Queer scholarship on The Lord of the Rings has frequently focused on J. R. R. Tolkien’s depiction of deep, intense male friendships. The tenderness of these relationships and Tolkien’s treatment of homosocial bonds - particularly in comparison to his depiction of heterosexual relationships - raises a question of deeper intimacy and queer potential that cannot be ignored. But in contrast to the relationship between Frodo and Sam, which is frequently explored in scholarly work (even if raised only to dismiss the possibility of queerness), the potential for a queer reading of Legolas and Gimli shows up as a glaring gap in Tolkien scholarship. In an effort to address this gap, I investigate the development of Legolas and Gimli’s relationship through a lens of queer theory, focusing on the contrast of their overt performance of affection with moments of privacy that shield the potential for intimacy from the reader’s view. I argue that Legolas and Gimli demonstrate affection for one another that challenges the normative bounds of friendship, transgressing expected boundaries of race and gender in their intimacy. At the same time, strategically-placed instances of privacy in their representation provide “plausible deniability” for scholars and fans who wish to ignore their queer potential. I reflect on these instances of privacy and other aspects of the text which provide a shield for scholars to ignore Legolas and Gimli’s potential, particularly in contrast to relationships such as Frodo and Sam. Finally, I point to the lack of exploration of this queer potential in existing Tolkien scholarship, offering my analysis to address the gap and indicating possible future avenues of scholarly exploration.


This conference paper was initially presented in the Tolkien Studies Area of the Popular Culture Association Conference in 2022.



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