Éowyn receives her brother’s invitation to join the triumph at the Field of Cormallen after the fall of Sauron but she does not go. Once more the Warden of the Houses of Healing becomes anxious about her unhappiness and bids Faramir take time from his duties as Steward of Gondor to speak with her.
Faramir is a man of wise insight and he has learned much from the day he spent with Merry and so he says to her plainly:
“You do not go because only your brother called for you, and to look on the Lord Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, in his triumph would now bring you no joy. Or because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me. And maybe for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot choose between them. Éowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?”
In March 1941 Tolkien wrote a remarkable letter to his son, Michael, on the subject of marriage and relations between men and women. It is remarkable partly because it displays a closeness between father and son that is sadly very rare. Also because of its depth of insight. I think that most men on reading this letter would would wish they had enjoyed this closeness with their own father or that they could achieve it with their sons. Richard Rohr describes the general poverty of relations between fathers and sons as “The Father Wound”. Faramir has known this wound deeply but Tolkien, who never knew his own father shows that it need not be passed on to the next generation .
In the letter Tolkien writes about the Western romantic idea of courtly love in which a great lady would enjoy the devotion and admiration of young men, often expressed through poetry or deeds that would prove their love. A physical expression of the love was considered unacceptable although the two great Arthurian love stories of Guinevere and Lancelot and of Tristan and Isolde show that such relationships could move disastrously from the idealised form to the physical form. In his letter Tolkien also notes that to idealise a woman, to grant her some kind of divinity, does her no good at all. Tolkien describes this as “false and at best make believe. The woman is another fallen human being with a soul in peril.”
I refer to this, partly because I believe it to be Éowyn’s temptation. She desired the adoration of the greatest knight of his age and, with it, the adoration of all men and women. I also wonder if Faramir was tempted to idealise Éowyn. “Were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you.” Perhaps not, perhaps Faramir simply feels that he has to declare his love with as much passion as he can to make Éowyn see it. Thankfully for his own sake he never has to know what it would be like to love the Queen of Gondor without hope! Éowyn sees reality at last or, as Tolkien puts it so beautifully, “the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it”.
It is only possible to love flesh and blood although such love always points us beyond itself towards divine love which we glimpse in the temptation to idealise. Tolkien puts this powerfully in his letter. Every marriage, in a certain sense he writes, is a mistake. We could all find “more suitable mates”. It is possible to spend a whole lifetime either looking for the perfect mate or saying, “if only”. And we will never know. Even the best of marriages requires self-denial, perseverance and forgiveness. They require the decision to say the greatest, Yes, to reality, to the real person in front of us. I know that it has become popular to create our own wedding vows, as if by doing so we give the wedding ceremony more authenticity, but I become more deeply impressed by the vows of the old English Sarum Rite which is over five hundred years old and in which each person promises to “love and to cherish” for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part”. Both Éowyn and Faramir have to renounce some kind of idealised form of romantic love and commit themselves to the real person in front of them.
11 thoughts on “Éowyn and Faramir Declare Their Love as Éowyn Understands her Heart at Last”
I don’t know if anyone has ever thought to place Eowyn in the tradition of courtly love before, but I find the idea really interesting. Faramir at least believes, as his question suggests, that she hopes her heroic deeds have proved her love. Being called back from beneath the Shadow is not (yet) enough for her.
None of that is of course your main point. Forgiving other people for not being who you want them to be is difficult under the best of circumstances. Our pain, our expectations, our egos hobble us in our relations with others because they are all about us.
I have seen a number of marriages that come under pressure because one or other party comes to believe that the marriage, by which they mean the other party, has fallen short of their ideal. My hope is that in this moment of recognition or of understanding her own heart Éowyn puts down her longing for an ideal life and starts to say yes to the real one.
On the question of courtly love it struck me that the story of Faramir and Éowyn is, in many ways, a commentary on Tolkien’s letter to his son, the principles of which I am sure he remained true to. I would love to know your thoughts on this.
It seems to me more likely that Tolkien was expressing in that story a rapidly developing confusion about the role of a woman in relation to a man.
Eowyn had grown up in harsh circumstances and not only was prepared to do battle as a man would do, but wished for death because of the apparent hopelessness of her situation–doomed to wait upon an old man while the end engulfed her people, unable to raise a sword as her brother could well do. She feared most a cage–or perhaps a pedestal from which she could not move herself, bound by the fanciful ideals of another which she could not fulfill. Perhaps we could even conclude that Eowyn was meant to convey to a certain failing in a woman to appreciate her own “useless” beauty–for what else could the comparative fragility of a woman appear to be in concerns of war?
In realizing the depth and reality of Faramir’s love, which seeks after Eowyn’s beauty and her strength as they are combined in her person, Eowyn saw herself in the proper context. And her heart changed, or at least “she understood it.”
