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It's me again -- still reading my way through The Lord of the Rings, but quite familiar with Peter Jackson's trilogy, which I really like.

It occurs to me, though, that Arwen is almost the Lord of the Rings' equivalent of Twilight's Bella Swan. Arwen's sole purpose in her life seems to be to obsessively love Aragorn and to be with Aragorn romantically. As an elf, Arwen gives up her immortality to be with Aragorn (although I'm unsure why her being paired with Aragorn would require Arwen to give up her immortality to begin with). In the Jackson trilogy, there's the absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical storyline that ties Arwen's mortality to the fate of the One Ring (say WUT?). While Arwen and Aragorn do marry and are married for 122 or so years, Arwen dies of a broken heart a year after Aragorn passes away.

Does Arwen have any personal identity, interests, or causes of her own, that do not involve Aragorn, in the LOTR trilogy? Or is her purpose in the stories to simply be Aragorn's love interest? I find Arwen to be by far the most boring and insipid character of the LOTR movies, but is there more to her than meets the eye? I'm completely open to being swayed. Oh, and yes, I realize Arwen is responsible for safely transporting Frodo to Rivendell following his stabbing by the Witch King of Angmar, and I thought that was pretty awesome, especially when she said to Strider/Aragorn, "I do not fear [the Nazgûl]." Yet after this . . . Arwen's storyline seems to deteriorate to include only the Arwen/Aragorn love story.

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    Likening LOTR to Twilight? Sacrilege! – Dharini Chandrasekaran Feb 28 '12 at 23:38
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    Something you can do to answer yourself your question: read the appendix related to Arwen and Aragorn. The love story you see in the movies isn't told in details in the books but is quite well explained at the end. Don't hesitate to read the appendices while reading the books, there are almost no spoilers there (and none if you already saw the movies). – SteeveDroz Feb 28 '12 at 23:42
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    Aragorn does not sparkle! – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 29 '12 at 1:39
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    Remember that Bella is a MAIN character in Twilight, while Arwen is just a side distraction. You could just as well say "Is there more to Lavender Brown than her love for Ron (and for Divination)?" in HP. So she's not really the equivalent of Bella, far from it. She's just the equivalent of a minor character that isn't well defined. – Manishearth Feb 29 '12 at 9:49
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    Jackson changed the story, she did not transport Frodo in the original text, Glorfindel did, she was a best a side character that was "explained" in appendices in the original. She had very little to do with the original story and was a hacked in character in the movie, one of the low spots in the movie adaptation in most peoples opinions at that. – Jarrod Roberson Feb 29 '12 at 19:03

10 Answers 10

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Your judgment of Arwen can only get harsher after you've read the books. If anything, Peter Jackson beefed up her role. He did mess up the reason for her mortality, which is unrelated to the One Ring. Arwen dies because, in marrying a mortal, she chose mortality over Elvendom. This is clearly explained in the appendix.

I've read somewhere -- and concur -- that Tolkien had a very traditional and romantic view of females, possibly related to his upbringing and/or life at Oxford. I don't think he was an expert on women at all. I think his Arwen is a very weak character, barely something for Aragorn to pine for. Which is a shame, since when his female characters are allowed to show some backbone, they shine. One gets the impression Galadriel is both wise and very powerful. She is clearly calling the shots at Lothlorien (Celeborn seems more like a trophy husband), and we are told that if she ever took the One Ring, she would become way more powerful than Sauron ever was.

And we all know about Eowyn's "hands on" approach to adventure, willing to risk her life, instead of being left behind by the men. I pity Eowyn for the fate the Professor reserves for her. We're shown she has backbone, and she is definitely dangerous and brave. And all for nothing: at the end, this promise gets deflated. She will no longer be a shieldmaiden. I assume she gets to marry and raise children. Eh.. yay?

