“The Choice Was Just and It Has Been Rewarded”. Why Did Aragorn Choose to Pursue Merry and Pippin?

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-653

When Aragorn chose, with Legolas and Gimli, not to follow Frodo and Sam but to go across Rohan in pursuit of the orc band that had taken Merry and Pippin to Isengard it was a brave choice but also one of despair. When he had set out from Rivendell with the rest of the Fellowship his purpose was to fulfil his destiny. Through all that was to lie ahead of him, whether war in Minas Tirith or a journey with the Ringbearer to the Cracks of Doom, he would claim the throne, both of Gondor and Arnor, and he would claim Arwen, daughter of Elrond, to be his bride. For Elrond had told him that only the king, both of Gondor and Arnor, could marry his daughter.

Aragorn longs for his beloved.

Perhaps it was always a desperate hope but, step by step, he was determined to pursue his hope right to the very end. But then Gandalf fell in battle against the Balrog in Moria and his hope was dashed. Not even when Galadriel gave him the green stone of his ancestors, borne by Eärendil himself was his hope truly rekindled. Not even when she said: “Take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!”

So it was that when the Company was attacked at Parth Galen and Boromir fell and Merry and Pippin seized by orcs Aragorn chose to pursue them. Until that moment he had felt that he had two choices. Either he would go with Boromir to Minas Tirith and play his part in the defence of the city or he would go with Frodo to Mordor and there to do all he could to try to destroy the Ring. He felt in his heart that it was his duty to go with Frodo, especially after the fall of Gandalf, but that same heart longed to go to Gondor where his destiny lay.

Aragorn choosing at a moment of sorrow and despair. Inger Edelfelt depicts the scene.

All this was taken from him at Parth Galen. Boromir fell in battle seeking to defend Merry and Pippin and Frodo set out for Mordor taking Sam with him. What little hope remained to him that he might yet fulfil his destiny was taken from him. What lay ahead was what he knew was a fruitless task. He would pursue the orc band that had taken the young hobbits across the plains of Rohan and probably die in an attempt to free them. The pursuit took him to the Forest of Fangorn where he even wondered whether he might starve to death alongside the companions that he had tried to rescue.

And then he met Gandalf in the very place in which he expected to die beyond all hope. On the one hand he is filled with joy as hope is rekindled. On the other hand he wonders what the vain pursuit of Merry and Pippin was for.

Gandalf speaks to him.

“Come, Aragorn son of Arathorn!” he said. “Do not regret your choice in the valley of the Emyn Muil, nor call it a vain pursuit. You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right: the choice was just and it has been rewarded. For so we met in time, who otherwise might have met too late.”

Aragorn chose a path that that was utterly alien in nature to the dark forces ranged against him. For they saw all things and all creatures as objects merely to be used for their own purposes. This was true from Sauron and Saruman right down to the meanest of orcs. He chose to lay down his life, his dreams and deepest longings, in the service of two figures that seemed to be of little more value than lost luggage. Gandalf describes the choice as just. Aragorn acted justly in choosing to serve the weak. And he speaks of reward. He speaks of a sense that reality itself rewards such choices. Sauron and Saruman would dismiss such talk as mere sentimental drivel and typical of the weakness of people like Gandalf, a weakness that deserved to be swept away. Gandalf, and Aragorn too, have placed their bets upon an entirely different reality. They believe in a universe that is just; not an impersonal even an implacable thing. And, says Gandalf, the choice is rewarded. The universe approves an act of justice and of mercy.

The universe approves the actor justice and mercy. Aragorn would die for Merry and Pippin. Anke Eismann depicts the young hobbits lost in the forest.

10 thoughts on ““The Choice Was Just and It Has Been Rewarded”. Why Did Aragorn Choose to Pursue Merry and Pippin?

  1. Good to have you back again, Stephen. I see Aragorn’s choice as one of a renunciation of his own plans and hopes, and a commitment to what he could do to save Merry and Pippin, for the sake of fellowship, and as a recognition of their loyalty to the Fellowship. He recognised that the fate of the Ring had passed beyond his leadership of the Fellowship. His loyalty to the hobbits was the surest weapon against the forces of Mordor and Isengard, though that was not apparent to him then; he dedicated his fate to the good of others; the opposing forces only concerned themselves with the lust for power. It was by Fellowship that Sauron was defeated, including from this point on in the story that between Frodo and Sam. One last point: Gandalf was the right choice for the Valar to send to Middle Earth precisely because he was afraid of Sauron and thought he was not up to the task, in contrast to the pride of Saruman. Aragorn laid aside pride and power and joined himself to the weak, who would ultimately prevail. A lot to think on.

    • Perhaps I pressed my case about Aragorn’s despair a little too strongly. I agree with you about his act of renunciation and his total loyalty to every member of the Fellowship. But at the same time I think that he had lost hope. There are so many references to hope and to having to do without it in the section between the fall of Gandalf and his return. What do you think?

      • Thanks for your reply. I think Aragorn laid aside hope in his own capacity to control events, and instead placed his hope in the ultimate success of the Quest, despite all, that would be achieved by Frodo and Sam and the free peoples of the West. It was a wager, rather like Pascal’s wager of faith, to commit to what is good and true, even if that may end in failure. The outcome is uncertain, but is trusted in faith. Aragorn had wrestled with his sense of fitness as leader of the Fellowship after the fall of Gandalf, lamenting the wrong choices he thought he had made. He made the right choice because he trusted in what he could not control. The theme of hope is central to the whole story: Elrond at the Council says that the Quest has no certainty of success, yet is the right course to take. Galadriel told the Fellowship that the Quest hung in the balance. The crisis came at Parth Galen with the fall of Boromir to temptation. He repented and gave his life for Merry and Pippin; this created the twist of fate in the tale that gave Aragorn the choice to do what he could to rescue the captives. The fate of the Ring was no longer in his hands. You are right to stress the co-existence of hope and despair in this part of the tale.

      • Thank you for your thoughts here, Chris. I appreciate them very much. I particularly liked your connecting of the free choice of Boromir, a victory so hard won, and the way that it creates the space for Aragorn to choose freely as well. That was a completely new thought to me and one that resonates both with the rest of what you say and my own understanding of the character of Tolkien’s writings. That quality of making the good a greater possibility in others.

  2. Thank you for this reflection. It highlighted for me the terrible costs we are paying in these times of predatory capitalism and the values and myths we will need to help sustain us in these dark ages.

      • Living in Alberta, Canada; land of fire, flood, and terrible storms, it is becoming clear that our primary purpose should be towards helping the victims. Discontinuing the “business as usual” which made us some of the richest people on earth and contributes to the ongoing climate and ecological crisis will be crucial. Like Aragorn we will have to abandon our personal hopes to step up and help others in dire need. Whether we will remains to be seen.

      • Thank you for sharing that, Bob. The image that came to mind as I read your thoughts was how, as Aragorn abandons his personal hopes for the sake of his companions, he ends up by being right where he needs to be, with Gandalf in Fangorn. He could not possibly have planned this. He did not even think such a thing to be possible. He just did what he thought to be right. Thr just choice.

  3. This is the primary theme that keeps me coming back to The Lord of the Rings over and over: hope in the midst of overwhelming despair. I don’t always believe it’s true, but I desperately want to believe.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s