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If I recall correctly, both Arwen and Galadriel are described as being the fairest women in Middle-earth. Since I am not interested in an opinion based answer, I am instead asking for a side by side comparison of what Tolkien wrote about each character's physical appearance.


Note 1: I managed to find this on the Wikipedia page for Galadriel; the quote comes from The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age":

Tolkien describes Galadriel as "the mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth" (after the death of Gil-galad) and the "greatest of elven women".

Gimli certainly agrees with this sentiment:

Gimli wept openly. "I have looked the last upon that which was fairest, he said to Legolas his companion. Henceforward I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift." He put his hand to his breast.
-The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 8: "Farewell to Lorien"

A similar assessment of Arwen as the fairest in Middle-earth comes from Aragorn's dying words - of course, as Arwen's husband, Aragorn is hardly an unbiased judge of such things:

'"At last, Lady Evenstar, fairest in this world, and most beloved, my world is fading. Lo! we have gathered, and we have spent, and now the time of payment draws near.".
-The Return of the King, Appendix A, "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"

Can we find a source for the claim that Arwen was the fairest more reliable than a loving husband's last words to his own wife?

Note 2: For the purposes of this question, we can include anything said or thought by one of Tolkien's characters under the umbrella of "what Tolkien wrote", since he obviously wrote what the characters say and think. I realize that we can't take the things characters think and say in LotR at face value, because they may be mistaken or even lying, but this isn't something anyone has any reason to lie about. And since beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and therefore inherently subjective, so any question regarding beauty will always rely on the opinion of those who see the object of beauty. To put it another way, Gimli may be right about Caradhras being sentient, or he may be wrong - this is an objective question and there is a right answer, but we don't know what the right answer is. But when he says Galadriel is the fairest lady in Middle-earth, he can't be wrong - the question is a subjective one, and she meets his own personal standards of beauty. To Gimli, no one in Middle-earth is as beautiful as Galadriel. By the same token, Eomer is equally right when he says that Arwen is the fairest lady in Middle-earth, because his personal standards are different from Gimli's, and Arwen better conforms to Eomer's ideal of beauty.

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    Good question and one that can be objectively answered. – Valorum May 23 '15 at 8:51
  • @Richard - I altered the title a bit. Do you think it muddies the waters too much? I think this wording reflects what I had in mind a little more accurately than the original version did. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 20:34
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    The new title is fine. Tolkien's own thoughts (about his characters) are very much on-topic. – Valorum May 23 '15 at 20:39
  • @Richard I thought the old wording gave the impression that only Tolkien's own opinion (as opposed to the opinions of his characters, e.g., Gimli and Eomer) was relevant, but I changed it to make it clear that the opinions of characters themselves are equally valid in this case. Beauty is subjective, after all, so opinion is the only way to judge it. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 21:04
  • For what it is worth, my personal opinion is that in the books, Galadriel probably wins by a nose; in the films, there is no contest- Arwen wins by a mile. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 22:33
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They are comparable. People in Middle-Earth could not decide.

From RotK, Many Partings:

‘You shall judge,’ said Éomer. ‘For there are certain rash words concerning the Lady in the Golden Wood that lie still between us. And now I have seen her with my eyes.’

‘Well, lord,’ said Gimli, ‘and what say you now?’

‘Alas!’ said Éomer. ‘I will not say that she is the fairest lady that lives.’

Then I must go for my axe,’ said Gimli.

‘But first I will plead this excuse,’ said Éomer. ‘Had I seen her in other company, I would have said all that you could wish. But now I will put Queen Arwen Evenstar first, and I am ready to do battle on my own part with any who deny me. Shall I call for my sword?’

Then Gimli bowed low. ‘Nay, you are excused for my part, lord,’ he said. ‘You have chosen the Evening; but my love is given to the Morning. And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away for ever.’

