I decided to write this because Éowyn is one of my favorite characters, and it bothers me greatly to see her be so misunderstood sometimes, especially by 'feminist' critiques. I am a feminist myself, and over the years I've noticed that a lot of our staunchest enemies also call themselves feminists.
I really dislike the idea of a “feminist” interpretation. It implies that feminism is a separate entity, and that something/someone must follow specific guidelines to be “feminist”. When in actuality, feminism is the inclusion of all possibilities for everyone. If something portrays an abusive relationship, or not having equal rights, as an ideal, then there is a problem. However, this is not the place for me to start talking about modern society, so lets move on!
Before we go to the actual chapters, it's important to learn what we can from the Appendix, so we can understand Éowyn better.
Appendix A, II The House of Eorl:
“Many lords and warriors, and many fair and valiant women, are named in the songs of Rohan that still remember the North.
Éowyn will call herself a shieldmaiden, and valiant means “very brave or courageous.” So it looks like that while female warriors are uncommon in Rohan, they are remembered.
Her son Éomer was born in 2991, and her daughter Éowyn in 2995. At that time Sauron had arisen again, and the shadow of Mordor reached out to Rohan. Orcs began to raid in the eastern regions and slay or steal horses. Others also came down from the Misty Mountains, many being great uruks in the service of Saruman, though it was long before that was suspected. Éomund's chief lay in the east marches; and he was a great lover of horses and hater of Orcs. If news came of a raid he would often ride out against them in hot anger, unwarily and with few men. Thus it came about that he was slain in 3002; for he pursued a small band to the borders of the Emyn Muil, and was there surprised by a strong force that lay in wait in the rocks.
Not long after Théodwyn took sick and died to the great grief of the king. Her children he took into his house, calling them son and daughter. He had only one child of his own, Théodred his son, then twenty-four years old; for the queen Elfhild had died in childbirth, and Théoden did not wed again. Éomer and Éowyn grew up at Edoras and saw the dark shadow fall on the halls of Théoden. Éomer was like his fathers before him; but Éowyn was slender and tall, with a grace and pride that came to her out of the South from Morwen of Lossarnach, whom the Rohirrim had called Steelsheen.
This passage tells us a lot about the characters, and about how Éowyn grew up. For her entire life raids and battles have happened frequently. Her father is a great warrior, but rash, and gets himself killed when she is seven years old. Her mother soon dies afterwards of grief.
So Éowyn is taken in by her uncle, who is a warrior king. Her aunt is dead, and her cousin is 17 years older than her. He is also a warrior. Éomer becomes a warrior, and is given their father's charge at a young age (in 3017). Éowyn is, in short, raised entirely by warriors and has no female relatives or role models.
Book 3, Chapter 6: The King of the Golden Hall
Behind his chair stood a woman clad in white.
The woman hastened to the king's side, taking his arm, and with faltering steps the old man came down from the dais and paced softly through the hall.
“Send your guards down to the stairs' foot,” said Gandalf. “And you, lady, leave him a while with me. I will care for him.”
“Go, Éowyn sister-daughter!” said the old king. “The time for fear is past.”
The woman turned and went slowly into the house. As she passed the doors she turned and looked back. Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood. And she now was suddenly aware of him: tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt. For a moment still as stone she stood, then turning swiftly she was gone.
Lots to go over here, as we meet Éowyn for the first time. We also see something of the way she's used to being treated; both Gandalf and Théoden dismiss her, saying the time for fear is passed, but that she still may not join them.
Grave means “serious and solemn.” Her look is sad and thoughtful as she is dismissed; the fact that she “slowly” walks away and looks back shows us that she does not want to leave.
She looks at Théoden with “cool pity.” Cool means “marked by indifference, disdain, or dislike; unfriendly or unresponsive.” However, the way [url=http://tolkiensring.proboards.com/thread/872]Tolkien almost always uses the word 'pity' is not how we generally use it today. Instead, he uses it like we use the word compassion. Compassion means “deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.”
We have an inherent contradiction here. We err if we go with our usual definition of pity, for then Éowyn's later actions do not make sense – we will see the great amount of love she has for her uncle. And yet here, here she loves him but she is is unresponsive, cut off emotionally from him and everyone else.
We are told that she is beautiful, “but strong she seemed and stern as steel.” But means “contrary to expectation.” Seem means “to give the impression of being; appear.” Éowyn appears to be strong and stern of steel. Appears, as in that is not reality. She is “fair and cold,” beautiful and frozen. Pale means “lacking brightness of color.” She is “not yet come to womanhood,” she has not come into her own. Her soul is cold and dull, she has not yet bloomed into her full potential.
