Suite101: Where Are the Aragorn and Arwen Web Sites? - Michael Martinez' J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

Suite 101 has posted their latest article in a continuing series which examines the upcoming Lord of the Rings movies. This one takes the time to take a close look at Aragorn and Arwen--if you want to know much of what there is to know about these two characters, click on over to Suite 101 and read the article.

Where Are the Aragorn and Arwen Web Sites?

by Michael Martinez

Suite 101

Search for the names "Aragorn" and "Arwen" on the Web today and you're likely to come up with a mixture of sites, most of them uninformative or, worse, misinformative. I am astonished at how many Web sites have a section which at least mentions Aragorn but which also attribute the wrong names and titles to him. One of his names was Thengel? That item must have escaped Tolkien's notice.

Although today there is a dearth of Aragorn and Arwen sites I think it's a safe bet to say that in a couple of years there will be a run on Aragorn/Arwen Web real estate. I don't just mean domain names (although with Aragorn's long list of names and titles it would be expensive to tie up all the namespace), but the topic in general. There will be official "unofficial" pages, unofficial pages, pages for Aragorn, pages for Arwen, pages for Stuart Townsend and Aragorn, pages for Liv Tyler and Arwen, link lists, Webrings, message boards, mailing lists....

Are Stuart and Liv prepared for this? They will forever more be The Cool Couple of Fantasy, like it or not, just as Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh have been Rhett and Scarlet ever since 1939's "Gone With the Wind" was released. And at least Gable and Leigh didn't have to worry about what would circulate on the Internet.

There are already pages out there for MERP players, the Elendor MUSH people, and a few attempts at encyclopedia-like works which give a few bare-bones facts about Aragorn. Arwen usually gets mentioned in passing, almost on the level of, "By the way, she was not only the daughter of Elrond, but also the girl who got to marry Elessar." Such passion. Such fury. Such eloquence.

There will be Aragorn and Arwen fan fiction elucidating their mysterious visits together, the lost days in Lothlorien, secret epistles Elrond never knew about. I suppose there will eventually even be Aragorn and Arwen pornography (and slash fiction, assuming someone can figure out which is more slashable). If you don't know what slash is you're probably safer not going there anyway.

Artists (both good and bad) will render the images of Aragorn and Arwen as portrayed by Townsend and Tyler, or as they would have preferred the characters portrayed by other actors and actresses. I don't mean the top-notch NAME artists like Alan Lee and John Howe, but Internet artists who scan their drawings or doodle up faces on their PCs. There is a great deal of fannish artwork out there for other subjects right now.

And though Aragorn and Arwen won't be the only LOTR characters to suddenly emerge into major Webdom circles, they will probably be the most prominent. After all, Liv Tyler is gorgeous. A whole generation of boys is going to fall in love with her. A generation of girls is going to wish they could be her. How often does a woman get the opportunity to portray a character from a best-selling-of-all-time novel? I'm not sure, but this may be a first. And Tyler's role may not be all that big in the movies. The whole point of the saga, after all, is to get the Ring to Mordor so it can be destroyed. Hopefully, Arwen won't be leading the left wing of Aragorn's army.

Still, it seems only prudent to me to encourage people to be careful in their research. If you're going to put up an Aragorn and Arwen page (and who's to say now isn't the time to do it?), keep in mind that it's a Good Thing to divulge your source material. Tolkien purists would tell you to stay away from the Middle-Earth Role-Playing game source books (all of which have disclaimers advising you to rely on Tolkien's books).

I'm telling you now to stay away from the other Web sites. Sure, there are some out there which have their facts right, but how many people know Thengel was a king of Rohan, the father of Theoden? That many? Okay, things aren't so bad just yet.

But just to be on the safe side, here are a few of the basic facts about Aragorn. See how many of them you know. And I'll make this hard for you: I won't name my sources, except to say they are all Tolkien books and none of them are Web sites.

