Aragorn’s Journey of a Hero: from Vagabond Ranger to Restored King

A hero is an individual who is respected for his courage, honor, and noble character. The Lord of the Rings is full of such heroes. Frodo perseveres through his struggle with the Ring. Sam faithfully supports and shoulders Frodo’s load when Frodo does not have the strength on his own. Gandalf resists the temptation of power that his colleague Sauroman succumbs too. Boromir achieves many heroic victories against Sauron before tragically falling under the Ring’s influence and falling to a Uruk-Hai’s bow. Faramir maintains his honor despite the Ring’s temptations, his father’s unfair expectations, and the despair of the Black Breath. However, Aragorn most accurately fits the journey of a hero.  In his essay “On Fairy-stories” Tolkien takes pains to make the point that most good fairy stories are not “stories about fairies” but about “adventures of men in the Perilous Realm” (121). This describes Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. To understand fully how Aragorn fits the journey of a Hero, it is essential to look at Aragorn’s lineage, The Silmarillion, and the appendixes in The Return of the King. The Lord of the Rings may focus more on Frodo and the struggle with the Ring, but Aragorn’s story is longer more intertwined with the full history of Middle Earth. Aragorn’s path is one from darkness to light, whereas while Frodo’s is from light to darkness. “Aragorn’s path is the youthful one while Frodo’s is the hero coming to the end of his journey.” (Flieger 143) Some readers relate better to Aragorn than Frodo because Aragorn’s struggle against Sauron is more physical (swordplay) than Frodo’s primarily psychological struggle (hiding, temptation) with the Ring. The obstacles Aragorn conquers in order to embrace his destiny and lead the free people of Middle Earth against Sauron bring about the critical events necessary for the success of Frodo and the destroying of the Ring. Aragorn’s growth from vagabond ranger to restored King, solidifies the victory and peaceful reign of men in the fourth age of Middle Earth.

The Story of Aragorn

            Aragorn’s tale is one which begins far before the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring told in The Silmarillion and in the appendices to The Return of the King. Aragorn’s ancestors came from the Island of Numenor. The mariner Numenorians foolishly captured the evil captain of Morgoth, Sauron, and brought him back to the island. Over generations, Sauron sowed discontent and a desire for immortal life. The last King of Numenor sailed for Valinor in order to gain immortal life from the gods by force. The gods destroyed Numenor and the army of Numenorians sailing towards them. However, a faithful remnant to the gods sailed to Middle Earth instead of against the gods and were saved. These men were led by Aragorn’s ancestor, Elendil. Elendil and his son Isildor established a Southern Kingdom called Arnor, and Northern Kingdom called Gondor. The Northern and Southern Kingdoms were consistently in conflict with one another. Sauron used this to start a war between them. The Witch King destroyed the southern Kingdom of Arnor. Sauron forged rings that he gave to men and dwarven kings. He then forged the One Ring and put much of his power into its creation in order to rule over all other rings. The dwarven Kings become consumed be greed and their kingdoms were destroyed by dragons. The men became wraiths and were slaves to Sauron. Later on when Sauron is defeated in the last alliance of men and elves, Aragorn’s ancestor Isildor fails to destroy the Ring. This leads to Sauron’s resurgence and many more evils that could have been avoided if Sauron’s lifeline, the Ring, was melted in the fires of Mount Doom.

