Me: And I loved Tauriel and Kili.
David: Of course you did.
Me: I was expecting her to die with him, since she’s not in Lord of the Rings. I thought it would be a tragic Romeo & Juliet thing. But she lived! And it was so much worse and so much better!
David: She has to live without him forever.
Me: Oh my gosh. You’re right. *keening* This is so painful!!
David: She’s like the opposite of Arwen.
Me: *gasp* Someone should write an essay about that!
David: I’ll get right on that.
I don’t think he’s going to get right on that, so I will! Tauriel, the immortal elf who loved a mortal dwarf, and Arwen, the immortal elf who loved a mortal man. The first watched her love die and will have to live forever with that pain, while the second gave up her immortality and died with her love. Although Arwen’s decision was given much weight throughout the LotR series, I can’t help but think that Tauriel’s love is the more tragic.
Arwen’s choice to give up her immortality and live a mortal life alongside Aragorn was undercut by the overarching tragedy of the elves. They live forever, but in a broken world, this is not such a gift as it might seem. Some elves respond to this tragedy by isolation (Thranduil and the Mirkwood elves), while others jump into the affairs of men and suffer the consequences (Haldir in the movies). In between are those like Elrond and Galadriel who spend most of their time amongst their own people, but are willing to engage with the wars of men and dwarves if the need is great enough. No matter their worldview, the elves are consistently portrayed as beautiful tragedies, a relic of a time long gone. They are separate from everything around them, waiting for the end of their age when all elves journey on to Valinor.
With this backdrop, Arwen’s decision feels almost smart. Choosing to live and die a mortal means becoming relevant. She can engage with the peoples around her and feel the increased joy and sorrow that accompanies experiences from a mortal vantage point. Eternity for elves is known, but the fate of men after death is less established. This is one of her risks, trusting in eternity even without the surety of elven faith. Far greater, however, is her separation from her people. As her father and friends leave Middle-earth, she alone lives on. Until she dies. But it seems to me that death is not so much the tragedy as is her goodbyes.
Then we have Tauriel, a new character added by Peter Jackson. I adore her, both for the general inclusion of a female presence in the male-dominated Hobbit story, and for her specific combination of warrior-lover. Kili the dwarf falls in love with her when she saves his life, and she falls in love with him when they discuss starlight and family traditions. Although they know each other an impossibly short amount of time, Tauriel feels his death deeply. So deeply that she finally comes to understand the coldness of Thranduil, who repressed his emotions so deeply in order to ignore the pain of losing his wife centuries ago.
And that’s the thing. Losing someone you love means centuries of grief if you are an elf. As in Thranduil’s case, this can still occur even between elf-elf reltionships. But Tauriel’s love for a dwarf exacerbates this problem. Not only is she in love with a mortal, she is in love with a hot-headed dwarf who seeks the glory of battle and the honor of his homeland. A short time together, she now has an eternity to mourn him. No wonder she cries, “If this is love, I do not want it.” Opening your heart to love means opening your heart to pain. For a human, but so much more for an elf.
So who has the greater tragedy? Arwen, who gave up immortality, or Tauriel, who must live forever with grief?
Clearly the answer is me, a obsessive fan who has chosen to carry both their burdens.
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