models of manhood, and one might wonder why Faramir gets the woman the author initially intended for Aragorn. I mostly wrote this piece to stimulate some debate and would be interested to hear people's views.

The essay won the 'Genres: Non-Fiction: Character Essays' category of the 2010 Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards.[1] It is posted at the Stories of Arda and Many Paths to Tread archives.


Virtuella argues that Aragorn considers women as serviceable and decorative objects, property of their male relatives, & notable only for their beauty and as mothers. This is demonstrated by multiple scenes, including:

  • his first meeting with Arwen & his farewell to her
  • his response to Éowyn's engagement
  • his rebuke to Ioreth in the Houses of Healing
  • his farewell to his mother, Gilraen
  • his dialogue with Galadriel
  • his response to Éowyn's plea for the right to self-determination

By contrast, Faramir sees Éowyn as a more equal partner, and appreciates other qualities than beauty in her; Sam Gamgee's love for Rose Cotton is based on long-term friendship. Virtuella concludes by suggesting that Éowyn's victory over the Witch-King means that Tolkien supported her stance and intentionally portrayed Aragorn as sexist.


So, Eowyn gives us a whopping speech that would count as at least proto-feminist and - and this is the crucial point - the author vindicates her by the way the plot develops. If she had listened to Aragorn, who'd have slain the witch king? In a way, Tolkien includes with this plot line the very discourse of feminism that had dominated much of the early part of the twentieth century. Aragorn represents the traditional, paternalist view, Eowyn the liberal, feminst one. But by turning the story the way he did, I think Tolkien is taking sides with Eowyn. If he had really wanted to endorse the paternalist stance, he would have made her fail. But she not only succeeds in battle, but also in romance, and her romance, not Aragorn’s, is the one that is filled with warmth and depth.

Reception & Reviews

The essay was generally well received, with even reviewers who disagreed with some points typically finding it thought provoking. It stimulated lively debate at the archives where it was posted. Reviewers praised its humour, clarity & concision. Some reviewers brought up the question of whether Aragorn's sexism might simply be typical of the period, or might represent a chivalrous ideal, or might reflect of Tolkien's own mid-20th-century Catholic values. Others considered that Aragorn's response to Éowyn was not an example of sexism, but rather treated her as equivalent to a man in the same position. Others brought up the history of Erendis, a woman from Unfinished Tales.

