sacrifice.htmlj8"JJ+DX5(aTEXTStMlm6>t Sacrifice and Sentiment: Aragorn, Arwen, and the Gift of Men

Sacrifice and Sentiment:

Aragorn, Arwen, and the Gift of Men

by Jacynthe Demorae

Should Aragorn have waited longer to set down his life? Should he have stepped down earlier, to spend his last days with Arwen? The answer to the second is contingent on the answer to the first.

To put Aragorn's decision into perspective, it is important to examine the succession practices of the Kings of Númenor, from whom he was descended. The first king of Numenor, with the longest reign, was Elros Tar-Minyatur. He ruled for 442 years, then voluntarily gave up his life at the age of 500. His succesor, his son Vardamir, was over 300 when he took the sceptre. He began the tradition of yielding the sceptre to the heir when the first sign of world-weariness appeared, to give up his life within years of abdication.

This period could be as little as a few months, as in the case of Tar-, or as many as fifty-two years, as with Tar-Melendur. (Though in his case, he abdicated for policy reasons, not because he felt his life drawing to its end.)[1] In general, a period of ten to twenty years elapsed between abdication and the willing death of the monarch.

This cycle was broken during the reign of Tar-Atanamir, called 'the Unwilling.' He was the first to retain the sceptre until his actual death, though his mental faculties declined drastically. Afterwards, it became the custom for the Kings to reign until their physical deaths (though mental infirmity in their last years often meant their heirs and ministers actually ran the country).[2]

With this change in the view of death-acceptance, the lifespan of the Numenoreans, even those of the Line of Elros began to steadily decline.

"Aragorn was counted as the last king of the Elder Days and was given the gift to lay down his life of his own free will, as the Númenoreans had in the early Second Age of the Sun."[3]  From the time of Elros Tar-Minyatur on to Tar-Atanamir 'the Unwilling,' the Kings of Númenor retained what Tolkien described as the main characteristic of mortal Men:

    "...the 'seeking elsewhere,' as the Eldar called it, the 'weariness'
     or desire to depart from the world...The first appearance of      'world-weariness' was indeed a sign that their period of vigor
     was coming to an end. When it came to an end, if they persisted
     in living, then decay would proceed, as growth had done...a      Númenorean would pass quickly, in ten years maybe, from health
     and vigor of mind to decrepitude and senility."

King Elessar lived to be two hundred and ten years old, the longest-lived Dunedain since King Arvegil of Arthedain. There was no gauruntee that his son and heir, Eldarion, would enjoy an equally long span. Indeed, Eldarion's reign lasted only for one hundred years after his father's death.[4] Seen in this light, Aragorn's decision to die is less arbitrary, and more a matter of the ticking of 'biological clock.'

Almost all other facets of the Elder Days had faded or passed away: the Great Rings and their bearers, the last of the High Elves, the palantir of Elendil that looked on Eressea. Of the Istari, only one, Gandalf, remained to return to the West. The Elven realms of Lothlorien and Rivendell were also fading, unable to sustain themselves without the power of the Three. The Fourth Age was the Age of Men, and the things of the Elder Days must then pass away--including the king.

He tells Arwen,

From the beginning, numerous obstacles prevented Aragorn and Arwen from being together. His mother Gilraen warned him off courting Arwen, saying, "...for without the good will of Master Elrond, the Heirs of Isildur will come to an end. But I do not think that you will have the good will of Elrond in this matter."[5]

Elrond himself had doubts, feeling his millennia-old daughter held nothing but distant kindness in her heart for her father's ward. It is also clear that Aragorn was unaware just what price Arwen's love would carry. Aragorn's future happiness required bringing sorrow and grief to the only father he had ever known. "You do not yet know what you desire of me," he told Aragorn. [ ]

Once Elrond learned of his daughter's choice, he set specific conditions, a 'bride-price' for Arwen: Aragorn must make himself High King of both Gondor and Arnor. No other Man would be worthy of her--or her sacrifice. Even then, Elrond feared Arwen would come to regret her choice. "I fear that to Arwen, the Doom of Men may seem harsh at the ending."[4]

Aragorn was in a poor position to begin building a kingdom. The Dunedain, the exiled Men of Númenor, had dwindled in life-span and numbers. Arnor had not existed in any form since since 1974 of the Third Age.[6] Gondor itself had been under the rule of the Stewards since . The people of the South-Kingdom had long ago stopped looking for the King to return. The phrase, "until the King returns,"[ ] had become empty ritual.

Nor was there any surety the South-Kingdom would accept him. During the War of the Ring, Denethor dismissed Aragorn's claim, noting that he is only the heir of Isildur, not Anarion.[] Anarion's line had ruled Gondor, after Isildur himself had set Merendil, Anarion's youngest and only surviving son, in charge. The line of the South Kingdom endured in office for years longer than that of the North.

