Braided Armitage, or: what is it with playing with the hair?

[SPOILERS FOR “Return to the Blue Mountains” and The Hobbit.]

Glimpse of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in vlog #4 from The Hobbit pre-production stage. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

I don’t write whole paeans to single fanfics unless they appear as books on their own, usually for reasons that have to do with my anxieties about loving fanfic. The last almost two years of blogging notwithstanding, I have as great a fear of looking silly as anyone else. But I’m making an exception here because this topic has come up a couple of times both in comments and in Armitageworld Chat. “So intimate,” people say. “So tender.” I would even go so far as to say, “so counter-intuitively erotic.”

[Richard Armitage in Project Magazine, July 2011. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

What are we talking about? Cat Winchester‘s “Return to the Blue Mountains,” in which Thorin somehow miraculously survives the events of The Hobbit, comes back to govern his kingdom, and — against the background of another adventure story — falls in LOVE. It’s a story in which the manipulation of facial hair plays a really big role in what Jane just called “dwarf love.” This story will not, as Cat herself concedes, appeal in the least to Tolkien purists, but is directed right at the audience of Richard Armitage fangirls. She may sell herself short; at least three features of the story offer explicit homage to Tolkien — the attempt to develop a sort of cultural anthropology of the race of dwarfs she writes about, the fairy-tale quality of much of her storytelling, and the authorial / audience insertion into the narrative that she achieves with her sparing use of the first person plural. It has cute, sweet, comic moments that lovingly set up the foibles of the dwarfs: as when, ordered to collect books for historical information, the dwarfs in question collect all the books they have — cookbooks included. Finally, I love her heroine, Rori — a calm, down-to-earth dwarf with few pretensions and a handful of endearing self-esteem problems. The whole piece has very much the often mythic, occasionally rambling feel of a bedtime story — except that it’s one for us and not for squirrelly little boys.

But in the end, it’s the hair that kept me linking to it and re-reading. I wanted to read more about the hair.

I won’t give you all the details, so that you can enjoy the story if you haven’t read it, but in this story, hair play is a major plot motor. Female dwarfs have beards, too, and a dwarf’s sense of honor is intimately connected with the maintenance of the beard. At the beginning of this story, the heroine loses hers — and how she and her love interest deal with that fact becomes a plot strand of major interest, as the practical need to deal with the hair situation leads them slowly into romance. Here are some moments I found particularly tender / erotic:

From chapter 2:

From chapter 3:

From chapter 4:

That’s probably enough excerpts — go over to wattpad and read the story for yourself, if you haven’t.

Gosh, this is sweet and hot. I admit that although I like long hair on men and love Armitage’s beard, I find my sudden captivity to this hair-play fascination personally odd. I have never been one to include a man brushing my hair in my own fantasies — and for many years I had hair that went down to the middle of my back. When I read it in happening in Armitage-related fanfic (most frequently in N&S pieces), the best it does is leave me cold; sometimes it leaves me with a little squick, as I tend to think of Mr. Thornton as anything other than a hair brusher. I also think about the decidedly mixed reactions among fans to Mr. Armitage’s own beard — and when the picture of Thorin at the top of the post appeared, only one voter ventured to admit that the beard was the first thing she noticed.

So what is it about Thorin grooming Rori? Or Rori playing with Thorin’s beard? I have a few theories, as always:

  • some annoying male would probably see this fascinating as a variation on creative play with dolls. I never played with dolls other than Barbies, and I don’t want a Richard Armitage doll or a Thorin doll. So I don’t see it that way, but I put it out there.
  • there’s an interesting hide / reveal dynamic at the heart of the heroine’s beard dilemma that relates both to her willingness and capacity to be seen, and to Thorin’s capacity to see her.
  • there’s a fascinating gender-crossing tension to the female beard problematic that is then mirrored in the male beard-braiding ritual.
  • it’s an unconventional way to show tenderness so that it surprises us as readers and thus catches our attention.
  • the beard shame problem is a fantastic, counterintuitive way to portray hurt / comfort, a central trope of fanfic and one that is occasionally said to stand in for sex — which is referred to in this story but not ever narrated.
  • the hair play, by allowing the author to create intense intimacy without sex and allowing the sex to be blended out, makes the dwarf bonding / mating ritual, which occurs here in the wake of passion, read as unbelievably romantic. I could read that passage again and again.

