Éowyn After Aragorn: What Becomes of the Broken-hearted?

We all know the clichés that attend a broken heart.

Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned! 

We know the stories of revenge and bitterness. They have been told again and again. But what of Éowyn? We know her shame as she watched the dishonouring of her people and of their king. We know that she was always aware that she was being watched by Wormtongue. She was to be one of the prizes that he would gain amidst the ruin of Rohan, a trinket to be carried off and enjoyed by the victor in the fight. We know too that although she was a warrior her role was always confined to be dry nurse to the broken man who was Théoden.

Then Aragorn comes into her life and with him comes the awakening of hope and the possibility of happiness. She knows that he is a captain that men will follow. The arrival of the Dúnedain in Edoras, a mighty company following their lord and hero, merely confirms to her what she can already see for herself.

And then he leaves her and he will not take her with him even though she pleads with him. All the hope that has begun to awaken in her heart is dashed; both hope for her people and hope for herself. And perhaps, too, in the lonely watches of the night, she has pictured herself as a mighty queen adored by her people. Can we blame her? We may remember the moment when Frodo offered the Ring to Galadriel.

“You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

Such words do not come from nowhere as if in an unthinking manner. Galadriel, too, had allowed herself dreams of greatness. So too had Boromir. So too had Saruman. So too had Lotho Sackville-Baggins. So too had Gollum “the Great”. Dreams of greatness are common both to the mighty among us and also to the weak. It is not our dreams that distinguish us from one another but the actions that we take in consequence of our dreams. Among the list of dreamers that we have just named Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo although he triumphs gloriously over his temptation in giving his life for Merry and Pippin; Saruman betrays the peoples of Middle-earth and the Valar who gave him his mission; Lotho becomes an ally of Saruman and betrays the Shire into his hands; and we know the long and tragic tale of Gollum.

And Galadriel?

“I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”

Éowyn, too, will “pass the test” eventually, but even in her darkest moments she will not betray her people and become an agent of darkness. In her deepest despair and desire for death she will remain true to the love that she has for Théoden who has been as a father to her. When, in the battle, Théoden falls under the attack of the Lord of the Nazgûl and all his household knights are slain or, through the terror of their horses, desert him, Éowyn does not desert him. And, as Anne Marie Gazzolo recently commented on this blog, she is there to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.

Ultimately it is not her dreams that will determine her destiny but her long practice of faithfulness to the drudgery of her life in Meduseld and the practice, too, of her love for Théoden. It is our practice that will determine our destiny although eventually we will have to surrender to a grace that is greater even than our practice, even as Éowyn will in order to fulfil that destiny. And it is that practice that will sustain us through our darkest nights as it did for Eówyn “when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in.”

12 thoughts on “Éowyn After Aragorn: What Becomes of the Broken-hearted?

  1. Great post. I hadn’t thought of the dreams of so many in this way before. Eowyn sought death but yes, her love for Theoden, also had her in the exact right spot for her destined role in the downfall of the Witch-king. Yea Eowyn and Merry and whoever had first the sword he used!

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • They are certainly the ones that feature the most and they are really important. In order to understand the importance of Arwen we need to read the story in the appendices and I might even want to put in a word for Rosie Cotton too!

      • Rosie! She’s so great. In my fanfiction that I am writing on my blog, she is sweet but can turn deadly very quickly. I figured growing up with four brothers would make her pretty tough.

  2. I’m put in mind of Tolkien’s “On Faerie Stories”, wherein he describes myth and fantasy as a way of escaping confinement. I don’t quite know what to do with the comparison yet, but it seems like Eowyn’s confinement and her dreams make a similar claim in narrative form. I think I need to reread more closely to find her point of liberation and see how it plays out with this parallel in mind.

    • It is good to hear from you again, Michelle. I hope that you enjoyed a good summer.
      If I remember rightly Tolkien speaks of the desire to escape imprisonment as a good thing. Who would choose imprisonment to freedom? Except, of course, we know many that do because imprisonment is safer and more predictable than the unknowability of freedom. It is a sign of the greatness of Eówyn’s spirit that she chooses freedom and that even when she believes that it has been denied her she still chooses to seek to end her life doing something great.
      I hope that you will continue your reflection. I would very much like to read it.

      • Thank you! I hope you did as well. Your memory serves you well; Tolkien was responding to the disparaging use of the term “escapism” to describe fantasy literature, seeing escape as no bad thing. With such escapism being also dismissed as childish, I can’t help but also think of Augustine’s focus on becoming “as a little one” again in his contemplative and confessional reflections (I’m indebted to O’Connell’s take here, I believe), and Eowyn’s respective youth (compared to Aragorn and the more contemplative Arwen, at least) seems relevant.

        My final reflections may be a long time coming, though, as I recently had a wonderfully thought-provoking conversation with my advisor about the imagination, the intellect, and models of imprisonment in Descartes and Tolkien, as well as other figures in the Platonic tradition. Much to think on!

  3. There is so much required of those who have spent a lifetime staring at shadows. Why should they believe the one who tells them (tells me?) that there is a reality awaiting them if they were to break free of their chains.
    I have just watched a Russian film entitled The Island (Ostrov) following a link provided by Father Aiden Kimmel in his blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy. The main body of the film is set in 1976. Russia still goes under the name, The Soviet Union, but people find their way to a monastery because one of the brothers has a reputation for healing. I think that if you were to watch the film you would see why the story gives insight into the way that the way to reality often feels a bit crazy. Even the other members of the community are not sure whether Father Anatoly is either a subversive trickster or just a fool. What I especially liked was that each person who comes asking for healing is called to an action that seems like madness. If you get the chance to watch it you will see what I mean.
    I can see this with Plato and with Tolkien but I am not so sure about Descartes. I hope to understand better!

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