He was the last of his line. If he had no children, the line of Isildur would die out, thus making all of the sacrifices of those who went before him in vain.

Aragorn risked everything: his life, the future of his people, his honor (because if he died, and the line of Isildur ended, who would take their place? Who would fight the Ring? Who would release the Oathbreakers, and let them after thousands of years, find rest? Only an heir of Isildur could do that!) All of that, just so he might be deemed worthy of marrying Arwen. If he could not marry her, he would marry no-one. Not so much out of refusal, but because he'd very likely be killed in the process.

Arwen Undomiel was a wise, gentle, loving, and strong woman, with gifts and talents befitting a woman of her rank and lineage. By that very lineage, a choice was set before her: the immortality (within the life of Arda) of the Eldar, or the Gift of Men. Neither was her natural state. Arwen's youth and immortality were dependant on her father. "For so long as I live in Middle-earth, they shall live with the life and youth of the Eldar, and when I leave, they may come with me."

Elrond's immortality, the result of his choice at the end of the First Age, had an umbrella effect over his children. If they chose to remain in Middle-earth after he sailed West, they would become as mortals (regardless of who they married). By association, if Elrond died in Middle-earth, or his children died, they would be as mortals.

Arwen's choice has been compared to Luthien's: a woman of Elvish parentage, choosing to surrender her immortality in order to live with her mortal lover. In Return of the King, Arwen tells Frodo that she has 'chosen as Luthien.' I challenge this and say Arwen chose as Elros.

Luthien's choice bought a second chance at life for herself and Beren, even though it meant exile from all she loved in the Land of the Dead That Live. It meant a parting beyond the end of the world from her father and mother, and the rest of her people. Luthien saw what effect her first death had wrought on her father, Thingol.

Arwen's choice, like Elros', brought her a crown, a kingdom, a spouse, children--and eternal separation from her parents and siblings. She did not make this choice lightly, or in a moment of romantic recklessness. She chose as she did because she believed in Aragorn.

From [year] onward, the chieftains of the Dunedain were all born at Imladris, and when possible, they came there in old age to die. Even given her long stays in Lothlorien, she would have had occasion to witness the cycle of birth and death among the Dunedain. She knew the average lifespan of a Dunadan.

Aragorn told her before they plighted troth in Lorien, that he was mortal, he would die, he could not stand with her in the Twilight of the Eldar. ..indeed, it says in exactly the appendix we're talking about that she scorned them as weak and foolish for their fear of death, and seeking immortality.

"...yet it was not her lot to die until all that she had gained was lost."

At the end, she faced her greatest fear: death. As is the case when facing such a vast unknown, such a great fear, she did it alone. No-one could help her, no-one could comfort her. She had to take it on faith that she and Aragorn would be reunited.

She had no-one to tell her what lay beyond death, because the Elves only knew that Men passed beyond the circles of the world. Ancient lore described the waiting places for Men as dim, shadowy, and silent, except for when the souls there sigh in reflection, about once an age.[] Sounds rather like the old cartographers, who would write, 'Here be dragons' in the unexplored areas on their maps.

The Men around her couldn't tell her anything, either. It was estel that carried her through. "Estel" was not just Aragorn's childhood Elvish name, but an important concept in Elvish thought and philosophy. In the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," estel is described as

They both sacrificed. They both paid for their love--and that love gave them the strength to change a world, and to carry them through fear.

Works Cited:

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Line of Elros," The Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth,

[2] "Miscellaneous Odds and Ends," point eleven. Findulias' J.R.R. Tolkien Page http:/ (28 Oct. 2002)

[2] Editorial note by Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales, 1980, New York, Ballantine Books, note 1, pg. 235.

[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Peoples of Middle-Earth, History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 12. Christopher Tolkien, Ed.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, "Appendix A, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen," The Return of the King, 1965, New York, Ballantine Books, p. 384.

[6] Ibid, p. 387

[7] Ibid., p. 388

[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, "Appendix B: The Tale of Years," The Return of the King, pg. 419

Paul H. Kocher, Master of Middle-Earth: the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1972, Boston, Houghton-Mifflin, pp. 130-60

J.R.R. Tolkien, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth." History of Middle-earth: Morgoth's Ring, Vol. 10. Ed. Christopher Tolkien

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Fellowship of the Ring.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Two Towers

--"The Line of Elros," Unfinished Tales.

--"A Brief Description of Númenor," Unfinished Tales.

Tracy, Erik  "Was Arwen a Reincarnation of Luthien?" The Scrolls of Orthanc: Ancient Lore
"Could Arwen Have Changed Her Mind and Passed Over the Sea?" The Scrolls of Orthanc: Ancient Lore

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