Genderswitched Bilbo makes The Hobbit a better read

'Bilbo is a great heroine: “tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender – and neither does anyone else.” ’

Ironic. We’re only reading about this because the reader (listener?) makes an issue of the gender. We’re continuing to make an issue of it by discussing it. And it should be celebrated as a better story in as far as no one in the story makes an issue of Bilbo’s gender? Wouldn’t this be true of almost any genderswapped story, male to female?


Interesting idea but I take exception with the line about Tolkien’s world being without “many women of any sort”. While it’s true that they were virtually non existent in The Hobbit and somewhat rarer than men in the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, the balance is much more realistic in The Silmarillion and some of his unfinished works involving Arda and Middle Earth.

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This sounds pretty cool, and I’m enjoying the discussion about what makes a good female protagonist in children’s literature since I enjoy reading middle grade stories as well as YA stuff. I’m pretty old fashioned though because I still think Dorothy Gale and Carroll’s Alice kick all kinds of ass.

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I thought it was generally accepted that Tolkien’s experiences in World War 1 were a great influence on his writings. Perhaps it was unfair to the womyn of that era, but there was also a clear shortage of women and girls fighting in the trench warfare of The Great War. I wouldn’t be too harsh on Tolkien for failing to imagine his mythical ancient societies as being no more willing to encourage their potential childbearers to gamble in the meatgrinder of combat than almost everyone else in the world’s real history, unlike our civilized age.

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The Hobbit, as written, had no women in it whatsoever. As for the LOTR trilogy, as written:

Arwen: basically a prize for Aragorn and a sad footnote.

Galadriel: one of the world’s great powers, made quite an impression, gave vital gifts: certainly important, but still essentially a passive character.

Luthien: during the trilogy, just someone in a song in a scene that doesn’t contribute to character advancement or plot.

Eowyn: the exception that proves the rule, maybe.

Shelob: if you want to count her, okay. “Crucial” I’m not so sure of; import to Sam’s story arc but she was basically just a lurking danger, like the Watcher in the Water, not exactly a strong character.

If you start counting the appendices and Silmarillion, Luthien is vitally important to history and one of the world’s boldest and most heroic adventurers, and Galadriel was basically present for almost everything that ever happened on Arda and the one who really held the White Council together. But who’s reading the Silmarillion to their five year old daughter?

Anyway. The thing about this story is it was the daughter’s idea that Bilbo was a girl. She wanted someone she could project herself into. It’d be one scary kid who chose either Shelob or Galadriel for that…


Don’t underestimate the ability of a child to identify with characters that are not exactly the same shape, color, or material as them. Mine seems to have no problems identifying with steam locomotives or bears.


One thing that bothers me is the thin, angry-looking “hobbit”. Bilbo was a short stout, nervous person.


Sheri S. Tepper’s Six Moon Dance has something along the lines of this premise: on a planet with few women and a plethora of men, extraneous males are sold to brothels as “hunks” for bored wives.

But you know what? I would sure as shooting buy a (well-written) kids’/YA book about a boy who is curious about menstruation, which was in part written to educate boys about a process that a lot of men seem content to remain ignorant about because it “doesn’t pertain” to them…

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It’s funny that people are now trying to claim characters like Arwen, since a big criticism among Tolkien purists when the LotR movies came out had to do with her expanded role. Not unlike, say, the addition of Tauriel in the second Hobbit movie.

Although it’s not literature, I am of the opinion that female protagonists who are still feminine are done very well in Hayao Miyazaki’s Gibli animated films. The female protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a gender-switched male without femininity to be a good heroine who is not subject to gender discrimination.


Bilbo is a Hobbit you species oppressor. :trollface:


That’s fair. I’d say though that jansob1 has a point in that changing the gender of a character will lead to other kids telling them they’re wrong and create unnecessary conflict. Lying to children is fine to protect them, but not to push an idea that’ll leave them feeling betrayed like Santa Claus. Newer books should simply be written with good female characters. Isn’t the protagonist of The Hunger Games a girl?

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With ebooks and some basic natural language processing, it shouldn’t be too hard to let anyone who purchases the book specify the gender (and name) of each major character at download time, and have the appropriate text generated on the fly. During production, after a computer NLP pass took care of detecting most of the necessary pronoun shifts, the author would need to do an “editing pass” to catch any hard-to-detect switches (e.g. deciding whether the character should go to the mens’ or womens’ room) and properly mark up the book so the right version could be generated on demand.

Anyone ready for “Little Sister”?

Too bad gender switching couldn’t make the movie any better…

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When reading the Rosemary Wells stories to my daughter, I would substitute the voice of Mrs. Jenkins with that of MR. T.


I love me some Tolkien, don’t get me wrong: but Luthien plays no role in the LOTR or The Hobbit. Arwen shows up at the very very end to say a few nice things to the hobbits, marry Aragorn and (we find in the Appendices) suffer his death and die alone.

But using Shelob as an example of a female character is…telling, isn’t it?

What about Rosie Cotton?! Elanor? Goldilocks…? It’s a stretch alright: I mean, when thinking about it…the Entwives all left. All the bad people seem to be male. Even the livestock…Shadowfax isn’t a mare I’m pretty sure; Bill the pony obviously not. Are Arod or Hasufel girls names?

I have it…Someone female and important! A! Elbereth Gilthoniel! etc etc etc

And perhaps buyers could be allowed to specify the gender/class/race/economic power dynamics of all characters/groups and politically acceptable outcomes of major conflicts. Depth and causes of character development could be chosen, along with selection of either religious or rationalist worldviews. It should also be possible to choose between vegan/omnivore food options for described meals. Wait, There are already prograns that allow one to do this. Word and Writer come to mind…

Mostly kidding…but I do think at some point we have to accept that authors are making these choices for their iwn reasons… and start writing stuff that says what we want it to say.

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Do you think the dwarves are all male? Hasn’t Tolkien said it’s hard to tell the difference between male and female dwarves? How do we know they are all male? Answer: we don’t.


I agree that choose your own adventure is the reductio-ad-absurdum of this approach, but I think there’s one place where it’s often applicable: childrens’ literature. In those stories, the gender of the child is often irrelevant. Would it have harmed the story if Milo were a girl in the Phantom Tollbooth, or Tom Swift in his stories, or Coraline a boy? I think not. Obviously in some stories the characters play to gender roles and the switch would be more complicated—Tom Sawyer, Little Women—but I think there are many cases where the switch would be relatively straightforward.

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