Why did I nominate this as I'm a big Aragorn fan and he has always been my favourite character? Because this essay gave me pause for thought and I enjoy anything that makes me think. I am old enough to remember some of the attitudes that I've heard Tolkien held towards women and that Aragorn seems to share. I know I would be furious to be regarded as a treasure of my father's (Why not my Mother's for that matter?), yet even now we speak of a good friend as a "treasure" and mean it as a compliment. Sadly even the Bible speaks of a good woman being the [jewel in her husband's crown]. I can only surmise that Aragorn was not brought up to see women as equals as his foster family had not even bothered to mention that Arwen existed. In Aragorn's defence, he did devote sixty years or so proving himself worthy to marry Arwen and will consider no other lady.As for Eowyn, Theoden had entrusted her with an important task while he went off to war and even now, many object to the idea of women on the front line in battle. As for Aragorn's comments at Faramir and Eowyn's betrothal, I could hit him there and they inspired me to write my first fanfic novel based on Eowyn's fury. I tend to think that Aragorn simply doesn't know any better about women given the culture in which he lives and that Tolkien intended to depict a traditional warrior hero. If I met Aragorn,though, I'd read him a lecture! AN interesting,well argued and thought provoking essay! (Linda Hoyland)[1]
I must begin by revealing that from my very first reading of "The Lord of the Rings" I was deeply smitten by Aragorn son of Arathorn, and loved him as deeply as the heart of one not quite fourteen can love a man. To this day I still love him, although I think now I love him equally with Frodo Baggins, who at least had no barely mentioned woman appear out of mere glimpses of the story to claim him as her bridegroom as happened with Aragorn and Sam. And a good part of why I loved him was due to his nature as the classical hero he is--true-hearted, honest, devoted to his fellows, the best warrior around, the intended High King of the West. Brought up as I was with tales of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, how was I to do anything but adore the likes of Aragorn? Yet, when I read this essay I didn't want to destroy the messenger, but found myself agreeing with her whole-heartedly! I, too, if I had to marry one of the many heroes in LOTR, would prefer to marry Faramir, who accepts Eowyn in all her humanity, with her strengths and insecurities and in spite of her earlier obsession with Aragorn, for I, too, am a proponent for feminist rights. I do think to write a rebuttal of sorts--for I think much can be said in Aragorn's defense. I am only glad that Eowyn didn't follow the path of Erendis, coming to hate the one she sees as spurning her love instead of accepting she deserves better--one who loves HER, not the idealistic notion of her that Aragorn spoke to and of. I do thank Virtuella for writing this, tongue-in-cheek or not. Having tried from my youngest days to see to it girls were not relegated to "useless" status as was sought for my female classmates and sister and me by my older brother's friends, I appreciate this having been brought out into the open. As I noted elsewhere, Virtuella--Huzzah! (Larner)[1]
This is a dandy piece of non-fiction, well-written and quite thought-provoking, a pleasure to read even if I'm not sure I agre with all of the points that Virtuella makes in the essay. I say 'not sure' because she does make a pretty strong case for Aragorn being sexist as well as patriarchal. The thing is, I keep thinking of there being good reasons for Aragorn's argument with Eowyn; and, thanks to this essay, also good reasons for Eowyn's counter-argument. Virtuella does bring up troubling points about Aragorn's relationships with Arwen and Gilraen - the way he views and speaks about Arwen as [treasure], object/objects to be won, prized and hoarded. To some extent, I think this viewpoint can be attributed to the influence of the old sagas and fairy tales and epics/myths that influenced Tolkien. But it is troubling that Aragorn knowingly leaves his mother when she has voiced her despair, with only a few words of comfort - there doesn't seem to be a pressing reason for him to go at that time, other than his perpetual wanderlust. It's also rather interesting that both Aragorn's mother and his wife seem to fade away without his presence, and die in great sorrow. Tolkien's treatment of Eowyn, who is rebuked by Aragorn for her unruly desire to not stay home as commanded, is intriguing - she gets the great glory of killing the fearsome Witch-king and then, as a huge bonus (in my opinion at least), the love of Faramir and a (presumably) happy life with him, with some wonderful dialogue and romantic scenes in darkness and in light. Arwen doesn't get nearly that much screen time. I'm wondering if Tolkien just became too fond of Eowyn not to give her a more detailed fate. In HoME 2: The Treason of Isengard, Tolkien plans that Aragorn and Eowyn will wed; then changes his mind and postulates her dying [to avenge or save Theoden], with a note on [the possibility that Aragorn did indeed love Eowyn, and never wedded after her death]. In HoME 3, Tolkien is revealed to have stuck with the idea of Eowyn dying bravely on the Pelennor, until he changed his mind again and introduced her to Faramir... Virtuella raises some fascinating issues here; and I encourage everyone who enjoyed LOTR to read them, in this essay. Highly recommended! (Raksha the Demon)[1]
