Helmets Off

I sometimes wonder if Lord of the Rings would get published if it were written today. For instance, it is peopled with almost nothing but guys from top to bottom, an omission few publishers would be willing to overlook given our current understanding of readership demographics—which is to say, 80% of all books are bought by women. That said, perhaps my favorite moment from the film version involves Éowyn, one of the story’s few female characters. Éowyn is a “shieldmaiden”, and the niece of the Théoden King of Rohan. Against her father’s wishes, she suits up to help defend Minas Tirith against an onslaught of orcs, donning a full helm to disguise her identity. Leading the siege is the Witch King, who, it is said, cannot be killed by any man. In the middle of the battle, the Witch King knocks Théoden from his horse. Éowyn leaps to her uncle’s defense, and the Witch King laughs, “You fool. No man can kill me.”

Éowyn then pulls off her helmet, her long blond hair tumbles out, and she says, “I am no man.” And kills him.

It is tempting to view this moment through the lens of gender and our concepts of strength and so on, but this, for me, actually diminishes its meaning. That Éowyn’s greatest contribution to the struggle of good versus evil was what lay beneath her mask is everyone’s story. It is everyone’s story to hide their true strength because if that true strength is different, if it is unique, then perhaps it doesn’t belong, or perhaps it will be unwanted, or perhaps it is not a strength at all but merely a deformity.

It is every bit like your writing voice. There comes a moment in most writer’s lives when they remove the helmet and speak as themselves. It can be both freeing and terrifying, for the Witch King of failure and irrelevance and mediocrity is surely laughing somewhere in our minds. If he were real, then it would be death for us all, since you cannot protect what you have always been anymore than you can stop being what you already are.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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