 Aragorn’s father Arathorn is killed by orcs when Aragorn is a young boy, and so Aragorn and his mother Gilraen are taken under Elrond’s wing. “He was called Estel, that is ‘Hope’, and his true name and lineage were kept secret at the bidding of Elrond; for the Wise then knew that the Enemy was seeking to discover the Heir of Isildur, if any remained upon earth” (1032 RK). When Aragorn is twenty, after doing great deeds with the sons of Elrond, he is told his true name and lineage. One day Aragorn is wondering in the trees of Lothlorien and meets the elven daughter of Elrond, Arwen, while she is singing the Lay of Luthien. He is enchanted by her beauty and believes her to be the elf Luthien of the Silmarillion, who married the man Beren (the first marriage between men and elves). He falls instantly in love with her. Gilraen warns Aragorn that Elrond will not approve of Aragorn’s love for his daughter. “”Then bitter will my days be, and i will walk in the wild alone,” said Aragorn” (1034 RK). Elrond indeed catches wind of Aragorn’s feelings and tells Aragorn that his fate is hidden. He commands Aragorn not to tempt his daughter to stay in Middle Earth. Aragorn agrees and goes out into the wilderness grimmer than before. However, he achieves great victories with the Rohirrim and Gondor, always disappearing at the moment of victory. He always seeks the good and fights against Sauron. Aragorn eventually returns to Lothlorien and unintentionally meets Arwen. She clothes him in an elven raiment and beheld him like an elven King. She makes her choice to love him at that moment. They walk together for a time in the forests until Aragorn returns to Rivendell. Elrond learns of Arwen’s choice and delivers an ultimatum to Aragorn: unless Aragorn fulfills his destiny and becomes King of Gondor, he will not be allowed to wed Arwen. Aragorn leaves heavy hearted and resumes his adventures with the Rangers of the Shire.

Aragorn in Lord of the Rings

            Aragorn appears for the first time several chapters into the Fellowship of the Ring at the Prancing Pony Inn in the town of Bree. Little is known of this mysterious Ranger, known as Strider in the north, except that he is dangerous and keeps to himself. Like the hobbits of the Shire, the men of Bree do not trust the unknown or anything that sniffs of danger. The hobbits Sam, Merry, and Pippin automatically distrust and doubt the Ranger. Only Frodo seems to see past Strider’s gruff exterior to his heart. Strider also does not automatically reveal his identity to the hobbits, which Strider concedes, is because he wanted to verify that they were friend and not foe. Strider, though, also wants the hobbits to trust him in faith and recognize his virtue, as much as he wants to test the hobbits’ character. Strider has long worked to protect the Shire and the free peoples of Middle Earth without accreditation or praise. However, Aragorn only succeeds in gaining the hobbits trust when the innkeeper Butterbur gives Frodo a letter from Gandalf verifying Aragorn’s character. Aragorn proves to be a knowledgeable guide and courageous protector. At Weathertop he saves the hobbits from the Ringwraiths and outmaneuvers the wraiths to reach Rivendell in safety. He is intimately familiar with evil and its perils. Aragorn reminds the hobbits time and time again, from Bree until the attack on Weathertop, where the hobbits learn first-hand the dangers of the road and what all it entails.

            In Rivendell, Aragorn’s lineage is revealed to all at the council of Elrond when he unveils the broken blade of Narsil and Elrond speaks his full name, Aragorn son of Arathorn descendant of Isildur, Elindil’s son, and Chief of the Dunedain from the North. Aragorn asks Boromir if he wishes for the House of Elendil to return to Gondor. Boromir answers, “The Sword of Elindil would be a help beyond our hope-if such a thing could indeed return out of the shadows of the past” (Fellowship of the Ring 241). Boromir reveals his ignorance of history (the line of the King) and pride passed on from his father Denethor in defiance of passing the crown to the rightful king. Bilbo, annoyed with Boromir’s belief, bursts out the prophecy of Aragorn:

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken:

The crownless again shall be king” (241).

In his article “Seven Paths of the hero in Lord of the Rings: The Path of the King “Robertson explains what the prophecy means: “all that is gold does not glitter” indicates that true greatness doesn’t necessarily show itself to the casual eye; “Not all those who wander are lost” is a reference to the Rangers, who wander near and far in order to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm; “the next two lines refer to the long bloodline that connects Aragorn to the great kings of old; “From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring” describes Aragorn’s destiny; the next line tells of the sword he carries used once by his ancestor King Elendil, which broke when he fell at Sauron’s feet; and the last line refers to Aragorn’s state of as simple Ranger, “But this King without a crown will yet be a King.”

