Feb 20 2009 4:15pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship I.10, “Strider”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring And now for chapter 10 of Fellowship, “Strider.” But before we get to the usual spoilers and commentary, I wanted to thank everyone who’s been commenting for carrying on such interesting and enlightening conversations. I’d prefer to be more of a circulating party host than an absentee landlord in the comment threads, but it’s lovely to know that the conversations will happen all the same even when I’m far too busy. So, thanks, everyone.

What Happens

Strider follows Frodo, Pippin, and Sam to a parlour. He says that he followed them to Bree because he’d been looking for Frodo, who is still in danger: the Riders will be back and Bill Ferny will sell them the story of Frodo’s disappearance. He asks them to take him as a guide. Sam is opposed, Pippin is silent and uncomfortable, and Frodo is confused and asks for more information.

Strider is about to tell his story, but retreats when Butterbur comes in. Butterbur eventually admits that Gandalf had charged him to forward Frodo a letter, back in the summer, but he’d forgotten. He also tells Frodo that black men have been looking for him. He is frightened but still willing to help when Strider comes forward and says the men come from Mordor. Butterbur leaves to send Nob to look for Merry, who is not in the room.

Frodo reads Gandalf’s letter, which tells him to leave the Shire by the end of July, and says that he can trust a man he may meet called Strider, whose true name is Aragorn. Frodo asks Strider why he hadn’t said that he was Gandalf’s friend, and Strider replies that he didn’t know of the letter until now, and anyway “I hoped you would take to me for my own sake.” When Sam is still dubious, Strider loses patience and shows the hilt of a sword—which he then reveals to be broken. He discusses travel plans, and then Merry comes rushing in, followed by Nob.

Merry says that he’s seen Black Riders in the village. He went for a walk, and when he saw a “deeper shade” across the road, he “seemed to be drawn” to follow it. He heard two voices, turned for home, and then fell over when something came behind him. Nob found him near Bill Ferny’s house, where he thought he saw two men stooping over him. When he arrived, though, he only found Merry, who seemed to be asleep and ran back to the inn as soon as he woke. Strider attributes this to the “Black Breath” and anticipates some action before they leave, perhaps from Ferny, the Southern strangers, and Harry the gatekeeper (but driven by the Riders). The hobbits and Strider settle down for the night in the parlour, while bolsters imitate the hobbits in the room they originally checked into.


This re-read has really made it clear to me that I’d never actually thought about Aragorn’s history or motivations at this point in the story before. Tolkien, of course, doesn’t help by leaving so much of his backstory for the Appendices; but a fair bit of interpolation is still required, since those are told from such a distance.

Fortunately, y’all have done a lot of that already, in comments to the last post, pointing out the length of his fight, the stakes, his (at best) doubt that any victory can be possible, and what utter nitwits the hobbits must look like to him there in Bree. (Also, Graydon, your discussion of Aragorn’s understanding of what Arwen’s choice actually means makes me suddenly and acutely happy that he never tried the “I love you and therefore I’m going to dump you for your own good” thing, because good grief I hate that.)

So, in the parlour, Strider has two goals which could well be mutually exclusive: first, getting the hobbits to wake up, already; and second, convincing them to take him as a guide. The plot, in the form of Gandalf’s letter, intervenes to solve this dilemma, but I am curious whether Strider had any other strategy in mind besides telling them his story (and just how much detail would he have gone into, I wonder?) and hoping for the best. It may have come out all right in the end—Frodo displays a degree of perception in noting that Strider’s “voice has changed” as they talk, and he says later that he wanted to trust him—but I think it would have been a close thing, especially with Pippin and Sam’s attitudes.

(Also, it occurs to me, in light of the nitwittery, that Strider must be feeling very isolated indeed to hope for the hobbits to take to him for his own sake.)

* * *

Miscellaneous Aragorn stuff:

  • Of course it makes sense that he knows Bombadil, yet his casual reference indicating so (“I need not repeat all that they said to old Bombadil”) surprised me, perhaps because he doesn’t contribute to that part of the discussion at the Council of Elrond.

  • I presume that his painful memories of the Riders are from the undocumented time he spent in the East after his service to Gondor. Unless I’ve completely missed something textual, which at this point would not surprise me.

    Relatedly: as he remembers, “(t)he room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim.” This doesn’t seem likely to be a literal effect, since we have no reason to think Aragorn capable of causing it; I’m not particularly crazy about it as an example of the pathetic fallacy, either.

  • He does handle Butterbur well, after being understandably irritated at first, by quietly offering him something concrete and within his capacities to do.

  • His Ring-temptation scene comes and goes so quickly that I’d nearly forgotten about it. That works just fine for me: he already knew Frodo had it and thus had time to prepare; he’s not confronted physically with the Ring; and he has family history as a guide.

