If you bring up the person of Tauriel the Wood-Elf, as portrayed by actress Evangeline Lilly, in Tolkien-related-circles, you’re bound to stir up some level of controversy. While many have long since received her presence in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films with open arms, and even grown to appreciate her story, there still remains a vast portion of the fandom that refuses to welcome the addition of an entirely new character, hitherto unrelated to already-established Middle-earth canon.
This sentiment is understandable, and as such, I would like to make something abundantly clear at the onset of this essay: while I much prefer to view films and novels as separate entities, not wholly deserving of those fierce attempts to contrast with and denigrate differing elements, I do not wish to make my argument for Tauriel’s existence on that battlefront.
Everyone is entitled to their preferences for the source material in regard to its adaptation, and if they deem such changes unmerited, then so be it. The purpose of this ‘vindication,’ as it were, is not wrought with the intention of persuading such people that they’re wrong.
Rather, it’s to cast aside such attacks that seek only to utterly disparage the quality of what was given us on screen—better put, to combat the notion put forth by more aggressive reviewers, that the person of Tauriel is trash, and the filmmakers had absolutely no idea what they were doing.
Introduction: Who Is Tauriel?
Whenever one begins to divine the nuances of character, it is always best to name off those attributes and traits laid before us, however sparingly, in the story proper. That is my foremost intention here and now.
We first see Tauriel in the Forest of Mirkwood, where she appears alongside Legolas Greenleaf, just in time to disperse of the Giant Spiders harrying the Company of Thorin Oakenshield. One of the last Spiders to be slain has Kíli the Dwarf (nephew of Thorin) trapped by the strap of his boot. Frantically, Kíli struggles with the beast, but without a weapon to defend himself, he cannot stay its indomitable might. In the nick of time, Tauriel leaps to his rescue and grapples with the Spider, before slaughtering it without breaking a sweat. Stunned though he is by these events, Kíli quickly grows enamoured with Tauriel.
Immediately following, Tauriel is confronted by Legolas, who enquires as to whether or not all the Spiders have been routed and slain. She replies in the affirmative, but her next words relay her growing worry for the very first time. Warning that “more will come” and that “they’re growing bolder,” she leaves Legolas looking mildly disquieted.
When we next come across her, she has her second encounter with Kíli, who attempts to banter with her. Still wearing the reservations typical of her kin upon her face, Tauriel refuses to entertain him, although, from the following discourse between Legolas and herself, we glean that his playful mannerisms may have caught her eye.
Tauriel & Thranduil
Later on, we are privy to a conversation between Tauriel and Thranduil, where we see our first real sign of her personality emerging from under the stoicism so often attributed to the Wood-Elves of Mirkwood. Their conversation, which begins with Thranduil asking as to their success in the Wood, follows like this:
Thranduil: "I thought I gave orders for that nest to be destroyed, not two moons past?"
Tauriel: "We cleared the forest as ordered, my Lord, but more spiders keep coming up from the South. We now know that they are spawning in the ruins of Dol Guldur. If we could kill them at their source–"
Thranduil: "No. That fortress lies beyond our borders. Keep our lands clear of those foul creatures, that is your task."
Tauriel: "When we drive them off, what happens then? Will they not spread to other lands?"
Thranduil: "Other lands are not my concern. The fortunes of the world will rise and fall – but here, in this Kingdom, we will endure."
Before moving on, permit me to briefly digress: Here, we see a clear conflict in personality and perspective. Thranduil, ever the isolationist, spurns any notion of looking out for the well-being and security of his neighbours, all the while failing to realise that, in the long run, this policy has the potential to affect his kingdom with disastrous consequences. Tauriel, on the other hand, is of the exact opposite mind. She does not view Thranduil’s isolationist tactics with any measure of favour; hence, she futilely endeavours to persuade him to strike the Spiders directly at their source.
Whence springs such a sentiment from Thranduil? Unfortunately, although the films were originally set to further explore the motivations of the Elfking, even going so far as to film an actual scene between Gandalf and Thranduil, that would elaborate on Thranduil’s relationship with his wife and son, it was ultimately not included in the final cut.
However, if we study what we have, we can begin to form some estimation of his history: Thranduil had, in the past, “faced the great serpents of the North” and received a terrible wound in return. This later affected his decision not to expend his forces against Smaug, in an attempt to wrest back Erebor and Dale from the Dragon. Somewhere along the way, he lost his wife to Gundabad Orcs, and—embittered and aggrieved—he withdrew ever further into his kingdom, his self-centeredness eventually straining his relationship with Legolas.
Now, the exchange between Thranduil and Tauriel swiftly turns to another subject, that of Legolas himself:
Thranduil: "Legolas said you fought well today ... He has grown very fond of you."
Tauriel: "I assure you, my Lord, Legolas thinks of me as no more than a Captain in the Guard."
