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For the Love of Arwen

There was a young actress once upon a time, who was cast in an important role as an Elven Lady of tremendous beauty and grace. She was familiar to many, from other film work and family associations, yet the role offered her by a forward-thinking Kiwi director would lift her fame to a whole new level. Many Tolkien fans cried foul -- yet many others applauded! But how could we have guessed the way in which Arwen would be brought to life for the first time ever on the silver screen?

Liv Tyler was originally brought to our attention through her famous rock n' roll father, Steven Tyler. I never really cared much for Aerosmith music after the 1970s, and I paid even less attention to Liv's early acting work with their videos. Then there was that total-car-wreck-some-people-call-a-film Empire Records, and like everyone else I prudently avoided it. No, sorry, I didn't bother to rent Stealing Beauty, either.

I must be very honest here: I will confess things never before spoken. Liv used to be a thumbs down in my book. I would roll my eyes at the mention of her name, back when I was younger and less generous. I felt that she had an unearned career -- the very fact she was getting high-profile acting work… well… it just aggravated me. Understand that I was at that point a myopic, impatient, struggling actor; fairly consumed with "actor jealousy" because I thought Liv's rise to fame was nepotism at its worst. I was so over it.

Wind back the clock to 1999. The first news reports appear; and online fans start buzzing like killer bees about early casting announcements. We get wind that Ms. Tyler has been thrown into the mix to play Arwen. I think to myself, "Oh, geez… whatever." At a certain point, I end up posting on certain websites, saying certain unpleasant things. "What garbage!" I complained. "The Arwen character is gonna be all sexed up for no reason -- it won't be like Tolkien at all -- prepare for the worst, kids." There, you've gotten it out of me now, I told you this would be a confession. More and more fans contributed to the speculation. What the hell was PJ doing with this character that hardly even shows up in the book? What kind of "Arwen changes" would ruin the story? Are we going to have a great big stinking cliché of Xena: Warrior Princess morphed into this dainty Elf Lady? The unfortunate moniker Xenarwen caught our imagination. "Uh-oh," said the collective group, pretty much at the same time.

Then FOTR was released in December, 2001. People were struck with the beautiful, epic scale of the film. We found out, finally, what Liv Tyler really could do in the part. Everything about my bad attitude changed. It changed even more when I saw TTT a year later. And people around me shared their agreement, for they were just as surprised and pleased as I.

Arwen was there, never before seen in any Tolkien adaptation. She was very much there… an exquisite creature filled with sublime kindness and caring. Standing before us was the most beautiful woman seen in a movie theatre since I don't know when. We all realized how much we were falling in love with Liv Tyler. Falling in love with her "Arwen." And how easy she made it for us.

What changes to the character we had previously worried about were no longer a pressing concern. Her performance was simply divine. The way she is dressed when she makes that amazing entrance in the first film, kneeling to attend a stricken Frodo, glowing with the supernal beauty of the Blessed Realm (as we remember Glorfindel was also seen), it's just brilliant. And then she starts speaking Elvish! Pippin says, "Who is she?" And we think the same thing… in wonderment… Who is this ephemeral creature, this most high Lady of Rivendell? Oh come on, man, how could you not be pulled out of your seat?

We didn't get to see much of her in the pages of LOTR. There's a few paragraphs where she walks in and out of the room -- blink and you'll miss her. But now in these films, a character that was once pushed off the stage by ensuing War, pushed all the way to the back of the book, has now come forward to claim her space. The filmmakers have given us a fuller representation of an Appendix story that no one frankly ever reads. I know people's reading habits when it comes to the Appendices. They should read them but they don't. Now to my unending delight Liv Tyler has breathed life into this woman… has really given her a soul. I'm completely smitten.