  • The “why, exactly, are you carrying around a broken sword?” problem. Graydon has offered an attempt at making this plausible. My inclination is that the shards of Narsil would normally be kept in Rivendell; and so, while I’m not crazy about the idea that it would be taken out of Rivendell just now, whether for a Dúnedain ritual or some other purpose, I guess I’ll nod and move on.

* * *

Merry’s adventure:

Once again, Merry is associated with a Nazgûl, this time being inexplicably drawn towards one. I’d never noticed this consistent theme before, and will be interested to see how Weathertop plays out.

Also, “I thought I had fallen into deep water”? I’m inclined to think of this as evocative description, rather than referencing anything specific.

Finally, Strider says that he does not think the Riders will attack the inn:

They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people — not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us. But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe, the gatekeeper too. They had words with Harry at West-gate on Monday. . . . He was white and shaking when they left him.

More on that next time (which I hope will not be so delayed).

« Fellowship I.9 | Index | Fellowship I.11 »

1. Erunyauve
Thanks very much for all this, it is quite excellent.
I'm continually struck by the reaction of the hobbits to Aragorn. Sam's initial reaction of exasperated mistrust seems spot-on to me. If I could guess how I would react to this situation, I would probably react like Sam. The turnaround spurred by the receipt of Gandalf's letter always struck me as odd and I'm not sure I buy it as plausible.
2. Graydon
Aragorn in some senses needs the hobbits to take him for his own sake; they are going to have to trust him if the journey is to have any chance of success.
I think the simple way to look at it is that yes, Aragorn is really really isolated; he's been the Chieftain of the Dunedain since he was two. He was raised in Imladris among elves (many of whom knew his diverse ancestors and all of whom know more about his heritage than he does until he's 21); his more or less best friends are his foster-brothers, Eladan and Elrohir, who are 2800 and some-odd; in our terms, they'd have been born after the fall of Troy but before the rise of classical Athens, which is going to give them an inescapable degree of alienness. Things are awkward with Elrond and have been for almost seventy years. He's spent his whole life hiding from a dark god who wants to kill him, and fairly isolated from his own people, because they know it's that time; he's going to restore the kingdom or they're all going to die. So Aragorn, unlike previous chieftains of the Dunedain, has spent his whole life wandering.

The more complex reading, as I see it, is that Aragorn habitually and consistently relentlessly undersells himself. When Boromir says "if the hand that wields it has inherited the sinews of the Kings of Men, and not an heirloom only", Aragorn does not say "dude! killed the captain of the corsairs in single combat for your granddad! before your parents even met!"; he says "Who can tell?" And there are good reasons and I think reasons of actual humility of character and not just policy for Aragorn to be like this. But there are also a bunch of indications that a steady diet of no thanks and more work make him a bit cranky; it at least runs into conflict with heroic culture expectations.

In the case of the hobbits, though, two things are different; he more or less must tell them who he is, and Frodo has the ring; there are a lot of prophecies about what happens when the ring gets found, it has been found, and here he is in the endgame, where he has to declare himself, rather than hide. (If Aragorn had any doubt about "really the ring?", Frodo's vanishing dispelled it.)

The first time Aragorn declares himself to a stranger is to Arwen. (Has to be; he's just found out who he is.) Frodo and Co. might be the second time. (Gandalf knows already; whether or not Thengel and Echthelion knew, in the sense of being told, who Aragorn was, is I believe an open question). Certainly it's something he very rarely does; it's not surprising that he both hopes that it goes well and is a bit awkward doing it, like a secret agent breaking cover.

So I think it's possible to read this section as not only is Aragorn lonely, and wishing for trust on his own merits, here he is, telling a secret he's kept at great cost for a long time -- not quite seventy years -- to a bunch of hobbits who have just been complete ninnies. There just about has to be a degree of social awkwardness in doing this.
Kate Nepveu
3. katenepveu
Erunyauve, you're welcome, and thanks for commenting. The post-letter change of heart worked for me because it was Frodo only, who was leaning his way even before. Sam was and, at the end of the chapter is, still dubious.

Graydon, his own people, because they know it's that time; he's going to restore the kingdom or they're all going to die.

They do? What am I forgetting? I'm gathering you mean something more immediate than "the line of Isildur's heirs comes to an end." (I don't remember prophecies about the Ring being found, either.)

I'd always read the appendices as implying that Thengel & Ecthelion didn't know his true identity, which would be much more consonant with my sense of his personality, fwiw.

But yes, isolation and awkwardness hardly begins to cover it . . .
4. Jonno
“I thought I had fallen into deep water” - I wondered about this too. In the house of Tom Bombadil Merry dreams of water and drowning. After they are rescued from the barrow Tom says they have found themselves again "out of the deep water". Maybe coincidental. Any thoughts?