(disclaimer: these are the random thoughts of someone who absolutely loves LOTR. You should see what I do to books I hate)

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    "impression Galadriel [...] very powerful": Just a bit in LoTR: she wields one of the three elven rings and (in the appendices) destroys Suaron's Mirkwood fortress of Dol Guldur. However when one considers The Sulmarillion you learn that Galadriel is a third generation Elf, granddaughter to the very first elves that arose in Middle Earth in the First Age. She played a significant role throughout the war with Morgoth to regain the Simarils including the rebellion against the Valar. – Richard Feb 29 '12 at 9:17
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    I disagree with your judgement of Arwen. You don't get to see her do great things in LOTR because it isn't her story. If you look closely at the few mentions of her, she actually has done great things — she's only guilty of her life story never having been told seriously. – user56 Dec 13 '12 at 3:25
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    @Gilles So you disagree that Peter Jackson beefed up her role, relative to the books? Or that Tolkien had a romantic, medieval-literature-inspired view of women? What great things has Arwen done? It is very hard to disagree that Arwen's primary (and almost exclusive) role in LOTR is to be Aragorn's love interest. – Andres F. Dec 13 '12 at 12:52
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    @Joel "And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!" – Andres F. Dec 16 '14 at 20:11
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    @chx I know that Sauron was a Maia and Galadriel "merely" an Elf. In a direct confrontation Sauron would surely win. However, I find your interpretation of power far too literal -- a fallen Galadriel would be far more terrible than the Dark Lord, because she would be beautiful as well as mighty; where Sauron's servants merely fear him, Galadriel's slaves would "love her and despair", and her hosts would be unstoppable. We're told this is a power Sauron can no longer attain; he's lost his "beautiful" form forever. He can no longer pretend to be Annatar, The Lord of Gifts. – Andres F. Sep 18 '16 at 0:57
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From the point of view of the books, Arwen really is an off-scene character throughout. There is a back story there that is only barely touched upon in the Lord of the Rings with the mentions of her throughout, as you noted. Being very young from an Elven point of view as well as being of the equivalent of royal blood, she is largely protected and alternates between Rivendell (where she first met Aragorn) and Lothlorien. Aragorn and Arwen's love affair is only briefly sketched out, so within the immediate story she only really exists as a paramour of Aragorn. Think of her as a royal princess - she's not about to go out hunting Orcs or doing much outside her protected realms.

The movies beefed up her role a fair bit, with her supplanting Glorfindel in carrying Frodo to Rivendell, some scenes in Rivendell with Aragorn, and her convincing Elrond to bring Narsil and the Dunedain to Aragorn's aid outside Dunharrow. This seemed to be Jackson's attempt to provide more of a feminine touch to at least parts of the film, as well as an attempt to address why Aragorn would choose Arwen over Eowyn - something people who came to the movies without reading the book reportedly questioned.

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    Eowyn definitely had feelings for Aragorn in the books, though Jackson made them more blatant. Witness Eowyn moping around in the Halls of Healing missing Aragorn until Tolkien dropped Faramir in her lap. – dlanod Feb 28 '12 at 23:58
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    @Gabe: Eowyn was definitely infatuated with Aragorn in the book. Or with the idea of Aragorn, anyway. Remember the line (from the books) "I no longer desire to be a queen"? – Andres F. Feb 29 '12 at 0:20
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    Doh. Prolly should've proofed that. Was heading in a different direction with the comment and buggered up my statement. I meant to imply the reciprocation from Aragorn that was fueling her infatuation was a fabrication. In the books, he was simply being Aragorn, and she sort of latched on to him. – Gabe Willard Feb 29 '12 at 2:48
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    @GabeWillard: in Douglas A. Anderson's note on the text (page xvi in the 50th anniversary edition) it is said (giving Christopher Tolkien's studies of the manuscripts as the source) that "Tolkien at one point considered a romance between Aragorn and Éowyn". – leftaroundabout Feb 29 '12 at 20:07
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    @GabeWillard Fully agreed. Whatever other options Tolkien had in mind when writing, in the final version of LOTR it is very clear Aragorn has no romantic interest in Eowyn. He remains faithful to Arwen. The infatuation is very clearly only in the mind of Eowyn. – Andres F. Dec 13 '12 at 12:57
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Having read the book and not seen the movie, I object to calling Arwen “boring and insipid”. Maybe this is Peter Jackson's Arwen, but it is definitely not Tolkien's.

