As Aragorn journeys further and further away from Gondor, the place of his dream, on what seems to be the hopeless quest of rescuing Merry and Pippin from the orc host who have taken them prisoner, he encounters a war band of the Riders of Rohan riding homeward from the destruction of that very host. The war band are commanded by Eomer, nephew of Théoden, king of Rohan and against the orders of the king they have set out after the orcs on hearing of their incursion into Rohan. On meeting Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli they challenge them. Aragorn’s response to the challenge is astonishing. He invokes the name of his mighty ancestor, Elendil, the last and only king of the two kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor and then he continues:
“I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!”
Aragorn has no more time for courtesies, however time honoured they might be. This is the true crisis, the moment of doom, of judgement, and courtesy is at such moments simply time wasting. Nor is there time for weighing up what choices might be available. Aragorn has given his command, “Choose swiftly!” and the command must be obeyed whether Eomer chooses for him or against him. Eomer is awestruck, but so are Gimli and Legolas who have travelled with him since Rivendell.
“They had not seen him in this mood before. He seemed to have grown in stature while Eomer had shrunk and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.”
Readers may remember the “kings of stone”. We encountered them on the river journey down the Anduin from Lothlorien and they may remember that Aragorn gave his ancestors a lordly greeting and then seemed to shrink into himself in his boat. It was the time of doubting when Aragorn questioned his very identity. It was the time of his Wilderness Temptation but that time is now over. It may be that in his pursuit of Merry and Pippin Aragorn has had to lay aside his kingly ambition for a time. It may be that he will lay down his life in a vain pursuit. But he no longer does so as a man wracked with doubt. The choice he has made is a kingly choice, a free choice, and he will not be thwarted by any man.
Readers may also have noted that I have used words like “Wilderness Temptation” and “Emptying”. I might also have used the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The witness of the gospels and of the letters of the New Testament to Jesus the King resound with the same language that, in The Lord of the Rings, bears witness to Aragorn, who will be king of Gondor and Arnor. It is not that Tolkien is making Aragorn into a kind of Jesus, but that this language,and the language of the New Testament, reveals true kingship to us; the language first of self doubt and of emptying, and the language also of command. Aragorn has revealed himself to all as their true king.
Choose swiftly! Are with me or against me? The time of judgement has come! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!