Thranduil: "Perhaps he did once, but now I am not so sure."
Tauriel: "I do not think you would allow your son to pledge himself to a lowly Silvan Elf–"
Thranduil: "No – you are right. I would not. Still, he cares about you – do not give him hope where there is none."
From this pithy discourse, can we assume that Tauriel possesses genuine affections for Legolas? I do not think we can. Certainly, just from observing Evangeline Lilly’s facial expressions, I think we can safely say that she has mildly entertained the idea—but followed it through in heart and deed? No—at least, not yet.
At the very least, what we have here is Thranduil’s arrogance and egotistical self-interest placed on full display. We must remember that in Legolas, besides the Gems of Lasgalen (which Thranduil spends much of the two films pursuing), resides the last remaining relic he has left of his dead wife; and although he may have partially abandoned Legolas in his grief, Thranduil still possesses a twisted sense of protection on behalf of his son’s best interests.
As for Tauriel, the reality of this conversation and how it subsequently affects her behaviour does not fully manifest itself until the next time she crosses our screens. At best (and from what we can perceive from Lilly’s demeanor in the final shot), we can probably surmise that, locked away in the darkness of the Woodland Realm, she has grown lonely—and even though she may not love Legolas in any true sense, Thranduil’s callous dismissal of her as unworthy of his son feels like a slight against her character, which would only further heighten what feelings of loneliness or abandonment she may have previously endured.
The Feast of Starlight
We come now to the turning point in Tauriel’s story: that is, of course, the conversation which takes place between Kíli and herself, otherwise called the “Feast of Starlight”. I make no reservations when I state my opinion that this scene, from a storytelling standpoint, just so happens to be one of the more beautifully-scripted scenes in all six films of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth saga—and we have the talented Ms Philippa Boyens to thank for that.
Say what you want about the Tauriel/Kíli subplot, but this scene by itself deserves every ounce of attention and commendation. Everything from the acting, to the visuals, to the script, and at last, the music itself (which you can find here, and is by far one of the better themes created by Howard Shore in this second round), all add up to such a sense of place and timelessness, that I have rarely found myself enjoying moments in storytelling as much as I did with this one.
Where do we start? It is past nightfall and the Dwarves are locked away in their cells, while all the Elves are out celebrating what they name, Mereth e-nGilith or the Feast of Starlight. All the Elves? All, that is, with the exception of one: Tauriel, who finds herself separated from her kindred, wandering the halls alone.
Why so? It would seem, especially with future events in view, that the strain is beginning to weigh upon her free spirit: she has grown deeply discouraged by the politics of her people.
Moreover (again, having the story in its entirety in mind), their reserved, almost-unfeeling disposition to life runs contrary to the whims of her heart. Having seen a direct contrast between Elrond’s people and Thranduil’s kingdom, it is probable that she would find herself much more at home with the High Elves of Rivendell. Indeed, in the past, at Gandalf’s assertion that the Elven Road, held by the Mirkwood Elves, is “still safe,” Beorn had formerly replied with, “Safe? The Wood Elves of Mirkwood are not like their kin. They are less wise and more dangerous.”
Whatever her reasoning is, we find Tauriel not with the other Elves, but meandering about alone, seemingly with no purposeful intention of where she wends her way. For reasons unknown, she takes a moment to pause by the cell of Kíli. Maybe it’s intentional, maybe not. Either way, her action appears almost as an afterthought. Meditatively and without expression, she enquires after a stone Kíli has been fingering absentmindedly.
In true Kíli fashion, he plays her along:
Kíli: “It is a talisman; a powerful spell lies upon it. If any but a dwarf reads the runes on this stone, they will be forever cursed!”
Tauriel’s reaction is enough to warrant the nature of her visit. She looks at him sharply. Then, uncertain and overly-flustered, she swiftly turns on her heel to leave. It’s quite clear to the audience that she’s likely very unused to the mannerisms of Dwarves, which run so very contrary to those of Elves; and I think we can presume that her experience in the affairs of the outside world is limited, at best.
However, even as she turns aside her face, she is quickly drawn back by the voice of Kíli, who greets her with his customary tell-tale grin:
Kíli: ”Or not ... depending on whether you believe in that kind of thing. It's just a token – a rune stone. My mother gave it to me so that I would remember my promise."
For the first time, we see a gentle smile break out over Tauriel’s typically restrained demeanour. She scarcely knows Kíli, and yet, despite their differences, he’s already speaking to her as a friend: revealing intimate details about his family—his mother, no less! This runs contrary to everything Tauriel’s probably been told about Dwarves: of their uncultured ways, stubborn, almost pig-headed resolve, and jealous love for gold and beautiful gems.