Regarding Sam - a central aspect of his character is loyalty to Frodo which manifests itself as suspicion towards others. Earlier in he story, see his reaction to Farmer Maggot. Later, see Boromir, Faramir and Gollum. Loyalty is a virtue appropriate to "simple" characters - Sam is less perceptive about Strider than Frodo, although he grows in stature later in the story.
5. Erunyauve
katenevpeu @ 3:
You're right regarding the reaction of the hobbits. I do agree with Jonno @ 4's comment re Sam's inherent loyalty to Frodo.
I think this very much is a reflection of the supposed "basis" of Sam: the WW1-era batman (not that Frodo is in any way comparable to the aristocratic officer, of course). Unquestioning loyalty is very much in the job description of the batman, and I think that Sam fits this to a t.
Agnes Kormendi
6. tapsi
The story in the Appendices about Aragorn's parents says that his mother's mother, who had the gift of foresight, said "if these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts." I don't know if this was widely known among the Dúnedain, but this and the fact that he was called "Hope" for much of his early life, would certainly weigh heavily on Aragorn. He has to live up to being his people's hope. I don't remember "he's going to restore the kingdom or they're all going to die" made any more explicit than this, but this is burden enough (and I could well be wrong, as I was in many a comment before).

I don't think he tells Thengel or Ecthelion his true lineage, and considering the possible reactions, this is probably wise. If the Stewart of Gondor recognises his claim, his cover is blown before he, Gondor or the Dúnedain would be ready to withstand an attack from Sauron. If the Stewart reacts unfavourably, he's in danger; valiant as the men of Gondor are, I don't put political murder past them. And going there saying "I'm actually heir to all these lands but I can't claim them yet anyway, so think of this as an internship of sorts, I'm trying to familiarise myself with the run of things and of course I'm earning my keep while I'm here, but don't expect me to take the crown and all, not yet at any rate" would be awkward.

Erunyauve@5: we can also add that Sam seems to think Frodo too noble for his own good at times and acts extra paranoid because of that. So probably he'd be a lot more trusting but he's trying to balance his master's perceived naivety?
7. Erunyauve
tapsi @6: I agree with you about Sam's perception of Frodo. I think that Sam is torn between his loyalty to Frodo (which, I think is probably closer to Sam being loyal to Frodo qua Baggins) and his realization that Frodo is a hobbit i.e. fallable. Frodo's flaw is that Frodo is a bit "above" where he should be. This may be the Ring, this may be Frodo's knowledge that he is the heir of Bilbo ("Mad Baggins").
Sam is really my favorite character and definitely the most complex of all the people we meet in the book.
Eric Scharf
8. EricScharf
tapsi @6: If the Stewart of Gondor recognises his claim...

Tolkien's was probably the first generation of Englishmen that wouldn't have been spooked by the notion of a Stewart in Gondor.
Agnes Kormendi
9. tapsi
:D :D :D

Ouch. You are so right. English isn't my native language and I am rather scatterbrained lately... :D
10. Graydon
"deep water" -- there's a lot of sea imagery for vastness and unknowability in Tolkien, and I think that's what we're seeing here; any time a hobbit winds up with an Outside Context Problem, there's imagery of the sea or vast quantities of water.

kate @3 --

You're forgetting Malbeth the Seer, prophet to the court of the last King of Arthedain. (And why Arvedui Last-King was called that from his birth; either he would re-unit the realm of Elendil or the kingdom would end.) The verse Aragorn quotes about the Paths of the Dead is the only overt bit we get in the text. My recollection -- though I am forgetting which HoME volume has the longer version of Aragorn and Arwen in it -- is that there are prophecies that either it's Arvedui, or at the time of the finding of the ring that the kingdoms might be re-united; if they're not re-united, the implication is extinction for the dunedain; presumably not a single event, but it's not just the line of the heirs of Elendil, it's the people of Numenor as survive in exile.

Malbeth must have been just a joy at parties.

But, anyway; we don't know if the curse of Isildur on the King and People of the Mountains who become the host of the dead was specifically "at the end" in terms of "before the end", and we don't know the source of the belief among the Dunedain of Arnor that the sword of Elendil will be reforged when the ring is found; Aragorn mentions this pretty much in passing.

We also don't know specifically why Elrond believes his requirement for his consent to the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen is possible, but we can safely suppose that it is, Elrond being wiser and much longer of temper than Thingol. That could be something Malbeth said or the habitual foresight of the High Elves (or the one sixteenth divine blood).

Aragorn himself says to Elrond when they first discuss Aragorn's love of Arwen -- the foresight of his people having come upon him -- that "the time of your abiding grows short"; all the foresightful know the age is ending.

So, collectively, it's "the age is coming to an end"; all the foresightful folk know this. I can't see it doing Aragorn's already well developed sense of responsibility a lot of good to think about this a great deal, though.

