The woman who 'ruined the Hobbit'

Evangeline Lilly as the elf warrior Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – a new character created by filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.

Evangeline Lilly as the elf warrior Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – a new character created by filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.

"I'm not being sexist just because I hate her.” “So much wrong here.” “Putrid.”

“Looks like s---.”

“Just another nail in my coffin of despair.”

Given the vitriol on display in those comments, you could have been forgiven for thinking they were reacting to something akin to Margaret Thatcher's corpse returning from the dead specifically to eat the hearts of babies and kittens live on FOX News, but no, this was simply the pure, unadulterated rage of Tolkien fans mad that a woman had come to spoil their “bro-venture”.

Yes, much bile was posted immediately following the release of the first official image of Evangeline Lilly as the elf warrior Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – a new character created by filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh – and the commotion continued yesterday with the premiere of the film's trailer.

I'm not great at maths, but the trailer provides roughly 11 seconds of footage of Tauriel, which is apparently enough evidence – paired with that sole official photo – for great swaths of the fan community to decide that they despise the character. How dare Jackson do something so “non-canonical”! The Hobbit doesn't need more women! There's already one in it!!

(This rage, I might add, comes from the same fan community that on the other hand thinks nothing of “shipping” dwarves Fili and Kili, brothers, into an incestuous relationship.)

To ice that depressing cake with another layer of despair, Lilly was prepared for fans to hate her character from the start, since she's already had plenty of training in that department during her Lost days. She told Entertainment Weekly: “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are going to be people who will totally hate Tauriel, think that she shouldn't be in the movie, that it's a betrayal of Tolkien, and no matter what I do it won't be right. [. . .] I kind of got prepped for that being on Lost, because we had avid fans who were really extreme in their feelings about the show and its characters.”

Lilly is not alone in playing a character arbitrarily loathed by fans. Spare a thought for poor Sophie Turner, whose Game Of Thrones character Sansa seems to have – despite the presence of many far more despicable characters – become a beacon for all that is mean and unpleasant about online fandom.

A small sample of comments on Sansa's character poster for season three, posted on the show's official Facebook page, includes such generous praise as: “Stupid bitch”, “Is someone going to kill this stupid bitch soon?”, “I think she should die in childs birth” [sic], and so on.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Sansa is a young girl (13 at the start of the books, a smidge older on telly) betrothed to the horrendous boy king Joffrey, and who has had the misfortune of seeing her pet direwolf killed, her father beheaded, being beaten, barely escaping a gang rape, and generally just trying to survive in a hostile environment. For these crimes, as well as the grave error of being young, innocent, and emotional, she has become public enemy No.1 to many Game Of Thrones fans.

Turner herself has addressed this at various press events, including a red-carpet interview from season three's premiere, in which she admits: “It does bug me when people are like, 'I hate her, she's such a bitch'. I'm like, 'No she's not!'”

The irony of such vitriol being flung at innocent Sansa is made all the more bitter when you consider the ways in which hatred of Joffrey is expressed online. Everyone loves to hate him, and he's made fun of in blinged-out GIFs and looped videos of the young king being slapped, set to Led Zeppelin. Joff is arguably one of the most vile characters in Game Of Thrones, but you're hard-pressed to find any criticism of him that even remotely approaches the intensity of that levelled at Sansa.

There are countless other examples, including Skyler White from Breaking Bad and Doctor Who's River Song (and I hope Shailene Woodley is prepared for the reign of terror that will greet her first outing as Mary Jane in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man sequel), and in almost every instance the reasons given – as outlined by this piece – are inevitably spurious.

Here's the thing: it's perfectly reasonable to dislike a character. That's what villains and anti-heroes are there for. But if the best justification you can come up with is something like “she's a bitch” or “she's just a stupid girl”, you're not engaging in armchair cultural criticism, you're perpetuating sexism.

These fan-led hate campaigns offer a disheartening blend of internalised misogyny on the part of female fans (attacking a female character's perceived romantic “threat” when it comes to their favourite male character, or bemoaning feminine qualities), and plain old-fashioned misogyny from males (see those aforementioned Sansa comments, all written by blokes).

