Monday, April 4, 2016

Musical Monday - Arwen's Song by Peter Hollens

Arwen in The Lord of the Rings isn't really a character. She's a prize. A reward for Aragorn to claim when he defeats Sauron and claims the throne of Gondor. She doesn't show up in the book in any meaningful way before the final pages, and has no real defining traits other than being particularly beautiful, being Elrond's daughter, and being in love with Aragorn. She is characterized entirely by her relationship to others, and seems to be an almost entirely empty vessel. She reminds me a bit of Rowena in Ivanhoe: After Ivanhoe has many adventures in which Rebecca features prominently, he runs off to marry Rowena because she's beautiful and he's been smitten with her from the beginning. We don't see much of the relationship between Ivanhoe and Rowena - we are just told that he's madly in love with her, when he triumphs she shows up to marry him, but we don't see much of their actual relationship. In a real sense, the wants, needs, and desires of the object of the hero's affection are irrelevant. Even her personality and the actual love affair that forms the basis for the relationship between the two characters is treated as a triviality. And so it is with Arwen and Aragorn as well.

Peter Jackson's movies expand Arwen's character a bit, amalgamating a couple of characters into her, including the elf lord Glorfindel. This gives her a bit more to do, but it doesn't actually make her into much of an actual character. Once she finishes rescuing Frodo at the Fords of Bruinen, she spends most of the rest of the movies mooning over Aragorn and fighting with her father like a rebellious headstrong teenager instead of the nearly 2,800 year old elf princess that she actually is. Then, undermining most of the limited character development that had been introduced into the character via the movies, Arwen then more or less falls onto her fainting couch in a swoon that can only be remedied if Aragorn is able to defeat Sauron. Her survival literally becomes a reward for winning the war and destroying the One Ring. But as a character, there's almost nothing there. Even her reason for refusing to take a ship to Valinor is reduced to the fact that she might have a baby. Basically, Arwen in the movies, with more or less one bright exception when she is introduced to the audience, is a mostly inert reward for the hero, and is treated like that by everyone around her, even being concealed behind a banner to be revealed like a big birthday present in the coronation scene near the conclusion of The Return of the King. Is it any wonder that so many people were disappointed that Aragorn didn't end up with Éowyn?

The really sad thing about Arwen's lack of personality and absence from the story is that it didn't have to be this way. When Tolkien wrote the story of other romantic pairings between a human and an elf, the female part of the relationship was a character who took part in the story. In one of the central stories of The Silmarillion,  the human hunter Beren and the elf princess Lúthien fall in love. Opposed to the relationship, her father Thingol sets Beren to the nigh impossible task of recovering a Silmaril from Morgoroth to prove his worthiness for her hand. Not content to sit on the sidelines while her man does all the work, Lúthien participated in the ensuing adventures. When Beren was captured and imprisoned in Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Lúthien set out to rescue him, eventually defeating Sauron himself to free her lover. The two worked together to gain entrance to the dread fortress of Angband, and it was Lúthien who beguiled Morgoroth into an enchanted sleep so Beren could pry a Silmaril from the dark lord's iron crown. Not only could Tolkien write more active, more complete female characters, he did. Several times. So one is left wondering why Arwen, who is supposed to be one of the most important characters in Aragorn's life, gets such a cursory treatment in The Lord of the Rings. Why does she show up once in a throwaway scene midway through the first book, and not show up again until the closing pages of the trilogy? Why do we not find out anything about her or why Aragorn loves her other than she is very attractive? Tolkien did much better so many times, so one has to wonder why he just mailed it in for this seemingly important relationship.

Previous Musical Monday: Marble Machine by Wintergatan
Subsequent Musical Monday: Carnelians by Point Valid with Catherine Asaro

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