Estel/Strider/Aragorn/Elessar

Son of Arathorn II and Gilraen, Heir of Isildur, King of Gondor and Arnor. 



A Brief and Incomplete Biography


Aragorn/Strider was raised in Rivendell after his father was killed by Orcs when he was two years old.  Elrond named him Estel, meaning "Hope."  Aragorn did not know his true name until he was twenty years old.  At the same time Elrond told Aragorn his real name, he gave him the two heirlooms of the House of Isildur:  the Ring of Barahir and the shards of Narsil.
                                                                                                       
                       

Aragorn met and fell in love with Arwen, daughter of Elrond, but Elrond did not favor their union.  He told Aragorn that Arwen would not marry anyone but the King of Gondor and Arnor.  Aragorn (as Strider) spent his time riding throughout Middle-Earth protecting its citizens.  At this time, Aragorn had no plan to claim his throne, but meeting Gandalf the Grey  began a series of events that changed Aragorn's life. 

When Bilbo Baggins returned to the Shire from his journey with the Ring, he passed it on to Frodo at his 111th birthday.  Frodo had come of age on the same day and was now keeper of the Ring.  When Gandalf told Aragorn about the Ring, Aragorn suggested that they find Gollum.  He tracked and captured Gollum and brought him to Mirkwood, where he remained for some time and then escaped.  Thirty years elapsed between Frodo's becoming the keeper of the Ring and his departure from the Shire.  Gandalf told Aragorn that Frodo would be leaving at the end of September and Aragorn got news that after Frodo left the Shire, Gandalf was missing, the Ringwraiths were searching for the Ring, and Frodo was in the company of his hobbit friends.  He tracked Frodo as he was leaving Tom Bombadil and followed him to the Prancing Pony.  There,  he offered Frodo his service  to protect him and his friends.  He showed Frodo the sword and Frodo, with the help of a letter from Gandalf that contained a poem about the sword, accepted Aragorn's help.  On the way to Rivendell, Frodo was wounded by the Witch-King.  Aragorn helped as best he could and rushed him to Rivendell, a two week journey.  Frodo was healed with Elven medicine but never fully recovered from his wound.



The Council of Elrond was held and Aragorn announced his plans to return to Minis Tirith to reclaim his crown.  He then joined the Fellowship of the Ring.  Narsil was reforged by dwarves and Aragorn renamed it Anduril, Flame of the West.  Aragorn ceased to be Strider when he joined the Fellowship. 

Aragorn's other name, Elessar, comes from the Elfstone which was left with Galadriel in Lothlorian by Arwen.  It was a green stone set in a silver eagle-shaped brooch.  Aragorn would be known as Elessar when he becomes King of Gondor and Arnor.

After Gandalf is pulled into the abyss by the Balrog, Aragorn takes over as leader of the Fellowship.  The Fellowship splits when Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, Frodo and Sam escape in a boat, Boromir is killed, and Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn set out to rescue Merry and Pippin, who were taken captive by Orcs. 

Themes/The Hero

Tolkien did not have any plans for Strider/Aragorn when he is first introduced to The Lord of the Rings in chapter IX.  Tolkien says of this section that "I have never been to Bree.  Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo" (Letters 216).  Once he figured out who Strider was, he struggled to keep LOTR focused on the hobbits, despite the fact that Strider was to become a great king. 

Ruth Noel's entry on Aragorn in The Mythology of Middle Earth discusses Aragorn as a hero.  She uses Lord Raglan's list of attributes of a hero (from The Hero, published in 1955) to show Aragorn's relationship to other important heroes, mainly King Arthur, Charlemagne, Frederic Barbarossa, and several of the ancient Celtic heroes, Cuchulain included. 

My observation:  there are quite a few parallels between Aragorn and the Arthurian character Perceval.  Perceval began his quest as a fatherless boy who is taught knightly skills by Gornemant.  He has many adventures and on his first encounter with the Fisher King, fails to ask the questions.  After many more adventures, he encounters the Fisher King's castle again, asks the questions, heals the king, and saves the kingdom.  He finds out that he is the heir to the Fisher King and becomes the Guardian of the Grail, a role he passes to his son Lohengrin.

LOTR is, in its simplest form, a story of the struggle of Good vs. Evil with The Ring,  the Ring-Wraiths, the Orcs, Sauron, and Saruman representing evil, while the Fellowship and all of the struggling peoples of the endangered kingdoms representing the side of good. 

Marion Zimmer Bradley is among many scholars who point out that the major theme and emotion in LOTR is love:  "love in the form of hero worship is particularly evident in the relationship between Aragorn and the other characters and between Frodo and Sam" (109).  She states that while Gandalf has the role of Father-figure in the story, "the major object of hero worship, as opposed to paternal veneration, is Aragorn himself" (110).  Boromir competes with Aragorn for leadership of the group, but all defer to Aragorn after Gandalf is lost to the Balrog because Aragorn is the one who acts quickly to get them out of danger.  He remains leader not because he has taken the role, but because the group has bestowed it upon him.  When Gandalf returns as Gandalf the White in The Two Towers, Aragorn returns the leadership of the remaining fellowship to Gandalf.  In the time when he was leader of the group, Aragorn is never sure of what to do.  He chooses, as Gandalf says later, the best path he could have chosen because they find Pippin and Merrie and are witness to the destruction of Isengard. 

In his discussion of the heroes of
The Hobbit  and LOTR, C. W. Sullivan III points out that there is not a single hero in either of the tales; instead, the role of hero is split between two characters.  He states that Tolkien
made this traditional story his own by creating the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and by splitting the heroics, almost at the last minute, between two characters: Bilbo, who finds the answers, and Bard, of the Royal Line of Dale, who slays the dragon. The same split, this time between Frodo and Aragorn, occurs much earlier and is developed more fully in LR. And even that split may have been influenced by tradition. (12)
Aragorn most definitely fits the characteristics of the archetypal hero as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Campbell outlined the hero quest as having three steps:
The Call to Adventure
The Initiation (including both Spiritual and Physical Deeds)
The Return
The hero's quest is summarized by Moorman:
how the hero living in a quiet and happy, albeit static, land is darkly challenged by a strange messenger, how he crosses with difficulty the threshold of a country full of trials and dangers, how he wins a token of power of piece of valuable information, and finally how he returns to his people bringing with him the saving knowledge or token he has gained beyond the boundaries of his own land. (202)


Aragorn's Relation to the Epics and Sagas

In Tolkien the Medievalist, Jane Chance discusses Tolkien's use of Wagner in LOTR.  She states that Tolkien's Ring is clearly informed by Wagner's,
but Wagner is even more useful as a source for Tolkien to work against. Robert A. Hall, Jr., persuasively treats Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a rejection of Wagner’s Ring cycle (“Tolkien’s Hobbit Tetralogy”). Tolkien attempts to wrest back from Hitler’s Bayreuth the medieval matter of the Nibelungs and Volsungs, revealing the intensity of his dedication to these medieval sagas. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he actually recast them into his own rendition in an unfortunately unpublished poem he called “The New Volsung-Lay” (letter 295, n. 3, in Letters, 452; Shippey, Road, 277). And more generally throughout Tolkien’s war and postwar writings, shadowy repudiations of Wagner’s Ring lend a contentious vigor to his narratives. Aragorn, who explicitly rejects the chance to kill for the Ring, unwrites Siegfried, who doesn’t hesitate; Wotan, the meddlesome All-Father who enslaves any creature he directly touches, is countered by the distant Ilúvatar of The Silmarillion, who enfranchises his creatures and leaves them, sometimes disastrously, to their own devices. In one other crucial area - the choice of pity over ruthlessness, compassion over vengeance - Tolkien makes his difference from Wagner a defining moment of his mythos. (76)
Thus, Aragorn is an un-Siegfried with regard to his behavior:  he is humble and not vengeful as Siegfried is, but is related to him in other ways.  As a Ranger, Aragorn "cross[es] geographic boundaries but also understand[s] the languages of beasts and birds, a facility that enables [him] in [his]occupation; it is no accident that from them Aragorn the King comes" (Chance LOTR: Mythology 39).  It is because of his humility that the Council of Elrond succeeds:  Aragorn admits that he has failed and thus gains credibility by showing that he is not looking after his own interests.  It is at this point in the story that Aragorn forsakes his true desire--to go to Minis Tirith to claim his kingship--in order to join the Fellowship and, unbeknownst to him at the time,  save Middle-Earth from Sauron's destruction.

C. W. Sullivan III discusses the relationship between the sagas and LOTR by quoting Theodore M. Andersson's book entitled  The Icelandic Family Saga (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1967).  The entire passage is worth quotation because of its assistance in finding ties between the sagas and LOTR:
Andersson's study The Icelandic Family Saga contains a great deal that might illuminate Tolkien's art. The structure of the plots of Tolkien's novels corresponds quite nicely to the structural pattern Andersson articulates for the Icelandic family saga, with the obvious exception of the revenge element; however, the second section of his book, "The Rhetoric of the Saga," is particularly interesting. In that section, Andersson argues that the "arrangement of the material and the progress of the narrative are governed by certain principles and techniques, which may almost be formulated as saga laws and which combine to give the saga its peculiar complexion" ( 32 - 33 ). The rhetorical structure that Andersson advances for the saga applies to Tolkien's novels as well. The first principal Andersson advances is one of unity: "The saga has a brand of unity not unlike the classical injunction against the proliferation of plot in drama. . . . The story is seen only in terms of the climax. Everything that precedes the climax is conceived as preparation for it and everything that follows is conceived as a logical consequence" ( 33 ). Quite clearly the unilinear plot of Hobbit can be described this way, but so also can the multilinear plot of LR. Even after the Nine Walkers become sundered and various hobbits, men, dwarves, and elves follow several plotlines to the climax, all are headed inexorably in that direction, each following his own path. "What is unique," Andersson says of the saga, "is the deliberate and single-minded way in which the story is related to the high point and the peak of the pyramid is achieved" ( 35 ).  Andersson describes the progress of individual and sequential narrative events as scaffolding: "The episodes leading to the climax necessarily all tend in that direction, but they can be unrelated to each other" ( 35 ), and each episode "is an independent drama" (38 ). This is less true of Hobbit, as its plot is basically sequential, but it is certainly descriptive of the several plots in LR after the breakup of the Fellowship. The three main plots--Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli--are not dependent upon one another; each set of characters succeeds on its own, and the only thing the three sets of characters have in common is that they are all headed toward the same end, the narrative's climax. "Although . . . these episodes are related," Andersson concludes, "each is an independent action" ( 38 ).Within the scaffolding structure, Andersson delineates several techniques by which the saga author "guides the action toward a conclusion." One such is escalation, "the technique of staggering the episodes. . . . in order of jeopardy; each succeeding adventure is more provocative or perilous than its predecessor" ( 38 ). This is certainly the case in both of Tolkien's novels. In Hobbit, the confrontations escalate from the almost-Cockney trolls to that most fearsome of beasts, the dragon; along the way, Bilbo develops to match the increasingly formidable challenges. In LR, even the secondary characters take on increasingly difficult challenges as Frodo moves from a vague fear of the Black Riders to the final confrontation with Sauron. Andersson suggests that escalation can be achieved by "an increase of danger, a multiplying of portents, a deterioration of behavior, [or] a quickening of the pace" ( 40 ).