All of a sudden, this simple statement from Kíli humanises his strange character in her eyes. This is a real person, with thoughts and feelings of his own. He has a mother—something the script seems to indicate that she does not have—hence, perhaps, her loneliness. This is a ray of sunshine shining through the melancholy monotony of her life, which manifests itself in the dark, cold caves wherein she makes her dwelling.
Suddenly intrigued, she asks:
Tauriel: "What promise?"
Kíli: "That I would come back to her. She worries; she thinks I'm reckless."
By chance, Kíli accidentally loses his hold on the rune-stone. It falls to the ground, only to be caught up by Tauriel, who lifts it to the light and examines the runes engraved upon its surface. With this further humanising of Kíli firmly in place, their discourse swiftly turns to the nature of the festivities:
Kíli: "Sounds like quite a party you're having up there."
Tauriel: "It is Mereth e-nGilith – the Feast of Starlight."
Now, we’re on the verge of humanising Tauriel in Kíli’s eyes. He’s deliberately enquired as to the customs of her people—a sacred matter held in high esteem by all the Elves of Mirkwood. But since he has already spoken freely about his mother to her, a stranger, she feels equally free to elaborate.
Tauriel: "All light is sacred to the Eldar, but Wood Elves love best the light of the stars."
Kíli: "I have always thought it is a cold light, remote and far away."
Kíli’s lukewarm response to her revelation pushes Tauriel to respond with sudden, almost vehement passion. Again, we catch an even closer look at the substance of her character: her desires, dreams and values:
Tauriel: "It is memory! Precious and pure ... like your promise."
Now, we have it, at last: that fatal moment of connection. Tauriel’s passion has unleashed her free spirits from its cold confines, which she had formerly wrought so as to conform to the practises and policies of her people, and now, she has free reign to speak as she would, for the present time.
In the words, “Precious and pure…like your promise,” the values of Tauriel and Kíli have been inextricably linked. The connection she forges with Kíli in that single statement, through a series of seemingly unrelated events, suddenly makes it possible for her confide in him about things she has kept only to herself. His genuine interest is an open invitation to Tauriel, who has likely despaired in the past, due to having none with which she might share her innermost sentiments.
In direct tandem with this event, she extends her hand and returns Kíli’s stone to him, as if to highlight and solidify the connection in the real world. Now, with the final barrier broken, in her next words, we see a side of Tauriel that has hitherto remained utterly secreted away:
Tauriel: "I have walked there, sometimes – beyond the forest, up into the night ... I have seen the world fall away and the white light of forever fill the air."
Speaking to the nature of this somewhat esoteric exchange, screenwriter Philippa Boyens says the following:
"When she speaks about how Elves "love all light" [and] above all else, they love starlight – [there's a] notion that this young Silvan Elf, whose world has probably been confined by this dark woodland, and who has never really ever ventured out into the world, has yet, [in] a way…gone beyond the confines of the world and walked, as she says, ['beyond the forest, up into the night']."
If I may emphasise once more: this singular statement reaches deep within the intricacies of her character. In this simple revelation lies the key to understanding all of Tauriel’s actions henceforth.
Evangeline Lilly further expounds, saying:
“…as Kili enters her world, he opens up her heart and mind and her soul to the notion of innocence again. She sees innocence and purity in him, and she sees a spark of life that she hasn’t known since before her parents were killed, and it reminds her of the young elf that she maybe threw aside in her pain.”
It should be noted that those criticisms directed at this relationship, which attempt to cast it as too-sudden, unlifelike or forced, simply reveal that such persons have not actually taken the time to examine the story material in any great detail. While certainly fair critiques to the casual moviegoer, they can be easily refuted by the interested observer.
Just to summarise, what have we learned so far about Tauriel from her encounters with the ensemble cast?
1. Well, for one, she's worried about the rising threat in the South and seeks to counter it by pushing both Thranduil and Legolas to take an active role against the evils that beset the neighbouring lands.
2. Two, her frustration (which becomes much more manifest later on) with the reserved, unfeeling tradition of her kindred—something which directly clashes with her free spirit.
3. And three, a sense of loneliness and abandonment, brought about by several factors, which are not immediately apparent.
Now, in light of all this, what does the person of Kíli pose for her?
1. First off, Kíli, as a member of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, is taking the initiative in the fight against the Great Evil—a direct contrast to the isolationist policy of Thranduil and her kin.
2. Secondly, being the high-spirited fellow that he is, Kíli doesn't take things too seriously and doesn't hesitate to make known his devotion to his mother—another stark contrast with the relative coldness of her kin.
3. And thirdly, Kíli makes no qualms about his appreciation and admiration for her (however whimsical it may have been in the beginning)—unlike her peers, he's relatively laid back, quite open with her, and is possessed of a jovial disposition!
On a brief note, psychologically, it has been proven that such persons as are lonely or isolated are much more susceptible to the entrapments of ardour and infatuation than might normally be the case. In the case of Tauriel, the very nature of the situation makes her far more open to allowing her emotions to be redirected, especially after having laid her heart bare to Kíli (and to no other). Even should they never cross paths again, there is an immediate bond between them that would be almost nigh to impossible for Tauriel to forget.