            Aragorn shows his willingness to follow his destiny and fulfill the prophecy by revealing his name at last and offering his services as one of the fellowship of the Ring. Isildor’s bane has come into awareness again and Aragorn feels the responsibility to amend the wrongs of his ancestors and fulfill his destiny now that his time has come. Aragorn displays characteristics of humility and wisdom by allowing Frodo to carry the Ring and offering his protection to him. The leaders of the free people of Middle Earth, including Gandalf and Aragorn, realize that the only way to defeat Sauron is to destroy the Ring. Aragorn has experienced enough evil in his life and has enough knowledge of his ancestor’s failures to realize that the Ring cannot be used for good. The Ring increasingly takes hold of the wearer and robs the individual of their personality until they are consumed with nothing but cravings. Aragorn shows wisdom by realizing and accepting this fact. He also allows the weak, inexperienced, and innocent hobbit Frodo to carry the Ring, when he could easily be overcome by the enemy. Aragorn realizes that there is inner power in the weak that Sauron will never understand nor suspect.

            After the council of Elrond, the blade Narsil is reforged and Aragorn renames it Anduril Flame of the West, a reference to the strength of the Valar. Aragorn like countless heroes in other tales (Arthur, Turin, etc.), takes up a mythical blade and accepts his quest. The fellowship sets out on the mountain pass, but is forced by Sauroman to take the path through Moria and Gandalf falls to the Balrog from the deep. The fellowships is shocked after escaping the Mines and the Balrog. They stop outside of the gates, lamenting Gandalf’s loss. Aragorn immediately assumes the leadership role without question or doubt. He urges the company onwards out of danger and toward Lothlorien. After a time of safety in Lothlorien, Celeborn (elven ruler of Lothlorien) questions the Fellowship on their path, “on which side [of the River Anduin] will you journey? The way to Minas Tirith lies upon this side…but the straight road of the Quest lies east of the River…which shore will you now take?” Boromir answers that he is for the way to Minas Tirith but that he is not the leader. “The others said nothing, and Aragorn looked doubtful and troubled” (FotR 358). Aragorn is faced with a dilemma. He pledged to protect Frodo, but he also wants to fulfill his destiny in Gondor. However, circumstances in the future help Aragorn recognize and choose the path that must be taken.

            The Fellowship travels up the river Anduin and camps upon its banks. Frodo goes out to gather firewood alone, but Boromir follows behind him. He approaches Frodo in friendly greeting, but the Ring has so corrupted his heart that he does not see the evil inside of him. He deceives himself into thinking he is approaching Frodo in friendship, but deep in his heart he knew he would take the ring by force. Frodo escapes by putting on the Ring and leaving Boromir to his madness. Boromir stumbles back to the Fellowship and let them know that Frodo has left him half an hour or more. They all split up in panic, looking for Frodo. Aragorn ponders fate and letting Frodo go off on his own. Aragorn fights the Uruk-Hai ambushing the Fellowship while Frodo escapes with Sam to the opposite shore. Boromir redeems himself heroically and tragically by defending Merry and Pippin to the death. Aragorn comes to Boromir’s aide. Boromir repents and admits his wrong. Aragorn says Boromir fought bravely and promises to protect Gondor, not let it fail. Aragorn’s path is chosen. He will follow the road to Gondor and let Frodo travel with Sam on to Mordor alone.

            Aragorn pursues Merry and Pippin into Rohan with Gimli and Legolas. They meet the proud riders of Rohan. Eomer demands to know the company’s identity and only Aragorn’s skillful peacemaking skills avert a conflict between Gimli and the Riders. Aragorn explains that he does not serve any king. He “threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Anduril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out. ‘Elendil!’ he cried. ‘I am Aragorn son of Arathon, and am called Elessar the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose Swiftly!’” (36 The Two Towers). Gimli and Legolas are both amazed, even though they knew Aragorn and who he was, they had not seen him in this royal and powerful manner before. Even the Royal Eomer appears lowly and is humbled before Aragorn. This marks the first time that Aragorn reveals his true identity since Rivendell and marks an important step in Aragorn’s journey to Restored King.

