Thursday, April 25, 2019

Éowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

From TOR:
Éowyn’s healing and her acceptance of Faramir’s marriage proposal has been problematized by numerous feminist readings of the text, and rightly so: I don’t wish to undermine those readings and indeed agree that in some respect, Éowyn’s own will and choices are overshadowed by Faramir’s. Éowyn’s sudden “conversion,” as it were, makes little sense logically, and no reason beyond the emotional is given for it; but it is also clearly a moment of epiphany. It stands in for the moment in which the soul is literally enlightened by the salvific light of the spiritual. Not insignificantly, the couple stands in a high tower, named after the greatest of Arda’s lights, when this “conversion” takes place: “‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ [Éowyn] said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren’” (VI, v, 964-965). 
Critics have further taken issue with the seeming illogical nature of Éowyn’s decision to give up her inclination towards war, but I would encourage us to read this as (in this context) the appropriate and even expected response of a soul that has been brought out of darkness. Faramir, significantly, makes the same decision along with her: together they turn their backs on war (a specific form of violence which desecrates and even denies connections and communion with others and with the earth) and jointly dedicate their lives to cultivating a healthy and evolving relationship with their environment. 
Éowyn’s original desire to be queen, as Faramir recognizes, was a desire “‘to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth’” (VI, v, 964). It was a misguided understanding, in other words, of exactly what the soul’s ascent (glorification, perhaps) means: her desire was appropriate, though it found expression in an unethical relationship with the world and those around her, influenced by the world and society she had always known. When Faramir explains to the Warden of the Houses of Healing that “‘now [Éowyn] is healed’” (VI, v, 965), then, he is referring to a healing that is profoundly both spiritual and material, a healing that takes the form of ethical communion with the world. Once Éowyn desired “‘to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth,’” a natural expression of her culture’s values and social structure; now, healed, she becomes a gardener and a pacifist, working among the things of the earth, loving them and caring for them in a way that is all her own. (Read more.)

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