Thank you so much for leaving your first comment on this blog. I do hope that you will call again!
I find myself agreeing with everything that you say about Éowyn here but without needing to retract what I wrote. Do let me know what, in particular, you disagree with. Much of my writing is experimental in nature. I am trying out ideas, often arrived at quite instinctively. One idea strikes me in place and then another elsewhere. I begin to wonder if they might connect. I am quite happy when someone challenges me on them.
Re: “Even the best of marriages requires self-denial, perseverance and forgiveness.”
This brings to mind the term I hear every now and then: soulmate. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament.” However, when I hear the term used it seems to imply much, much more.
My wife & I recently celebrated our 28th anniversary. If someone were to ask me whether we were soulmates, I’d probably respond saying that I’m not certain what a soulmate is, or whether I even believe that soulmates actually exist.
The first five to six years of our marriage were not nearly as harmonious as I would have hoped. Like most couples, I presume, we both brought in our own sets of “baggage”. Our parents raised us a certain way and, as a result, we developed certain expectations. It took some time to sort through all of that both individually and collectively.
What sustained us through the early years, and continues to nourish us as we gradually “grow old together”, is love. What is love? I define it as putting another’s wants and needs before your own. (This is where the “self-denial, perseverance and forgiveness” come in.) The happiest couples are those that do this for each other.
It’s plain to see that both Éowyn and Faramir also brought their own “baggage” into the relationship. We see Éowyn work through at least some of hers during the early stages of courtship. Perhaps Faramir had already worked through his? Doubtless there would be a period of adjustment as they lived together as husband and wife, and it is their love for each other that will sustain them through the difficult times.
Thank you so much for sharing this reflection on your own marriage. Congratulations on your 28th wedding anniversary!
In the same letter to his son from which I quoted in my reflections Tolkien also ponders the question of the soulmate as you may know. He regards the search for the soulmate as a hopeless one. The soulmate, he says to Michael, is the one you are married to. If only more of us were to grasp this.
Like you I found the early years of marriage quite challenging. We will celebrate our 26th anniversary in April. I wanted my wife to be a certain kind of person that would be me achieve my ambitions and back in those days I was an ambitious man! Thank God she resisted! She was determined to be herself and encouraged me to desire that too, both for her and for me.
Like you I think that Éowyn and Faramir will have their struggles but I think that they will make it. I agree entirely with you about love. I think that erotic love is necessary and joyous too. Anyone who marries someone that they don’t want to go to bed with is a sad fool, or worse. But as you say, love must be reshaped by the desire for the best good of the other and that can become passionate too.
Thank you again. I do hope that you visit again soon!
I had forgotten that Tolkien wrote of soulmates in his ‘Letters’. Once I read your comment it all came back to me. Tolkien’s definition of “soulmate” sounds right, although it seems certain that as a Catholic the idea of divorce must’ve been abhorrent to him.
“She was determined to be herself and encouraged me to desire that too, both for her and for me.” You married a very wise woman, sir, and are wise yourself for marrying her! May I congratulate you in advance for 26 years of (mostly) wedded bliss!
Divorce was an impossibility for him and I am sure that this leant strength to the more challenging times in their marriage. I know that you follow Olga Polomoshnova’s excellent blog. I thought that her recent essay on the Tolkien’s marriage was very good indeed and I had it in mind as I wrote this. I am not Roman Catholic either in fact or by temperament and do not hold an absolute view of the impossibility of divorce. I think it is always a tragedy but sometimes necessary. But I know a couple whose marriage survived a long affair on the part of one party and seems stronger now than I have known it in a long time.
Thank you for your best wishes for our next wedding anniversary!
These two are indeed soulmates, meeting as strangers and then realizing their hearts fit perfectly together. I never got the idea Faramir was in peril of idealizing Eowyn. I think he knew his heart was lost to her no matter who she was, no matter whether she ever loved him back. Lucky for him – and for her – she did! She let go of the “shadow and thought” of her crush on Aragorn and embraced the reality, the flesh and blood love of the man before her. Our priest just last week spoke of the father wound in his homily. Those poor boys – and I would think girls too – who do not feel love and pride from their father. My sisters and I were very blessed to have a father who had no problem showing either.
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
I think you are right. I think that Faramir is expressing the depth of his passion. I wanted to explore the possibility of Tolkien using the tradition of courtly love in the telling of the story of Faramir and Éowyn especially as he makes reference to it in his letter to his son.
Neither Boromir nor Faramir were blessed by their relationship to their father. Boromir was idealised and Faramir rejected. What we all need from one another is to be seen as we are and loved and accepted as we are. As you say this is what Éowyn achieves at the moment of recognition of her own heart.
God bless you!
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