What do you fear, Lady?

I fear a cage

I fear a cage, to stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them

And she answered: “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”

What do you fear, lady?” he asked.

“A cage,” she said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”


by J. R. R. Tolkien (3 January 1892 ā€“ 2 September 1973)
The Return of the King
chapter – The Passing of the Grey Company
image – glitter feet

Purpose and Mortality

I turned 50 a few days ago. It wasn’t a fun birthday. Nobody called. I didn’t go out. Those who remembered my birthday were from my online “family,” something I’m choosing to interpret as a sign of how comfortable I am with reaching out via the written word – no comments from the peanut gallery, please. Heh. I thought about how I got here, and how much I don’t want 51 to be like that. I was in the Shadow.

When I think of what’s gone, the rest of my life seems unreachable. When I focus on what I care about, what seemed like a cage becomes more of a fence, with gates and choices and more of the great beyond. I see my path. I see my Ring. And, I see Mr. Lande reading “The Hobbit” to my fourth grade class.

How in the world did Tolkien manage to get his hobbits into my midlife crisis? Well… there’s more to Tolkien than Renaissance faire speech and elves.

If a story is “real” there are real limits and pressures mixed with the fictional graces of character and plot. The passage I’ve quoted above touches on mortality, the role of women in society, respect and self-respect, and, just just a few lines away, there is an overlay of unrequited love and the fate of the free world. What a bundle!

Write a human fullness into one reality, and readers may find those hopes and challenges in their own lives.

Consider the atmospheric effect of real history. “The Lord of the Rings” was written between 1937 and 1949. World War II was from 1939 to 1945. Eowyn could have been Rosie the Riveter, but being herself and “of the House of Eorl” she’d yearn to go farther. I’d peg her as more of a Hanna Reitsch or Ann B. Carl – among the first female test pilots. Or, you could turn it around and wonder what these test pilots felt and thought, and find yourself taking test pilot shoes back to Middle-earth, or to a dedicated modern-day daughter’s resolve to be at the bedside of a sick friend today.

Eowyn’s thoughts aren’t reserved for heroic young maidens of the house of Eorl.

Tolkien doesn’t say what Eowyn was like after the fall of Sauron, or at 50. I’ll have to make that one up on my own. šŸ˜‰

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2 Responses to “What do you fear, Lady?”

  1. Prats Says:

    Thanks for quoting this one .. i love this … and everytiem i read it, it gives me a new zeal to move forward šŸ™‚

  2. ~beth Says:

    One of my favorite quotes. I’ve been thinking heavily on using it myself recently. This year was 35 for me and I had much the same thoughts. What, exactly, have I accomplished. What am I doing with my years? I, too, received many a birthday acknowledgement from my online friends more than real people. Even my boss forgot my birthday. I made a pledge that day to do more… to be more. I even posted it on my blog. Two months later and I’ve already lost motivation. Reading this has brought back that drive again. Thank you.

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