Academic journal article Mythlore

At Home and Abroad: Eowyn's Two-Fold Figuring as War Bride in the Lord of the Rings

Academic journal article Mythlore

At Home and Abroad: Eowyn's Two-Fold Figuring as War Bride in the Lord of the Rings

Article excerpt

RAISED IN THE COMPANY of great warriors, in a society that has taught her to glorify the battle-arts, Eowyn, Lady of Rohan, seems an unlikely choice as a participant in The Lord of the Rings' single romantic storyline. Noble, cold, and stern, she desires to find death, not to renew life; she searches for glory, not healing. Yet, amid the carnage and hopelessness of combat in The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien develops a courtship centered on Eowyn, one that is ultimately imbued with the same wartime ethos that surrounded the young women of World Wars I and II. (1) Eowyn, shield-maiden of the Rohirrim, and Faramir, a former captain newly succeeded to the title of Steward of Gondor, figure principally in what is popularly termed a "wartime romance"--a relationship characterized by an accelerated intimacy attributed to the pressures and fears of war, including the uncertainty of prolonged separation and death. As Tolkien constructs it, however, Eowyn's attachments are not so simplistically binary: Aragorn, son of Arathorn, has also attracted her affections, creating a system that actually allows for a comprehensive representation of the several incarnations of the World Wars' "war brides." Eowyn's respective relationships with Aragorn and Faramir thus cast her in the dual roles of war bride-left-behind and foreign war bride, and while comparison of her experiences with the courtship, marriage, and assimilation experiences of women in the war-torn twentieth century reveal her to be a negative example of the former, she is clearly, for Tolkien, a positive exemplar of the latter.

Though not usually pinpointed as a social issue in past periods of international warfare, the principles that lie behind the concept of the "war bride" make it a timeless and world-encompassing phenomenon--perhaps every bit as old as the span of human history. (2) Yet the term "war bride" is itself a relatively new one, seeming to rise into prominence in the social and cultural upheavals of the First World War that Tolkien experienced so intimately. Indeed, the first citation of the term's use in the Oxford English Dictionary--a project that famously provided Tolkien with his first post-war job (3) (researching for the W's, no less [Gilliver, Marshall & Weiner 7])--is dated 1918, the year the Great War ended ("War"). OED aside, the term appears often in the literature and even in the pop culture of the time. Writing during the First World War, for example, a woman named Ruth Wolfe Fuller, whose husband was drafted into the United States army two months after their marriage, subtitled her brief reminiscences, "The Experiences of a War Bride." Even earlier, in September of 1914, a short play entitled "War Brides" was written by Marion Craig Wentworth and was staged for the first time in January of 1915 (Wentworth 6). Detailing the choices of women in a war-torn country, Wentworth's drama enjoyed some notable success in the climate of the times. Little different is the climate of the Second World War; the term "war bride" surfaced repeatedly in the media, in movies like I Was a Male War Bride (1949), starring Cary Grant, and in popular radio shows, like "Fibber McGee and Molly." In one episode of "Fibber McGee," aired on 3 March 1941, Fibber receives a letter informing him that he is to report for induction into the army, as he has been drafted into the Armed Services. Although the letter turns out to be a copy of his original World War One draft notice, Fibber is convinced throughout the episode of the letter's contemporary authenticity. Upon hearing of her husband's seeming re-call into the army, his wife Molly cries, "Imagine me! A war bride! Again!" Molly's dismay at the prospect of a repetition of her experiences confirms that the previous war had produced a social figure that was being recognizably reproduced in 1941. War brides from Molly's generation even saw enough common experience between themselves and the new brides to introduce themselves on those terms--one newlywed from London who had made Canada her new home wrote, "I recall that the day after I arrived a friend of my husband's family came to call. …

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