Back in July, Middle-earth News published the first article in a series of analytical articles on women and chauvinism in Tolkien works, starting with the character of Eowyn. So for the uninitiated, what is Chauvinism anyway? The term is actually a bit broader than some make it out to be, with Merriam-Webster describing it as “excessive or blind patriotism” or the belief that your country, race, or sex is superior to others. In my personal experience, I’ve seen people use it solely as a synonym for a kind of sexism, and that’s how the term is used in this article.
You often get someone who knows little about Tolkien making all kinds of eye-rolling accusations, and as tiring or uncomfortable as it may be, it’s worth having counter-responses prepared.
I never got around to finishing this series, but this first piece was absolutely fantastic. Go read it now. I’ll wait.
The author makes FANTASTIC observations; the one that stood out to me was how whenever, Eowyn seems to be pushed to the wayside in the story, it is from the perspective of a character like King Theoden, her uncle–even though he has the best intentions at heart (he even treats Merrry the same way). How great Eowyn is is always brought to the forefront by other characters like Aragorn, or even minor ones like Hama.
There’s another point concerning this character which was not brought up in the article, that I also feel is important to address, which is in the Houses of Healing with Eowyn and Faramir’s relationship. Eowyn decides to put down the sword and take up things like gardening. Some have criticized this as a tough women throwing away her ideals to submit to a man. This is not the case. Eowyn comes from a society, modeled after Anglo-Saxon tribes, where war is glorified and is commonly seen as the only way to win any kind of renown. This can be taken to the extreme that a person has to be a warrior to be of importance or worth. Theoden, for example, sees himself as a lesser son of greater sires who has let his people down. His idea of redeeming this fact is to have a glorious death in battle.
In other words: Eowyn believes that to be of worth, she has to be a killer or to be killed; she expresses this herself (not in these exact words, but it’s close–I’m too lazy to crack open the book myself for direct quotes). She longs for death at the end of a sword rather than to grow old doing “nothing of importance” and can’t seem to see that she is surrounded by people who love her and want her to lead them.
The long story short is this is not Tolkien’s view of war (another fascinating topic worth going in depth about), and Eowyn’s view is a narrow and even poisonous one. Aragorn even says a shadow was upon her long before her encounter with the Lord of the Nazgul. So while Eowyn’s (and Merry’s!) role in the battle was extremely important, and a lot of good came from it, war itself is still not a good thing. It is also very important to mention that Faramir himself had no love for war, and desired to take up the same things as Eowyn: to garden. Faramir is opening the Shield Maiden’s eyes and showing her war is not all it is cracked up to be. Indeed while her disobedience to Theoden is seen as a good thing, there was still consequence for her actions–her disobedience: the harm she suffered from the Black Breath, coupled with her own personal “shadow”, leading to her near death experience (requiring not only a physical healing, but a spiritual one as well). What Tolkien is dealing with here in the story is a completely different theme of war and violence (and even redemption), which is often mistaken for chauvinism, or the theme of such.
That’s all I have for now.