In J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings of Middle-earth he weaves characters, stories and histories together into a magnificent tapestry, making nothing random or happenstance. Throughout its history there are common threads that can be seen running through Middle-earth’s story. Parallels can be drawn between different stories and characters because of commonalities and traits. The histories are filled with stories of sorrow and war, strife and death, but sprinkled throughout are stories of love, friendship and courage. Two of the most famous loves stories in all of Tolkien’s creations are the story of Beren and Lúthien and the story of Aragorn and Arwen. Interestingly enough, strong parallels can be drawn between the love stories of these two couples and especially the females: in the appearance of the female characters, in how their fathers describe them, and in what the females must give up for their beloved.
In terms of chronical order, the first love story of the two is Beren and Lúthien’s. Beren son of Barahir was a lone wanderer for years after his father’s death until one day he stumbles upon Lúthien dancing in the woods of Neldoreth. The pair grows to love each other even though they are of different races. However, Lúthien’s father, Thingol, does not approve of the match, so he sends Beren on the impossible task of retrieving from the crown of Morgoth a priceless Silmaril to win his daughter’s hand. Thingol is essentially sending Beren to his death, but he is actually successful in his quest due in part to Lúthien’s aid. Beren presents the Silmaril to Thingol, and he allows his daughter to be wed. Beren dies before Lúthien and she bids him to wait for her beyond the Western Sea. When Lúthien passes she comes to the hall of Mandos where she begs for Beren’s life. Mandos tells her that if he brings Beren back she must give up her immortality. Out of deep love Lúthien agrees, returning to Middle-earth with Beren to live out their days.
The second love story mentioned is Aragorn and Arwen’s, and their story follows here. Aragorn’s father Arathorn was killed when his son was only two years old. Gilraen, his mother, took Aragorn to Elrond in Rivendell. Elrond raised Aragorn as his own son, and loved him as a son. At twenty years of age Aragorn was informed of his true lineage, and it was the very next day that he met Arwen for the very first time. The pair fell in love almost immediately, but Elrond would not allow them to marry. Aragorn does not want to disobey his adopted father, and so he leaves Rivendell into the wild. It isn’t until years later that Aragorn and Arwen meet again, and this time it is in Lórien. During their time there they decide to pledge their love to one another regardless of Elrond’s wishes. The War of the Ring begins and Aragorn must leave Arwen for the time being. At the end of the War the Ring is destroyed, and Elrond must leave Middle-earth. Arwen has the choice between leaving with her father or give up her immortality to remain with Aragorn. She remained with Aragorn until his death at which time she bade farewell to her son and daughters and left Minas Tirith. Traveling to Lórien she finally died upon Cerin Amroth where she and Aragorn first pledged their love to each other.
The males of these stories, Aragorn and Beren, are both mortal Men, but the females, Arwen and Lúthien, are immortal Elves. Looking at their lineage Arwen, Aragorn and Lúthien are all descendants of the House of Bëor: “For Beregar came of the House of Bëor by ancient descent, though not of the royal line of Elros” (Unfinished Tales 177), and “the son of Barahir was Beren One-Hand, who won the love of Lúthien Thingol’s daughter, and returned from the Dead; from them came Elwing the wife of Eärendil, and all the Kings of Númenor” (The Silmarillion 148). Elros’ brother was Elrond father of Arwen. Aragorn is of the line of the Kings of Númenor. There is another tie between Aragorn and Beren. When Barahir, Beren’s father, was killed his son retrieved the ring that was given to him as a gift by the Elf Finrod Felagund. Since Aragorn is a descendant of Beren when Aragorn came of age “… [Elrond] delivered to [Aragorn] the heirlooms of his house. ‘Here is the ring of Barahir,’ he said, ‘the token of our kinship from afar…’” (The Return of the King, Appendix A 1032).
The first similarity between the female characters is in their physical appearance. At the first meeting of Beren and Lúthien compared to Aragorn and Arwen’s are strikingly similar. Since Lúthien and Arwen are both descendants of Erendis, they therefore have some of the same physical features as Erendis. Here follows a description of said looks, “Erendis was dark-haired and of slender grace, with the clear gray eyes of her kin,” (Unfinished Tales 177). Upon first seeing Lúthien in the woods of Neldoreth Beren describes her this way, “blue was her raiment as the unclouded heaven, but her eyes were as the starlit evening…her hair was dark as the shadows of twilight” (The Silmarillion 165). Similarly, when Aragorn sees Arwen for the first time in the woods of Rivendell he thinks that he is seeing Lúthien. He especially believes this because he had just been singing to himself the part of the Lay of Lúthien in which Beren meets Lúthien, “And suddenly even as he sang he saw a maiden walking…thinking he had strayed into a dream…there Lúthien walked before his eyes in Rivendell, clad in a mantel of silver and blue…her dark hair strayed in the wind” (The Return of the King, Appendix A 1033).
Beren did not know Lúthien’s name when he first saw her, and so he called her Tinúviel, “that signifies Nightingale, daughter of Twilight, in the Grey-elven tongue…Then the spell of silence fell from Beren, and he called to her, crying Tinúviel; and the woods echoed her name” (The Silmarillion 165). Similarly, Aragorn did not know who Arwen was on the day he saw her in the woods: “For a moment Aragorn gazed in silence, but fearing she would pass away and never be seen again, he called to her crying, Tinúviel, Tinúviel! even as Beren had done in the Elder Days long ago” (The Return of the King, Appendix A 1033). Just like Lúthien, Arwen stops at the sound of his voice. She asks him why he called her that, and he answers that it was because she looked so much like Lúthien Tinúviel, “but if you are not she, then you walk in her likeness” (1033).