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    Another thing I really have never understood about Tolkien's universe: why would a dwarf, or a hobbit FTM, think that elf women were beautiful? (Other than in a purely abstract sense, of course.) It'd be about as kinky as me falling in love with a chimpanzee. (And for my money, Eowyn is far more attractive than those two.) – jamesqf May 23 '15 at 17:38
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    @jamesqf Probably because Tolkien believed in the existence of objective standards of beauty. – Matt Gutting May 23 '15 at 19:21
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    @jamesqf - I never got the impression that Gimli and the hobbits felt sexually attracted to Galadriel. They simply thought she was beautiful, or in their words, "fair". Do you think tigers are beautiful? I do. That doesn't mean I want to date one. I think dolphins are beautiful too, but again, I'm not sexually attracted to them. For that matter, I think many paintings and sculptures are beautiful - Michelangelo's La Pieta especially. Not only are paintings and sculptures not my species, they aren't even alive. The night sky is incomparably beautiful, but I don't want to bang it. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 19:46
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    @jamesqf - we also know that humans can interbreed with elves, and it is strongly suggested that hobbits are a type of human, or at least closely related to humans. This might mean that a hobbit could potentially interbreed with an elf. The vague description of hobbits being somewhat elfish might indicate that hobbits are even more closely related to elves than men are. But I don't think we are supposed to believe that Gimli or the hobbits are sexually attracted to Galadriel anyway. They just admire her beauty, the way we might admire the beauty of Saturn or La Pieta. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 19:50
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    @WadCheber: Humans are biologically identical to Elves (they differ in fates), and Hobbits are a subspecies of humans, but it's the dwarven element that is kind of sad. Elves didn't even recognize dwarves as sentient creatures and hunted them for sport when they first met like beasts, and largely regarded them as ugly and gross afterwards, so Gimli's preferences are one-way. ;( – Shamshiel May 23 '15 at 23:02
8

In the novels, Arwen's beauty gets played up a lot more than Galadriel's. If you include the supplemental material, both are described as having legendary beauty, but I think Arwen probably comes out better.


Having read through both of their introductions in Fellowship of the Ring, I can't find anywhere that Tolkein explicitly claims either of the two women as the "fairest in Middle Earth". Both are merely described as incredibly beautiful, even for Elves.

Arwen doesn't get much time in the novels; we see her in Rivendell at her father's council meeting, where Tolkien gives us this physical description:

The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked...

Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said the likeness of Luthien had come on Earth again

Such loveliness in a living thing Frodo had never seen before nor imagined in his mind.

(Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, "Many Meetings")

Tolkien describes Arwen as the most beautiful thing Frodo had ever seen before, and as exceptionally lovely in general. He also compares her to Luthien (not surprising, since she's related), who was routinely described as the most beautiful women (man or Elf) to have ever lived. That sets a pretty high bar for Arwen's beauty.

When we get to Galadriel, though, we get almost nothing physically about her:

The Lady no less tall than The Lord, and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white, and the hair of The Lady was of deep gold;

(Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, "The Mirror of Galadriel")

Later, at the mirror scene, Galadriel makes herself much more beautiful, when Frodo offers her the ring:

She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunked; a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white

Neither of these descriptions of Galadriel make her seem particularly stunning; we certainly don't get any description of her as the most beautiful thing Frodo had ever seen. Galadriel is described as tall and powerful and impressive, in contrast to Arwen's fragile perfection.

However, the story of Galadriel and Celeborn appears a few times in the Unfinished Tales, where Tolkien has this to say:

Even among the Eldar she was accounted beautiful, and her hair was held a marvel unmatched. It was golden like the hair of her father and of her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the starlike silver of her mother; and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been snared in her tresses."

All of the focus here seems to be on Galadriel's hair being beautiful without match, while Arwen's comparison to Luthien would encompass her entire look.

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    I think I agree, since Lúthien was the most beautiful of the Children of Ilúvatar, and Arwen was said to be in her likeness. Perhaps if wisdom and power were also factored in, I would choose Galadriel. – AJL May 23 '15 at 18:35
  • +1 and thanks for answering. But I think Gimli's reaction to seeing Galadriel counts as Tolkien's description of her, since Tolkien wrote it, and we can probably assume that Gimli's assessment isn't wildly different from reality - he may be exaggerating, but his awestruck response can't be completely unfounded. The only other time he is so stunned by beauty is when he sees the Glittering Caves at Helm's Deep, and when Legolas later sees them for himself, he is literally speechless. So it seems safe to assume that Gimli knows beauty when he sees it. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 19:57
  • @MichaelEdenfield - I just dug up a quote from the Silmarillion- "Tolkien describes Galadriel as "the mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth" (after the death of Gil-galad) and the "greatest of elven women"." – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 20:21
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Maybe Tolkien thought them to be equally beautiful - that would reflect Gimli's and Eomer's argument. But then in the Silmarillion it is stated that Galadriel was, among other things, the fairest of the remaining elves, and that would include Arwen, I think.

Arwen is described to walk in the likeness of Luthien, but that doesn´t neccessarily mean that she is as beautiful as Luthien was - just that she resembles her a bit, not unusual, since Arwen was her great granddaughter. I believe somewhere in ROTK, the people of Gondor say that Arwen is the most beautiful thing they ever saw. I assume they saw Galadriel during the wedding, but probably they also were not really objective.

I imagine Galadriel to be fairer, because of her hair being " a marvel unmatched" and because of how Sam described her:

"Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as di'monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain, and as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime." - LotR

I find the ´merry lass´ part interesting, I really can´t imagine her that way.

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