Arwen shouldn’t have been glowing when Frodo saw her in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring.

Hear me out.

Arwen Evenstar in a still image from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Still from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Oh, and it should probably go without saying, but I’ma have spoilers below. If spoilers for 60-something-year-old books and 20-something-year-old movies are an issue for you, you have been warned.

Ok. So. Let’s take a short journey, one that involves a lot of characters that are not Arwen, and then we’ll get back to her.

But first, if you’re not familiar with the concept of the Seen and the Unseen in Tolkien’s lore, I have a short writeup on the subject. TL;DR, the main points to know are:

  • Hobbits existed wholly in the Seen
  • Elves who had never seen the light of Two Trees of Valinor existed wholly in the Seen
  • Only elves who had seen the light of the Two Trees existed in the Unseen

Got it? Ok, let’s begin.


Morgul blades had extra-special spooky powers (as did the One Ring). When our hobbit-friend Frodo was stabbed by the Morgul blade of the ringwraiths, the tip of the blade that broke off in his body started drawing him into the Unseen. Had he not been healed by Elrond who prevented the shard of blade from reaching his heart, he would have been transformed into a wraith and left the Seen and entered the Unseen permanently. 


In the book Lord of the Rings, the elf Glorfindel is actually the one who bears Frodo to Rivendell and Elrond’s healing magic. I’ve written a whole post about Glorfy so I won’t belabor it, but because our favorite elf was born in Valinor (Trees, yo), he existed in both the Seen and the Unseen (he was also given a special boon from the Valar for being such a good, good boy so his Unseen presence was unusually strong). This is why Elrond chose him to find Frodo – Glorfy ain’t afraid of no ghosts ringwraiths. When Frodo sees Glorfy after being stabbed with the Morgul blade, he sees a bright white light shining from Glorfindel: Frodo is seeing Glorfy’s presence in the Unseen because Frodo himself is now partly present in the Unseen.


And finally, Arwen. See? I told you we’d get to her eventually.

In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, Glorfindel has been replaced with Arwen, the daughter of Elrond. My boy Glorfy gets done dirty here, but I get it. I did like Liv Tyler’s Arwen and it was nice to have another strong female character in the mix (something lacking in the book).

But I digress.

Arwen, like her father Elrond, was born in Middle Earth, not Aman. Having never seen the light of the Trees, Arwen (and Elrond) resided wholly in the Seen.

Where it all goes wrong

Because of *motions* all of this, Frodo wouldn’t have seen anything different about Arwen after being stabbed with the Morgul blade, since she didn’t have a presence in the Unseen; however, in the movie he sees Arwen not only glowing, but clothed in a white dress with a dark background – in the middle of a scene where she was wearing riding clothes and it was bright out. Because of these other cues, he is clearly perceiving her in the Unseen in the movie.


I’m not sure if Arwen glowing in the movie was a misunderstanding on Jackson’s part of why Frodo sees Glorfy the way he does in the book (“Elves” vs. “our good, good boy in particular”) or if he just didn’t care and made a purposeful artistic decision to make the scene more powerful. I’m leaning toward misunderstanding. If it was just the glowing I could see it as “hey, let’s make the Elves glow to show they’re powerful and pure,” but in my mind with the clothing quick change it pushes this into “s/Glorfindel/Arwen, they’re basically the same anyway” territory. Either way, it’s inconsistent with Tolkien’s writings, and Arwen shouldn’t have had an Unseen presence when Frodo saw her after being stabbed. HARRUMPH.

2 thoughts on “Arwen. Doesn’t. Glow.”
  1. Hello, I’m not so sure about that. After all, Arwen is descended from Melian the Maia. Did you also consider this aspect? I would appreciate an answer 🙂

    1. You’re not wrong, she is descended from a Maia. But I’m not sure that living in the Unseen is a heritable trait. 😊

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