Nov 1 2010 4:06pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King VI.5, “The Steward and the King”

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien We hit the midpoint of Book VI in this installment of the Lord of the Rings re-read with chapter 5, “The Steward and the King.” The usual spoilers and comments follow after the jump.

What Happens

Two days after the army leaves Minas Tirith, Éowyn meets Faramir and asks him to command the Warden of the Houses of Healing to release her so she may ride to war. They agree that she shall stay but be allowed to walk in the gardens. She does so in Faramir’s company, and together they see the fall of Sauron. Later, they confess their love for each other and Éowyn declares that she will now be a healer, not a shieldmaiden.

Aragorn arrives at Minas Tirith and is crowned (by Gandalf, who is brought the crown by Frodo, contrary to prior custom), to background accompaniment of Ioreth talking. He retains Faramir in the hereditary position of Steward and makes him Prince of Ithilien; pardons and makes peace with those of Mordor’s forces who have surrendered; and appoints Beregond as captain of Faramir’s guard. Éomer and Éowyn return to Rohan. Gandalf takes Aragorn to a hidden hallow where Aragorn finds a tree sapling of the same line as the withered White Tree in Minas Tirith. He brings it back to the city, where it blooms in sign that Arwen approaches. Aragorn and Arwen are married on Midsummer’s Day.


This chapter, the halfway point of the last book of LotR, strikes me as the apex of the high-fantasy content of the book, by which I mean the strand that involves characters and actions modeled on older forms of storytelling—nobility, lofty words, larger-than-life actions, formal speech, relative lack of interest in examining psychological nuances, that kind of thing. This is almost entirely a hobbit-less chapter—they get a couple of paragraphs of asking Gandalf why they’re still waiting around, and Frodo has a couple of lines at the end, but they’re strictly observers and not particularly present ones at that—and it’s all very formal and historic and rather remote, even the romance bits. Book VI is structured with the hobbit and non-hobbit strands forming mirror-image v-shapes; this is the high point of the non-hobbit and the low of the hobbit, but as we started with all hobbits, so shall we end.

* * *

Éowyn. It’s taken me a long time to be able to articulate what upsets me about Éowyn in this chapter, but it comes down to this: I wouldn’t care that she was giving up the sword to be a healer if she weren’t the only woman in LotR who is visibly and actively doing something that doesn’t conform to a very narrow and restrictive idea of what’s appropriate for women.

I made a list, previously, of female characters with speaking parts: Lobelia, Mrs. Maggott, Goldberry, Arwen, Galadriel, Éowyn, Ioreth, Rosie Cotton, and Mrs. Cotton. Three of these (Mrs. Maggott, Rosie Cotton, Mrs. Cotton) only qualify as speaking roles by the skin of their teeth; I suspect I might need a second hand to count all of their lines together, but only barely. Lobelia is not sympathetic when we first meet her; she gets one good moment of defiance before the Scouring, recounted second-hand, and then vanishes. Ioreth is a healer (but not in charge; that’s a man) and a chatterbox (and I loathe her). Arwen does nothing active on- or off-screen. Goldberry has lines, at least, but appears to be even more restricted by her nature as land-spirit than Tom in terms of interventions, and is shown acting in that role in a very stereotypically housewifely way—her “washing day.”

Which leaves Galadriel and Éowyn. Galadriel may be presumed to have been kicking butt in the defense of Lórien and the cleansing of Dol Guldur, but that’s all off-screen. Otherwise she, like the other women so far discussed, stay home and, mostly, take care of others (cook, have kids, sew really big banners, heal). Éowyn is the only woman in the book who leaves home, who expresses dissatisfaction at the narrow options offered to her by the men around her, who fights—and not just fights, but does it well and wins a significant victory.

And because she’s the only one, when she rejects the sword, it feels like a statement about what women, all women, ought to do: now the exception has conformed to the rule and there are no other ways of being happy and productive and approved-of present in the text. And that is why, even though Éowyn’s decision makes sense in the context of her personality and what Wormtongue did to her and Sauron’s end and everything else, I still hurt every time I read it. Not even her marrying my childhood crush could make me happy about it.

To forestall the inevitable responses: I’m not saying that I disagree with or disapprove of anyone’s choices. (Well, I’d like to disagree with Arwen’s, but since we know basically nothing about her thoughts and feelings, I’m not quite comfortable doing so.) But women are people, and people aren’t all the same, and therefore, just as we get a variety of paths among the male characters—Frodo renouncing violence, Sam rising socially, even Legolas admiring caves—we ought to get a similar variety, or even any variety, among the female characters. And we don’t. Which is a flaw in the book.

(I also dislike some of the language used in Éowyn’s interactions with Faramir; in particular, the line about how, when she says that her window does not look eastward, “(h)er voice was now that of a maiden young and sad,” makes me cringe with embarrassment at her sudden diminishing. Also, Faramir reduces her sadness in the Houses of Healing, after the news of the victory, to her rejection by Aragorn; not that he knows about Wormtongue, but she and the text make no effort to remind us that she has other reasons for her feelings, and so the last word on her “winter” ends up being a misguided crush. But those are minor things.)

