For Aragorn “An Hour Long Prepared Approaches”

At this point of the story Tolkien leaves Pippin and Gandalf in Minas Tirith as the dawnless day begins that heralds the beginning of the assault of the forces of Minas Morgul upon the city. We return to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli and Merry just after Gandalf leaves with Pippin as they prepare to ride with Théoden to Edoras and Aragorn speaks to his companions.

He tells them that Théoden will go to “the muster that he commanded at Edoras, four nights from now. And there, I think, he will hear tidings of war, and the Riders of Rohan will go down to Minas Tirith. But for myself, and any that will go with me… it is dark before me. I must go down to Minas Tirith, but I do not see the road. An hour long prepared approaches.”

Aragorn knows that this is his moment of destiny. He has lived upon the earth for nearly 90 years and each one of them has been a step towards it. He was born to a noble but dwindling people in the north who carried little more than a memory of the greatness of the past. His father, Arathorn, was killed by orcs when he was just two years old, and so he became the heir of Isildur and chieftain of his people. He was named, Estel, meaning hope, and went to live in Rivendell and Elrond became as a father to him.

One day Elrond called him by his true name and gave him the heirlooms of his house. “Here is the ring of Barahir,” he said, “the token of our kinship from afar; and here also are the shards of Narsil. With these you may yet do great deeds; for I foretell that the span of your life shall be greater than the measure of Men, unless evil befalls you or you fail at the test. But the test will be long and hard. The sceptre of Annúminas I withhold, for you have yet to earn it.”

What words to speak to a young man of twenty years of age! What gifts to give to him! In Peter Jackson’s films this moment is recalled just before Aragorn takes the Paths of the Dead when Elrond gives Andúril,  Narsil reforged, to him with the words, “Be who you were meant to be.” It is a fine moment in Jackson’s telling of the tale but in his telling Elrond gives Aragorn the sword as a beaten man with a dying daughter and his people leaving for the ships. In Tolkien’s telling of the story Elrond addresses Aragorn as one of the great lords of Middle-earth at the height of of his powers. When such a father speaks, his very words convey power upon his son. How we need more fathers like him!

The ring of Barahir speaks of Aragorn’s mighty lineage. It was the ring that Beren carried when he and his beloved Lúthien won a Silmaril from the iron crown of Morgoth in his impenetrable fortress of Thangorodrim. The shards of Narsil speak of his mighty ancestor, Elendil, on the day that he stood against Sauron before the gates of Barad-dûr and fell in the battle. It tells of how Isildur took the shards of the broken sword and cut the Ring from the finger of the Dark Lord and so defeated him winning long years of peace for the world. The sceptre of Annúminas speaks of a throne that Aragorn must still win through his deeds.

It is this lineage to which Aragorn must aspire and that he thinks of as he speaks to his friends. He also recalls that Elrond told him that only the king of both Arnor and of Gondor would be worthy of the hand of his daughter, Arwen. This is his destiny. This is the moment through which he has been through so many hard tests in order to face. Will he achieve his destiny or will he fail at this last and greatest test?

So few young men ever get to hear words like this from their fathers or those who stand in the place of fathers to them. One generation of beaten and embittered men sends the next generation disabled into their adult lives so that they are boys in men’s bodies. In the sacrament of Baptism our children are anointed with the same oil that is used at the coronations of our kings and queens. This is intended to proclaim to them that they are sons and daughters of the living God. When will we teach our children who they really are and what their destiny is?


19 thoughts on “For Aragorn “An Hour Long Prepared Approaches”

  1. I hate to mar this moving and significant post with irreverence, but as someone who often incorporates Lord of the Rings dialogue into my conversations, I have to thank you for recalling this particular line! In academic situations, I can easily see this line adapting to the ominous: “An hour long prepared lecture approaches.”

    On a more serious note, I am also glad for the chance to reflect upon the difference between the text version of Elrond addressing Aragorn and Peter Jackson’s version. I have to say I love both, for a few reasons.

    The first is that I think Jackson’s deviation does a wonderful thing for modern viewers – I feel like he really translates that moment into a context that makes sense in film in a way that the brilliance of Elrond’s magnanimity in the text might have been lost on screen, similarly to how Arwen sort of stands in for several different elves in the Jackson film. As nice for book fans as it would have been to be closer to the text, there’s no way a casual viewer would be able to connect to that many different characters – or remember their names – in a way that would move them through the story. I think it was a great way to pull that moment into the main narrative (rather than adding it to the backstory), but also refocus in on other thematic elements that were true to the text (despair, hope, etc.).

