Tolkien 101 is a series of short articles designed to introduce new Tolkien fans to important characters, concepts, and vocabulary from the published works of JRR Tolkien.
If you were introduced to Tolkien’s works through Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, or if you are just curious about the background of Tolkien’s invented world (his “Legendarium”), then these articles are meant for you.
If your sole familiarity with The Lord of the Rings is with the Peter Jackson film trilogy, then you probably only know Aragorn son of Arathorn as the handsome, brooding, scruffy loner with the broken sword who looked so dorky in that crown at the end of the third movie, of which he is the titular character. But there’s a huge backstory behind Aragorn, and this article will fill you in on the basics.
First, some surprising facts, some of which are revealed in the Extended Editions, some of which didn’t make it into the movies:
- • Aragorn and Arwen are cousins, albeit in a really bizarre way
- • He was raised as a child by Elrond at Rivendell
- • Aragorn may look about 40 years old, but he’s really 87 when he meets Frodo (and wait until you find out how old Arwen is)
- • He may seem like a lone scruffy, ground-sniffing, Athelas-chewing ranger; but he’s in fact the chief of a whole army of rangers
- • His names include Aragorn, Estel, Strider, Stick-at-naught Strider, Thorongil, The Dúnadan, Longshanks and Wingfoot; when he became king, his name was King Elessar I Telcontar, sometimes Envinyatar
- • Aragorn and Arwen had three children
- • Aragorn had already met Gollum, having hunted him down and captured him, delivering him to Legolas’ people
- • He died at the age of 210, with Merry and Pippin buried beside him
- • In the first draft of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn was a Hobbit named Trotter; good thing there was a second draft
Here, as briefly as possible, is the history behind Aragorn son of Arathorn:
About 3,000 years ago, Elrond had a brother named Elros. Both were Half-Elf, Half-Man. Elrond chose to become a Lord of the Elves, but Elros became a King of Men. Aragorn is a descendant and heir of Elros, with Isuldur (the guy who cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand) as an intermediate ancestor.
Meanwhile, Arwen is Elrond’s daughter. She’s about 2,700 years old. This is how Aragorn and Arwen are cousins, but once removed on one side, 300 times removed on the other.
After Isildur died and lost the Ring in the river, there were two kingdoms: Gondor in the south, and Arnor in the north. Gondor did pretty well, but Arnor had all kinds of problems. It split into three kingdoms, which were eventually destroyed by the Witch King of Angmar, who was the leader of the Ringwraiths in disguise.
Arnor was turned into mostly a wasteland, and the descendants of the kings of Arnor lived in the wild, occasionally stopping in Rivendell for a mug of cocoa and a hot bath. These “rangers” were called the Dúnedain. Their leader was the rightful heir to the throne of Arnor, and when The Lord of the Rings begins, this is Aragorn.
At some point a bunch of Hobbits showed up from the East, and founded The Shire. If you ever wondered how the Shire and Bree could be so peaceful and tranquil, and why they never got attacked by Orcs or eaten by Wargs, it’s because the Dúnedain were there to protect them. The Hobbits and Men in the area distrusted and feared the Dúnedain, giving Aragorn all kinds of nasty nicknames.
From the time Arnor fell, Elrond held in his possession the three heirlooms of the royal house: the Shards of Narsil, the sword that broke when it cut off Sauron’s Ring finger; the Ring of Barahir, a very important artifact from The Silmarillion; and the Sceptre of Annúminas, the royal scepter of Arnor.
Elrond gave young Aragorn the shards and the ring; but said he could only have the scepter and marry his daughter if he defeated Sauron and became King of Gondor and Arnor. Since Aragorn was 20 when he met Arwen, and Tolkien didn’t believe in pre-marital relations, that means Aragorn waited almost 70 years to get some nookie. No wonder he was so scruffy.
For a few decades Aragorn traveled the world, visiting the Far East and serving in the armies of Gondor and Rohan. While the Aragorn in film trilogies expresses doubt about his qualifications to be king, the literary character has no such story arc. He’s driven to defeat Sauron and save the West, probably because of the whole virginity thing.Aragorn, Arnor, Arwen, Dúnedain, Elrond, Elros Tar-Minyatur, Gollum, half-Elves, Narsil/Andúril, Rangers, Ring of Barahir, Sceptre of Annúminas, The Lord of the Rings (book), The Lord of the Rings (movie trilogy), The Shire, Trotter (non-canon), virginity, Witch King of Angmar