As for his true identity -- I don't think he told, overtly, Thengel or Echthelion. But it seems likely that both Echthelion and Denethor guessed.
Agnes Kormendi
11. tapsi
I agree that Ecthelion and Denethor guessed and I always thought that Aragorn left Gondor without going back to report on his victory because of that, because he couldn't yet want to confirm and wouldn't ever outright deny it (and also because he could see that that would only make matters worse with Denethor and make the relationship between the stewards and the line of Isildur even worse).
12. Michael S. Schiffer
Re the "Stewart of Gondor":

"And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not? " he asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," my father answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."

I've long thought that the exchange-- in addition to in a remarkably few sentences helping characterize and explain a lot about Faramir, Boromir, and Denethor-- was something of a backhanded slap by Tolkien at the House of Stuart (and, perhaps, the Carolingians). Granted that merely being of less royalty than the Numenorean Realms in Exile isn't saying much, the time it took in Scotland and the Frankish realm still looks like unseemly haste by comparison.
Kate Nepveu
13. katenepveu
Jonno @ 4, thanks for tracking down additional "deep water" references. Agree that a central quality of Sam's is loyalty, but I'm not sure that it's a virtue appropriate to "simple" characters--or, at least, not only to them. Care to unpack a bit?

tapsi, love the imagined explanation of Aragorn to Thengel or Ecthelion, and I agree that he didn't return to Gondor to avoid difficulties about his identity. And yes, I'd forgotten his mother's prophecy--also, let me just say that now that I'm a parent, I find myself not very impressed with telling her *son*, the Hope in question, "I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have no hope for myself."

Graydon @ 10, yeah, I was forgetting a lot, wasn't I? Thanks. And that's an especially good point about Elrond's marriage condition contrasted to Thingol's; I'd always been rather dubious about the existence of any condition--yes, I understand the different cultural expectations, I'm just saying--so I hadn't followed that to its logical conclusion.

Michael S. Schiffer @ 12, interesting about the Stewards of Gondor and possible slaps at real-world royal houses. My history isn't up to evaluating it, but I'll keep it in mind.
14. Graydon
Kate @13 --

Different cultural expectations aside (and not forgetting that Tolkien himself didn't talk to the woman he eventually married for something like two and a half years, at the command of his own foster-father), part of what Elrond is noticing is that the story of Beren and Luthien is happening again. If the story is happening again, part of his role is to be Thingol and set the conditions, because an Elf/Man marriage is an enormous big deal as a mythological event and in some sense requires some kind of adversity to overcome. (Galadriel gets to fill Melian's mythological role and support the match; further evidence for the whole "wouldn't want to be Elrond" side of the ledger.)

I was going to say that Elrond is probably happy that it's Beren and Luthien and not Idril and Tuor, but then if it were Idril and Tuor, Elrond would improve on his grand-dad and listen to the messenger of Ulmo...

One of the general things, and which only comes out almost-overtly only very briefly, in Frodo's discussion with Gildor about Elvish advice, and in some tiny subset of the interaction between Aragorn and Eomer and Aragorn and Faramir, is that the elves and the similarly gifted Numenoreans really can do things normal mortal men (or hobbits) not only can't do at all, they have trouble noticing what's going on!

This is especially true of the pragmatic hobbit narrator (nominally Bilbo+Frodo and then passed through some level of anonymous multiple hobbit editor redaction to produce the Red Book of Westmarch that Tolkien is allegedly translating as per the frame) who doesn't have words for a lot of what's happening.

When Eomer says to Aragorn "I knew not then that you were a man foresighted" he's acknowledging what is to Eomer a legendary ability, and by extension acknowledging that Aragorn is facultively Numenorean, not just of Numenorean descent; he's not saying "yeah, you guessed right that time".

There's the level at which Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel -- the Wise -- are functioning, in a strange mix of knowing what is meant to happen and observing what is happening both together; the level of your regular High Elf, like Gildor, or your Numenorean in contact with elvish culture, like the Dunedain of Arnor, where strange promptings of the heart show up and are taken seriously and are actually, in some causality-violating way, right (one is forced to conclude that Eru put causality in as a hard-and-fast rule after the Noachian flood); the level of someone with Numenorean blood, where there are perceptions of character that can be trusted above reason (Eomer, Faramir, Denethor, Imrahil); and the regular folks like the hobbits, who not only can't (with the odd partial exception of Sam and Frodo) do this at all, but who don't live in a perceptual universe where anything like that actually happens.

So it's hard to pick out from the text the level of moral certainty running around under the overt events. (Which is why Lord of the Rings really isn't an allegory.)