* * *

Éowyn and Faramir are the only on-screen romance in The Lord of the Rings. The other two couples who marry in the text proper did their courting beforehand (Aragorn and Arwen get an appendix for their story; Sam and Rosie don’t even get that), and everyone who gets married later, per the Appendices, appears to meet their spouses after the main text ends. As such, it’s too bad that, as a romance, it does nothing for me—and would not, I think, even if Éowyn hadn’t renounced the sword, because there’s just so little there about their interactions. He thinks she’s beautiful and valiant, and she thinks he’s . . . “both stern and gentle,” I guess, though that’s from their very first meeting. Okay, then.

Minor Faramir note: he makes explicit the connection of the wave-imagery with Sauron’s fall to Númenor, something he often dreams of. He was the one who had the “seek for the Sword that was broken” dream frequently, as well, suggesting that he has a particular affinity for or ability to see things in dreams, or perhaps has been selected for additional attention from the Valar.

* * *

The coronation. I’ve mentioned that Ioreth here was my least favorite thing in LotR? She still is. She is wrecking the mood and dragging the level of solemnity down like an anchor and talking when everyone should be quiet and she just drives me nuts. I recognize that she serves the purpose of showing how those in Gondor are reacting to Aragorn, but still: fingernails on the blackboard of my mind.

Otherwise I want to mention the last paragraph of the section, which makes me oddly melancholy, and I’m not sure if it’s the text or just that it’s autumn here and I’m absurdly busy:

In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and the glory of the years that were gone.

All the words and sentences are happy ones; but when I read this, I can’t help but remember that there is no Minas Tirith, that its preservation of memory and glory is itself now memory, and that there’s no city of mithril and marble and trees in which walks dwarves and elves anywhere in the world. Yes, even though I don’t buy, even when I’m reading the story, that Middle-earth is our past. Since that doesn’t make much sense, probably it is just the season...

* * *

I feel that I ought to have something to say about Aragorn finding the Tree, but everything significant about it seems so much on the face of the text that I can’t see anything to add. As far as the wedding, I’ll just note that the closing words must read really oddly if you don’t know that the Appendices are there: “the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.” What tale?

At any rate, there we have the biggest-scale and most formal rewards/high points of the aftermath. From here it gets smaller, more personal, and sadder too. See you next time.

« Return of the King VI.4 | Index

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

1. pilgrimsoul
The wind down of ROTK seems to bring out the melancholic in you, Kate.
I agree with you about Eowyn--although I loved her hook up with Faramir, which I did not see coming when I first read the book. It points out that JRRT was a man of his time, not ours.
There is a elegaic tone to the end of this chapter--the end of a heroic age? And the absence of Hobbits center stage.
2. Lsana
Eowyn's renouncing the sword always bothered me too. Intellectually, I tell myself that it's all about rejecting the "War is Glorious" mindset. Faramir made that point earlier, back when we first met him: war is sometimes necessary, but it is never something to be celebrated, and Gondor has somewhat lost that knowlege due to their years away from Numenor and the constant assults by Sauron's forces. Faramir convincing Eowyn of his point of view here, that being a warrior is by no means the greatest good, suggests that his mindset may win out.

Intellectually, I tell myself that. But yes, it seems far too much like a "stay in the kitchen" moment for my taste. I'd much rather have seen her wanting to take a more active role in the restoration of Middle Earth.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
I suppose one could attribute the diminishment of Eowyn (and that is how I see it in many ways) to the aftereffects of her confrontation with the Witch King. Merry doesn't seem to suffer a similar depression, but then, as a hobbit, he's made of tougher stuff and he didn't deliver the killing blow.

Maybe depression is the right term, here. Tolkien gives us a pretty good picture of PTSD (or shell shock, as he probably thought of it) in Frodo, but why should Frodo be the only one so affected? Eowyn has been through hell in the previous years in Rohan, what with the creepy stalking by Wormtongue and the growing alienation of Theoden. Then just as she begins to reconcile with her uncle, she sees him get killed and is then exposed to the soul-sickening influence of the Nazgul.

If you buy into the "received text" conceit, then it could also be argued that a lot of what is wrong with this chapter and a lot of the extreme high fantasy aspects (and there is some overlap there) are the result of this being adapted from Gondorian texts by either Merry or Pippin, rather than a direct narrative.

Oh, and someone really needs to gag Ioreth.
Kate Nepveu
4. katenepveu
pilgrimsoul @ #1, well, it is a melancholic part of the book . . . 

Lsana @ #2, yes, I agree with you on both counts.

DemetriosX @ #3, re: adaptation--do you mean that the relative lack of emotional depth is because Merry & Pippin didn't want to infer, or something else? 

Also, my very scary deadlines this week have just been knocked completely out of whack by SteelyKid coming home with a cold from daycare, and so I may be even less present than usual (or I may be here more often, as something that can be done in five-minute increments, unlike complex legal thought . . . ).
David Levinson
5. DemetriosX
Kate @4, I was just thinking that they might have taken various bits of Gondorian literature on this period, translated it into the hobbit dialect of Westron as needed, and maybe left out some of the bits that hobbits might find more boring. That is, however, no excuse for Tolkien. This is a very one-dimensional chapter that owes far more to medieval literature than Tolkien's skill as an author.
Tony Zbaraschuk
6. tonyz
Ah, Ioreth. The type does exist, you know ;) I agree that I don't like them, but they're around.

