I thought about making this a poll. But then I realized that, me being me, I’d have to distinguish between BOOK Eowyn and MOVIE Eowyn, and that would lead to me writing an interminable, boring, profane, and stupid rant in which I would probably write half a dozen actionable remarks about Peter Jackson, and frankly I couldn’t be bothered. So no poll; that’s the first step to madness.
Anyway … thinking of Eowyn’s actions during the mustering of the Eorlingas and the Battle of Pelennor Fields, would you say that it is more likely that she was courting death for its own sake, or risking her life for the greater good in the same way as the Nine Walkers and other heroes of the RingWar? Please explain your answer.
I heavily favor the latter interpretation, not the least because I think Faramir’s speech to her in the Houses of Healing pretty much nails her motivations: She wanted to be Aragorn’s beloved, and if she couldn’t have that, she only wanted a glorious death in battle.
Not that her actions weren’t valorous anyway, but there was really no textual evidence beforehand that she was such a mighty warrior that her presence in the battle would have made a difference. In retrospect, of course, we know better.
I’m no Tolkien scholar like you, Skald, but it always felt to me like she wanted to prove something. She didn’t feel really in touch with her feminine side at the time aside from desiring Aragorn. She wanted to go kick some ass like the men got to do, instead of hanging around outside the battle herding the seniors and children. I mean, a man that goes into battle, however hopeless, is not seen as suicidal, he’s just seen as a soldier. She wanted to be one of those men. To those that can’t accept her as a warrior it might have looked like suicide, but that wasn’t her intent.
I believe that she was courting Death, but mostly because she was still somewhat under Wormtongue’s sway - that, plus she fell, hard, for Aragorn, and believed that he had just deliberately rode off to a needless death on the Paths of the Dead.
She didn’t want to be left behind. She couldn’t bear to be with all of the widows and orphans as the men rode off to either win or die. And she especially couldn’t bear to have Aragorn leave her behind. There’s always hope, after all.
Eowyn ministers a decaying father figure and sees the House of Eorl following the same path of diminishment and decay. She’s spent a significant portion of her adult life with Grima as King’s counsellor. Years of hearing sweetly wrapped versions of “What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll around on the floor with their dogs”.
So she despairs and concedes to dutifully exist to serve until the pity of Aragorn pushes her into longing to restore honour both personal and familial through death in war. She wants out and goes to war to find it.
Speaking strictly of book-Eowyn, I don’t think she went into battle in spite of the fact that she thought it was a hopeless cause. She went into (that particular) battle because she thought it was hopeless. She thought the West in general and Rohan in particular were doomed; she envied her brother and his comrades because she thought they would be out of it. If she did something noteworthy in the process of emulating them, fine, but I don’t think even that mattered much, because there wasn’t going to be anyone left to sing songs about them anyway.
I don’t think she was suicidal or valorous; she just wanted to do something, anything, other than wait with the women and children. She had a soldier’s sense of duty, even knowing that she was unlikely to be of any use in battle. Luckily she was wrong about that.
See, here’s where I’m maybe going to get crucified, but the bolded section is exactly what she DOES NOT have.
If a soldier gets told to clean the damn latrines, he’s going to clean the damn latrines. If he gets told to clean the latrines ALL THE TIME, if he has a sense of duty and honor, he’ll continue to do it. Same for guarding livestock, escorting little old ladies off to the store, minding sheep, or what the fuck ever he gets told to do by his commanding officer. He has a sense of duty - he does what he’s told to do in order to support and protect the community, and he trusts that his commanding officer has the good of the whole community in mind, and knows what the hell he or she is doing.
Eowyn doesn’t have that. She has a whiny entitled rant about how she should have been a man, that she hates her life, that the boy she is smitten with has left her (apparently preferring death to her) and that she CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!
So she’s running off to die with the soldiers, leaving the rest of her people behind without ANY legitimate leader (not even a girl) to keep them protected and led and comforted while they’re getting herded and burnt and raped and pillaged during this twilight terror as Sauron and Saruman sweep across the world like locusts after her glorious death in battle with the warriors (as far as she expected to happen).
