- Not to be confused with Aragon (which is in Spain, but doesn't want to be); or Eragon (which is not)
Aragorn (also known as Ellustrious Elfstone Toll-Counter or Strider or the Lone Ranger of the Bree) is a 'hero' in The Lord of the Rings. He is a distinctly second-banana hero, as centre stage is taken by Frodo Baggins and his equally hairy-footed friends. Aragorn is a sullen and reticent friend of Gandalf.
Aragorn's role is to take on Sauron man-to-evil-eye, but he never gets a chance to get up close and personal to that hereditary enemy, his suicidal quest marred by a sudden torrent of Deus ex machina. Aragorn doesn't even get to kill Sauron's chief henchwraith, the Witch-king, that honour falling to a Hobbit and a warriorette. Despite not being the victor, he ends up with all the spoils: king of Arnor and Gondor and protector of all other folk unless they want to be slaughtered. Aragorn also gets his elven princess as a wife, about 50 years after first proposing to her. Oh yes. Didn't you know? Aragorn is an eighty-something when he fights in the War of the Ring. Indeed, everyone in this story is ancient enough to both draw a pension and confound the actuaries.
Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien came up with Aragorn whilst he doodled away at Oxford University marking exam papers and giving lectures about the Anglo-Saxons. Aragorn is like a combination of King Arthur and Beowulf, but rather less interesting. He kills many enemies (or those deemed as such by his employers) and is in fact a mercenary, hopping around Middle Earth like a frantic gamer looking for victory points. Besides that, Aragorn is like a lot of Tolkien's characters: virginal. There is no hint he enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh, living just for killing and hanging around with Elves.
We are told Aragorn is the heir of Isildur, one of the founders of the original twin kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. By the time Aragorn is born, Arnor is no more and Gondor is ruled by a different dynasty, making Aragorn a pretender to two empty thrones. Aragorn's father is killed in battle when he is just two. Aragorn is taken to Rivendell by Elrond to live with the Elves and sing songs about flowers and write poetry about wispy mist floating through the forests. To 'hide' his true identity, Aragorn is known as 'Estelle'. This suggests Elrond had him kitted out as a woman, hoping that a transvestite would be overlooked by Sauron and his assorted evil mates.
When Aragorn turns 21, Elrond throws a surprise birthday party. Out of the cake pops Elrond's daughter Arwen, dressed as a Fairy. The Fairies in attendance walk out in disgust at this typical Elvish insult. It is there that Aragorn's real name is revealed: Derek. However, this is just a joke by Arwen; she tells him to throw off his dress and come out as Aragorn, son of Aragant, grandson of Araldite the Adhesive. His true people are the other Rangers of the North, a disparate band of outlaws who live in the border lands between Hobbits and sober men and the evil Orcs and Trolls of Twitterland. Aragorn is their leader, but running protection rackets 'for the Good' isn't enough to dazzle an elf-maiden wife. Elrond may be wise and boring, but his daughter's hand has a price: Aragorn has to go out and do something heroic.
This Sword for Hire
Aragorn should have gone out and killed one of the big beasts of Middle Earth. Perhaps not Sauron, but at least have a go at the Balrog of Moria or Smaug of the Lonely Mountain. Nope, he never even chucked a spear at Puff the Magic Dragon. Instead, Aragorn hires out his services to the horse-jockeys of Rohan under an assumed name. They call him Leather Thighs or Thoronsarong, Master of the Male Skirt.
When he tires of horses and equine experiences, Aragorn moves to Gondor and earns a living as a mercenary — not for hire to Sauron-friendly beasts, but serving with valour further South against the Corsairs. He kills them like a crusader, gaining battle experience and plenty of gory trophies. Once again, we are told of no bedtime conquests; it looks like Aragorn polished his own sword.