In the end—for Tauriel, who desires to leave the shelter of the forest, to take part in the Great War, and to freely walk about on green fields under an expanse of eternal starlight, Kíli—as the foil to Legolas—poses a whole new world, which exemplifies virtually all her values.
We'll discuss just exactly what is going on here, and how that guides the later narrative soon enough, so, for the sake of brevity, let's move on to the conclusion of this scene.
Whether it's a coincidence or not, Kíli is gazing at Tauriel's red hair when his next words come out:
Kíli: "I saw a fire-moon once. It rose over the pass near Dunland ... Huge and red and gold it was. It filled the sky ... We were an escort for some merchants from Ered Luin; they were trading in silverwork for furs. We took the Greenway south, keeping the mountain to our left, and then it appeared. This huge fire-moon lighting our path. I wish I could show you..."
Tauriel & the Orc
We will pass over what takes place next using only the briefest summary: With the aid of Bilbo, the Company of Thorin Oakenshield is released from their cells in the early hours of the morning. They are pursued by the Elves, only for both forces to be ambushed by Orcs. In the ensuing struggle, the Company manages to elude the clutches of both pursuers, but at a cost: Kíli has been shot in the leg with a poisoned arrow, and already, it is beginning to sap his strength.
In the meantime, we will camp upon the next major sequence of the film: specifically, the interrogation scene, which takes place between Thranduil, Legolas, Tauriel, and a captured Orc, within the Woodland Realm.
To better examine and break down the close particulars of this pivotal scene, I followed it line by line and shot by shot, taking great pains to render it in the mode of a prose sequence, so that I might satisfactorily convey the import of this one scene in relation to the rest of the story.
We start with Legolas's interrogation of the Orc:
“You were tracking a company of thirteen dwarves,” said Legolas, pressing the cold steel of his blade ever tighter. “Why?”
“Not thirteen,” rasped the Orc, a hideous grin twisting its misshapen features. “Not anymore. The young one…the black-haired archer…”
Movement shifted several feet away from the throne; Tauriel stopped dead in her tracks, and turned her full gaze upon the Orc, who lifted his leering eyes to return her stare with a repulsive sort of relish, growling and snarling all the while: “We stuck him with a Morgul shaft.”
Thranduil and Legolas did not see the deadly pale light that had flashed in Tauriel’s eyes. They did not see the sudden change in her countenance, which had gone ashen and white. They did not see the swift tremble of her lower lip or the fleeting flutter of her eyelids.
“The poison’s in his blood. He’ll be choking on it soon.”
They saw none of these things. But there was one thing immediately apparent to them both: for the sharp, tremulous anger in her voice, the deadly, mirthless quiet which strained her every word was unmistakable to their ears: “Answer the question, filth.”
“I do not answer to dogs, She-Elf!” spat the Orc, lashing out with abhorrence.
He sprang forward savagely, but Legolas reined him in, tightening his grip about the Orc’s throat.
In answer, Tauriel’s twin blades came whipping forth from where they had been sheathed.
“I would not antagonise her,” said Legolas with grim propriety.
Tauriel’s voice was steady, but strained all the same. “You like killing things, Orc?”
The Orc growled again, gruesome teeth gleaming wickedly.
Her eyes tightened, overcome by implacable ruthlessness. “You like death?”
Snarls answered her.
Restraint lost all its bonds. “Then let me give it to you!”
Like a deadly winter storm, cold and merciless, Tauriel sprang forward, twin blades flashing, death writ upon her countenance.
“Enough!” cried Thranduil in stern reproof, stopping her just short of cleaving free the Orc’s head from its shoulders. “Tauriel, leave! Go now.”
As quickly as she had leapt forward, Tauriel drew back, eyes passing from the Orc to her king and back again. The bitter, numbing frost of resentment barely restrained, mingled with anxious trepidation pervaded all her countenance.
Legolas’s stare passed from the Orc to her, but she did not meet it and lowered her eyes, momentarily rooted to the ground. Upon comprehending her ignominy and fury, the Orc hissed savagely, eyes plying over her in deriding mockery.
With a slight, contemptuous curl of her lip, Tauriel turned sharply and took her leave of the room, walking slowly with deliberate intent, so as to suppress if she might, the torrid wrath, long-held back, which she now felt so fully. That power came easier to her, however; for her mind was already decided and wholly bent on its newfound purpose.
She would not be dissuaded. No longer could things continue as they always had. No longer could she make her dwelling beneath so odious a prohibition as the policy of her kin. And no more could she sit silent, doing nothing, when the winds of the world warned all to act otherwise. No more! No, she would do what she must for what she knew was right and true.