Some 'feminists' have taken it to mean that Tolkien implies “a lack of development” because of the word 'but', that a woman is not allowed to be strong or stern (which means “(of a person or their manner) serious and unrelenting, esp. in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline”). However, it is directly connected to her inherent sadness and frozen soul. If Tolkien honestly thought that women could be strong we would not have the amazing women that we do (an obvious example being Galadriel).
We also find out what draws Éowyn to Aragorn. He has 'a hidden power that she felt', he arrives with Gandalf to free her uncle, and he is a future king. He is a powerful man who will ascend to greatness.
“Nay, Éomer, you do not fully understand the mind of Master Wormtounge,” said Gandalf, turning his piercing glance upon him. “He is bold and cunning. Even now he plays a game with peril and wins a throw. Hours of my precious time he has wasted already. Down, snake!” he said suddenly in a terrible voice. “Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price? When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman you desire? Too long have you watched her under your eyelids and haunted her steps.”
Éomer grasped his sword. “That I knew already,” he muttered. “For that reason I would have slain him before, forgetting the law of the hall. But there are other reasons.” He stepped forward, but Gandalf stayed him with his hand.
“Éowyn is safe now,” he said.
So now we learn that not only has Éowyn had to watch helplessly as her uncle's heath deteriorates and her country is ravaged by war, she has also been stalked by one of the most powerful men in Rohan – the man that seems to control her uncle.
At the kings board sat Éomer and the four guests, and there also waiting upon the king was the lady Éowyn.
The king now rose, and at once Éowyn came forward bearing wine. “Ferthu Théoden hál!” she said. “Receive now this cup and drink in happy hour. Health be with thee at thy going and coming!”
Théoden drank from the cup, and she then proffered it to the guests. As she stood before Aragorn she paused suddenly and looked upon him, and her eyes where shining. And he looked down upon her fair face and smiled; but as he took the cup, his hand met hers, and he knew that she trembled at the touch. “Hail Aragorn son of Arathorn!” she said. “Hail Lady of Rohan!” he answered, but his face now was troubled and he did not smile.
Éowyn looks at Aragorn, her eyes shining. When their hands touch, she trembles. This powerful, handsome man who is destined for greatness; he could free her from her cage and her miserable life.
Aragorn perceives her desire for him, and is troubled by it. He does not wish for it.
“But Éomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay,” said the king; “and he is the last of that House.”
“I said not Éomer,” answered Háma. “And he is not the last. There is Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone.”
“It shall be so,” said Théoden. “Let the heralds announce to the folk that the Lady Éowyn will lead them!”
Then the king sat upon a seat before his doors, and Éowyn knelt before him and received from him a sword and a fair corslet. “Farewell sister-daughter!” he said. “Dark is the hour, yet maybe we shall return to the Golden Hall. But in Dunharrow the people may long defend themselves, and if the battle go ill, thither will come all who escape.”
“Speak not so!” she answered. “A year shall I endure for every day that passes until your return.” But as she spoke her eyes went to Aragorn who stood nearby.
“The king shall come again,” he said. “Fear not! Not West but East does our doom await us.”
We get another sign of Éowyn's life, how she is overlooked and dismissed by those she loves. Her uncle does not even remember her at this crucial moment, when she has been the one caring for him. It takes a man Théoden respects for him to even consider leaving Éowyn in charge.
Háma says that Éowyn is “fearless and high-hearted.” Fearless means “without fear; brave.” High-hearted means “full of courage or nobleness.” Éowyn is fearless and full of courage, readily able to lead her people.
Théoden sees the truth in Háma's words, and decrees that Éowyn will rule in his absence. He gives her a sword and a beautiful 'corslet' – a breastplate and backpiece.
Éowyn speaks of how much she will miss Théoden, but he is not the one she looks at. Éowyn looks at Aragorn, the one she admires, the one she wishes to stand by.
Seeing her gaze, Aragorn tells her not to fear, and that her uncle will return. He responds to her words, and not her unspoken attraction to him.
Aragorn looked back as they passed towards the gate. Alone Éowyn stood before the doors of the house at the stair's head; the sword was set upright before her, and her hands were laid upon the hilt. She was clad now in mail and shone like silver in the sun.
Lots of imagery in this passage. Éowyn is standing at the top of the stairs, the sword upright in front of her, with her hands on the hilt. She is wearing her armor, and has an inherently aggressive stance – she has her hands on her sword, ready to fight; she is at the top of the stairs, showing her position of leadership; and she stands outside the king's house, like a guard.