As far as Eowyn goes, the thing with being a warrior is that she's already done that. She has killed the commander of an enemy army in hand-to-hand combat. You don't get better than that. I think I understand the people who see this as a demotion from rebellion, somehow, but I tend to see it as a promotion -- she's achieved Maximum Excellence in that field, where can she go now?
j p
7. sps49
Tolkien apparently never met any females who weren't home-and-hearth types to base his chracters on, while Ioreth sounds very real (too real? :) ) to me.

And he is perfectly crap at romance, too. Well, Beren and Luthien was okay.
8. Lsana
@ 5 DemetriosX,

There might be something to that. I'm trying to remember here: is the Eowyn/Faramir section the only major part of the story where none of the fellowship is present? If so, that might explain it: the only people who witnessed those scenes were Eowyn and Faramir, and neither of them felt like giving all that many details.
9. Jamsco
When I was reading this chapter to my kids last month, my eight year old daughter suggested that my wife read the Eowyn parts. I called her over and it went very well.
Tony Zbaraschuk
10. tonyz
Luthien. Idril Celebrindal. Aredhel Ar-Feinel. There's quite a few decidedly non-home-and-hearth types in the Silmarillion.

Of course, they're all Elves.
11. Elaine Thom
Morwen, mother Turin? Of course that whole story ends very badly.

I wish I could remember where I read someone commenting on how Tolkien got the female crush just right when he wrote Eowyn, and the change to real love to Faramir was also in line with the writer's own observations.
JS Bangs
12. jaspax
And now for something other than Eowyn: I noticed in this read the significance of the fact that Aragorn pardons and dismisses the forces of Mordor. To Tolkien, a veteran of WWI, I doubt this have been a minor point, and I think he's very deliberately setting down what he believes the good and noble thing to do is. This also, I think, should play some role in the endless argument over racism in Tolkien, as the allies of Sauron are clearly not intrinsically evil. (Well, either that or Aragorn is a great fool to make peace with them.)
13. Gorbag
Actually, Ioreth is The Hobbit Writ Large, Every(wo)man in his/her Sunday best; and I have no doubt that that is why Tolkien put her in this chapter. Where there are no hobbits to gently bring the tone down to our level, we have Ioreth to give it a sharp yank to bring it down to Earth.

her analogy in The Tale of the Children of Hurin is Sador ...
Hugh Arai
14. HArai
@Kate: I always thought it showed Eowyn, like Faramir, was smarter (more enlightened?) than most of the Rohirrim and Boromir's followers among the people of Gondor. Moving past the empty desire for "glory in battle" to focus on more important longer lasting things. As tonyz pointed out, she killed the Witch King and lost Theoden in one bloody encounter. It would be strange to me if she could still convince herself being valiant in battle was the sum of her ambitions.

@10: Haleth who lead the Second house of the Edain was definitely human and not a homebody.

@11: I don't think I would say it ended worse for the women in the family though. Tragic doom family-pack edition!
15. fls
I was always kind of disappointed about Eowyn, too, not that she and Faramir get together, but that it seems to happen by making her less, not an equal. Maybe they are able to understand each other in the context of their negative personal experiences? I'd have liked it if their relationship developed as two strong, equal individuals coming together and evolving into new (leadership) roles.
16. John Biles
As noted in the History of Middle Earth, Tolkein originally planned for Eowyn and Aragorn to marry, then changed his mind for reasons that his son was unable to reconstruct for sure. It's intended here to come off as her abandoning violence for something better; Faramir's earlier speech about how he does not love the sword for its sharpness, etc, shows him doing the same thing. This is how she overcomes her shell-shock and the same for him.

But it comes off badly, partly because it's too rushed, partly because Tolkein's own experience with women was pretty limited.
Geoffrey Dow
17. ed-rex
I wouldn’t care that she was giving up the sword to be a healer if she weren’t the only woman in LotR who is visibly and actively doing something that doesn’t conform to a very narrow and restrictive idea of what’s appropriate for women.

@ Kate, that's the first time I've come across an articulation of the discomfort with Eowyn's design to give up on war that makes intuitive sense to me. Previously, I've just answered with the point that Tolkien himself clearly honoured gardiners &ct, but your point is a good one. (I hate to say it, because Jackson's movies irritate me so much, but I thought his decision to give (was it?) Glorfindel's role, such as it was, to Arwen was just fine, largely because on some level, I too - even as a male - found and find the lack of women's parts a major flaw in the book.)
All that said, unlike you, I did buy the romance. It came across as arch and old-fashioned, maybe, but still moving because, still basically believable, in terms of who Eowyn and, to a lesser extent, Faramir, are as characters we have come to know.

All the words and sentences are happy ones; but when I read this, I can’t help but remember that there is no Minas Tirith, that its preservation of memory and glory is itself now memory, and that there’s no city of mithril and marble and trees in which walks dwarves and elves anywhere in the world. Yes, even though I don’t buy, even when I’m reading the story, that Middle-earth is our past. Since that doesn’t make much sense, probably it is just the season...

I think that makes a lot of sense and is quite consistent with your reading of the book thus far. And one that is quite different from mine.
I think Tolkien was well-aware of the contrast between the in-story happiness of the renewed Gondor, and of his readers' certain knowledge that that Gondor, and its multicultural and (literally) multiracial late Golden Age have been utterly erased from history - or would have been, if not for the miraculous preservation of a copy of the Red Book.