One of the things that I think makes it initially difficult for Sam to trust Strider (though once material events that indicate Strider's good will and ability happen that changes) is that Sam is notable pragmatic even for a hobbit. He likely sees part of his job as preventing his Master's flights of fancy from getting said master into bad trouble, and Sam has no way of distinguishing between "flight of fancy" and "causality-violating prompting of the heart". Frodo is only here starting to treat that category of feeling seriously; the encounter with the barrow-wight is (arguably) the very first of those Frodo had (or acted on), and here is the second one, and Frodo isn't completely certain about it.

Which is, thinking about it, another reason for Strider to want to be taken on his own merits; if Frodo can be aware of those promptings (by whatever unseen mechanism) it bodes much better for the quest than if Frodo can't do that and has to get by on material senses.
Andrew Mason
15. AnotherAndrew
It may have to do with the Carolingians, but not, I think, with the Stewarts/Stuarts; they did not take the crown by virtue of their office, but by succession in the normal way. A Stewart had married the king's daughter; when male heirs died out, their son was the nearest heir.
16. Jason-L
I always imagined that Narsil, while broken, still had enough of a useable blade for Aragorn to keep it as a main weapon. It's quality must still be better than nearly any other blade forged since, save perhaps Orcrist or Glamdring. As well, his carrying of Narsil struck me as a declaration of his intent to fulfil the requirements set for his marriage to Arwen, as hopeless as that seems.

The constant references to deep water by the hobbits are all the more interesting, I think, given how much hobbits fear the water and drowning (except for the strange ones who use boats). I often think its a way for them to describe something worse than death.
Jess Nevins
17. jessnevins
The "I hoped you would take to me for my own sake" can also be taken as another comment on Aragorn's looks, which we know aren't the best. Perhaps his hope was that someone would look past his ugliness--a hope denied.
Andrew Foss
18. alfoss1540
Any thoughts about how much or what information the the Nazgul were able to suck out of Merry in his deep water state? This seems another case of where the Nazgul's true strength - and their abilities which are showen later - are being underplayed this early in the story. They are still just Dark and scary, rather than majestic evil that we will see later.
Kate Nepveu
19. katenepveu
Graydon, re: "causality-violating prompting of the heart": this I have to chew on as we read. It is very much not how I'd been thinking of things on prior reads, and I'm not sure I find the idea satisfying.

Jason-L, Narsil's only got a foot of blade attached to the hilt, so it seems unlikely to me that it's useful as a weapon; I agree that Tolkien likely had the romantic-declaration sense in mind when he described Aragorn as carrying it, which overrode the practicalities in his mind if not ours or, indeed, Aragorn's. => Also, good point about hobbits' fear of water--not just scary, but alien (even though common).

jessnevins, Aragorn ugly? Frodo sees a "pale stern face" with "keen grey eyes", and his exchange with Pippin says to me "lived-in" rather than "actively offputting," if that makes sense. The Appendices also say "grim," but capable of looking more like "an Elf-lord." So, not how I'd envisioned him.

alfoss1540, I'd read that scene as not conveying very much time at all between Merry falling and Nob scaring them off.
20. cmk
Isildur did cut a finger off Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Narsil, so the sword retained some degree of function as a knife--whether that's enough to retain it for hand-to-hand combat is a big question, obviously. I've always pictured Sauran as much larger than an elf or a human, which reinforced that impression on me.
21. Erunyauve
katenevpeu @19
When it comes to Aragorn's personal appearance at this stage, I always pictured him as being muddy (and probably smelly), wearing worn clothing that was of good, sturdy, utilitarian quality when new, with a few affectations that are hard to notice under the grime, such as the fact that he wears the ring of Barahir, and probably has a bit of Elvish-style embroidery on his undershirt, etc. He's probably not had a bath in awhile and his hair and beard are probably in desperate need of a trim. That said, underneath the grime are fine features. He's well-built (as befits a warrior), and doesn't have any of the signs that someone who was ill-fed as a child would have. Probably he looks like a guy who has a decent home out there somewhere, but he hasn't been there in awhile. Even though he's past 80 (and looks 40-ish - remember the graying hair!), his eyes and the set of his jaw probably reveal his age. His eyes have seen things that most 40-ish guys (even guys who have seen the wars against Sauron) haven't, simply by virtue of his age.
I find it useful to remember that Aragorn is Numenorian - i.e. not 100% human. He has that faint dash of Elvish (and Maia!) blood, enough to give him an eventual life span of 210 years. Probably he looks human enough to blend into a crowd if someone's not paying close attention to him - and at this stage, he actively encourages this with his clothing and manner of behaving - but if you're paying attention or if he stands up straight, and fixes you in the eye you see it. He's got that je ne sais quoi that removes him from the ordinary man of Bree or of most of the West. Probably the lines of his face, the tint of his hair, and the set of the bones of his hands are slightly off in an undefinable way.
I find that the Jackson films were pretty spot-on when it came to what Aragorn looks like in Bree, while missing the mark somewhat with regards to his behavior.
So, ugly? No, not really. But I would argue that he is frequently - and especially in a place like the Prancing Pony when there are 1) ignorant people and 2) enemies around, he's going to deliberately make himself unremarkable. Pippin's comment that he looks lived-in is very apt, I think.
cmk @ 20:
I agree with you that Narsil probably still had some usable edge, but this is probably nothing more significant that that of a Swiss Army knife. If Isildur cut the finger off after Sauron was defeated (and the book says he was, no matter what Jackson's movie says!), then he wouldn't need that much of an edge to do so. However, using Narsil would have been quite difficult in this stage, what with the fact that the sword was broken just below the hilt, which means that (generously speaking, keeping in mind that it had to be enough for Narsil to STAY in the scabbard) there was probably ~2 inches of blade attached to the hilt. Given that pre-break Narsil was probably ~4 feet long like most other swords, post-break Narsil is pretty damn useless in a fight. The other pieces may be sharp, but they are similarly useless in a fight - after all, how would you hold them? I think really all this points that Aragorn was carrying Narsil for some unspecified special reason, and that he didn't normally.
22. Graydon
"He drew out his sword, and they saw that the blade was indeed broken a foot below the hilt. 'Not much use is it, Sam?' said Strider."

