The Diminishment of the Elves

An Elven Theme associated with Arwen


THE DIMINISHMENT OF THE ELVES, an Elven theme, represents "the Elves concept of finality, both as it concerns their recession from Middle-earth and their understanding of death." (Doug Adams, CR-FOTR liner notes, page 17)

Doug Adams comments in the CR-FOTR that the Rivendell Theme is often applied to Arwen, especially in TTT & ROTK. But as a 'freethinker' among the Elves, she is supplied with her own material and is given "four subsidiary themes" (The Music of the LOTR Films, pg 44) Three of the Elven themes are clearly connected to Arwen and The Diminishment of the Elves must be the fourth. Although the book does not discuss how it is directly connected with Arwen, it is combined with the "Evenstar" theme when Aragorn tries to return the Evenstar jewel to Arwen.

The theme is usually sung using lyrics from Gilraen's Song.

See below for my original thoughts on how this theme might represent 'hope' and Arwen's role in providing it.


One place this theme is heard in FOTR:

  • As Elrond and Aragorn talk at Gilraen's grave.1 (extended scene) Lyrics from Gilraen's Song are sung.

Places this theme is heard in TTT:

  • As Elrond urges Aragorn to let Arwen leave for the Undying Lands.2 Lyrics from Gilraen's Song are sung.

  • As Aragorn tries to give the Evenstar back to Arwen, the music mixes elements from the Diminishment theme with the Evenstar Melody. This scene immediately follows the one listed above.3

  • As Elrond urges Arwen to leave for the Undying Lands.4 We now know that the Diminishment music was not originally intended to be used for this scene. The CR-TTT has the music written originally for it. Lyrics from Gilraen's Song are sung.

  • During the closing credits of TTT, there's a brief restatement of the final phrase as heard in the fullest iteration in FOTR. This phrase is not used in the TTT movie, nor is is heard on either the OST or CR. Lyrics from Gilraen's Song are sung.

This music is first heard at Gilraen's grave which is why I had originally named it 'Gilraen's Theme'. Adams said in the CR-FOTR that the "melody is built off a principal line from "Gilraen's Song"", (page 17-18) although he made no connection between the lyrics or subject of that song and the theme's representation of the finality of the Elves other than Gilraen was mortal and dear to the Elves.

I didn't think it represented Gilraen, though. I thought it either represented 'hope' or perhaps, 'not having hope', although I was quite leaning toward the former. I also thought that it was being especially applied to Arwen and might be setting Arwen up as the character that maintains hope when others falter in their faith. It turns out it does apply to Arwen (enough to be referred to indirectly as one of 'her' themes) but hope does not seem to be the message.

I've left my notes about 'hope' in place below. Somehow, they don't feel 'wrong' to me. I think in some ways, what I felt from the theme as I listened was not so far off from what Howard Shore felt when he wrote it. We each interpreted and verbalized it from our own context, is all.


What does Gilraen's Theme represent?

(written before the release of the Complete Recordings)


Prior to the release of the CR-FOTR, I tried to figure out what this music represented. Looking at the scenes involving Arwen, I started to think along the lines of Gilraen having no hope and Arwen being the hope-bearer for Aragorn, and by extension, Middle-earth. I liked that thinking so well, that I left it on the page when DA's notes seemed to indicate I was a bit off mark.

Does this theme represent Gilraen? I don't think so. Other than the first scene in FOTR, Gilraen doesn't figure directly into the movie.

If one goes to the Appendices of the LOTR (specifically: Appendix A-Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I-The Númenorean Kings, (v)-Here Follows a part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen), one can find the story of Aragorn and Arwen and this is where we learn about Gilraen. Aragorn's father was killed when Aragorn was young. As the heir of Isildur he was in danger from the Enemy, so his identity was kept secret and he was called 'Estel', which means hope. He was fostered in Rivendell by Elrond, a distant relative, who became as a father to him and Gilraen returned to her people. When last they visited...

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

Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel amin,

(I gave hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.)

and Aragorn went away heavy of heart. Gilraen died before the next spring.