He meant for his readers to weep at the contrast and his spell sure as hell worked on this reader.

jaspax #12:

And now for something other than Eowyn: I noticed in this read the significance of the fact that Aragorn pardons and dismisses the forces of Mordor. To Tolkien, a veteran of WWI, I doubt this have been a minor point, and I think he's very deliberately setting down what he believes the good and noble thing to do is ...

That's a really good point. I can only add, that he was not only a WWI veteran, but would have been witness to the Treaty of Versailles and all that (arguably) came after as a result of it.
Tony Zbaraschuk
18. tonyz
Realistically, of course, it doesn't lead to total peace -- there is reference in the Appendices to Gondor and Rohan fighting several later wars as well. It wouldn't be surprising if not all of Mordor's servants took Aragorn's mercy in the sense it was intended. But such is life in Arda Marred.

And, yes, going from swordmaiden to healer is a promotion, in Faramir's terms (and Tolkien's), and I think it's partly Eowyn's sense of that, and acceptance of it, which accounts for some of her reaction to Faramir. It's an entry into a higher civilization, and a higher ethical standing.
19. Anna_wing
I don't think that within the story Eowyn is diminished. I agree with other commenters on the point that healing is a better thing to do with one's life than killing, regardless of one's sex. But in addition to this, going from spare princess of Rohan (which she will be once Eomer marries and has heirs) to number two woman in the soon-to-be Empire of the West cannot be considered a bad career move.
20. EmmaPease
I wonder how much fighting Faramir did after this chapter? It is Eomer and Aragorn who are mentioned as later leading armies (perhaps retaking Harad), not Faramir. And as Steward he would be expected to take care of the day to day duties of managing Gondor, not fight unless Gondor itself was invaded again.
Soon Lee
21. SoonLee
Would Eowyn renouncing the sword be more palatable if Faramir also did the same? We know that Eomer & Aragorn had other battles to fight in the 4th Age, and presumably Faramir (the Steward) would have to remain in Minas Tirith with Eowyn. For me, it would take the sting off Eowyn, the only female warrior renouncing the sword if she & her husband both did it, and by embracing non-violence demonstrate greater nobility.

I always felt that the Eowyn/Faramir romance happened a little bit too quickly, a little too conveniently for my liking.

The elegiac tone of the chapter, with Minas Tirith preserving the memory and the glory of the years that were gone fits the idea of diminishing times.

"Remember the First Age when everything was so much more Epic?" Brandishes staff at the young children, "Get off my lawn!"
Wesley Parish
22. Aladdin_Sane
Mind if I make the point that Eowyn's latest role model has been Aragorn; and Aragorn has shown himself to be not only a warrior but also a healer, something that we hear - from Ioreth no less - is not seen as being fully compatible in the modern Gondor?

I don't think she would regard it as a demotion. She has gone to war in hope of dying and getting quit of a horrible situation where she sees no hope for herself; she has had her life restored to her by the man who is her "reluctant hero" after she has committed one of the bravest deeds in the entire war, standing up to something that casts uncontrollable supernatural terror on its opponents; and she decides she now wants to heal others.

I'd say it's a sign of personal growth; and in token of that, she and her husband are offered the chance to heal the land of Ithilien.
Andrew Foss
23. alfoss1540
Since we are talking about Women, have we noted about the lack of Mother's and Father's with the characters? Frodo - orphan. Sam has the Gaffer, but where is Mom? Merry and Pippin - large families but not much about parents. Gandalf? Aragorn - Mom but raised by elves. Gimli? Legolas? Boromir and Faramir have Denethor but little about Mothers. Definitely a theme.
David Levinson
24. DemetriosX
@20, 21: Actually, Faramir did quite a bit of fighting in later years. As Prince of Ithilien, he spent several years rooting out orcs and whatnot, according to the Appendices.

Another factor in Eowyn's depression which I forgot to mention is the knowledge that she, in effect, betrayed a trust placed in her and her role as a member of the royal house of Rohan. Rather than staying behind and leading, she sneaked off to the war. Had she and Eomer both been killed, then there would have been no one left to be king. The reality of that possibility was made very clear to her by her witnessing of Theoden's death and her own close call. All that must have weighed on her, too.
25. Nicholas Waller
"the apex of the high-fantasy content of the book" - one advantage or anyway effect of this is that you feel, like the hobbits themselves, that it is time the hobbits went home. They - like the millions of WW1 and WW2 lower ranks - have done their bit while the big crisis was on, but now it is over, let's go.

As for Eowyn and Faramir's romance, it is a cursory and largely offstage as far as our view of their interactions is concerned, but it strikes me as not entirely implausible because we-the-audience have come to know Faramir's and Eowyn's characters separately and they appear pretty suited. (For some reason I'm reminded of the BBC TV romcom series Love Soup, where we follow - seperately - a couple of characters who are looking for love; we-the-audience know they're right for each other, but in this case they are always unaware of each other's existence and never meet. Something a bit like that might have been a good trick for Tolkien to have tried, though his world is too fate- and doom-driven for that to come off, probably).
26. Dr. Thanatos
This chapter was for me the end of the fairy tale. The handsome prince gets the princess , and the king gets crowned, and the prophecies are fulfilled, and there is much flowing of the mead, and much talk about the days of the King, and how great they were, and how if only we vote out the crooks we can return to the glorious fictional days of yesteryear . This part of the story is necessary, considering that it is clear all along that the hobbits are witnesses to epic history even though they are ignorant of much of what is going on about them.

