Fanfiction and Hobbit Sexuality
“The houses and the holes of Shire-hobbits were often large, and inhabited by large families. (Bilbo and Frodo Baggins were as bachelors very exceptional, as they were also in many others ways, such as their friendship with the Elves.) Sometimes, as in the case of the Tooks of the Great Smials, or of the Brandybucks of Brandy Hall, many generations of relatives lived in (comparative) peace together in one ancestral and many-tunneled mansion.”
1 – Concerning Hobbits, Prologue, The Lord of the Rings.
I took this statement as my starting ground for Legacy. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are bachelors, which is not a normal state of affairs for Hobbits. One of the favorite tropes of fanfiction is to interpret their unmarried state as a sign or signifier of homosexuality. It sometimes seems easier to find stories that portray one or both of them in this manner than those that do not. The reasons most slash fanfiction fails (hobbit related or not) comes down to two failures of narrative and of imagination.
First, their sexuality and sexual orientation is simply given. There is little attempt to place them within an articulated social and moral order, and they become rather improbable “green suns”. The society, if portrayed, is usually quite flat – homosexuality is wrong and not tolerated, and all must be kept a secret. However, their interactions with their families and neighbors (except insofar as one or both of them are involved in a romantic relationship with said relatives or neighbors) do not tend to reflect their sexual lives. Often, their choice of partner is known of and approved by others. Aside from making sure they do not engage in romantic or sexual acts where they might be observed, they appear unaffected by the doings of the community around them. It’s just their secret. How either might have become oriented towards partners of the same sex, or how they reconcile their choices within the context of Shire society is not addressed by most authors. When it is, the treatment tends to be rather didactic and one-dimensional – homosexuals are hated and persecuted or same-sex liaisons are unproblematic and allowed.
This leads to the second issue, namely the story’s presentism. Their sexuality is portrayed in modern terms, where there is a polarization and objectification of orientation based on the gender of the selected partner. This is not the only (and, historically speaking, is a very odd) perspective on sexual activity. It abstracts the sexual performative from the context which would make the performative meaningful. Their class standing is occasionally pointed to, but not how they do or do not act within extended, dynastic political situations. Their sexual relations might be called (either by them or by others) “unnatural” or “perverted”, but these qualifiers are rarely elaborated. For example, what would count as natural? Are there situations in which same-sex interactions would be excused or over-looked? What is the prism through which sexuality is viewed – as fulfillment of personal desire, or as enactment of familial and social duty? Homosexuality, as we moderns understand it, cannot exist in a world in which there is no Freud.
Another point of dissatisfaction, though a lesser one, is the lack of examination of what it means to be a sexual being at all, regardless of sexual preference. What kind of choices would a hobbit interested in an erotic partner of the same sex make in other parts of his or her life? How would this person regard him or herself, their larger goals and aspirations? To what degree would their sexuality not be about sexual acts, but about sexual choices? The social and moral aspects of sexuality are not examined.
The result of these oversights is usually a story that is completely interiorized. The characters’ actions take place mostly within their own consciousness and do not often go beyond longing for a love object and/or anxiety over losing said love object if the character’s desires become known; in short, angsty psycho-drama. I find myself wondering how the anxious, febrile characters ever could have the gumption to spy on a dragon or walk into Mordor. Again, the actual stories are often engaging, but they do not strike me as presenting reasonable pictures of why Bilbo and Frodo have become the people we know through The Hobbit and LOTR. It is not that these characters would not or could not be homosexual; rather, it is that the authors have not made the case for them being so and also being the characters of the books. They have been called green suns, but there is not yet a world in which they might reasonably exist.
Mostly, I am disappointed that the rich fabric of the JRRT myth gets so greatly reduced. What can be made of such facts as the passage that opened this section? Of the tidbits stored away in the genealogical tables of the Appendices? Of the casual descriptions of Shire life? Moreover, what can be extrapolated from the unfolding of events briefly sketched in various tales of years? How do larger tropes of divine grace and power affect the expression of sexuality? Finally, how can an examination of Bilbo and/or Frodo’s characters be placed into this context in a way that would allow the possibility of an unconventional sexuality to be addressed, without simply writing sex scenes or descriptions of angst? That was my challenge.