Eowyn is often thought of as being simply a 'woman warrior archetype', remembered primarily for her valour on the Pelennor, and yet she presents us with a complex character, one struggling between the constraints of society and her natural impulses; a woman who, despite a cold exterior, is fully capable of strong passion and great love.

Eowyn has lost both her parents at a young age, forcing her to be self-reliant. She has watched and been able to do nothing as her uncle the king has fallen under the influence of Grima Wormtongue, the servant of the fallen Saruman. Who was there to turn to for aid or comfort? Her cousin and foster brother has been slain, and her only remaining family, her brother, is rarely present and spends much of his time hunting orcs. Eowyn has no one of equal rank to turn to for help; she can not be seen to falter or show any weakness. She is forced to be strong alone, and because of her sex, she is also forced to be silent. Unlike her brother, she has no outlet for her frustration and terror.

Eowyn comes from a culture of warriors; noble, yet also barbaric, envisioned by Tolkien as "Homeric horsemen" (1), who glory in war and battle. It is a culture of men, and here in this culture of men is Eowyn, a brave, spirited woman trapped by her status and her sex in a role to which she is unsuited, as dry nurse to her uncle Theoden. As Gandalf says to Eomer, "My friend, you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage; and her part seem to her more ignoble than that of the staff that he leaned on." (2) In addition to all of this, Wormtongue's poison has undermined Eowyn's sense of self-worth by telling her that she has no value because, in a culture of warriors, she is useful only to 'wait upon an old man'.

Eowyn's response to these stresses--being orphaned, isolated, filled with a sense of worthlessness--is to build an emotional barrier. She erects wall of ice, to shut out the pain of the world and protect herself. But such heavy armour can only be held for so long, and beneath her cold exterior Eowyn still longs for love.

When Eowyn first sees Aragorn, it is easy and natural for her to fall in love with him. He represents a different kind of man than any she has ever known. While the men of Rohan are courageous, they are never portrayed as kind, and the men of Eowyn's family are blind to her suffering; a suffering that Aragorn perceives. His kindness, his nobility, and even his pity, which would have been destructive in a longer relationship, all drew her to him.

Here is a man, obviously noble; "...tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt." (3) Her admiration is easy to understand; as Legolas says, "For all those who come to know him [Aragorn] come to love him after their own fashion, even the cold maiden of the Rohirrim." (4) Is it any wonder that Eowyn should feel a strong attraction to a man who represents a different world from what she knows? And not just different, but loftier, greater, and more noble.

Yet Eowyn's love for Aragorn, though real, is not truly a romantic love. As Faramir says, "You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he is high and puissant and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may seem to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable." (5) Confusion over this new attraction coupled with these circumstances lead Eowyn to believe it to be true romantic love, but Aragorn recognizes it for what it is; admiration and desperation. As he says to Eomer, "...I say to you that she loves you more truly than me; for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan." (2)

Aragorn cannot give Eowyn what she needs. Eowyn needs to be recognized and loved for herself alone, separate from all else. With Aragorn she might have been content for a while, even happy, but she would still be defined by her station and her sex. Between love based on admiration and love based on pity, an equal relationship is impossible. Not even Eowyn knows and understands this. Instead she reaches blindly for what she believes she wants. Greatness. Freedom. A way out.

Aragorn pities Eowyn; as he said to Eomer earlier, "Few other griefs amid the ill chances of this world have more bitterness and shame for a man's heart than to behold the love of a lady so fair and brave that cannot be returned. Sorrow and pity have followed me ever since I left her desperate in Dunharrow and rode to the Paths of the Dead; and no fear upon that way was so present as the fear of what might befall her." (2)

I said before that Aragorn's pity would have been destructive; it is one of the key reasons why he would not have been the best choice for Eowyn. His pity would have undermined her strength and placed her in the role of a stereotypical damsel in distress. She would have been constantly aware of his pity, of the lack in her that inspired it--a failure of sorts, even though her circumstances were beyond her control. The knowledge would eat at her like acid, destroy her self-worth and leave her inadequate and in shadow again.

So Aragorn's pity would have been. Had he loved her, Eowyn might have been content and happy, for a time, before his pity destroyed her in the end. But Aragorn did not love her, except with the love of an older man for a hurt child, and when she saw that he would not give her what she wanted--freedom and greatness--she seeks them herself, through death.

When Eowyn goes to the Pelennor, it is "seeking death, having no hope." (6) She has given up her hope in Aragorn as a way to escape; she has given up her idea of romantic love as well. Therefore when Aragorn calls to Eowyn as she lies unconscious and wounded in the Houses of Healing, she does not wake. While Faramir answers to his king, and Merry to his friend, Eowyn does not answer at all, until her brother calls her. As Faramir says, "You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn...but when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle." (5) Faramir, who has 'clear sight', sees and understands Eowyn's heart as no one else has. He is the choice Eowyn did not realize she had. His love comes unlooked for when Eowyn has given up, and at first she refuses to accept it, clinging to her 'first love' for Aragorn. Unused to being loved, Eowyn is again confused by her feelings, and even frightened a little by Faramir's uncanny understanding of her heart.

"But I do not offer you my pity....Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without any fear or lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you." (5) Where Aragorn's relationship with Eowyn was based on his pity and her admiration, Faramir only pitied her for a time. It was his lack of pity that allowed him to love her as an equal, strong in her own right, and not as someone to be rescued. When Faramir speaks those words to Eowyn, he is telling her more than that he loves her; he is telling her he accepts her, as herself complete, and not within the confines of any role or with any condescension. That no matter what she was he would still love who she was.

"Then the heart of Eowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her." (5) Eowyn at last comes in to her own, free to be herself and secure in Faramir's love. When Eowyn tells Faramir that she "will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying," but that she will "be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren," (5) she is not giving up herself, or denying her nature; rather she is accepting her nature more, accepting that she does not need to be warlike to be herself. She does not fight because she enjoys it; though she is skilled and capable of fighting, it is not truly in her nature, though her nature is such that she would fight instead of sitting still and being left behind. As Tolkien says, she was not "really a soldier or 'amazon', but like many brave women capable of great military gallantry at a crisis." (7)

Eowyn, cold and bitter by her situation in Rohan, becomes an ice-touched maiden intent on death, believing it to be the only way for her to find freedom, but instead finds joy and contentment at last. Once believed incapable of love, she loves twice; first loving Aragorn for his greatness, and then finding with Faramir true romantic love in his kindness and understanding. While her love for Aragorn was real, it was a love of the subordinate--the love of an awe-struck daughter of horse-lords in the presence of one of the great race of Westernesse. Her love for Faramir, by contrast, was a romantic love, for he truly understood her and cared for her as she was; not where, or who, or how she was. Though neither love is more 'real' than the other, Faramir is the only conceivable romantic love of Eowyn. As Tolkien said, "It is possible to love more than one person (of the other sex) at the same time, but in a different mode and intensity." (7)

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(1) Letter 131

(2) The Return of the King, `The Houses of Healing'

(3) The Two Towers, 'The King of the Golden Hall'

(4) The Return of the King, 'The Last Debate'

(5) The Return of the King, 'The Steward and the King'

(6) The Return of the King, `The Battle of the Pelennor Fields'

(7) Letter 244