Of course, I’d also like to hear your theories — and if you read this story and love it as much as I did, please take the time to leave Cat some love in her comments. Respondents should feel free to discuss the significance of specific hair-related plot elements of “Return to the Blue Mountains” in my comments.

And I wonder — in conclusion — does this kind of story have the potential to reverse the positions of beard opponents in the varied constituencies that make up Armitageworld? Particularly given Armitage’s statement about the decision to grow his own beard this week?

If you’re an Armitage beard lover but not familiar with this site, you should be.

~ by Servetus on January 14, 2012.

36 Responses to “Braided Armitage, or: what is it with playing with the hair?”

  1. I loved the story and the beardplay for all your stated reasons. It was intense and almost erotic in its intimacy. Sex was almost anti-climax (pun intended). I was able to visualize RA as Thorin in this story, whereas before, I wasn’t sure. That being said, I now understand the debate on TORN over the length of Thorin’s beard, and can’t imagine the character without long beard and braids. It just has to be.

    That being said, as a vocal member of the RA anti-beard constituency, I still prefer RA, as himself, without a beard when he finishes the project. I conceded that the short groomed beard he sported for Project magazine was interesting although he’s too good looking a man to cultivate a Grizzly Adams look. I recall the beardy horde was not terribly into the shaggier look on the red carpet. I also like his hair longer though, which seems to fit into your theories.

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  2. I suspect the braid in the Project magazine shoot image is there as a firm, reliable anchor for his wig and/or hair extensions during Hobbit filming. The close-cropped cut makes for smoother appearance of the head while wearing a wig (and keeps one cooler under the wig) but is not ideal for secure wig placement – that’s where the braid helps.

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    • “reliable anchor for his wig and/or hair extensions” – ouch…. sounds painful Riv!

      He suits the cropped look, awe….he suits most looks I think, clean shaven, subble, beard, short hair, long hair – I’m not fussy! LOL

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  3. LOL…I am not fussy either. Long hair, short hair, I’ll find a place to put my hands. I will braid, run my fingers through, wash, caress, massage, etc, etc. Just tell me where to line up.

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  4. Initially I thought you must have photoshopped the picture with the braid as I’ve never noticed that before and don’t recall seeing anyone else comment on it. So, imagine my surprise when I checked out the same pic somewhere else and found the braid still in situ! I mean…how did I miss it??

    I really love having my hair “done” and always prefer having a male hairdresser. And on the rare occasions I’ve had a man brush my hair for me it’s always been a very sensual experience.

    I did love those parts of Cat’s story where Rori groomed Thorin or vice versa and as you say…they were both tender and erotic.

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    • I said something about it earlier in the summer and no one responded — so I assumed that someone had discussed it somewhere and it was boring.

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      • Possibly before I started reading your blog…I would definitely have been interested! I’ve been scanning the other pics from that photo shoot trying to spot it from another angle but no joy!

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  5. The one thing I find totally irresistible with men is curly hair. Colin Firth anyone? Or look at Gerard Butler in that much discussed recent interview. Orlando Bloom has very nice curly hair as well, though very short recently, and not as Legolas. Perhaps it is a good thing that Mr. Armitage’s hair is not curly, though the Thorin wig looks wavy!

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    • Love curly hair, too, though this seems to be an unlikely pleasure with Armitage. The curly haired pix from early career seem to indicate a perm.

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  6. I really liked Cat’s story, and I can see the tenderness, intimacy, and eroticism as Rori and Thorin groom each other. It makes perfect sense because social grooming is important to all primates.

    My reservations about Thorin’s early look with the extra-long beard were that (1) it would obscure so much of what Richard is able to express with his face and (2) if it was done with extensions, it would be so painful and hard to manage. Aside from that, as other ladies have said, I’m not fussy. If Richard is comfortable, I’m happy. And I would cheerfully join that queue …

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    • Thanks for bringing up the primates. That had occurred to me, too. Although it also leaves me with a certain amount of squick — but there are cultures where reciprocal hair grooming was an important activity, e.g., Russian peasants nitpicking in the nineteenth centuries.