    The second is that having two versions that work for the same purpose makes it feel more like a living mythology to me. Random deviations from the text feel like errors (oh, Hobbit films…), but such purposeful changes (the purpose being to keep the story “true” in varying contexts of storytelling) give it an air of higher truth – an air which I think Tolkien was going for the whole time. If he wanted to build a mythology, we can’t really get too caught up in the canonization of details if the core elements are preserved. Just how tall was Fionn mac Cumhaill, anyway?

    But this is a major digression from your topic! To address your last paragraph, I can’t help but think of Eowyn as an example of someone who lacks such anointment (and who is explicitly denied it because of her gender) and yet finds greatness anyway. I am sure there is well worked out feminist theory that would be useful to the topic in general, but I’m afraid that is outside of my expertise. I may have to go looking into it anyway!

    • I like it! I suspect that you won’t be able to resist using that one in future. Back when I was a school teacher my favourite quotation as the bell rang was, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls…” I think yours is better!
      I really enjoyed your reflection on Tolkien and Jackson. There are certain elements of Jackson’s telling of the tale that I I don’t like. The Faramir and Denethor story is one. But I think he is right to tell the story of the relationship between Aragorn and Elrond in the way he does. The alternative would have been to use flashbacks and in order to do justice to Aragorn’s story there would have had to be many. I could have used “Be who you were meant to be” as an alternative title to this piece.
      I am going to have to think about your thoughts on Eowyn as against Aragorn and that is because you have made a just point. Eowyn does transcend the role she is assigned in her society. Many thanks for this.

    • I want to reflect a little more on Eowyn after a good night’s sleep and a beautiful walk on a lovely spring morning. But just a thought first on the way mythologies develop. I was thinking about the Grail myth and how it took so many turns throughout the Middle Ages that its origins become quite lost. Some modern writers even begin to present it as a kind of objective history, naming no names! I suspect that we won’t ever lose Tolkien as the originator of this mythology but will other telling, not least Jackson’s, become as prominent. Tolkien wanted to create a mythology for England. It seems to me that it is more universal than that.
      On Eowyn I was struck that whereas Aragorn is spoken to, addressed, in the manner that Elrond does, a way that sends him OUT to love and adventure, every word spoken to Eowyn is about remaining WITHIN. There is so much to explore here. Over a number of years now I have found Richard Rohr’s work on men’s spiritual journeys very helpful. Of course, by that, I mean, helpful to me. Through it I have become aware of how few men are ever spoken to as Aragorn is. Of the four archetypal energies of which Rohr speaks (king, lover, magician, warrior) for most men it is only the warrior that is developed and even then only in an immature way (rebel without a cause unless it is the cause of my own self aggrandisement). In my own story I had to learn about my father mainly by watching. He did not speak much. I look back now and see that his experience of the army in 1944 and the years following had a profound effect upon me. I never became a soldier but I was sure that a true life should be an adventurous one. I could speak of much more that I received from him but that must take place somewhere else.
      Rohr’s work has been so helpful to me. Has anyone done similar work for women? I think of my daughters entering adult life. Both are fascinated by philosophy, by the way. In this blog I would like to think about the way that Eowyn’s story is reflected upon. There are four women who have offered their own insights in the comments section of the blog, yourself among them, who I would like to ask to write a guest blog about her. It strikes me that there are a number of places in the story where that might happen:
      i/ her captivity and creeping sense of entrapment, ii/ her relationship with Aragorn and her hope of rescue, iii/ her despair and search for a warrior’s death iv/ her triumph over the Lord of the Nazgûl and descent into black despair, v/ her healing and her finding of love with Faramir. What a story! What a woman! Do tell me what you think about this.

      • Interesting! I would have to think about it a bit, but I’m definitely intrigued by the prospect of writing about Eowyn in particular.

        As to recommendations for women’s spiritual journeys, I’m not sure I know what you’re looking for – I’m not terribly familiar with Rohr’s work, unfortunately. I’ve recently gotten into Julian of Norwich and Christine de Pizan (medieval female mystics), and I’ve also always found Hildegard and Heloise to be helpful and interesting reads.

        Judith Butler and Iris Marion Young are contemporary figures who deal with femininity and personal growth directly in a really interesting way. They’re not spiritual, exactly, but speak to the issues of confinement, interiority, and agency that are relevant to Eoywyn’s journey. I’ll read a bit more about Rohr and see if I can think of anyone else who might be a good parallel. St. Therese’s Story of a Soul might be relevant? I’ll keep thinking.

