Saturday, June 25, 2016

Love Triangles

Love triangles are as old as the hills.  We can find them in all different kinds of books from the very contemporary Matched, Twilight, and Hunger Games books to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, even as far back as one of my favorites, Le Mort d'Arthur with Guinever, Arthur, and Lancelot, and even in Tolkien's works.  In this article I'm going to talk about what makes love triangles work and how the ones shown in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are successful.

Guinivere, Lancelot, and Arthur

Things to look for in a good love triangle:

1. The romantic interests are very different

Love triangles should reveal a lot about the character doing the choosing and when they finally make their decision, they should have learned about themselves and should understand their wants and needs better.  When the romantic interests are very different, the character change is more obvious.

For example, one romantic interest could be a complete bag in the wind who doesn't want to settle down but who the main character finds intriguing.  The other romantic interest could be the person the main character met at the library who is really consistent and kind.  Throughout the course of the story, the main character could discover that she really wants to settle down and have something stable in her life, and she realizes she really loves the library guy and that her infatuation with bag in the wind guy is just because she is interested and it's not real love.

Does this sound a bit familiar?  That's because a very similar love triangle is found in The Lord of the Rings, but in reverse.  Aragorn is someone a lot of people look up to; he is certainly intriguing and many people want to be like him.  Faramir seems more reserved and practical, but very kind.  Eowyn finally realizes that she just admires Aragorn and does not really love him.  She also realizes that she doesn't want to be in a continuous state of war and wants to have peace and nurture life.  She says in the book that she does not long to be a queen anymore, and Faramir says "that is well, for I am not a king."  They both want the same things in life and make a perfect match.  Now reread the paragraph above and you'll better see the parallels.

It should be noted that it is not just that Eowyn chose Faramir because she could not have Aragorn--for awhile the fact she couldn't have him just debilitated her and she was incapable of loving anyone.  It was only Faramir who could bring her back into the light.

2. There are pros and cons to each character

It is extremely boring to read a one-sided love triangle where one character is obviously right and the main character knows it.  If, however, the main character does not recognize it but we as the readers can, it can create a good kind of suspense where we are rooting for one person and hoping the main character catches on.  But, if both we as the readers and the main character know that one interest is completely perfect, it's going to either be tiresome or frustrating to read about that.

In The Silmarillion, Finduilas, Gwindor, and Turin create a very tragic love triangle.  Finduilas and Gwindor were engaged to be married, before Gwindor was captured, tortured, and mutilated by Morgoth.  When he returns with Turin, Finduilas falls (against her will!) in love with Turin.  She feels awful because both characters have their pros and cons and we as readers are tortured emotionally with her.

Doesn't this Turin look like Mel Gibson?

Gwindor has been at her side consistently and she already promised to marry him; he is kind and they were once in love.  But Turin is new and noble; he has captured her attention with his prowess and nobility.  But Gwindor is forever changed--a twisted thing out of Morgoth's dungeons; Turin is a mortal and pledging herself to him would leave her a widow when his short life is spent, plus he doesn't even know Finduilas loves him.  The decision is like a knife in the heart, or rather, a spear in the neck because Finduilas never tells Turin that she loves him.  When given the choice between his family and Finduilas (turns out the threat against his family was a false one in the end and only Finduilas was in danger), Turin chooses his family not knowing of Finduilas' love, and the Elf ends up getting killed by the Orcs.

3. It has to contribute to the plot

A love triangle which does not contribute to the plot is boring and unnecessary.

In The Silmarillion, Turin and Nienor are married, but Brandir one of Turin's men also loves Nienor.  In the end, Nienor dies and Brandir brings tidings of her death to the people, saying that it is good.  He said it was good because it was revealed that Nienor was actually married to her brother, and it is good that she is free of that now.  Turin returns and hears him say this; he comes very angry and thinks Brandir is saying this because he has always scorned Turin and Nienor's relationship (which Turin obviously doesn't know is incest) and he turns on Brandir and kills him.

When Turin finds out that everything Brandir had said was true, the fact that he killed an innocent man weighs on him even more and is one of the factors which contributes to his suicide.  This is a very subtle love triangle, but a very interesting one.  Brandir had a bad feeling about Turin and Nienor since the beginning and it turns out that he was right and they should not have gotten married.  One wonders what might have happened had Nienor listened to Brandir's warnings and stayed away from Turin and instead married Brandir.  Certainly the story would not be the same at all.

In the story of Beren and Luthien, there is a subtle love triangle involving Daeros, a minstrel of Doriath who also loves Luthien.  His love for her contributes significantly to the plot because it is he that tells Thingol about Beren and Luthien's meetings.  If he hadn't told Thingol about the meetings, Beren never would have been sent out on his quest.  Daeros' betrayal was the catalyst and his motive had to do with the love triangle.

Another love triangle which powers the plot of The Silmarillion is the infamous one of Tuor, Idril, and Maeglin.  Maeglin was jealous of Tuor not only because he had Turgon's favor but also because he had Idril's, something that Maeglin was desperate for.  Hate for Tuor and desire to posses Idril "led him the easier to his treachery, most infamous in all the Elder Days."  If Maeglin had not loved Idril, he would not have betrayed Gondolin and the city would not have fallen.

Maeglin is captured and later caves in to the Orc's requests

4. The reader should be able to feel empathy for all parties involved

This last love triangle is a bit of a stretch, but I'm including it in the list anyway.  It is probably more prevalent in the movies but can also be seen in the book and is that of Aragorn, Arwen, and Elrond.  Obviously Elrond's love for Arwen is not romantic (yuck!) but he still does love her and Arwen eventually has to choose whether she will remain with Aragorn in Middle-earth or whether she will go to the Undying Lands with her father.

You definitely feel bad for Arwen because she is forced to make an extremely hard decision, one she will have to deal with not just for the rest of her life but even for the afterlife.  It must be hard for Aragorn since he loves and respects Elrond and wouldn't want to do anything to hurt him, yet he is also in love with Arwen and she is the only one that he can have as queen.  Probably worst of all, the whole situation is heartbreaking for Elrond since he loses his only daughter and will probably never see her again.  Just the few phrases thrown throughout the Return of the King that mention the parting are enough to bring tears to your eyes.

In summary, the four things I look for in a good love triangle are: different romantic interests; pros and cons for each character; plot driving events triggered by love triangle; and relatable characters readers can feel empathy for.

The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are chock full of wonderful love triangles which fulfill those categories.  What do you look for in a good love triangle?  Which Middle-earth triangle is your favorite?


  1. All the love triangles you mentioned are great! I never really considered Aragorn-Eowyn-Faramir a love triangle per se, but I suppose it does count now that I think about it. :)

    1. OH! And I totally see what you mean about Mel Gibson and Turin. :D

    2. Thanks! It's a pretty brief love triangle, but an interesting one.

      That struck me when I saw the photo! "The Children of Hurin" starring Mel Gibson as Turin Turambar XD