3. The Fell Winter

Reproductive Demographics and Sexual Mores

“2911 – The Fell Winter. The Baranduin and other rivers are frozen. White Wolves invade Eriador from the North.” 

Appendix B, The Tale of Years, The Lord of the Rings.


I started with a fact of the book, the Fell Winter of 1311 S.R., and a proposition, that the female portion of the population died and suffered long-term physical debilitation to a greater degree than the male portion as a result of the Winter. One of the things I based this proposition on is the dearth of births recorded in the genealogical charts among the three great families of the Shire – Took, Brandybuck and Baggins – immediately after that year and then another down-swing approximately forty years later – when women born during that time would reach prime child bearing years. It is not a large variation, and can easily be ascribed to JRRT not spreading his births out more carefully, but it was enough to speculate on.

What would be the effect? Women of childbearing years during the winter might have died (especially if they were giving birth during those months), they might have suffered a higher percentage of still births and infant deaths, and they might have had their bearing capacity greatly reduced for a number of years afterwards. This would produce a general depression in the population, but with some peculiar effects. If female children experienced greater morbidity and mortality during these years, in three decades there would be another depressive force on the population. Reproduction becomes very important, and females gain greater status (and potentially more power) in the society. The generations affected are going to be:

  • The youngest children of the Old Took’s children’s cohort (especially those born between 1240 and 1260), such as Bilbo’s parents. They are in their late thirties to early fifties, and are at the height of their childbearing years. By the genealogical charts, over 57% of all Hobbit children are born to parents between the ages of 40 and 50. This first, eldest cohort watched their children die at an alarming rate, and found themselves unable to bear more to replace the lost generation.
  • The second generation, born between 1290 (Bilbo’s birth year) and the Fell Winter itself. These are children and adolescents who die at a significant rate due to the environment, especially girl children. Thus, the next reproductive cohort has a serious gender imbalance – there are not enough females to go around. A smaller cohort of women means fewer children will be born. Also, psychologically speaking, they are brought up in a condition of constant emotional loss. Those who lived are very attached to each other on a number of levels, and share a psychological and physical intimacy greater than that of the previous and following generations. Finally, this cohort was entering puberty during a time of severe environmental conditions and may have suffered harm to their reproductive capacity. Sterility and reduced fertility would probably plague both males and females of this group.
  • The third generation, born mostly in the 1320s through the 1350s, include the great-grandchildren of the Old Took – including Saradoc and Merimac Brandybuck, and Paladin and Esmeralda Took, each of whom appears directly or by name in Legacy. The reproductive cohort is marked at one end by Primula Brandybuck (1320 – the Old Took’s youngest granddaughter) and at the other end by her son, Frodo Baggins (1368 – the Old Took’s youngest great-grandson), though each can lay claim to belonging to previous or the following reproductive groups. Most children in the cohort are born by 1348. The gender balance is beginning to right itself, but the older females will be considered viable reproductive partners by the youngest men of the previous age cohort, causing some tensions between generations. The fact that these older men may be wealthier than the younger men will add to the tension.
  • The fourth generation, born after 1370, would include Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The births in this generation are tightly clustered in the 1380s and 1390s, when the bulk of the previous cohort reach reproductive years. The size of the population is being restored and the gender balance is no longer such an issue, though there would still be some contestation for female partners, and a certain portion of the male cohort will remain unmarried against their wills due to the small imbalance.

So, how would this interpolated environmental event affect social relations and sexual activities? I posit that the Fell Winter created a condition where men who had not married by the time of the Winter had greatly reduced chances of forming an approved social unit in which they could both enjoy emotional and sexual intimacy and fulfill the social obligation of reproduction. Women had greater choices of marriage partners, and thus could be both freer with their sexual favors and also enjoy greater security within marriage. Unmarried males would find fewer unattached females, but might have greater chances of illicit liaisons with women they were not married to, since wives have more bargaining power with husbands. They would also probably be more likely to engage in sexual activity with other adult males.

This does not mark an increase in homosexuality, per se, nor would it mean that male sexual pairings were considered acceptable, normal or moral. Rather, it would mark, if you will, a decriminalization of same sex intimate contact between males. As long as the men in question were discreet, their activities would be overlooked as the society tacitly allows them an outlet for sexual drive that does not endanger marital and social stability. This would be the situation Bilbo would find himself in as a twenty-year-old survivor of the Fell Winter. There would probably also be an extension of emotional bonding for unattached males with established families, with many “uncles” appearing who would be expected to help raise children, add their wealth to their families, and even provide their reproductive capacity in situations where a married male relative is sterile or had reduced reproductive capacity (age, illness, etc.)

By the time the next reproductive cohort reached social and sexual maturity, the population size is still noticeably depressed, children are greatly prized, and the younger male cohort is having to compete with the older one for the now-mature women. Younger men are going to be seeking ways to discredit and dominate in order to secure access to the female population. Older unmarried men, the ones who would be competing for female attention, would be demonized for being “unnatural”, i.e., for having non-traditional sexual partners in the past. Latent fears of sexual domination by older men and perhaps confusion over their own sexual desires would be expressed in aggressive and intolerant behavior towards “deviant” and “unnatural” older men. However, this generation also sees a cohort of elder “uncles” who have been accumulating wealth and material goods. These men are starting to reach their late eighties and early nineties, and are dying. Thus, rejection of these older males is tempered by a desire to lay claim to their wealth.

The youngest generation is being raised in a less forgiving socio-psychological environment, and are exposed to societal pressure to reject non-traditional sexual and reproductive practices. On the other hand, they themselves are not in direct competition with an older cohort for reproductive partners to the same degree as their parents’ generation. Their sexual horizons are more strictly defined than in their grandparent’s generation, but there is less aggression and vying for wealth. They will be the end-recipients of both a restored population and an increased economic base. For most of them, their sexual choices will be relatively simple, as inclination towards a person of the opposite sex is supported by older relatives encouraging marriage and providing the economic means with which to do so.

Bilbo is the epitome of the second generation, while Frodo fits uneasily into the third, and is not quite a part of the fourth. Frodo is also unusual in that his own parents span the previous age cohorts, and that he was born quite late in their reproductive lives (Drogo was 60 and Primula was 48). He is in economic competition with the elder members of his age cohort, such as his cousins Saradoc Brandybuck and Paladin Took, and ends up being in reproductive competition as well, a sort of mirror to his father’s situation. However, due to his youth, he cannot compete politically with them, and is dependent upon some elder relative for protection. Add to this that Bilbo and Frodo both are notable descendants of the most powerful political actor in living memory (the Old Took) and are important players in the politics of the Took dynasty, and there is a strong incentive for relatives to try to manipulate, marginalize and control them. Each is in a condition of alterity, and their sexuality becomes an unavoidable political issue in securing a position in a not-yet stabilized society.  They are simultaneously pushed towards selecting same-sex partners and reviled for making such a selection.