Even if it meant she must defy her king.
All her previous trepidation and held-back emotion, strengthened by her discourse with Kíli, comes to the forefront in this scene. The interrogation with the Orc only lends to her present conviction. She knows that she must do something. If no one else will, she must act, regardless of the cost. The danger posed to Kíli's life is the stimulant: the final straw that sends her over the brink into rebellion and defiance of all she's ever known.
If you're still struggling to grasp the profundity of all this, try and think for a moment of things from Tauriel's perspective: for all your life, you've been confined to the dark forest of Mirkwood, a place which has been growing darker and darker by the day. War is brewing at your borders, but your King shuts himself and his people farther in. All the Wood-Elves, all your friends, everyone you've ever known is of like mind, ever guarded and reserved, ever holding the rest of the world in contempt—all, that is, but you.
Full of life and light (something repeatedly contrasted with the behaviour of other Wood-Elves), you desire the freedom to do as you deem: to go out into other lands, to fight and explore things yet unknown, to lie upon green grass under a starry firmament, to dance with the wind and feel the warm rays of the sun smiling upon your face. But all these hopes and aspirations and dreams seem as though they will remain exactly that: a dream, and nothing more.
That is, until, wonder of wonders, you come into contact with the Dwarves: a people who carry themselves differently from your own kin in almost every way conceivable. Imagine having dwelt for six hundred years with such a longing in your heart, only to come across one like Kíli, who represents the fulfilment of everything you've hoped and yearned for. Imagine having languished in solitude within the dark crevices of rock and stone, only to encounter light and laughter just overhead and the promise of contented hope. Would you yourself not lay ahold of it?
Of course, you would! It is only understandable that Tauriel would do the same. With what we have gleaned from her character, anything else would run contrary to everything we know about her.
And it is with this resolve in mind, that, for the very first time, Tauriel departs the Woodland Realm on her own in pursuit of the thirteen dwarves.
Tauriel & Legolas
As expected, Legolas follows her to the Shores of the Long Lake. This is the first, direct conversation we've been privy to between them, and it does not disappoint in the gravity of its import, and the further revelation of Tauriel; for it is here, after her first, real decisive action in the previous scene, that we see the reasons behind that action expressed in actual words. Turning again to the script, we find Legolas earnestly pressing Tauriel as to the nature of her defiance:
Legolas: "The King is angry, Tauriel. For six hundred years, my father has protected you, favoured you ... you defied his orders, you have betrayed his trust. Come back with me ... he will forgive you."
Tauriel: "But I will not ... If I go back, I will not forgive myself."
Legolas is clearly taken aback by her words.
Tauriel (cont'd): "The King has never let Orc filth roam our lands, yet he would let this Orc-pack cross our borders and kill our prisoners."
Legolas: "It is not our fight."
Tauriel: "It is our fight! It will not end here. With every victory, this evil will grow. If your Father has his way, we will do nothing ... we will hide within our walls. We will live our lives away from the light and let darkness descend ... Are we not apart of this world? Tell me, friend ... when did we let Evil become stronger than us?"
And Legolas has no answer.
Shadows of the Evenstar, Pt. 1
If it is your wish to better appreciate, or at least understand something of Tauriel the Wood-Elf, then you must view her exactly as she is: a deliberately-designed forerunner to Arwen Undomiel of Rivendell. Though hinted at throughout the film, this critical connection does not fully manifest itself until Tauriel and Kíli's second of four encounters.
Kíli is beginning to fade by the time Tauriel catches up with him again. The poisoned arrow is taking its intended effect. Having dispersed of the Orcs which had arrived to slay the remaining Dwarves in Lake-town, Tauriel is now faced with a choice: leave with Legolas, or heal the dying Kíli. She has all but determined to turn away when she comes across one of the Dwarves carrying a bundle of Kingsfoil to aid Kíli—a direct parallel to a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, wherein Arwen comes across Aragorn in the woods, cutting free a stalk of Kingsfoil, in attempt to stay Frodo's fever.
Suddenly, the sight of the healing herb rejuvenates Tauriel. The matter is no longer so complicated. With a mix of hope and fear on her face, she chooses Kíli over her own kin. She decides to save him.
Why is she drawn to Kíli? Because he promises freedom from the rigid and constrictive bounds Thranduil has placed upon all who dwell within the Woodland Realm. Furthermore, we must assume that she clearly remembers the matter of their prior conversation: if Kíli dies, he will not fulfil the promise he made to his mother.
Why does she reject Legolas? Though the film makes it clear she possesses a level of fondness for the Elf-prince, she ultimately rejects him in favour of Kíli for the sole reason that he represents everything she's trying to run away from.
