Everybody knows that as you grow older, time passes at a much faster rate. I feel like a certain time of my childhood lasted for a lifetime when in fact it was only a few years. Now, every school year appears to fly by faster than I can adjust to it. And it seems that as we grow into adults, our years will fade away without us ever noticing. My grandpa always tells me how he thought I was a baby just yesterday and he is unable to recall many specifics of all the days of all the years passing by him as he sleeps and watches television through his retirement. Either my grandpa is developing Alzheimer’s disease or as anyone ages, time just seems to pass by so much faster and massive periods turn into brief forgettable moments, which is the more believable explanation. I believe this occurs because a day becomes a smaller and smaller length of time in proportion to your entire life as you get older, meaning a day is a much larger part of your life when you are four than when you are eighty. What exactly does this mean for Elves? And how does this perspective of time change when an Elf such as Luthien or Arwen accepts a mortal life?
Legolas tells Sam, “For the Elves the world moves, and it moves both very swift and very slow. Swift, because they themselves change little, and all else fleets by: it is a grief to them. Slow, because they do not count the running years, not for themselves. The passing seasons are but ripples ever repeated in the long long stream” (Shippey 60). Events and even the lives of other creatures pass before the Elves like the blink of an eye when viewed in proportion to their entire life. This is how Elrond is able to remember the Second Age as if it happened yesterday. But why does Legolas view this swift time change as a “grief?” In Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth, Finrod says, “we love… the beasts and birds who are our friends, the trees, and even the fair flowers that pass more swiftly than Men. Their passing we regret” (Tolkien 308). In order to regret something, there must be something that is the fault of the Elves. They have no responsibility in the deaths of these other creatures, so a valid interpretation would be that the Elves regretted something in the life of the creature. Since the life of a Man is only a brief moment in the life of an Elf, perhaps there is the grief that it will forever be a challenge to have a meaningful relationship with a Man. There is no time to devote enough attention to a single being outside of their species. That is why those rare relationships that develop between different species throughout the history of Middle Earth are even more special. Those bonds between Beren and Luthien, Aragorn and Arwen, and even Legolas and Gimli defy nature.
So what does choosing a mortal life fully entail? A major part of The Lord of the Rings is Aragorn’s journey to regain the crown of Gondor and take Arwen as his bride. The problem standing in their way as Elrond sees it is that Arwen is immortal and Aragorn is but a miniature segment of her life. Aragorn is destined to die like a Man and Arwen shall cross into the West with the rest of her people. The problem of time and perspective can only be solved by the Elf opting for a mortal life. How that works is not as important as how that changes the Elf. The Elf becomes a mortal woman and we do not know what other characteristics she may retain. But she is destined to die with her husband, albeit Arwen still lived a short while longer. But does the time after she chooses this new fate slow down for her or flow at the same rate as it always has?
It seems like the whole point of choosing the mortal life is to slow down time in the woman’s perspective in order to spend as much time as possible with her new spouse and also devote that time to him until the end of her newly short life. So the rapid passing of days like how Elves normally perceive time would defeat the purpose of the final days of the mortal Elf. Before Aragorn and Arwen could be together, Aragorn spent thirty years fighting the forces of Sauron. This time encompassed more than half of his life, as he was only twenty when he began this campaign. This proportion probably means that it felt like an eternity before he finally earned Arwen in comparison to the time Arwen had to wait. They ruled over Gondor for another “six score years” of peace throughout the land, which would still have flown by if Arwen’s perspective had not changed. Though she has been alive already for a few thousand years and remembered it all, she must have slowed down in order to fully immerse herself in her new life like a Man.
- Alex A.