Eowyn and Feminism: A Rant Part 2

Which also brings me to Griffin and Liang’s complaint about Eowyn having her “happily ever after.” They managed to completely miss the entire point of everything that the good guys do at the end of the war. Eowyn turning away from her fighting days at the conclusion of the story is not just about her becoming a wifey. It’s about her choosing to embrace life rather than death, about creating something new and good and wholesome rather than seeking out martial glory.

Again, this is a thing that all the male characters do. Aragorn is rebuilding Gondor after its devastating war; Faramir is doing likewise to Ithilien; Legolas brings in a bunch of Wood-Elves to help fix the place up, and Gimli brought in Dwarves to fix up the war damage to Minas Tirith and Helm’s Deep and build a whole new kingdom. And of course, the hobbits return to the Shire and find it’s been wrecked by Saruman and his human lackeys, so once they drive them out, they have to restore the Shire to its former glory, which Sam plays a big part in, since he has a box of special Elven dirt and a mallorn seed. He literally causes the Shire’s plant life to return.

This is what Tolkien thought should happen after a war: not more fighting, but repairing the damage from the war and building things that are better and more noble. Everybody in his book takes part in this. So why is the woman expected to stay a warrior and keep slaying, when all the men are busy fixing stuff up and moving past the killing and death to peaceful lives?

Eowyn’s character arc is not about how she becomes a warrior and stays one forever because WOMAN FIGHTING EMPOWERED. That way, in Tolkien’s world, just leads to decay, blood, death and loss. Instead she embraces a new life of rebuilding and growth and life, which includes embracing romantic love. She even says at the end,

“I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King

Faramir even highlights this plan by saying,

“And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King

Furthermore, a sane person would not see Eowyn getting married as being somehow a bad thing. Not only is it her embracing life rather than her suicidal rush towards death, but her relationship with Faramir is depicted as being one of equals. He respects her both as a woman and as a warrior, seeing no conflict between those two things, but wanting her to be happy and fulfilled in a way that fighting ultimately won’t make her.

Their relationship also makes sense because they were both recovering from similar experiences when they died: feelings of alienation and rejection, seeing their civilizations crumble from the corruption of outside forces, the recent death of father figures, and the Black Breath. Yeah, Tolkien could have outlined their relationship more, but her connection with Faramir goes a lot deeper than Liang’s contemptuous “Tolkien thinks women should get married to ANY man available.” They have a lot of similarities to build on, and unlike with Aragorn, she gets to know him as a person and not just crush on him because he’s an easy way out of a life she can’t stand anymore.

At the same time, Faramir is a more optimistic and sunny person than Eowyn, who tends to be kind of dark and moody. He lifts her up. He also provides a perspective for Eowyn beyond that of the Rohirrhim, where great deeds in battle are glorified. Gondor’s a little more sophisticated, and gives her an opportunity to learn to be something more positive than a warrior.

Faramir makes her a better, happier person by being who he is, and that’s ultimately a sign of a healthy, good relationship. Turning aside from being a shieldmaiden and marrying Faramir are part of a whole “deciding to live” change in Eowyn’s personality. You know, character growth. Something you don’t find in a lot of poorly-written characters that Griffin would define as “strong female characters.”

And even if Tolkien wanted to marry off his characters for a happy ending… so what? Is that so bad? Would Griffin and Liang have preferred it if Eowyn had just been miserable and lonely at the end of the trilogy? I already outlined why the “Eowyn stays a warrior and goes around killing stuff” thing was not going to fly in Tolkien’s world, so precisely why shouldn’t she get married?

This is why interpretation of a text from a particular political perspective is not the sole way you should look at it. Unless you’re very well-informed and dedicated to fairness and research, you can end up attributing motives and attitudes to the text and the author that are not fair or just, and you can end up bitching about things that are not actually problems. Like when you get upset when a female character does something that THE MEN ALSO DO, or when you totally ignore how a character’s actions dovetail with the attitudes and beliefs of the author.

That’s ultimately why I can’t take Griffin or Liang’s outrage seriously. Their feminist analysis is so shallow, so blinkered. They don’t think deeply about why Tolkien would have written Eowyn this way, they just condemn it because it doesn’t slavishly follow “strong woman” cliches and have Eowyn turn into Xena.

Seriously, how am I supposed to take “scholars” seriously when they can’t think outside of an incredibly narrow political viewpoint, or interpret a text by actual analysis? Major fail, you guys.

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