Eowyn: Triumphing Over Trauma, Part 2

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Last week, we looked at Eowyn’s laugh and how it was her moment of triumph. This week, however, there are two things I’d like to look at: her motivation dealing with her trauma in the way she did and how she finally healed from her various ordeals.

As to her motivation, Tolkien’s third-person narration and Gandalf are the primary sources which reveal her emotions. Why does a woman go into battle knowing fully well that she will more than likely die? To answer that, we must look at what Tolkien says about her male persona, Dearnhelm—the disguise she takes in order to blend in with the other riders. It’s just before she reveals herself to the Lord of the Nazgul and the third-person narrator says of Dearnhelm that he loved Théoden as a father. Slightly before this, however, we notice that Dearnhelm moves closer to Théoden right before the charge begins. It’s not stated, but I think we can surmise that her care-giving instincts were still intact and at work here. Why else would she stand her ground before Théoden’s body?

As to what Gandalf reveals, this is in two places, the first is when we first meet Eowyn—he assures her that he will look after Théoden for a little while. The second is when Gandalf is explaining to Eomer, her brother, and Aragorn, part of her suffering when Wormtongue was still Théoden’s primary adviser. He says that part of her suffering was watching the man she loved as a father wither and sink into ignominious dotage before her very eyes. I don’t know how many of you have been through this, but I have several times with various family members. It’s terrifying to watch someone you know and love very dearly die very slowly in front of you and you are powerless to do anything about it, particularly if they were capable and worthy of respect before. As Gandalf points out to Eomer, it was harder for her too because she had nothing to distract her like he did—all her duties were in the house and in attendance upon her uncle which, being the most senior royal lady at court, would have been her duty.

It wasn’t done out of vengeance; it wasn’t done out of hatred—it was done because she loved.

In Part 1 of this post, I have already noted that she was tired of duty—being dutiful. It’s classic care-giver burnout and one with which anyone who’s been a caregiver for an extended length of time is well familiar with. I also noted that in facing the Lord of the Nazgul, she was able to do what she couldn’t do before—she was able to smite and kill the thing which was causing everyone’ pain and suffering. Which, she does primarily in defense of Théoden—her longtime charge. What does this tell us?

We’ve already covered how her motivation isn’t political power—she was not disadvantaged but was selected as regent in her uncle’s absence. Her motivation seems to be for glory and honor—which is partially true, but if so, then she wouldn’t have stayed so close to her uncle during the battle and stood her ground when the Nazgul was stooping over him. What is her motivation? The oldest and the best in the book—love. She loved her uncle. She loved her brother. That is why she suffered in silence for so long, that is why she went in disguise with the riders, that is why she ultimately risked her own life and limb for Théoden even when she thought he was dead. That is ultimately why her death stroke had as much force as it did—it was done for love of the man who was as a father. It wasn’t done out of vengeance; it wasn’t done out of hatred—it was done because she loved.

Why does this matter? Because the intention behind the death-stroke is different when it’s dealt from love than it is when it’s dealt with hate. Did she hate the Nazgul? Undoubtedly but she obviously loved Théoden more. She didn’t seek the Nazgul out on her own, she faced him because he was her uncle’s downfall. If it was a matter of personal hatred, she would have sought him out directly from the first charge. Another point to consider: why did Wormtongue and Saruman’s devices against Théoden fail ultimately? Because they didn’t love the king as his own servants did. They acted from hatred and distain, not from love. Wormtongue’s service was not out of love of Théoden, but out of thralldom to Saruman. Théoden’s own people loved him, and they stood at the ready to defend him for when he became himself again. They were loyal to him, and him alone. This point is also important because it’s very telling about how Eowyn finally heals.

Not really a Hallmark movie, is it?

Faramir, to change subjects briefly, is another leader, like Théoden might have been in his youth, who commanded love and respect. He too has someone risk his own life and limb to save him from an untimely death. Faramir and Théoden, therefore, are alike at least in some way. He too is grievously wounded in battle and he and Eowyn are healed miraculously at the same time by Aragorn.
It’s Faramir, not Aragorn, not Gandalf, and not Eomer who finally helped Eowyn get over the last of the darkness which shrouds her. Because, unlike any of the others, he stays with her in her confinement. The others all go off to battle, he stays and is whole and gives her company while they all wait for the final battle’s outcome. He is the final antidote to what had happened to her previously.

