When they had all drunk, the king went down the hall to the doors. There the guards awaited him, and heralds stood, and all the lords and chiefs were gathered together that remained in Edoras or dwelt nearby.
‘Behold! I go forth, and it seems like to be my last riding,’ said Théoden. ‘I have no child. Théodred my son is slain. I name Éomer my sister-son to be my heir. If neither of us return, then choose a new lord as you will. But to some one I must now entrust my people that I leave behind, to rule them in my place. Which of you will stay?’
No man spoke.
‘Is there none whom you would name? In whom do my people trust?’
‘In the House of Eorl,’ answered Háma.
‘But Éomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay,’ said the king; ‘and he is the last of that House.’
‘I said not Éomer,’ answered Háma. ‘And he is not the last. There is Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone.’
‘It shall be so,’ said Théoden. ‘Let the heralds announce to the folk that the Lady Éowyn shall lead them!’
Then the king sat upon a seat before his doors, and Éowyn knelt before him and received from him a sword and a fair corslet. ‘Farewell sister-daughter!’ he said. ‘Dark is the hour, yet maybe we shall return to the Golden Hall. But in Dunharrow the people may long defend themselves, and if the battle go ill, thither will come all who escape.’
Why did I open this post the way I did? Why include such a long book excerpt without commentary and without any explanation until after the “read more” cut?
Because I am here to tell a story.
Arguably, I have already been doing that and my teaching methods lean that way but I am here to tell you a story.
This story is about a valiant young woman, orphaned at a young age and taken in, along with her loving slightly older brother, by their loving and widowed uncle, to live as his own children beside his own son and heir.
She was the only woman in the family but she was also well-loved and close to every member of the family and was especially beloved by her uncle, the king of her home country, a land viewed as savage and barbaric compared to those farther to the south (even though the king’s father himself was raised in those lands and married a woman from them and they spoke both languages in the royal hall when the king was small).
Like her brother and cousin she learned to wield blade and to ride horses like she was born to it, which she in fact was, and became beloved for both her skill and her leadership, a captain among captains, even though her brother was the one sent out to ride and patrol and marshal the countryside and her uncle and his well being and sound leadership withered under the twisted council of a long-term advisor swayed to new loyalties.
The only heir left at home to protect her king and uncle (and every other inhabitant of the hall. and the entire country, since decisions made there affect everyone) from these predations and plottings and ill advice, and herself having to also stave off personal advances from this advisor, this valiant and loyal lady spent the growing years trying to survive and to protect as best she could while fearing a state of entrapment and stagnancy that would never be broken.
Finally released of her duties by the restoration of her uncle and the ousting of the predatory advisor, she was not in fact free after all.
Her people wanted her to lead and protect them while the king rode off to a likely fatal battle against the army mounted in secret by the true master of that scheming advisor, and to lead them after that, if the world survived the coming darkness and the king and her brother did not return (her cousin had already died trying to repel the very first advances of that army).
Love and loyalty and duty (and the love and loyalty and faith she was given by the people, both those she would be evacuating and protecting and those going to die against the secret army) guided her acceptance of the charge and her execution of her duties, but, when the king and his remaining forces returned and a muster was announced for joining the great war to the south, she could stand her cage no longer, even if it was now made of love and honour and faith in her skills as a warrior, leader, and future ruler of her country.
This decided, she spoke to one of the captains, who out of love and duty and faith consented to her wishes, disguised herself as a regular rider, took another left-behind with her (a man of one of the other peoples of her world, who had pledged himself to the king but was told he could not ride and fight beside him in the great war), and began the long and dangerous journey south to war and likely death, besides her beloved king, beloved uncle, beloved second father.
As much as she wished to achieve both glory and death in battle, only the first was to be hers. After every other rider was felled or driven off in fear, she defended the body of her uncle, crushed by his own loyal steed in its terror, from one of the greatest and most deadly enemies of their time, one who it was said no man could kill.
Unflinching in battle, she slew his terrifying and gruesome mount and then, after he shattered her shield arm, she, still unflinching and unafraid, ended the deadly unlife of that enemy after a dagger-stab from her fellow left-behind (who shook off his terror and the blindness it caused when he heard her voice and wanted, if nothing else, to not let someone so valiant die alone) undid the magic that bound him to a physical form.
Her brother and his remaining men were strong in the face of the king’s corpse, doing him honour and accepting their new leadership, but they were driven to despair when they found her seeming corpse and rode off singing songs of death and planning to die in one last great charge against the enemy.
A valiant captain from the south prevented both their deaths and the death of our valiant heroine when he came across her corpse being carried into the city and held his vambrace to her mouth, noting that she still lived, if only barely.
Called back to the world by her brother and her love for him when a wanderer from the north, the true king of the lands above and below her own, used his herb lore on her, she recovered not just from her broken shield arm but her blighted sword arm and spirit, struck low by the infectious utter despair and unconsciousness spread by the dread enemy she had slain, and fell in love with the less-loved second son of the steward of the ruling city in the south she had fought to break the siege of.
