In The Lord of the Rings, there are all kinds of relationships despite the somewhat limited amount of women. Éowyn and Faramir, Sam and Rosie, and, of course, Aragorn and Arwen all have wonderfully romantic stories and everyone loves that they love each other. It can almost be taken for granted that these love stories are meant to be. The question is how exactly did Tolkien feel about their relationships and relationships in general? Did he believe that they were meant to be as well? Tolkien’s letter (number 43) to his son, Michael, reveals quite a bit about Tolkien’s personal views on love and marriage. It also raises some interesting considerations about his characters’ thoughts on love.
Tolkien places a very high value on matrimony. When discussing the “romantic chivalric tradition” in our society, he says the only bad aspect of it is it is “a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony.” From this stance, it is fairly easy to deduce that his characters, at least the character’s Tolkien values most, share this intense reverence for marriage. Aragorn is the perfect example. Everything he does is to earn Elrond’s respect so he will have permission to marry Arwen. Tolkien interposes aspects of his own quest for marriage over the stories of Aragorn and Beren. His forced patience and delay of marriage are told by way of Aragorn’s and Beren’s struggles. Even Sam gets to experience an extended delay in his relationship, waiting until after the War to marry Rosie.
Tolkien seems to believe that a period of denial is necessary in order to ensure the love will last. He says in his letter, “No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial.” Earlier, he says that men are naturally non-monogamous. Perhaps it is this exercise of the will that makes the relationships between characters long separated so powerful. Aragorn and Arwen (and Luthien and Beren) go years without seeing each other, and yet they are always faithful and true. They were willing to make the effort to remain connected after all that time and that is what makes their love so powerful. Or, at least, the man’s love.
Women, on the other hand, according to Tolkien, are “instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous”. So Arwen and Luthien (who I think it is safe to assume are not corrupted) just naturally, after falling in love, stayed that way and apparently would not naturally seek to be non-monogamous or unfaithful. This idea is particularly interesting when thinking about the relationship between Andreth and Aegnor. Since it is the elf who must give up their immortality, an elf in a relationship with a human would make the bigger sacrifice. Aegnor does not want to make that sacrifice. Is this perhaps influenced by the male tendency toward non-monogamy? Arwen and Luthien, though they made a great sacrifice, were not particularly concerned with being or wanting to be unfaithful. As a male, Aegnor presumably would have needed to give up not only immortality, but to struggle to remain faithful. Perhaps he thought it too much work just for Andreth.
What does this mean for Aragorn? Éowyn practically threw herself at the man and still he did not give in to the temptation to leave Arwen. There is, I suppose, a question as to whether he felt temptation. He certainly cared about Éowyn but would he have honestly considered being in a relationship with her? Based off of Tolkien’s opinions on love and marriage, I believe the temptation to run off with Éowyn would be present. After all, if men are naturally non-monogamous they must, when an attractive woman makes it plain that she’s interested, consider the possibility of being with the willing, beautiful, and, of course, present woman. Aragorn never strays, though it certainly would have been a lot easier for him to just marry a human princess and stop worrying about trying to prove himself to a grumpy, protective father in order to marry a willing, beautiful maiden who will, because of him, be forced to give up her culture, family, and, you know, life. The kind of devotion Aragorn shows to Arwen, even in the face of a simpler situation, shows that he truly loves her. It makes their relationship all the more significant.
However, Tolkien also says, “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly […] both partners might have found more suitable mates.” Does this mean that marriages in The Lord of the Rings are potentially mistakes? I do not think so. Tolkien seems to view his own real life experience as very exceptional and exceptionally wonderful. I believe he transfers this idea, once again, to Aragorn and Beren, giving them the exceptional relationship he shared with his wife. What about Éowyn and Faramir? What about Rosie and Sam? Are their relationships mistakes? They do not go through nearly the same amount of temptation and struggle that Aragorn and Arwen go through. However, I think Tolkien would have seen their marriages as good and right choices, as far as they could tell. In his discussion on soul mates, Tolkien makes it clear that your soul mate becomes the individual you marry and that life and circumstances do a lot more of the choosing than any one person does. In this sense, all of the couples were meant to be together, even if they might not be perfect.
Tolkien takes matters of love very seriously. Perhaps this is because of his own life or maybe just because he thinks they should be treated as important. He carefully plans and writes (as he always does) the romances to emphasis the elements he considered the most important: marriage, faithfulness, and self-denial. I think these elements, elements that are vital for romantic relationships, are also essential in the rest of Tolkien’s legendarium. Themes of life and death are married to immortality and uncertainty, Sam follows Frodo without any thought of turning back (stupid movie), and characters like Frodo and Galadriel give up everything in order to save Middle Earth. Romance within the legendarium reveals not just Tolkien’s ideas of love but also his ideas of the world.