Our hobbits and Strider continue tramping their weary way south of the East Road. It’s the 16th day of the journey, and their 2nd day from Weathertop.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p199, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Yesterday, I wrote about how Aragorn told the hobbits the story of Beren and Luthien, and assumed that he thought of that story because he was thinking about the time when he first met Arwen. I got to the point when Aragorn told Arwen that she looked an awful lot like Luthien of Silmarillion fame. I stopped short of her reply.
“So many have said,” she answered gravely. “Yet her name is not mine. Though maybe my doom will be not unlike hers.”
This is a ridiculously loaded statement that requires quite a bit of explanation. First, let’s check out the word “doom.” Tolkien used this word to mean, more or less, “fate.” It doesn’t have to be bad, as “doom” is usually defined today. Arwen seemed a bit worried that her fate might be like Luthien’s.
So what was Luthien’s fate? This is a long story, which won’t be recounted here (read it in the Silmarillion, if you like). Basically, Elves are not mortals, and though they can be killed, they have no natural death and can live “forever.” In order for Luthien (an Elf) to be with Beren (a Man), she had to give up her immortality, essentially choosing death in order to love Beren.
Arwen was in much the same boat, though the backstory is a touch more complicated. So let’s head back in time to explain all of this away.
It all started with Tuor, one of the Children of Hurin. He was a mortal, but he fell in love with Idril, an Elf. Together, they had Earendil. At this point, when a Man and an Elf had a child together, the child was fully mortal, not being “elf” enough to be considered an Elf. This would soon change.
Earendil married Elwing, who was Beren and Luthien’s granddaughter. It’s a bit tricky, so let’s explain that.
Beren and Luthien had a son named Dior. He was a strange mix of half-Man, quarter-Elf, and quarter-Maiar. He married Nimloth, a fully-blooded Elf, and together they had a daughter, Elwing, who was then a Halfelf (technically 5/8 Elf, but close enough). Elwing then married Earendil, the Halfelf son of Tuor. Both were mortal due to their not-enough-elfness.
Anyway, the story gets pretty insane, and basically, shit went down and Earendil had to go to the West, Valinor, seeking the help of the Valar to put down the Dark Lord Morgoth. But here’s the rub – Valinor was completely off-limits to mortals. If mortals stepped foot in it, they would quickly die. That’s just how it worked.
Figuring he would risk it to save both Elves and Men, Earendil landed (climbing the hill of Tuna – seriously, Tuna) and Manwe, head of the Valar, heard him out, decided not only to save him from dying, but to help the Elves and Men against Morgoth. He also went a step further.
Manwe made it so that Earendil and Elwing, as well as their children would “be given leave each to choose freely to which kindred their fates shall be joined, and under which kindred they shall be judged.”
Both Earendil and Elwing chose to be Elves, but their sons, Elrond and Elros, each chose a different fate. Elrond, of course, chose to be an Elf, eventually winding up in Rivendell, while Elros chose to be mortal. From Elros’ line came the long string of Numenorian kings, as well as Aragorn. Once Elros made the decision to be mortal, all of his offspring would then also be mortal and would not have the choice to be Elves.
And since Elrond chose to be an Elf (immortal), his offspring would also have that choice. Arwen was Elrond’s daughter, and could choose the fate of either Elf or Man. “Though maybe my doom will be not unlike hers,” she said to Aragorn. At this point, the vote was still out. Would she be immortal like her father or mortal like Luthien?
Elrond was naturally not keen on this idea. “She is too far above you,” he actually said to Aragorn. Elves can be pretty dickish sometimes. “But there will be no choice before Arwen, my beloved [daughter], unless you, Aragorn, Arathorn’s son, come between us and bring one of us, you or me, to a bitter parting beyond the end of the world.”
I guess it’s pretty obvious which she chose, and by the time of the Lord of the Rings Arwen had made her decision, much to the dismay of her cranky father. Though Arwen had pledged her love to Aragorn, they would not be married until he was king (this was at Elrond’s begrudging request).
A Few Notes:
- Just for fun, let’s look at some dates, all from the Third Age:
241 – Arwen is born
2931 – Aragorn is born (so yeah, this makes Arwen 2,690 years older than Aragorn)
2941 – Stuff in The Hobbit happens
2951 – Aragorn and Arwen meet
2956 – Aragorn meets Gandalf and spends the next twenty-four years roving about the countryside.
2968 – Frodo is born
2980 – Aragorn and Arwen see each other again and become engaged to be married. Aragorn leaves again, doing Ranger type stuff.
3001 – Bilbo leaves the Shire and Gandalf calls upon Aragorn to help look for Gollum. This goes on for a very long time.
3018 – Frodo leaves the Shire and our story begins.
- When I started writing this post, I was a bit shaky on how and why the whole Halfelf mortal/immortal business worked. I think I’ve got it now, but if I’m mistaken in some way, explain.
- I know that I left a lot out of the stories, but that’s why we have books – dive in!
- Luthien was born before the First Age – meaning that she was born before the Sun was created and thus basically before time was really all that important (eh, sorta). Beren was born in 432 of the First Age. This would make Luthien no less than 30,000 years older than Beren (though time is a bit fuzzy here). Anyway, the Beren and Luthien story takes place in the 400s of the First Age, about 7,000 years before Aragorn and Arwen meet in the Third Age.
- Tomorrow we’ll dig into the writing history of all this. Be excited.
About the Photo
Since we’re talking about couples, I thought I’d share the only film photo I have of both Sarah and I together. When we travel, we take a ridiculous amount of photos, but rarely any with both of us in them. To achieve this photo, I actually had to set up a tripod and take a double exposure. I took the first exposure with Sarah in it, and she took the second one with me. Since the camera was not moved, it looks like we’re in the same shot, when really, we were not. This isn’t an allegory for anything. It’s just a photo.
- Day 56
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 271
- 189 miles to Rivendell
- 1,508 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop (map)