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Arwen's spot on the boat


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Oct 4, 2017
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At the end of LOTR, Arwen tells Frodo that she won't be going on the boat to Valinor, so Frodo can have her spot. I find this odd. Can she do this? I thought that was an inherent right of Elves, not a voucher that they can gift to whoever they want. Bilbo is on the boat too, who gave up their seat for him?

Would they not both die as soon as they got there anyways? In the Silmarillion, it's made clear that mortals can't withstand the 'energy' of the realm and that simply being there doesn't make you immortal. It didn't seem like something the Valar even had the ability to change, since mortality was a gift straight from Illuvatar.


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Aug 19, 2019
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Alcuin can give you a more exhausting answer, but I can just give you a few comments off the top of my head. Most of this probably derives from Tom Shippey, though I can't rule our Verlyn Flieger.
Elrond was called the Half-Elven, though that is a simplification. But he had chosen to be counted among the Elves, while his twin brother Elros had opted for Humankind.
Oddly, while Elros's choice was irrevocably binding on all of his descendants, this seems not to have been the case for Elrond and his descendants - of which he had none in the entire Second Age. The twins Elladan and Elrohir and their "kid" sister Arwen were all born in the early Third Age, and Arwen was 2690 years old when future hubby Aragorn was born. JRRT wrote somewhere that the fate of Elrond's children was dependent on his remaining in Middle-earth, though what precisely then happened to them is quite unclear for Elladan and Elrohir, who stayed in Middle-earth when Elrond left together with Bilbo, Frodo, Galadriel and Gandalf.
Arwen had chosen mortality, so to speak, though she is 2900 years old when Aragorn dies an still survives him for a short while.
The point (made by Shippey, I believe) is that there was an emissary in Middle-earth from Valinor in the form of Gandalf - and from Eru himself, as Gandalf's being sent back with greatly enhanced powers as The White seems also to have bee a direct intercession from Eru. So he could give the OK for Bilbo and Frodo to go to - and here, it is also not quite clear where. Best bet seems to be Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle of the Elves which was removed from the circle of the world together with Valinor at the changing of the world during the drowning of Númenor. "It is said" that even the Elves occasionally needed a "breather" from Valinor every once in a while ...
But again, by special dispensation, the two Hobbits might have been able to pay a short visit to Valinor. But JRRT makes it quite clear that he saw (in a letter, probably) the sojourn to Tol Eressëa as something purgatorial, in a healing sense for Frodo, to heal him from his hurts from blade, sting and tooth, which seemed unhealable in Middle-earth. Bilbo would quite likely have died not long after reaching wherever they went. And when Sam left Middle-earth (as is presumed) according to Appendix B in RoTK at age 102, Frodo would have been 114. Not impossible for a Hobbit, and Frodo was the great-grandson of Gerontius, The Old Took, who lived to 130 without the aid of any ring, through his maternal grandmother, who was again the younger sister of Bilbo's mother. Now some of this is not to be found in LoTR, which leaves things open that normally cannot be known in Middle-earth. But in other writing (and this is one part of what make Humphrey Carpenter's "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" so interesting), he does provide quite a bit of trivia.
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Nov 28, 2004
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With respect to one point at least, I don't think a mortal's life would necessarily be shortened in Aman. In Tolkien's essay Aman (and Aman and Mortal Men) published in Morgoth's Ring, the idea put forth (as I read it anyway) is that mortals do not age faster in Aman.

Part of the essay Aman and Mortal Men reads...

"If it is thus in Aman, or was ere the Change of the World, and therein the Eldar had health and lasting joy, what shall we say of Men? No Man has ever set foot in Aman, or at least none has ever returned thence; for the Valar forbade it. Why so? To the Númenóreans they said they did so because Eru had forbidden them to admit Men to the Blessed Realm; and they declared also that Men would not there be blessed (as they imagined) but accursed, and would 'wither even as a moth in a flame too bright.'"

"Beyond these words we can but go in guess. Yet we may consider the matter so. The Valar were not only by Eru forbidden the attempt, they could not alter the nature, or "doom" of Eru, of any of the Children, in which was included the speed of their growth (relative to the whole life of Arda) and the length of their life-span. Even the Eldar in that respect remained unchanged. Let us suppose then that the Valar had also admitted to Aman some of the Atani, and (so that we may consider a whole life of a Man in such a state) that "mortal" children were there born, as were children of the Eldar. Then, even though in Aman, a mortal child would still grow to maturity in some twenty years of the Sun, and the natural span of its life, the period of cohesion of hroa and fea, would be no more than, say, 100 years. Not much more, even though (...)"

"But in Aman such a creature would be a fleeting thing, the most swift passing of all beasts. For his whole life would last little more than one half-year, and while other living creatures would seem to him hardly to change, but to remain steadfast in life and joy..."
JRRT, Aman and Mortal Men

Here the idea of withering even as a moth in a flame too bright is considered, and seems to not necessarily mean (in my opinion) a mortal actually ages faster in Aman.

Note: in the context of this essay at least, 1 Valian Year = 144 Sun Years, which is why a mortal's whole life "would last little more than one half-year."


