Skip to content

Aragorn's Soul

Butterbur the innkeeper almost got a mouthful of iron when he spoke harshly about Strider, telling Frodo, “if I was in your plight, I wouldn't take up with a Ranger.” Strider, losing patience, lashed back, “Then who would you take up with? A fat innkeeper who only remembers his own name because people shout it at him all day? . . . Will you go with them and keep the black men off?”

Strider, of course, was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and yet-to-be-revealed heir to the throne of Gondor. His was pure nobility, of character and lineage, but he was using the prime of his life to engage in guerilla warfare miles and miles away from Gondor, with only a small number of select men under him, a beautiful elven princess engaged to him but not to be his until he regained the throne of Gondor, and little prospect for doing so until Sauron, the evil being whose fate Frodo controlled, was defeated. No wonder he lost patience with Butterbur. He needed Frodo, who had to that point behaved carelessly, to accept him and Butterbur's opposition wasn't making Aragorn's persuasions easier to accept.

But he didn't tell Frodo he was Gandalf's friend. Such a revelation may have won Frodo over immediately, but Aragorn didn't tell him. Why not? Frodo asked. Many practical reasons, he explained, but then there's this: “But I must admit that I hoped you would take to me for my own sake.”

The heir of Isildur, rightful king of the two great kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, hardened with years of travel and battle. He wanted little Frodo to like him.

In Aragorn, all the spiritual threads are woven into a cloak that Tolkien spins for everyone to see, s soul turned outward for display. Aragorn is humble, as his deference to Elrond and Gandalf shows. But his pride bursts out, as when he bristles at Butterbur's insult and at the indignity of no one, except a few men and elves, realizing his great nobility. He loves the beautiful elf-maiden Arwen and burns to wed her, but he must carry on like a loveless mercenary with little practical prospects of success. He is confident, hence his willingness to wrestle wills with Sauron through the palantir, but experiences great pangs of doubt, as when Frodo and Sam are lost and Boromir killed.

In this, he is a man like every other man. No hagiographed saint, he.

But he comes through it all to defeat Sauron's forces: he summons the dead, heals the sick and wounded, and slays evil. And he does it all through a subtle combination of cardinal virtues: temperance (his willingness to wait to wed Arwen properly), prudence (his sure-handed strategy saved the battle at the Pelennor Fields), justice (negotiating good and merciful treatises with the men of the Harad and Rhun). And, of course, the constant presence of courage, including his willingness to face the black riders and to pass through the dreaded Paths of the Dead and summon the deceased to his aid.

His hard life of virtue brought Middle Earth a good and wise king. The threads of the soul were woven into a strong man. The virtuous soul of the leader helps to form a virtuous people, Plato knew, and a virtuous people make a land good. Through the character of Aragorn, Tolkien ends his great work with no doubt that Middle Earth would be a good place for many years.