In the Lord of the Rings book, Arwen is only here as Aragorn's love interest. This isn't completely gratuitous on Aragorn: it shows his close relationship (indeed, his alliance) with Elves, in an age when elves are mostly withdrawn from the Human world. But it is true that Arwen is not a well-developed character. Arwen gets little mention, and only through Frodo's eyes. This is for good reason: The Lord of the Rings is not her story.

It is commonly cited as one of the most major differences between the book and Peter Jackson's movies that Arwen gets more airtime in the movies, without being a more fleshed-out character.

Arwen and Aragorn's story is told in Appendix A.V of The Lord of the Rings. There is more to her than what can transpire in the main story. When Aragorn first meets her, he reacts thus:

Then Aragorn was abashed, for he saw the elven-light in her eyes and the wisdom of many days; yet from that hour he loved Arwen Undómiel daughter of Elrond.

An important fact about Arwen, which I think is only mentioned in the Appendix, is why Arwen becomes mortal. This is unrelated to the Ring. Arwen is the daughter of the half-Elf Elrond, and the mortality of Elf/Human hybrids is a bit quirky. As Elrond puts it:

"What is that doom?" said Aragorn.
"That so long as I abide here, she shall live with the youth of the Eldar," answered Elrond, "and when I depart, she shall go with me, if she so chooses."

Elrond's immortality was granted by the Valar, and it is not unconditionally transmitted to his children. At the end of The Lord of the Rings, all the Elves left in Middle-Earth leave for the West. If Arwen remains behind, then she no longer benefits from the boon of immortality granted to her by association with Elrond. As the magic leaves Middle-Earth, her Human side takes over, and she becomes mortal.

Thus by marrying Aragorn, Arwen makes the choice of mortality. She has literally chosen to live and die for Aragorn. It is therefore not surprising that she would no longer wish to live once Aragorn is dead.

On top of that, two lovers who cannot be long parted and die together or nearly so is a trope (Together in death? That's not exactly it, but it's the same idea).

A further matter of importance is that Arwen and Aragorn's love story is the modern echo of an older, very important legend: that of Lúthien and Beren, the ur-mixed-couple. There are multiple allusions to Lúthien and Beren's story in The Lord of the Rings (starting with the ballad sang by Aragorn in chapter I.11). The story of Lúthien and Beren is one of the most important in the Middle-Earth universe. It is told in The Silmarillion (and in other posthumously published material). Arwen, Aragorn and their entourage are aware that that they are repeating history.

In a long letter (131 in the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien) to Milton Waldman (who worked for the publishers of LOTR) in 1951, Tolkien wrote:

But the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond's daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told elsewhere in a short tale, Of Aragorn and Arwen Undómiel. I think the simple 'rustic' love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves', and sheer beauty.

And in a 1954 letter to Peter Hastings (153):

Arwen is not a 're-incarnation' of Lúthien (that in the view of this mythical history would be impossible, since Lúthien has died like a mortal and left the world of time) but a descendant very like her in looks, character, and fate. When she weds Aragorn (whose love-story elsewhere recounted is not here central and only occasionally referred to) she 'makes the choice of Lúthien', so the grief at her parting from Elrond is specially poignant.

Also, in a never-sent draft (181):

Here I am only concerned with Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees. That is why I regard the tale of Arwen and Aragorn as the most important of the Appendices; it is part of the essential story, and is only placed so, because it could not be worked into the main narrative without destroying its structure: which is planned to be 'hobbito-centric', that is, primarily a study of the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble.

