Signum Collaboratory

Eowyn and Dernhelm

Presentations Hall

This presentation was given by Dr. Sara Brown at BayouMoot 2023.  The abstract is as follows:

'“Éowyn it was, and Dernhelm also”: Reading the ‘Wild Shieldmaiden’ Through a Queer Lens'

The Éowyn we first meet in 'The Two Towers' is a woman who has been traumatised by the loss of her parents at a young age, the recent loss of her cousin Théodred, the apparent weakening of her uncle Théoden, and her inability to escape the lascivious gaze of Wormtongue. Marginalised by her gender and by social expectation, her desire to find purpose in her life as a shieldmaiden is repeatedly thwarted. Seeking to reclaim control over her life and to make her own choices, she rides out with the Rohirrim not as Éowyn, but as Dernhelm. 

Past scholars have usually read this as Éowyn taking on the guise of a man to achieve her desire to fight; viewed through a queer lens, however, something different is revealed. Reading her character through scholars such as Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam, I propose that Dernhelm is not a disguise at all but an intrinsic part of Éowyn: an outward projection of her masculine femininity in a non-normative expression of gender.
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