I had no issues with Eowyn deswording herself, in the context that she comes to realize that war is not the be-all and end-all of existence, but an unpleasant necessity. I personally don't feel compelled to force a late 20th century viewpoint on an early-to-mid century writer; I think her actions are very appropriate for the context. Also she renounces the sword and aims for a higher goal of healing before moving on to her next statement do and I would look fabulous in your gowns."--sorry Faramir, it was just too easy]. I did not see her change being reduced to outgrowing her crush; just the opposite, her growth and change allowed her to outgrow the crush.
Alex L
27. Quercus
The "In his time..." passage is melancholy, because it does allude to the rewards of victory being transitory (even if you don't take Middle Earth as our world). "In his time..." suggests that when the history was being written the new golden age was a thing of the past, while on later readings you know that the "People of the Wood" departed for the Havens and the West, that the "People of the Hill" are gone. Minas Tirith carried the memory of what once was great into a new age, and was wonderful itself, but only for a time.

This is entirely consistent with the rest of the history, such as the end of the Silmarillion proper;

If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred.

The story of Middle Earth is a tale of lost glory, preserved for a while in memory, and it is fitting that this melancholy appears even in the moments of high triumph.
Soon Lee
28. SoonLee
DemetriosX @24:

Ah well, it was worth a try.

Kate, I've mentioned earlier that I like Ioreth as a character because she feels like she's drawn from a real person (though not one I would want to spend too much time with), she provides an alternative view of Gondor (it's not all soldiers and battles) and a slightly absurd juxtaposition to the pomp & circumstance of the proceedings, though I can totally appreciate how she might be fingernails down chalkboard.
Geoffrey Dow
29. ed-rex
SoonLee @28: I agree with your defence of Ioreth. Though she would drive me to full distraction in real life, as a character I fully believe in her and even enjoy her. And as someone else suggested above, as "a slightly absurd" counterpoint to the pomp and circumstance she also plays the part the now much -more-sophisticated Hobbits no longer can, of bringing the whole High Fantasy down to earth, as it were.
30. Foxessa
In additional defence of Ioreth -- she did know about the healing herb in the Hands of of a King. Also, when it comes to the chaos of a military hospital during battle and the aftermath, she may chatter but she WORKS, can take and give orders, and make order out of chaos.

Love, c.
31. HelenS
I always thought of Eowyn as becoming a doctor -- does that make it any better? Though if she has to work with Ioreth and the herb-master ...
Michael Ikeda
32. mikeda

Legolas is the son of Thranduil (King of the Woodland Realm). Gimli is the son of Gloin, and accompanied him to Rivendell.

(We don't know whether their mothers are still alive, although there's no particular reason they wouldn't be.
33. Tol Brandir
Firstly; thanks for some insightful and fascinating reading. I would have liked to contribute more but, hey, ce la vie.

Is it interesting the focus in women in this chapter? Whilst the tenor is oh high fantasy (more accurately high medieval literature, JRR's speciality), most of the discussion here is about the two principle female characters: Eowyn and Ioreth. It seems to me that they are the 'true' story, the eternal story. Minas Tirith, Gondor, and even Middle Earth itself are all fading away but everyone knows an Ioreth (even if you don't like them), and everyone understands Eowyn's choices (even if you don't agree with them). These 'characters' are, for me, eternal and contrast brightly with the sense of the dimming of a very male world.

It is fascinating to conjecture about how much you can see the effect on Tolkein of WW1. The mothers and wives back home must have been a constant and a comfort.

One final thought regarding women in LOTR; there's some suggestion that Filling may have been a girl, Dwarven women were notoriously difficult to distinguish from menfolk. Would go some way to explain his/her connection to Legolas.
34. Tol Brandir
Sorry-predictive text.
35. pilgrimsoul
To drag things back to Hobbits--JRRT says that Merry was summoned to the Field of Cormallin for the Par--tee, so he wasn't around when Eowyn and Faramir got to know each other well, but before that after F first meets E, Faramir called for Merry and they had a pleasant conversation, and I like to picture the three of them walking and talking in the Gardens of the Houses of Healings before Merry sets off.
There is actually a point here. Faramir learns a lot from Merry who is perceptive but probably also discreet "more than Merry put into words" is something Faramir could pick up on.
JRRT never said as far as I know but maybe Eowyn and Faramir told the story of their romance to their little friends Merry and Pippin.
36. Dr. Thanatos
Eowyn a doctor? In scrubs? I love it!!!
But if anyone says anything even remotely suggesting "Grey Wanderer's Anatomy" I will go all Angmar on them...

Tol Brandir@33,
I never suspected Gimli being anything other than male, especially since he kept referring to himself as "son of Gloin" but this is thought with much potential. Could he have been Legolas' beard?
37. Jerry Friedman
On the Tree and the wedding: How does Aragorn know the sign for his marriage will be a living White Tree? It makes sense in conventional symbolism, and his people are foresighted, but he seems to just take the connection for granted.