Tolkien highlights that Arwen perceived Frodo's unease after having been (albeit briefly) possessed by the Ring, which others including Gandalf had missed. (LOTR VI.6; letter 246 quoted below):

I do not myself see that the breaking of [Frodo's] mind and will under demonic pressure after torment was any more a moral failure than the breaking of his body would have been – say, by being strangled by Gollum, or crushed by a falling rock.
That appears to have been the judgement of Gandalf and Aragorn and of all who learned the full story of his journey. Certainly nothing would be concealed by Frodo! But what Frodo himself felt about the events is quite another matter.
He appears at first to have had no sense of guilt (III 224-5); he was restored to sanity and peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in sacrifice: he expected to die very soon. But he did not, and one can observe the disquiet growing in him. Arwen was the first to observe the signs, and gave him her jewel for comfort, and thought of a way of healing him.

Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien note what this “way of healing him” is: she is largely to thank for Frodo being able to sail West! As far as I know, this is never stated in The Lord of the Rings or any other non-posthumous material.

What is meant is that it was Arwen who first thought of sending Frodo into the West, and put in a plea for him to Gandalf (direct or through Galadriel, or both), and she used her own renunciation of the right to go West as an argument. Her renunciation and suffering were related to and enmeshed with Frodo's : both were parts of a plan for the regeneration of the state of Men. Her prayer might therefore be specially effective, and her plan have a certain equity of exchange.

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    I thought I was clear that I was talking mainly about the movie version of Arwen and was asking for clarification on the book version of Arwen. My perception of Arwen in the movies is that her purpose in life is to love Aragorn, so I was asking, hey, is there anything more to this woman? I would hope there is, actually. I don't particularly like insipid characters. – Slytherincess Dec 13 '12 at 3:38
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    @Slytherincess Apart from one short paragraph, my answer is entirely about the book and other writings by Tolkien. You don't get to see much of her in the book (save for the appendix), she's not so much insipid as a minor character (do you object to Rose, too?). There is definitely more to the woman, but you have to go outside LOTR to find it. – user56 Dec 13 '12 at 21:14
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(although I'm unsure why her being paired with Aragorn would require Arwen to give up her immortality to begin with)

Arwen is a half-elf, just like Elrond. All half-elves have to chose either the fate of men or the fate of elves. She chose the fate of men (thus becoming mortal) to be with Aragorn. Elrond chose the fate of elves and thus is immortal. Note that Aragorn is related to Arwen -- look at the genealogy, it's not as creepy as you might think!

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    Meh, by general royalty standards not creepy at all :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 29 '12 at 12:07
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    @DVK: By Ptolemy's dynastic standards, very creepy... They were, like, almost not related. :) – Sardathrion Feb 29 '12 at 12:14
  • yeah, Egyptians are partly what I had in mind. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EgyptianPtolemies2.jpg – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 29 '12 at 15:41
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    Also, see my earlier answer regarding Elvish reproduction/aging. It links an article which among other things includes clear Tolkien definitions of what was too closely related for marriage. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 29 '12 at 15:48
  • @Sardathrion Would it be possible for her to choose the fate of elves and still marry Aragon? She could then sail to the Undying Lands after Aragon has died of old age – TWL May 6 '16 at 20:18
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To give my semi-standard LOTR apocrypha answer, if you want a WAY different angle on Arwen and Aragorn, read "The Last Ring-bearer" by Yeskov.

I think you will like it a lot better than the Professor's angle.

--

As far as the Professor, you gotta remember that he based his work heavily on Northern sagas, and general medieval tradition. Arwen and Aragorn's relationship is a cross between a full-on dictionary definition of a Courtly Love, married to a Romantic story of an immortal sacrificing immortality for the sake of love.

Who needs character when you are the embodiment of TWO archetypes at once?