And yet, she is alone. All the 'true' warriors have gone off to battle, leaving her behind.
Far over the plain Éowyn saw the glitter of their spears, as she stood still, alone before the doors of the silent house.
Even more imagery of Éowyn here, and it confirms what I just said. The 'glitter' of spears is the only light in this passage. Éowyn is alone, alone before an empty house; with the glitter, the light, getting farther and farther away. Her loneliness and isolation is profound.
Book 5, Chapter 2: The Passing of the Grey Company
The Lady Éowyn greeted them and was glad of their coming; for no mightier men had she seen than the Dúnedain and the fair sons of Elrond; but on Aragorn most of all her eyes rested. And when they sat at supper with her, they talked together, and she heard all that had passed since Théoden rode away, concerning which only hasty tidings had yet reached her; and when she heard of the battle in Helm's Deep and the great slaughter of their foes, and of the charge of Théoden and his knights, then her eyes shone.
Mighty means “having or showing great power, skill, strength, or force.” Éowyn is glad to see them because she has not seen any greater warriors than the sons of Elrond and the Dúnedain, and she's taken in by the greatest of them all – their leader, Aragorn.
We are told Éowyn's eyes only started to shine when they told her about the battle, and their victory. This leads to something that will become even more clearer – Éowyn's fixation on glory.
Her childhood clearly comes in here; she was raised by warriors with a warrior mindset. Éowyn has been told her entire life that honor and glory can only come from the battlefield, and she has watched while her brother and cousin gained that honor and glory. It is clear that while she was taught to use a sword, she was never let into battle. She was told that all worth and pride comes from the battlefield, at the same time she was being told that she could never join in. This has lead to a great, internal conflict that she cannot resolve.
But at last she said: “Lords, you are weary and shall now go to your beds with such ease as can be contrived in haste. But tomorrow fairer housing shall be found for you.”
But Aragorn said: “Nay, lady, be not troubled for us! If we may lie here tonight and break our fast tomorrow, it will be enough. For I ride on an errand most urgent, and with the first light of morning we must go.”
She smiled on him and said: “Then it was kindly done, lord, to ride so many miles out of your way to bring tidings to Éowyn, and to speak with her in her exile.”
Éowyn only says the words associated with her duty – she clearly takes joy in hearing the tale of battle, but all she says is that she will prepare lodging for them. What she says to Aragorn is also enlightening. 'It was extremely considerate of you to go so far out of your way just to bring me comfort in my banishment.'
Exile. Banishment. Éowyn does not see her job of leading the people as worthy, but as the perfect way for her family to exclude her from truly worthy actions. She feels the personal slight of being kept from battle.
Éowyn also hopes that Aragorn is there because of her, that he is thinking of her – that he has come all that way just to talk to her. This is completely understandable, as he is the first man we have met who has treated her with respect and kindness. Éowyn has idealized Aragorn as her escape from the torment she has and continues to live in.
“Indeed no man would count such a journey wasted,” said Aragorn; “and yet, lady, I could not have come hither, if it were not that the road which I must take leads me to Dunharrow.”
And she answered as one that likes not what is said: “Then, lord, you are astray; for out of Harrowdale no road runs east or south; and you had best return as you came.”
“Nay, lady,” said he, “I am not astray; for I walked in this land here you were born to grace it. There is a road out of this valley, and that road I shall take. Tomorrow I shall ride by the Paths of the Dead.”
Then she stared at him as one that is stricken, and her face blanched, and for long she spoke no more, while all sat silent. “But, Aragorn,” she said at last, “is it then your errand to seek death? For that is all you will find on that road. They do not suffer the living to pass.”
Éowyn's reaction is quite severe, and for good reason. She is horrified and silent until she can finally bring herself to speak. It is noteworthy that she calls Aragorn by his name – she has dropped social formalities in her shock, essentially saying, 'why?'. Éowyn, like all her people, only believes death can be found on the Paths of the Dead.
“They may suffer me to pass,” said Aragorn; “but at the least I will adventure it. No other road will serve.”
“But this is madness,” she said. “For here are men of renown and prowess, whom you should not take into the shadows, but should lead to war, where men are needed. I beg you to remain and ride with my brother; for then all our hearts will be gladdened, and our hope be the brighter.”
Renown means “the quality of being widely honored and acclaimed; fame.” Prowess means “superior strength, courage, or daring, especially in battle.”
'But this is insane. Here are great warriors who should go to war, where they are needed. If you and them stay and go to battle, we will all be happy, and we will have a better chance of winning.'