Enter a bearded reprobate called Gandalf. By this time, Aragorn has moved back North and is living in the stables of Bree. He stinks to high heaven, but they tolerate him because he never seems short of gold to pay his own pub cheque. Gandalf (holding his nose) says Aragorn is the one to save Middle Earth from Sauron (and soap). The two make a pact. They would restore the ancient ways and banish the future. In other words, typical ambitious pub talk.
Decades roll on, Tolkien never mentioning what else this pair got up to — two eligible bachelors, but they kept it inside their cloaks. Eventually, Gandalf tells Aragorn the One Ring has been found. Aragorn insists it should be his to use and wear, but Gandalf reminds him of the fate of his distant ancestor Isildur. The only safe place for the trinket is down a hobbit's burrow for now, as the owner would be frankly too stupid to grasp its utility for mayhem. After Gandalf gives him an heirloom sword named Andrógen in consolation, Aragorn agrees and heads East for more mindless trophy collecting.
On his way East, Aragorn runs into Gollum, on day-release from Mordor and seeking out a 'filthy thieving Hobbit' named Baggins. Aragorn sends Gollum to an Elf-run detention centre for some justified waterboarding, which reveals that Gollum has gone to Sauron and told him that 'Baggins' is in the Shire and using the Ring of Invisibility to peek at young hobbit-ettes as they showered. Orcs arrive with unprecedented orders to free — but not eat — Gollum. Aragorn and Gandalf agree that Job One now is to get Baggins and the Ring somewhere other than the Shire — say, Rivendell.
Farceship of the Ring
Gandalf races to the Shire to get Baggins to stop procrastinating but come to a pub crawl — in Bree, thirty miles east of the Shire. Baggins, of course, brings his gardener and his two best mates. They use a small initial dash of deus ex machina to barely escape pursuit by ringwraiths. But Gandalf doesn't show up to buy the first round; he has gone to fellow wizard Saruman to do more research on the Ring. Saruman invites Gandalf to stay for dinner — for about fifty years — and Gandalf gets suspicious when he finds himself locked outside Saruman's penthouse.
Aragorn does show up at the pub, though he doesn't buy the drinks. A cryptic letter from Gandalf convinces the hobbits to not just trust Aragorn but bed down with him — one room beside the room they had booked, which the ringwraiths invade and stab all the pillows in. This signifies that the race to Rivendell is on in earnest. Even Gandalf gets there; he uncorks a bit more deus ex machina in the form of an eagle that becomes a nonstop, no-layover flight from Saruman's jail to Rivendell.
The Elf-lord Elrond proves to be a master of affirmative action; though omitting "two Jews and a cripple" (James Watt), he assembles a team of an elf, a dwarf, two men, four hobbits, and one of whatever Gandalf is supposed to be. To complete the tokenism, Elrond brags that the Farceship's number matches that of the nine Masked Riders. Their mission is to take Frodo's ultimate weapon — and throw it away. Gandalf is to serve as their GPS; and like any off-the-shelf GPS, the 'best route' to Gondor takes them straight through a mountain range, where unspeakable slimy things are awakened, one of which drags Gandalf into an abyss. Come-uppance.
Aragorn thus becomes the leader of the Farceship. He is basically crap at this. At the first ambush by Orcs, the key people are killed, half the Hobbits are captured (with more strange orders not to be char-broiled), and everyone left abandon their quest and pursue the Orcs on foot.
More running around
This geriatric three-day sprint ends when Aragorn and his survivors Legolas and Gimli encounter the cavalry of Rohan. Unfortunately, they are not impressed by Aragorn's three driver's licenses nor his five Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. Aragorn forgets the first rule of combat: When surrounded by twenty crack archers, do not raise your sword and start shouting things.
Fortunately for them, the cavalry's chief, on the outs in the palace for insubordination, doubles down and puts his trust in this geezer who claims to be the rightful King. Rohan does not believe in 'leave no man behind' and the patrol loans two riderless horses to Aragorn & Company.