In this essay, Virtuella gives us a sharp-sighted and very harsh analysis of book-Aragorn's recorded views of Women, as we can discern it from his interactions with them in LOTR. Not very surprising, the analysis does not go much in Aragorn's favor; apparently, the chieftain of the Dúnadain, as portrayed by his own treatment of the women in the book, cannot be seen as having a much enlightened view in regard of women's possible equality, especially given his treatment of the one role model of an active, powerful woman who is not happy with her designed role the books have: Eowyn, The White Lady, aka Dernhelm. Now, this analysis would seem a bit unfair in that it was applying modern values of equality at a time that is supposed to be far in the past - IF NOT Virtuella would compare Aragorn's stance most deftly with the one of Faramir, or even Sam, both characters not only present in the tale, but giving off a much better and accepting view of the women they encounter in the tale. And in addition, the author backs her observations quite well with quotes and scenes of the actual book. I can just say, I love the fresh approach and the sharp-eyed analysis, and the only defense I can give for poor Aragorn is that he probably got less freedom to act as a normal human (like Faramir, or Sam) in Tolkien's tale, because he is so much the mythical king-to-be. But even so, the conclusion the author gives about him is not a good one. I have to agree with the analysis: and epitome of acceptance and appreciation of female power and equality book!Aragorn is not. Wild applause for the keen analysis, and a well done from me! (Crowdaughter)[1]
That Aragorn -- what a bastard! How dare he say what most of us think! I mean, the insensitive and thoroughly troglodytic knuckle-draggers that make up most of the male persuasion (I wasn't referring to myself, of course, as I am utterly liberated and nonpatriarchal). But you do offer a very compelling thesis regarding what a crashing boor Aragorn is. Using well-placed quotes and contrasting the character with the far gentler and metrosexual Faramir, one definitely gets the impression that Aragorn likes to be on top -- and I'm not merely referring to the missionary position! And then, to top it all off, he was rude to his mum! The impertinent swine! Actually, I had never considered the enormity of his offense toward women (no really, I'm serious!). It is a good thing he was predestined to be a king because, as a blacksmith, with an attitude like that he would never get laid. But I do believe that Tolkien created an old-fashioned and entirely unapproachable character in this instance that was too much of an epic cardboard cutout, an exemplar of the good ol' days, which weren't necessarily good, but in Tolkien's conservative mind seemed that way. Excellent job exposing the bum, Virtuella. I am entirely in agreement here. (Morthoron)[1]
This essay gives the reader a thought-provoking look at Aragorn's rather lacking stance on women. I found much of it convincing, especially Aragorn's descriptions of both Eowyn and Aragorn as property. Personally, I don't think I completely accept the reasoning that Aragorn is misogynistic for holding Eowyn to the same standards of honor and responsibility a male soldier would have been held to; in a way by saying that she is not free to do whatever she pleases, he is affirming true equality between the sexes (in this instance, at least!). But even if it isn't a sexist moment, it is a very anti-*modern* moment, and that combined with the inherent paternalism of Middle-earth makes me think two people can disagree on their interpretation of that element. Overall, I was really impressed with this piece. As a graduate student I am used to reading much longer essays on much less-sweeping topics, that don't lay out their whole position as well as Virtuella did. But this gives a nice framework for the reader to further think about the issue. It's really well done, especially for a piece of this length. Nice work! (Marta)[1]
Hmm - how did I miss this earlier? Thank goodness for the MEFAs to give me a list of things to read! Virtuella puts forward the observation that Aragorn appears to be more sexist than Tolkien himself, and argues her point most ably.. In Lord of the Rings Aragorn has very few interactions with women - it is a book about war and heroes so we accept there are few female characters - but in each one he does tend to behave differently with them when compared with his interactions with males. He seems to see them as objects whose lives are totally to be decided by the males around them and their role to only be that of home-maker and child-bearer. He reduces even Galadriel's millennia of achievements to being 'Arwen's grandmother' ! Faramir, though, who Tolkien said he saw as more like himself, is less sexist in his dealings with women - or so it would seem from the way that his relationship with Éowyn develops... Not only is Virtuella's argument well thought out, but the comment thread for this essay is almost as fascinating - do go and read. (Curiouswombat)[1]