“It is not madness, lady,” he answered; “for I go on a path appointed. But those who follow me do so of their free will; and if they wish now to remain and ride with the Rohirrim, they may do so. But I shall take the Paths of the Dead, alone, if needs be.”
Then they said no more, and they ate in silence; but her eyes were ever upon Aragorn, and the others saw that she was in great torment of mind. At length they arose, and took their leave of the Lady, and thanked her for her care, and went to their rest.
Aragorn corrects her, saying it is not insane, and that while it's not the obvious path with flashing swords, it is still important. It is his fate, and there is something worthwhile in it.
Torment means “great physical pain or mental anguish.” Éowyn is greatly distressed by his words.
But as Aragorn came to the booth where he was to lodge with Legolas and Gimli, and his companions had gone in, there came the Lady Éowyn after him and called to him. He turned and saw her as a glimmer in the night, for she was clad in white; but her eyes were on fire.
More imagery. Éowyn looks like a candle, with her white dress and her fiery eyes. Her mind made up, she is determined to see it through.
“Aragorn,” she said, “why will you go on this deadly road?”
“Because I must,” he said. “Only so can I see any hope of doing my part in the war against Sauron. I do not choose paths of peril, Éowyn. Were I to go where my heart dwells, far in the North I would now be wandering in the fair valley of Rivendell.”
Éowyn is frank, using Aragorn's given name and asking him directly. She has no desire to play games.
We learn something very important about Aragorn here. He has no desire for battle – for peril. He does not desire glory, but the chance to live peacefully. This is one of Tolkien's biggest themes in Lord of the Rings, which we will be talking about later.
For a while she was silent, as if pondering what this might mean. Then suddenly she laid her hand on his arm. “You are a stern lord and resolute,” she said; “and thus do men win renown.” She paused. “Lord,” she said, “if you must go, then let me right in your following. For I am weary of skulking in the hills, and wish to face peril and battle.”
Éowyn processes that, but she doesn't really understand it. She does not understand Aragorn.
Stern means “(of a person or their manner) serious and unrelenting, esp. in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline.” Resolute means “firm in purpose or belief.” Éowyn believes that only by being uncompromising and inflexible can people be honored.
Peril means “exposure to the risk of harm or loss.” Éowyn states outright that she desires the inherent destructiveness of battle. To skulk means “to lie in hiding, as out of cowardice or bad conscience.” Éowyn believes that staying with her people and out of battle is a cowardly thing to do, that only participating in battle is worthwhile.
“Your duty is with your people,” he answered.
“Too often have I heard of duty,” she cried. “But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?”
'Can't I do what I want?' is essentially what Éowyn is asking.
“Few may do that with honor,” he answered. “But as for you, lady: did you not accept the charge to govern the people until their lord's return? If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no.”
Honor means “high respect, as that shown for special merit; esteem.” 'Few people can do whatever they want and still be respected.' Éowyn accepted responsibility for her people. Note what Aragorn says – some marshal or captain, not just a woman, would have been chosen. Someone with the skills and knowledge needed to lead and protect the people – skills that Éowyn has.
“Shall I always be chosen?” she said bitterly. “Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?”
Bitter means “marked by resentment or cynicism.” Renown means “the quality of being widely honored and acclaimed; fame.” Éowyn, quite clearly, resents being left behind while the men find glory in battle.
“A time may come soon,” said he, “when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defense of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”
Valor means “courage and boldness, as in battle; bravery.” Renown means “the quality of being widely honored and acclaimed; fame.” Valiant means “marked by bravery or courage.”
'We may all die out there, against the enemy. Courage will be needed without glory and fame, because none of us will survive the last attack. The deed of going down fighting to protect your home is not made any less brave or noble because it is unpraised.'
And she answered: “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 honor, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”
This part is crucial because Éowyn completely misunderstands what Aragorn is saying.
'All you're saying is that as a woman I have no part outside of the house. But after the men have received honor and glory from death in battle, it's alright for me to die an ignoble death, because the men won't need me to serve them anymore.'
That is the complete opposite of what Aragorn said, and functions on a crucial assumption that Aragorn did not make. That all worth and pride comes from winning fame on the battlefield, while anything else is inferior.
The scary part of it is that a lot of 'feminist' readers agree with her. They say that Éowyn is voicing 'her desire for self-creation, independence, and freedom from her rigidly predetermined role' and that 'Aragorn is just reminding her of her obligation to the patriarchy.'
No, they're not. Éowyn's still fixated on glory and Aragorn is saying that she's mistaken.