Arwen and Lúthien’s names hold meanings that are akin to each other. One of Arwen’s many names is Undóme which means Evening and the name that Lúthien was given by Beren, Tinúviel, means Nightingale, daughter of twilight. Both Nightingale and Evening are things of the evening and twilight. It was said of Arwen that her mantle was as fair as twilight. Arwen and Aragorn first met at twilight in the woods. Twilight is itself significant. When Aragorn and Arwen met for the second time they were in Lórien during Midsummer, and went to the fair hill of Cerin Amroth:
And there upon that hill they looked easy to the Shadow and west to the Twilight, and they plighted their troth and were glad. And Arwen said: ‘Dark is the Shadow, yet my heart rejoices for you, Estel, shall be among the great whose valor will destroy it.’ But Aragorn answered: ‘Alas! I cannot foresee it, and how it may come to pass is hidden from me. Yet with your hope I will hope. And the Shadow I utterly reject. But neither, lady, is the Twilight for me; for I a mortal, and if you will cleave to me, Evenstar, then the Twilight you must renounce.’ 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.’ (The Return of the King, Appendix A 1036).
Twilight signifies the immortality of the Elves. Arwen chooses to forsake her immortality for the love she has for Aragorn, just as Lúthien gives her immortality up for Beren.
Another similarity between Lúthien and Arwen in their love stories is the way their fathers describe them. Arwen and Lúthien are described as being the treasures of their father. Neither parent wants to give up their daughter in the first place, let alone to a mortal Man. They know better than their offspring what will come of them if they wed a mortal. Both Beren and Aragorn must earn the right to marry Lúthien and Arwen. Putting themselves at risk both Men leave their loves to prove themselves to their future father-in-laws. Beren goes to fetch a Silmaril from Morgoth. Aragorn fights in the War of the Ring against Morgoth’s servant Sauron. When Thingol sends Beren to retrieve the Silmaril he says, “Bring to me in your hand a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown; and then, if she will, Lúthien may set her hand in yours. Then you shall have my jewel” (The Silmarillion 167). In the same way, Arwen is described as her father’s treasure. When Aragorn discovers Arwen he says to her, “Often is it seen…that in dangerous days men hide their chief treasure. Yet 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?” (The Return of the King, Appendix A 1033). Elrond learns that Aragorn has at long last met his daughter, and discusses this with Aragorn. Again Aragorn calls her Elrond’s treasure, “I see that I have turned my eyes to a treasure no less dear than the treasure of Thingol that Beren once desired. Such is my fate,” (1034). Just like when Aragorn meets Arwen and compares her to Lúthien physically, he again compares her to Lúthien in terms of being a treasure to her father saying that Arwen is a precious jewel to Elrond.
The final, and probably most important, similarity between the females in these love stories is in what they must sacrifice in order to live with their beloved. Beren, Lúthien, Aragorn and Arwen are all doomed to the same fate. Beren and Aragorn fall in love with immortal Elves, and Lúthien and Arwen fall in love with mortal Men. It was love at first sight for Beren and Lúthien:
As she looked on him, doom fell upon her heart and she loved him…Then Beren lay upon the ground in a swoon…Thus began the payment of anguish for the fate that was laid on him; and in his fate Lúthien was caught, and being immortal she shared in his mortality, and being free received his chain; and her anguish was greater than any other of the Eldalië. (The Silmarillion 165-66).
Falling in love with a member of another race brought doom on themselves. Since Lúthien chose Beren, a mortal, she was doomed to give up her immortality and live on Middle-earth until the end of her days. The Silmarillion puts it this way, “This doom [Lúthien] chose, forsaking the Blessed Realm, and putting aside all claim to kinship with those that dwell there; that thus whatever grief might lie in wait, the fates of Beren and Lúthien might be joined…So it was that alone of the Eldalië she has died indeed, and left the world long ago” (187).
In the same way, Arwen gives up her immortality for Aragorn and lives out her days in Middle-Earth with him. Elrond explains to Aragorn that even if Arwen does love Aragorn back he, “‘should still be grieved because of the doom that is laid on us…so long as I abide here, she shall live with the youth of the Eldar…and when I depart she shall go with me, if she so chooses’” (The Return of the King, Appendix A 1034). Arwen must choose between her father and her lover. Both Lúthien and Arwen forsake their immortality and the Blessed Realm for the mortal Men that they fell in love with thus sealing their own fate: to die unlike any of their kin.
Beren and Lúthien as well as Aragorn and Arwen are stories of inspiration, courage and most of all deep love. The similarities between the two are impossible to miss. The females are immortal Elves and the males are mortal Men. Lúthien, Arwen and Aragorn are all of the House of Bëor. Multiple similarities can be drawn between these two stories, but specifically the females of these two stories are almost identical. Lúthien and Arwen are described identically in terms of physical appearance, in terms of how their fathers view them and in terms of what they are required to sacrifice on the altar of love.