Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Some Thoughts Regarding Tolkien's Aragorn

I wrote this as a comment to this Wonderful thread, and I thought I'd share it on my blog here.

The original post is about how Aragorn of the Books differs from that of the movies, and why. Interesting post. The comments were also very worth reading, and this post is in reply to one which suggested that Tolkien's hero was something our modern world can not quite accept because our culture does not allow us to have unadulterated heroes any longer. "We expect our heroes to be flawed and human, and have doubts about their true potential which they must overcome as they grow and change", as the OP puts it. So my comment here is in response to this idea.

I would also add that there may have been an underlying purpose behind Tolkien’s work that should also be considered. As a professor of Anglo Saxon literature at Oxford Tolkien was steeped in the medieval classics. It was not merely plot devices and literary conventions that occupied Tolkien’s mind, but the spirit of the age of which he wrote.

I read that Tolkien was teaching at Oxford when World War I broke out. He went and enlisted like all patriotic Englishmen. He survived honorably through the worst that the war could throw at him, and from those experiences he gave us such scenes as the nine black riders hunting the hobbits in the wilderness. I read that during the war Tolkien got caught behind enemy lines, and nine mounted German cavalrymen hunted him through the murky woods. I mention all of this to give a rational for saying that we should allow Tolkien the gravitas he deserves.

I think if you asked him, Tolkien would say that Aragorn, as he wrote him, was an embodiment of heroism for all time. In the same way that Thucydides wrote the Peloponesian War “for all time”. Aragorn is meant by Tolkien to be an example, a paragon of what it means for a human being to have a true noble virtue.

I think Tolkien believed that having a myth of our own in the 20th century was something we desperately need as a civilization. We’ve been, I think he felt, mechanized and automated into a heedless lumpy mass, and ground to dust by the weight of our burdens under a sauron-like malevolence known as “Progress”.

I think Tolkien, who saw his share of horrors, believed in the eternal truths of justice, goodness, and love and felt that they must be enshrined anew generation by generation, or the knowledge of them is lost. And that happens only at the last gasp of any civilization.

By renewing the legend of the Good King, through Aragon, I think Tolkien may have felt more that it was his means by which to pass on to the next generation the awe and love of Majesty itself. Love in its majesty is awesome, I think Tolkien would say, because it is Goodness and Strength personified. And each generation must have its champions to pronounce it again so that the people remember and are renewed as well.

My impression is that Tolkien knew something our contemporary angsty age has forgotten. He knew why we could no longer tolerate reading about true nobility. He watched as the old world was torn asunder around him, and the last vestiges of nobility uprooted and destroyed. I think he understood the modern plight far better than most of us do today. He was there before and after the Great War. And I believe there are those who would say, and rightly, that there is a vast gulf between the worlds of Before The War, and after it. And his literature, I feel certain, was his way of reminding us of what was lost.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. I think we should honor Tolkien by trying to understand not only what he wrote, but why, and also what its true influence has been on all of us who are enamored by his wonderful stories. One of the reasons I think we are so attached to them is because they present us with a rare vision of nobility that in the deep recesses of our hearts we still admire.

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