Simply put, Legolas represents the uniform traditions of her former life, always content to stay secreted away from the world and to remain hidden from the light. She, on the other hand, longs to break those bonds which trammel her: she seeks to reach beyond and do her part, in direct defiance of the customs of her kindred. She doesn't simply pursue Kíli because she possesses a romantic interest in him, but because he, along with his playful and carefree personality, epitomises the very thing for which her soul longs.
Shadows of the Evenstar, Pt. 2
It is with this decision that the similarities between Arwen and Tauriel begin to fall into place with rapid succession. One of the culminating scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring immediately comes to mind.
Past the Ford of Bruinen, upon the banks of the river, we find Arwen and Frodo. The Ringwraiths have just been swallowed up by the deluge summoned by Arwen's incantation, carried away from their sight and beyond their reach. But though for the present the Enemy has been temporarily defeated, the danger is not yet past. The curse of Morgul Blade finally begins to take effect, and Frodo loses consciousness.
Feeling his life slipping away even then, Arwen gathers the small Hobbit into her arms, and we hear her utter these words: "What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared."
While this scene is an example of artistic license on the part of the filmmakers, readers of the source material will likely recognise it as a direct allusion to a brief discourse between Arwen and Frodo in the late chapter, "Many Partings" from The Return of the King, wherein Arwen assures the Hobbit:
"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 Lúthien, 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. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed."
Similarly, in The Desolation of Smaug, when the curse of the Morgul Shaft begins to take effect, and Kíli's life begins to slip away at last, Tauriel calls him back with the phrase: "Menno o nin an hon i eliad annen annin. Hon leitho o-ngurth. What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared."
And now, even as she speaks, we see Tauriel through the eyes of Kíli. As he recovers, the script dictates that:
"through his fever, he stares at TAURIEL ... a white light seems to surround her ... she is calling him back."
This, of course, is an immediate play upon her words from their earlier conversation:
Tauriel: "I have walked there, sometimes – beyond the forest, up into the night ... I have seen the world fall away and the white light of forever fill the air."
Slowly, his strength returning to him, Kíli apprehends her in that moment. In his waning fever, the young Dwarf is still not wholly conscious, but wandering thoughts are formed into words, and, drifting, Kíli responds:
Kíli: "You cannot be her ... She is far away. She is far, far away from me. She walks in starlight in another world. It was just a dream ..."
For the second of three times, their fingers meet.
Kili (cont'd): "Do you think she could have loved me?"
Tauriel, it would appear, does not know how to answer.
At the Shores of the Long Lake
After Bard has slain the dragon Smaug, and the Dwarves remaining in Laketown are gathering to return to the Company in the Lonely Mountain, Tauriel and Kíli encounter each other for the third time—and the last extended conversation of any kind. She presses for him to take his leave, but Kíli lingers:
"Come with me," he says. "I know how I feel; I'm not afraid! You make me feel...alive."
Tauriel brushes him aside, but Kíli stops her with these words:
Kíli: "Tauriel. Amrâlimê."
As the meaning of the latter word, for some unfortunate reason, remained untranslated within the context of the film, and being myself no scholar of the many Middle-earth languages, I am forced to rely upon an outside source, who asserts that it's likely a form of "Neo-Khuzdul."
As to what Amrâlimê means, allow me to present his own words, the source of which you can find here:
Kíli says to Tauriel “amrâlimê” […]
I believe the word consists of three parts “amrâl”, “im” and “ê”
“amrâl” – means “love”. It used the abstract construction aCCâC as seen in the Tolkien original khuzdul words such as “aglâb”. The radicals in amrâl, MRL are faintly reminiscent of the Quenya “melmë” (love) and “mírima” (very lovely), and of the Sindarin “meleth” (love), while also hinting at the latin “amorem” (love).
“im” – […] it seems clear this is a genitive marker, indicating “of”.
“ê” – is the first person possessive pronoun “my”, also use for “me”.
Putting all of this together we get “love-of-me”
So, as a result we get: “My Love”
Perhaps that's why Tauriel stares almost in shock at Kíli for as long as she does. Naturally, a friendship of any sort between Dwarves and Elves is virtually unheard of, and when one considers the relatively short interlude that has passed since Tauriel first chanced upon the Dwarves, in addition to having left her home for the first time in over six hundred years, it's only logical that such an open admission of love on the part of Kíli (in contrast to his third-person speculations earlier on) might momentarily throw her completely off balance.
Indeed, she responds just as we might expect, unconfident and perhaps somewhat overwhelmed by the rapid turn of events which have taken place over the past few days:
Tauriel: "I don't know what that means."
Kíli: "I think you do."
For, a moment, Tauriel softens. However, just before there can be any sense of rectification between the two, Legolas enters the scene, directing Tauriel to take her leave and continue on with him. She takes a small step back. The moment is broken. Kíli, sensing the strain his presence is causing, begins to reluctantly walk away. But even as Tauriel gazes after him with a small sort of yearning in her eyes, he turns back one more. Taking her hand for the third time, he sets the rune-stone within her palm and closes her fingers about it.
