The Rejection of Éowyn

In the last two weeks Jennifer Leonard ( and David Rowe (@TolkienProverbs and @mrdavidrowe) have offered their reflections on the story of Éowyn of Rohan. Both have had a substantial number of readers and I want to thank them both for what they have offered. This week I would like to offer my own contribution that was prompted by “Middle Hyrule’s” comment on David Rowe’s post entitled “Why Did Éowyn Want to Die?” in which she says,”I thought she wanted to die because Aragorn didn’t love her.” As always I love responding to your comments so please let me know what you think about what I have written.

When Aragorn leads his company away from Edoras towards the Dwimorberg, the haunted mountain, and the Paths of the Dead, he leaves Éowyn behind him, his last words to her nothing more than, “Nay, lady”. And so he leaves her, “stood still as a figure carven in stone, her hands clenched at her sides” and she stumbles, as one who is blind, back to her place of lodging. She may have tasks to perform as the ruler of her people in the absence of the king but these no longer have meaning for her. In speaking to Aragorn she described them as the work of a dry nurse. They have no meaning for her. Life has no meaning for her.

Aragorn has rejected her, refusing to take her with him on the Paths of the Dead. If he had done otherwise then Théoden and Éomer would have been torn between mustering the Rohirrim to try to raise the siege of Minas Tirith and in following her upon the Paths of the Dead. Perhaps they might even have considered her to be abducted and their following would have ended in battle. Aragorn may be gripped by pain but he will not be swayed from his mission by any concern. Éowyn, too, has only one concern, and that is that Aragorn should not leave her behind. The two concerns cannot meet and so Aragorn’s leave taking is almost brutal.

In the last two weeks, Jennifer Leonard and David Rowe have spoken about Éowyn’s despair, of her desire for death, and of her eventual healing. This week I want to remain with the moment of rejection. It is this moment of rejection that brings all the unhappiness of the years of hopelessness to a head. Aragorn asks her what she fears and she replies, “A cage… To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” Those who know Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, a telling of the story of of the imprisonment of the monk,  Bonnivard, in the 16th century, will recall that when, at last, he is set free, he has become so used to his cage, that, we are told, ” I learn’d to love despair.”

Éowyn rejects such counsel, if counsel it be. She will choose death rather than a cage. She will embrace despair, not as an act of submission, as Bonnivard did in Byron’s poem, but of defiance. This will be her response to Aragorn’s rejection. This will take her to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields at the gates of Minas Tirith.

To make a response to rejection is something that almost all of us will have to do at some point in our lives. Indeed we might say that the only ones among us who are never rejected are those who never risk themselves. The list of ways in which we might be rejected is very long indeed and each of us might make our own. From the day that we are not picked for a sports team at school to the refusal of a declaration of love and finally the rejection by our own body that will carry us no longer where we wish to go, this will be our experience at some point or other.

Rejection strips away the self that we seek to construct through the first half of life. We have to construct a self with clear boundaries as we emerge into adulthood. If we fail to do that then we will be absorbed into the selfhood of a stronger ego. If we are to find our True Self there must  first come the creation of boundaries but then later we must take leave of the boundaries in a leap of faith. Few of us are prepared to leave the security that we have made by choice even if we have become unhappy within it as Éowyn has. Rejection brutally forces us away from our constructed self. It is no leap of faith but rather a casting of the self into the void. The wonder is that the void is not an empty space but that everywhere the arms of Love await us if we can but submit to them. Before this happens to Éowyn she will pass through Hell and through Purgatory but she will find her way through.