Aragorn was born on March 1, 2931 of the Third Age. That would have been 1331 of Shire Reckoning. Tolkien stated in one place that he lived 190 years and in another place that Aragorn lived 210 years. The 210-year lifespan is the later and generally more accepted version. So Aragorn died in 120 of the Fourth Age, or the year 1641 in the Shire Reckoning.

His proper name at birth was Aragorn son of Arathorn II. Arathorn was killed two years later and young Aragorn then became Aragorn II, Chieftain of the Dunedain of the North -- not Chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor. Arnor was a kingdom. It was ruled by kings. The Chieftains were the guys who succeeded the kings after the kingdom was destroyed. Elrond also used the title "Lord of the Dunedain" when addressing Aragorn on at least one occasion.

Aragorn lived with Elrond in Imladris (Rivendell, also called Karningul in true Westron) for eighteen years. When the boy turned twenty Elrond told him who he really was. Until that time he had been raised as Elrond's (foster) son Estel. So, Aragorn was raised as an Elf for eighteen years. Few people seem to note the parallel between Aragorn's life and the life of Tuor, his forefather, who grew up among Annael's Sindarin Elves in Hithlum (for sixteen years).

Just as Aragorn found out who he was he met Arwen, fell in love with her, confided in his mother, and soon thereafter Elrond figured out what was going on in the lad's mind and he laid out the score for him: "She's too old for you, son, but even if she did love you, Arwen would have to make a great sacrifice to be with you, and I would lose my daughter forever". Forever is a long time to an Ent, but to an Elf it's devastating.

Aragorn had already been out a time or two with Elladan and Elrohir, Elrond's true sons (his foster brothers). There must have been a very strong bond between the three, though we don't see much of it in the book. It may seem curious to some people when the two Half-elves show up with the Dunedain in Rohan, but I suspect they were there partly to keep an eye on the young fella, and also to help him win the struggle, even though it might cost them a great deal.

Aragorn left Rivendell soon after he and Elrond had that first talk about Arwen. He spent the next five years in "the Wild". What does Tolkien mean by that? I suspect this was a period of apprenticeship for Aragorn, when he first went among his people and learned the ways of the Rangers.

After five years Aragorn met Gandalf. It may have been by chance (Tolkien really doesn't say how they met) but it was almost certainly inevitable. Gandalf must have worked closely with the Rangers for nearly a thousand years by that time. Of course, nit-picky people might ask why it took Gandalf so long to befriend Aragorn, since he'd obviously been to Rivendell at least twice in the boy's fosterhood (2941 and 2942, with Bilbo). But though Gandalf must have known who the boy was Elrond had commanded that his true heritage be kept secret. Aragorn had to seem like just another Elf-kid to folks passing through.

Speaking of all those names and titles Aragorn earned, he was called Thorongil when he served both Thengel of Rohan (who ruled from 2953 to 2980) and Ecthelion II of Gondor (who was Ruling Steward from 2953 to 2984). Aragorn's errantries lasted from 2957 to 2980. During these years he visited the far countries of Rhun, and he ventured south into the Harad "where the stars are strange". How far east and south did he go?

Aragorn closed out these travels by leading a small fleet of Gondorian ships against Umbar. He burned the greater part of the Corsairs' fleet and slew the Captain of the Haven. He bade farewell to his men at Pelargir and then crossed Anduin to its southern bank. He turned east and walked away toward Mordor. Later that year he arrived in Lothlorien and there met Arwen again.

Arwen's biography is not quite so lengthy, although she lived for nearly 3,000 years. Born in the year 241 of the Third Age to Elrond and Celebrian, Arwen was the last descendant of Finwë, Elwë, and Olwë to be born among the Elves in Middle-earth. After her mother Celebrian sailed over Sea in the year 2510 Arwen became the highest ranking Elven woman in Eriador. And despite Celebrian's abduction by and torment among the Orcs Arwen apparently continued to move back and forth between Lothlorien and Imladris, visiting Galadriel and Celeborn.

