As much as I love, and spent a significant portion of my adolescence dreaming of, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, one of the easiest things to say about it is that it doesn't really have many female characters worth talking about. And so when, having not read LotR in a few years, I went looking for quotes about Eowyn, niece of King Theoden of Rohan, I was kind of shocked at how Tolkien absolutely nailed a character imprisoned by the patriarchal structures of her society. I mean, I remembered loving Eowyn every time I read the books, but... well, just look at this quote from Gandalf:
My friend [Eomer], you had horses, and deed of arms, and the free fields; but she, being 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 seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff he leaned on.Aragorn has a line towards the end of The Return of the King, which in the movies is transposed to Grima Wormtongue, in order that the audience understand a bit earlier what Eowyn is all about: she wakes in the night and sees her room in Edoras' main hall with its trappings as a shrinking box, "a hutch to trammel some wild thing in" that closes around her: a night terror of a metaphor for how her sense of self beats wildly at the cage of her sense of duty. I mean, this is The Yellow Wallpaper! This is the famous hysteria that plagued Victorian women, and Tolkien, not so long out of the Victorian era himself, nails it. With her cousin dead and her brother banished by her supernaturally senile royal uncle, Eowyn is the only member of her family that remains in Edoras uncorrupted by Saruman's underling. As soon as Gandalf et al., deliver Theoden from Grima's thrall, Eowyn stands a chance at some freedom... except Saruman's army is set on wiping out her people all together, and her duty as the only woman of the house of Edoras is not as a shield maiden of Rohan, but as a familiar royal face to lead the women and children into hiding in the Helms Deep caverns while the army defends them outside. Finally, once Rohan is called to the aid of Gondor, Eowyn thinks her time has come... but, as the only woman in the ruling house of Rohan it again falls to her to head up the home front while her brother and uncle ride to war. This time, however, she has a friend in loneliness who was also considered too frail for the battlefield: Meriadoc Brandybuck, a hobbit of the Shire. The two of them disguise themselves as soldiers of the Rohirrim and ride to battle on Pelennor Fields. There, when the Witch King of Angmar, lord of the Nazgul wounded her uncle and king, and prepared to finish the job, Eowyn dared to hinder him. And, as you may have seen in a popular internet meme-languaged .jpg, when the Witch King shouted "come at me, bro," Eowyn responded:
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.So, you know. "I am no bro!" Eowyn wounded the Witch King, leaving Merry an opening to stab him with a blade particularly harmful to his kind, but not before Eowyn herself was hurt. After the battle, recuperating in Minas Tirith, her depression set in again. The great war was ended, any chance for further glory was gone, and the rest of her days looked much as they did from her shrinking bower. At least, until she met Faramir, last living son of the late Steward of Gondor, who also knew a thing or two about spending your life undervalued by your relatives and trapped by society in a role you despised. The two fell in love, married, and cemented an arrangement that allied the race of Man once again after thousands of years. Not bad for someone born in the body of a maid.