Tolkien’s Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is probably a misogynist satire of women's rights campaigner Victoria Sackville-West

Originally published at:


Now that the bitter, cruel, and curmudgeonly Christopher Tolkien has stepped down (as of 2017) as head of the Estate, I’m hoping whoever controls it going forward is a little less tight-fisted about people playing in that sandbox. (This is a guy who hated the very idea of making LOTR movies so much that when his son disagreed, he disowned him)


Discovering that the reason There and Back Again is out of print is partially due to the Tolkien estate makes me very sad (I’m surprised I missed that, but not surprised that it happened.) It’s a magical piece of transformative art with glorious extra spins that anyone who likes Tolkien and Lewis Carroll should love. In fact, I am going to go back and reread my badly dog-eared copy right now.


Given the last name combined with everything else, I’d say almost certainly so. And if not, then it’s a literally incredible act of cluelessness.

Yes please.


Probably true, but then there’s the chance that Tolkien used the name because he perhaps hated coming up with names and was tired of the chore, so he just used one he was familiar with. I mean, this is the same guy who named two very main characters Sauron and Saruman and thought “yeah that’ll do”


In the 60s-era paperbacks I first read it in, Saruman is accidentally referred to as “Aruman” in a few spots, which made for an extremely confusing read.


this conveniently skips the part about how Frodo and Lobelia ended on much kinder terms by the end of the book, too. it’s very bittersweet when she dies – she’s not nearly the cartoon villain Frodo thought she was when he was younger.


True, but she’s only seen as sympathetic after she’s been humbled and brought low. I love LotR as much as anyone, but good ol’ JRR was ambivalent about his female characters.


one of the few, rare female characters in that series

Since there are several positive (and far more prominent) female characters, is it possible it was a satire of Vita Sackville-West rather than a misogynist satire?


I dunno, is there anything in her life or any reason to satirize her that way other than because of her work towards women’s freedom? Does that come across in the work?

Personally I doubt it but I’m not wading through Tolkien lore to try to prove it to myself or anyone else because honestly I found reading those books the first and second time exhausting enough to be a burden and at this point I just don’t want to.

If I had a guess I’d say it isn’t even satire. It’s just naming a “nasty” character after a “bad” woman by a man who views women’s participation in the control of their own lives and governments as bad and also views women who fight for that as inherently terrible.

So maybe not misogynist satire so much as satire by a misogynist. Maybe satire by a misogynist that is critical of the idea that women should be able to own property outright… so satire for a misogynistic cause.

I can see how that could easily be shortened to misogynistic satire.


I’ve never heard of the books misprinting the name. Are you sure you’re not thinking of the Bakshi film adaptation? The filmmakers assumed that the audiences would confuse Sauron with Saruman, and so changed the latter’s name to Aruman, but they failed to rename him consistently. This led to him being called “Aruman” half the time and “Saruman” the other half of the time—altogether rather more confusing than just keeping him as “Saruman”.


It’s pretty simple: Sauron is to Saruman as Einstein is to Eisenstein.


I’m sure you could say that about many authors, but Tolkien loved coming up with entire languages, giving names to the most minor characters. It’s more likely he never even considered that people might find the names too similar.

I can also recommend ‘The Last Ringbearer’ as a reinterpretation of the story. It’s availableas a free download, and Tolkien’s estate has been unable to get rid of it, even if it turns Gandalf, Aragorn and the elves into the main villains. (The official trilogy is described as propaganda by the winners).


It’s also not especially good.

It’s true, the Bakshi film kept calling him Aruman. But I have some old paperbacks that did the same thing. Only once or twice, to my recollection.

1 Like

There was some comparison to the Sackville-Wests and Knole inheritance.

1 Like

IIRC Tolkien had a slight copyright/licensing issue in the US in the 60’s. Leading to unauthorized paperbacks with all sorts of weird. The Arumon thing is definitely a Bakshi bit of weird, but given its a dropped S I could definitely see it as a printing error in one of those.


Eru forbid that anyone make an adaptation of Tolkien’s work that cheapens the franchise in some way.



Having watched the latest biopic about Tolkein, starring Nicolas Hoult, it puts some of this reaction into perspective.

Even without the background I’ve come across about him in the past month (is it Google, or just served up as reaction to the movie release - or both?), the movie seemed incredibly apologist in favor of “educated” white men of England of the time. A movie about failing upwards due to the bar being set so damn low for these guys at the time. Sure, war, but practically all the men (and a fuck-ton of teen boys) were volunteering.


i’m not sure she was humbled or “brought low” – she just went through a similar arc the rest of the hobbits did, learning that the world is a much bigger place than just hobbiton, and that many of the things they once thought all-important weren’t nearly so. she may have lost some of her cartoonish fire by the end, but the rest of the hobbits also had learned that she wasn’t nearly as awful as they had made her out to be, too.