I don't blame her for her fixation on glory. All she really wants is to be treated with respect, to know that she's worthwhile, that she's an equal. We saw earlier that while her family loves her, they dismiss her and treat her like she's an afterthought. She thinks that worth and respect can only come from the battlefield, as that's how she's been raised. Raised to believe that honor and glory can only come from the battlefield, and that she could never join in. That she could never be worthy.
“What do you fear, lady?” he asked.
“A cage,” she said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
Éowyn's greatest fear is 'to stray locked up until I die and forget or dismiss the chance to gain honor and glory.'
“And yet you counseled me not to adventure on the road that I had chosen, because it is perilous?”
“So may one counsel another,” she said. “Yet I do not bid you flee from peril, but to ride to battle where your sword may win renown and victory. I would not see a thing that is high and excellent cast away needlessly.”
Éowyn's saying that she doesn't want to see Aragorn's talent wasted, and that the only way he can succeed is to ride in an obvious charge with his sword flashing.
Aragorn, however, knows differently. He knows that he has to stay true to himself and take the unaccepted road. And by staying true to himself, he will ensure that they win the battle.
“Nor would I,” he said. “Therefore I say to you, lady: Stay! For you have no errand to the South.”
“Neither have those others who go with thee. They go only because they would not be parted from thee – because they love thee.” Then she turned and vanished into the night.
A little quick note on word usage. Appendix F, II On Translation says,
In one or two places an attempt has been made to hint at these distinctions by an inconsistent use of thou. Since this pronoun is now unusual and archaic it is employed mainly to represent the use of ceremonious language; but a change from you to thou, thee is sometimes meant to show, there being no other means of doing this, a significant change from the deferential, or between men and women normal, forms to the familiar.
And HME 12 says,
Where thou, thee, thy, appears it is used mainly to mark a use of the familiar form where that was no usual. For instance its use by Denethor in his last madness to Gandalf, and by the Messenger of Sauron, was in both cases intended to be contemptuous. But elsewhere it is occasionally used to indicate a deliberate change to a form of affection or endearment.
(For more on all of this, see this amazing essay)
So we know that Aragorn has been using the polite and socially acceptable 'you' while Éowyn switches to the intimate 'thee'. This is understandable since she is confessing her love for him.
His company was all mounted, and he was about to leap into the saddle, when the Lady Éowyn came to bid them farewell. She was clad as a Rider and girt with a sword. In her hand she bore a cup, and she set it to her lips and drank a little, wishing them good speed; and then she gave the cup to Aragorn, and he drank, and he said: “Farewell, Lady of Rohan! I drink to the fortunes of your House, and of you, and of all your people. Say to your brother: beyond the shadows we may meet again!”
Then it seemed to Gimli and Legolas who were nearby that she wept, and in so stern and proud that seemed the more grievous. But she said: “Aragorn, wilt thou go?”
Éowyn is still calling Aragorn by his name and using the intimate pronouns. She is trying to get linguistically closer to Aragorn.
She is also distraught. Her only hope to escape the torment she has been and continues to live in is leaving. We're told that it's even more painful for Legolas and Gimli to see her weep because she is usually proud and inflexible, a dull mask to keep the world from seeing her hidden anguish.
“I will,” he said.
“Then wilt thou not let me ride with this company, as I have asked?”
“I will not, lady,” he said. “For that I could not grant without leave of the king and of your brother; and they will not return until tomorrow. But I count now every hour, indeed every minute. Farewell!”
Aragorn, on the other hand, is keeping Éowyn linguistically at arm's length. He will not take her with him, even if he wanted to. He knows he doesn't have the right.
Then she fell on her knees, saying: “I beg thee!”
“Nay, lady,” he said, and taking her by the hand he raised her. Then he kissed her hand, and sprang into the saddle, and rode away, and did not look back; and only those who knew him well and were near to him saw the pain that he bore.
We'll talk about Aragorn later. Right now I want to talk about Éowyn. She “fell on her knees”. To bring someone to their knees means “to force someone into submission or compliance”. Submit means “to yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another”.
The text makes it clear that Éowyn is completely powerless. She submits herself to Aragorn, begging him to free her. She believes that this is her last chance of ever getting out. Her last chance to prove that she is just as worthwhile as any of the men. In her mind, Aragorn can either free her or destroy her.
He destroys her. He destroys her at the same time he raises her from her position of submission and gives her a kiss in respect.
But Éowyn stood still as a figure carven in stone, her hands clenched at her sides, and she watched them until they passed into the shadows under the black Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, in which was the Door of the Dead. When they were lost to view, she turned, stumbling as one that is blind, and went back to her lodging.
More poignant imagery here. She is still, like a figure carved from stone. Her hands are closed tightly, and she falteringly walks back. She gives the figure of a dead woman, one who has had everything taken from her.
