"I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle. I thank you that I need not keep to my chamber."
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Here's an ever-evolving list of female characters who share some of the same traits is Éowyn. Some of them come from mythology, and were surely influences on J.R.R. Tolkien's creation of the Rohirrim shieldmaiden. Others are from history, classic literature, and drama.

This list was getting big, so I added the top menu for easier browsing. Don't forget to check out the extras at the bottom of this page--modern heroines, sisters you've suggested, etc.

Arwen Undómiel
Lúthien Tinúviel
Galadriel Alatáriel
Niamh Chin Oir
Mary Read
Ann Bonny
Ching Shih
Grace O'Malley

"Evenstar" Arwen Undómiel
The Lord of the Rings

She and Éowyn don't travel in the same circles in LotR, which is probably for the best. A lot of Éowyn fans might not be too fond of the elven daughter of Elrond, but I like her. She gave up her immortality--after having been around for some 2,800 years--to marry Aragorn. This puts her on a short list of Half-elven folks who, having the choice of being mortal or immortal, picked the former, the most famous of these being the first king of Numenor, Elros, who was Aragorn's distant ancestor (so the symmetry's nice).

"Nightingale" Lúthien Tinúviel
The Lord of the Rings

Before Arwen and Aragorn, there was Lúthien and Beren. Lúthien's father forbid her to love the mortal Beren, and sent him on an impossible quest to steal one of the silmarils from Morgoth's crown. Lúthien rescued Beren (and even subdued Sauron in a one-on-one fight!), but both of them ended up dying--him of wounds and her of grief. In the afterlife, the god Mandos was so moved by Lúthien's singing that he restored the "Nightingale" and her love Beren as mortals and they lived out their days in Middle-Earth. Arwen is said to be Lúthien's likeness reborn.

"Radiant Garland" Galadriel Alatáriel
The Lord of the Rings

Another elf, but important because of her power and strength as a female character in LotR. Galadriel is Arwen's grandmother. She was born in Valinor, the mystical retreat of the Elves, but moved to Beleriand with her brothers. There, she met Celeborn, and when Beleriand was destroyed by Morgoth (so much so that it sank into the sea!), Galadriel and Celeborn became the rulers of Lothlorien, while most of the other elves went back to Valinor.

"Treasure" Freya
Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, from which Tolkien was greatly inspired, the two factions of gods--the Aesir and the Vanir--were always at war. Freya, a member of the older race of Vanir, eventually made peace with Odin, the leader of the Aesir. She and many of the Vanir went to live in Asgard with the Aesir as a token of friendship. Freya and Odin, who eventually became her husband, both took slain warriors to their halls of Sessrumnir and Valhalla. Freya's hall was also the sanctuary for mortal women.

"Golden Hair" Niamh Chin Oir
Celtic mythology

In Celtic myth, Niamh (Neev) was the daughter of the sea god Manannan. She fell in love with the mortal poet Oisin (Isheen), and invited him to her faerie isle to be her lover. They lived there for years until Oisin began to miss his homeland. Seeing Oisin's grief, Niamh let him return home, knowing she would never see him again.

"Protectress" Athena
Greek mythology

Zeus' pride and joy who sprang from his head fully-grown and armored (!) after he swallowed her as a child for fear that she would grow to be more powerful than himself. Instead, she became the favorite goddess of the ancient Greeks, symbolizing just about everything from war and justice to art and wisdom. Most of her statues have the familiar helmet, toga and shield, but I like this picture of her better.

Norse mythology

A tragic love story from Norse mythology with a happy ending. Ingeborg was imprisoned in Balder's temple by her watchful brothers to keep her away from her beloved Frithiof, whom her brothers thought was beneath her. Frithiof tried to break her out, but she refused to go with him out of honor to her family. She was married to an old chieftain named Sigurd, and stayed loyal to him. When Sigurd finally died of old age, the childhood sweethearts Ingeborg and Frithiof were married.

1st century Britain

In the first century in Britain, King Prasutagus of Iceni died and left half of his land to the Romans and half to his daughters. The Romans decided to take the entire kingdom for themselves, which led to the eventual revolt of the Iceni tribe, led by Prasutagus' widow, Boudicca, along with her daughters. She drove the Romans out of London and surrounding cities, but her rebellion was eventually crushed by the Roman governor Caius Paulinus. Rather than face slavery, Boudicca poisoned herself.

Greek mythology/ Homer's Iliad

The young wife of the noble Hector, the great Trojan warrior. She watched Achilles kill her husband, her father, and all seven of her brothers before she was taken captive by Achilles' son Neoptolemus. She bore him three sons as his mistress (much to the jealousy of his own wife who was barren). Eventually, she married Helenus, another Trojan captive, and lived out her life in Asia Minor.

