When I was quite young (we’re talking primary school) The Lord of The Rings was kind of a guide for me. It might sound odd. Because only nerdy boys look to High Fantasy as a handbook to life, right? Well, apparently not. Aragorn and Gandalf were my mentors and my guides to deportment. I wasn’t getting around in robes and a sword. It was a little less direct than that. Let’s just say these characters were influential. I was looking for an alternative to everything that was fashionable, low brow and disposable.
And then there was Eowyn. Oh, now everyone knows her from the film, but I always thought there was something more Nordic and majestic about her in the book. Weeping aside. I always think it strange when people complain about Tolkien’s female characters. The exchange between her and Aragorn is pretty feisty:
‘Shall I always be chosen?’ she said bitterly. ‘Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?’
‘A time may come soon,’ said he, ‘when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.’
And she answered: ‘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.’
‘What do you fear, lady?’ he asked.
‘A cage,’ she said.
She also has one of the best heroic moments of the book and it always brought a tear to my eye. Not a weepy, wimpy kind of tear, but a proud, manly kind of tear. Note I have to use the word ‘manly’ as it’s a term that doesn’t quite have it’s female equivalent yet. Widespread feminism hasn’t been around as long as the English language.
Have you read it in the original? So there are the Rohirrim making their last stand against the dark. Their king has been knocked to the ground and crushed by his horse, and the Black Rider is advancing on his dragon-like (or bird-like) steed. Up jumps Dernhelm, the mysterious rider who has taken Merry with him into battle. I say ‘him’ because in the book you’re allowed to pretend you don’t know that it’s Eowyn (and you really don’t the first time you read it). In the original it’s only when Dernhelm is making ‘his’ stand against the Black Rider that we get the revelation.
‘Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!’
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter.’
Why did it bring a tear to my eye? In an era when Hollywood women’s big moments of bravery tended to involve squealing and hitting the villain from behind with a vase or saucepan, Eowyn really stood out to me. Perhaps it was the sudden reveal of a woman’s potential. It wouldn’t matter to me what else happened to her character after that – it was the act of standing up and laughing in the face of an opponent who had sent all the other warriors running. There’s a tear in my eye. Manly, of course.
The new version – Eowyn slays the ‘dragon’ http://youtu.be/mRszPLHDkXk
‘I am no man’: http://youtu.be/N_BEJ1q96NI
I like to think Eowyn now has an active life in pop culture. Alice fights the Jabberwocky: