Elrond and Peter Jackson's Aragorn
Jackson has elected to remove the certainty of Aragorn's fate with a Modern's personification of self doubt. And he has done this because he sees Aragorn as the central character of The Lord of the Rings: the third installment is called, after all, The Return of the King. For Tolkien, Aragorn is heroic because he is a Hero. For Jackson, Aragorn is a hero because he becomes one. 

Analysis by Greg Wright


THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
MONTHLY FEATURE: MARCH 2002

Elrond and Peter Jackson's Aragorn  

This page was created on February 6, 2002
This page was last updated on May 31, 2005

Elrond and Peter Jackson's Aragorn
In April, 2004, this web page was annotated to address errors in the text. Click on highlighted text to review errata.

Elrond the Warlord

For many die-hard Tolkien fans, The Fellowship of the Ring  will be memorable for its visualization of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves against Sauron. The opening sequence (with voice-over courtesy of Galadriel), in conjunction with the flashback sequence during Gandalf's conversation with Elrond in Rivendell, provides the audience with the perhaps unexpected treat of a visit to the end of Tolkien's Second Age. Yet many a Tolkien-steeped eyebrow may be raised at the role that Elrond is given to play in the Last Alliance, and his commentary at the time of Frodo's arrival at Rivendell.

In Tolkien's version of the story (it still seems odd to write such a thing), the Last Alliance is forged between Isildur's father, Elendil, and Gil-galad, the greatest of Elven warriors in Middle-earth. Gil-galad and Elendil both perish in the desperate battle to overthrow Sauron. Isildur stands by his father at his death, while Elrond, as Gil-galad's herald, is by the Elf's side as he falls. Isildur goes to on regain the throne of Gondor, of which Aragorn is the legitimate heir while Boromir is next in line, after his father, as Steward. Elrond spends the whole of the Third Age guarding Imladris (Rivendell) against the Enemy while counseling, and eventually housing, the Dúnedain, or heirs of Gondor's twin North Kingdom, Arnor.

Elrond the Lecturer

Elrond's actions and behavior in Jackson's version of the story become hard to explain. Here we find Elrond presented as, perhaps, the very leader of the Last Alliance; as there is no mention of Gil-galad, it is hard to tell. After the fall of Sauron on the slopes of Orodruin, Elrond also ostensibly becomes Isildur's chief counsel; and is apparently miffed to the tune of three thousand years that Isildur did not take his advice: "I was there, Gandalf," he says, as if Gandalf didn't already know. "I was there three thousand years ago. Isildur took the Ring. I was there the day the strength of Men failed. I led Isildur into the heart of Mount Doom, where the Ring was forged, the one place it could be destroyed. It should have ended that day. But evil was allowed to endure. Isildur kept the Ring." The one thing that three thousand years has not taught Elrond, apparently, is to speak less condescendingly to his superiors.

He goes on to lecture Gandalf about the brokenness of Man: "The line of Kings is broken. There is no strength left in the world of Men. They are scattered, divided, leaderless." To which Gandalf replies: "There is one who could unite them, who could reclaim the throne of Gondor." That is, Aragorn.

Aragorn the Self-Doubting

Now here we find Gandalf telling Elrond something that Elrond should also know full well, since Aragorn was actually raised in Elrond's household, and was even informed of his true identity as Isildur's heir by Elrond. But then, that was Tolkien's Aragorn: Estel, the Hope of Men, Elessar the Elfstone, foretold by prophecy, by vision and by name; the bearer of the shards of Narsil, and in whom it was said that the might and nobility of Númenor could be seen again. When Tolkien's Aragorn is introduced at Bree, he comes complete with credentials and introductions from Gandalf, even his own rhyme: "All that is gold does not glitter / Not all those who wander are lost..." Jackson's Aragorn, however, only comes with a five-o'clock shadow, a nickname and some clever repartee. We can at least be grateful that Jackson didn't revert to calling him "Trotter," as Tolkien originally did...

Why does Elrond speak so disdainfully of the Man who is pledged to his rough-and-tumble, stallion ridin' daughter Arwen? Why is it left to Legolas to stick up for Aragorn in the Council of Elrond? Why does Aragorn seem so, well, in need of therapy, instead of like Mad Max?
 

Aragorn the Heroic 

One reason, of course, is the usual concern of compact efficiency in the narrative; another is the need to reduce the number of characters; and a third is the need to introduce historical background through the mouths of principal characters. But oddly enough, in a version of Tolkien's story where almost every act of faith is replaced by an act solidly supported by knowledge and fact, Jackson has elected to remove the certainty of Aragorn's fate with a Modern's portrayal of self doubt. And he has done this because he sees Aragorn as the central character of The Lord of the Rings : the third installment is called, after all, The Return of the King. For Tolkien, Aragorn is heroic because he is a Hero. For Jackson, Aragorn is a hero because he becomes one.

Further Understanding Jackson 

Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn, has been questioned about his portrayal, and tells the press that Aragorn is less about "being" and more about "becoming." We certainly see this as The Fellowship of the Ring progresses. After Gandalf falls in Moria, the Hobbits collapse in grief outside. It is at this moment that Aragorn takes charge, encouraging Boromir, Gimli and Legolas to keep the Hobbits moving. Even Boromir's attitude toward Aragorn begins to change at this point, and in his dying breath in Aragorn's arms he declares, "I would have followed you, my brother: my captain, my king!"
Again, it is in Jackson's creative choices that we find clues to his intent. Yes, he has left out much of Tolkien's character-defining backstory for Aragorn; but the invention of three key scenes (Elrond's conversation with Gandalf, the grief of the Hobbits outside Moria, and Boromir's death in Aragorn's arms) makes it clear that Jackson's Aragorn is a Man who will have to win the hand of his betrothed. In this way, and through the expansion of Arwen's role, Jackson has managed to turn The Lord of the Rings into more of a romance than was intended by Tolkien. Is this for good or ill? That all depends on how much of a purist one is. For me, it makes the story work better as a movie; and I look forward to further transformation of Aragorn, which in turn points to the "transformation by the renewing of the mind" that is possible for all in Christ.

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