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Éowyn the unintended : the caged feminine and gendered space in The Lord of the Rings Harrison, William Henry

Abstract

As Alexandra Ganser points out, in the West, freedom of the road has tended to be a prerogative of males; this is as true in the novelistic imagination as it is in the streets. The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is a novel of the road. In it, J. R. R. Tolkien maintains a firm gendering of spaces, as Ganser theorizes. Women may not take to the road or enter the battlefield, except under male direction and supervision. Éowyn is the exception to this rule, but one that highlights the existence of the rule. Initially, Tolkien planned Éowyn as a warrior who would ride openly as a woman, beside Aragorn, the King whom Éowyn would marry. Éowyn was planned as a heroine, who overcomes a Nazgûl by her own strength. However, this is not the Éowyn whom Tolkien wrote. Instead, she feels caged in Rohan, but is refused permission to take the road or the battlefield. To escape, she disguises herself in the visible cage of male armour and goes to war. Once there, Éowyn fights the Nazgûl, but wins only because a male defeats the spell sustaining the enemy. Éowyn is sent to the Houses of Healing (a neutral space) and is delivered from her erroneous attitude to the gendering of spaces by falling in love with Faramir (the Steward) and submitting to domesticity. Tolkien’s treatment of Éowyn is of public significance because Tolkien rejects any notion of human progress, so that Éowyn cannot be an instance of a past norm to be overcome by social improvement. Instead, her fall into a determination to trespass on male space is of the nature of sin and her deliverance into domesticity is her redemption, her eucatastrophe. Moreover, Éowyn is a political symbol because LotR is intended as part of a mythology for England, which suggests that Tolkien is making a statement about the direction that society should take. Éowyn, therefore, is Tolkien’s demonstration of God’s will for English society: women ought to remain in domestic spaces and not go to war.

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