From Appendix A-Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I-The Númenorean Kings, (v)-Here Follows a part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

Here we have the word hope used three times. Hope is Aragorn's name. Hope was given to the Dúnedain, the line of Men from which Aragorn is descended. And Gilraen has no hope... she has, in a sense, lost it. I don't know what exactly is being sung in the lyrics of Gilraen's Theme, but I'm quite sure the first word is 'estelio' which was used in Evenstar as the verb, 'trust'. But estel means hope, also. UPDATE: We know the lyrics now. The source text is Gilraen's Song. The word, 'Estel', although not in the source text, is most likely an insertion of Gilraen's name for Aragorn. The text does not directly deal with hope.

But we find more, in this section of the Appendices. This is the back story of Aragorn and the entire story of Arwen's place in this tale. We find out that:

  • Aragorn was fostered by Elrond in Rivendell and there was named Estel.

  • Aragorn meets Arwen in Lothlórien (she has been living with Galadriel, her grandmother) and then and there falls in love with her.

  • Gilraen warns him against this aspiration since, as Elf-kin, Arwen is too above him.

  • Elrond agrees that Arwen is too far above him, but even if she were to agree to wed Aragorn, still Elrond would protest. Her immortality is not the same as other Elves. Her immortality is tied to her father's. If he departs for Valinor, she must depart with him or relinquish her immortality.

  • Years later, Aragorn again meets Arwen in the woods of Lothlórien. It is then that Arwen renounces her immortality. "'I will cleave to you, Dúnadan, and turn from the Twilight (immortality). Yet there lies the land of my people and the long home of all my kin.' She loved her father dearly."

  • Elrond is grieved at the news but acknowledges that 'by (his) loss the kingship of Men may be restored.' But he will not allow Arwen to wed anyone less then the King of Gondor.

  • After the destruction of the Ring, they were wed and dwelt together for 120 years. At the approach of his death, she began to understand the true meaning of mortality. At his death, she became 'cold and grey as nightfall in winter' and she 'passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there along under the fading tees until winter came.'  There, 'she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after...'

So when we think on these aspects of Arwen and Aragorn and Gilraen and then take a look at the scenes, we can find some common threads: having hope... not having hope... the choice made through love between immortality and mortality... a decision to follow a father or cleave to a love.

I don't know what this theme represents to Howard Shore or Peter Jackson. But for me, it evokes the complexity of the story and it represents all of those things: Finding and keeping hope in a time when hope is scarce, Making hard choices where no choice is without loss. I can't make out the lyrics (Elvish-illiterate) (see previous strikeout) but I can hear the word 'Estel' which we know means hope. I suspect that hope figures into this theme. But is it having hope (Arwen) or is it lacking hope (Elrond - movie version - and Gilraen). My instinct says that this theme is really an Arwen theme that represents how Arwen holds on to hope for all the people who need it, but don't have it. She holds out against her father's lack of hope and she is the emotional sustainer for Aragorn - and by extension - Middle-earth. 

It might be helpful to compare the use of this theme to the Evenstar Melody, especially since they are usually 'paired' together. In a flashback, Aragorn remembers a conversation with Arwen. Aragorn's Theme and the Evenstar Melody are played for this scene. Almost immediately, he remembers a conversation with Elrond (#2 below) that uses Gilraen's Theme. Then when Aragorn tries to give back the Evenstar, we hear music that seems to blend the Evenstar Melody with Gilraen's Theme (#3 below). Later, Elrond gives Arwen a glimpse of life with a mortal as the Evenstar Melody plays. As the vision ends, he calls her name while a snip of Gilraen's Theme is played (#4 below). Then he goes on to say, "There is nothing for you here. Only death."

The lyrics to Arwen's Theme connect her to Tinúviel, the Elven princess who married a mortal. Evenstar is a theme for her relationship with Aragorn. But Gilraen, to me, represents Arwen as more than an Elf, more than a woman in love... it presents Arwen as a representative for holding fast to hope. (Sam would be another representative.) You decide what you think.