I am suddenly reminded of a Beatle's song:

Something in the way she knows
And all I have to do is think of her
And we are back to that kiss received by Aragorn in TTT. Remember that kiss as he lies unconscious on the banks of the stream? It seems the very memory of her love is all around him. He is awakened by the ghostly feeling of her kiss. Arwen is there for him, even though he let her go. Now she has become part of the story in a new way. Seeing more of her really means we can learn more about Aragorn. The strongest motivations that carry him through the day come from her. Now that we have seen her, heard her melodic voice, seen how deeply she loves this Man (and most of all witnessed how selflessly she gives her heart), now we can likewise see another dimension to Aragorn. He has never felt such undiluted love, never known someone so giving. He still must come to terms with his feelings that, perhaps, she is too good for him. It's quite a shame that the fullness of their romance was not in the main part of the book, I think. "A Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" was a passage that Tolkien could not easily fit into the narrative as he wrote. However, it was much too beautiful to omit completely, and it shed much light on these characters, so we are lucky it survived at all. Maybe fans will pick up the book again and read what was previously ignored!

Again, we come back to Aragorn. That's why she is there in the films, so we can understand more about him. It seems to me a brilliant way to handle the material. Once lost in the back pages; now come forward to the heart of the film, Arwen reflects everything off of him. His name was once "Estel," which of course means "Hope," and every time she utters the word she is indeed referring to him. She believes in Aragorn more than any other living creature on Middle-earth. She loves him enough to give up her very life. When Elrond tells her that her hope is misplaced, telling her with Tolkien's exact words that she will diminish "as nightfall in winter that comes without a star," the look on Liv's face is just devastating. The tears in her eyes…

My fellow TORN Staffer (one of the producers of our Oscar Parties) Asfaloth shared a tremendous insight with me about Arwen. She is the most selfless character to be found, especially in that she gives up her place on the ship for Frodo. It is by her grace that Frodo can go to Valinor, to live out his days with quiet and peace. She wants him to have this chance, to show her gratitude for all the Ringbearer has done. Her kindness to him is also seen in FOTR when she holds him at the crossing of Bruinen, praying to the Valar: "What grace is given me, let it pass to him." It seems to be a foreshadowing by the screenwriters of what is yet to come in the final film. And I fully believe Asfaloth has a point. Arwen's beauty truly comes from her selflessness.

Now it is time for my apology. Liv Tyler, if you are out there, if you are reading this, I Quickbeam sincerely apologize to you. I was not a selfless person a few years ago… not at all. But seeing your performance has touched a deeper chord in me. I am so sorry for being unkind.

Your work is a true affirmation of the character of Arwen.

You have given us something truly extraordinary, and I wish very much that I could have trusted you more. I feel so much more connected to this lovely being, as interpreted by you. I write this for the love of Arwen, and to remember how she has shown us the power of love, faith, and a giving heart.

Much too hasty,

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Past Limbs
An Open Letter to the Screen Actors Guild
Review: The Return of the King
Kingly Proof
For the Love of Arwen
The Atlantis Connection
Noble Is As Noble Does
Send in the Penguins
War! What is it Good For?
In Defense of Philippa Boyens
Movie Review - The Two Towers
The Final Word
Very, Very, Very Impatient
Book Review: The Annotated Hobbit
Finding a Hobbit’s Voice
Conversation with a Newbie
Inside Information
The Silver Lining
Movie Review - Fellowship of the Ring
Where the Stars are Strange: Part V
Where the Stars are Strange: Part IV
Where the Stars are Strange: Part III
Where the Stars are Strange: Part II
Where the Stars are Strange: Part I
The Spectacular Cannes Footage
Comic-Con International 2001
An Open Letter to Jeffrey Wells
The Shadow of Racism
All About Sam
The Game’s the Thing!
Who’s Spiking Who?
The 2000 Vote: Gandalf or Saruman?
Tolkien’s Greatest Hits
Return to The Furthest Reaches
The Furthest Reaches
True Fans, Truly Obsessed
"Yes, Elanor, there really is a Gandalf"
…And In the Closet Bind Them
Welcome to Merchandising Hell
In Defense of Escapism
Out on a Limb Home


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