7 thoughts on “The Rejection of Éowyn

  1. And she will be exactly in the right spot to fulfill her part in a prophecy she may know nothing about but nonetheless is a principal player in it, foreseen from the beginning by God. She does not know she is riding towards her vocation (or part of it). She seeks death and death will come, but not hers. “No living man am I.” Got to love it. The Witch-king thinks he’s invulnerable and meets the unlikely pair who are his downfall. Or I should say, three – a woman, a hobbit, and that hobbit holds a dead man’s sword – so no living man indeed. Gotta watch out for those prophecies. They could come back to bite you. 🙂

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • You bring out something that began to strike me as I wrote this piece but did not feel that I had space to cover. Yes, she feels rejected, but no, she does not seek revenge. This is so important. It is her love for Theoden and Eomer that carries her through and so she is close to Theoden when the Lord of the Nazgul attacks and everyone flees from him. Surely she is the woman who loved much and so is forgiven much. In her case it is not expensive ointment that she pours over the feet of her beloved but her life that she is prepared to lay down for a man who has been a father to her. Thank you so much for a wonderful comment.

  2. I’m so happy you answered my question here! I marathoned all three movies with a friend the other day, and I learned a lot of things from it – one of them being that there is a lot of me in Eowyn and a lot of Eowyn in me. She feels that there is no honor to be found in women’s tasks, and wants to be remembered in ways that are glorious and mighty – and then she performs glorious tasks and learns they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, so it’s only after that that she learns to embrace simplicity. I still want to do something glorious someday and be remembered, but there’s so much to learn from Eowyn and others in the meantime. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing that. Don’t be afraid of your own shining. And certainly don’t let others try to stop you shining. I don’t think that Eowyn could have found Faramir and a life of healing and simplicity in any other way than she did. Faramir is a man big enough to love her greatness as an equal. She knows that he is her equal too. I bet there were still some sparks though!
      May you live your life with a whole heart!

  3. Reblogged this on Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings and commented:

    Dear Readers,
    I wrote this piece in August 2016 and during the past week it received its 1,000 view. It has always been a popular piece ever since I wrote it. In fact it received its highest monthly total in November of last year.
    Among all our human experience it is rejection that is among the hardest to deal with. It is as if someone has looked hard at what we truly are and then cast us aside. But for Éowyn Aragorn’s rejection marks a key moment in her journey of self-discovery and without it she could never have made it and never achieved the happiness that she will find.
    As always I would love to hear from you and so do leave a comment if you can.

  4. While your analysis is largely true, I do find it too narrow-focused on Aragon. Nay, Éowyn was loved and admired, but she had been rejected at every turn, by her uncle, then her brother, and only when Aragon came along that it had ties to romantic love. She longed for battle and glory, as men would, but she never got her chance. And so, when Rohan’s existence was in peril, indeed when the fate of all Men was on the line, she chose to go to battle and fight (even if she had to go in disguise). Would she have chosen this path if Aragon had not come along? I would argue that it’s a definitive yes. To narrowly define Éowyn’s despair as simply a rejection by a romantic lover that was not meant to be, you have diminished Éowyn and her character.

    • Thank you so much for leaving your first comment on my blog. I do hope that you will visit another time. Your challenge made me go back to what I wrote for the first time in quite a while. In many ways I think it is a flawed piece of writing but on the whole I think that I would stand by what I originally wrote about Éowyn there. I agree with you that what happened to her when Aragorn rode away to the Paths of the Dead was the culmination of years of unhappiness but I am not sure that it was rejection that she had experienced at the hands of Théoden and Éomer. On their part they thought that they loved and honoured her. Surely what they did to her was to imprison her. She speaks openly from her heart to Aragorn when she tells him that what she fears is a cage.
      Maybe what I should have written about was not so much the rejection of Éowyn but her imprisonment. She is a woman who sees very clearly and she sees Aragorn’s greatness even as she sees the dishonour into which Rohan has fallen through the counsels of Wormtongue. She feels imprisoned in the cage of that dishonour even as she feels imprisoned in the cage of what the men in her life regard as her role as a woman.
      So, if I have reduced her to a girl who has been rejected by a lover then I do her an injustice although I stand by what I wrote about the seriousness of rejection. When I meet someone who is bitter it is more often than not the consequence of rejection. I still believe that the way we deal with the inevitable experience of rejection is key to the kind of person that we will become. Éowyn travels through her despair to a rediscovery of hope when she falls in love with Faramir. She decides to take the risk of another cage in her commitment to him. But I rather think that she found freedom and peace and not imprisonment.
      What do you think?

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