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    Ah, I was going to mention The Last Ring-bearer too, but that would have been stealing your thunder :) Really awesome recommendation -- and it does show Arwen in a different light! – Andres F. Feb 29 '12 at 2:30
  • Why the downvote? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 29 '12 at 3:44
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    I'd be guessing the down vote is because the ordering implies this was a book recommendation (probably more a comment than an answer) rather than actually answering the question? – dlanod Feb 29 '12 at 4:30
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    @DVK I know, I have it. But “read it on a PC … easily” is an oxymoron. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 29 '12 at 12:18
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    @KonradRudolph Not really for some people. A nice 50" TV at the foot of the bed makes for some excellent reading opportunities. – Xantec Feb 29 '12 at 14:02
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Arwen in the books made quite serious impact on the Aragorn's quest of regaining the crown (not to mention she was the cause he pursued it at all):

And while the world darkened and fear fell on Middle-earth, as the power of Sauron grew and the Barad-dur rose ever taller and stronger, Arwen remained in Rivendell, and when Aragorn was abroad, from afar she watched over him in thought; and in hope she made for him a great and kingly standard, such as only one might display who claimed the lordship of the Numenoreans and the inheritance of Elendil.

This banner along with Anduril, allows him to gain command over the Dead from Dunharrow and proclaim his heritage, announce that he is an heir of Elendil. She also through her grandmother Galadriel sent him the Elessar, Elfstone (though it's origins are unclear, due to different versions of it's creation, it still in all of them has some sort of healing power and was a sign of hope):

'Maybe this will lighten your heart,' said Galadriel; 'for it was left in my care to be given to you, should you pass through this land.' Then she lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through leaves of spring. 'This stone I gave to Celebrían my daughter, and she to hers; and now it comes to you as a token of hope. In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!'

This stone visible to all people he healed in Minas Tirith fulfilled the prophecy that he will be given the name Elessar.

And word went through the City: 'The King is come again indeed.' And they named him Elfstone, because of the green stone that he wore, and so the name which it was foretold at his birth that he should bear was chosen for him by his own people.

She also gave Frodo a necklace, white jewel on silver chain which seemed to have some sort of magical influence, easing his suffering when he held it. Arwen also allowed him to take place in the ship to the Undying Lands. This clearly shows she had lot of compassion and understanding of others, was able to properly show her gratitude (without Frodo her desires would never have been fulfilled).

This definitely tells positively about her character, she also inspired Aragorn to be even more noble, always when he thought about her a slight change was visible in his appearance reflecting strength of spirit.

Subtle, yet strong willed, wise and far-sighted, that's her image which Tolkien provides us with. She doesn't need to be full scale action girl to show her quality, she is caring, clever and insightful, that is real strength and charm of her personality.

  • Now you mention it, Arwen's boundless ambition was present in the books too, but unvoiced. Being Queen of Gondor and the most beautiful woman left in Middle Earth was much better than going west and being the average daughter of some half-elf, forever. – RedSonja Dec 17 '15 at 14:13
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It all ties back to Numenor, and to Elros, Elrond's brother choosing humanity (albeit with an exceptionally long life, even by the longer standards of human life initially given to humans) while Elrond choses 'the life of the Eldar' and as someone already pointed out, Elrond's children still have the human option, if they choose to stay, which apparently all three do. Arwen with Aragorn, and Elrond's sons stay in Rivendell, where after Galadriel's departure, Celeborn comes to stay with them before departing himself.

No word on whether Elrond's sons take ship with Celeborn, or if they even have the choice to leave at that point. Perhaps until the last ship departs they still can chose but at Aragorn's deathbed, when he suggests she repent and return, Arwen insists that she can't and that no ship would take her back even if she wished. Aside from that, she wishes to be with Aragorn after death, beyond which Aragorn tells her there is 'more than memory'. The Elves have no share in that next world, though Humans do and even Dwarves believe they have been promised that as well. Elves and Men are permanently separated by death.

As far as Tuor, the problem is what was told to the last Numenorean king and his followers before the Fall of Numernor, when they thought invading the Deathhless Isles would make them live forever. They were told that the Isles were called Deathless because those who lived there were immortal, not because they kept people alive. If they set foot on the Deathless Isles their lives would burn up all the faster because of it. How Idril and Tuor would get around this is uncertain, perhaps only because he has permission and some blessing on him.

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I think to be fair to Tolkien he was someone who inhabited an almost exclusively male world for most of his life. So for him 'people' were by default male and so this is what he understood and how he framed most of his characters.