It's interesting that he sees his future, if Arwen can't marry him, as not having an heir rather than as contracting a loveless marriage to do his duty to his kingdom.

Isn't it a little presumptuous for him to say, "I have found it," when Gandalf found it? On the other hand, I'm glad he exclaims in Quenya in moments of great emotion.

Why is Elrond's acquiescence to the marriage secret so long? Playing the heavy father till the last minute? Gandalf wants to see Aragorn's little eyes light up? That may be nice for birthday presents, but it strikes me as a shabby way to treat a grown man and the love of his life.

I think we can conclude that Aragorn wasn't watching Rivendell with the palantír, maybe out of respect for Elrond and Arwen or for their apparent desire not to tell him anything. And Elrond didn't send any messages even though Eriador is safe now. But when the wedding party entered Rohan, why didn't the Rohirrim send messages to Aragorn posthaste? I think this part would read just as well if Minas Tirith had a few days rather than a few hours to make ready.

alfoss1540 @ #23: I agree that an outstanding characteristic of LotR is the absence of mothers, wives, and girlfriends. In addition to the large number of widowers such as Theoden and Denethor, Elrond's wife is elsewhere, Bilbo and Frodo have apparently never had any interest in hobbit-maids, and Merry and Pippin show no sign of missing even female friends. Then in this chapter, things change. I suspect this has to do with Tolkien's time in mostly male surroundings during the war, followed by a return to civilian life.
38. Helens
I thought Elrond was a widower, too, but apparently Celebrian didn't die at the hands of the orcs as I had assumed, but went West afterward. Shows how carefully I read the appendices.
39. formerly DaveT
Jerry Friedman @37:

"How does Aragorn know the sign for his marriage will be a living White Tree?"

As I read it, he didn't -- he was waiting for "a sign", and that one was unmistakable, given what the White Tree had used to mean.
40. Nickp
Jaspax @12,

"The Black Gate Opens" is another place where I think Tolkien is commenting on how he thinks WWI should have been handled. When some young men of Rohan and Gondor cannot face the horror of Mordor, he gives them a task that they can handle and lets them go. My understanding is that in WWI, those who wouldn't or couldn't go "over the top" were sometimes shot pour encourager les autres. e.g. this article in the Guardian.

re: Ioreth. She reminds me intensely of certain relatives. My wife and I call it "verbalizing the internal monologue."
41. Jerry Friedman
formerly DaveT @ #39: What had the White Tree used to mean?

Aragorn says, "...I too shall grow old. And who then shall govern Gondor and those who look to this City as to their queen, if my desire be not granted? The Tree in the Court of the Fountain is still withered and barren. When shall I see a sign that it will ever be otherwise?" That's where I think he takes for granted a connection between the Tree and his marriage.

I don't mind Ioreth, for reasons others have said. However, this chapter contains the writing I dislike the most in the whole trilogy: the Eagles' song and the line of narration that follows it.

No comments on Éowyn's and Faramir's hair mingling? That struck me as strange and probably involving magic, as well as the closest thing in the book to an erotic image. And how long is his hair?

I agree with Kate about why Éowyn's change of heart is unpleasant. I'd have liked it better if she'd seen a role for herself in governance, based on her courage, her unique experience, her eloquence, and her strength of character. Then marrying Faramir would have been a good career move. I'd also have like him to object to "tamed".

Thank you, Kate, for pointing out the "V-shaped" pattern of this last book. But I can't agree that things get sadder from here on. "The Scouring of the Shire" contains fun of a kind we haven't seen yet (tearing up Rules).

And thank you, Lsana, for pointing out that Faramir's and Éowyn's courtship is the only extended scene with no members of the fellowship present. (There's a sentence or two from the point of view of a fox and that of Mouthie that might count.) I'd like to imagine Frodo saying, "I'm writing a book about the war, and I think you two should be in it. Can I interview you?"

DemetriosX@ #5: Doubtless you know more about medieval romances than I do, but I wonder whether it's a modern touch that Faramir and Éowyn are drawn together by their shared fear. Anyway, I like it. In general, I wonder how much Tolkien got from the medieval literature he knew so well and how much from 19th-century historical novelists such as William Morris and S. R. Crockett.

@#24: Where in the appendices does it say Faramir had to fight orcs and others in Ithilien? In the comments on the previous chapter, Steve Morrison told us Tolkien had said that in a letter, but am I missing something in the text?
42. pilgrimsoul
Hi Jerry @41 I'm not one of those commenters you were addressing but I can answer some of your questions.
The information about Faramir fighting orcs etc is from JRRT's letter in reply to a fan's complaint about how his being Prince of Ithilin was a market garden job.

The White Tree is more complex. As you know trees had a profound sigificance to JRRT. I think they meant enduring life to him. Anyway. The Elves had light-giving trees in the Far West that were destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant, but copies were made and one was a gift to the Numenorean Royal Family. Isildur managed to get away with a seedling IIRC and planted in in Gondor but it withered away when the royal house of Gondor failed. Finding another and it's blossoming is nature responding to the survival of Elrond's blood in Middle Earth and the reestablishement of the dynasty because Arwen is coming to marry Aragorn.

Also I still think the Faramir/Eowyn romance was related to Merry and Pippin who were connected to them.
43. Jerry Friedman
pilgrimsoul @ #42: Hi again, and thanks for clearing up the source for Faramir.

