The Return of the King
by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph).
"You pardon, lord," said the man. "I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war. But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.
When the black breath blows
And death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!
It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. (5.8.67)
While Ioreth may be crotchety and perhaps too chatty, she still has wisdom in her old sayings. Ioreth's chatterbox nature is likable, whereas this guy—the herb-master of the Houses of Healing—seems like a patronizing jerk. He talks even more than Ioreth, showing off his learning regarding names, etymologies, and variations of plants. But he totally misses the importance of what he is saying in that rhyme of old days "which women [...] still repeat without understanding": "When the black breath blows [...] come athelas!" What does he think that means? Black breath, hello? While Ioreth may not match Galadriel in wisdom, she is still smart enough to recognize the truth in the old sayings she repeats, unlike this pompous old fool.
"When I first looked on her and perceived her unhappiness, it seemed to me that I saw a […] frost that had turned its sap to ice, and so it stood, bitter-sweet, still fair to see, but stricken, soon to fall and die? Her malady begins far back before this day, does it not, Éomer?"
"I marvel that you should ask me, lord," he answered. "For I hold you blameless in this matter, as in all else; yet I knew not that Éowyn, my sister, was touched by any frost, until she first looked on you. Care and dread she had, and shared with me, in the days of Wormtongue and the king's bewitchment; and she tended the king in growing fear. But that did not bring her to this pass!"
"My friend," said Gandalf, "[…] she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage; and her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff he leaned on." (5.8.79-81)
Thank goodness Éowyn is unconscious. Otherwise, we imagine this would be incredibly awkward—to have three dudes surrounding her sickbed and discussing her love life. To make matters worse, one of them is her brother and the other is the man she loves unrequitedly. Cringe. They are discussing what has made her ill: is it the frost that came into her heart when she fell in love with Aragorn and he didn't return her feelings? Or is it the shame of having been stuck alone in the House of Eorl with her elderly, possessed uncle and Gríma Wormtongue? Either way, we do appreciate that Gandalf acknowledges the fact that Éowyn has Éomer's "spirit and courage" but "the body of a maid." He at least seems to understand that it ain't easy being a lady in Middle-earth.
"It is too late, lady, to follow the Captains, even if you had the strength," said Faramir. […]
She did not answer, but as he looked at her it seemed to him that something in her softened, as though a bitter frost were yielding at the first faint presage of Spring. A tear sprang in her eye and fell down her cheek, like a glistening rain-drop. Her proud head drooped a little. Then, quietly, more as if speaking to herself than to him: "But the healers would have me lie abed seven days yet," she said. "And my window does not look eastward." Her voice was now that of a maiden young and sad. (6.5.22-23)
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Tolkien's depiction of Éowyn the warrior-woman is profoundly ambiguous. On the one hand, she is brave and stern. But somehow, this courage doesn't quite hang right on her female body. Her cool demeanor contrasts with what a woman should be—at least in Middle-earth's terms. Now that she has met a man who is apparently tough enough for her ("this tall man, both stern and gentle"), she is starting to soften and become more maidenlike, even in her voice. So, love is (apparently) making a woman out of Éowyn, much to everyone's approval. What gender politics does this transformation suggest?