We hear Tauriel's breath catch, and she stares at her hand and nothing else, almost as if she's afraid to meet Kíli's eyes. She knows very well the significance of this act. If you will remember, it was this very stone that initially forged the connection between them both. To again use Kíli's words earlier on:
Kíli: "It's just a token – a rune stone. My mother gave it to me so that I would remember my promise ... That I would come back to her."
Now, Kíli has given it to Tauriel. This is a promise from him to her, that he will return. Indeed, his last words end on precisely that note:
Kili: Keep it, as a promise.
Kíli strides away and Tauriel's gaze returns to her hand, opening wide her fingers to stare at the stone. But as quickly as her eyes fall upon it, they quickly avert away again, and we see her face contort as she desperately tries to fight off tears.
Tauriel Confronts Thranduil
Everything else concerning Tauriel, up to her confrontation with Thranduil in the heat of battle, can be condensed below: Not long after Kíli's departure, Tauriel and Legolas are happened upon by an emissary on behalf of Thranduil. The ambassador informs Legolas not only that his father has summoned him, but that Tauriel has been banished from the realm on account of her defiance. Upon this revelation, Legolas chooses to also flaunt the command of his king, and together, he and Tauriel ride off to investigate the fortress of Gundabad in the north.
There, they quickly discover that a second army, in addition to the force already lead by Azog the Defiler, is in motion and heading towards the Lonely Mountain. Just in the nick of time, they arrive to inform Gandalf of the oncoming threat. However, to their great dismay, it is quickly made apparent that Thorin, Dwalin, Fíli, and Kíli (who had long since departed to draw out Azog from his perch on Ravenhill) stand right between them and the second army.
Distressed in heart, Tauriel begins to make her way to Ravenhill, only to find Thranduil preparing to abandon the field, leaving the Dwarves and Lakemen to destruction yet again. Infuriated at his selfishness and sheer lack of empathy, she confronts him, at last:
Tauriel: "You will go no further. You will not turn away. Not this time."
Thranduil: "Get out of my way."
Tauriel: "The Dwarves will be slaughtered."
Thranduil: "Yes, they will die. Today, tomorrow, one year hence, a hundred years from now! What does it matter? They are mortal."
Her anger exploding afresh, Tauriel, on a sudden, sets an arrow to her bow and directs it at Thranduil.
Tauriel: "You think your life is worth more than theirs, while there is no love in it? There is no love in you."
But equally sudden, Thranduil lashes out in blind rage, severing her bow in half with his sword, and levelling it at her chest.
Thranduil: "What do you know of love? Nothing. What you feel for that Dwarf is not real! You think it is love? Are you ready to die for it?"
For the third time, their exchange is interrupted. Legolas strikes down Thranduil’s sword with his own and seizes control of the situation.
Legolas: "If you harm her, you will have to kill me."
The Elf-prince turns to Tauriel.
Legolas (cont'd): "I will go with you."
As one, the two depart for Ravenhill.
Death & Life
The last scene of any importance (beyond the last words of Tauriel and Thranduil) is the climactic sequence between Tauriel and Kíli. If you've taken the time to read this, then you must know the secret of this story to be no secret at all: in a valiant attempt to save her from the hands of Bolg, Kíli tragically dies upon the slopes of Ravenhill, leaving Tauriel grief-stricken. Ultimately, Tauriel and Thranduil reconcile, Legolas decides to follow the example set by Tauriel, leaving the halls of his father forever, and the Tale of Tauriel ends on a bittersweet note.
Allow me to digress again, by drawing a brief parallel between the two chief opposing figures from The Hobbit and its sequel: time and time again, we see both Thorin and Aragorn worry about succumbing to the "same weakness" for which their respective ancestors, Thrór and Isildur, are most remembered. As an early incarnation of Aragorn, Thorin falls prey to that "strain of men" in his blood, spoken of by Elrond in an extended scene from An Unexpected Journey, which was later overcome by Aragorn in The Return of the King. Although Thorin achieved redemption with the aid of his friends, Aragorn is the true fulfilment of the 'king-figure'.
If Thorin is a precursor to Aragorn, then it is only natural to declare Tauriel a precursor to Arwen—as I hope to have already made adequately clear. Just like Thorin, Tauriel will fail in her role. As the antithesis to Arwen, her plea for grace will be shunned, and Kíli will die. But in later years, her cry will be answered through the manifestation of one of her kindred: Arwen's plea for grace will be acknowledged, and Frodo will live.
Whether this was intentional or not, we do see this contrasted in a parallel of sorts between Kíli's death-scene and Frodo's confrontation with the Cave-troll in the Mines of Moria. In the heat of battle, both figures are met by deadly force. In the first instance, Bolg, spawn of Azog the Defiler, is on the verge of overcoming Kíli. Tauriel, using every ounce of strength within her, tries to stay the hand of Bolg from slaying Kíli, but is dashed against a wall of stone, and is forced to watch helplessly as Kíli is mercilessly skewered through the heart by a spear.