Maybe I haven't made my minor difficulty with Aragorn's assumption clear. The last king of Gondor died in 2050, and the previous White Tree died in 2852 (the same year that Steward Belechthor II died). So I can't really see saying that it withered away when the royal house failed, which would justify Aragorn's thinking that a new one would signal the establishment of a new house.

I'd have no problem if the paragraph went like this: "'And who then shall govern Gondor... if my desire be not granted?' But then he saw with the foresight of his people, and he said, 'Lo! it shall be granted when the White Tree blooms in the Court of the Fountain. But the Tree is still withered...'" However, he just casually makes the connection and expects Gandalf to understand it.

On Éowyn and Faramir, are you suggesting that their marriage reflects the closeness between Merry and Pippin? There are certainly three corresponding pairs—Merry and Pippin, Rohan and Gondor, and Éowyn and Faramir—which I'd never noticed quite that way before. But I see the connection as more through Rohan and Gondor.
44. (still) Steve Morrison
The letter in question is reproduced at and may be of interest since it gives us Tolkien’s take on Éowyn’s motives as well.
45. Your mailbox is full.
Kate scripsit: And because she’s the only one, when she rejects the sword, it feels like a statement about what women, all women, ought to do

I've always felt uncomfortable about Eowyn, for the reasons you mention. Almost all of her appearances reinforce Tolkien's admission that he "can't write women" (whether he should have tried harder is another question). However, on the subject of her renouncing the sword and becoming a healer, I think Tolkien is actually identifying her with his own views in later life, rather than saying that this is "proper women's work". I get the same vibe from her comment that "those who do not take up the sword can still die by it".

Having lived through two world wars, and fought in the trenches in one of them, Tolkien was horrified by the consequences of war even though he reluctantly accepted that war was sometimes the only option. In the very few untroublesome Eowyn moments, I think we are seeing Eowyn-as-Tolkien, compared with the rest of the time when she is Eowyn-as-One-Dimensional-Woman.

Other than that, my candidate for "Most Awesome Lines of High Fantasy Evah":

"The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office." And he held out the white rod that was the insignia of the Stewards
Aragorn gave him back the rod. "That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs' for as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!"

Makes me shiver when I read that. Even more so when I hear Rob Inglis reading it.
46. Jerry Friedman
Steve Morrison @ #44: Thanks for the link to that letter. The most remarkable thing for me was that Tolkien puts the word love in quotation marks when talking about Faramir and Éowyn and seems to prefer relationship. I'd have given good odds he'd have disliked that as mealy-mouthed modernism. And Faramir says he loves her. Is this Tolkien's irony? Is Faramir talking about something that's not real love?
Ian Gazzotti
47. Atrus
On my first reading I was disappointed too by Eowyn's choice, but as I grew to understand Tolkien better I saw how it is not a diminishing but a growth. Eowyn renounces war as a matter of glory and beauty, which was the view of the Rohirrim - a view that both Faramir and Tolkien rejected, viewing war only as a necessary evil in the defense of what they loved - and accepts the much harder, much less glorious but in the end much more *important* task of rebuilding what has been broken.
I understand that on a first glance it can read a lot like "woman, drop your sword and do your dishes", but I feel there are many men in the end that choose to be healers/builders over warriors: Sam, Gimli, Faramir himself. It's true that they keep the option of wielding a sword in times of need, but I'm not sure they believe it to be a privilege rather than a burden.
48. elenilote
First time commenting, though I have been following this for a while now...
@ Kate, you have spurred me on to start my first complete re-read in many, many years - thank you!

In the matter of Eowyn's 'choice' of giving up the sword, I agree with Atrus #47 in this that she chose not a lesser path, but in a way a _more_ important one, after all both Rohan and Gondor are countries in relative ruin. Her marriage to Faramir would have seemed on both sides to be a very real sign of better things to come. Aragorn's marriage to Arwen would not have held the same significance to the 'common man', after all he was the _King_, marrying a real _elf princess_!
50. formerly DaveT
Jerry Friedman @41:

The White Tree was the signifier of the kingdom of Gondor. The text makes it clear that the health of the tree (or its seedlings) was closely tied to the fortunes, and the legitimacy, of the kings of Numenor and Gondor.

Telperion was the White Tree of Valinor, the eldest of trees, from whose dew and blossom Varda made the stars and the moon. The Eldar gave a seedling, Nimloth, to the Kings of Numenor as a gift. The maintenance and health of Nimloth the Fair mirrored the health of Numenorian society -- as Numenor became decadent, the tree was untended and declined, until Ar-Pharazon had it cut down and burnt at Sauron's urging. But Isildur had stolen a fruit, which he planted in Minas Ithil after the escape from Numenor. This seedling, too, was destroyed by Sauron, but again a fruit escaped, which was planted in the hallows at Minas Tirith. Sauron clearly placed great importance on destroying the tree; and the line of Isildur placed equal importance on its preservation. "Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree".