Aragorn's forces continue their pursuit of the captured Hobbits — who have gotten free by themselves and entered Fangorn, a forest where every tree is a person, and with a story that takes an hour to tell. Aragorn encounters Gandalf — sent back from death, of course — and he sends the three south to Helm's Deep to save that Rohan suburb from an army of Saruman's Orcs, with an assist by the trees, who bore to death thousands of orcs. The victors march North to permanently remove Saruman from his high-stakes Middle-Earth Game of Thrones — a success, though all a bit like knocking Italy out in World War Two whilst leaving Germany and Japan intact. Sauron's Axis of Evil are barely dented by this loss.
Aragorn and his buddies, three against thirty thousand, fight overnight without a stumble or scratch, but he senses that, to be taken seriously, he will need an army.
Dead Men Fight Quite Well
Fortunately, he had not slept through History of Civ; he knows that the impenetrable Rohan mountains have a short-cut, and inside live a dead troupe who had famously broken an oath to Aragorn's forefather Isildur. Aragorn enters the mountains, along with his extremely gullible companions. They win a roller derby match, played on skulls, that keeps the special-effects crew busy, and ultimately summon the Oath Breakers, Confederate flags and MAGA hats and all. Here Aragorn again reveals his true expertise: Wearing tattered rags, he convinces another army that he is a Glitteratus they should obey instead of their own commanders — indeed, the only one who can give them absolution for their millennia-old unfaithfulness. In fact, his first pitch — 'Fight with me or die!' — merely has them looking at one another and going, 'So?' But again he unfurls jewel-encrusted Andrógen, the sword with so much lore written about it that the Dead would never have read. They fall in, to do well what they did poorly last time, and Aragorn emerges out the other side, the gullible beside him and following right afterward, the unreliable.
Everyone knows you don't leave a football match early in the second half where 'it's obvious who have won'. Nor a battle where the enemy have crossed the river, blasted away the walls, and are hacking off arms and legs in the Pelennor Fields. Not just because you see a fleet of enemy ships sail up the river to add injury to injury. Because Aragorn is at the helm and unfurls the banner his girlfriend has given him that he has carried all over creation. And it is just Gondor-ish enough to tell the world that these are the good guys.
At this point, the Canon has two balls:
- In the film, the Corpse Corps help crack the siege of Minas Tirith and then clear off to die in a corner.
- In the books, they just kill the corsairs who were coming up the coast.
Though Aragorn doesn't get to kill the Witch King, his claim to Gondor's throne has become a lot easier. The Ruling Steward has died, toasting himself on his own funeral pyre. His surviving heir Faramir is hyperventilating in a hospital bed. Aragorn orders the gathering of 'kingsfoil', an obvious narcotic. The coked-up Faramir opens his eyes and calls Aragorn the King. Aragorn takes control of Gondor. All the ladies in hospital develop an infatuation for him, but most will be married off to lesser stars, beginning with Faramir.
Black Gate finale
Having just asserted his leadership, Aragorn proceeds to 'spend his political capital' faster even than George W. Bush. Though Sauron still has plenty of troops left, Aragorn leads his decimated, injured force on an insane frontal attack at Sauron's Black Gate. Though outnumbered, perhaps they will distract the enemy and give Frodo the extra moments he needs to make up his mind to discard the doomsday weapon. Perhaps they will simply all be slaughtered.
Strongly suggesting the latter, the Mouth of Sauron produces Frodo's clothing. The allies are dispirited, but the hobbits ask, 'Oy, if 'e's dead, where's 'is guts?' The Mouth says the Orcs ate Frodo; they were running low on provisions and he was fresh and went down well once curried. The habeas corpus petition unsuccessful, Aragorn has the horns blown for battle.
At that exact moment, Mordor literally falls apart. Frodo has thrown the Ring into Mount Doom after all. Sauron's magic is undone and his empire and towers collapse. The Orcs and Trolls flee the battlefield. The surviving Ringwraiths fall out of the sky and vanish. The dark clouds evaporate, and even the weeds wither away and let the flowers bloom. Evil has been defeated! Yea!
