Character Appreciation: Éowyn
'But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.'
She Is No Manl!
You could say we are living in an age where fictional world is finally in support of strong, female characters. The 2010s saw a massive push for producing women who could empower girls - from Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games book series to the Disney-Pixar creations of Merida, Elsa and Moana - and prove they don't have to remain passive within a lesser role. The importance of this movement stems from the fact that, historically, such figures have been virtually non-existent. Well...there are a couple of exceptions, and we are going to celebrate one such lady now.
Eowyn appears in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers and The Return of the King, two of the three Lord of the Rings books. The daughter of deceased parents, living with her uncle, King Theoden of Rohan, and is expected to live the life of the noblewoman she was born to be as her brother leaves their home to fight in defence of Rohan against the barbaric Orcs. Unlike other noblewomen who may have been resigned to such a fate, in defeat or relief, Eowyn fought such a charge from the beginning. Let's look at just a few aspects of her character Tolkien's pages reveal that make her so special.
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A Meaningful Reputation
Rohan was in an anxious state: with the great Battle of Hornburg approaching, King Theoden prepared to lead his army out to the battlefield yet was faced with the prospect of leaving control of his land to someone he trusted. At the recommendation of the doorward Hama, he agreed that someone from his own house should be in charge. Yet, all the male members of his family were going to be fighting and, to him, that meant there was no one. That is until Hama reminded him of his niece - Eowyn - who was known for being 'fearless' with the love of all around her. As a result, Eowyn was named ruler of Rohan and was entrusted with caring for Meduseld Hall in their absence. Considering how little power even noblewomen had in most of Middle Earth, it is a testament to her reputation that such a responsibility would be put on her shoulders. The more Tolkien reveals of her personality, the less surprising it is: she is said to have inherited her mother's grace and pride along with a determination which remained resolved even when relentlessly challenged. She demonstrated a care for her family and people that seemed to resonate in return. It takes a lot for a woman to have such respect in a man's world, even if that world also only exists in fantasy.
Her strength and care if further demonstrated when Rohan finds its King's mind poisoned by an ill-intentioned adviser, Grima. Despite it paining her, Eowyn stays by her uncle's side, caring for his deteriorating mind and body whilst standing up to Grima and fighting against his unwanted lustful advances. Though this would have put her own safety at risk, she knows Theoden would be lost if she were to run. This type of self-sacrificing spirit doesn't seek reward, and she isn't given one in return.
There is one thing Eowyn did desire that she was continuously denied by the men around her: the opportunity to prove herself and gain renown on the battlefield. A skilled horserider and fighter, she envied her brother's freedom to defend their kingdom by the sword. As a woman and royal, she did not have such an honour. As far as those around her were concerned, her duties were at home. This spoke to her only real fear: being confined. To Eowyn, her home was a cage that she was being pushed into.
We learn of her desperation to join the fight when she meets Aragorn as he prepares to ride into his next adventure. She insists on joining him, declaring she was "weary of skulking in the hills, and wish to face peril and battle." Though she was not permitted to accompany him, she did not let that disturb her goal.
I Am No Man
The Return of the King saw Eowyn finally take the opportunity to prove herself in battle. However, this was not an opportunity given to her by an outside source. No, she decided to stop waiting for permission and rose up on her own.
Donning a disguise and passing herself off as a man, Eowyn travels with the Riders of Rohan to battle with them. She carried with her the hobbit Merry. Both had been ordered to stay behind, but she understood they deserved to fight for what they knew was right.
Unbeknonst to all, including Eowyn and Merry, their decision would prove to be crucial in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. There they meet Witch-King, Lord of the Nazgul who was prophesied to not be hindered by any man. As the Witch-King slaughters and boasts of his apparent invulnerability to men, Eowyn removes her helmet and shouts:
"No living man am I! You look upon a woman."
It is then she, with a little help from Merry acting as a distraction, she delivers a killing blow to the 'unbeatable' Lord of the Nazgul. It stands out as a moment in literature when a woman, resisted and limited, achieves what countless men before her have tried and failed to do. The swing of her sword cut the air and preconceptions of what women should be permitted to be. The battle resulted in a shattered arm and a near-death experience as the effects of killing a Nazgul wrecked her body in the coming days, but she defied the odds by surviving.
Many consider what happened next in her story to be a form of undoing of all her pro-feminist actions. She goes declare she no longer feels the desire to ride with her fellow countrymen in battle, instead falling in love with a man named Faramir and marrying him. Some see her settling into a more 'traditionally female' position and having children to be falling at the last hurdle, however in saying that is to misconstrue a great deal. Eowyn's actions were a result of her own choices, and falling in love does not make her 'anti-feminist' - it makes her human. When she no longer feels the need to fight like her brother, we should remember why she wanted to in the first place: to gain renown, to fight a damning foe, and to prove to herself and those around her that she was not just some submissive noblewoman who would sit at home. After achieving renown and destroying such a formidable foe, she has gained all she needed. It is at this point, she is ready to focus on another responsibility that is important to her, that is, her duty to her kingdom. Finally, in terms of her readiness to give up the exciting life of a soldier for her family, we should recall that she herself was orphaned at a young age alongside her brother. She, more than most, understands the need her child will have for their parents. Does that not make her even more admirable?
Though appearing in two of the three Lord of the Rings books, Eowyn is often sidelined for the more present characters within the many, many pages of Tolkien's work. Hopefully this appreciation piece has cast a more deserving light on the Lady of Rohan, an early feminist icon of the literature world.