Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013 and Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.
by Helen Lowe
In “Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World” I am shining a spotlight on my favorite Fantasy heroines, not only revealing who they are but why I believe they kick butt and take names as characters.
Today I’m focusing on Eowyn from JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings—because I really don’t think it’s possible to have a Fantasy Heroines’ series and not feature Eowyn.
I first read The Lord Of The Rings in my early teens and still remember how much Eowyn rocked my world then. And it wasn’t only because she was one of the very few women characters in the book, let alone being one with actual agency—although for the latter reason in particular, I was pretty durned excited when she stepped into the story.
More than that, though, Eowyn really did kick butt, as well as taking far more than just names. She took down the Lord of the Nazgul—second-in-command, and sorcerous power, to the Dark Lord, Sauron—who until then had been considered invincible:
“Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair yet terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. … A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise.”
I am sure I do not need to tell you that this passage made my fourteen-year-old heart beat faster, as did the subsequent sequence in which Eowyn finally overcame her opponent.
Yet even then, the reasons I loved Eowyn were not only because she was a butt-kicking chick par excellence. I felt she was very real as a character, both in her crush on Aragorn, and also the way she felt trapped within the passive role assigned to her by society, when she longed to actively protect her country and her kin, and take her fate into her own hands.
In working through these aspects of the story, Eowyn takes no prisoners in calling the situation as she sees it:
“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.”
Nonetheless, when King Theoden proposes taking the army to Helm’s Deep (the book differs from the film, in this respect) and worries over who will rule in his place, a captain (Hama) recommends Eowyn, because:
“She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas.”
But one of the many great things about Eowyn is that she does take her fate into her own hands, so this moment is just the beginning of a road that leads her to her fatal confrontation with the Lord of the Nazgul.
Although badly wounded, however, the battle is not the end of her story. Later, in the Houses of Healing, she meets and falls in love with Faramir of Gondor, and ends renouncing the path of the sword for that of peace and healing:
“I will be a shieldmaiden no longer … nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer and love all things that grow and are not barren.”
Arguably, you could say she’s realised that once you’ve slain a Lord of the Nazgul, there’s nowhere else left to go on the shieldmaiden career path. I have heard the argument, though, that Eowyn’s turning away from the sword to healing is a lessening of her role in the book. Yet in the context of the rest of The Lord Of The Rings story, in which civilization and peace are always valued above battle and the sword, and held up as the path of wisdom and greater strength, I find it difficult to agree with this perspective.
“Fearless and high-hearted”, skilled with a sword but also both loving and beloved, and a character who finally chooses life over death and the path of wisdom—small wonder that Eowyn of Rohan rocked my fourteen-year-old world, and continues to do so.