After long days of waiting and healing, separated from any further chance of battle and from her one surviving relative, word of final and utter victory came. The world would move on and continue, and, once she had interrogated the steward’s son, every bit as skilled and beloved a captain as she, though more loving of lore and song than of battle, as to the truth of his feelings and whether he still pitied her and whether he could handle the consequences of marrying someone from her kingdom instead of his own (because not everyone would be gentle and open-minded and her people were alleged to be crude and savage and she one of their sword-wielding women), she ended her story with peace and happiness. Her brother lived and would be king (and she at last would be free of the bounds of duty and honour and of ruling in action if not always in name) and her uncle taken home and interred with all honour and she, after the passage of time, would wed the steward’s son and go to dwell in the fair, far green country gifted by that king of the north and the south after they all had passed through the last battle and last waiting of the last war and darkness was purged from the world.
Now, what story did I just tell you? And why? And why not just say imagine x but in y way, if I am trying to do another teaching lesson with you on kicking down your mental brambles when it comes to writing queer characters?
Because I just told you The Lord of the Rings through Éowyn’s perspective. I told you the feelings and the emphasis and the soaring sense of victory and rightness when no one in Edoras would have anyone but Éowyn lead them and take up rule if the king did not return. And when Éowyn, with Merry’s help, slew the Witch King of Angmar. And when Éowyn was given an unequivocal happy ending, with someone who understands who she actually is, and when she was allowed to finally, finally do something other than just plain survival and the execution of duty (no matter how beloved her uncle and country are, it is still constricting duty) and when she was allowed to do that in a way that wasn’t death, even though she had thought that that would be her only way out of her long years of suffering and the reduction in her spirit, even as the world at large itself suffered and shrank.
And that’s what I want. I want you, when you follow through on what you say and promise about queer inclusion in your fictional worlds, to let us soar and triumph. Let us be that loved and trusted and valiant and daring and victorious and the hope of the world and the ones who get the happy endings with people who see who we are and want to be with us.
I love how this post ended up coming out and I love Éowyn and I say to you, here on the edge of the world – you could take this Éowyn, this story, and make this valiant and beloved Lady of Rohan a trans woman and not change a thing about the story.
You also could, but the point I want to make (besides just loving the idea myself – the Tolkien in my head is also much less white than what has been given in adaptation) is that Éowyn could be trans and could still be the beloved niece, the beloved sister, the beloved cousin and captain and leader, and everyone could still support and lend their voice to her. Hama could still speak for everyone and say that the people put their faith in Éowyn and will have no one but her lead them and take up leadership of the kingdom. Elfhelm could still know and not say that Éowyn had disguised herself as a regular soldier and rode in his company by the king into battle upon the Pelennor in the south. Éowyn could still stand tall and proud and unshaken before the Witch King and laugh in his face and proudly claim her name and lineage as “Éowyn, Eomund’s daughter” and end the blight of his existence on the world. And a kind ranger of Ithilien, beloved captain and gentle soul, less-loved second son of the ruling Steward, could still fall in love with her and proclaim his true clear love for her for all to see, and she could, after seeing to her country and to her uncle’s body once the war is finally over, wed him and live in peace and freedom with him in his beloved far green country outside the city.
There is no reason to take away her unequivocal happy ending or to introduce suffering and strife into her origins and narrative experience in order for her to be trans. That is the larger truth I am trying to tell, to teach you – you do not need to make us suffer in order to include us. We are not human shapes filled up with suffering and pain. We are people and we want everything that means. And, if anything, if you really need to go strongly in one direction – let it be in the direction that lets us live. Let us be swallowed by the whale and come out whole. Let us go into battle planning to die, defeat one of the greatest enemies of this fantasy age and … live through the experience and find peace and happiness and freedom. Let death be as malleable and flexible and non-permanent for us as it is for non-queer characters, especially non-queer main characters.
And, as an added, related, final lesson – let us be the ones protecting people, with our words and our wits and at the point of a blade and the valour of our leadership. Do not relegate us, when you do not kill us, to the realm of the protected, the realm of the good non-queers showing their goodness by protecting helpless, pained, punished, suffering queers.
Thank you, and may you all dwell in peace in fair Ithilien or take the white ships to the far green country or go home to a free and happy Shire, blessed with the only Mallorn tree West of the mountains and East of the sea.
Notes: I almost didn’t want to add anything to this at all, but if you want to know where in the novel I got the passage that opens this article, it is listed below. Also, you can read the masterpost and first and second posts in this series by clicking on their names. Thank you all again, and, as mentioned elsewhere, a donation to help me keep running this site and offering content (my site renewal costs are due in July and I also need to eat and pay other bills) would be amazing.
The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter Six, “The King of the Golden Hall.” Written by J.R.R. Tolkien.