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Gilraen

Meaning:
netted stars

Other Names:
the Fair

Location(s):
Eriador
Rivendell

Race/Species: Man

Type/Kind: Dunadan of the North

Dates:
III 2907 - 3007

Parents:
father: Dírhael
mother: Ivorwen

Spouse:
Arathorn II, 15th Chieftain of the Dúnedain

Children:
Aragorn II, King of the Reunited Kingdom

Description:

Gilraen is the daughter of Dírhael and Ivorwen, wife of Arathorn II, 15th Chieftain of the Dúnedain, and mother of Aragorn II, 16th Chieftain of the Dúnedain and King of the Reunited Kingdom:
In the latter days of the last age... before the War of the Ring, there was a man named [Dírhael 1], and his wife was [Ivorwen] daughter of Gilbarad, and they dwelt in a hidden fastness in the wilds of Eriador; for they were of the ancient people of the Dúnedain, that of old were kings of men, but were now fallen on darkened days. [Dírhael] and his wife were of high lineage, being of the blood of Isildur though not of the right line of the Heirs. They were both foresighted in many things. Their daughter was [Gilraen], a fair maid, fearless and strong as were all the women of that kin.

The Peoples of Middle-Earth, HoME Vol 12, Part 1, Ch 9, The Making of Appendix A: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

[Arador's] son Arathorn sought in marriage Gilraen the Fair, daughter of Dírhael, who was himself a descendant of Aranarth. To this marriage Dírhael was opposed; for Gilraen was young and had not reached the age at which the women of the Dúnedain were accustomed to marry.

"Moreover," he said, "Arathorn is a stern man of full age, and will be chieftain sooner than men looked for; yet my heart forebodes that he will be shortlived."

But Ivorwen, his wife, who was also foresighted, answered: "The more need of haste! The days are darkening before the storm, and great things are to come. If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts."

And it happened that when Arathorn and Gilraen had been married only one year, Arador... was slain; and Arathorn became Chieftain of the Dúnedain. The next year Gilraen bore him a son, and he was called Aragorn. But Aragorn was only two years old when Arathorn went riding against the Orcs with the sons of Elrond, and he was slain by an orc-arrow that pierced his eye; and so he proved indeed shortlived for one of his race, being but sixty years old when he fell.

Then Aragorn, being now the Heir of Isildur, was taken with his mother to dwell in the house of Elrond....

The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

In the days that followed [Aragorn's first meeting with Arwen] Aragorn fell silent, and his mother perceived that some strange thing had befallen him; and at last he yielded to her questions and told her of the meeting in the twilight of the trees.

"My son," said Gilraen, "your aim is high, even for the descendant of many kings. For this lady is the noblest and fairest that now walks the earth. And it is not fit that mortal should wed with the Elf-kin."

"Yet we have some part in that kinship," said Aragorn, "if the tale of my forefathers is true that I have learned."

"It is true," said Gilraen, "but that was long ago and in another age of this world, before our race was diminished. Therefore I am afraid; for without the good will of Master Elrond the Heirs of Isildur will soon come to an end. But I do not think that you will have the good will of Elrond in this matter."

"Then bitter will my days be, and I will walk in the wild alone," said Aragorn.

"That will indeed be your fate," said Gilraen; but though she had in a measure the foresight of her people, she said no more to him of her foreboding....

The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

After a few years Gilraen took leave of Elrond and returned to her own people in Eriador, and lived alone; and she seldom saw her son again, for he spent many years in far countries. But on a time, when Aragorn had returned to the North, he came to her, and she said to him before he went:

"This is our last parting, Estel, my son. I am aged by care, even as one of lesser Men; and now that it draws near I cannot face the darkness of our time that gathers upon Middle-earth. I shall leave it soon."

Aragorn tried to comfort her, saying: "Yet there may be a light beyond the darkness; and if so, I would have you see it and be glad."

But she answered only with this linnod:
Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim 2
and Aragorn went away heavy of heart. Gilraen died before the next spring.

The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen


Researcher Commentary
Biography

Gilraen is one of those shadowy characters about whom we know very little. She appears only in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Nevertheless, we do know more about the facts of her life than we do about some other characters.

We know she lived to see a full century, which was considered a short life for one of Númenórean descent, and especially, one imagines, for one who could trace her ancestry back to Aranarth, the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain, through her father's side. As if to foreshadow her early demise, she married at the age of twenty-two, younger than was usual for women of the Dúnedain. Arathorn was fifty-six at that time, and "a stern man" in the prime of his life. She was a mother at twenty-four, and a widow at twenty-six.

