I woke up yesterday morning still rather distraught from events of the day before, and wanting very badly to just put in The Two Towers and leave it playing while I cleaned house. So I did, and while I was watching, I realized something.
When we first meet Eowyn, she has been doing a thankless and depressing job: caring for Theoden King as he falls under Saruman's spell. Partly because of that, I think, Eowyn has come to desire and has chosen to learn the skills that in many ways belong to the men of her society. The women learn to fight, but Eowyn is an excellent swordsman; the women keep the society running, and while Eowyn can do that, she longs instead to seek after honor as the men do, seeking to accomplish deeds worthy of song.
Freed of her burden when Theoden is healed, she seeks to join the fight. If Aragorn had returned her love, perhaps she would have made herself content to take on the rule of her people until the King's return, and waited for Aragorn. Rejected, Eowyn followed the only other desire of her heart, and disguised herself to do battle--to die with honor.
I have long quoted Eowyn when asked what I fear the most: "A cage. To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone, beyond recall or desire." Fortunately, I have never found myself in such desperate straights as her death-seeking ride; nor, to my regret, have I been put in her position as the only one able to turn the momentary tide of battle by slaying the Lord of the Nazgul.
What I never really took note of is the change that comes over Eowyn after she has passed through all of this frustration, sorrow, rejection, and battle. It takes Faramir a good while to reach her, and longer to make her believe that he loves her, but when Eowyn finally sees light beyond her shadows, and free air beyond her iron bars, this is her response: "I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren."
As she saw her own contributions as worthless, and sought honor in another arena, one in which she knew it was needed, so now she makes another choice. What she can give now is herself, in every part, and she chooses that without exception. With her whole heart, just as she choose to ride to war.
I'm not trying to make any points about femininity in general, and I have a feeling that Eowyn might have done her share of fighting as she helped Faramir hold Ithilien against the wild orcs and creatures who survived the fall of Sauron. But Eowyn's deepest wounds were not the ones inflicted on her by the Witchking. They were her own, the pains of pride and fear and despair, and it took the recognition of love to show her the way to the freedom she had always desired.
I know this story well, but I never saw this movement of Eowyn's character so clearly as I do right now. It's really very beautiful, and to me, at least, it rings with truth.
I learn more from LotR every time I read/watch it.