|Book(s)||The Two Towers (1954)|
The Return of the King (1955)
With the hobbit Merry Brandybuck, she rides into battle and kills the Witch-King of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl, in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. This fulfils the Macbeth-like prophecy that he would not be killed by a man. The critic David Day considers Tolkien's a better solution than Shakespeare's. The scholar of feminism Penny Griffin writes that Éowyn is one of the few strong female characters in the story, though the effect is diminished, in her view, when she ends by marrying Faramir, Steward of Gondor.
In The Two Towers, Éowyn, a daughter of the House of Eorl and the niece of King Théoden of Rohan, is introduced in Meduseld, the King's hall at Edoras. She was the daughter of Éomund and Théodwyn (Théoden's sister), and the sister of Éomer. When she was only seven years old, her father was killed fighting orcs, and her mother died of grief. Éowyn and Éomer were raised in her uncle's household as his own children.[T 1][T 2]
She longed to win renown in battle—especially since she was royal—but being female, her duties were reckoned to be at Edoras.[T 3] When Théoden's mind is poisoned by his corrupt adviser Gríma Wormtongue, Éowyn is obliged to care for her uncle, and his deterioration pains her deeply. To make matters worse, she is constantly harassed by Gríma, who lusts after her. When Gandalf arrives, he frees Théoden from Wormtongue's influence.[T 1]
Éowyn falls in love with Aragorn, but though he respects her, he does not return her feelings, as he is betrothed to the elf Arwen. As Aragorn points out,[T 4] her duty is with her people; she has to shoulder the responsibility of ruling Rohan in Théoden's stead when the war-host of Rohan go to war.[T 1]
In The Return of the King, she disguises herself as a man and, under the alias of Dernhelm (from Old English dern meaning "secret, concealed"), travels with the Riders of Rohan to the battle outside Minas Tirith in Gondor on her horse Windfola, carrying with her the hobbit Merry Brandybuck, who has also been ordered to remain behind.[T 5]
During the battle of the Pelennor Fields, she confronts the Witch-King of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl, after Théoden is mortally injured. The Witch-King threatens that he will "bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye". He boasts "No living man may hinder me",[T 6] whereupon Éowyn removes her helmet and declares:[T 6]
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.[T 6]
The Nazgûl leader's flying steed attacks Éowyn, but she kills it, cutting off its head with her sword. The Nazgûl then shatters her shield and breaks her shield-arm with his mace, but is distracted by Merry, who stabs him behind the knee with a barrow-blade. Éowyn seizes the opportunity to strike the Nazgûl with a killing thrust "between crown and mantle". Then, as her sword shatters, his withering form collapses and he vanishes with a final cry of anguish.[T 6]
Éowyn passes out from the pain in her arm, and is believed dead until Prince Imrahil realizes she still lives.[T 6] Éowyn is brought to the Houses of Healing, hovering near death from the effects of having struck the Nazgûl.[T 3] There Éowyn meets Faramir, with whom she soon falls in love. Her outlook on life also changes: "Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. ... I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren."[T 7]
Concept and creation
Originally, Tolkien intended for Éowyn to marry Aragorn. Later, however, he decided against it because Aragorn was "too old and lordly and grim." He considered making Éowyn the twin sister of Éomund, and having her die "to avenge or save Théoden". He also considered having Aragorn truly love Éowyn and regret never marrying after her death. Tolkien once described Éowyn as "a stern Amazon woman".[T 10] Later he wrote: "Though not a 'dry nurse' in temper, she was also not really a soldier or 'Amazon', but like many brave women was capable of great military gallantry at a crisis."[T 11] (Here he alludes to Éowyn's statement to Aragorn: "But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse?"[T 4])
In Old English, the language Tolkien used to represent his invented language of Rohirric, the word eoh means "war-horse" while wyn means "delight", so Éowyn can be taken to mean "Delight in horses". Her name in Rohirric is not given, but it would have started with the element Lô- or Loh-, meaning "horse".
The Tolkien critic David Day writes that Tolkien particularly disliked Shakespeare's treatment of myth, and must have resolved to do better. Day compares Tolkien's prophecy "not by the hand of man will [the Lord of the Nazgûl] fall" to Shakespeare's account of Macbeth, who should "laugh to scorn / The power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth" (Act 4, scene 1): Macbeth is killed by one who "was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd" (as Macduff was born by Caesarean section: Act 5, scene 8). In both cases, the prophecies are at once true and false: Macduff was a living man, but not strictly born; while Éowyn and Merry were not men, but woman and hobbit, in Day's view a distinctly better solution than Shakespeare's.
The scholar of feminism Penny Griffin writes that in the Peter Jackson film Return of the King, Eowyn is "probably the movies' closest approximation to an SFC [Strong Female Character]". Her credentials for this, Griffin notes, include rebelling against the injunction to stay behind when the Riders of Rohan go off to fight, disguising herself as a man, riding to battle, and fighting the leader of the Ringwraiths. The feminist effect is spoiled, Griffin notes, when her story ends (according to Tolkien's text, not the film) with her disavowing battle and marrying Faramir to live "happily every after".
