Alias: Dernhelm, Lady of Ithilien, Lady of Emyn Arnen, Lady of the Shield-arm
From: The Lord of the Rings
First Appearance: The Two Towers
Last Appearance: The Return of the King
Created by: JRR Tolkien
Portrayed by: Nellie Bellflower (cartoon voice over, 1980), Elin Jenkins (radio, 1981), Mirando Otto (film, 2002-03, pictured at left)
Family: Éomer, brother; Théoden, uncle-guardian; Faramir, husband; Elboron, son; Barahir, grandson
Lover: Faramir (husband)
Allegiance: Reunited Kingdom, Rohan, Gondor
Significant Relationships: Aragorn, unrequited love-friend; Merry Brandybuck, ally-friend; Grima Wormtongue, nemesis; Witch-king of Angmar, enemy
Powers: Éowyn is a human, of the race Rohan from the realm called Middle-Earth. The Rohan people are warriors and most specifically, horse-people, traits which Éowyn shares. She is a trained fighter and excels in horsemanship and swordcraft.
Personality: Éowyn is a woman who tends to run with her emotions. She falls madly in love with Aragorn and runs away to fight Sauron with the Rohan army. While she cares for her people, she finds her life as a stewardess of a keep tedious. She is, however, also very brave and very loving. She will fight to the end of her life to protect her home, her people, and her family - even facing down monsters that give great men pause.
Similar Characters: Kickass Female with a Sword: Rhapsody from The Symphony of Ages
Fantasy Women Who Were Written by a Man Who Might Not Like Women: Susan Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia
A Woman Who Delivers the Final Blow to the Enemy's 2nd in Command: Molly Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Works Featuring Éowyn: The Lord of the Rings
When Sauron, creator of the One Ring and an evil entity bent on controlling Middle Earth, re-emerged, his agents spread throughout the world. Theoden was slowly dying thanks to his advisor Grima Wormtongue, agent of Sauron, who was poisoning him. Éowyn and her brother were unable to help their uncle, and Theoden, under Grima's control, promised Éowyn to the evil sorcerer.
Luckily, the remants of the Fellowship of the Ring came to Rohan seeking help, and the wizard Gandalf freed Theoden from Grima's control. Grima fled, and Éowyn was freed. She met and fell in love with Aragorn, the true but uncrowned king of Gondor, but while it appeared Aragorn returned her affection, he was still in love with the elf Arwen. Éowyn was crushed and felt trapped by her life as the leader of the Rohan in the absense of her brother and uncle, who had joined with Aragorn's forces to fight Sauron.
Along with the hobbit Merry, who had also been left behind by Aragorn and company, Éowyn was told she was too weak to fight in Rohan's army against Sauron. She defied her orders, took the name Dernhelm, and rode to the war alongside the Rohan with Merry at her side, in the disguise of a man.
At the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Éowyn watched in horror as her uncle was struck down by the Wraith King, leader of the ghostly Nazgul, who, it was said, could be defeated by no man. Éowyn faced the Wraith King, killing its steed, but Éowyn's shield was shattered and her arm broken. Merry, as the Wraith King prepared to kill Éowyn, struck the King's knee, allowing Éowyn to plunge her sword into the void of Wraith King's crown-helmet, killing him, fulfilling the prophecy that no man would defeat the Wraith King, but rather, a woman.
The blowback left Éowyn nearly dead and unconsciousness. She was saved from the battlefield and taken to the Houses of Healing. There, she met Faramir, the Stewart of Gondor, and fell in love with him. The two are married and raised a family, after the defeat of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring.
Other Versions: Éowyn has appeared in several film and cartoon adaptions of The Lord of the Rings, most notably portrayed by Miranda Otto in the Academy Award-winning film adaption by Peter Jackson. There were small changes to her character's plot but nothing significant. She also appeared in video game adaptions of the series.
Author David Eddings wrote the fantasy saga The Belgariad as a direct response to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Eddings, who revealed many years after its initial publication that the books were co-written with his wife Leigh Eddings, believed that Tolkien's masterpiece failed completely in respect to its female characters. The Belgariad, with its main characters Polgara and Ce'Nedra, was designed to change that.
Now, after reading Éowyn's history, you might think that Tolkien did alright with women - after all, it was Éowyn, a woman, who took down the most powerful physical villain of the entire trilogy (Sauron only appears as an intangible force and looming eye in the sky). But, other than that, Éowyn still fails as a fully realized woman character. Tolkien's other women (basically, Arwen and Galadriel) are even worse.
Arwen appears only to be the love of Aragorn (the one he dumps Éowyn for), and she really only appears in the appendix to the sixth book. Galadriel refuses to truly help the fight, even though she is as powerful or more powerful than Gandalf. She is weak and cannot fight off the temptation of the One Ring. Éowyn's main personality is that of a whiny young woman who does not want to take her place as wife and mistress. She falls desperately in love at the drop of the hat. When she confronts the Wraith King, she does not do it out of bravery - she does it foolhardily and protecting her uncle's life is only a lucky by-product. She runs off to war only to follow Aragorn, who she has fallen in love with, not to protect the world.
And these are the women Tolkien gives us, in a world populated by strong, powerful men. It is both a failing of Tolkien's time and of Tolkien himself - both he and his friend CS Lewis were noted as not having the best female characters and possibly being misogynists (see: The Problem of Susan Pevensie). Éowyn could be heralded as a great female warrior, but instead, Tolkien gave her several negative attributes stereotypical of how women were viewed as being not as good as men. This wasn't rounding out her character - this was Tolkien having an inability to see a female warrior in equal stature to his male characters.
While it is she who defeats the Wraith King, the blow nearly kills Éowyn and Merry. It's almost like Tolkien's saying see: women can fight but they're going to screw it up. The men don't suffer similar fates when they fight - of the Fellowship, only Boromir perishes and he heroically sacrifices himself to save the others. Tolkien manages to imply in the text that what Éowyn does is brave but stupid. What Boromir does is heroic.
It's too bad. Éowyn is really really close to being one of the first great pre-feminist, genre heroines. Instead, we'd have to wait for Xena and Buffy to show us how women don't have to be defined by male strength.
Images: Top: Miranda Otto as Éowyn; Middle: a cover to The Return of the King, wherein Éowyn kills the Wraith King; Bottom: Miranda Otto as Éowyn