As part of our holiday festivities this year, our family has been watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy again.  As we are not used to much movie-watching, we have been going rather slowly—about an hour and a half each night.  The slow pace, however, is a bit more conducive for thinking about all those vivid, lurid, fascinating visions that hover so magically in the otherwise dark glass of the television screen.  It would be interesting sometime to write a sketch comparing the Television with the Mirror of Galadriel.

This time the Mirror, in addition to showing me Middle Earth, has also show me a few things about myself.  I dislike Aragorn.  The reasons for the dislike are three.  He is aimless, he is soft, and he is rude.  (“Aimlessness” and “softness” do not appear in any of the lists of Vices I have consulted lately, but I am using them here as vices and intend them to sting accordingly.)

The charge of aimlessness is fairly apparent.  Elrond says in the “Fellowship” film that Aragorn has “turned from the path of kingship.”  Why is not clear; what Aragorn is doing is also not clear; and the point at which he begins to seek kingship again is not clear.  This hero clearly does not have a grasp of his own destiny.

Although mere aimlessness might be pardonable, being “soft” in Middle Earth is one of the worst vices a Ranger can have.  (There is a worse vice, but I will not get around to that for another few paragraphs.)  Tolkien frequently refers to the Men of the North being “hardy,” “tougher than other men,” and Gandalf once refers to Aragorn as being “the hardiest man living.”  No doubt this “hardiness” includes a muscular component, perhaps even stringy hair and a few days without shaving.  But hardiness means much more than that.  Surely the better half of hardiness is psychological: the will to endure, the will to lead a band of men through the paths of the dead when any other mortals would be overcome by terror, the will to bear all manner of hardship without complaint.  Tolkien’s Aragorn is something of a Stoic.  He is never so overcome by frustration, for example, that he kicks a helmet in a fit and then flings himself, roaring, to the ground.

Hardiness is just as important for the contests of Love as for War.  Hardiness in Love means that the love perseveres when there is no hope.  Tolkien’s Aragorn falls in love at 20, and he never falls in love again, regardless of whether he may ever wed Arwen.  Curiously, a hardiness in love means an unwillingness to play with the feelings of anyone else.  When Eowyn falls for Aragorn, Tolkien’s Aragorn gives her no encouragement.  To be sure, he is not rude.  But there are no exchanged glances, no embraces at the moment of victory (well, Tolkien’s Eowyn wasn’t at Helm’s Deep to be embraced, anyway)—in short, no flirting.  For Tolkien’s Aragorn, incidentally, there are also no luxurious and rather suggestive flashbacks about Arwen.  Tolkien’s sense for love’s delicacy of feeling forbade such things.

Delicacy of feeling, apparently, does not rate high in the list of things that Jackson is capable of capturing on film.  This is most apparent in the monstrous Rudeness of Aragorn—his barbaric insensitivity to good breeding and good manners.  Consider his first meeting with Frodo in the Prancing Pony.  Tolkien’s Strider first asks Frodo for a talk later in the evening, then quietly follows him to his room, then spends several paragraphs making sure that Frodo is not a spy and trying to show Frodo that he is not, and finally draws his sword only to show that it is broken below the hilt.  Strider never does violence to Frodo during this meeting—he does not, for example, physically drag Frodo into his room and then thrown him forcefully onto the floor.  (In most cultures this is not considered a polite form of greeting.)

“But,” someone may object, “Jackson had to convey a sense of urgency in the movie, and of Aragorn’s strength and intensity of character, and of his knowledge of how great an evil Frodo risked by putting on the Ring.”  Surely this is true.  Strength, intensity, and knowledge are all virtues that Aragorn possesses as a descendant of the line of Kings.  But surely this is also the point about good manners!  To be well-mannered is to carry your strengths in such a way that you hurt no one by them.  Tolkien emphasizes nothing so much as he emphasizes this in connection with the Rangers.  “They say little,” one of the Rohirrim observes about the Dunedain in the Return of the King, “but they are courteous.”

The Rudeness of Aragorn is not confined to his manner of introducing himself.  In general, he lacks of a sense of decorum, of timing, of appropriate gestures and tone of voice.  He rouses the grieving Hobbits too soon and too roughly after Gandalf’s fall.  At Boromir’s death he tries to show some sign of respect—he touches his forehead, then his chest, and then having thus half-crossed himself, he awkwardly touches his mouth.  (What, we wonder, is the meaning of this bizarre action?)  At Helm’s Deep he greets Haldor with an apparently appropriate sign of laying his hand over his heart, but then he ruins all with a rough-and-ready bear hug (which, incidentally, Jackson intends to be a breach of decorum, as we can tell by Haldor’s stiff surprise).

But the worst of all occurs in the third movie before the Black Gate.  Sauron has sent out his messenger—his Mouth—to parley with the Lords of the West.  In the book, Tolkien’s Aragorn takes the gaze of the Mouth of Sauron and they stare each other down, with the result that the Mouth quails and cries, “I am a herald and ambassador, and may not be assailed!”  The interesting thing is that Gandalf and Aragorn acknowledge this.  They theaten the herald with death if he does not return to Mordor swiftly, but they do not actually harm him.  The point is important.  So ancient is the role of the herald, and so important is it to preserve this sort of mediation in times of war, that not even Sauron’s herald should be mistreated.

In the film, of course, Aragorn simply slices off the fellow’s toothy head.  Great stroke, Mr. Bravado.  And bad news for the role of “ambassador” in Middle Earth.

My conclusion is this.  Jackson and company, seeing that Aragorn is supposed to be the epitome of heroism in Tolkien’s story, recognize that the image of the “destined, single-minded King,” the non-flirtatious lover, and the self-restraining Stoic simply are not the material of heroism for the Screen.  They are therefore forced to make Aragorn over into something that the average teenage skate-boarder, or the average middle-aged car mechanic, or the average wanna-be Clint Eastwood, or the average blonde with male pinups all over her room, would recognize as being admirable.  So they give us a new Aragorn:  unkempt, weak-willed, unable to rule himself, but (in the words of several of my friends) hot. In my terminology, Jackson’s Aragorn is a real Hunk.

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