fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

Over at Tumblr, this frankly very nicely done GIF set is making the rounds. It's built around this passage from The Lord of the Rings:

'Shall I always be chosen?' she said bitterly. 'Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?'

'A time may come soon,' said he, 'when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.'

And she answered: ‘All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.

'What do you fear, lady?' he asked.

'A cage,' she said. 'To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.'

I'm not going to try to say what the artist's interpretation of this scene was, or what drove other people to share it. But it reminded me of how I've often seen people concerned with gender and sexual equality (which, along with a proclivity for baby animals and all things SuperWhoLock, is probably Tumblr's defining feature) use this quote to put Eowyn up as some kind of feminine role model. So the GIF set and the quote made me think of that, and how awkward of an interpretation it is.

If you know the story, the "muster" of the Rohirrim (any men of fighting age) from Edoras are headed to Helm's Deep to make a stand against Saruman's forces, while those who can't fight are sent to a mountain retreat at Dunharrow. Theoden asks who he should send with them to lead them, and they ask for someone of the House of Eorl (his household), and he claims that the only person other than himself left from that household is Eowyn's brother Eomer (his nephew), and "Eomer I cannot spare." Only that's not true at all, as the people remind him; there's Eowyn, she is a noble and honorable woman of the ruling house, so appoint her as their leader.

Basically, Theoden assumes only a woman can be a good leader of his people in their stead, and the whole assembly corrects him with one voice. At which point Eowyn accepts the responsibility and agrees to shepherd the Rohirrim until the king returns. Fast forward a week or two and Saruman's forces have been routed at Helm's Deep, Pippin's looked into the palantir and is whisked off to Gondor, and Aragorn and Grey Rangers are riding quickly for the Paths of the Dead. They can ride considerably more quickly than Theoden (who has to meet the full muster in Edoras in any event), so this exchange between Eowyn and Theoden is taking place before Theoden's returned to grant her leave, and Aragorn cannot wait for Theoden to turn up. At this point she is honor-bound to look over the Rohirrim women and children and old men, and they are relying on her strength and the symbolism of the royal house surviving through her.

So when Eowyn asks Aragorn to take her with him, it's not so much that she wants an honorable task rather than making stew for any glorious soldiers passing through. She has an honorable role and is asking to be excused from it because ... why, precisely? I've always thought it was equal parts despair and the aftereffects of Grima's lurking and whispered words. Other people might understand it differently. But the point is basically she's asking Aragorn for permission to desert her post, which is actually a pretty damned important one. It's the kind of thing a high-ranking captain, someone the king trusted greatly but could have spared from the fighting, would have chosen if the people hadn't asked for her specifically. Eowyn may think of it as "finding bed and food when [the real heroes, the men] return," but that's not an accurate depiction of the situation.

To be honest, I've always found this a rather affirming moment as a woman: that not only would Eowyn be deemed a good leader by her people (not because of nepotism, but in spite of what her family thought she was capable of), but that she would be treated with the dignity of expecting her to live up to her obligations. If Eowyn would have let her break her obligations and ride with him, that would be saying her promise wasn't the kind of thing that she could be held to, that she was incapable of that kind of responsibility. Interestingly, I'm not convinced riding off as Dernhelm had the same problem, as she'd only promised to watch over the people until the king returned, which he did, but after this moment with Aragorn.

I'm curious. How do you guys read this scene? Do you think Aragorn's being sexist here when he expects her to stay behind, or is this actually empowering in some sense, or what exactly?
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