We learn little about Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, but there is some information published in The History of Middle-earth which would probably be applicable to her. As the chief Elven woman of Elrond's household (and the entire region) Arwen was probably the leader of the Yavannildi, the maidens of Yavanna. These were the Elf-women who tended the special gardens among Eldarin Elves where they raised the select corn given to their ancestors by Yavanna at the beginning of the Great Journey. This corn was harvested by hand and used to make lembas. In Lothlorien Galadriel and her handmaidens, who made the lembas given to the Fellowship of the Ring, were the Yavannildi (properly called Ivonwin in Sindarin).

Elven women (among the Eldar, and especially among the Noldor) were usually most responsible for healing. Elrond's gift as a healer is therefore unusual, and is probably due in part to the Ring Vilya, mightiest of the Three. Tolkien did write that great healers abstained from war and hunting, however, as these activities diminished their power to heal, and in the Third Age Elrond seems to have been less a warrior than of old. He and Arwen therefore may have achieved a great deal between them.

Although the Yavannildi were responsible for making lembas, most cooking among the Noldor (whose culture seems to have prevailed in Imladris) was done by the men, not the women. So Arwen probably spent relatively little time in the kitchens and she would not have overseen the household staff. Elven women were most closely associated with outdoor activities and related skills, such as agriculture and "spinning, weaving, fashioning, and adornment of all threads and cloths". They were not just laborers, they were weavers and tailors, and doubtless were equivalent to masters of these crafts among Men.

Elven women were also most often the musicians among their peoples, but all we seem to see of Arwen and music in The Lord of the Rings is her song to Elbereth. She secretly (though probably not in devious or deceptive secrecy) weaves the great standard for Aragorn which he unveils in Gondor. What she does throughout her life is a mystery, and some people seem upset that Peter Jackson might portray her as adventurous and rogueish.

Well, Elven women could and sometimes did use weapons. It would not necessarily be uncharacteristic for the descendant of Luthien and Idril, both of whom showed initiative and courage, to carry a sword when she passed through dangerous lands. But she does not seem to be a warrior. An enchantress, much like Luthien, would be a better extrapolation for Arwen. For one thing, her choice to become mortal would seem all the more tragic if she gave up also her special powers, the sub-creational abilities which Elves naturally possessed.

For those fanfic authors who may feel the urge to write about Arwen's adventures, we only know a little about her travels. She apparently was not in Imladris from the years 2933 through 2950. When she went to Lothlorien is unknown. Aragorn met her in Imladris in 2951 (probably in Spring or Summer) and he encountered her again in Lothlorien in 2980. Elrond sent for her in 3009. She may have usually spent 30 or 40 years in either land.

In "Many Meetings" we are told that Arwen had yet been seen by few mortals when Frodo first laid eyes on her in 3018 at Imladris, so she either had few dealings with the Dunedain or only met a few of the Dunedain on any regular basis. Of course, a dedicated fanfic author will want to learn as much as possible about the Elves, how they lived and travelled, and the variations in customs which existed among them. It's not possible to go into all such matters here.

Lastly, one aspect of Arwen which Tolkien discussed at great length in his letters was Arwen's ability to look into the hearts of others. She was the first to perceive Frodo's spiritual distress, and it was her plan to send Frodo over Sea. She appealed to Gandalf on Frodo's behalf. She was not simply clever but wise and should not have been easily fooled by anyone or anything.

Returning to Aragorn, a few more points should be made. First of all, when an adjective is needed, dunadan is appropriate, not dunedain. Hence, one speaks of the dunadan realms, not the dunedain realms. And this is an Anglicization, not necessarily true Elvish.

The Kingdom of Arnor was established by Elendil, High King of the Dunedain-in-Exile, and he was succeeded by nine more High Kings. Arthedain was that portion of Arnor which was ruled by the descendants of the eldest Line of Isildur, the only one of three to survive after the division of Arnor. In 1349 of the Third Age Argeleb I claimed authority over all of Arnor's former extent, but his claim was rejected by the chieftains and lords of the people in Rhudaur, the eastern kingdom. Cardolan's people appear to have accepted Arthedain's king, and Arnor was therefore re-established in law if not properly in name. After the war of 1409, in which Rhudaur as utterly destroyed and Cardolan was overrun, Arthedain and Arnor became synonymous and it is appropriate to refer to the kingdom as Arnor.