An insightful and somewhat provocative essay that just misses being a case of Aragorn-bashing, if only because Virtuella raises some valid points about our heroe’s character and his treatment of the women in his life. It is interesting to see the irony in Tolkien’s own marital relationship with Edith being closer to that of Aragorn/Arwen rather than Faramir/Eowyn, especially when he admits identifying more with Faramir than with any other male character. I personally think Aragorn represents the true medieval mindset of the roles of men and women and Eowyn represent those few but courageous women who dared to step outside their appointed roles and forge new lives for themselves, offering inspiration for later generations of women. We may deplore the fact that such a culture (and men) existed, but we must also respect it for what it was: a society’s means of grappling with gender roles in the light of their own understanding as given to them by God. (Fiondil)[1]
Shoot! I've made the mistake of reading this essay right in the middle of rereading LOTR! Now I'm going to be eyeballing Aragorn the entire time. Of course, that will keep things interesting. So far the one part of the essay that I can definitely agree with is the part about Galadriel (since I have passed that point in my rereading.) While I hadn't thought it disrespectful per se, I was certainly bemused and underwhelmed by his words of leave-taking. ["O Lady of Lorien of whom were sprung Celebrian and Arwen Evenstar. What praise could I say more?” ] I don't know, Aragorn, perhaps you could reference her membership in the White Council or her stance against Sauron over the past several thousand years, or maybe her protection of Lothlorien, your favorite vacation hangout? To hear you talk this venerable and intelligent woman, who has been in Middle-earth since very nearly the beginning and is of the most significant figures in its history, not to mention being your current COLLEAGUE in the war against Sauron...her most remarkable property is her glorious womb. (The Lauderdale)[1]
I will be chewing this one over for a good while to come. Pithy, to the point, and humorous. But, I'm not sure I agree. (And I don't even particularly like Aragorn. "You sleep with Aragorn or Eomer," I told one friend after I first read the books, "and you marry Sam Gamgee.") I would like to see more research/time given to how the clearly dismissive and possessive behavior toward women highlighted here represents the ideals of the base works and societies Tolkien referenced as his works grew, rather than functioning strictly to make some feminist or anti-feminist point in the setting contemporary to the writing of the trilogy. Rather like the many discussions about religion in Tolkien's work, evidence can be read to support very different opinions, swayed in part by the critic's own line of questioning. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," it is said; so, too, I think, can be any number of other virtues or flaws. (NeumeIndil)[1]
An interesting essay discussing Aragorn’s attitudes towards women and concluding that he may have been a heck of a king but that, as a man, he was a bit... ahem... unenlightened. While I don’t *entirely* agree with the conclusions (Aragorn is a man of his time, Tolkien wrote the books in a more conservative era, blah blah) the evidence presented in the essay is fascinating to consider nonetheless. The chosen quotes lend credence to the central conclusion that Aragorn thinks of women as property and decorative objects, and perhaps that’s true, or perhaps he’s just one of those foot-in-mouth guys like our former president. lol At any rate it would seem that Aragorn has a lot to answer for and one can only hope that in later years, after his marriage and children, that he was able to develop a more enlightened attitude than he was able to show when in the midst of saving the world. I still like Faramir best though, and maybe now I understand why a little better. (Ignoble Bard)[1]
This was a fun essay, and one that engendered a good deal of discussion in reviews at the archives where the essay was posted. Virtuella makes some excellent points about Aragorn's attitude towards the various women whom he encounters-- most telling the ones that are quoted in his dialogues with Eowyn. I don't necessarily disagree with some of her conclusions, though I think that there are other sides to them, and that the matter is possibly even more complex than either Virtuella or her commenters (including me) have dealt with. I think perhaps the surface is barely scratched. But a wonderful and well organized essay, as well as enjoyable! (Dreamflower)[1]
I loved this essay from the first moment I had read it, and I read it several more times again. Virtuella describes Aragorn's patriarchal attitudes perfectly. I believe they reflect Tolkien's attitudes, for it seems to me that he was a very conservative, patriarchal person. Now, being patriarchal doesn't necessarily mean that he is a misogynist too, but either way, women deserve to be treated better than it is shown in LotR. Perfectly written! (Ellynn)[1]
This is an idea that never occurred to me, and it certainly has a great deal of merit and foundation in canon. The author presents the idea with clear facts and good examples, and everything here is sound and factual. I am extremely impressed by this piece, and very glad to have found it. I think from now on, I will always write Aragorn with this essay in mind. (Adonnen Estenniel)[1]
An interesting essay, encapsulating a good many feminist arguments that I have heard before, and they have a certain amount of validity when looked at on the face of it.

