Monday, April 12, 2021

Eowyn's Healing Story

One of the things I don't like about the movie adaptations for The Lord of the Rings is their portrayal of Arwen. They moved too far from the distant, courtly love Tolkien portrays. In fact, the books include more about Sam and Rosie Cotton's love story than they do Aragorn and Arwen's. Arwen is always there in the background of everything Aragorn does--but she's not physically there much or even spoken of much. Thank goodness the filmmakers at least didn't go with their original idea to have Arwen join the battle at Helm's Deep. I always felt like, if they want a warrior woman, they have Eowyn--and yet they cut her story short.

Now I've realized why they may have truncated Eowyn's story. Of course I've always considered the practical reasons. The Return of the King already has multiple endings. So if you take the time to go on a tangent about Eowyn in the Houses of Healing and talking with Faramir and the two of them falling in love, it definitely shifts the focus from the march on the gates of Mordor and the final destruction of the Ring. I get why that's problematic to do in a movie. But I hadn't realized there may have been another reason.

Modern audiences love Eowyn's heroic stand. It's said that no man can kill the leader of the Nazgul, to which Eowyn replies, "I am no man," as she thrusts her sword into his formless skull. And everyone cheers for girl power. But that isn't really how Tolkien wrote the scene. Technically, yes, Eowyn points out that she's a woman and therefore she can do what no man can do. But you see, Eowyn went into battle not simply to "fight for those she loves." She went seeking death. When the Ringwraith tells her that he will kill her if she gets between him and Theoden's body, she isn't hindered not just because of her courage (which is notably great) but also because she wants death. That's why she laughs when she answers him; she's in what you might call a fey mood. She's motivated to protect the dignity of her dead uncle and king, yes, but she's also motivated to put everything on the line because she has no hope for her life and doesn't want to live anymore. That is what drives Eowyn into battle.

Breathing the "black breath" from the Ringwraiths puts both Eowyn and Merry into the Houses of Healing. But while Merry heals pretty quickly with typical hobbit resilience, Eowyn falters. Her physical wounds heal, but she can't find complete healing because her spirit was already broken before she even entered that battle field. Through her conversations with Faramir, Eowyn is able to see hope again. Agreeing to become his wife, she declares that she will be a shield maiden no more and instead love healing and all things that grow. Eowyn figuratively lays down her sword for classically feminine pursuits of nourishment and growth. It's a beautiful healing story. I haven't always liked Eowyn's character that much (Galadriel's my favorite), but I always come to like her more and more when I look at her healing story.

But how would that have looked in the film? (I'm not even addressing the deleted, extended edition scene because it just shows a brief look at Eowyn and Faramir falling in love. It's pretty, but it doesn't actually cover any real ground.) How could the audience have cheered at warrior Eowyn and then accepted her healing story of laying down her sword? Eowyn picks up her sword out of depression and hopelessness, not girl power. That's why she no longer desires battle once she finds healing in her spirit and moves out of that depression and desire for death. 

The Eowyn that Tolkien wrote isn't really a twist on classic femininity. Quite the opposite. Throughout the course of her emotional journey, we see Eowyn lose touch with her femininity in part due to Aragorn's lack of interest in her, and then we see her return to fully take on her femininity in the Houses of Healing. If you like classic femininity as I do, it's beautiful. If you don't, well, you can see why the movie would choose to focus on Eowyn's triumph in battle rather than on her healing story. 

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