Balancing the escalation of episodes in the saga, Andersson sees something he calls retardation, "a meaningful slackening of the pace" ( 40 ). This retardation "arrests the pace and leads to the anticipated climax obliquely and slowly" ( 42 ). Such breaks in the action occur in both novels. There are two major respites in Hobbit: the stay at the Last Homely House, a pause before heading off into the "real" wilderness, and the refuge with Beorn, a pause before beginning the last stage of the journey. There are more such respites in LR, but the major ones are the passage through Bombadil's enchanted wood, a stop at the Last Homely House, where the Fellowship is assembled, and the stay in Lothlórien--all three incidents in which the pace of the story is dramatically slowed and the characters are able to rest. This retardation, Andersson comments, functions "to delay the climax and concentrate interest" ( 42 ). And in Tolkien, it often serves, as does the stay in Lothlórien, to concentrate interest on the climax by showing what may be lost if Sauron triumphs.

The balance between escalation and retardation is one indication of what Andersson calls the symmetry of the saga. Further, he notes that the "saga authors have a fondness for the use of pairs and series in their plot structures" ( 43 ). This element of structuring is very common in traditional narratives of all kinds; for example, the number three--three sisters, three wishes, and so on--appears in a variety of legends and folktales. Tolkien's narratives are full of pairs: Bilbo and Frodo, for example, the latter enacting a plot similar to the former's adventures. The Frodo/Sam duality is set off by the Frodo/Gollum and the Gollum/Sméagol dualities, forming a triangle of dualities or series of pairs. Strider becomes Aragorn, Gandalf the Grey becomes Gandalf the White, Saruman is a small Sauron, the smaller spiders in Hobbit prefigure Shelob in LR, and so on. Even the humorous series that Andersson finds characteristic of saga symmetry ( 48 - 49 ) is reflected in Tolkien's books, most obviously in the arrival of the dwarves at Bilbo's hobbit-hole and later in its parallel at Beorn's home.  (Sullivan 14)
If a comparison of characters in the sagas can be made with Aragorn, the one he most closely resembles in many ways is Njal, who is wise and reasoned in his actions.  Njal is also a seer, a gift Aragorn possesses.  There are major differences between Aragorn and the saga heroes, but the main one is that they all eventually die while facing their enemies.  Aragorn emerges from many battles, including the final war at Pelennor Fields, without a scratch.  The only time Aragorn is in extreme danger is in the final scenes before Sauron is destroyed when he draws out the enemy by identifying himself as the King of Gondor.  The danger ends when Frodo, Sam, and Gollum reach the Fires and Gollum and the Ring fall into the Pit.  At that point, all of Sauron's realm crumbles.  Aragorn did not know that this would be the outcome of his stand-off with Sauron, but until the very end of the work, Tolkien is clear that a single hero does not exist--they are all dependent upon the others in their group to succeed in their individual missions.  Another major difference between Aragorn and the Saga heroes is that he is not acting out of any sense of revenge--his actions are solely for the benefit of others by saving Middle-Earth from Sauron's destruction.
 

The Film


Peter Jackson's production of LOTR was very faithful to Tolkien's depiction of Aragorn.  The selection of Vigo Mortensen as Aragorn was perfect.  In the film, it is interesting to observe how few words Aragorn actually speaks, yet his presence is huge!  Close reading of LOTR shows that this is what Tolkien intended for Aragorn.  The relationship between Aragorn and Arwen was not added for effect.  Appendix A part V of LOTR has a section entitled "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen," wherein the couple's history is told.  Rather than interrupt the action to tell the entire story,  Jackson chose to intersperse the films with the couple's history as it seemed relevant to the scenes between Arwen and Aragorn.  Tolkien struggled with how to tell the story and finally elected to append it rather than break the flow of his narrative.   Tolkien also struggled to keep Aragorn's story from overshadowing his "hobbit-centric" tale and Jackson is careful to be faithful to the book in this regard as well.

Bibliography (books only, as there are far too many articles and websites to list!!)

Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  "Men, Halflings, and Hero-Worship."  Niekas.  16 (1966).  Rpt. in Tolkien and the Critics:  Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings.   Eds. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo.  Notre Dame:  U of Notre Dame P, 1968.
 