Celtic mythology

She was one of the Celtic gods of the Tuatha De Danann, and the second wife of the god Midir. Midir's first wife was jealous of Etain, and cast a spell on her to have her reborn first as a mortal, then as a pool of water (!), then as a worm, and finally as a fly. Midir eventually found her and recovered her memory, but she was already in love with the Irish King Eochaid, and eventually went back to him to live out her mortal life as queen.

Greek drama/ Euripides' 'Medea'

The photo here is of actress Fiona Shaw performing at UC Berkeley in November of 2002. It's fantastically violent and bloody, and that's exactly what the story's like. Made infamous through the thousand-year-old play by Euripides, Medea is a woman who murders her own children rather than see them raised by their treacherous father and his new wife (that father being none other than the hero Jason). A rather brutal addition to the list, yes, but gets the point across nicely.

Greek mythology

When Antigone's brother Polynices died during an uprising, King Creon ordered his body left to rot outside the city walls. Defying the royal decree, Antigone sprinkled dirt on her brother's body in a token funeral (since proper funerals were serious business in ancient Greece). As punishment, she was bricked into a cave and left to die. Such tragedy is no surprise, considering she was the daughter of Oedipus (shown left).


A few people have suggested I include female pirates here, so I've done a little research. Pictured left is Mary Read, half of famous duo that also included Ann Bonny. Mary was raised as a boy in England and disguised herself as a male sailor before becoming a pirate.

Ann Bonny was born in Ireland, but grew up in colonial South Carolina. She eventually met "Calico" Jack Rakham, the infamous pirate, and joined up with his crew to escape a husband she no longer loved. Mary Read and Ann Bonny became friends, pirating together until they were captured in Jamaica, where they evaded execution by declaring their pregnancies.

Ching Shih was the leader of the 1500-strong Red Fleet, the formidable and unstoppable pirate force of the Pacific. Ching Shih was as ruthless as the worst of her male counterparts, but ruled her fleet as well as any general. She was so good, in fact, that no navy ever managed to stop her, and she and her men eventually retired in wealth and amnesty.

My favorite female pirate, though, was Grace O'Malley. Born in Ireland in the 16th century, Grace commanded her coastal clan's fleets (her father was clan chieftain) and ran raids against British invaders. She married and had children, but after her husband died she found herself without land or money. So she took to pirating, especially against the British residents on her family land. When British lords had her ships taken, she pleaded to the Queen of England. And when her son was arrested, she visited the Queen of England in person to beg for his release. When the Queen agreed, Grace became loyal to the Crown. Her son took her place commanding the clan fleet, and was eventually promoted to Viscount Mayo.

Chinese poetry

Mu-lan weaves, facing the door.
You don't hear the shuttle's sound,
You only hear Daughter's sighs.
They ask Daughter who's in her heart,
They ask Daughter who's on her mind.
"No one is on Daughter's heart,
No one is on Daughter's mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters,
The Khan is calling many troops,
The army list is in twelve scrolls,
On every scroll there's Father's name.
Father has no grown-up son,
Mu-lan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse,
And serve in the army in Father's place."

Other Sisters You've Suggested:
(For now, I'm sticking to literature and mythology, but these gals are certainly worthy of mention)

  • Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in the "Aliens" series)
  • Teena Brandon/ Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry")
  • Viola (from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night: Or What You Will")
  • Hedwig Robinson (John Cameron Mitchell in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch")
  • Dorothy Michaels/ Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie")
  • Tank Girl
  • Joan of Arc
  • Nikita (Anne Parillaud in Luc Besson's classic "Nikita")
  • Isabelle Eberhardt
  • Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss in "The Matrix" trilogy)

  • Other Heroines (and Heroes!):

  • The Nobel Nine - Say what? Since the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901, only nine women have received the prize, and even some of those had to share it with men. They are:
    • Baroness Bertha von Suttner
      Jane Addams
      Emily Green Balch
      Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan
      Mother Teresa
      Alva Myrdal
      Aung San Suu Kyi
      Rigoberta Menchú Tum

    Read Irwim Abrams' article on the Nobel homepage for more info!

  • American War Heroines - Too many to name! So many mothers, wives, and sisters sacrificed all during the American Revolution and Civil War. To read about some of these bona fide heroines, check out this page from Rootsweb.
  • The Nurse Sisters - Rebecca, Sarah and Mary Nurse were the most famous accused "witches" during the infamous Salem witch trials at the end of the seventeenth century in Massachussetts. Rebecca and Mary were ultimately both hanged, while Sarah survived.
  • Anne Frasier Norton - A yeowoman for the United States Navy, Anne died in 1918 of influenza, and was the first women in the United States to receive full military honors at her death. What's more, her pallbearers were all fellow yeowomen.

  • Did I miss someone? If you have a favorite sister and you want to see her included in these lists, email me and I'll do my best.