Friday, May 30, 2014

Changing Opinions on Éowyn

When I first read The Lord of the Rings I didn’t like Éowyn. At all. In my mind she managed to destroy all of her redeeming qualities. She is introduced as a strong female character, but almost immediately starts fawning over Aragorn. She wants to go into battle, but she does it in disguise. And when she finally proved herself in battle, she gave it all up for a guy. My middle-school self was neither a forgiving person nor a careful reader.
                The second time I read The Lord of the Rings I didn’t hate her as I used to, but I still had problems with her character. I had realized that she is strong female character. Despite this, she “… desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn.”(LOTR p964) But she eventually gets over this… and gets with Faramir instead. My high-school self didn’t really get things either, I guess.
                I read the books a third time over the past summer. This was the first time I really noticed Faramir’s commentary on Éowyn and Aragorn. “… as a great captain may to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable.”(LOTR p964)  I accepted his proposal wholeheartedly. The idea that a female character could look up to a male one without romantic undertones is something that rarely happens. Even though I was still disappointed by her decision to stop being a warrior, I was happy with (or at least ambivalent towards) Éowyn, and was more than willing for it to stay that way.
                Of course our class discussion has made me rethink basically everything about her character.
Is she a strong character? Absolutely. She is a shieldmaiden and general badass. What the reading and discussion made me consider is whether she could be considered a hero, especially when compared to the obvious heroes’ of the books, Aragorn and Frodo. Is she a hero? She shares has many of the characteristics of a hero that Flieger lists. Her origin is not “buried in obscurity until the moment comes for him to step forward and announce himself by word or deed.”(Flieger 128) But she is an orphan, an aspect she shares with Frodo. Additionally, she does stay hidden from the other characters until she is revealed right before she kills the Witch-king’s mount. Though she doesn’t fit “The relationship of uncle and nephew … prominent in midlevel narrative…” (p137). In this way she fleshes out the Uncle/nephew (niece) relationship by finishing what Théoden started. And as we mentioned in class, she is the hero in the most basic sense; that heroes kill monsters. She is the only one to really kill a monster through the length of the books.
Despite the fact that Éowyn is a hero comparable to those of midlevel epics, I still have a problem with her “… wish[ing] to be loved by another,” (LOTR p964). Zimmer Bradley states that Faramir “describes her love for Aragorn in unmistakable term – simple hero worship on a masculine level…” (Zimmer Bradley p83) This is something I would like to believe. We seemed to agree with this statement in class.
But we also didn’t completely dismiss the idea that there could be a romantic aspect of this love. It doesn’t seem like the two have to be mutually exclusive, but Faramir’s statement imply that in this case they are. Does Éowyn simply not recognize the kind of love and admiration she has for Aragorn? It’s possible that she mistakes ‘hero-worship’ for romantic love. If this is so, why does it happen? Is there any way to explain it that doesn’t solely rely on her gender – since to me this seems to be the heart of the problem? We didn’t answer this in class, so for now I’ll stick with my high-school self and dismiss any aspects of romantic love.
We talked at length about the significance of her becoming a healer, and through this her parallels to Aragorn. I, like others, for a long felt this was a resignation on her part. At first as resignation to Faramir when she realizes she can’t get Aragorn. Later (and more importantly) as a resignation from her position of shieldmaiden to that of a healer. Until now I’ve never been able to understand why exactly she – or anyone really – would give up on something that they’ve been wanting their whole life, right after they achieved it.
Flieger states that “The concept of the king as healer derives from the early Celtic principal of sacred kingship, whereby the health and fertility of the land are dependent on the coming of the rightful king.”(Flieger 133) One of the things that signifies Aragorn as the rightful king of Gondor is that he is a healer. Likewise, Éowyn becomes a healer and queen (lady). In discussion we started to get to the idea that the king is the best or most honorable kind of character in Tolkien’s works. But this doesn’t mean that this decision isn’t a resignation on her part.
Éowyn states that “I no longer desire to be a queen…”(LOTR p965) Zimmer Bradley equates this with her no longer wanting military power (to use our terms from discussion) and her decision is “not to identify with Aragorn, but to be a woman.”(p83). But of course she end up becoming like Aragorn anyway when she becomes a healer. Someone in class had a problem reconciling this. Why would she give up being a shieldmaiden, military power, to become a healer (its opposite) but in this way become a lady (queen), which is military power? Why does she become what she no longer wants to be? Perhaps she becomes queen not because she desires to, but because it is something she has to do, and accepts it. Either way, it would have to be wrong to think of kingship as military might, or it is wrong to assume that a healer is the opposite of warrior.
But the problem of resignation remains. My first instinct was that it is still a resignation. But I’ve rethought this. She kills the Nazgûl mount, achieving what she desired, to go to battle and fulfill her role as a shieldmaiden. Often heroes die when they achieve their greatest feat; Eowyn’s near-death recalls the death of Beowulf after killing the dragon, and others. Perhaps the shieldmaiden part of her dies then and what comes back is a different side or a changed Éowyn? If so, does she retain her hero-status?  