Woe betide any fan who attempts to suggest that hating Sansa is probably ridiculous, and possibly sexist, too; as the newly coined internet rule “Anita's Irony” illustrates, “Online discussion of sexism or misogyny quickly results in disproportionate displays of sexism and misogyny”.

Don't believe me? Just sit back and relax: it's about to happen in 5, 4, 3 . . .

 

229 comments

  • Well I, for one, look forward to a female character in The Hobbit, and good on Peter Jackson for realising that something written in 1937 is perhaps a little outdated in it's gender balance.

    As for Sansa, I'm sure all the hate started in season 1 when she was lusting after Joffrey and we could all see how horrible he was going to be to her. The ongoing hatred is completely misguided considering how much the poor girl goes through and how she is a Lannister puppet fearing for her life.

    Commenter
    om
    Date and time
    June 13, 2013, 8:29AM
    • Om, there are some of us, who while not sexist, misogynist trogolodytes, actually liked The Hobbit as it was written. I treasure this story, which I first read in my youth and just happen to think that Tolkien wrote a marvelous story. Who gave you the authority to decree that this piece of art required updating? Perhaps, in view of alternative modern values which encompass the spread of pornography, we should "update" the Mona Lisa with a nice pair of ... Your own values are fine for yourself, but this new character, no matter its gender, is just another example of Peter bloody Jackson stuffing around with someone else's work to enhance his wallet and feed his ego.

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:15AM
    • She should probably have ended her life by now... and taken as many Lannisters as possible with her. She is weak in comparison to most other GoT characters and thats why people hate her.

      Commenter
      Sam
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:19AM
    • Although I agree with David, I don't think Peter "bloody" Jackson needs to do this to "enhance his wallet, and feed his ego". What gives David the the authority to decree that this amazing director of amazing movies would need to do such a thing ??

      & I don't agree with the inclusion of Tauriel... Full stop.

      Commenter
      Kel
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:26AM
    • Now now David, don't be bitter. No-one gave me authority to do anything of the sort, I was merely stating that a work of fiction written almost 80 years ago in a completely different time and place to our modern world could perhaps have something to gain by adding new and different characters. Presumably she'll be a minor character of little import anyway, but it is a work of fiction after all, and considering Jackson has taken other liberties with the story I don't feel this little sideline is worth getting your knickers in a twist over.

      Commenter
      om
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:33AM
    • @om
      Wow that is crazy.

      So you're suggesting to add new characters just to make it "politically correct" and "current"
      This is a direct adaption not a reinterpretation.

      Commenter
      AK
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:33AM
    • Quite right Kel, I don't have any authority whatsoever. I, however, am not the person who has played around with someone else's art. Whether Jackson is amazing or not, why did he do it? If he is such a creative dynamo, perhaps he should write his own stories instead doing something which is akin to plagiarism. Not quite sure how Jackson can be defended for "his" work and simultaneously criticised.

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:45AM
    • Yes. And maybe the next film about the Gospels can feature a few female disciples or maybe even a female Jesus.

      Commenter
      gobsmack
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:49AM
    • Well to be fair Legolas isn't meant to be in the film either (and did I see Orlando playing a human role as well?!) so it may actually be a wash-on effect from that. Fans of great literature hate it when changes like this are made for the film adaptation

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:54AM
    • Has everyone forgotten she got her father killed by telling on him to save her marriage to single most hated person int he series? Has everyone forgotten an innocent young boy was killed because she lied?

      How are people forgetting this? Yes we're definitely coming around now she hasn't got anyone killed with her trivial social ambitions.lately and she's now the victim.. It's silly to pretend there is "no reason" to dislike Sansa. Why doesn't anyone dislike Arya whose wolf Sansa almost killed by lying? People like the strong, honorable Arya who stood up to Joffrey and disliked the petty dishonorable Sansa who covered for him. Whoah, unpredictable!

      Commenter
      andrew
      Date and time
      June 13, 2013, 10:59AM

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