Further Connecting Gilraen to Arwen and then to "the Diminishment of the Elves"

I dropped in on a conversation at They were discussing screencaps of the movie and that day's image was of Arwen wilted and fading on the couch.



The question was asked,

All of Middle Earth is tied to the fate of the Ring in some way... What makes Arwen so special?

Darkstone answered:

Well, she's not. Her fate seems to be exactly the same as that of Gilraen, who dies because she's weakened by the coming Darkness. And then there's the Elves themselves, who have to leave when they suffer a certain level of chronic exposure to Melkor's Taint. Indeed, in the first such case, cited in Morgoth's Ring, the Valar come to the consensus that Míriel Serindë's death was "unnatural" and ultimately due to Melkor's Taint on Arda. (Also note that "Serindë" means "needlewoman", which Arwen is too!) So really, "Arwen is dying" has clear and solid roots in the Legendarium.

All of a sudden, the connection between Gilraen and Arwen made through this theme made perfect sense. I think I couldn't see it before because, frankly, I quite dislike this plot sideline. I did with it what I do with much of the diverse material I dislike - I ignored it and refused to see it. By not considering fading Arwen, I couldn't make a proper connection to Gilraen. And I can then understand how Shore sees this as "The Diminishment of the Elves". I'll still leave my old 'Arwen represents hope' notes below. I become quite attached to my thoughts and writing and they will come in handy some day... I'm convinced of it.

Dialog connected with the scenes:

When I was mulling over what this theme might represent, I decided to 'map' out the dialog that went with the theme. The parts that are heard (or seen) while the theme plays are in black. The Evenstar Melody plays during the lines in blue in section 4. Anything in grey is heard before or after these themes.



[The scene changes to the grounds of Rivendell, where Aragorn cleans the leaves and dirt from his mother's grave. Then he looks at her statue beside it, and touches its face with the back of his hand.]

Anirne hene beriad i chên în. [Translation: "She wanted to protect her child."]
Ned Imladris nauthant e le beriathar aen. [Translation: "She thought in Rivendell you would be safe."]
In her heart, your Mother knew you'd be hunted all your life. That you'd never escape your fate. The skill of the Elves can reforge the sword of kings but only you have the power to wield it.
[Still looking at his mother's grave.] I do not want that power. I have never wanted it.
You are the last of the blood line. There is no other.

[Flashback to Elrond conversing with Aragorn at Rivendell:]
Our time here is ending. Arwen's time is ending. Let her go. Let her take the ship into the West. Let her bear away her love for you to the undying lands, there to be ever green.
But never more than a memory.
I will not leave my daughter here to die.
She stays because she still has hope.
She stays for YOU! She belongs with her people.


[Aragorn meets Arwen before the departure of the Fellowship.]
Edra le men, men na guil edwen... haer o auth a nîr a naeth.
[Translation: "You have a chance for another life ...away from war... grief... despair."]
Why are you saying this?
I am mortal. You are elfkind. It was a dream Arwen, nothing more.
(The melody continues, but it sounds more like Evenstar here than for that line above.)
[Aragorn tries to give the Evenstar back to Arwen.]
This belongs to you.
It was a gift. Keep it.


Arwen. Tollen i lû. I chair gwannar na Valannor. Si bado, no círar.
[Translation: "Arwen. It is time. The ships are leaving for Valinor. Go now before it is too late."]
I have made my choice.
He is not coming back. Why do you linger here when there is no hope?"
[Whispers]: There is still hope.
If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true... you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death. An image of the splendor of the kings of men in glory, undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on, in darkness and in doubt. As nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell, bound to you grief, under the fading trees, until all the world has changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent. Arwen... (a quick phrase of Gilraen's Theme plays as he says her name and then hesitates.) there is nothing for you here, only death.
A im ú-'erin veleth lîn? [Translation: "Do I not also have your love?"
Gerich meleth nîn, ada. [Translation: "You have my love father."]