This is not remotely the same thing as being sexist, indeed the (admittedly few) female characters in his writings can't really be characterised as passive female stereotypes.

Notably Galadriel is very much the Queen of Elvendar, Celeborn very much plays second fiddle. Similarly Eowyn actively rebels against female stereotypes and in vindicated in doing so throughout the narrative.

We also need to bear in mind that gender is not a major issue in the story, indeed one of the key themes is that the central characters put aside their own personal feelings in pursuit of a greater goal.

We also need to look at the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn as a mirror of that between Beren and Luthien which is expended in other works in a way which LOTR doesn't really consider.

Ultimately you could swap the genders of any of the major characters in LOTR and it wouldn't make a lot of difference as the story isn't really concerned with that sort of aspect of life. Ultimately it is a war story and also not really a novel but rather an adaption of mythological forms where characters are rather more stylised.

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Well, I think fantasywind has done an excellent job on this question. The main vibe I got with Arwen (And I'm talking book Arwen) is that she's a background worker. She drives Aragorn, helps Frodo, sends the Elfstone etc. So she does play a part, it's just a background part. Also there seems to be a bit of misinformation going around. Some are saying that Arwen became mortal because of a. Love for Aragorn -True b. Relation to Elrond - False. This isn't the case because Luthien, while she was half elf too, had no mortal blood in her. Idril, the princess of Gondolin was just elf and she became mortal too. Anyway, that's just my two cents, take it or leave it.

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I don't think the comparision is fair. Arwen & Aragorn is very much of A lady and her Knight style romance. But i will prove it was not obsessive.

Arwen didn't die ONLY because of broken heart. She gave up her immortality by choice. She became mortal.

Note: Twilight is written entirely from Bella's perspective. Arwen is only a minor character. A side story.

PERSONALITY - Bella has low self esteem and is constantly worried she doesn't look good enough for edward. worried that she is aging & wishes to gain immortality to stop it. She has no career plans. She doesn't like interacting with her parents & peers much.

Arwen, the Evenstar of her people, considered most beautiful of the elves. She gave up her immortality & with it her beauty, her people, making a big sacrifice. Doing complete opposite of what Bella did.
Knowing that elves love nature & excel in craftsmanship, singing, I imagine that's what Arwen spends her time doing. Arwen must also have been thoroughly trained in royalty by her father. Her marriage to Aragorn restored glory to line of Nùmenor.

BREAK UP PHASE - Bella lost it when Edward left. She stopped eating, drinking, existing like a shadow. She indulged in dangerous sucidal stunts to induce hallucination. Became a personification of misery, had a cloud above her head permenantly for months.

Before one ring was found Arwen had no idea if she can ever be with Aragorn. Aragorn stayed away from Arwen for years. In the movies they see dreams & visions about each other which is different from intentionally inducing hallucination. Aragorn had life as a ranger before he met Frodo. Arwen was with Galadriel in Lothlorien I believe. So they spend life perfectly functional even while staying apart, which isn't obsessive.

Also - Depression in elf causes their death and dead elf goes in Halls of Mandos to rest. Considering nothing such happened to Arwen, she was not wasting away when aragorn was gone.

DADDY - Bella blocked out her daddy from day one. when she was depressed, Charlie spend nights hearing her cry. It was a torture to him seeing his daughter this way. But she refused to open up to him or anyone (you don't need to talk of vampires, to talk about hurt of love). She wasn't open to forming any kind of relationship with anyone. Her relationship with her mom is even more distant. Only edward mattered.

Arwen's relationship with elrond was deeper then Bella & Charlie. Arwen trusted her father & accepted his condition that she can be with Aragorn only when he is king. It shows she did respect her father very much, as she waited patienly for decades !!!! Only because of her father's condition. If she is open to that, then her world doesn't revolve around Aragorn, and other people matter too.

There is so much to make up for lack of Arwen's appearance in book, that even all the books written about Bella's love has little about it's significance compared to Arwen's love story. Arwen was a mature person as we can see. A true lady.

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