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I have recently come to learn some things about Aragorn and Arwen that trouble me. According to Tolkien Gateway's entry on Aragorn, he went to live with Elrond at Rivendell when he was only two years old, and Elrond raised him as his own son from that time on. Only when Aragorn was about 20 years old did Elrond tell Aragorn that he was not Elrond's real son, and that he was, in fact, the heir of Isildur. About a year later, when Aragorn was 21 or so, he fell in love with Elrond's daughter Arwen. Tolkien Gateway says that this happened when Arwen returned to Rivendell from Lorien, where her grandparents lived.

This bothers me because it means that Aragorn fell in love with a woman who, for as long as he could remember, and up until a year earlier, he believed to be his sister. Of course, she wasn't actually his sister, but he thought she was for most of his life.

Humans have an instinctive aversion to entering romantic relationships with people we're in close contact with early in our lives (this phenomenon is known as the Westermarck Effect, or "reverse sexual imprinting"). But Aragorn and Arwen seem to have ignored this instinct completely. Tolkien Gateway suggests, but doesn't explicitly state, that Arwen and Aragorn might not have met before Aragorn was 21, but it offers no citations for this suggestion. It seems unlikely that Arwen, who was already more than a thousand years old (I believe she was over 2,000 years old, as a matter of fact) by this time, spent 20 years straight with her grandparents in Lorien, never once visiting her father and brothers in Rivendell. She was an adult, free to come and go as she pleased, and could have gone home whenever she wanted to.

Even if they hadn't met before, they certainly knew of each other, and Aragorn believed her to be his sister for as long as he could remember. She would have heard about her new baby foster brother being brought to Rivendell, to be raised by her father Elrond as his foster son. Aragorn would have seen Arwen's brothers as his own brothers, her father as his father, and he would have heard much about his sister Arwen. Even if they had never seen each other before, they still would have regarded each other as brother and sister.

And if they had truly never met before, and even though Aragorn learned the truth a year earlier- that Elrond wasn't his father, and Elrond's children were not his siblings, Aragorn instantly becoming smitten with Arwen still seems creepy. According to Tolkien Gateway, Arwen didn't feel anything for Aragorn until a year or so after Aragorn fell in love with her, but still, it is also creepy that she fell in love with him.

It is even more bizarre that Elrond approved of their courtship, regardless of the fact that he refused to let them marry until Aragorn became King of Gondor and Arnor. After all, Elrond still regarded Aragorn as his foster son, and obviously treated Arwen as his actual daughter (which she was), so he essentially condoned a marriage between his daughter and adopted son.

It bears repeating that Aragorn's immediate reaction to meeting his stepsister (for lack of a better word) was to fall in love with her. She soon returned his affection, and fell in love with her stepbrother, even going so far as to surrender her immortality to be with him. And again, their father approved of their relationship, albeit after setting some conditions for Aragorn to meet before they could get married.

So I have to ask a few related questions to put my mind at ease, although I don't think any answer will make this relationship seem any less unnatural.

  1. Is it true that Aragorn and Arwen had never met before Aragorn was 21 or so?
  2. Do we know anything about how the relationship began?
  3. Am I wrong in thinking that, for most of his childhood and adolescence, Aragorn believed Elrond to be his real father? Tolkien Gateway says Elrond told Aragorn the truth about his ancestry when he was around 20 years old, and that before that point, he raised Aragorn as his own son; I took this to mean that Aragorn genuinely believed he was Elrond's actual son until then. If I was wrong, the Aragorn-Arwen thing might be less disgusting.
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    Have you read "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen", from Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings? That answers all your questions. – Matt Gutting May 22 '15 at 17:45
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    You could probably cut away 70% of this and you'd have a nice, cohesive (and waaaaay easier to read) question. Just sayin'... – Omegacron May 22 '15 at 18:20
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    Being away for 20 years when you're 2000 years old (and expecting to live forever) isn't that long, that's like a 20 year old human taking off for a couple months. – mu is too short May 22 '15 at 20:41
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    Consider that characterizations like "creepy" and "disgusting" are very strong and may be only you that sees it this way. I've never considered the relationship creepy, even remotely. Other opinions may vary. – ypercubeᵀᴹ May 22 '15 at 21:16
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    Humans have an instinctive aversion to entering romantic relationships with people we're in close contact with early in our lives. The Lannisters send their regards. – corsiKa May 22 '15 at 22:25
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So here's a summary of answers, from "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen", which appears in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings.

  1. Is it true that Aragorn and Arwen had never met before Aragorn was 21 or so?

    Yes. At their first meeting, Aragorn and Arwen's conversation includes the following interchange:

    "Often is it seen," said Aragorn, "that in dangerous days men hide their chief treasure.I marvel at Elrond and your brothers; for though I have dwelt in this house from childhood, I have heard no word of you. How comes it that we have never met before? Surely your father has not kept you locked in his hoard?"

    "No," she said, and looked up at the Mountains that rose in the east. "I have dwelt for a time in the land of my mother's kin, in far Lothlórien. I have but lately returned to visit my father again. It is many years since I walked in Imladris."

    It seems, then, that in fact Arwen had been in Lórien for at least 20 years—or perhaps at least 17; she may have been in Rivendell when Aragorn was too young to remember her.