            As Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the restored wizard Gandalf ride on Rohan Legolas marvels at the sadness pervasive throughout the land. Aragorn, knowledgeable from his past travels into Rohan relates an ancient poem,

“Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?

Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?

Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?

 They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;

The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.

Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,

Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning” (TT 112)?

At the Golden Hall of Edoras Gandalf again reveals Aragorn’s name and lineage to a guard and King Theoden. Aragorn and Gandalf counsels Theoden to ride to safety to Helms Deep. Theoden agrees and Aragorn pledges to protect Theoden. A legion of elves led by Haldir of Lothlorien travel to Helms Deep to honor the alliance of men and elves as well as the friendship between Haldir and the elves with Aragorn. Theoden with Aragorn’s help stave off the siege of the Uruk-Hai against Helms Deep and achieve victory with the reinforcements of Gandalf and the Entlings.

            After the battle of Helms Deep the remaining men of Rohan gather in response to Gondor’s call for aide. Legolas after a long day of gathering troops asks Aragorn what has happened of late. He answers, “I have looked in the Stone of Orthanc, my friends” (763 RK). Aragon goes on to describe his power struggle against Sauron in the palantir that he eventually wins. Aragorn reveals that the blade has been re-forged and that the heir of Isildor is alive. The palantir reveals that there is a danger from the south of Gondor that will turn the tide of the battle of Minas Tirith if not dealt with. Gondor will be lost. Gimli does not understand what must be done, “then lost it must be. For what help is there to send thither, and how could it come there in time” (763 RK)? Aragorn answers, “I have no help to send, therefore I must go myself. But there is only one way through the mountains that will bring me to the coastlands before all is lost. That is the Paths of the Dead” (763).

            Aragorn knows that no man has ever survived the path and that only the true King of Gondor can claim command of the armies of the dead, if they will have him. This is a pivotal moment for Aragorn. He must fully embrace his role and believe in who he is in order to make this journey. He does not ask his friends Legolas and Gimli to go with him, but they do anyways because of their love and respect for him. Aragorn, by the authority of the royal blood flowing in his veins, commands the army of the dead and defeats the corsairs of Umbar. He, along with the Army of the Dead join the Battle of Minas Tirith and save the day. However, there are casualties of the Black Breath caused by the Witch King. Faramir, Ewoyn, and Merry are all afflicted. Gandalf seeks out Aragorn’s healing skill. “Aragorn’s healing powers were not enough earlier in the story to help Frodo when afflicted by the Black Shadow. But times have changed” (Robertson 335). Aragorn has grown from an obscure healer, to a fully functioning King who has full command of his gifts. Aragorn heals each one physically but “also touces each in a way that serves no overt healing function…This ‘laying on of hands’ is reminiscent of Christ’s healing, which in turn gave rise to the association of healing with royalty in England and Europe” (Nikakis 86). Aragorn is a Kingly physical, spiritual and mythical healer. After Aragorn heals Faramir, Merry, and Ewoyn the leaders of the free peoples of Middle Earth meet. Gandalf counsels them to lead the remaining men to the Black Gate for a last battle against Sauron. The leaders know that physical victory is impossible because of Sauron’s massive army perceived by Denethor in the palantir, but the armies of Gondor and Rohan will be a distraction to Sauron. Gandalf hopes that Sauron’s gaze will be full upon their army and Aragon that Frodo will make it safely to Mount Doom in order to destroy the Ring. Aragorn responds to Gandalf’s counsel by saying,

“As I have begun, so I will go on. We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin. To waver is to fall. Let none now reject the counsels of Gandalf, whose long labors against Sauron come at last to their test. But for him all would long ago have been lost. Nonetheless I do not yet claim to command any man. Let others choose as they will” (862 RK).

