Response: Understanding Éowyn, Part Three

Part One (Éowyn’s grief) | Part Two (Éowyn as a war bride)

In this series, I respond to articles about Éowyn in order to develop a more nuanced view of Éowyn, so I can better inform my opinion of her and understand her role in Middle-Earth. Ultimately, I’d like to settle whether I can successfully argue Éowyn is a feminist icon (or conclude that that’s an unwinnable debate) through examining various facets of her character.

 
Hatcher, Melissa McCrory. “Finding Women’s Role in The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 25.3/4 (Spring/Summer 2007): 43 – 54. Mythopoeic Society. Web.

  • Hatcher’s perspective: Éowyn is “a complete individual” (53) who best embodies “Tolkien’s highest ideal: a fierce commitment to peace” (43).
  • I appreciate Hatcher’s caution that we (Tolkien apologists) cannot fall back on presentism, as it neither “adequately explains Tolkien’s own sexism” nor does it “take seriously the powerful female characters in The Lord of the Rings” (44). Hatcher and I agree that Tolkien’s work and characters “should be judged on their own internal merit, without considering the biography of its the author” (44).
  • Hatcher draws many comparisons between Éowyn and Sam, arguing that while the two embody many of the same ideas, Éowyn “enacts in brief what Sam epitomizes throughout the entire work” (45). Hatcher sharply observes that critics view Sam’s transformation as heroic but Éowyn’s as submissive. 
    • Both exemplify all six of Gregory Bassham’s “keys to happiness in Middle-Earth”, where few other characters do (44).
    • Both have the goal of preserving Middle-Earth’s cultural memory. (45)
      • “In fighting both to participate in and to recount the story, Éowyn embodies the persistent struggle of women in the West to assert their voices and presence, to avoid erasure, and to figure in history (and in fiction) as they do in life” (45).
    • Éowyn’s shadow (vanity, love of glory) and transformation distinguishes her from Sam and makes her a more intriguing character. Hatcher writes, “Sam becomes stronger and wiser, but Éowyn conquers an evil within herself that is not present in Sam…” (51). Personally, Éowyn’s distinguishing complexity is what I appreciate most about her.
  • Now, despite all my talk about separating the writing from the author, I cannot help but think, “Look, Tolkien wrote this! He understands Éowyn’s struggle.”  when I read this retort from Éowyn: “All your words are but to say: you are a women and your part is in the house” (qtd. 47). Éowyn fears “being put in a cage of conventional female submissiveness”; therefore Tolkien recognized on some level this is something some women may fear. (‘How did he reconcile Éowyn’s character with his personal beliefs about women?’ is something I probably shouldn’t think about too much. XP).
  • Hatcher addresses arguments that Éowyn could only be a warrior when she became a ‘man’ by illustrating that Éowyn was portrayed as a warrior from her introduction in the story (49). Additionally, she succeeds at being a warrior because she is a woman, not because she is disguised as a man. 
    • Hatcher’s further exploration of that pivotal scene acknowledges that, through Merry and Éowyn, the reader sees “the presumably weak and ignored as heroes”.
    • Hatcher makes a key statement in this segment: “This defeat of evil in Middle-earth reinforces the idea that women and hobbits can be as valiant at arms at their male compeers, but they – unlike one-dimensional characters such as Boromir or Gimli – are well-equipped to pursue what is essential: peace, preservation, and cultural memory.” 
  • Hatcher addresses Éowyn’s relationship with Faramir, concluding that he wants her to overcome her weaknesses and that he does not oppress her because he understand her as an equal (51). Hatcher also highlights a quote from Jane Chance, who claims the healing of Middle-Earth is embodied by the healing of the two ‘stewards’, Faramir and Éowyn.
  • In one paragraph Hatcher suddenly speaks of the Christian ideal of marriage and Éowyn and Faramir embody that. It seemed out of place and unnecessary.
  • There are a few slips where Hatcher does a poor job at defending Éowyn in greater story context. Hatcher states (as I quoted above) that The Lord of the Ring’s characters should be judged on their own merit. Later on she writes (a sentiment I agree with), “We should not read Éowyn as the ‘only’ female character that is given any significance, but rather, the character Tolkien chose to fulfill his theme of peace” (53).  However, at times Hatcher throws in statements comparing Éowyn to other females in the story, which highlights problematic aspects of Éowyn that Hatcher does not, in my opinion, adequately address.
    • A statement in the very first paragraph best illustrates this: “While a number of critics have accused Tolkien of subsuming his female characters in a sea of powerful men, one heroine, Éowyn, the White Lady of Rohan, is given a full character arc in the novel. ” (emphasis mine) 
    • Hatcher claims Éowyn’s role is central to The Lord of the Rings’ message, as “Éowyn has more speaking lines and appears in more scenes than any other woman [in LotR]” (46). That’s not difficult to do… =.= 
    • One character does not a feminist work make. These statements are not totally relevant to the argument Hatcher is making, and I think her intended argument  (that Éowyn best embodies Tolkien’s ideal of peace) would be stronger without statements that distract to a different argument. 

Hatcher clearly articulates a number of points in arguing Éowyn’s strength and contribution to The Lord of the Rings. While at times Hatcher drifts away from her argument, I think this article has been the best of the three I’ve read so far in that it helps me to understand Éowyn’s role in context of the greater story.