Observations on Arwen and Luthien

Not my own observations, sadly! After a long hiatus, the Tolkien Professor has just released two more episodes of the Silmarillion Seminar, a great series which has got me through a lot of long walks and marathon cleaning sessions (even if it has been going on for so long now that I’ve completely forgotten what happened at the beginning).

Anyway, in episode 23 (available here) the gang wrap up the tail-end of the Beren and Luthien story before moving on to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and along the way get into an interesting discussion on Arwen and Luthien. While most comparisons between the two characters focus on the similarities (the tendency to go frolicking about the forest singing, the taste for scruffy mortal men – and they even look alike!), Professor Olsen and his class dwell a bit on the differences in their stories. It’s a refreshing perspective, and gets right to the heart of the problem that I (and many fans) have with Arwen as she is in the books. While Luthien gets a bit of heat in some quarters for allegedly being a “Mary Sue” (and certainly some of her special hair-growing, Dark Lord-bashing activities can feel a bit much), at least she does something and takes an active role in shaping her own destiny – in stark contrast to her great-great-granddaughter, who has the most fleeting of presences in The Lord of the Rings and is arguably the most completely passive of Tolkien’s women. (They also dwell briefly on the contrast between what we know of their final fates, with Arwen finally tasting the bitterness of her choice as she wanders around a faded and deserted Lothlorien*, while Luthien’s attitude towards her eventual death – although it happens off-screen – is never hinted to have been anything other than accepting). I thought this was an interesting comparison, and I hope to delve into it a bit myself at some point – either in a specific post, or when looking at Arwen (otherwise not the most thrilling of characters to profile). For the meantime, enjoy the wise words of Professor Olsen and the Silmarillionaires!

*Personally I like to imagine that Celeborn was still sitting around somewhere, probably in a pile of his own filth and with his silver hair matted, wondering where Galadriel had gone and completely oblivious to the passage of the centuries. But I’m pretty sure that’s just me.