I love The Hobbit. I love everything about it. I love the rambunctious beginning, in which our reluctant titular hero, Bilbo Baggins, is inveigled into joining a bunch of irascible dwarves and their wizardly puppet master, Gandalf, on a perilous quest he little understands. I love the perilous quest itself, full as it is of monsters and lost treasure and heroic, exhilarating battles fought with ancient weaponry—and against goblins! I love the language of Tolkien, his elegant phrases and elaborate vocabulary, and even the constant stream of ditties he throws in, all seemingly random and yet often furthering the plot, making much of the book a kind of literary musical for which you have to make up your own score.
I would have loved The Hobbit more, however, had it included even a little… well… love.
Which is why, when it comes down to the question of which I prefer, I have to admit that I am more one for this adventure tale’s sequel than I am for the original, wildly successful, novel that preceded it. Oh, I will forever bless the day that I pulled that original down off the shelf in my school library lo, these many years ago, and will always credit it—along with The Chronicles of Prydain —for my very pleasurable addiction to all things High Fantasy. (Wheel of Time notwithstanding.) But The Hobbit was written as a children’s book, in a time when such things tended to be improving morality tales and Boys’ Own Adventures, and as such didn’t have much truck with girl germs. The Hobbit is emphatically not a kissing book. But The Lord of the Rings, written over the next decade and more, was a more ambitious work, a more grown-up work, and while it is still very testosterone-heavy (assuming elves, dwarves and hobbits conform to known biology), it did offer us not one, not even two, but three standout tales of romance among the ruins and the One Rings, and for that fact alone I almost have to like it better.
Of course, I am hardly bucking the trend with this not-at-all-controversial stance. While H&H’s own Christopher Morgan cites The Hobbit as his favorite book ever, many a Fantasy fan would maintain that The Lord of the Rings surpassed it by far. Even before the genre-busting, Oscar-winning film trilogy (oh, don’t try to tell me that only Return of the King won for Best Picture; we all know that award was for the trilogy as a whole), The Lord of the Rings had garnered for itself a passionate and dedicated following—A Game of Thrones scribe George R. R. Martin’s infamously obsessive fan club, Brotherhood Without Banners, has nothing on the Tolkienites—and I firmly believe that a big part of the reason that it has resonated with so many for so long is the timeless love stories woven amidst all of that epic, enduring adventure.
Interestingly (well, to me, anyway), one of the romances in the movies was played up somewhat more than in the written version; one was treated with the kind of patronizing cuteness one might expect to see accorded to a chaste First Love in a Disney film; and the last, my favorite, pretty much had to wait for the Extended Edition DVD of The Return of the King to make its presence even known.
Which means that everyone knows about Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Arwen (Liv Tyler). They know that she is elven and he is a particularly long-lived human; that she is the Evening Star and he is the King who may/might/must Return; that her race are departing Middle-earth but that rather than go with them she gives up immortality all for the love of him—indeed, she does it gladly, and damn, who wouldn’t, when it’s Viggo freaking Mortensen we’re talking about? (Or, I suppose, in the books: when it’s Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isuldur’s Heir, Lord of the Dúnedain, Ranger of the North and, eventually, King we’re talking about. Yeah, even in written form, Aragorn’s pretty hot.)
What we see of their endless love in the movies, and in the original text, is only part of their decades-spanning romance, however: the short (indeed, very short, for Tolkien) story “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen” is actually the source of most of what we know about their achingly poetic, heart-breakingly faithful, courtship. From it, we learn of their meeting as relative youths—at least, Aragorn was a youth, at only twenty; Arwen was already over 2,000; how it was love at first sight for him, and how he was warned against raising his lowly mortal eyes so high as to dream of Arwen, daughter of the patrician Lord Elrond. We learn of how they stayed ever true to each other, even through years of separation and despite the obstacles that should have driven them apart. All that was implicit in the trilogy is made explicit in this short prequel, and yet it manages to rob the tale of none of its…well…sexiness, if such a thing might be said to be possible in Tolkien. So please don’t get me wrong, I dig the romance of Aragorn and Arwen as much as the next person—certainly in their earthly (Middle-earthly?) personification on film—and I can totally see why their story was placed front and center on screen, becoming almost as important to the narrative as Frodo’s journey to deliver the One Ring into the fiery depths of Mount Doom.
But as a counter-balance to all the obvious grandeur of their sweeping epicness, the books also give us the simple, Lovers of Friends union of one Samwise Gamgee and his beloved Rosie Cotton, and I like their story just as much, despite the movies doing it a major disservice. Sam (the puckish Sean Astin, on film) is often thought to be—and is portrayed as, especially in a certain kind of fanfic—Frodo’s willing love slave, but since J. R. R. Tolkien was no J. R. Ward, instead of BDSM in Bag End we have Sam and Rosie getting together after the War of the Ring and having themselves twelve kids, with nary a suggestion that anything untoward occurred between the master and his humble servant during their long, long walk across the world. (Okay, sure, there’s a bunch of stuff about the two Hobbits sleeping together naked and such, but it’s all perfectly platonic; that’s just how Hobbits do.) What I love about Sam and Rosie is how comfortable they are together; Rosie is sharp-tongued and sassy, Sam is stalwart and solid, and as a couple they just work. True, their story isn’t exactly exiting, but sometimes a sweet, sensible romance comes as a welcome relief from constant High Drama—which is why I’ll still pull out something from one of Harlequin’s tamer category lines to help calm the high blood pressure evoked by the dangerous delights of Larissa Ione or the BDB.