Book 5, Chapter 3: The Muster of Rohan
From this side a rider now came out to meet them, and they turned from the road.
As they drew near Merry saw that the rider was a woman with long braided hair gleaming in the twilight, yet she wore a helm and was clad to the waist like a warrior and girded with a sword.
Again, I would like to point out that the 'yet' is not used 'to show that a woman can't be strong'. The 'yet' is directly connected to Éowyn's inner conflict of who she is.
“Hail, Lord of the Mark!” she cried. “My heart is glad at your returning.”
“And you, Éowyn,” said Théoden, “is all well with you?”
“All is well,” she answered; yet it seemed to Merry that her voice belied her, and he would have thought that she had been weeping, if that could be believed of one so stern of face. “All is well. It was a weary road for the people to take, torn suddenly from their homes. There were hard words, for it is long since war has driven us from the green fields; but there have been no evil deeds. All is now ordered, as you see. And your lodging is prepared for you; for I have had full tidings of you and knew the hour of your coming.”
Belie means “to show to be untrue; contradict.” Stern means “(of a person or their manner) serious and unrelenting, esp. in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline.”
Éowyn's voice betrays her, they can tell all is not well. Merry can barely believe that she would cry – he has only seen her cold, dull mask. Her anguish has turned to despair, and she cannot keep it completely hidden.
This part also shows that Éowyn is quite capable of leading her people – she dealt with angry and upset people, calmed things down, and got them all ordered; she also made sure that everything was ready for her uncle's return.
“So Aragorn has come then,” said Éomer. “Is he still here?”
“No, he is gone,” said Éowyn turning away and looking at the mountains against the East and South.
“Whither did he go?” asked Éomer.
“I do not know,” she answered. “He came at night, and rode away yestermorn, ere the Sun had climbed over the mountain-tops. He is gone.”
“You are grieved, daughter,” said Théoden. “What has happened? Tell me, did he speak of that road?” He pointed away along the darkening lines of stones towards the Dwimorberg. “Of the Paths of the Dead?”
“Yes, lord,” said Éowyn. “And he has passed into the shadow from which none have returned. I could not dissuade him. He is gone.”
In the inner pavilion was a small space, curtained off with broidered hangings, and strewn with skins; and there at a small table sat Théoden with Éomer and Éowyn, and Dúnhere, lord of Harrowdale.
“Yet it is said in Harrowdale,” said Éowyn in a low voice, “that in the moonless nights but a little while ago a great host in strange array passed by. Whence they came non knew, but they went up the stony road and vanished into the hill, as if they went to keep a tryst.”
Éowyn contributes little to the discussion, only speaking when no one else has the information. She is cut off from them all.
“Greatly changed he seemed to me since I saw him first in the king's house,” said Éowyn: “grimmer, older. Fey I thought him, and the one whom the Dead call.”
“Maybe he has called,” said Théoden; “and my heart tells me that I shall not see him again. Yet he is a kingly man of high destiny. And take comfort in this, daughter, since comfort you seem to need in your grief for this guest. It is said [cut].”
Fey means “doomed, fated to die, marked by a foreboding of death or calamity.” (For more on the usage of the word 'fey' see [url=http://forum.barrowdowns.com/archive/index.php?t-839.html]this thread)
Éowyn remarks that Aragorn seemed greatly changed, overtaken by his path of certain death. Théoden notices some of Éowyn's anguish (indeed, Merry saw it as well), but he attributes it to Aragorn's dangerous path. He does not see the depth of it.
The king turned to Merry. “I am going to war, Master Meriadoc,” he said. “In a little while I shall take the road. I release you from my service, but not from my friendship. You shall abide here, and if you will, you shall serve the Lady Éowyn, who will govern the folk in my stead.”
Éowyn has once again been left in charge of the people.
Then Éowyn rose up. “Come now, Meriadoc!” she said. “I will show you the gear that I have prepared for you.” They went out together. “This request only did Aragorn make to me,” said Éowyn, as they passed among the tents, “that you should be armed for battle. I have granted it, as I could. For my heart tells me that you will need such gear ere the end.”
Now she lead Merry to a booth among the lodges of the king's guard; and there an armorer brought out to her a small helm, and a round shield, and other gear.
“No mail have we to fit you,” said Éowyn, “nor any time for the forging of such a hauberk; but here is also a stout jerkin of leather, a belt, and a knife. A sword you have.”
Merry bowed, and the lady showed him the shield, which was like the shield that had been given to Gimli, and it bore on it the device of the white horse. “Take all these things,” she said, “and bear them to good fortune! Farewell now, Master Meriadoc! Yet maybe we shall me again, you and I.”
