As Théoden and his escort ride toward Edoras they are overtaken by a company of horsemen riding hard. After initial fears that it is an attack they learn that the riders are Rangers of the North who have come to give aid to Aragorn, their kinsman and that with them have come also Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond of Rivendell. Aragorn is delighted. Only thirty have come but, as Théoden declares, “If these kinsmen be in any way like to yourself, my lord Aragorn, thirty such knights will be a strength that cannot be counted by heads.”
And Théoden is right. This is a mighty company of knights hardened in battle and loyal to their lord. The peaceful communities of Bree and the Shire have long been their care and little peace would they have known without it. So careful have they been to hide what they do that they have received little honour from the peoples that they have protected. Aragorn’s name of Strider by which he first introduced himself to Frodo and his companions at The Prancing Pony in Bree, is no affectionate pet name but a dismissal of one who is little regarded.
And yet the Rangers of the North are Dunedain, sons and daughters of Númenor and the once proud kingdom of Arnor. Over the long years since the wars against the witch kingdom of Angmar they have dwindled and their lord can no longer call himself, king, but only their chieftain, yet they have not shrunken into themselves as Saruman does after the fall of Isengard, who, even when he becomes lord of the Shire, is found to be living in miserable squalor. Their numbers may be few but they are a people who know their own greatness.
And this is because of Aragorn, their lord. Some years ago I came across some words of the 16th century Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, that made a deep impression upon me then and still do today. “How are the people to know that they are faithful unless their captains tell them?”
To know myself as faithful is to know that my life has a purpose, a meaning and a value because it has been given to something greater than itself and it has been given well. The reason why the Rangers do not need the praise of the Shire and of Bree is because they have the praise of one that they honour far beyond them. Aragorn, their lord, named Estel, or Hope, by Gilraen his mother, raised by Elrond of Rivendell, befriended by Gandalf the Grey, loved by Arwen Undomiel, who fought with Rohan and Gondor as a young man is one whose praise is to be sought above any that they know. Think of Aragorn’s first words when he greets them.
“Halbarad!” he said. “Of all joys this is the least expected!”
Then think how you would feel if someone that you greatly respect spoke words like that to you. This is a people who know that they are faithful because their captain has told them and in knowing it they grow into the knights that Théoden speaks of. They are not simply a band of horsemen but a company of knights errant who have come to follow their lord wherever he goes even if it is unto death.
How much we need leaders like that today. Leaders who are praiseworthy in themselves because we know that they are willing to make great personal sacrifice for the sake of those who follow them and who make their followers as much a part of the enterprise that they share together as they are themselves. Too often it seems that the true purpose of an enterprise is to enrich a small number of people while many within it make great personal sacrifice simply to earn enough to get by. When things go wrong it is the loyal followers who must pay the price while the leaders walk away enriched by what others have given to them.
Aragorn is not such a leader. There are some that I have met who have something of his quality but not many. And it is a challenge to me to give thought to how I can be such a leader to others. My sphere of influence may not be great but I can make a difference within it.
8 thoughts on “The Grey Company Come to Aragorn”
Aragorn is a great leader not because he leads from the back as Denethor thinks signifies a great one but because he leads from the front, and even more, because he has a servant’s heart and all leaders who are truly great have such.
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
I wonder if Tolkien was thinking of the generals of the First World World War who remained at a distance from the fighting. Perhaps. But I also think of Denethor as a man who has aged prematurely. He and Aragorn are the same age. He is defeated before the battle starts. Contrast that to Théoden who is saved from that fate. It is such a challenge to us not to lead defeated lives under the shadow of death. We are gloriously alive!
Of course I am greedy to know what lies behind your generous “wow”! But I am also happy to receive it just as it is. Thank you.
Just catching up with great joy on some of your blog posts, Stephen! I have been missing them but the weeks fly past so fast. I’m wary of saying things that you have already said, but I loved your words here…thank you
I wonder, tentatively, whether the true leadership of Aragorn, again, is that he himself points beyond himself to something greater.
You rightly say that his followers need not the praise of the Shire folk, for they look to one whom they revere more greatly…. And he, in his turn perhaps, looks again to greater things.
He has pride and courage and his is no false modesty, but there is not an ounce of misplaced self-oriented arrogance in Aragorn. He gives himself, and as such, he inspires and leads that in others…. Perhaps?
And yes oh yes oh yes, the value of joyous love and joyous greetings. The world needs time to stop and smile at each person individually and to say – well met, friend, what a joy indeed 🙂
I have been speaking this week of how much this blog has brought to me… So a little thank you, too, with a smile
How lovely to hear from you again on my blog, Victoria. Please don’t ever be wary about saying anything! If it comes from you then I will always receive it as a gift.
I think that you are right when you say that Aragorn looks to something greater than himself. He is a true Númenorian and like Faramir that memory shapes everything about him. I also believe that Númenor points to something future as well as past in Tolkien’s legendarium. This is a hope that he shares with Arwen and it sustains their personal dreams too.
I also agree that Aragorn is the leader who truly gives himself away. It matters so much to those who follow him that he will lay down his life for them if need be.
A key part of that is the importance of greeting and recognition. It begins with parents being delighted by their children and this remains important throughout our lives. The Catholic theologian, Nicholas Lash, speaks of Aquinas’s basic understanding of love as being delight and that this is fundamental to the relationship of God to humankind and of ourselves to one another. I particularly love the collect for the 6th Sunday after Trinity whose original Latin text contains Aquinas’s favourite word for love and also implies that such love/delight is a discipline. I have been praying that collect and meditating on it for some twenty years now. With the challenges that face us now the discipline of delight that I think the collect calls us to seems more essential than ever. It is at the heart of the best of catholic theology and I think that The Lord of the Rings is shot through with it.
A hopeful PS (!) Do post a comment on last week’s post, Aragorn The Lover. No one has commented yet and I fear that I have not been able to put it as well as I might.
I shall look up the collect with great interest – it’s not coming to mind! And shall certainly read your Aragorn the Lover post and enjoy, I am sure. I am no great Tolkien expert having only read it once with any clarity (due to this blog!), but I do love unwrapping your words!
Love as delight. It is always that, isn’t it. A sort of embodiment of Joy – the verb of the noun, perhaps…. Or perhaps I am being fanciful.
No, I think that love and joy are profoundly interwoven. They are the first words that Paul writes when he lists the fruit of the Spirit. And then comes peace…
It is interesting that Protestant theologians have had some difficulty over the relationship between agape and eros but I am starting to go on to my reflections on Aragorn the Lover and I want you to read that first!
One thing is clear is that the Grey Company know that Aragorn delights in them. He is the captain who tells his people that they are faithful and he does so in a manner that conveys his delight. I would follow a leader like that wherever they went!