For most Tolkien fans, the quintessential Half-Elven are Arwen and her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir (but mostly Arwen). Confusing and unclear movie-lore aside (Wait, Arwen is dying? Why? Oh, now Aragorn is king and she’s alive. What’s going on here?), Arwen and her choice provide the most insight into the nature of the Half-Elven. Of course, Arwen’s (and particularly her brothers’) situation and choices also bring up a lot of new questions.
Prophecy or a Guess?
The one that first comes to mind is–how did they know? In “The Tale of Years of the Third Age,” this passage goes into some detail:
These children [Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen] were three parts of Elven-race, but the doom spoken at their birth was that they should live even as the Elves so long as their father remained in Middle-earth; but if he departed they should have then the choice either to pass over the Sea with him, or to become mortal, if they remained behind (Peoples of Middle-earth, 234-5).
Who spoke this doom? Was it Elrond? Galadriel? This seems unlikely, since the matter of the Half-Elven is something that must be decided by the Valar and neither Elrond nor Galadriel had communication with them. Gandalf, being a Maia, obviously would have had some form of connection with the Valar (although it’s unclear if he could communicate with them or vice versa). The Istari didn’t first appear in Middle-earth until around the year 1000 and the children of Elrond were born in the first 250 years, so it couldn’t have been him. It is possible that Elrond, Celebrían, and Galadriel were merely guessing at the fate of their progeny. However, there are numerous, specific references to the choice presented to Arwen and her brothers. It seems highly unlikely that all of these details were simply part of a hypothesis.
The only person who was in Middle-earth when Elrond’s children were born who could reasonably have known (and not guessed) the fate of any children born to Elrond would be Glorfindel. Without getting into the details of Glorfindel’s history in this post, he was a reincarnated Elf who came from Valinor. According to an essay Tolkien wrote late in his life, Glorfindel returned to Middle-earth in the Second Age (Peoples, pg 382). Because he was certainly living in Rivendell during the Third Age, it’s not a stretch to think that he would have been there when Elrond’s children were born. Because Glorfindel was sent with the blessing of the Valar, it would make sense that they would have also equipped him to declare the fate of any Half-Elven who would be born after he returned to Middle-earth. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a reasonable theory.
Because they knew their fate, one can presume that Arwen, Elladan, and Elrohir lived the lives of normal Elves. Of course, they experienced the tragedy of their mother getting kidnapped and wounded by orcs. Interestingly, this seems to have made a deeper impression on the boys than on Arwen. They seem to dedicate the rest of their lives to eradicating orcs. (Nothing is said specifically of Arwen’s reaction, but her mother’s experience never seemed to prevent her from traveling to and from Lórien.) Even after Celebrían left Middle-earth, nothing much seemed to change for the siblings.
Arwen was called the Evenstar of her people and was reputed to be the most beautiful in Middle-earth. Because of her lineage and her physical similarity, she was probably compared to Lúthien Tinúviel all of her life. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize how frustrating this must have been for Arwen. Indeed, she (ever so gently) expresses this frustration to Aragorn when he comments on her likeness. She gravely responds, “So many have said. Yet her name is not mine” (RotK, 1033). She threw some cold water on him.
Of course, that’s not the last thing she says. She continues, “Though maybe my doom will be not unlike hers. But who are you?” (RotK, 1033). It’s interesting that she already acknowledges that her fate is up to her–it’s not set in stone. Is it possible she already has feelings for Aragorn? Why else would she mention that she might also choose to marry a mortal? Or is she simply acknowledging that she might decide to stay behind when Elrond leaves? Elrond, who “saw many things and read many hearts,” certainly doesn’t seem to think so. He tells Aragorn, “There will be no choice before Arwen, my beloved, 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” (RotK, pg 1034). In other words, Elrond believed that Arwen had every intention of leaving Middle-earth when the time came; it is only Aragorn who gives him pause now.
Decades later, as Aragorn lies on his deathbed, Arwen confesses that she now understands why the Númenoreans fell, “As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last” (RotK, 1037-8). Pretty strong words. She is of course referring to the men of Númenor who broke the Ban of the Valar in an attempt to gain immortality. Did she scorn them only as wicked fools because of the depth of their disobedience? But why fools? Did she believe them to be foolish because they didn’t accept the Gift of Ilúvatar, the gift of mortality? Is it possible that she had long pondered accepting this gift herself, even before she met Aragorn?
