Mythmoot V: 07 - Crossing Frontiers from the Home front to the Battlefront

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The Bitter Watches of the Night: From Anne Elliot to Éowyn of Rohan—Crossing Frontiers from 

the Home front to the Battlefront

Jennifer Ewing

J. R. R. Tolkien is often accused of either not having enough female characters, or that those present are not as fully realized as his male characters. However, Tolkien’s keen understanding of the emotional challenges women face is revealed when we consider the surprising parallelism between the life of Éowyn of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings and Anne Elliot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Anne’s conversation with Captain Harville about which sex is more constant in loving the other seems an odd passage to compare with the discussion that Aragorn, Éomer, and Gandalf have at Éowyn’s bedside in the Houses of Healing, but it is exactly this comparison that demonstrates how Tolkien crossed the boundary from high fantasy into topics important in women’s literature. Anne claims that women do not forget as quickly as men do because women remain at home, subject to their emotions, while men go out into the world to work, and that distraction aids forgetting. Likewise, Gandalf observes that Éomer had his horses and fields, while his sister, because she was a woman, stayed home caring for her infirm uncle, enduring emotional suffering and feelings of uselessness. Anne’s explanation that “We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us” is eerily echoed by Gandalf: “Who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her?”

This presentation will discuss the nearly twenty commonalities found between the two women as they cross the frontier from the home front to the battlefront, including their paternal and sibling relationships, familial duties, appearances, choices of husbands, motifs of loneliness and death, and decisions about their futures. Even though they reside in two very different genres, by the end of their respective novels, these women become independent and resilient, knowing their own minds.

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