Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Saturday, January 04, 2003

Alright, time to get the last bit of Tolkien mania out of my system till next year. Before TT came out, I had been trying to understand the character of Aragorn as portrayed in the first film, the better to appreciate whatever arc the screenwriters were trying to draw for him. I concluded that whereas in the book Aragorn’s character is already formed before the story starts, the filmmakers thought it necessary to saddle him with serious doubts about his two main goals in life: the girl and the throne. So the question is: are these doubts--or possible solutions to them--developed in Two Towers? And how?

As for the first of the two, the answer is definitely yes. Lot o' doubtin' goin' on. In fact, the doubt finally spreads to Arwen herself, or rather is implanted there by Agent Elrond just the same way he did that bug in Neo’s abdomen. He’d first done a similar job on Aragorn, and we now learn that apparently after the love scene in Rivendell where she gave him the evenstar, there was another one in which he tried to give it back. A break up of sorts, though like the noble jilted suitor that she is, Arwen told him to keep the ring. This gives retroactive meaning to the look that passes between them in Fellowship just before the nine set out, and meshes with his conversation with Galadriel in which he tells her he wants Arwen to take the ship to Valinor.

It helps to understand what the issue is here. In the books, it is explained that Elrond’s family is half-elf. Which is kind of like having dual citizenship--at some point you have to choose which country you want to hold your passport from. Elrond chose elfhood, and he’s eventually taking the ship back to Valinor, which is a very exclusive retirement home run by the Valar and strictly elves-only. (For all this talk about racism in Tolkien, how come nobody notices that it’s mainly practiced by elves against humans? Except Garrett, of course.) Elrond’s brother Elros, on the other hand, chose to become a human and founded the line of kings from which Aragorn is descended. (If this all sounds vaguely incestuous, remember that Arwen is 2690 years older than Aragorn, which should take some of the curse off it. Anyway, you know how royal families are.) But the thing is, by choosing to be human they don’t really become just like other humans. It’s not like that de-Kryptonizer in Superman II. Ol’ uncle Elros lived another 500 years after he made his choice. So if Arwen chooses to stay with Aragorn and become mortal, she won’t even get to do the whole romantic grow-old-along-with-me-and-eventually-we’ll-be-two-trembling-prunes-sucking-face-on-Golden-Pond-together routine. She’ll age and die, but not much faster than the lettering on Aragorn’s sarcophagus will be done in by erosion. This is why Aragorn’s initial “better to have loved and lost” line doesn’t hold a whole lot of weight for Elrond. The “loved” part will last about a hundred years (Numenoreans are pretty resilient for humans), followed by another four hundred of “lost.” And let us now pause amid the glibness to admire the truly haunting and poignant scene in the film that illustrates this point. Done? Alright, now I can mention the two Questions We’re Not Supposed To Ask.

1) Why does Arwen have to become human to stay with Aragorn? Why not remain elf, stick around with hubby till he croaks, then hitch a ride with Legolas to Valinor and spend etermity dwelling in bliss with the relatives? Obviously it’s not a mating issue, else there wouldn’t be half-elves in the first place.

2) If she does have to assume a mortal coil, why couldn’t she just pull a Juliet and arrange some suitable way to shuffle it off at the same time as her love? If she really misses him that much, I mean. Is it that elves just don’t do this sort of thing? It’s not EC?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I suspect Tolkien didn’t either. If someone else does, please let me know. The best one I've thought of is that while she might do either of those things, it would mean abandoning her children and children’s children. I mean, I presume they intend to have children. Otherwise why go to all this trouble of restoring a bloodline to power? But if that’s the case, it was pretty underhanded of Elrond to conjure this image of her alone for centuries rather than a proud (and amazingly well-preserved) great great great grandmother of kings.

Anyway, we’ll take the premises we’re given and run with them. In the film, Aragorn wants Arwen to take the ticket to ride, because Elrond has brought home to him that she’s in for four hundred years of mourning if she sticks around with him, and he can’t bear to let her inflict that on herself. So he tries to break up with her. After the fellowship is gone, she apparently continues to hold onto the idea that things will work out until Elrond finally gets to her with that two-pronged attack all long-distance lovers have to suffer through: “He’s not coming back for you. And even if he is, do you know what you’re giving up by waiting?” (Oh yes, Paola heard a lot of that too.) Eventually she gives in, and we see her leaving Rivendell with one of those elven processions, ostensibly to waft her soft-focused way to the Gray Havens and catch the cruise to Valinor.

Meanwhile, in Rohan, Aragorn has met everyone’s favorite shieldmaiden. Is he interested in her? Is he thinking about it? On the surface he plays it pretty cool, pretty much like in the book. He’s courtly, but he doesn’t court her. He does do one thing though, that makes you wonder. On the road to Helm’s Deep, Eowyn asks him where the chick who gave him the necklace is. He says that she is leaving Middle Earth with her kin. How does he know? She hadn't made that decision when he left Rivendell. (In fact, if I'm following the chronology correctly, she still hasn't made it.) Last we heard, he was telling Galadriel that he "would have" her go to Valinor, and Galadriel said that choice was "still before her." So is this leap from "should go" to "is going" while talking to Eowyn Aragorn's moment of infidelity, his giving of voice to that part of him that would like to say "I'm available?"

If so, it doesn't last long. Next thing you know, we're smack into the single biggest departure from the book—the warg battle. What is the point of this? Well, it's easy enough to see what the point of the battle itself is. We haven't had any real action since Gandalf smote the Balrog, and there are women out there in need of biological fulfillment. So to be more precise—what is the point of Aragorn's clifffaller? I mean, even people who haven't read the book know he's not really dead. He can't be. He hasn't even done that impression of Jim-Morrison-opening-the-doors-to-the-keep yet. So it's not about suspense or grief. Not really. I think it's really about Arwen and Eowyn. The payoff of having Aragorn nearly die is the two scenes that follow from it. First is Aragorn's wet dream, in which he gets mouth-to-mouth from both Arwen and his horse. It's not clear whether she (Arwen, that is) is all in his head, or whether she really is appearing to him through some sort of elvish love magic. (We see her suddenly wake up back in Rivendell, as though she had been sharing the same dream. And as we recall from Fellowship, their whole relationship has been pretty dreamy.) I think the point, though, is clear. When he's about to snuff it, the thought that gives him will to live is that of Arwen's love. Which ought to worry him, because he's done everything but pack her bags to get her out of Middle Earth. But whether she leaves or not, she's in his soul, and not to be supplanted. Not even by the availability of a lissom princess who wants to show him how good Rohirrim are in the saddle. (See that, Diane? Blondes don't always have more fun.)

The second, very well-done scene is when he makes it to Helm's Deep and Legolas gives him back the evenstar as Eowyn looks on. No words pass between them, but it's all clear. He still belongs to Arwen. Eowyn knows it. He knows she knows it. Though their mutual admiration and attraction remains, the frisson of imagined possibility is gone. What remains for the last film is an explanation of why Arwen decides to stay, now that we've seen her setting out to leave. He won't be able to send her away again, though the pain of knowing what awaits her will remain. I'm not sure how the horse feels about all this.

Next (and last) installment: Theoden and Aragorn--Is it good to be the king?

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