Tolkien offers no more insight into Arwen’s thoughts and motivations. No matter what she had considered in the past, choosing the mortal life with Aragorn was a difficult decision. He clearly made an impression on her. During the thirty years he spent in the wild, “her face was more grave, and her laughter now seldom was heard” (RotK, 1035). Yet she still had made no choice to marry him–it would seem that she did not yet acknowledge that she loved him. Even when he asked her point-blank to reject immortality for his sake, she doesn’t have an answer for him immediately. “And she stood then as still as a white tree, looking into the West, and at last she said: ‘I will cleave to you, Dúnadan, and turn from the Twilight. Yet there lies the land of my people and the long home of all my kin.’ She loved her father dearly” (RotK, 1036). She clearly understands that she’s giving up everything for Aragorn: her family (she’ll never see her mother again), her immortality, the Blessed Realm, even the homes she knew in Middle-earth. She knows that even if everything they hope for comes to fruition, she can expect to leave all she has ever known and live among a foreign people–a foreign people that, according to Faramir, are inclined to “sun the Elves and speak of the Golden Wood with dread” (TTT, 664). It’s a difficult decision for anyone to make and Arwen certainly doesn’t rush into it.
But what of her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir? What choice do they make? Tolkien never explicitly says what they do. In one of his letters (Letters, 193), he says, “The end of his sons, Elladan and Elrohir, is not told: they delay their choice, and remain for a while” (Letters, pg 193). This concept of delay is confusing. Elrond explicitly tells Aragorn, “That so long as I abide here, she [Arwen; her brothers must have been included in this] shall live with the youth of the Eldar and when I depart, she shall go with me, if she so chooses” (RotK, 1034). If the siblings’ immortality is based solely on their father’s presence in Middle-earth, then isn’t Elrohir’s and Elladan’s choice to stay behind the same as choosing mortality? One wonders why Tolkien would be (seemingly) so nonchalant about the brothers’ apparently bucking the system and delaying their choice.
Of course, Elladan and Elrohir can’t buck the system. They can’t control their fate. If the Valar decided that the children of Elrond would become mortal if they didn’t follow Elrond into the West, then Elladan and Elrohir chose to be mortal. It isn’t exactly natural law (even in Middle-earth), but it has the same effect. They stayed in Rivendell for at least a few years after their father departed (RotK, 1069). In a rejected epilogue for Return of the King, Sam says that Elrohir and Elladan are in Rivendell in Shire Year 1436, which was fifteen years after Elrond left Middle-earth. There’s no mention of Celeborn, implying that he may have already followed Galadriel over the sea. If he did and the brothers stayed, that seems to be a pretty clear indication that they meant to stay.
This begs the question–why did they choose mortality? Were they so attached to their sister that they didn’t want to leave her? That’s possible, but there’s no evidence that they lived in Gondor after their father left. Of course, as Aragorn and his allies worked to rid Middle-earth of orcs and other dangers, it would have been much easier for Elladan and Elrohir to visit their sister.
Did the brothers stay behind so they could purge Middle-earth of all orcs for their mother’s sake? It’s possible, but that seems like a poor substitute for actually being with their mother in the Blessed Realm. It also smacks of vengeance, something that never had good results when Elves gave into it (like Fëanor and his sons). Elrond probably would have done everything he could have to discourage this.
Is it possible that they merely desired immortality? Their uncle, Elros, had made that choice. (Of course, they never knew him, so his choice didn’t have a personal impact on their lives.) Their sister made the choice, too. Maybe they were weary and ready to move beyond the Circles of the World when Eru called them. Or maybe they were simply unwilling to leave the lands of their birth. We’ll never really know.
This is part of an in-depth series on the half-Elven:
The Choice of the Half-Elven
Half-Elven Part II: The Choice of Lúthien
Half-Elven Part III: Those Denied the Choice
Half-Elven Part IV: The Union
Half-Elven Part V: The Children of Choice
Half-Elven Part VI: The Last Ones
Half-Elven Part VII: Concluding Thoughts on Mortality
Photo Credit: Billy Lam