Likewise, in The Fellowship of the Ring—the following film in the saga – we see almost the exact same situation play out, this time with Frodo and Aragorn: the Cave-Troll is on the verge of overpowering Frodo, when Aragorn—acting as an emissary on behalf of Arwen—leaps in to save Frodo, only to be dashed against the wall and look on helplessly as Frodo is seemingly stabbed through the breast with a spear.
The difference this time is that the plea of Arwen Undomiel has prevailed, where the plea of Tauriel fell short. Frodo is saved by the white mithril shirt given to him by none other than Bilbo himself: a very spectator to the events in The Hobbit!
Tauriel & Éowyn
While, in essence, a "forecoming," as it were, of Arwen Undomiel, I would like to note that there exist many similarities and parallels between Tauriel and another major player within The Lord of the Rings: Éowyn of Rohan.
Both damsels are shut up within dark fortresses, forced to cope with isolationist policies initiated by father-figures, who semi-betray them (Thranduil, who rudely slights and admonishes Tauriel, and Théoden, who selfishly (though partly hampered by the spells of Saruman) abandons Éowyn to loneliness and the dreaded attentions of Gríma Wormtongue).
Furthermore, it is only upon the entrance of a king-figure (Kíli, as the direct descendant of Thorin Oakenshield, and Aragorn, as the heir to the throne of Gondor), who wages war against the forces of Sauron, that new light enters their lives and the evils they have endured are swept away in preparation for the coming battle.
In The Lord of the Rings, Éowyn falls for Aragorn right away, for (as the book makes irrefutably clear) he represents what Théodon never was and failed to be: a kingly figure, a protector, both wise and kind, who aided in the renewal of her house. Although the circumstances vary in different degrees for Tauriel, there are still many similarities between the two, which are quite easy to find, if one has only the initiative to seek them out.
In the end—indeed, the very last scene we see her in—we find Tauriel weeping silently beside the dead body of her beloved Kíli. In his hand, she has placed the rune-stone, wrapping his fingers about it, just as he had done to her. From the shadows, Thranduil draws near, his eyes seeing everything. Almost meditatively, Tauriel says aloud, "If this is love, I do not want it." Turning her eyes to those of her former king, she begs at last, "Take it from me, please!"
This is, of course, partly a plea to fulfil what Thranduil had already promised beforehand in his arrogance and anger: "You think it is love? Are you ready to die for it?"
Her voice finally breaking, Tauriel cries out, "Why does it hurt so much?"
But Thranduil, seeing her grief and having come to terms with his wife's passing some time during the battle, is changed. Why does it hurt so deeply, she asks?
Thranduil: "Because it was real."
Though their friendship is doomed from the very beginning, it is not all for naught: for this is merely the first-fruits of reconciliation that begins to bridge the divide between Elves and Dwarves, which is later fully manifested in the comradeship of Legolas and Gimli, the former of whom was witness to the tragedy that befell Tauriel—something that the filmmakers deliberately marked as the very reason why Legolas departs his home in the first place to seek out Aragorn in the wilderness.
The story of The Hobbit is ultimately one about the evils of greed, the danger that resides in all men to become the villain, and more importantly, the loss of innocence. Does the Tale of Tauriel add anything substantial to that? In its relation to the latter theme as already set forth, I think it has been made clear it has. Like the story of Bilbo, her tale ends on a bittersweet note—but unlike Bilbo, we never find out where her wandering feet led her, till the end of all her days: whether Thranduil relinquished her banishment and she returned to her former station, or whether she died at last from sorrow of soul (in tradition with true Tolkien canon) from where she hence departed to the white shores of Aman, across the Great Sea, and so came to Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, to dwell with her kith and kin, till the whole world be mended, and sadness and sorrow are washed away utterly and forever.
The Hobbit films are by no means perfect. I certainly have issues with them, specifically the first and third instalments. However, to immediately dismiss them as unnoteworthy or atrocious is to miss the mark of true criticism altogether, and ultimately, does a great disservice to any profitable dialogue. The Hobbit did many things good and things not so very good—and storytellers and film reviewers can learn from both of them alike.
Intermingled with this sullied earth, there are true gems to be found, as we have seen in the person of Tauriel the Wood-Elf: yea, strands and strains of the former brilliance that made what many consider to be the greatest movie trilogy in the history of cinema. There is treasure to be found here if one but digs deep to search it out. The gold may not always glitter, and the strength of its storytelling may not always match up with its predecessor, but there is enough good here, I think, that it manages to overweigh the bad inherent and turn it into something worthy of consideration and yes, even admiration.