Portrayal in adaptations
Nellie Bellflower voiced Éowyn in the 1980 Rankin/Bass animated version of The Return of the King. Elin Jenkins voiced the character in BBC Radio's 1981 serialisation. Éowyn appears briefly in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
In Peter Jackson's films The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Éowyn is played by Miranda Otto. Uma Thurman was slated for the role at one point. Although Jackson cuts much of Tolkien's poetry and song, he adds a scene with Éowyn singing a dirge at Theoden's funeral. The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey states that the Hollywood studio sent a "script doctor" to New Zealand to bring Jackson's direction into line with their view, which was that since Aragorn needed a single love-interest, Arwen could be deleted, and "Aragorn should then marry Éowyn instead of politely dissuading her. ... The script doctor's advice was ignored." Jackson does however make Aragorn far more romantic than do either Tolkien or Bakshi, devoting substantial viewing time to Aragorn's "modern love triangle", and providing "clear on-screen chemistry" with Éowyn. The film scholar Sarah Kozloff writes that, if the film series can be seen as a melodrama, Jackson's Éowyn symbolizes the modern "tomboy/feminist" psychic figure, the role being played "in a realistic performance style".
The scholar of English Helen Young writes that while neither Tolkien nor Jackson give Éowyn any thanks for killing the Witch-King, Jackson's film version does at least invert the gender roles depicted by the Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo in his 19th century painting Hervor's Death, though when she falls as if dead, the film scene looks in her opinion much like that in the painting. The film reduces Éowyn's role as cup-bearer, which in Tolkien's text describes a genuine Germanic ceremony in which a woman embodied the weaving of peace. Young suggests this was because the screenwriters feared the audience would misinterpret the scene. The extended edition of the "Return to Edoras" scene however includes the ceremony for Théoden.
- This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
- The Two Towers, book 3, ch. 6 "The King of the Golden Hall"
- The Return of the King, Appendix A, "The House of Eorl"
- The Return of the King, book 5, ch. 8 "The Houses of Healing"
- The Return of the King, book 5, ch. 2 "The Passing of the Grey Company"
- The Return of the King, book 5, ch. 3 "The Muster of Rohan"
- The Return of the King, book 5, ch. 6 "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
- The Return of the King, book 6, ch. 5 "The Steward and the King"
- The Return of the King, book 6, ch. 6 "Many Partings"
- The Peoples of Middle-earth, ch. 7 "The Heirs of Elendil"
- The Treason of Isengard, ch. 26 "The King of the Golden Hall"
- Letters, #244, from a draft to a reader of Lord of the Rings}}
- Day, David (2019). Macbeth. A Dictionary of Sources of Tolkien. Octopus. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-7537-3406-3.
- Griffin, Penny (2015). Popular Culture, Political Economy and the Death of Feminism: Why women are in refrigerators and other stories. Taylor & Francis. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-317-58036-2.
- Shippey, Tom (2005) . The Road to Middle-Earth (Third ed.). HarperCollins. p. 410. ISBN 978-0261102750.
- Kocher, Paul (1974) . Master of Middle-Earth: The Achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien. Penguin Books. pp. 136–139. ISBN 0140038779.
- Clark Hall, J. R. (2002) . A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (4th ed.). University of Toronto Press. pp. 85 dierne, "hidden, secret", 177 helm, "defence, helmet".
- Bosworth, Joseph; Northcote, T. (1921). "Eoh: war-horse". An Anglo-Saxon dictionary, based on the manuscript collections of the late Joseph Bosworth. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 253, 1285.
- Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (2005). The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. HarperCollins. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-00-720907-1.
- Fauskanger, Helge. "Various Mannish Tongues - the sadness of Mortal Men?". Ardalambion (Tolkien scholarship).
- "Nellie Bellflower". Behind the Voice Actors. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Jim E. Smith; J. Clive Matthews (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Films, the Books, the Radio Series. Virgin. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-7535-0874-9.
- "Elin Jenkins". Famous Welsh. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Jim E. Smith; J. Clive Matthews (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Films, the Books, the Radio Series. Virgin. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-7535-0874-9.
- Robb, Brian J.; Simpson, Paul (2013). Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond. Race Point Publishing. p. 179. ISBN 978-1-937994-27-3.
- Levy, Dani (21 February 2017). "Uma Thurman: Turning Down 'Lord of the Rings' Was One of the 'Worst Decisions Ever Made'". Variety.
- Donnelly, Kevin J. (2006). Mathijs, Ernest (ed.). Musical Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in Global Context. Wallflower Press. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-904764-82-3.
- Kozloff, Sarah (2006). Mathijs, Ernest; Pomerance, Murray (eds.). The Lord of the Rings as Melodrama. From Hobbits to Hollywood: Essays on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. Rodopi. p. 169. ISBN 978-90-420-1682-8.
- Young, Helen (2015). Fantasy and Science Fiction Medievalisms: From Isaac Asimov to A Game of Thrones. Cambria Press. p. 55, note 37. ISBN 978-1-62196-747-7.
The gender-role inversion in Arbo's painting does not last for long: later in the film, Éowyn takes the same position as the shield maiden Hervor in the painting, lying on a field strewn with dead bodies, where her brother, Éomer, finds her. The colors in Arbo's painting are the golds, reds, yellows, and blues found in Rohan in the film, down to the white of the steed that, in the painting, has survived its rider.