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      • It never occurred me that that is the origin of the word nitpicking!

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        • yeah, funny, huh? There was some German military propaganda for soldiers (I think in both world wars, but I know WWI for certain) about “Russian culture” along these lines, how if you were quartered in a Russian house you had to watch out because everyone had lice and nitpicked each other, from the master of the house down to the maid. And at some point I read a novel in which there was such a scene — a little girl who’d been deported ends up in Siberia and her family is quartered with peasants, and she talks about how warm and pleasant the experience of being nit picked was. It might have been “The Endless Steppe”.

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  7. I never noticed that braid before either – great spot! Do you think he has another one on the other side? I confess I looked through all the Project mag pics again, but the angle never allows a good look at that part of his hair in any of the others. Couldn’t this be one of the braids that Thorin has on either side of his face rather than an anchor for a wig? I wonder if it is all his hair or partly an extension? Must be annoying to have to manage it.

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  8. I’m another one who hadn’t noticed the braid before. It makes sense that it would be used as an anchor for his Thorin wig. What that man does to his hair for his roles. There was that interview where he had tied back his Guy extensions because he looked like a vagabond otherwise, I think was the word he used.

    I have just finished Cat’s story, and I could picture Richard’s Thorin so clearly in my mind.
    “You are beautiful and I want you more than I can say,but I will not lie with you until you believe that also.” Those words sent tingles down my spine, imagining Thorin say them in that divine voice as heard in the trailer.
    The intimacy and the sensuality of the beardplay and grooming was unexpected for me, even after reading this post.

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  9. He has a rattail? Lord have mercy…

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    • When he appeared with the Guy extensions? Not really, more like a bun or twist, it was pretty odd, but I guess the aim was to give the illusion of Lucas’ short hair.

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      • I loved his hair slicked back for that interview. Combined with the black outfit, I thought he looked incredibly hot.

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        • yeah, I assumed it was because he was still filming RH but needed to look more like Lucas.

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          • Perhaps,looking like a vagabond aside, Richard didn’t want to appear with Guy’s long wavy locks as it would have blurred the lines between himself and his character. His hair was wound up in sort of a bun, weird at the back, but I agree with cindy, the slicked back look was hot.

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  10. I’m always amazed with Your full studies 🙂

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  11. Is there really a braid, as I’m having a hard time seeing it? Beeing usually so sharp-eyed…. 😉

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  12. Wow, thank you so much for this.

    Like you, I’m not into hair brushing in fic or real life (I have curly hair; it hurts when people other than me brush it!). Would you believe the the beard play/grooming actually stemmed from one dwarvish insult I read while researching the language? Translated it means “your beard is unkempt” which gave me an inkling of how important grooming is to.

    I expected this fic to languish for a year then perhaps get a little surge in interest next December when the first film comes out. I never expected it to be so popular now (it’s had over 1,300 reads since I started posting on the 1st Jan!).

    Thanks for spreading the word and sharing the love!

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    • you’re welcome. love the fic. I don’t think this is publishable in this form but there are so many elements in it that would be worth developing in a fairy tale or something. And meanwhile it gives us lots of pleasure.

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      • No, it’s not publishable but then it was never meant to be (other than in a free format).

        What I do often find is that that elements that work in a fanfic I will incorporate into my proper books so it’s actually a good playground for me as a writer. Not sure I’ll ever find a use for the hair-play but it was a fun way to create intimacy in this instance.

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  13. Thanks for promoting my “I think you have a soft spot for him” aka beard site!

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  14. […] fans rush over to meet and greet the new chaRActer — and it seems likely that those who love beardplay may be ineluctably drawn to the dwarf and his luxuriant facial follicles. But I think, and expect, […]

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  15. […] else when I saw the trailer. But tracing back my posts on the topic, I found myself attracted first to the beard and hair, and then eventually found myself succumbing to dwarf […]

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