So, a fair chunk of blade on the hilt-shard, but also officially not very useful.

He might -- and I don't like this any better than Kate likes the "Dunedain ritual" explanation (which I do not like all that much myself) -- have brought it as ID. "Here is the sword that was broken". This isn't a very good explanation, either, because it implies him thinking of this when last in Rivendell, but it just isn't very easy to think of a good reason to be lugging the Blade That Was Broken through the wilderness, never mind to be doing so then.

Aragorn doesn't have a beard. (It's the elvish blood; the heirs of Elros can't grow beards.)

"Grim" is not ugly; it's, effectively, "badass". ("A somewhat rascally look, have I not?") Aragorn is not complaining of being thought ugly; he's complaining of being thought threatening, ruffianly, etc. Physical attractiveness is not something he's lacking. (Consider Eowyn's response.)

He certainly does not wear the Ring of Barahir. He gave it to Arwen as a betrothal pledge in 2980. He would not wear it about, either; aside from being a dead giveaway about who he to someone aware of the history, it's almost indescribably valuable -- the work of the Noldor in the Bliss of Aman -- as a thing, never mind being the oldest thing in man's possession in Middle Earth. (The Scepter of Anuminas is the oldest surviving work of man's hands in Middle Earth; it's a paltry seven thousand years old.)
Agnes Kormendi
23. tapsi
I came to the conclusion that Aragorn could actually have carried Narsil around on a regular basis (except where it would have been a giveaway) because at this point of the story he is a romantic hero, and a doomed hero to boot, and in my experience such folks always do odd things.

The remark "not much use, is it" could have been an understatement along the lines of "who can tell", because I bet a capable swordsman with seven decades of practice could do a fair deal of damage with a foot long blade.... yet on the other hand, I don't see Aragron chopping up random trolls with such a relic.
Kate Nepveu
24. katenepveu
tapsi: but, but, but: this is _Aragorn_. That may be his function in the story at this point, but that's not his *character*, at least not in any reading I've ever had of him, now or in the past. It would be grossly irresponsible of him to be acting in doomed-hero mode, and he's just not like that.

(You should imagine this comment with flailing arms and sputtering for full effect. => )
Soon Lee
25. SoonLee
The way it (Aragorn carrying the Shards of Narsil) works for me is that Tolkien was employing poetic license*.

Carrying the Shards is not practical, nor is it stealthy. It marks Aragorn, either as a thief or a descendent of the peoples of Arnor.

Graydon's explanation that it was in transit for ritual purposes doesn't break the story, but I'm with Kate; why would it be kept anywhere else but in the safest place in the region, Rivendell?

*I'm comfortable with that.
Soon Lee
26. SoonLee
Sorry, double post.
27. Chris Johnstone
“I thought I had fallen into deep water”

Just a quick comment. Tolkien himself apparently had a fear of drowning. He suffered from a recurring dream in which huge waves drowned green hills and towns and houses. This is probably why he was attracted to the Atlantis myth (his first attempt at a novel was set in Atlantis) and wove the idea into the history of Numinor.

I'd never noticed the frequent use of water or deep water as a metaphor for death/fear/helplessness though, and it's possible that Tolkien may not have even been fully aware what he was doing himself. I suspect it's a case of the writer's own fears coming through in the writing.

28. Erunyauve
Graydon @ 22:
I suppose this is why I shouldn't comment on blogs while I'm at work! Thanks for the corrections. However, I think that though he isn't wearing the ring of Barahir or a beard, my general assessment of his look and attitude is right on.