That’s not duty, that’s closer to cowardice - she wasn’t brave or stable enough to deal the cards she’d been dealt as a rearguard and protector for her non-combatant people, so she ran away to a nice straight-up battle instead. Better the devil she knows, right?
Because Tolkien sympathizes with that viewpoint (and hated war and thought soldiering was a crock of shit anyway) he gives her a victory unlooked for, and sets her up with a nice boy in the Aragorn mold.
However, if you’re just going by her motivations, unknowing of the future - she’s a coward who ran away to war hoping to die in battle because it was an easier and quicker death than waiting for the ravening hordes to fall upon her as the leader of the ragged civvies left behind.
(I still like her better as a character than Arwen, oddly enough - at least she HAS some character.)
Next question: Is someone who calls Eowyn a coward in a Skald thread valorous or suicidal?
But to the OP, keep in mind the culture she comes from. To the Rohirrim, valor is the purpose for life. If she hadn’t gone charging off into battle, in her eyes, she wouldn’t be fulfilling the purpose of life, which is almost a sort of suicide in itself. Yes, charging into battle, you might get yourself killed, but that’s no matter, since that’s why you’re living anyway.
As much as I want to admire Eowyn, I have to go with Lascial’s take. She implored Aragorn to not leave her behind, and he implored her to do her duty. Her response was Fuck Duty, I’m gonna Kick Ass, and she took off with the rest of the army. Which in the end worked out to enormous benefit during the battle, but it was not Duty that drove her, but a personal and selfish decision: she fled from her duty, first toward Aragorn, then to following the Riders.
Going with the book version here – not valorous or suicidal. I’d say her internal monolog shut down; she wasn’t actively seeking death but she was detached from her ego to the point she could stare down the Witch King.
That lack of internal conflict also rules out valor, which usually requires some bravery.
She had on her death mask, but she wasn’t seeking death, she just wasn’t avoiding it. As for why she disobeyed her king and went to battle, it was what she wanted to do, it was the right thing to do, (a good armored cavalryman was more important than supervising the civilians) and she didn’t care about the king’s opinion anymore. She’d put up with enough of his nonsense when he was in Wormtongue’s sway.
“We’re all marching off to die. We’re going to lose, after which Sauron’s forces will march over the length of Middle Earth. So Eowyn, be a good girl, stay behind and rule what’s left of the kingdom until Sauron gets around to coming for you”
Sounds like a treat, eh? Totally can’t see why she didn’t jump at that.
I never said it was a good deal, or even a not-totally-shite-deal, but if you are really a dutiful soldier, you take your orders even if they suck. Yes, her deal stunk. Yes it was sexist. Yes it offends me to my core to think that someone would expect me to stay behind and die horribly or live in captivity because I’m a woman. Regardless, I stand by my evaluation.
Baal Houtham just said what I popped in to say. Eowyn spent years really, really needing to hit something hard and after all this time she didn’t give a damn whether she was alive when the hitting stopped. There was nothing in particular she wanted to live for or go back to, so given the opportunity to kick ass in a very dangerous, possibly suicidal situation, why the hell not?
I see her as suicidal. The opportunity of dying in battle offered her a valorous way out, but if that hadn’t been there, she would have just fallen on her sword after Aragorn rejected her. During the muster of Rohan when Merry saw her disguised as a soldier, Tolkien wrote, “He caught the glint of clear grey eyes; and then he shivered, for it came suddenly to him that it was the face of one without hope who goes in search of death.”
She would not have minded death in battle, and that would not have been suicide had it happened. When she felt rejected, it seems to me that she might have desired death, but not out of depression. I got the impression she was supposed to be a warrior woman whose character was, for Tolkien, a somewhat detailed characterization (for a woman in Tolkien’s writing). Galadriel and Arwen were not accessible as full characters.