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Eowyn is no pansy.
Tolkien has been accused of putting his female characters on a pedestal, and the lady of Rohan is no exception. From the moment she is introduced in The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is pining for battle. With good reason. She was orphaned at age seven when her father was murdered by orcs and her mother subsequently died of grief.
Eowyn’s origin story is worthy of Batman’s, and as any Eastern Asian martial arts movie will tell you, violent vengeance is the only solution to such problems. Deciding not to follow in Mom’s footsteps, Eowyn trains diligently in sword fighting and is referred to as a shieldmaiden. Step aside, Xena; there’s a new warrior princess in town. What’s more, she claims to be unafraid of death. My curiosity is peaked then, when Eowyn is asked what it is that she does fear. Her response? She is afraid of a cage.
In a world ruled by men, Eowyn dreads the drudgery of the duties assigned to her on the basis of her gender, such as tending to her dying brother. For her, these “womanly” tasks are confining.
The anime Attack on Titan opens on a similar sentiment. Here, the threat is the monstrous Titans, humanoid giants that look like the muscular system diagrams in your anatomy textbook (if the diagrams came alive and grew to six metres in height). Worse still, they eat humans. Yeah. Terrifying. Small wonder that humanity has retreated behind three concentric sets of stone walls to defend themselves. However, the boy Eren Jaeger is not content to live so besieged. Like Eowyn, he chafes under containment. Like Eowyn, he loses his parents to evil creatures. Like Eowyn, he is out for blood. His last name, in fact, is the German word for “fighter.”
The show makes it clear that the condition of the people living behind the walls is unnatural. Repeatedly, they are referred to as livestock, for their precious partitions serve to pen them in as much as to keep the monsters out. Fear has reduced them to something less than human, to something almost animalistic. It is fear that causes them to behave according to brutal, selfish instinct. Time and again, when put under stress, the crowds succumb to mob mentality, rioting and revolting. There is no sense of individual expression or of critical thought. They are beasts in a cage.
Perhaps this is what the apostle John meant when he wrote that “fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). Fear is inherently punitive because fear is inherently limiting. John goes on to say that “the one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). In other words, you cannot truly love someone if you are afraid.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow called this ideal state self-actualization, the best version of you that you could possibly be. It cannot be achieved under circumstances of fear. Fear holds you back. A kind of deceit is going on here. As singer-songwriter REVO proclaims in the theme song’s lyrics: “Our complacence as livestock strengthens this
So what is to be done about the crippling potency of fear? “Only the will to fight can change our world,” sings REVO. John’s terminology of love suggests the same transformative power, dependent on a God beyond human shortcomings. In both cases, an opposite action is required. “Perfect love drives out fear,” John proclaims (1 John 4:18). The title of Attack on Titan describes Eren’s purpose: to reverse the positions of the attackers and the attacked, to take the offensive, to break free of fear. One by one, the characters of Attack on Titan are forced to confront their fears, and not just of the Titans. Through their confrontations with the giants, they are forced to deal with their personal traumas, envies, and inadequacies. Overcoming these fears takes considerable conviction that the current state of things is not right, that it is not good enough. The truth recognized is that there is a higher, broader purpose for human existence.
Eowyn was on the right track, but she did not go far enough with her analogy. The cage is not something to be feared. Fear is the cage.