And now we come to Faramir and Éowyn.
Remember the end of the movie of The Return of the King, when it just kept not ending? We’d wrap up a storyline, things would seem to have come to a natural conclusion, the screen would fade to black… only to brighten again, as we dealt with yet another ersatz epilogue. Upon first watch, this cinematic conceit made me furious, but not for the reason that it did some others; I didn’t find it boring, or self-congratulatory, but instead, I just couldn’t believe that not a one of those pseudo-finales took us deep into the Houses of Healing! Because the scenes in the Houses of Healing are, without exception, my absolute favorites in the whole trilogy; let us visit with them now.
You’ll remember, I hope, that Faramir (played in the movies by David Wenham, for those who need the refresher), is the younger brother of the slain-by-orcs Boromir (Sean Bean, in one of his many movie deaths), and as such he is the much-belittled son of the Steward of Gondor (John Noble, of Fringe fame) whose fundamental decency allowed him to resist the temptation of the One Ring, and who was grievously wounded while bravely guarding the retreat from the fallen fortress of Osgiliath. You remember that, right?
Meanwhile, Éowyn (played in the movies by the flawlessly-cast Miranda Otto) is, of course, a shieldmaiden and princess and an early campaigner for equal rights, as well as being without a doubt the coolest woman in Middle-earth. She’s all rebelling against the establishment and disguising herself as a fearless Rider of Rohan and killing sepulchral Witch-kings who it had been prophesied no man could kill—yes, she is just that awesome. “No living man am I!” she exults when facing this dread being, and then goes on a bit about how she’s going to kill him and such (not really one for the pithy fight-scene quips, Tolkien) before actually doing just that, and going a long way towards helping bring about the defeat of Sauron’s dark forces.
But she, too, is grievously wounded—killing Witch-kings is not without its consequences, you know—and it is while these two brave, misunderstood souls are recuperating in the ever-so-aptly-named Houses of Healing that they, and really in no time at all, Fall in Love.
Why do I so adore this development? Well, it may merely be because Faramir and Éowyn are my favorite characters in all the land—with the exception, perhaps, of Treebeard, because it really is hard to go past a talking tree —both of whom deserve happiness after lives bound by duty and honor and quiet service to their patriarchs and their people. Maybe it’s the way Faramir’s gentleness allows Éowyn to dream of healing instead of killing, or the way Éowyn’s fading fire brings out the fierce guardian in Faramir. Maybe it’s how Éowyn’s (very understandable) crush on Aragorn is made trivial in light of her newfound soul mate’s devotion, or maybe it’s simply that the language in which this couple speaks to each other is evocative and yet practical, falling somewhere between the histrionic heights of Aragorn/Arwen discourse and the humorous mundanity of Sam and his Rosie.
As Christopher discussed in his recent post regarding The Hobbit, filmmaker Peter Jackson and his fellows are attempting to chick-ify their upcoming movie duology with a non-canonical elf captain named Tauriel. For whom she might possibly be a love interest, if that is intended to be one of her functions, I hardly dare speculate, though I like to think it could be one of the dwarves: Bombur, maybe? He always seemed like he could do with a little lovin’. Regardless, it’s going to be a stretch to get any kind of romance into these Hobbit movies, and while I’m cool with them trying, I think I’m also fine if they just stick with playing up all the bromance, instead. (Because, again: Bombur!)
At least they’ll have better luck with the (almost inevitable) movie of The Silmarillion, romance-wise. I mean, Lúthien and Beren! Idril and Tuor! Indeed, it occurs to me now that the oft-despised little-brother prequel to his Big 2 is probably the most poignantly romantic of all of Tolkien’s works, and yet I have just proclaimed Lord of the Rings to be winner and still champion in my heart due to its increased chick lit factor over The Hobbit. Hmm. This bears thinking on.
Thinking thinking…no. Still Lord of the Rings. Because Éowyn and Faramir in the Houses of Healing. Their love is legend, as beautiful as it is briefly told, and so for it to be relegated to the Extended Edition DVD release of the movie did not make me happy at all.
Luckily, I can read! And these lines I must have read upwards of a thousand times—in fact, they remain some of the swoonworthiest I have ever encountered:
And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many. And many indeed saw them and the light that shone about them as they came down from the walls and went hand in hand to the Houses of Healing.
And to the Warden of the Houses Faramir said: “Here is the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, and now she is healed.”
Now, doesn’t that trump that oft-repeated catchphrase, “My precious!”, any day?
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.