You can probably anticipate what my initial approach to Strider was. As with almost everything in the story, I was untrusting or even outright skeptical about him at first. Who was this shadowed figure trying to wheedle himself into the confidence of the hobbits? Unlike previous encounters where I held on to my preconceived notions longer than other readers might or where, however, I imagine that I changed my opinion around the same time as most other readers. I decided to trust Strider the same time that the hobbits did: after they see Gandalf’s letter and he proves that he is Aragorn by showing his broken blade.
I think part of the reason that I decided to like Strider is because the rest of the Breelanders did not like him. Frodo claims that
“You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way the servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”
I think that this passage helps to explain my own approach. Throughout the early parts of LotR, I had an innate mistrust of any characters that seemed fair, because their aspect is unbelievable (the elves are excluded from this, but we will talk more about that as we enter Rivendell). Therefore, my approach to this unknown world of Middle-earth was similar to Frodo’s own. I had reservations, often verging on misgivings, about people who seemed to be better than they were. Hobbits I innately trusted because they were familiar; for example, even though Maggot is daunting, he was still a hobbit, and so was not a source of fear so much as tension or conflict. Once the hobbits leave the Shire, however, most of their encounters were cause for alarm to me because each was an encounter with the unknown.
Strider is the exception to this rule so far. He mirrors the trajectory of Maggot in that he seems gruff and unlikable, but eventually grows into an ally for the hobbits. This is the first character that the hobbits meet outside the Shire who is not as he appears. The foreboding caused by Old Man Willow and the fear of the Barrow wights were appropriate responses and Bombadil really was a merry, if frighteningly powerful, fellow (even though I had my doubts). For the first time, a character who is not a hobbit presents some real complexity of character and does not fit in to his surroundings. This makes him intriguing to the reader and we want to know more about him. In fact, we, like Frodo, want all of our questions answered on the spot there in Bree. It is the artistry of Tolkien, however, to prolong the mystery and only unravel Aragorn’s true significance bit by bit.
I will go a bit more into Aragorn’s lore and medicinal skills in my next post, as we approach and then descend Weathertop, but I did want to say a bit more about his character on the road, as it were, with the hobbits. I came to like Strider very quickly because he is direct in his guidance, but does not take himself so seriously that he does not have fun while with the hobbits. I think Jackson’s characterization of Aragorn strays quite a bit here. The hobbits are the characters that readers are supposed to identify with, that is why the tale is told from their vantage point. This elevates Aragorn to be above the station of the reader. The reader does not like Aragorn as an equal, but appreciates the burden of his responsibility and his condescension in being a ranger and protecting the hobbits. This makes his character much more complex and interesting. Aragorn is not the character whose history we can understand or whose purpose we can see ourselves mirrored in, but the fact that he is willing to come alongside the hobbits and help them in their quest demonstrates a quality of character well beyond what is expected of individuals with power and station.
Where Do We Go From Here?
What Do You Think?
Do you relate more to the hobbits or the men depicted in LotR? Why?