In the middle of the table, against the woven cloths upon the wall, there was a chair under a canopy, and there sat a lady fair to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elrond that Frodo guessed that she was one of his close kindred. Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring. Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver.
So it was that Frodo saw her whom few mortals had yet seen; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again; and she was called Undómiel, for she was the Evenstar of her people. Long she had been in the land of her mother's kin, in Lórien beyond the mountains, and was but lately returned to Rivendell to her father's house.
And that's all. A minor character? Does she have any influence on the action or is she just scenery? A common feminist complaint is that Tolkien's Middle Earth is a man's world and the women have no actual influence. The usual answer to that is "Eowyn", but is Arwen really ineffectual?
Reading carefully, we gradually get to see that this isn't the case. She's *always* in Aragorn's mind and she motivates everything he's doing. Trying to become king of Gondor, defeat Sauron and save Middle Earth, he's actually doing it all for her. This has already been shown by his choice of the 'Tale of Beren and Luthien' when the party need some light relief near Weathertop. It's an encouraging tale for him as well as for the hobbits, because he's hoping that Arwen will make the same commitment to him as Luthien did to Beren. When it's time to leave Rivendell:
Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him.
And when Aragorn finally comes into his kingdom, it isn't complete with his coronation. To his close friends, he says, "I would have you wait a little while longer: for the end of the deeds that you have shared in has not yet come. A day draws near that I have looked for in all the years of my manhood, and when it comes I would have my friends beside me."
Well, is that a significant role or not? Arwen is still not really seen as a powerful character in her own right, at least on the surface. Aragorn was the one who rampaged around slaying orcs, wasn't he? Yes, but those who complain of chauvinism here are themselves making the error of thinking that you didn't have an impact if you only supplied the motivation, but only if you yourself waved the sword. That is itself a chauvinistic attitude. Interestingly, Eowyn comments on it herself: "Those who do not have swords..." But supplying motivation through love, (at great sacrifice: giving up her own immortality) Arwen has actually made Aragorn the king of Gondor and contributed to the destruction of the Ring and the defeat of Sauron.
And lastly, one thing I really like about this whole idea is the small-scale echo of it in Sam's story. When he realises he's going on the journey with Frodo:
"Me, sir!" cried Sam, springing up like a dog invited for a walk. "Me go and see Elves and all! Hooray!" he shouted, and then burst into tears.
Why did he burst into tears? What was the second thought after the first joyful reaction? By the genius of Tolkien, we don't find out until the very end of the tale:
He jumped down from his pony and
went up the steps. They stared at him in silence. "Good evening, Mrs.
Cotton!" he said. "Hullo Rosie!"
"Hullo, Sam!" said Rosie. "Where've you been I They said you were dead; but I've been expecting you since the Spring. You haven't hurried have you?"
"Perhaps not," said Sam abashed. "But I'm hurrying now. We're setting about the ruffians, and I've got to get back to Mr. Frodo. But I thought I'd have a look and see how Mrs. Cotton was keeping, and you, Rosie."
"We're keeping nicely, thank you," said Mrs. Cotton. "Or should be, if it weren't for these thieving ruffians."
"Well, be off with you!" said Rosie. "If you've been looking after Mr. Frodo all this while, what d'you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?"
This was too much for Sam. It
needed a week's answer, or none. He turned away and mounted his pony. But as he
started off, Rosie ran down the steps.
"I think you look fine, Sam," she said. "Go on now! But take care of yourself, and come straight back as soon as you have settled the ruffians!"
"It's Rosie, Rose Cotton," said Sam. "It seems she didn't like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn't spoken, she couldn't say so. And I didn't speak, because I had a job to do first. But now I have spoken, and she says: "Well, you've wasted a year, so why wait longer?" "Wasted?" I says. "I wouldn't call it that." Still I see what she means. I feel torn in two, as you might say."
That's it. All through the long quest of Mount Doom, Sam had also been motivated by his unspoken love.