Only problem, the lava of Mount Doom, having consumed the Ring, is rising up to look for dessert. Frodo and Sam are trapped on a pinnacle and about to get the hottest bath of their lives. Luckily, the eagles that spirited Gandalf away from his last plot dead-end are persuaded to reprise their work and save the duo from imminent broiling.
High King in his high seat
Aragorn rides back to Minas Tirith and is formally crowned the High King of Arnor and Gondor. Elrond finally gives him the hand of Arwen in marriage. Arwen is now cured of her sickness, unless you count deciding to become mortal, get wrinkly, and die like a human rather than live forever and cross the seas to the Elven Paradise Just Over the Horizon.
Note that at no time is Aragorn elected to be either a leader or a king of anything. Tolkien was a strong monarchist of the Catholic faith. Everything belonged to the king, including those who lived on it. There were no anarcho-syndicalist peasants.
The hobbits, on the other hand, got an exemption. Aragorn let them chase away any human who attemped to set up shop in the Shire — beginning with Saruman in a brand-new disguise. It was the Shire for Shire People; immigrants, you can just get orf me land!
A new Age with good old genocide
Aragorn is known as King Elessar, this latest name change giving him a clear credit history. The new Fourth Age sees many changes. For example, the Elves bugger off. Not because of some tax on magic or ban on speaking Elvish in public, but because Men are in the ascendancy, and the roar of traffic, blaring of horns, smog, and awful fast food cannot be far behind. Other enemies, like the Easterlings and the Corsairs, are given the choice to submit to Aragorn's rule or die. Everyone figuring into the story chooses the first option.
However, Aragorn decreed 'no mercy' for Orcs, Uruk-hai, and Trolls. Tolkien is vague about their fate, saying most died quickly when Sauron was unmade. This is actually wrong, as mere murderous misbehavior would not have tied their fates to his. The writer George R. R. Martin postulated that Aragorn's postwar policy toward them was tantamount to genocide — while ringleaders Sauron and Morgoth Bauglir were eventually paroled. Everyone who might have objected to this double standard, such as Elrond, Frodo, Gandalf, and Galadriel sailed out of Middle Earth with the Elves.
Aragorn died at the spry young age of 210, on a date of his own choosing, after a mere 122 years on the throne. Arwen died a year after (not wandering around like a lost spirit, as she did in the film). Hobbits Merry and Pippin, who had died at normal ages, were given prime graveyard real estate next to Aragorn; whilst Sam left the Shire heading west and presumably boarding a ship to join Frodo in the Elven Heaven. Gimli and Legolas joined them very shortly after, Gimli as a dwarf getting a special boarding pass as Galadriel spoke in his favour. Frodo spent his golden years clutching his knife wound once a year and moping about how things would 'never be the same.'
Aragorn and Arwen were survived by a son called Eldarion and two daughters apparently not called anything. After that, the story runs cold. Tolkien did start a sequel, set 200 years after the main action, which talked about a 'new shadow' threatening Middle Earth, but gave up after a couple of pages. Maybe just as well.
Aragorn has all the right heroic attributes and seems immune from base instincts. It's a shame Tolkien didn't consider Aragorn being tempted to snatch the ring off Frodo and use it himself. It is left to Boromir to succumb to ring-lust. All it takes to convince Aragorn not to put the ring on is Gandalf's vivid description of Isildur floating downriver with Orc arrows in his back.
- He was killed by a glue-sniffing Goblin.
- Why three extra hobbits? Because they were promised a pub crawl and aren't going away.
- This is one of the few cases in the history of warfare of trying to match the enemy's forces for cleverness rather than massively outnumber them.
- The Arse of Sauron was on a break that day.
- Some Elves do linger on, retreating into the woods to live off fried squirrel and fermented sunflowers.
- Whereas Joe R. R. Biden said, "I was at the Black Gate — no joke! — and told Aragorn, hold out a hand to those orcs and they'll see we're all right and they'll come around, probably."