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Corrupting Beauty: Rape Narrative in the Silmarillion (Critical Essay)

Mythlore 2010, Fall-Winter, 29, 12

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THIS ESSAY EXPLORES THE USE OF RAPE NARRATIVE in The Silmarillion: with specific reference to the female characters Aredhel and Luthien, I analyze the range of literary techniques by which Tolkien simultaneously exploits yet constrains the power of rape (threatened or actual) as a narrative motor and dramatic spectacle. The reader's first reaction to my title might well be "What rape narrative?", such is the subtlety of Tolkien's representation and the cultural pervasiveness of rape in fiction. Indeed it is this ambiguity that I find fascinating because, through it, Tolkien can advance a plot around the notion of rape without actually representing the act itself. Several feminist critics (e.g. Horeck, Projansky) argue that it is difficult to represent rape in art without creating a vicarious pleasure in sexual violence; they argue that the purview of the reader/spectator itself objectifies and offers power, pleasure, and mastery in the narrative event. Avoidance of rape-representations does not necessarily resolve the problem, however, as refusal to represent the act can serve as titillation where the event is withheld so as to tantalize. Thus the writer of rape narrative must navigate a tricky course to ensure that the representation of rape (even as a structuring absence) is not a misogynist act. I believe that Tolkien, through utilization of a range of literary techniques that suggest an 'authenticity' and balance in narrative and that resist genre conventions, does successfully navigate this course, but that his positing of female beauty as the catalyst for violent seduction or unrestrained lust remains problematic other than as understood in mythic mode.

Corrupting Beauty: Rape Narrative in the Silmarillion (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 September 2010
  • Publisher: Mythopoeic Society
  • Print Length: 33 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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