Here was a man who did not need a nurse, who did not ride off while she stayed behind, and who did not secretly put poison into her ears to make her feel ashamed of herself and her heritage. Here was a man who not only saw her worth, but respected her battle prowess, respected her suffering, and appreciate that she was not a weakling. Remember, he is the one who finds fit work for her to do during her recovery. He is like Théoden in that he commands loyalty and respect, like Aragorn because he is noble and valiant, like Eomer in that he is capable of being a warrior.

Unlike any of those three, however, his charge and duty is the city—a fixed sphere much like her charge and duty was in her uncle’s house. He cannot ride off into battle. Yet, for all of that, he does not begrudge his lot in life. His duty sits with him well and he sees the good in it, not the tedium. He too wasn’t expected to be the one to take over—that was supposed to be the lot of his older brother Boromir. Yet, of the House of Stewards, he is the last left and, like Eowyn, he is suddenly the one who must lead an entire people. He too knows something of pain and trauma: his own father inflicted some of that on him before madness took him. Yet, he survived and is whole and he wants to be with a fellow sufferer in her recovery.

Little wonder she loved him, and how poetic that his companionship is what finally helps her throw off the last of her gloom. He’s like her in many ways as well as like the men she loved and suffered silently for.
So, what lesson does this hold for us today? Saying “love is the answer” is all too trite to my mind. We don’t necessarily know what love is in these days of Hollywood and Hallmark. It’s too simple, too neat, and it does grave disservice to Eowyn both as a woman and as a character. Tolkien, however old-fashioned he may have been so some modern sensibilities, was not one to resolve anything by the trope where marriage solves all the problems. Notice, Eowyn and Faramir don’t even discuss marriage until both are quite healed, the battle is won, and Sauron defeated. Not really a Hallmark movie, is it?

When you come out of your darkness, don’t forget to shed a light behind you—you may just look on some things with new eyes.

I think the true answer to what Eowyn’s path to healing means for us today lies in her realization that all the years of suffering for love of uncle and brother were worth something—that there was value and nobility in them. Some of it is doubled because Faramir helps her see that caring for another person as she had to do, even under such horrible circumstances was truly noble, honorable, and a deed every bit as worthy as riding off into battle. Remember, he too is bound by duty, but his perspective is not tainted by Wormtongue as hers was. Her healing is not just from “love” but also from a change in how she sees herself.

When she considers her future, after all, she decides that she will set aside her arms and take up the healing arts—she is returning to being the caregiver she was with Théoden. The “duty” hasn’t changed, but her perspective of what she had to do has. Also, it’s her free choice to do so this time—she’s not obligated either by family or by status. She’s free to do and be who she wants. What she ends up wanting is being Faramir’s wife and a healer. She wants to help him restore the lands he loves so much, she wants to plant gardens, and make beauty in a world which, until now, have only held one cage after another in one form or another.

So, when you are healing, and as you are healing, consider Eowyn again. Consider how you can use those years of hurt, of pain, and of suffering to forge your future. Sometimes, those lessons and hurts have a silver lining to them. Sometimes, even, they become who we are in new, more positive ways. Healing isn’t just some mystical thing when love appears or when a good doctor finally finds a medicinal cure. Healing is in the mind as well as the body. Healing is in how you see what happened and how you view your role in what happened. Eowyn saw her role as caregiver is ignominious. Yet, for all that, it may have been her care and love which kept Théoden alive for so long—alive long enough to die in one of the great battles of the age with honor and glory. Long enough to help turn the tides of the war against Sauron. Instead of looking at it as a drudgery, Eowyn turns to healing whole-heartedly, knowing that it is good, it is noble, and it is every bit as worthy of song as deeds on the battlefield. When you come out of your darkness, don’t forget to shed a light behind you—you may just look on some things with new eyes. Better yet, you may look at yourself with new eyes and with new respect and that is worth every bit as much—if not more—than a Hallmark ending.

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