For Aragorn, looking for a sign that the time had come to attempt to re-establish the lineage of the kings, a seedling of the White Tree was a real clue-by-four.
51. Jerry Friedman
formerly DaveT @ #50: I promise this is the last time I'll try to explain this. What bothers me is not so much that it's a clue-by-four as that it's a clue-before. Why is that the sign Aragorn expects when he's talking with Gandalf before Gandalf leads him to the White Tree? Why should he be sure the sign can't be a comet or seven, or nightingales nesting on his windowsill, or a dream? Why isn't he wondering when he'll get perfectly mundane messages from Elrond and Arwen, or whether he should go to Rivendell and ask Elrond for Arwen's hand?

(And even after Gandalf shows him the tree, why is he sure it isn't growing "merely" for the defeat of Sauron and re-establishment of the kingship?)

I suppose one possibility is that Gandalf had told him offstage at some point that a new White Tree would be a sign of his marriage.
52. pilgrimsoul
@Jerry 51 Not sure this will satisfy you, but the White Tree was the device of Gondor. Arwen embroidered it on the banner she sent Aragorn, so a living White Tree signified a renewed and growing Gondor to Aragorn and Gandalf. Without an heir the kingdom could not endure, and without a wife there could be no heir. That's what they are talking about before they go looking for the sign.
Michael Ikeda
53. mikeda
Jerry Friedman@51, pilgrimsoul@52

Note that Elrond had already granted permission for Aragorn to marry Arwen. However, the permission was conditional.

From the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen (Appendix A):

(Elrond is speaking to Aragorn)

"Maybe, it has been appointed so, that by my loss the kingship of Men shall be restored. Therefore, though I love you, I say to you: Arwen Undomiel shall not diminish her life's grace for less cause. She shall not be the bride of any Man less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor."

So finding a living seedling of one of THE symbols of Gondor could be seen as a sign that the kingdom would prosper and thus, that the time was right for Arwen to marry Aragorm.
54. Jerry Friedman
pilgrimsoul @ #51: I'm afraid you're right—that doesn't satisfy me.

On the subject of heirs, the legitimate dynasty could probably continue even if Aragorn doesn't marry Arwen or anyone else. Aragorn must have a next of kin among the Rangers. And I'm sure he's responsible enough to let people know who his heir is in case a sixteen-ton weight falls on him before he gets Arwen pregnant.

mikeda @ 53: I read that passage a little differently. Elrond implied that he'd probably give consent if Aragorn became king of Gondor and Arnor, but he didn't give conditional consent. It was more like, "Become king, and then we'll talk—and your chances are good." Or if you like, becoming king was a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Thank you both for the replies.
55. Sjoerd van der Weide
Where is the next issue (it now is 28 days after the last one...;)?
56. pilgrimsoul
@Jerry 54
Sorry. I tried. The way Aragorn is talking just before the tree finding it seems to me that he believes the kingdom can't continue without an heir of his own body, and I think he would not marry anyone but Arwen. He's fulfilled Elrond's conditions but still awaits a sign.
58. Tajana
I personally love this chapter, especially the parts with Eowyn and Faramir. If you take into consideration that even though Eowyn was a good and brave fighter, and somenone who hated not being envolved because she was a woman, she was also very SAD for most of her life. She had to develop an iron heart to live normally every day, but she still couldn't cope with the hard situation she was in, so she rode to war to die. I think that meeting Faramir made her see the strength and beauty of peace and love. She met a man who suffered very similary for a very long time, but still has the strength to believe in gentle things. I think that her realising these things and the fact that she started admiring a new kind of strength than Aragorn's, is one of the most beautiful moments in this book. I'm not saying that all women should find quiet and peaceful things better. I'm a girl too, and pretty ambitious. But Eowyn was like that and wanted to fight only because of all her suffering, and she realised that to live happily without suffering was better for her personally, and that is good, because she ended up happier.

I also like the way the chapter is written, actually this was the one chapter where I thought> Oh, how beautifully Tolkien can describe her feeling, and Faramir's too...
I always considered myself pretty similar to Eowyn as she was written in Tolkien's books, so that is maybe why I can say that I agree with her decisions and I think that the words in which her feelings are described are very fitting.

But I agree with Kate that there are very few female characters in the books who do anything. But I think Tolkien wrote his own Eowyn and he knew best why she did what she did.
Kate Nepveu
59. katenepveu
Tajana, sorry I missed this until now. Like I said, Eowyn's choices make sense to me, they just also make me sad. What can I say, me and Walt, we contain multitudes. =>
60. Ardo
Hello Kate, a very insightful reading and thought. You've got to remember that this was written in the 1950s, where the language may be a bit archaic, right?
On the other hand, women don't just stay at home, cook and clean.
Isn't part of the problem that we define what's good and valuable based on the stereotypical man, so women end up feeling they have to be like him?
Doesn't Faramir's softer nature help her to realise that she doesn't have to live up to the expectation of this "Conan the Barbarian" figure? She's lived amongst her brother and uncle, and naturally felt that fighting is the way to prove yourself, but she then realises that actually there are other things just as honourable, if not more honourable than fighting. I don't see how healing is misogynistic, when she's using her intelligence, skill and quality to save lives, isn't that really admirable?
Also, she's been in a major battle, so like most men, she'd be suffering from PTSD, meaning her voice might break or go gentle.
But maybe if Tolkein had been a bit more "next generation savy", he might have invested more time into the romance between Faramir and Eowyn, and made it more believable for people like us. I think it is quite compelling, but if Tolkein coukd edit his books today then he would.
Thanks for your review though! ;)

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