Éowyn is already planning to ride. However, she makes sure Merry is armed for battle.
But when they had come almost to the end of the line one looked up glancing keenly at the hobbit. A young man, Merry thought as he returned the glance, less in height and girth than most. 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.
Keen means “having or marked by intellectual quickness and acuity.”
Éowyn glances at Merry, his protest to being left behind and away from Théoden made an impression on her.
One without hope who goes in search of death. Éowyn's despair has taken over; Aragorn, her last hope of escaping the torment and isolation she lives in, rejected her. In her mind, he plainly said she was not worth anything. She believes she will never be free.
So, thinking she will never be free, she decides to die on the battlefield, going down fighting like her father and cousin. Then, she believes, she will have both peace and glory – she will finally have done something worthwhile, and she will be free from her world of torment.
Unnoticed a Rider came up and spoke softly in the hobbit's ear.
“Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say,” he whispered; “and so I have found myself.” Merry looked up and saw that it was the young Rider whom he had noticed in the morning. “You wish to go whither the Lord of the Mark goes: I see it in your face.”
“I do,” said Merry.
“Then you shall go with me,” said the Rider. “I will bear you before me, under my cloak until we are far afield, and this darkness is yet darker. Such good will should not be denied. Say no more to any man, but come!”
“Thank you indeed!” said Merry. “Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.”
“Do you not?” said the Rider softly. “Then call me Dernhelm.”
Thus it came to pass that when the king set out, before Dernhelm sat Meriadoc the hobbit, and the great grey steed Windfola made little of the burden; for Dernhelm was less in weight than many man, though lithe and well-knit in frame.
Éowyn notices that Merry, like her, does not want to leave Théoden. She recognizes a part of herself in him, and selflessly offers to take him with her. She did not have to do this, Merry has no idea who she is and untrained as he is he could easily be a hinderance. It is an act of selflessness and compassion.
Dernhelm [url=http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Dernhelm]means “hidden protector.” Éowyn means to go to her death protecting Théoden. She is not proud, she has no sense of personal worth.
Book 5, Chapter 5: The Ride of the Rohirrim
There seemed to be some understanding between Dernhelm and Elfhelm, the Marshal who commanded the éored in which they were riding. He and all his men ignored Merry and pretended not to hear if he spoke. He might have been just another bag that Dernhelm was carrying. Dernhelm was no comfort: he never spoke to anyone.
Elfhelm's éored came next; and now Merry noticed that Dernhelm had left his place and in the darkness was moving steadily forward, until at last he was riding just in rear of the king's guard.
Dernhelm kept close to the king, though Elfhelm's company was away on the right.
We do not know when Elfhelm found out that Éowyn was with them, but he must of sensed her despair.
Again, Éowyn will not leave Théoden. She wishes to die in defense of the one she loves as a father, her uncle and king.
Book 5, Chapter 6: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
But Théoden was not utterly forsaken. The knights of his house lay slain about him, or else mastered by the madness of their steeds were borne far away. Yet one stood there still: Dernhelm the young, faithful beyond fear; and he wept, for he had loved his lord as a father. Right through the charge Merry had been borne unharmed behind him, until the Shadow came; and then Windfola had thrown them in his terror, and now ran wild upon the plain. Merry crawled on all fours like a dazed beast, and such a horror was on him that he was blind and sick.
Faithful beyond fear. Éowyn's unconditional love for her uncle triumphs over the fear, as she weeps in her grief.
“King's man! King's man!” his heart cried within him. “You must stay by him. As a father you shall be to me, you said.” But his will made no answer, and his body shook. He dared not open his eyes or look up.
Then out of the blackness in his mind he thought that he heard Dernhelm speaking; yet now the voice seemed strange, recalling some other voice that he had known.
“Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!”
A cold voice answered: “Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”
A sword rang as it was drawn. “Do what you will, but I will hinder it, if I may.”
Éowyn knows that there's not much she can do, against the Witch-king. She knows she doesn't have the power. That will not stop her from protecting her uncle to her last breath.
“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
Then Merry heard of all the sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”
Smite means “to strike with a heavy blow or blows.” It does not matter what creature he is, Éowyn will not yield. She will protect her uncle no matter what, she is not afraid of the Witch-king.
The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgûl Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes.
Note that there is no 'yet' or 'but'. For the first time, the two parts of Éowyn, the warrior and the woman, are united in protecting Théoden.
Fell means “cruel or fierce.” Éowyn's unrelenting strength is there, while she cries. She has never been more certain of anything, than of protecting Théoden.
