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.