I agree with katenevpeu's assessment (@ 24) of tapsi's comment about Aragorn. The fact that LotR is a story and Tolkien took a lot of poetic license (*cough* most of RotK *cough*) is all very true. However.
Aragorn is not now, nor is he ever during the story, a doomed hero who randomly does something because it is neat.
Linda Frear
29. tanguera
I had a thought that when Strider is drawn and pale that he might possibly know what is happening to Merry. If he has foresight, might he not be able to see what is about to transpire outside? At the beginning, Strider says: "take me as a guide or not", but after that passage, he states: "You will never get to Rivendell now on your own, and to trust me is your only chance." Although that seems on the surface a direct contradiction, I think he saw something. It couldn't be that he just learned of the Black Riders as he is fully aware of their activities with Bill Ferny and the gatekeeper.

It is interesting that although Sam reacts to Aragorn's suggestion, Pippin only fidgets and looks uncomfortable.

Aragorn speculates that the Black Riders left their horses outside the gate when they came into Bree. Is it because the horses are different and therefore noticeable, or just because horses of any kind would draw unnecessary attention?
30. Graydon
Erunyauve @28 --

I am not sure that it is.

One of the things that gets missed in discussions of Aragorn is that he's just as much a Great War response as the blasted plain of Gorgoroth.

His short temper about Butterbur and with the hobbits is utterly typical veteran response to civilians who have not had the experiences the veteran has had, and touches a raw nerve about them. Aragorn -- being Aragorn -- sits on it; this is the way things are supposed to be, the hobbits and the innkeepers of Bree are supposed to be able to live safe lives. But it's there, as a view, an isolation, and a social barrier.

This is someone who has been doing muscle-weapons special forces work for what would amount to a regular lifetime, with no very plausible end in sight. (He has as primary formative influences Elrond, Gandalf, and Elladan and Elrohir; they've been doing this for millenia. Bound to have side effects...) He's interacting with people from environments so safe they don't (in the case of the hobbits) have murder. Petty theft, maybe; some trouble with strangers in Bree, but their social context is a remarkably safe one.

Aragorn has also been raised in what amounts to the highest pinnacle of culture available; educated in Rivendell, native fluency in Quenya and Sindarian, wise in the lore of men and elves, extremely cosmopolitan knowledge of human cultures, welcomed into Lothlorien, protege of a wizard; he knows things pretty much no-one else mortal has had the opportunity to learn.

(Compare his and Denethor's knowledge of Rivendell/Imladris, or note the reaction of the Rohirrim to the Grey Company -- "They are elvish wights".)

So I don't think it's really all the subtle, or a difference in physical appearance. Aragorn tries, and is good at keeping people from noticing what he is entirely actually like, but he doesn't and can't keep people from noticing that his hard life is not so much material privation (though there has certainly been some of that!) as having been at war for sixty-some years.

The text gives this with a rather accurate portrayal of the social response, really; great stories, but we find him really spooky and don't feel comfortably around him is a fair paraphrase of Butterburr's response.

It's not class/wealth, or unfamiliarity -- Rangers have been stopping in Bree for centuries -- it's that awareness that if Aragorn started killing people they have no idea if they could either get away or stop him.

He's not going to do that, of course, but the reasons he's not going to are highly opaque, and mostly things neither the hobbits nor the Bree-folk have or get words for, even by the end of the tale.
31. goshawk
The whole "seasoned veteran carrying a priceless broken sword around in the wildnerness" thing bothered me even on first reading, and I was nine when I first cracked this book. I left it, because there was a lot more going on that was Seriously Cool than there were little nitpicks, but now that I've done a lot more reading in Arthurian literature the heroic epics (like, for example, Beowulf), I'm going to jump in and agree with SoonLee @ 25.

