The Chieftains

by Varda

This thing is creeping in, the 'movie' Aragorn and the 'book' Aragorn. I find myself pigeonholed in the former, although I have spent thirty years reading the latter, so I think this is a doubtful if not downright dangerous idea.

I have tried to write character studies of the people in this book. It is incredibly difficult. You finish it and at once realise what you have left out. Or you start writing about yourself. These characters contain worlds, they have a core reality but are amenable to many interpretations. Imagine selecting an actor to play one of these characters, selecting lines from the many they speak and directing actions to show their essence. What a nightmare! It can't be documentary; Jackson had to choose a certain interpretation and let it develop its own dramatic life. I think he succeeds amazingly well.

From interviews Jackson seems to have wanted to do it this way or not at all. So the alternative was not to have Jackson bring this film to the screen. Or for some other less talented and conscientious director to squash the whole thing into two films, or even one.

Now, hands up, who would have wanted that?

One faultline between the film interpretation and the book is Aragorn. A lot of people are not happy with him in the film. But Jackson makes it clear from the start what sort of people are in his film; believable characters. Everyone is a real person. Even the High-Elves; in his conversation with Gandalf, Elrond displays pragmatism, dismay, pessimism and an almost ruthless determination to send the Ring away from Rivendell. Aragorn is a hero right from the start, but Jackson is not making Conan The Barbarian, and the audience can't be asked to just take that on trust. In our post-modern world it is not enough to see heroes fighting off orcs; we want to see them fighting off their inner demons as well. To make Aragorn a bit less perfect, a bit less patrician, Jackson gave him a flaw; self-doubt. He is worried about his own inner strength and ability to resist the Ring. This sets up an inner conflict and also creates a tension with the other characters, especially Boromir.

But, Jackson did not make up Aragorn's worries about his abilities. It is in the text. During the Council Of Elrond; Boromir says;

'..we will fight on. Mayhap the Sword-that-was-broken may still stem the tide - if the hand that wields it has inherited not an heirloom only, but the sinews of the Kings of Men'

'who can tell? said Aragorn 'But we will put it to the test one day.'

'May the day not be too long delayed;' said Boromir.

Remember that moonlit scene in the film where Boromir calls Anduril 'only a broken heirloom'? Far from ignoring the text, Jackson has hit on a key passage. Aragorn is very proud of the broken sword; he carries it with him all the time. he shows it to the hobbits in Bree to prove who he is. He admits to the Council that his line has dwindled to a ragged few in the North. This sword is one of their few links to their ancestry. Then Boromir cruelly calls it 'only an heirloom' and suggests that the hand that wields is not strong enough to claim its heritage. And from his reply Aragorn shows that he too knows he has to prove himself.

'Well be quick about it, then' hints Boromir.

If Jackson has whittled away at Aragorn's heroic stature to make him more sympathetic to film audiences, he has made up by giving him some things only film can get away with. It is in the book, of course, but the film reminds us how physically close Boromir and Aragorn are. They are the only men in the Fellowship; they share a high Numenorean lineage. They are both chieftains. Although different in colouring and build, when they line up together they look like brothers. When trouble starts they tend to react the same. They turn their heads to look in the same alert attentive way, like two greyhounds, light and dark. When Gandalf falls in Moria, Aragorn pauses on the stairway out of the mines, unable yet to leave. Orcs are raining arrows onto him, and he ducks them as they fly past. He turns to go and misses his step. Just ahead of him on the stairs you can see Boromir also taking the stairs two at a time, firmly gripping a distraught Frodo.

Thanks, PJ.

Jackson makes Aragorn's relationship with Boromir his proving ground as a leader. After Moria Aragorn is the one that gets everyone up and moving again, Boromir gives way to pity for the others and wants to rest. But being a leader is not just being the strongest, and having got everyone out of Moria and into the safety of L?rien, Aragorn makes a terrible mistake.

Boromir has come to trust Aragorn, and confides in him. Boromir is very proud,and only great inner turmoil would make him do something like this. He is tormented by visions of Gondor's fall. Aragorn is a sympathetic listener, but he misunderstands the signs. When Boromir asks Aragorn has he ever seen the white tower of Ecthelion, he looks away into an imaginary distance, and Aragorn for a moment sees it too, looking over his shoulder. Then the shared moment is over and Aragorn returns to his thoughts of what to do next as leader. But right before him are the danger signs of Boromir's breakdown; his despair, the usual avenue by which Sauron undermines his enemies.

The events at Amon Hen, in book and film appear to show Aragorn has failed as a leader. Everything goes horribly wrong for him. Frodo decides to dispense with his guardianship, and although Aragorn accepts his decision, it is very bitter. In the film he weeps as he lets the hobbit go. In the books he realises the whole fellowship cannot enter Mordor with Frodo, but he had planned to do so himself, with Sam and Gimli. This plan too is overtaken by events.

But although Frodo going his own way is bitter it is not entirely unexpected or unreasonable. But Boromir's death is. Aragorn is off on the wrong side of the hill when Boromir is attacked and fatally wounded. It is cruel chance. Even had they not grown closer together, Boromir is essential to Aragorn's plans to return to Minas Tirith. As heir of the stewards of Gondor Aragorn respects and admires him; they are both chieftains of Gondor. He had expected to rely on Boromir in the war. But more, Boromir loved Aragorn, and in the end admits it to him.

'I would have followed you, my brother, my captain, my king'.

When he is speaking to Arwen in Rivendell, Aragorn says 'the same weakness (as Isildur's) is in my blood.' Now, to comfort the dying Boromir, he says 'I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I will not let the White City fall' Jackson brackets Aragorn's test of leadership with these two words of weakness and strengh. And Boromir, who brought Aragorn's ability into doubt in the first place, seems no longer to doubt it, and is reassured.

There are many places where Jackson is true to the spirit rather than the letter of the book. But not here. Aragorn is devastated by the death of Boromir in both. In the book he grieves that Boromir is dead and he is 'unscathed', as if they should have perished together. He cannot let go of Boromir's hand. When Gimli arrives he thinks Aragorn is also badly hurt, so crushed does he appear. And Boromir's death precipitates a new direction in Aragorn's leadership. Before it was the Quest. Now, with the Ring gone and Boromir dead, Aragorn decides to concentrate on his people, and follow Merry and Pippin rather than head directly to Minas Tirith. Splitting up what is left of the Fellowship does not seem an option, rather getting back what is left of it, even if, as he says to Gimli and Legolas, they only get to try.

sorry, just some murky ramblings in the woods below Amon Hen. Apologies to Aragorn fans...