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Mar 9, 2005
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Consigned to the salt mines of Núrnen…
Sartr, welcome to TTF.

Olorgando and Galin are both correct. I have only a little to add, but there are some interesting points in Tolkien’s Letters.

The first is from Letter 154. After describing that the “High Elves”, the Eldar, both the Noldor (who came from Eldamar) and Sindar (who had never gone to Eldamar but were distracted along the way), alone could travel to Tol Eressëa within sight of Eldamar, the east coast of Valinor, Tolkien writes
[I]t is supposed that there may be certain rare exceptions or accommodations …; and so certain “mortals”, who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome. Thus Frodo (by the express gift of Arwen) and Bilbo, and eventually Sam (as adumbrated by Frodo); and as a unique exception Gimli the Dwarf, as friend of Legolas and “servant” of Galadriel.​
So that sets up the idea that
  1. the journey of the three Hobbits (and Gimli) is exceptional, and
  2. it was either arranged by Arwen or at least her idea.
Now we come to the next point, which appears in Letter 246.
[Frodo] appears at first to have had no sense of guilt …; he was restored to sanity and peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in sacrifice: he expected to die very soon. But he did not, and one can observe the disquiet growing in him. Arwen was the first to observe the signs, and gave him her jewel for comfort, and thought of a way of healing him.​
Again, this is Arwen’s idea. And at this point, there is a footnote to the letter which reads (and I quote the whole footnote because of its importance to your query),
It is not made explicit how she could arrange this. She could not of course just transfer her ticket on the boat like that! For any except those of Elvish race “sailing West” was not permitted, and any exception required “authority”, and she was not in direct communication with the Valar, especially not since her choice to become “mortal”. What is meant is that it was Arwen who first thought of sending Frodo into the West, and put in a plea for him to Gandalf (direct or through Galadriel, or both), and she used her own renunciation of the right to go West as an argument. Her renunciation and suffering were related to and enmeshed with Frodo’s: both were parts of a plan for the regeneration of the state of Men. Her prayer might therefore be specially effective, and her plan have a certain equity of exchange. No doubt it was Gandalf who was the authority that accepted her plea. The Appendices show clearly that he was an emissary of the Valar, and virtually their plenipotentiary in accomplishing the plan against Sauron. He was also in special accord with Círdan the Shipwright, who had surrendered to him his ring and so placed himself under Gandalf’s command. Since Gandalf himself went on the Ship there would be so to speak no trouble either at embarking or at the landing.​
Letter 246 continues beyond the footnote,
Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him – if that could be done, before he died. He would have eventually to “pass away”: no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time. So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent still in Time... .​
Bilbo went too. No doubt ... due to Gandalf himself. … His companionship was really necessary for Frodo’s sake – it is difficult to imagine a hobbit, even one who had been through Frodo’s experiences, being really happy even in an earthly paradise without a companion of his own kind, and Bilbo was the person that Frodo most loved. … But [Bilbo] also … bore still the mark of the Ring that needed to be finally erased: a trace of pride and personal possessiveness. …​
It is clear, of course, that the plan had actually been made and concerted (by Arwen, Gandalf and others) before Arwen spoke. But Frodo did not immediately take it in; the implications would slowly be understood on reflection. Such a journey would at first seem something not necessarily to be feared, even as something to look forward to – so long as undated and postponable. His real desire was … just “to be himself again” and get back to the old familiar life that had been interrupted. Already on the journey back from Rivendell he suddenly saw that was not for him possible. Hence his cry “Where shall I find rest?” He knew the answer, and Gandalf did not reply. As for Bilbo, it is probable that Frodo did not at first understand what Arwen meant by “he will not again make any long journey save one”. At any rate he did not associate it with his own case. … But at Rivendell he came to understand things more clearly. The conversations he had there are not reported, but enough is revealed in Elrond’s farewell ...​
I apologize for the long citations, but they make clear Frodo’s situation: his wounds physical, psychological, and (perhaps) spiritual; and that his sojourn in Tol Eressëa was exactly that: a sojourn before he died so that he might heal, if possible: neither Frodo nor any of his companions, nor Gimli, were admitted to the ranks of the Eldar and lived until the end of Arda: they all remained mortal and died in Tol Eressëa. Nor was his healing certain, according to Tolkien: only that it might be possible.

One last item, which touches on a question Galin raised a week ago in another thread. Gandalf had a ship full of passengers who would normally be neither permitted to sail to Valinor nor to disembark when they arrived. But as I discovered researching this post, Galadriel may also have played a part in Frodo’s departure for Tol Eressëa. In a footnote to Letter 297, Tolkien says that in the song Galadriel sings (in Quenya) as the Company of the Ring departs in boats from Lórien,
she concludes her lament with a wish or prayer that Frodo may as a special grace be granted a purgatorial (but not penal) sojourn in Eressëa, the Solitary Isle in sight of Aman, though for her the way is closed.​
So also Galadriel boarded the ship to the West only with the permission of Gandalf, and her long self-imposed exile in Middle-earth came at last to an end. But it is possible that, if Arwen learned of Galadriel’s song of parting (as likely she did), this either planted the germ of an idea in her mind, or reinforced an idea that had already arisen.

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