Eowyn: Not Just a Shieldmaiden

Eowyn has always been one of my favorite characters in Lord of the Rings, whether it’s the movie or the book. I was drawn to her because of her strength, her courage, her unrequited love (at first), and her awesome swordfighting skills. But there’s something more to Eowyn, something that is often overlooked in favor of her being a shieldmaiden, or a feminist.
When we first meet her, Eowyn is a strong, beautiful warrior, the daughter of a king, and seemingly completely untouchable. She loves her father and brother, and her only wish is to fight with the Riders of Rohan. Then, she meets Aragorn, who is staying with her father.
Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood. And she was now suddenly aware of him: tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt. For a moment still as stone she stood, then turning swiftly she was gone.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Two Towers
Aragorn is kind of the epitome of everything Eowyn has been dreaming of. He’s courageous, kind, wise– and he’s the rightful king of all Middle-Earth. He comes from a line of ancient kings. Eowyn falls in love with him immediately, but not real, lasting love; she falls in love with his glory and his crown. She wants to be queen.
This might sound selfish and ambitious, but while it’s a flaw, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. She really wants to help Middle-Earth and to do something worthwhile, and being Aragorn’s wife would give her the chance to do that.
As she stood before Aragorn she paused suddenly and looked upon him, and her eyes were shining. And he looked down upon her fair face and smiled; but as he took the cup, his hand met hers, and he knew that she trembled at the touch.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Two Towers
So far, so good–but Aragorn’s heart is already lost to Arwen. He never encourages her, but he knows she loves him. And Eowyn knows that he loves someone else. This is where she really becomes endeared to the reader, in my opinion; she loves Aragorn, but she knows that she can never have him. She can’t even ride with him into battle!
When Aragorn leaves to fight the final battle with Sauron’s armies, Eowyn asks to go with him. When he refuses, she begs him on her knees. She can’t bear to see him go without her, and she wants to take part in the battle which is coming. When he still refuses to let her go, telling her that she has a duty at home, she gives up. But she rides to the battle later with her country, “seeking death” because she knows Aragorn will never love her.
She is wounded badly defending the body of her father, but she is taken to the Houses of Healing, where she is slowly slipping towards death. She is healed by Aragorn, but she is still slow in recovering because she doesn’t want to live.
While still in the Houses of Healing, she meets Faramir, who is in love with her. She gets to know him better and better, and at last, she realizes her heart and they acknowledge their love for each other.
Then, Éowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still. For you and I have both passed under the wings of the Shadow, and the same hand drew us back.”
-Faramir,
The Return of the King
When she has fallen in love with Faramir, she realizes what true love is, and how mistaken she’s been. She no longer wants to fight- she knows that she can serve in other ways, and she decides to become a healer.
Eowyn is too often portrayed as this untouchable warrior, but there is so much more depth to her character. She makes mistakes and isn’t always very wise. As the story goes on, though, she matures and deepens, and finds her true role in the kingdom.
This is the part that’s most important to me: not that she’s good at swordfighting, or that she has an unrequited crush on Aragorn, but that she realizes that there’s more to life than being a warrior.
Now, I’m not saying that the place for women is always in the home, nor that all women have to get married. But Eowyn is certainly not some sort of feminist; instead, she has grand dreams about glory and fighting, but realizes that sometimes the greatest thing a person can do is to heal, and serve in a smaller way.
I want to be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.”
-Eowyn, The
Return of the King
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