How much time have you spent thinking about which of J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters have beards? I don’t just mean the endless do-dwarven-women-have-beards debate. I mean thinking about Aragorn’s chin hairs. Considering the hairless faces of elves. That sort of thing.
Viggo Mortensen’s turn as Aragorn virtually guaranteed that for some people, Aragorn absolutely has a beard. But he didn’t. Tolkien confirmed this in the 1970s—in response to a fan letter that was written in Elvish.
As Alex Perry shared on Twitter, a letter her mother wrote to Tolkien in the 1970s is “cited regularly in Tolkien scholarship, due to him answering her question about whether Aragorn canonically has a beard or not (he does not).”
I recently discovered that a fan letter my mum sent Tolkien when she was 15 is cited regularly in Tolkien scholarship, due to him answering her question about whether Aragorn canonically has a beard or not (he does not)
— Alex Perry, smiling politely (@Sneakachu25) February 28, 2022
In a brief thread, Perry goes on to explain that their mother believed Tolkien replied to her letter because it was written in Elvish—sort of:
I just asked her and she says she doesn't think it was properly Sindarin or Quenya – she thinks she cheated and transcribed English in Elvish letters. If she gets milkshake ducked over this, it's my fault: I shall take the ducking in her stead
— Alex Perry, smiling politely (@Sneakachu25) March 1, 2022
Perry’s mother, Patricia Finney, is also a writer herself, sometimes under the pen name P.F. Chisholm.
The question of beards has apparently been plaguing Tolkien fans in the wake of the trailer for Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Some are angry about the aforementioned beardless dwarf women. Some are still angry that Aragorn and Boromir had beards in Peter Jackson’s films. And someone did their homework, and wrote a thread on r/LOTR_on_Prime detailing what Tolkien actually said about beards.
One quote from this thread directly repeats what Tolkien told Perry’s mother about Aragorn’s beardless face: In The Nature of Middle-earth, Tolkien wrote: “Men normally had them when full-grown, hence Eomer, Theoden and all others named. But not Denethor, Boromir, Faramir, Aragorn, Isildur, or other Numenorean chieftans.”
Personally this leaves me unclear as to whether these men simply did not grow hair on their faces, or if it was a cultural thing to shave regularly, in which case I also have questions about how they kept up their grooming routines while the Fellowship was on the road. As long as no one takes it into their head to digitally erase Aragorn’s beard—thus subjecting us to a disconcerting face like Henry Cavill’s in Justice League—everything will be fine.