As is commonly the case with minor characters, her physical appearance is unknown, but we can assume that one with a royal pedigree on at least one side of the family would be dark-haired and grey-eyed. She is called "the Fair," indicating that even among the Dúnedain, her beauty was remarkable. We also do not know what kept her in Rivendell after Aragorn had left it to become a Ranger, nor why she did not choose to return immediately to her people after Aragorn's departure. The text indicates a rather solitary life after her husband's death, and there is no canonical reason to believe that she ever took another partner, given her comments about the fittingness of Elf-Edain marriages, and her solitude upon her return to her people.

Given that Aragorn treats Elrond lovingly as a father figure, we can assume that Gilraen encouraged this perception early on. When Elrond confronts Aragorn about Arwen for the first time, Aragorn's immediate question is, "Can it be that my mother has spoken of this?" This would appear to indicate that Elrond and Gilraen were on good terms, and that jointly they raised Aragorn, possibly as a (platonic) husband and wife would have. Nevertheless, Gilraen's decision to remain silent before Elrond on the matter of Arwen is one that suggests that she recognizes the dependent position that she and all her people occupy vis-à-vis the Elves of Rivendell. Taken in the light of her comments about the relationship between Imladris and the Dúnedain, the more obvious conclusion is that she fears to bring the matter to light. This is, however, only the most obvious conclusion, and others may be devised.

In the sixty-odd years that Aragorn was away, we do not know what Gilraen did, nor her position in Elrond's house after her son's departure. She seems to have been politically sensitive, as witnessed by her warning to Aragorn that to seek after Arwen might damage relations betweeen Imladris and the Dúnedain, and thereby jeopardize the line of Isildur. Her attitude towards Elf-Edain marriages, if taken as representative of the Third Age Dúnedain may indicate the depth of the split between the two races: it is not just that, politically and culturally, there is a radical difference between Aragorn and Arwen, but "it is not fitting."

Like her parents before her, and her son after her, Gilraen was foresighted, at least in the matter of Aragorn's particular destiny to endure "bitter days" and to be often alone. Doubtless this is a part of what aged her prematurely, as well as mourning, perhaps, for her own short-lived marriage. It is a matter of interpretation whether Gilraen's final conversation with Aragorn indicates a more or less graceful acceptance of the inevitable or the surrender of a mind to despair. Whichever it was, Aragorn clearly loved her greatly, and was grieved by her death.

Commentary by Dwimordene

The Other Woman: Gilraen vs. Arwen, Mother vs. Wife

Gilraen is one of three women in Aragorn's life who are named: Arwen and Éowyn round out the list. Éowyn is most often compared against Arwen, and indeed, so far as I can see, the grounds for comparison between Gilraen and Éowyn are slim. I will concentrate therefore on Arwen and Gilraen rather than Éowyn and Gilraen.

Arwen and Gilraen would have known each other, certainly, but we do not have any passages that describe their relationship. Symbolically, one may see a certain symmetry between them: both are relatively young (Arwen was born in the Third Age) yet bear the marks of age—Gilraen ages prematurely in body and spirit, whereas Arwen, as an Elf, has the wisdom of her people though she appears little older than Aragorn himself at twenty years of age; both are foresighted; both are examples of fidelity (Gilraen spent almost seventy-five percent of her life a widow; Arwen spent sixty years of her remaining one hundred and eighty-odd years betrothed to Aragorn); both enter into marriages where the age gap between them and their spouses is significant.

In the end, their deaths are not necessarily dissimilar: Arwen dies of grief, and as noted, there is room to interpret Gilraen's death as a surrender to a profound hopelessness (or Hope-lessness, to read the linnod perhaps more literally than is generally warranted). Both invest a considerable portion of their emotional livelihood into Aragorn. From Gilraen to Arwen, there is grounds to think that there is a certain continuity for Aragorn. It may or may not be significant to note that according to Tolkien, it was unusual for women of Númenórean descent to surrender their lives easily. If it is significant, then one may wonder whether the willing surrender to death by both Gilraen and Arwen (Elf though she is) is meant to be seen in a more positive light than initial scrutiny might suggest.

Commentary by Dwimordene


Etymology
Gilrain is a river of Gondor.... Tolkien discusses the name in The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor:

This resembles the name of Aragorn's mother, Gilraen; but unless it is misspelt must have had a different meaning.... The element gil- in both is no doubt S[indarin] gil 'spark, twinkle of light, star', often used of the stars of heaven in place of the older and more elevated el-, elen- stem.... The element raen was the Sindarin form of Q[uenya] raina 'netted, enlaced'....

The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, by Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull, Book 5, Ch 9, The Last Debate


Notes
1This text is from one of Tolkien's early drafts. For the sake of clarity, earlier versions of proper names used by Tolkien in this draft have been replaced with the versions in use in the canon sources. All substitutions are marked with brackets.
2'I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.'

The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

Contributors:
commentary: Dwimordene
Elena Tiriel 21Jun06, 17Oct06

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