However, you have to realized that Aragorn is to be the epitome of Chivalry, and that in LOTR, the women are all idealized Woman. Now, Chivalry has its own problems as far as feminists go, but it is a far cry from misogyny, and a necessary step, as far as men go, to achieving a better status for women.

Chivalry was a direct outcome of the Marian cult in the medieval Roman Catholic church. Mary was the idealized woman, both mother and virgin, a symbol of perfect Womanhood, to be respected and put on a pedestal and worshiped from afar. Gradually this sort of attitude extended itself to concern women in general, and so the Ideal of Courtly Love was born, in which the Ideal Woman was treated as a precious fragile treasure. Now that might seem annoying to a real flesh and blood woman, but considering that previous to this, women were treated as mere chattel with no existence beyond that of serving first her father and then her husband, it was at least a step up.

It seems that socially speaking, in order to achieve gender equality, a society must go through the Chivalry phase in order to reach the Equality phase.

(Compare this development in Western civilizations to those of the Middle-east. Women there were never Idealized, and so even now are treated like sub-human possessions-- listen to the propaganda of the Taliban, for example.)

Since JRRT was writing about a time in which the ideals of Chivalry held sway, it is no wonder that Aragorn displayed a chivalrous attitude, rather than an egalitarian one. The Marian Ideal would have meant a great deal to JRRT as devout Catholic-- all of his women display certain of Mary's qualities, although Galadriel is most obvious. But there are two of his female characters who are "more modern", and they are Eowyn and Rose Cotton.

We see this in their romances. I am firmly convinced, for example, that it was not *only* the desire to come full circle with the "Elf/Human unions" that led to Aragorn and Arwen being paired, rather than Aragorn and Eowyn as JRRT had originally envisioned. I believe that he concieved of betrothing Arwen to Aragorn *after* Faramir (whom he freely admits was his favorite character and the one with whom he most strongly identified) came into existence. Suddenly, Eowyn became *Faramir's* love interest. That Tolkien secretly thought of Faramir and Eowyn as himself and Edith, I think is shown by the fact that THE ONLY ROMANTIC KISS IN THE ENTIRE STORY takes place between Faramir and Eowyn. Faramir's attitude towards his beloved was far less lofty than that of the Ideal Chivalric Knight, Aragorn!

But anyway, my long-winded way of saying, Aragorn, if anything did not suffer from too little respect for women, but too much of the wrong kind of respect. {Dreamflower}[2]
Goodness, what a clear demonstration of how the same passages can be read and interpreted entirely differently. To be honest, I’m wondering whether you meant any of this to be taken seriously, but assuming you did, here is an alternative, more generous view of the incidents you cite.

Where you see selfishness, I see self-sacrifice [his leaving Gilraen – he can hardly stay at home and care for his mother with Gollum to find and an enemy to defeat]. Where you see possessiveness, I see a sense of humour [his first meeting with Arwen – a great one liner from a rather overwhelmed young lad - and the ‘boys talk’ with Eomer – I expect they said far worse after a few more beers]. Where you see haughtiness, I see patience [Ioreth babbling on when men are literally dying around her would try any man let alone one as exhausted as Aragorn]. Elrond is so distinguished to clarify the state of their relationship following their conversation the day before [his mother’s love is so obvious it needs no comment]. Arwen IS the fairest in all the world and Eowyn is pissed-off at having been rightly admonished for trying to abandon her duty.

These incidents are all a matter of subjection, of course, and you are quite at liberty to promote a more jaundiced view. I happily admit to being a huge admirer of Aragorn and as such tend to find stars where those who are less enamored seek dirt.

But you are factually incorrect in saying that the only quality Aragorn mentions about Eowyn is that she is ‘fair’. This line is said by Aragorn in the Houses of Healing: ‘few griefs amid the ill chances of this world hold more bitterness and shame for a man’s heart than to behold the love of a woman so fair and BRAVE that can not be returned. You take a very unbalanced view, making no mention of Aragorn’s fears for Eowyn [greater even than his fears for himself on the Path’s of the Dead] nor of his great pain at having to leave her behind, desperate at Dunharrow. Neither do you mention his devotion to Arwen and all that he suffers to earn her hand. Surely if he only sought a pretty face, any number of Dunedain ladies would have fitted the bill.

You ask for an example of where he speaks respectfully to a woman – try Galadriel.