            Once again, though Aragorn does not ask or command it, all of the men choose to follow him to the Black Gate even though the battle is seemingly impossible. Aragorn and the army fights valiantly until they threaten to be overwhelmed on all sides by orcs, trolls, and wraiths. At this point Mount Doom erupts, the tower of Barad-Dur collapses, the armies of Sauron flee, and Sauron implodes out of existence.  Frodo and Sam are rescued and the War of the Ring has been won.

            At Minas Tirith Aragorn is crowned King and Faramir is commissioned by Aragorn to reign over Ithilien as the next steward of Gondor. Arwen travels to Minas Tirith and is at last united with Aragorn in marriage. The fourth age begins as does Aragorn’s long reign upon Middle Earth. After six score years Aragorn felt the approach of old age and chose to end his life upon Middle Earth. He fell into a deep sleep and passed, leaving his reign to his son Eldarion.

Book vs. Film

            There are many differences between the books and movies the Lord of the Rings. In the movie the Fellowship of the Ring Frodo never receives a letter from Gandalf at the Inn of the Prancing Pony verifying Strider’s character. The hobbits must take Strider’s word and follow him in faith, while in the book the hobbits require physical verification in order for the hobbits to follow Aragorn. Later in the same movie Frodo is shown offering the Ring to Aragorn. Aragorn, because of his understanding the nature of evil and the path needed to defeat Sauron, rejects the Ring and bids Frodo to continue his journey alone. In the book however, Aragorn suspects Frodo left the fellowship and ponders that Frodo’s choice is probably for the best. Frodo never offers the Ring to Aragorn outright at Amon Hen and Aragorn never tells Frodo to go alone to Mount Doom.

            In The Two Towers movie, Aragorn is shown vehemently counseling Theoden to lead his men in open warfare against Sauroman instead of cowardly holing up in Helms Deep in defense against Sauroman. In the book however, Gandalf simply counsels Theoden to defend his people at Helms Deep and Theoden agrees. In the movie, on the journey to Helms Deep, Aragorn falls off a cliff, casualty of a clumsy warg. Aragorn seemingly perishes and his friends Legolas and Gimli are devastated. However, Arwen’s gift, the Jewel of the Evenstar protects Aragorn and Arwen’s spirit revives him. The movie plays with the storyline to give Aragorn a heroic rebirth scene that does not affect the bigger plot of the story.

            In The Return of the King movie Aragorn wears the emblem of the King of Gondor (the White Tree of Minas Tirith) after the Battle of Pelennor Fields and holds council in the hall of the King. In the book Aragorn attacks and maintains his anonymous plain black flag in order to be respectful of the line of the Steward and not raise a lesser issue than the bigger one of defeating Sauron. The movie simply fabricates Aragorn giving the men at the Black Gate an epic speech which is not written of in the book.

            The Lord of the Ring movie series makes little mention of Aragorn’s past from The Silmarillian and the appendices in The Return of the King save for the romance between Aragorn and Arwen. Peter Jackson, like most modern producers, seems to portray evil is an outside force to be conquered instead of an inside struggle within every individual. This contradicts Tolkien’s own views and portrayal within the book trilogy. The movies glorify the heroes as almost in-human demigods, stiff and un-relatable to common mortals. Tolkien’s purpose was to make every day human heroes who struggled and strived for good throughout their life. The achieved great accomplishments, but they also made huge mistakes. However, Tolkien’s heroes always triumph over evil in the end. Peter Jackson’s narrative, like most book to movie translations, changes the narrative. However, his interpretation both improves and depreciates the series. “Peter Jackson’s invitation to see the Lord of the Rings movies, like Galadriel’s invitation to Frodo to look into her magic mirror, is both good and perilous” (Harl 13).

