I read this article on io9 and immediately leapt here (figuratively; I do not wish to break my laptop or the desk on which it sits). Now, I’m not 100% certain Kevin read Tolkien; I’ve always been more of a fantasy guy than he has. However, even if he hasn’t, the books are about sixty years old.
The Arwen-Aragorn romance is not, shockingly, central to the trilogy’s plot. It’s more important in the films, because Liv Tyler, I guess, but even there it isn’t central. According to this article, W.H. Auden was all “dude, drop the whole thing.” Tolkien was all “nuh-UH.” End scene.
Now, from a purely executionary standpoint, the films and books do a fine job. They tell the basic framework (essentially, Arwen surrenders immortality to be with Aragorn) and then put it in the background. We aren’t talking “Anakin and Padme” levels of unnecessary drivel. This is a legitimately brilliant writer who didn’t want one of his main characters getting lonely, I guess. Maybe Tolkien was so brilliant he anticipated slash fiction and knew elf-human pairings would pop up anyway. I don’t know.
Where am I going with this? I want to make three points, and then I’ll let you get on with your life.
1) Arwen-Aragorn is not central to the plot, and could probably be removed entirely, as it is a somewhat generic love story (for Tolkien). A generation of nerds would be denied one of the few attractive females in the trilogy, and Liv Tyler would probably have faded entirely into the background, but other than that? No big deal.
2) Eowyn-Faramir is a much more interesting pairing (as Auden recognized). Why? You have the whole potential love triangle with Aragorn, Eowyn, and Faramir. Granted, Aragorn shoots her down and Eowyn reads way too much into his attentions, but it’s still there, potentially. More importantly, it is a genuinely reciprocal relationship, in which both parties have something to offer, and both characters are damaged. (Both have daddy issues, although Eowyn is not strictly speaking Theoden’s daughter. Faramir’s dad just tries to set him on fire. No big deal.) It draws two tertiary characters (if that isn’t being generous) together, gives them a story arc that would otherwise be absent from the film, and is the second best love story that Tolkien ever wrote. And the best? This is point #3!
3) (See, I told you.) The reason I really dislike the Aragorn-Arwen romance (from a literary standpoint) is that it’s an extremely watered down version of Beren and Luthien. Beren and Luthien have the whole star-crossed lovers angle, but it’s magnified because Beren goes on an insane quest to win Luthien’s love. He loses most of his hand. Luthien, meanwhile, has the same choice Arwen does (eternity without love, or love without eternity), but it’s even worse. See, Luthien’s dad is a dick about the whole thing, and insists that Beren bring back a Silmarillion in exchange for Luthien. For which he has to fight lots and lots of nasty creatures, one of whom happens to be Morgoth, otherwise known as Sauron’s boss. Let me spell that out for you: In order to win the approval of one of the world’s biggest assholes, he fights an evil god. All for love!
Of course, a giant wolf eats the Silmarillion, but the asshole, possibly out of a need to be an even bigger asshole later on, relents and says “sure, marry her now. I guess you’re cool.” Of course, Beren, being a super badass, says “look, damn it, you want your shiny gem, you will get your shiny gem!” (This is after a while — his hand got eaten after all, and he needed time to recover.) So he goes, faces the giant wolf, and dies, but only after killing the wolf and giving the Silmarillion to the asshole. The asshole is all, “Awesome!” Meanwhile, Luthien grieves over her husband, and later dies herself. Mandos, another god, is bummed out (because he isn’t an asshole) and brings them both back to life, and they live happily ever after. In my opinion, Beren and Luthien may be the single greatest love story of all time, because it emphasizes the true essence of love: sacrifice.
Now, let’s compare that to Aragorn and Arwen. Arwen, noble lass, makes the same deal Luthien did. The trouble is that Aragorn does not have to go on a quest like Beren’s. He’s already got Arwen. Sure, there’s the part where he’s all “oh noes, you won’t be immortal any more.” The problem is that, neither in the book nor in the films, is it ever established that this is a genuine sacrifice. He’s even being kind of a chauvinistic dick about it: it’s her choice to love whom she chooses.
Let’s fast forward: Aragorn relents, they get married, have a bunch of kids and live for hundreds of years together. Eventually Aragorn dies, but Arwen has to keep living out her absurdly long life alone. The end. Aragorn gets everything, and Arwen gets most of what she wanted, but in the end, she pays a horrible price and he does not.
He didn’t even get horribly mutilated. What a poseur!