Aragorn was not the last descendant of Isildur, either. Both of his grandfathers were descendants of Aranarth, the first Chieftain of the Dunedain of the North. Halbarad was Aragorn's kinsman, which may or may not mean he was descended from Isildur. But it's highly probable there were a fair number of Dunedain who could claim descent from Isildur. Aragorn had the distinction of being descended generation-to-generation through the eldest sons of Isildur's heirs.

Tolkien said the Dunedain of the North were a wandering people. Many have taken that to mean they were nomadic, but Eriador is not very good territory for nomads. It's possible the Dunedain simply moved their camps or villages every generation or so to maintain their secrecy. They may have lived very much like Elves from Wandering Companies, whose lifestyle was not well documented by Tolkien. It is probably safe to assume there were a few secret refuges, probably in the North Hills, where the Dunadan companies would live for a time. These refuges would have gardens and comfortable housing (but no great halls, no lembas). They may have been stockades or simply surrounded by hedges and trees, hidden from well-known paths and roads.

Butterbur placed the Rangers east of Bree, and they appear to have visited the Weather Hills often. Their watch over the Shire and Bree must have required the Rangers to travel far from their homes and kin. They probably also visited the South Downs in northern Cardolan, the lands through which Aragorn led the Hobbits and where he found some athelas, which he said grew only in or near old camps and settlements of his people.

It was due largely to the vigilance of the Rangers that Orcs, Trolls, and other fell creatures from the lands of north of Imladris did not trouble Bree and the Shire (much -- on some occasions the evil creatures won past the Rangers). But the Rangers performed this work secretly. And the thanks they got was the scorn born of misunderstanding. Aragorn was called "Strider" by the Men of Bree because he was tall and long-legged, and always walking around quickly as if in some great hurry, but he didn't explain what his hurry was.

Because Frodo and the other Hobbits were introduced to him as "Strider", and most often called him that, the name took on a new aspect for Aragorn, and when he became King of Gondor and Arnor he took it as the name for his family, but in the Quenya (High-elven) form, "Telcontar". Through the years many people have asked if this was a literal translation. I don't believe so. "Strider" is an English construction, a noun devised by Tolkien from the verb "stride", "to walk with long steps, usually in a pompous way".

We make many nouns from verbs: fly --> flyer, swim --> swimmer, run --> runner, and so forth. So the word "Strider" is naturally understood among native English speakers, but it has provided some difficulty for people whose native languages are not English. In another language the equivalent of "Stride" might be rendered as something like "He walks with big steps" (but in fewer words).

To understand what telcontar means we must look at "The Etymologies", a pre-Lord of the Rings work which is partially but not wholly applicable to the Elven languages of the book. The entry for telek- gives us telko, leg. The entry for anad/anda gives us "long", as in "Anduin", "long river". It's usually translated as "Great River", but "great" in the sense of "long" or "large".

So, telco + anda results in telconda, telconta: "great leg", "long leg". Bill Ferny called Aragorn "Longshanks" and in the Spanish translation of The Lord of the Rings (for example) "Strider" is translated into Grand Pas, "big step". Adding the pluralizer -r renders telcontar, "long legs". The power of Tolkien's language is further demonstrated when we take the name Telcontar and pluralize it again by adding -i. So, Aragorn took the name Elessar Telcontar and his descendants were the Telcontari, and the Quenya name can actually be understood literally.

So, these are the bare essentials. I'm not saying everyone should copy what I wrote here, but if you have the books and wish to create your own Aragorn and Arwen Web sites, these facts are verifiable. You may need to dig a little to find the references. But I'm not being mean by not giving them to you. I just think the books are always well worth reading at least one more time.

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