Conclusion

            Aragorn’s life models the Journey of a Hero twice over. In the first journey Aragorn departs his home in Rivendell and goes through a series of trials over a wide expanse of Middle Earth in areas such as Harad, Rohan, and Gondor. He finally returns to Rivendell a stronger man who has found true love with Arwen. In the second journey Aragorn departs the Shire where he has been a Ranger for many year, he experiences many trials in the War of the Ring (leading fellowship, Helms Deep, Paths of the dead, Battle of Minas Tirith, and Battle of the Black Gate), and finally returns to Gondor as the restored King of Gondor and Groom of Arwen.

            Aragorn fits the model of a Hero so well that he has been compared to countless other heroes in myth and history by critics. A few of these heroes include Orfeo, Odysseus, Theoden, Turin, Beren Joan of Arc, and Jesus. Aragorn like all heroes had goals that he worked towards and completed. These motives were: proving himself worthy of marrying Arwen, fulfilling his prophecy and restoring his bloodline as Kings of Gondor once more, protecting Middle Earth/defeating Sauron and destroying the Ring. These goals took many years of Aragorn’s life and often seemed unsure and dark, but he completed them against all odds. Aragorn was able to achieve these goals because of the heroic attributes of Aragorn’s character. Aragorn had faith, faith that good will prevail no matter how bleak the future looks and how dark Evil seems to be. Aragorn strives to protect the innocent, spread the light of goodness, and restore peace to Middle Earth throughout his life.

            Aragorn’s first name is Estel (hope) and this name really does not leave him, even after taking on different names. Aragorn carries hope within him because of his own faith and the faith of other’s in his character, ability, and destiny. Gandalf places a lot of faith in Aragorn to track Gollum, lead Frodo and the other hobbits to Rivendell, become a leader of the fellowship, lead Theoden in victory at Helms Deep, command the armies of the Dead, and fulfill his destiny as becoming King of Gondor. Aragorn’s reveals his biggest and darkest fears and insecurities to Arwen. Arwen never wavers in her faith and love for him. She believes in him, enough to pledge her life to Aragorn’s success and be separated from her people and family (the elves). She knows that if Aragorn does not succeed then Sauron will most likely kill Aragorn as well as her. If Aragorn succeeds, then Arwen will still have to bear Aragorn’s death until she finally fades away and joins him in the halls of his fathers. The fellowship places faith in his abilities to lead them. The men of Rohan and Gondor both respect and have Faith in Aragorn to lead them. These men place their lives in Aragorn’s hands. 

            Aragorn proves that he not only exhibits heroic virtues, but is a conscientious, moral man. Aragorn has long known his own prophecy and lineage. He could easily choose to live amorally and claim that his future is already laid out. However, even though Aragorn makes choices he knows he must make, he still agonizes over their consequences and the potential outcome of hurting others. Aragorn is not a passive observer of life, but daily chooses to put on the mantle of a Hero and shoulder the responsibilities of what all that entails. Aragorn over every character in Middle Earth, truly exhibits the Journey of a hero. 

Work Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. XVII ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP,              1972. Print. Bollingen.

Flieger, Verlyn. Green Suns and Faerie: Essays on Tolkien. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2012.                  Print.

Harl, Allison. “The Monstrosity of the Gaze: Critical Problems with a Film Adaption of the Lord      of the Rings.” Mythlore 25.3/4 (2007): 61-69. Humanities International Complete. Web.                 27 Oct. 2014.

Nikakis, Karen Simpson. “Sacral kingship: Aragorn as the rightful and sacrificial king in the Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 26.1-2 (2007): 83+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Sept.   

Robertson, Robin. “Seven Paths Of The Hero In Lord Of The Rings: The Path Of The King.” Psychological Perspectives 51.2 (2008): 316-339. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings.                        Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston:                  Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Print.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers; Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston:               Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Print.

(Senior college research project submitted to Lubbock Christian University on 4/18/16)

0 thoughts on “Aragorn’s Journey of a Hero: from Vagabond Ranger to Restored King”

  1. I feel like I now better understand the larger picture of Aragorn’s story. I really like this: Aragorn is not a passive observer of life, but daily chooses to put on the mantle of a Hero and shoulder the responsibilities of what all that entails.

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