guys, we need to talk about eowyn
So I get really narky when people pull the whole ‘oh Eowyn’s storyline came to such a sucky ending; she was really cool going around killing orcs and Witch-Kings and then she got shoved into a traditional girly role by marrying Faramir and becoming a healer’ thing, because no. No-no-no-no-no. Not only does that stray dangerously into the territory of ‘women only have worth if they’re doing traditionally blokey things’, but that misses almost the entire point of Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien was in the trenches in the first world war, right? He got all that ‘for death and glory’ shit shoved down his throat, that was the whole point about the war, it was when so many people came to see how awful and misleading all the propaganda about winning glory through violence and death was. And Tolkien’s work completely shows that: it’s why the hobbits, who’ve never craved power or battle the way men do, are the heroes of the book; it’s why strong men like Aragorn and Faramir are shown to be lovers of peace rather than war. It’s why the quote - but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory; I love only that which they defend – is so poignant and beautiful, when seen in the context of all Tolkien had gone through. He’d seen all but one of his closest friends die in an utterly pointless war; the prevalent message in his books is ‘if you’re going to have that many people die, let it be for something worth dying for.’ (Like defending your home from the lord of all darkness, for example.)
And Eowyn might be a fantastic female character, but she’s also got so much development to go through, and she’s by no means perfect. I find it really interesting that when Eowyn talks to Aragorn about wanting to go off and fight she never really actually mentions protecting her people, but speaks about wanting to ‘face peril and battle’, and to do ‘great deeds’. And it’s not that Eowyn doesn’t want to protect her people, because of course she does, but she’s also got such a driving motivation within her to do glorious and fell deeds simply for the sake of valour and renown. It’s one of her defining features, having an attitude that got so many young men killed in the war and which, obviously, Tolkien would have been very wary of.
(Also, I think, there’s so much in Eowyn that wants to prove herself to be more than ‘a mere woman’; because twice in that conversation she asserts that she’s no mere ‘dry-nurse’ or ‘serving-woman’, but a member of the house of Eorl and therefore capable of greater things. There’s almost this slight sense of Eowyn considering herself more than ‘just’ a domesticated woman that I sometimes get from her in the books? Which is very sad - the idea of Eowyn having less regard for others of her sex who do mind the house or raise the children - and why I so love that ‘I am no man’ moment in RotK. Eowyn’s no longer hiding herself, or dismissing fellow women as the weaker sex, but acknowledging and embracing the fact that women in all their forms can fuck you up.)
And then we reach the Houses of Healing, and Eowyn yearning for death in battle just like her Uncle Theoden, and basically buying into that whole world war one ethos that Tolkien would have considered so poisonous. Which is why her friendship and courtship with Faramir is so fricking beautiful. Remember that quote I wrote earlier? That’s from Faramir. He’s not backing down from conflict, he’s in no way less of a ‘real man’ than anyone else; he’s just saying there needs to be more to the fight than simply having a fight. There needs to be a reason; something worth fighting for. Eowyn recognises that Faramir is a good man in every sense of the word: he’s strong and valiant, but he doesn’t fight simply to prove himself or for the sake of winning glory, he fights for other people. And Faramir gently challenges Eowyn on her idolisation of battle-glory and encourages her not to scorn gentleness or peace, and he’s so freaking good for her.
(Seriously. Can we just stop for a moment and think about how wonderful Eowyn and Faramir are for each other: Faramir encouraging Eowyn to turn towards life and healing and openness while never denying her strength or courage, and Eowyn giving Faramir the validation and security he never got after so many years of an awful relationship with his father? I honestly don’t know why I don’t get all giddy about these two more often, because they make the very best otp.)
And the result of the departure of the Shadow and her friendship with Faramir is Eowyn’s decision that ‘I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’
I think that last bit is so important because I’m certain that Tolkien doesn’t mean for Eowyn to immediately pack up her sword and shield and become a good girl sitting at home with her knitting and waiting for the men to return home after the fight – after all, she’s going to be the wife of the Steward of Gondor and there’s a lot of mess to clean up after the War of the Ring. Eowyn’s probably still going to find herself defending hearth and home from time to time. But the important thing is that she’s no longer defining herself simply by the doing of valiant deeds; she’ll no longer compare herself to the great warriors of her house and feel lacking simply because she hasn’t killed as many men. Most importantly, she’s not going to take joy only in the songs of the slaying, in destruction and death. Tolkien was all about healers symbolising life and rebirth, and Eowyn’s decision to become one – to aid in the preservation of life rather than the taking of it – is so beautiful. I don’t think Tolkien ever wrote Eowyn’s ending to make her reclaim her ‘lost femininity’; I think it’s a lovely way of adding to the ever-present theme in Lord of the Rings of hope and frailty and healing and friendship over glory and battle and strife.