I concede that Aragorn is underdeveloped as a character which is partly a result of how he evolved in the story and Tolkien’s belated realization of his great important. Almost as if to compensate, he then went out of his way to shovel praise and superlatives on to his king in the Appendices. But we can learn much by extrapolating from how others perceive him. I find it quite inconceivable that a man so beloved and so honoured by so many diverse peoples could possibly possess the character defect that you suggest. Misogynist is quite a charge. The Oxford dictionary definition is ‘one who hates all women’.

I ask you, would Arwen, daughter of such wise kin, really have made the difficult choice she did for such a man. And would Elrond have granted his permission and Galadriel have played matchmaker for anyone like this, no matter his bloodline.

Well you did say 'be my guest'! You may consider yourself well and truly hit over the head by a rabid Aragorn fan! (Inzilbeth)[2]
I feel that Prof. Tolkien styled himself rather a "master-poet" (in the way of Irish ollaves and Welsh bards) than a novelist. I would call Aragorn a (reluctant) hero with a "doom" on him (or geis, or fate); rather than a "cliche". Like Beowulf or the Mabinogi, or Hercules. Aragorn couldn't really escape his fate as King. With his descendance from Elros, his healing ability, and his fosterage in Imladris, I see him as a "hero-god"; too human to fit in with immortals, and too close to the immortals to fit in totally with the humans. No matter what gender. Aragorn's ascendance to the throne ushers in a new Age, and as a symbolic God of the Waning Year, ties himself to Arwen (last of her line, the "Evenstar"). The age of elves is definitely over when Aragorn and Arwen die, and just humans thereafter. I think Aragorn is telling Eowyn to "do her duty" as a royal daughter of Rohan, and I don't think that makes him anti-feminist. Even though there are not many female characters in LOTR, there are strong female characters in the Silmarillion (Melian, Luthien, Galadriel, Finduilas, Aredhel, Idril) and he would surely have known of them, growing up in Imladris. This is all just my opinion. (BeeGee)[2]
Now that is an intriguing question! That is, did Tolkien have a purpose in mind when he portrayed Aragorn as he did? Was he meant to be the heroic archetype who objectified women (I would call this sexist rather than misogynistic -- there is a difference). One does wonder, and yours is a thought-provoking essay which enumerates key examples. Please allow me to offer quoted text from one of my favorite narratives in Unfinished Tales -- Aldarion and Erendis - The Mariner's Wife -- which, I believe, provides support for your thesis from the viewpoint of a female character in Tolkien's legendarium: ...

Erendis' view (as written by JRRT) indicates these "high born men" (which might just include Aragorn!) take the attitude toward women that you posit in your essay. The tale of Aldarion and Erendis is a raw one, and neither Aldarion nor Erendis comes out a winner as Tolkien writes them. But as soon as I read your essay, I immediately thought of Erendis' voice above. Erendis obviously has her biases, but surely there is truth behind those bitter words. I love that concluding sentence.

I also give you a big tip of the hat for your chapter end notes. Having read The Letters of JRRT and his biography, the Oxford don had attitudes toward women which were progressive in some ways and in others, not so much. There's a tart remark about American feminists in one of his letters and also about a woman official who had the effrontery to wear trousers. I've heard the "man of his times" apology raised many times, and it just doesn't hold water for me. Case in point -- Wollstonecraft's essay among others and at a personal level, my maternal grandfather who was 8 years Tolkien's senior and a man with considerably more progressive views.

So count me in with Dawn. No hitting over the head from me. And like Thranduil Oropherion Redux aptly notes -- fan fiction writers have the potential to give voice to the strength of the women of Tolkien's world and furthermore, add depth of character to his male icons as well. (pandemonium_213)[3]
  • More reviews at Many Paths to Tread (here) and Stories of Arda (here)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "MEFAs Archive: Aragorn - a feminist's nightmare?". Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Comments on Virtuella's Idiosyncratic Literary Criticisms by Virtuella chapter 3 at Stories of Arda: page 1 page 2 (accessed 9 July 2016)
  3. ^ "Reviews For Aragorn - a feminist's nightmare?". Retrieved 9 July 2016.