Choice and Serenity: A Lesson from Aragorn

It is some weeks since this blog reflected upon the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, and their pursuit of the captors of Merry and Pippin across the wide plains of Rohan. It has been longer still since we thought about Aragorn’s inner turmoils after the fall of Gandalf; how he was torn between his longing to go to Minas Tirith with Boromir to aid its people in the wars against Mordor and his sense of responsibility to Frodo, the Ringbearer. I wrote about the day when Aragorn ran uselessly here and there as Boromir first tried to sieze the Ring from Frodo and then fell alone in battle trying to protect Merry and Pippin from the orcs of Isengard.

I wrote about the moment when he crashed through the trees into the glade, wielding the mighty sword of his glorious ancestors that had cut the Ring from the hand of Sauron, crying “Elendil”  he did so and finding that the battle was already at an end. At that moment Aragorn was in despair. http://www.stephenwinter.net/page6.htm#140191

“This is a bitter end. Now the Company is all in ruin. It is I that have failed. Vain was Gandalf’s trust in me. What shall I do now?”

The choice that he makes at that moment is one that takes him away, both from the Quest of the Ring and from his longing to fulfill the promise to Boromir to go to Minas Tirith. He chooses to follow Merry and Pippin, the two members of the Company, who, until that point in the story, have contributed least to their task. Any utilitarian assessment of the greatest good at the moment when he makes his choice would tell him that regretably he must abandon Merry and Pippin to their fate and that at least their deaths might be worthwhile if the Ring can be destroyed and Minas Tirith be delivered. But Aragorn is no utilitarian and neither is he a soft-hearted or, might we say, soft-headed sentimentalist. He chooses to trust Frodo’s choice to go on alone knowing that the Council have entrusted him with the task of destroying the Ring. And he cannot go to Minas Tirith having abandoned his comrades. He will follow them even if the pursuit is in vain.

In one sense the pursuit, though heroic, is indeed in vain. It is not through his efforts that Merry and Pippin are freed. It is not Aragorn who rouses the Ents to march upon Isengard. At one point Legolas remarks that they have made this great journey to little purpose and as they journey further into Fangorn Forest Gimli is even more blunt.

“If we do not find them soon, we shall be of no use to them, except to sit down beside them, and show our friendship but starving together.”

Yet Aragorn is serene through all this. “If that is indeed all we can do,” he says, “then we must do that. Let us go on.”

Aragorn has made his choice and once made he will waste no time upon regret. He has done all that needs to be done. We might say that there is some providential link, a synchronicity, between his choice and all the great events that will follow. We might say that if we choose rightly then good things will follow even if we cannot prove a direct link between our choice and the subsequent good. But we cannot prove such a link and Aragorn would not wish to attempt such a proof. He would regard this as an attempt at self-justification and a craven act to which he would never stoop. That is his greatness and the reason why Legolas and Gimli will go with him. And if we would know the peace that Aragorn knows then we too will seek only to make the right choice and then to act upon without regret.

3 thoughts on “Choice and Serenity: A Lesson from Aragorn

  1. Absolutely. This is a very germane reflection. We often, I guess, in the varied circumstances of our lives, wonder about the ‘right’ thing to do. It’s often all too easy to become seduced by what appears to be the obvious common sense option – a ‘no brainer’ as they say. Sometimes this common sense approach is best but, it seems to me, more often than not something more creative and imaginative is required. The path to truth, reality, purpose and value – to the Divine, in short – is seldom clear cut, obvious and, as you put it, utilitarian.

    Aragorn makes space to hear the ‘still small voice’ that spoke to Elijah on Mount Horeb. His inner compass points in the right direction. His faith and trust, after his experience of despair, is solid and secure.

    It’s been a long time since I read The Lord of the Rings to be honest, but if I remember rightly one of the big themes is Aragorn’s discovery of his true identity and his mission, vocation and role in life. We’re all on that journey. We need to believe in ourselves – that our lives have depth and meaning – and believe in God. The two come to the same thing in my view.

    All the best,

    John.

    • I agree with all you say, John and it is good to hear from you again. Tolkien is never explicit about the kind of listening that you speak of but there is litle doubt that within the chaos of the aftermath of the battle at the breaking of the Fellowship Aragorn is able to create space to listen. That ability can only be the fruit of long practice.

      On your point about vocation I think Aragorn has known his identity and vocation for a long time and as he leaves Rivendell with the Fellowship he has Elrond’s words in his ears that only the King of Gondor and Arnor may marry Arwen his daughter. I think that what happens at that moment of choosing is a profound renunciation of all claims that he might have and for the sake of the “least important” members of the company. I think that such a renunciation can only come from someone who has a profound sense of identity and worth; the self-belief that you rightly refer to. I think Paul refers to Jesus in that way in Philippians 2.5-8. In my experience this is quite rare. For most people a sense of vocation is quite fragile and requires all kinds of reassurance from significant others from parents, powerful institutions etc. I only say that because I see that fragility in myself. I think that what you say about self-belief and belief in God being the same thing as profoundly true.

      Let me know what you think.

  2. Pingback: Tolkien Post Master List | Pages Unbound

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