Aragorn carrying The Sword That Was Broken around in the wilderness makes no sense from a pragmatic perspective; it absolutely makes sense from the standpoint of the mythical-scale heroic tradition. And considering Tolkien's extensive work with those traditions and stories (his edition of Beowulf is, if I'm not mistaken, still definitive), I don't find it surprising or jarring that he wrote the scene that way. So no, realistically, he probably wouldn't have carried it. But I can accept that the story might have been told that way.
32. Erunyauve
I agree with you about how Aragorn is a war veteran (and that this is a reference to WWI), and that many of his attitudes are related to this. Also, I completely agree that Aragorn is absurdly well educated by the standards of his time.
However, I was discussing how the Bree-landers (and hobbits) see him, not how Aragorn sees them or himself.
To outsiders (especially outsiders who don't know who he is), Aragorn and the Rangers are scruffy oddballs. Remember that in RotK when the hobbits go back through Bree on their way home Butterbur says that the Bree-landers didn't realize how much the Rangers did for them in keeping Bree safe. How much Bree has suffered in the intervening months is apparent in how Butterbur responds to Nob's announcement that "they" have come back - Butterbur seizes a weapon and charges. Plainly someone unpleasant has come by since the hobbits were last in Bree.
Also, Butterbur is flabbergasted to learn that the new king in Gondor (who will shortly come north and establish his rule) is Strider, the guy who used to sit in the Prancing Pony and drink ale. If we assume that Butterbur is a typical Bree-lander or a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to his worldliness, his says a lot about how Aragorn - and the Rangers - are seen.
All of this adds up to my assessment @ 21.
Aragorn - and the Rangers - actively avoid recognition. This is because 1) they have lots of enemies who would call for major backup (of the horrid variety) if the true identity of the Rangers were known and 2) non-enemies learning of who they are would react with shock and disbelief. Remember Eomer's reaction to meeting Aragorn, after all, and Eomer is a bit more travelled and in the know of the weird stuff that goes down in the world (not to mention knowing a bit about the Numenorians, what with living next to Gondor). Yet he demands to know if he is in fact alive in the world or if he's strayed into myth. I always read this statement as Eomer (rather unsuccessfully) trying to find a way to call a heavily armed man (with two heavily armed buddies) bonkers and get away with it. Eomer 1) does not believe Aragorn, 2) thinks Aragorn is probably nuts and 3) believes that the past (i.e. the King of old) is dead and not coming back. Eomer only gets away with saying this as bluntly as he does largely because Aragorn is in no mood to argue at this point - he wants to find Merry and Pippin after all - and because he probably feels that it would be better to convince Eomer that he is who he says he is than objecting to Eomer's rudeness.
Aragorn's background is everything you say it is, and more. He is every inch a soldier and seasoned veteran. What I'm saying is that Aragorn goes out of his way to cultivate a "look" that says, very loudly, "Don't mess with me." Aragorn isn't going to pick a fight with someone at random in the common room, but he sure as hell would finish that fight. Nonetheless, he also cultivates the vibe that he's not out looking for a fight and isn't your enemy. He's not your friend, but he doesn't have a problem with you. A guy who looks like he hangs out with Elves would have a hard time pulling that off in the company of men (especially men who are generally ignorant as to what Elves are or hate Elves with a fiery passion). He probably has a slightly spooky look that people can't place (that's the Numenorian blood and the Elvish rearing), but he can fade into the background.
Aragorn, in the common room at the Prancing Pony, is not the the Heir of Isildur who carries the legendary Narsil and hopes that he might one day marry the daughter of Elrond. He's Strider, the slightly odd guy with a weather-beaten look that you don't pick on - part of the scenery.
Obviously, in a different environment (such as Rivendell, or somewhere private with the other Rangers), he stops hiding certain things about himself.
I think that both of us are chasing the same general idea, just from a different direction. I find Aragorn fascinating as a character, and a very complex one.
Kate Nepveu
33. katenepveu
SoonLee @ 25, goshawk @ 31, I suspect you're right that we just have to chalk carrying Narsil around up to Tolkien thinking on the poetic license level, not the practical level.

Chris Johnstone @ 27, yes, thank you for reminding me about Tolkien's recurring dream of waves drowning the landscape. I remember Faramir's mentioning Numenor very late, and the Dead Marshes, but not anything else in the water/drowning vein, and will be on the lookout for it.

tanguera @ 29, interesting idea that Strider maybe knew what was happening to Merry. But, if he did, do you think he'd just have stayed inside? Yeah, maybe if he did, he'd have known when Merry was rescued, but I still think he'd have gone to look; and his comments to Merry don't seem to convey foreknowledge of what happened. Still, food for thought.

Graydon @ 30, Erunyauve @ 32, interesting about Aragorn as WWI vet here, since later on it seems to me that Frodo is much more closely aligned with the WWI soldiers and Aragorn's experiences are more in the heroic vein as a contrast (the race after Merry & Pippin, compared to the slog across Mordor). So I hadn't spotted that now, but it makes a lot of sense.
Soon Lee
34. SoonLee
It's a recurring motif & now that it's been mentioned, more examples spring to mind:
- Hobbit fear of water.
- Nazgul dislike of it; they are defeated by water at the Fords of Bruinen.
- Sam almost drowning at the end of the "Fellowship of the Ring".
- Isildur died in the river.
35. Ralph Giles
There's also what happens to Saruman's works at Orthanc.
Linda Frear
37. tanguera
Kate, I considered that as well. It does make me wonder what caused Strider's change of heart though.
38. UnderHill
More water motif - Frodo's parents being drowned in the Brandywine.
39. Alisonmh
Hope it's not too late but, more water motif - Old Man Willow trying to drown Frodo.

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