Éowyn it was, and Dernhelm also. For into Merry's mind flashed the memory of the face that he saw at the riding from Dunharrow: the face of one that goes seeking death, having no hope. Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke. He clenched his hand. She should not die, so fair, so desperate! At least she should not die alone, unaided.
Merry has compassion and wonder at the strength of Éowyn. He knows she has no hope of living, and yet she stands firm against the Witch-king.
The face of their enemy was not turned towards him, but still he hardly dared to move, dreading lest the deadly eyes should fall on him. Slowly, slowly he began to crawl aside; but the Black Captain, in doubt and malice intent upon the woman before him, heeded him no more than a worm in the mud.
Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Éowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
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. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise.
She is beautiful, and she is strong.
Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.
“Éowyn! Éowyn!” cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Éowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.
The fact that Éowyn is not a man, is what gives her the ability to defeat the Witch-king. The passages, both this one and the one before, are filled with her ability and triumph.
Éowyn's act of selflessness saved her life. Only by her kindness and compassion is she given the chance to strike the final blow against Sauron's right hand and captain.
All of this is done out of her love for Théoden. It is not done 'on behalf of the patriarchy' but out of love and selflessness.
And there stood Meriadoc the hobbit in the midst of the slain, blinking like an owl in the daylight, for tears blinded him; and through a mist he looked on Éowyn's fair head, as she lay and did not move; and he looked on the face of the king, fallen in the midst of his glory.
Presently he spoke again. “Where is Éomer? For my eyes darken, and I would see him ere I go. He must be king after me. And I would send word to Éowyn. She, she would not have me leave her, and now I shall not see her again, dearer than daughter.”
“Lord, lord,” began Merry brokenly, “she is-”; but at that moment there was a great clamor, and all about them horns and trumpets were blowing.
“Hail, King of the Mark!” he said. “Ride now to victory! Bid Éowyn farewell!” And so he died, and knew not that Éowyn lay near him.
Théoden truly loves Éowyn like a daughter. His last words are of her.
Then he suddenly he beheld his sister Éowyn as she lay, and he knew her. He stood a moment as a man who pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart; and then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while.
Éomer loves Éowyn with all his heart. He is devastated.
Men now raised the king, and laying cloaks upon spear-truncheons they made shift to bear him away towards the City; and others lifted Éowyn gently up and bore her after him.
And rising he looked then on Éowyn and was amazed. “Surely, here is a woman?” he said. “Have even the women of the Rohirrim come to war in our need?”
“Nay! One only,” they answered. “The Lady Éowyn is she, sister of Éomer, and we knew naught of her riding until this hour, and greatly we rue it.”
Then the prince seeing her beauty, though her face was pale and cold, touched her hand as he bent to look more closely on her. “Men of Rohan!” he cried. “Are there no leeches among you? She is hurt, to the death maybe, but I deem that she yet lives.” And he held the bright-burnished vambrace that was upon his arm before her cold lips, and behold! a little mist was laid on it hardly to be seen.
“Haste now is needed,” he said, and he sent one riding back swiftly to the City to bring aid.
Imrahil realizes that Éowyn is still alive, and sends for help.
Book 5, Chapter 8: The Houses of Healing
Gently they laid Éowyn upon soft pillows; but the king's body they covered with a great cloth of gold, and they bore torches about him, and their flames, pale in the sunlight, were fluttered by the wind.
So Théoden and Éowyn came to the City of Gondor, and all who saw them bared their heads and bowed; and they passed through the ash and fume of the burned circle, and went on and up along the streets of stone.
Éowyn has gotten her glory.
So at last Faramir and Éowyn and Meriadoc were laid in beds in the Houses of Healing; and there they were tended well.
And it seemed to the tenders of the sick that on the Halfling and on the Lady of Rohan this malady lay heavily. Still at whiles as the morning wore away they would speak, murmuring in their dreams; and the watchers listened to all that they said, hoping perhaps to learn something that would help them to understand their hurts. But soon they began to fall down into the darkness, and as the sun turned west a grey shadow crept over their faces.
But Éomer said: “Where is the Lady Éowyn, my sister; for surely she should be lying beside the king, and in no less honor? Where have they bestowed her?”
And Imrahil said: “But the Lady Éowyn was yet living when they bore her hither. Did you not know?”
Then hope unlooked-for came so suddenly to Éomer's heart, and with it the bite of care and fear renewed, that he said no more, but turned and went swiftly from the hall; and the Prince followed him.
Again we are told of the honor Éowyn has gotten. Éomer rushes to her side when he learns that she still lives.