The White Lady of Rohan

It’s probably not obvious, so I won’t post it in the “obvious things you realized…” thread which is too long anyway.

I was watching the Peter Jackson “The Lord of the Rings” with four of my daughters the other night and said something along the lines of how Mr. Jackson did the Éowyn vs. Witch King scene wrong. They asked why, of course, so I flipped to the scene in the book and read it to them. The problem, I said, is that Éowyn doesn’t laugh in the movie.

As I was explaining it to these young ladies (the 4 girls I’m lecturing to here are 8, 12, 13 and 15), I suddenly realized why the laugh is important. It’s not because the Nazgûl is calling her a fool when he himself is actually the fool. It’s because she has been wanting to be a man her entire life – she longed to win renown in battle and not “…[t]o stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” – and now, facing one of the most evil, deadly, fearsome opponents anyone in history has ever faced, the fact that she is a woman is what will make the difference. Her laugh is blindingly ironic. It’s absolutely necessary to the scene and to her character…and Peter left it out.

Comment as you see fit.

PJ’s command of subtle character notes is less than stellar, news at eleven.

At least she wasn’t as horribly butchered as Faramir and Denethor.

I’m with you. Éowyn’s scene with the Nazgul is probably my favorite scene in the books and PJ changed it for no obvious reason. I suppose it is to give the scene a single climax instead of two.

For the most part, screenplays are devoid of acting tips - just giving the actual text that is to be spoken, and leaving the interpretation of the speaker’s motives to the performer. So it’s reasonably likely that the laugh wasn’t in the script (which would fall on Fran Walsh, not Peter Jackson). It’s also possible that the actor ignored the laugh in the screenplay and chose to play it straight. It’s possible that Jackson had the actor perform it a few different ways, and an editor somewhere chose this rendition entirely independently of Peter Jackson. And so on.

As the captain of the ship, Jackson is certainly to blame in at least some regard, but I’d tend to lead towards blaming him for the greater style of story telling, rather than the minutiae of a single quirk of a single performance in a single scene.

Movies are not books. At best, any movie is a “translation” of the original book, converting what some filmmakers call “book language” into “film language”. During the process, many things which appear story-crucial in the novel simply don’t work at all when filmed, and the director may not even realize it doesn’t work until the day of shooting. Either that, or somebody forgot to tell Miranda Otto a joke.

That said, we could go round and round and round this mulberry bush debating what P.J. did wrong, and 10,000 fans will come up with 15,000 different answers.

I’m on Walsh/Jackson’s side. In the end, Eowyn doesn’t kill the Witch King with her magic woman powers. She kills him with her sword. She got there because she was brave and skillful and was helped by a similarly underrated person (Merry).

I was more appalled by the ridiculous fail the Witch King used, than Éowyn not laughing. Though I think I liked that Theoden recognized her in the movie. In the book, he dies without understanding the rider is Éowyn.

It may be significant (or not), but in the book, Eowyn is in disguise. It isn’t until she laughs and removes her helmet that we realize that the mysterious horseman who gave Merry a lift is indeed Eowyn.

So perhaps the laugh is part and parcel of the dramatic reveal; and didn’t work as well when we knew that Eowyn was no man all along.

Yeah me too. One of my favorite scenes in fact. Like or dislike the film. But its not the book. If you want just the book its still there on your shelf.

I don’t think Eowyn laughs because she appreciates the delicious irony of her situation. It’s the laughter of despair – she thinks Aragorn went to his death, the man who raised her lies dying, and that they’re all doomed anyway. She’s laughing in the face of death… which is pretty much what you’d expect of a shieldmaiden.

This is an annoying title because I instantly think it’s about something cooler. It seems rather off that Tolkien should have nicked the name of the semi-princely House of Rohan and then conflated it with the super-cool germanic legend of The White Lady — usually a haunt of a particular castle presaging death as with The White Lady of the Hohenzollerns and Perchta von Rosenberg, of Český Krumlov castle.
This random page on Brittany includes not only Rohan castles, but a mention of a White Lady in Trécesson which carries the usual baggage…

  • …the ghost of an unfortunate past resident who was bricked up into the walls of the castle by her own brothers for daring to marry the wrong man.*
    And, a tale of Brittany, The Clerk of Rohan, includes:

The lady, dressed all in white, was laid in her tomb by the light of the moon and the stars. On her breast lay her little son, on her right the favourite greyhound, and on her left the white courser, and it is said that in her grave she first caresses one and then the other, and the infant, as if jealous, nestles closer to his mother’s heart.*

Real life sometimes trumps fiction.