  2. Do we know anything about how their relationship began?

    Again, yes. I'm not going to quote in extenso the passage from the Tale, but briefly here's what happens:

    • At age 20, "after great deeds in the company of the sons of Elrond" as the story tells it, Elrond is sufficiently pleased with Aragorn to tell him his true name and lineage.
    • The next day, Aragorn is walking in the woods, just being happy, and singing part of the Lay of Lúthien, when all of a sudden he sees Arwen; thinking he's in a dream, he calls her "Tinúviel".
    • She laughs and they get into a conversation (including the above excerpt) in which Aragorn realizes that she's actually a few thousand years or so older than he is. (According to Appendix B, Arwen was born in 241 of the Third Age and thus was 2710 years older than Aragorn.)
    • A few days later, he admits his love to his mother, Gilraen, who is with him in Rivendell and who doesn't entirely approve. (Elrond discusses the matter with him some time later, and more or less agrees with Gilraen.)
    • Realizing that he may never get to date Arwen, Aragorn says goodbye to her, Elrond, and his mom, and leaves to go off and do manly things for twenty-nine years.
    • At age 49, he comes back from a journey and rests for a while in Lórien. Unknown to him, Arwen is there. (She doesn't know he's there either.)
    • Galadriel cleans him up, and dresses him up, and he goes walking in the woods and encounters Arwen.
    • She falls in love with him at first sight. They discuss the fact that Aragorn is human, and that if betrothed, Arwen will have to renounce her elven status and die like him.
    • After what appears to be some intense agonizing over the question, she decides to do so.

    Not quite a "love at first sight" story, but something rather similar.

  3. Am I wrong in thinking that, for most of his childhood and adolescence, Aragorn believed Elrond to be his real father?

    There's no direct statement bearing on that question; however, the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen states the following:

    [After his father Arathorn's death] Aragorn, being now the Heir of Isildur, was taken with his mother to dwell in the house of Elrond; and Elrond took the place of his father and came to love him as a son of his own.

    That phrasing (together with the lack of evidence that Elrond and Gilraen were acting in any sense as man and wife) suggests very strongly to me that yes, you are wrong in believing that. Estel, as Aragorn was called when he was young, did not know his real name, or his ancestry; but I don't see any evidence that he thought Elrond was his biological father. Furthermore, although you do state (correctly) that "Elrond ... regarded Aragorn as his foster son", you then move on to state that Elrond was condoning his daughter's marriage to "his adopted son". There's a huge difference between those two concepts; and there's no evidence I can see to indicate that Elrond considered Aragorn an "adopted son" on the same level as Elladan and Elrohir, nor that Aragorn considered Arwen his "stepsister" in any sense. In short, I believe your statement

    Aragorn would have seen Arwen's brothers as his own brothers, her father as his father, and he would have heard much about his sister Arwen. Even if they had never seen each other before, they still would have regarded each other as brother and sister

    is seriously flawed.

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    +1 and many thanks. Your answer suggests that there is no evidence that Aragorn believed Elrond to be his father, especially since his mom was there and obviously wasn't Elrond's wife. Without this bit of information, it would be logical to assume that Aragorn thought Elrond was his dad, since Elrond was the man who was raising him and treating him like a son. I guess Aragorn and Arwen's relationship is a little less creepy, but there is still the issue of Elrond approving of his foster son marrying his daughter. So some creepiness remains. – Wad Cheber May 22 '15 at 18:25
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    @Oldcat - Aragorn's mother didn't want him to know is heritage before he had come of age, that's why she named him Estel before his manhood. – Joel May 22 '15 at 18:29
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    @WadCheber yes, Aragorn is part elf, but it's like 40 generations removed by his time - just barely enough to live 200 years. – Omegacron May 22 '15 at 18:36
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    @WadCheber: except that's not how it works in Tolkien's world. Elrond is an elf because he chose to be an elf; his twin brother was a human because he chose to be a human. Note that very few people get such a choice, though; Aragorn is human, whether he likes it or not, because that way-long-ago halfblood ancestor of his (who happened to be the aforementioned brother of Elrond) chose to be a human. – Martha May 22 '15 at 18:54
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    "...if betrothed, Arwen will have to renounce her elven status and die like him." - Something which I really don't understand. Many people survive the death of a spouse, and indeed, enter into marriages knowing there's a great chance that one spouse will outlive the other. (As my neighbors: he's about 30 years older than she is, though still kicking at 100.) I guess Tolkien isn't much better on relationships than on practical horsemanship :-( – jamesqf May 22 '15 at 22:00
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The answers to all of this is easily found in Tolkien's works. Aragorn and Arwen didn't meet because she was in Lothlorien for at least 20 years, which considering the time in which elves live, that is not at all surprising. Add to that the fact that traveling distances took forever due to terrain and horsebacking, it really isn't hard to believe at all. It is also stated that Elrond often took in orphaned children of the Dúnadain due to their very distant relation and his sense of duty and affection for the descendants of his beloved brother who chose the life a man over that of an elf. This taking in of orphaned children is probably why Arwen was not phased by the adult Aragorn she met being the young Estel she most likely heard of through letters or some such. That plus the fact that his mother was there until her death as well, and it is clear that Elrond took them in for their protection due to who exactly Aragorn was. It is this same reason that his true name was kept from him until he was old enough and skilled enough to defend himself from those who may wish to harm him because of it. Elrond being who he is and how he is would have undoubtedly developed affection for the very distant relative of his brother and would've taken him under his wing, as it were. Since Tolkien made clear that Elves are not prone to lie, he would not have claimed to be his father. The presence of his mother would've made this clear if he was ever possibly confused about it as a small child.

  • Most of this does not really address the question, and the most of rest has already been stated in the accepted answer. – Blackwood Aug 29 '17 at 22:18

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