Carpenter, Humphrey, Ed. and Christopher Tolkien.  The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.  Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin, 1981. 

Chance, Jane.  Tolkien's Art:  A 'Mythology for England.'  New York:  St. Martin's, 1979.

---.  Lord of the Rings:  The Mythology of Power, revised edition.
Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2001.

---, ed. Tolkien the Medievalist. London: Routledge, 2002.

---.  Tolkien and the Invention of Myth:  A ReaderLexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2004. 

Chism, Christine. "6 Middle-Earth, the Middle Ages, and the Aryan Nation." Tolkien the Medievalist. Ed. Jane Chance. London: Routledge, 2002. 63-92. 
Clark, George, and Daniel Timmons, eds. J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 
Elgin, Don D. The Comedy of the Fantastic: Ecological Perspectives on the Fantasy Novel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 
Flieger, Verlyn, and Carl E. Hostetter, eds. Tolkien's Legendarium Essays on the History of Middle-Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 
Flieger, Verlyn. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faerie. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1997.
---. "7 Tolkien’s Wild Men." Tolkien the Medievalist. Ed. Jane Chance. London: Routledge, 2002. 95-105.
Giddings, Robert, Ed.  J. R. R. Tolkien:  This Far Land.  London:  Vision, 1983.
Helms, Randel.  Tolkien's World.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
Hourihan, Margery. Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature. London: Routledge, 1997.
Irving, Edward B. Rereading Beowulf. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Isaacs, Neil D. and Rose A. Zimbardo, Eds. Tolkien and the Critics:  Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings.  Notre Dame:  U of Notre Dame P, 1968.
---.  Tolkien:  New Critical Perspectives.  Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 1977. 
Johnson, Judith A. J.R.R. Tolkien Six Decades of Criticism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986.  
Kocher, Paul H.  Master of Middle Earth:  The Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1972.
Lynn, Ruth Nadelman. Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography. New Providence, NJ: Bowker, 1995. 
Morse, Donald E., ed. The Fantastic in World Literature and the Arts: Selected Essays from the Fifth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Reilly, Robert, ed. The Transcendent Adventure: Studies of Religion in Science Fiction/Fantasy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 

Seigneuret, Jean-Charles, ed. Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs. Vol. 1. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Shadows of Imagination: The Fantasies of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.
Ed. Mark R. Hillegas. Carbondale, IL:  Southern Illinois University                     Press, 1979.

Shippey, T. A.  The Road to Middle Earth.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

Sullivan, C. W. "1 Tolkien the Bard: His Tale Grew in the Telling." J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of     

           Middle-Earth
. Ed. George Clark and Daniel Timmons. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 11-18.


Works Cited

Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  "Men, Halflings, and Hero-Worship."  Niekas.  16 (1966).  Rpt. in Tolkien and the Critics:  Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings.   Eds. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo.  Notre Dame:  U of Notre Dame P, 1968.
 
Carpenter, Humphrey, Ed. and Christopher Tolkien.  The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.  Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin, 1981. 

Chance, Jane.  Lord of the Rings:  The Mythology of Power, revised edition. Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2001.

---, ed.
Tolkien the Medievalist. London: Routledge, 2002.

Moorman, Charles.  "The Shire, Mordor, and Minas Tirith."  The Precincts of Felicity.  Gainesville, Fl:  U of FL P, 1966. Rpt. in Tolkien and the Critics:  Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings.   Eds. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo.  Notre Dame:  U of Notre Dame P, 1968.

Noel, Ruth S.  The Mythology of Middle Earth.  Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin, 1977.

Sullivan, C. W. III.  "J. R. R. Tolkien and the Telling of a Traditional Narrative."  JFA.  7.1 (1996):  75-82.  Rpt. in 
J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-Earth. Clark, George and Daniel Timmons, eds.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000:  12-20.

Thain.  'The Thain's Book:  An Encyclopedia of Middle-Earth in the Third Age."  07 March 07.  http://www.tuckborough.net.




last updated 3/28/07