You’re right about Eowyn, but it sounds like you’ve misinterpreted the prophecy. It wasn’t meant to imply that the witch king had some sort of magical Achilles’ heel that only a woman could find. It was a simple statement of what was going to happen some day, albeit in misleading words – the fact that his death was going to be brought about by someone other than a man.

Where are you getting that cher3 thought the prophecy implied the WK had a magical Achilles’ heel that only a woman could find?

Well, yes and no. It wasn’t that the WK had been dodging punches for 2000 years like some undead Muhammed Ali, and went down the first time he took a hit from a woman. It was a combination of things.

First, he was pretty much invincible – when he was directing the assault on the gates of Minas Tirith with Grond (my favorite scene in the book, botched by PJ…grumble…) he was “impervious to all darts”. In other words, arrows were going right through him.

What brought him down was: a magical blade, specifically designed to counter him; wielded by a non-man, which opened up his shields (so to speak) and allowed another non-man to land the fatal blow.

The questions become: could PJ have filmed the scene the way it was in the book? If so, why didn’t he?

I think that Angmar believed the prophecy meant that men were beneath him and he was so powerful that no man could hope to stand up to him. And his primary weapon was always fear. What it really meant was that in the end, it was just ordinary people, not great warriors would be the his slayers in the news reports the prophet foretold.

He certainly could have, but chose not to, and I think it was the right call. When you’re reading the book, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the injury to Theoden and the emergence of Eowyn - specifically, there’s room for a fair amount of dialogue even before the fight begins. And the nature of reading is such that even a speedy reader will take a minute or two to get to the actual reveal of Eowyn’s identity. So there’s a bit of breathing room between “oh crap Theoden might be dead” and “oh shit Dernhelm ain’t a dude” so that Eowyn’s laughter doesn’t feel out of place.

In the film (and indeed, in any possible film adaptation of LOTR), there are literally seconds between Theoden’s wounding and Eowyn’s battle with the Witch King, and the nature of film is such that they had to condense the fight scene dialogue down to just a line or two from each character. So imagine that you, as the audience (who aren’t ALL people who have memorized the novels), are still reeling from the likely death of one of your favorite characters… and then that character’s niece, who the films have spent a lot of time establishing is essentially his daughter, laughs. There’s a very small possibility that a director could somehow make such a moment not feel horribly out of character on-screen, but it would require bringing the audience into Eowyn’s internal monologue first, a tricky thing to execute under any circumstance, but especially so in the middle of a fight to the death.

Given the choice between directly translating the words on the page versus properly capturing the underlying sense of Eowyn’s simultaneous apotheosis *and *greatest moment of despair, I think PJ wisely focused on the latter. You can quibble with many of the changes he made in the LOTR films, but I think anyone with a functioning eye for cinema, and the unique challenges of constructing cinematic narrative, would understand that PJ was caught between a rock and a hard place on this one, and did a pretty great job of making the filmed version a fantastic, memorable moment that served the character of Eowyn as depicted on screen, even if it deviates somewhat from the letter of the text.

In the beginning of the book, Merry receives a very special sword, when the hobbits are rescued from the barrow by Tom Bombadil. It was forged specifically to combat the Witch King, by the last defenders of the area that he defeated. The barrow that the hobbits ended up in was the grave of a prince or king of that people (Aragorn’s people, in fact), and it is his dagger that Merry is given by Tom Bombadil.

Since Bombadil and the barrows were cut from the films, there wasn’t a way for Merry to have anything but an ordinary sword. So the storyline changes to the Witch King being killed by a brave (I am no man) woman instead of by a hobbit with an enchanted sword. In the book, Eowyn does not hurt the Witch King, only whacks off the head of the fell steed and distracts him long enough for Merry to get up his nerve.

Nope. In the book, Éowyn both whacks the head off the steed AND plunges her sword into the Witch King’s body (between crown and mantle, as the shoulders are falling towards her). That being the final blow, the Witch King’s “body” disappears.

Well said. There are changes in the movie that can seem arbitrary. This is not one of them. What works on the page does not always work on film.