FAQ / Why did Arwen say there was no ship to take her to the Undying Lands

The question arises from this exchange between Aragorn and Arwen just before Aragorn gives up his life:

"I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men."

"Nay, dear lord," she said, "that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Numenoreans, not till now have I understood the take of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive."

Lord of the Rings

The basic answer: Arwen had chosen to join herself to Aragorn, becoming mortal, and thereby giving up her ‘right’ to sail to the undying lands. It is not true that there were no longer any ships which could sail to the Undying Lands, as Legolas built a ship and sailed with Gimli to Aman after the death of Aragorn. Also, it is unlikely that the elves remaining in Middle-earth were forever sundered from the Straight Road leading to Valinor.

Why did Arwen have this choice? She was one of the Peredhil, the Half-elves, who was descended from both Men and Elves.

Extremely brief history of the Peredhil: Beren was the first Man to marry an Elf, Luthien daughter of Thingol. Beren was slain, and Luthien died of grief and went to Mandos, where she was given the choice to remain in Mandos alone or to become mortal, re-join Beren for a brief mortal life and then die indeed and leave the world. She chose to become mortal. Their grand-daughter, Elwing, married Earendil, the son of the second Edain-Eldar? union, Tuor and Idril, daughter of Turgon. Tuor and Idril sailed widely, and ‘it is supposed’ that Tuor was given the grace of being counted among the Eldar. Earendil and Elwing had two sons, Elrond and Elros. At the end of the First Age, Earendil and Elwing sailed to Valinor and were there given the choice as to which kindred they would belong. They both chose to be counted as Eldar. Elrond and Elros were likewise given this choice.

The view is that the Half-elven have a power of (irrevocable) choice, which may be delayed but not permanently, which kin’s fate they will share. Elros chose to be a King and ‘longaevus’ but mortal, so all his descendents are mortal, and of a specially noble race, but with dwindling longevity: so Aragorn (who, however, ahs a greatere life-span than his contemporaries, double, though not he original Numenorean treble, that of Men). Elrond chose to be among the Elves. His children – with a renewed Elvish strain, since their mother was Celebrian daughter of Galadriel – have to make their choices. Arwen is not a 're-incarnation' of Luthien (that in the view of this mythical history would be impossible, since Luthien has died like a mortal and left the world of time) but a descendant very like her in looks, character, and fate. When she weds Aragorn . . . she ‘makes the choice of Luthein’, so the grief at her parting from Elrond is especially poignant. Elrond passes Over Sea. The end of his sons, Elladan and Elrohir, is not told: they delay their choice, and remain for a while.
Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #153

Tolkien also writes:

The Half-elven, such as Elrond and Arwen, can choose to which kind and fate they shall belong: choose once and for all. Hence the grief at the parting of Elrond and Arwen.
Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #154

Given this, the question is at what point the choice becomes irrevocable. How the knowledge of the existence of this choice reached Elrond and Elros is not explicitly explained anywhere, nor how Arwen, Elladan, or Elrohir could ‘officially’ make their choice. It seems most likely that Arwen made her choice at her wedding, although it may have been made earlier at her betrothal to Aragorn.

Aragorn answered . . . "And the Shadow I utterly reject. But neither, lady, is the Twilight for me; for I am a mortal, and if you will cleave to me, Evenstar, then the Twilight you must also renounce."

'And she stood then as still as a white tree, looking into the West, and at last she said: "I will cleave to you, Dunadan, and turn from the Twilight. Yet there lies the land of my people and the long home of all my kin." She loved her father dearly.'

Lord of the Rings, Appendix A

Arwen gives this grace to depart to Frodo, telling him,

'A gift I will give you. For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Luthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it.'
Lord of the Rings, Appendix A

Comments, annotation, and edits welcomed!

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