In the last two weeks Jennifer Leonard ( loveroflembas.blogspot.com) 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.