Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
One of my favorite scenes from The Lord of the Rings franchise is in the third installment: The Return of the King. The night before the Rohirrim ride out to rescue Gondor from Sauron’s attack, Eowyn’s love is rejected by Aragorn. After he and his friends leave, she is at a campfire with the hobbit, Merry, and her brother, Eomer. She encourages him to go out and fight as he runs off to sharpen his sword. Eomer makes a sarcastic remark about not doubting his courage but his size, implying how limited he would be in battle.
She rebuffs him saying that the Hobbit has just as good reasons to fight as the Rohirrim do. And for many that's where the interaction stops. Eowyn silently makes up her mind that she’s going to do the same while rejecting her brother’s prejudice. But that’s really too bad because it's the next part that's in the extended cut that both sells this scene and the later scenes where Eomer cries out in despair over his sister’s body on the battlefield.
Eomer counters Ewoyn, telling her why he had misgivings about Merry being in the battle, as well as less than subtly hinting about Eowyn’s participation as well. Unlike his sister and Merry (he being unaware of his skirmish in Moria), Eomer has both seen and participated in actual war. It wasn’t a glorious fantasy to him, but a harsh reality and he points out that they both have false impressions about what is going to go down when they engage Morder. He goes into near-graphic detail.
This scene is underrated because of the layers it shows and implies. It shows Eomer and Eowyn as siblings, both knowing what the other is thinking without necessarily saying it. It shows Eomer as a caring brother who doesn't want harm to come to his sister as well as the Hobbit. His sexist views, if you can call them that, don't stem from a gender superiority but rather a cruel reality that goes above gender or equal rights: that when confronted with the truth of war, most people will run away and Eomer doesn't fault them for it. He was already shown to be very protective of his sister in Two Towers when he threatened Worm Tongue for stalking her. So his confronting her now is not out of character.
It is through Eomer that the audience is reminded of the horror of ancient combat, if not combat in general. In movies and TV, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that fighting and dying ‘gloriously’ in battle are just words. And those who actually die, though volunteering with conviction, experience just as much terror as the audience would if they themselves had been on the battle at Pelennor Fields.
And if anything, The Return of the King does an excellent job showcasing this, as the triumphant music of the Rohirrim’s charge is literally silenced by the counterattack of the mumakils. The large elephant-creatures crushed and mangled both man and horse alike beneath them. It’s a terrifying scene and shows that Eomer wasn’t just spouting sexist bullshit.
The sibling’s argument, however, also shows how much he underestimates his sister as well. They are both from the line of a stubborn warrior lineage after all. True, she comes from a naïve place and she does confront Eomer’s prophetic wisdom on the day of their epic charge. However, Eowyn's convictions overcome war’s realities, while also motivated by her hidden desire to die in battle, lest she be trapped in a gilded cage for the rest of her life.
"You know of little of war as that hobbit. When the fear takes him, and the blood and the screams and the horror of battle take hold. Do you think he would stand and fight? He would flee, and he would be right to do so. War is the province of men Eowyn."
— - Eomer, Return of the King
The Truth of a Heroine’s Courage
Eowyn isn’t a bad ass because she decapitated a fell beast and slew the Witch-king, but because she had a naïve idea of what combat was about. When confronted with the grim truth, she was able to deal with it, price and all. And Eomer isn’t a masculine bully. He’s an experienced soldier who is also a brother and just lost a cousin, and now he is trying to protect his sister from the darker sides of reality.
Some women feel that her decision to go to war after Aragorn’s rejection removes her agency, implying that had Aragorn accepted her offer to stay with the army or even perhaps if she could go with him, Legolas, and Gimili, that Eowyn would have chosen otherwise. I disagree with this position wholeheartedly however.
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Two Towers shows that Eowyn was already under a dark shadow before she ever met the ranger, dealing with a possessed uncle and living in a town with no hope. Plus, her cousin Theodred had just been killed, Eomer was banished, and the Worm Tongue was stalking her. She feels vulnerable and Eowyn’s options were limited at best. The glitter slowly coming off the cage and her cold steeliness is one a reaction of light being quenched by an ever-increasing darkness, with no one to help her through it.
It’s this moment when the Fellowship arrives, freeing the king from his possession and removing the poison from the city that had corrupted it. With this blinder removed, it allows her to be receptive to Aragorn’s recognition that she is more than just a trapped princess and that she is warrior from a line of warriors.
Eowyn’s love for Aragorn doesn't come from a place of submission or weakness to a man, but from the fact that Aragorn was the first person to see in her that which she saw in herself, but no one else did, even her family. It's no coincidence that she continuously insists on fighting openly and alongside the person who sees her as a warrior after this moment. I think that’s certainly understandable, as if you haven't had water in a very long time, you’re going to gulp down the first glass you get your hands on.
So going back to her rejection, Eowyn now felt that same darkness creeping back in on her. The cage again started to close where before she finally saw a way out. The light that had illuminated on her was leaving and worse, her world could come to an end very soon if Sauron proved victorious despite Rohan’s coming aid to Gondor. So with opportunities dwindling before her, she shows agency and makes the only choice she feels is left to her. That she’s always desired even before meeting Aragorn: to go out in a blaze of glory.
Eomer has a hint of his sister’s turmoil and that's why he catches her non-verbal intention behind her support for Merry. But he doesn’t fully understand as it seems they’ve never had this heart to heart before and he was occupied trying to defend Rohan from invasion. Even Theoden suspects her ambition, which is why he tries to check it several times. He even effectively makes her the ruling queen of Rohan if they fail at Pelennor, the first woman ever to hold the title.
Yet none of these means anything to Eowyn because she sees them as just another gilded cage. She would have no choices before her that she truly desired, so that in her mind, it was better to die than be a pretty slave. She holds no ill will against her family and knows what they’re trying to do. And families know each other well.
They just don’t completely get her.
Both siblings’ points of view quietly collide during this campfire conversation, instigated appropriately enough by a hobbit. What the siblings know of each other highlights what they don’t know about each other. Yet there’s no malice in the portrayal as it often accompanies such situations in other stories. It’s a misunderstanding finally brought to the surface by the most extreme of circumstances and nearly ends in heroic tragedy.
I wish this had been in the theaters because it pays respect to both positions regarding women in war. Eomer isn’t a sexist jerk as many probably would make him out to be, and Eowyn does have to confront the truth of what her brother tells her. It's not some propaganda piece of bravely marching out and conquering all, saying ‘fuck you’ to the nay-sayers. Eowyn is brave and proves her brother wrong to a degree, but pays a price for it demanded by war itself and not some male person.
In a world where both sexes are taking the risk in the front lines and societies are confronting issues of sexism, an example of such a dialogue like Eomer and Ewoyn’s is very important. Life risks for some areas of expertise have nothing to do with any form of prejudice. They’re inherent risks demanded by the expertise itself as if it were some kind of god. That is something very easily forgotten in today's hypersensitive world of social media. An ‘Eomer’ reminding us of those facts is necessary. Equally, an ‘Eowyn’ is also necessary to remind us that those same realities are not insurmountable and can be overcome if luck, skill, and conviction are on their side.
© 2020 Jamal Smith