The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 240-243
It was Leonard Cohen who once commented that when two men first meet they always do a war dance around one another. I think that I might add that it is when the space between them is in any way a contested space that the dance will take place. This may not happen immediately as it is not always clear in what way they might be in competition with one another but unless it is clear where the authority lies in their relationship there will come a time when the war dance will take place.
Are we surprised that in the case of Boromir and Aragorn it takes place almost immediately. We have already been introduced to Boromir’s pride. It had to wait impatiently while Elrond spoke and it is to the young man’s credit that he listened in silence even as the Lord of Rivendell told the tale of the years, speaking of Númenor, of Elendil, Isildur and of Gondor. Boromir is the son of the Steward of Gondor, one of the mightiest of the Lords of Middle-earth even in that land’s decline and there is due pride in that position; but there is also the pride that belongs to a young man who is not yet entirely certain that he has earned his pride, who feels that he must still convince others of his importance.
So it is that in a room full of seasoned warriors and heroes he has felt it necessary to speak of Gondor’s greatness and of his own heroism too; and so it is that when the lean-faced Ranger clad in a weather-stained cloak casts the blade that was broken upon the table before Elrond Boromir responds with a challenge.
“Who are you, and what have you to do with Minas Tirith?”
I am sure that you have noticed that Tolkien uses the word, cast here as Aragorn first introduces himself to Boromir. He could have chosen to place the blade carefully upon the table but as he declares to all that he is the keeper of the “Sword that was Broken” it is done with the crash of metal against wood. There is more than one man who is taking part in this war dance. The Heir of Isildur has announced himself and the manner in which he does so has its effect. Boromir looks “in wonder” at the lean face.
We have noted that Boromir is a young man in search of his own heroic identity and so he feels the need to assert that which, as yet, he is not entirely assured of. We have heard him speak of Gondor’s greatness, of his father’s wisdom, of his first encounter at Osgiliath with the Morgul Lord, an encounter that ended in defeat and flight, the receiving of a message and a journey over the lands between Minas Tirith and Rivendell. All this is worthy of respect but in comparison with the deeds of Elrond, of Gandalf, of Glorfindel and of Aragorn himself it does not amount to very much. So why does Aragorn find it necessary to enter the war dance with this young man? Does he too feel insecure?
We have to acknowledge that to a degree Aragorn is insecure at this moment in the story. This is the moment in which he first begins to claim the throne of Gondor and to do so to a young man who will one day have to swear fealty to him as liege lord. If Boromir is just starting to grow into his own heroic identity Aragorn is only just beginning to grow into his kingliness. Perhaps this is why Bilbo offers him indignant support and perhaps too, after Aragorn offers his own heroic credentials, his own defence of the free lands of the north, the thankless nature of the task and his own great journeys to lands that to Boromir are merely the place of legend, Aragorn returns to his humble demeanour. After he asks Boromir if he wishes the House of Elendil to return to Gondor receiving an awkwardly defiant reply in return he speaks once more of himself.
“Little do I resemble the figures of Elendil and Isildur as they stand carven in the halls of Denethor. I am but the heir of Isildur, not Isildur himself.”
The journey that lies ahead will be the proving of both of these men but at this moment all lies in the future. At this moment Boromir and Aragorn look uncertainly at one another.