In the end, my opinion of Éowyn has done a complete 180. Though I’m not completely satisfied – I still have unresolved questions – a closer look into her character has tuned her from one of my least liked characters to one of my favorites. 

--Chloe B

5 comments:

  1. I find the nature of love/admiration/romance to be pretty confusing in LOTR elsewhere, too. The relationship between Sam and Frodo is certainly portrayed as different from the clear male/female romances, but there are some serious romantic undertones. At one point, I believe after Shelob maims Frodo, Tolkien goes so far as to compare Sam to an animal defending its "mate." Is their relationship purely platonic, two men who love each other as loyal friends, or is it meant to be somewhat romantic? It seems to be both. Perhaps the same can be said of Eowyn and her feelings toward Aragorn.

    Anna M

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  2. First of all, this was a great post. Very interesting and helpful for thinking about Eowyn. I (though not as much as my sister) has had problems with Eowyn as a character for the reasons you pointed out.

    In response to some of your questions and thoughts. "As a great captain to a young soldier," says Faramir. As a great captain himself, Faramir would know the love* that soldiers have for their captains. While there is a degree of hero-worship in these relationships, Tolkien always describes a love between the soldiering masses and their good captains. So I think that Eowyn's love for Aragorn is this same love that starts as admiration for a great captain.

    In regards to her becoming a healer and saying that she no longer desires to be queen, I have a couple of thoughts. First, both her and Faramir return to Ithilien to bring healing and new growth to that land. But Faramir is still a Steward and carries the line of Stewards. While not holding a position of direct authority while there is a King, the Stewards were still important nobles in Gondor. So not only does Eowyn become a healer, but she becomes a queen of sorts in her position with Faramir. But, I think it is interesting that in a way she also retains a shieldmaiden's position, in a way. Faramir is still a captain, so she still holds a position where, though she is not a warrior, she (I think?) would have many of the same rights as a shieldmaiden in Rohan would.

    Lastly, you say that she became that which she no longer desired to be. I do not think this is true. She no longer desired to be the woman associated with the great King, and to ride at his side as a warrior would. She sees something new in Faramir and herself. She sees a love for life and for peace. She no longer sees a need to be associated with war. So she becomes a queen, but in a different sense than she has always thought about being a queen.
    In Rohan, as the King's closest living female descendant, she was a queen of sorts. But due to her only having the position of waiting upon an aging king, while Eomer was able to go and act for the kingdom, she would have thought of a man coming for her that would bring her this same ability. The ability to go to war for an embattled country, and have a sense of purpose. With Faramir, she sees a new sense of being and purpose without being associated so much with war and valor on the battle-field.

    ~Brendon Mulholland

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  3. Thanks for the post, Chloe. Let me suggest some other options—Faramir’s got the central point of it: Aragorn was a captain, a general, a way onto the battlefield and out of her imprisoning bower, but let’s be frank, he’s also a very handsome man, indeed a Númenorean Superman! So for there to be some measure of attraction to him—as a woman to a man—is the most natural thing in the world. Are these two attractions mixed? I think so. As they would be in any messy human context. And I don’t think there’s anything contemptible about that, any more than Gimli’s infatuation with Galadriel would be seen as bad because it bears more than a little masculine torch-bearing. Gimli’s adoration is mostly played for comedy, and Éowyn’s as tragedy, but they’re both powerfully beglamoured by and attracted to their superhuman opposites.

    Secondly, on the issue of resignation, could it be less a giving up than a finding of a higher purpose? Could her comment about no longer wishing to be a queen simply be a renunciation of ambition and a desire to have herself glorified and powerful in order to save her endangered people (recall Galadriel’s description of herself with the ring as a particularly strong variation of that). Having gone out and slain a monster and a monster-villain, secured the lands of her people, won the heart of a prince and a dominion, perhaps Éowyn has come to a point where, rather than wanting to fight, slay, and defend out of desperate necessity, with the prospect of the power (!) of royalty as a means to save her people, she can now beat her sword into a plowshare and create rather than frantically try merely to preserve.

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  4. I really agree with Bill's description of her resignation. I mean, Eowyn has accomplished everything she wanted and more. She was unable to save her uncle, but she avenged his death. She killed the monster that took his life, and at that the Witch-King of Angmar, which is no small feat. She fought in battle and helped to turn the tide of the battle. It is a huge accomplishment. Then she is almost taken by darkness, and meanwhile the ring is destroyed and everything looks like there is a bright future ahead. It seems to me that at that point it's about time to retire.

    And yet she doesn't give up, she becomes in certain senses equivalent to Aragorn - a healer and a leader of people on Middle Earth. I would consider that to be one of the most mature and important roles she can play in society. I think to some extent, it seems like she lessens her autonomy by marrying Faramir, and in some ways then being under the control of a powerful man, but I think if we think about the characters we know (at least I myself like Faramir as a person and consider him an honorable man) that she will not be repressed by marriage. They will make a great team leading Ithilien.

    Overall, I don't think she resigns herself at all, or takes any backwards step. I think she proved herself as a powerful woman that accomplished her goals and then in the fourth age takes a mature position helping the people of Middle Earth. That's why she's awesome.

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