      • Thank you so much for the recommendations for possible reading on women’s spiritual growth. I have read Julian a number of times and have never thought of her as specifically writing for women but as a universal figure. I wonder why? On the writers who are not “spiritual, exactly” I guess that is a reference to language. Questions of confinement, interiority and agency seem to me to be spiritual ones although these writers may not use traditional spiritual language.
        The relationship between Theresa and John of the Cross would be worth exploring. She respected him greatly but he was not one of her favourites and she had them.
        Thank you so much for being prepared to think about writing about Eowyn. Increasingly I think of her as one of the strongest characters in the story.

  2. Those who say Tolkien did not have any strong women have no idea what they are talking about – Eowyn and Luthien are incredibly so. I don’t agree with Jackson’s version of Elrond and Aragorn. The book versions were much better. Yes, indeed, we need strong men to guide their sons (and daughters) through life. I am very close to my father. Please pray for him. He is so ill and weak from various health issues. Le hannon!

    • And, of course, Galadriel too. The temptation might be to make her so goddess like that we forget that she is a woman who makes a long hard journey to the wisdom that she learns.
      I will be glad to pray for your father.

  3. “for I foretell that the span of your life shall be greater than the measure of Men, unless evil befalls you or you fail at the test.” I love this so muchly much! So, there is something, dare I say, inherently Christian in the “I foretell… UNLESS.” There is always the uncertainty in which exists both hope and fear. The awareness that Elrond can see many things, but even the Valar themselves cannot see all things. Also, withholding the scepter until it’s earned. Aragorn may be born to be a King, but he must still earn his own birthright. XD

    Also, being the Dwarf-lover that I am, I love the fact that though the role of elf and man are clear in Aragorn’s history, the Dwarves are there as well, both in the knife that cut a silmaril from Morgoth’s crown, and in the shards of Narsil, that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand. The relics of Aragorn’s house seem to be symbolic, as Middle Earth moves forward into the Age of Men, and the Elves and the Dwarves fade, both have left their legacy with the heir of Isildur.

    “So few young men ever get to hear words like this from their fathers or those who stand in the place of fathers to them. One generation of beaten and embittered men sends the next generation disabled into their adult lives so that they are boys in men’s bodies.” Ach, this aches.

    • I think that all of our lives and all that we do in them are subject to being tested. The times of challenge are so important. It seems to me that this links to the conversation that we have had in relation to Pippin’s cheerfulness. Elrond gives neither bitterness nor self-congratulation to Aragorn. It all goes so much deeper than that. The “long defeat” has not embittered Elrond or made him angry or cynical. What a gift to give to a young man whose task is to lead a defeated people. And what a contrast to Denethor. And you can contrast the demeanour of the Grey Company and the defenders of Minas Tirith as well.

      • “The “long defeat” has not embittered Elrond or made him angry or cynical.” And how. That is one important difference between Elrond on the books and the films. Film!Elrond has a lot of anger and bitterness… not really the keeper of the joyful “Last homely house.”

      • I have just returned from my daughter’s graduation filling our house with a car load of her stuff! That seems like a pretty good ambition, to keep a “homely house”.

      • I have been thinking about “homely houses” in the last few days. Mine is certainly no Rivendell. In Europe (and I still think of myself as a European despite the votes of so many of my fellow countrymen and women) it is a place like Taize that comes to mind. I have been there twice and there are always large crowds of largely young people from many countries gathered there. The place that has been coming to mind is Crickhollow. My cottage is not even a Bag End. But then, just as I sat down to write this, it was Tom Bombadil’s cottage that came to mind. Crickhollow is just a place to pass through but Bombadil’s cottage has deep roots. It is not given to us to stay long upon this earth but it is something to aspire to. A few years ago I felt a sense of call to a simple rule of life, to pray and to practice hospitality. By hospitality I do not mean just my home, although this week we have a nephew staying with us and this weekend some friends from Germany are coming over; I want to make myself available to others to be hospitable towards them even when I am in their homes as a guest. Yesterday I visited a young woman whose husband was recently killed in a work place accident. To be hospitable then was to give all the time that she needed without any worry about what I was doing next or how I was coming across, even whether I was doing my work “right”. Today I am visiting care homes and meeting a couple about their wedding on Saturday. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I long to be somewhere else but I aspire to get it right.

      • Aspiring, trying, and covering our failings with prayer are, I think, the best we can hope for, being as we are. God can do marvelous, nay, miraculous things with us, flawed as we are.

      • It’s encouragement I need, too. Especially right now. On an intellectual level, I know the world has been this crazy before, or even crazier, but… it’s still hard to watch the insanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s