Another in my series of old lecturettes, this one again from the DU course “Hobbits and Heroes,” wherein we read The Two Towers and discuss Eowyn and other female characters in LOTR. Feel free to act like a student and respond to the discussion prompts here in the comments. ~Jenn
Generally, in the myths and legends we hear as young girls, we’re given Sleeping Beauty, we’re given Cinderella. They’re all stories about women who are in difficult situations and are then saved by men. But Eowyn is a character who is in a difficult situation and must become empowered or lose everything. She knows she must find the strength within to save herself and her people.
–Miranda Otto, who played Eowyn in the film trilogy
Can you name the female characters in LoTR? Let’s see: there’s Arwen Undomiel (the Evenstar and Aragorn’s love interest), Galadriel (Queen of the Wood of Lothlorien), Eowyn of the Edoras (King Theoden of Rohan’s niece). Who else? Um, Shelob? Oh yeah, Goldberry. And a couple Elvish chicks in some songs sung by other characters (Luthien and Nimrodel). Okay, so we’re talking books not films, so let’s again see:
What do we know about Goldberry?
She’s the “river-daughter,” whatever that means. She’s Tom Bombadil’s wife and she keeps a peaceful, healthful house in the middle of the Old Forest. Her voice is almost magically beautiful: her singing has a way of making everything all right, and her great beauty inspires awe in the hobbits who meet her. An educated guess would place her as a water-nymph of some kind who is a fit partner for the elusive and powerful (and incredibly cheerful) Tom Bombadil.
What do we know about Arwen?
She’s the daughter of mighty Elrond Half-Elven, also gradnddaughter to Galadriel of Lorien. Here’s her description, from FoR:
…there sat a lady fair to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elrond that Frodo guessed that she was one of his close kindred. Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost; her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring. Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver.
And so we have one of the most detailed physical descriptions in the trilogy, and that’s all we get of Arwen until the end of RoK (which isn’t this week’s book so I won’t go into it in detail), wherein she gives Frodo a gift, reminiscent of Galadriel’s gifts in FoR. That’s it—she’s beautiful and an Elf.[*]
What do we know about Galadriel?
She is a wise Queen, and a Ring-Bearer, who resists the temptation of the Ring with flying colors, and has a magic pool. She shows great spiritual and Elvish power (we hear from her song that she raised Lorien’s mallorn trees with her singing), and impresses all (especially Gimli) with her queenly presence.
Big. Evil. Spider. ‘Nuff said? I think so, until next week’s lecture on Evil…
No offense to the previous Great Ladies just mentioned, but Eowyn is really the only woman in the whole story who, well, does anything! Now hold on, don’t get me wrong—I’m not claiming she’s the only powerful woman in the tale (Galadriel is one of the wisest, most powerful beings on Middle-earth), but she’s the only female action-hero we’ve got. The Fellowship of the Nine Walkers are all heroes, in one way or another, even the meek hobbits (perhaps especially them), but never before we meet Eowyn do females do anything but stay in their hometown and dispense wisdom, care, and helpmeet to our travelers on their journey. They don’t journey or fight themselves.
Eowyn even is relegated to this when we first meet her: Hama suggests and Theoden approves her staying behind, because “she is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone.” We can tell she is not happy with this choice, but later in RoTK, when the men are riding off to what will most likely be their last battle, she responds to Aragorn’s request that she stay behind:
“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”
We first meet Eowyn in 2T, then her great deed of heroism comes in RoTK. In our discussions, I’d like to hear your impressions of Eowyn as a female character compared to the others you’ve seen so far. If you’ve already gotten pretty far in RoTK, or don’t mind having a surprise told to you before you read it, you can respond to the following as well:
There have been many who argue that Eowyn is no heroine, but a deserter, abandoning her ordered duty, and rides into battle for purely selfish reasons, also that her killing of the Witch-King is really Merry’s kill. I’ve linked another discussion board on our Nine Rings page—read as much of it as you like, and I’d like to hear what you think of the whole thing. A good thing to do first is formulate your criteria for what makes a hero.
[*] I’m not counting the story details in the Appendices, I’m sticking to the LOTR story-arc only.