Mija Van Der Wege: From Ranger to Ruler: Motivations in Middle Earth
OK. I admit it. I saw The Fellowship of the Ring four times on the big screen. I was already a fan of the books, but when the film was released, I was so captivated by Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, and the others that I wanted to spend more time with them. The original trilogy had described their adventures in exquisite detail, but ignored their psychology, while the films touched on their motivations. One particularly striking example is the parallel struggles of Aragorn and Boromir to accept Aragorn’s transition from wandering ranger to wise ruler.
In Fellowship, both characters are haunted by their ancestors. Aragorn’s forefathers include Elendil, who led the army against Sauron but failed to defeat him, and Isildur, who betrayed mankind by not destroying the Ring. Although destined to become king, Aragorn fears that he, like Isildur, will be vulnerable to the Ring’s manipulation and that he, like Elendil, will fail his people. Boromir’s ancestors are the stewards of Gondor, rulers in lieu of a king. But the glory of Gondor has faded, and Boromir’s father has tasked him with restoring it. Thus, both men are reluctant to see Aragorn crowned. Gondor has no king; Gondor needs no king.
These internal conflicts motivate both men to join the Fellowship. By pledging himself as Frodo’s protector, Aragorn delays his decision. Boromir views the ring as the key to restoring Gondor’s glory. He joins believing that he can persuade the others that it should go to Gondor.
Both conflicts escalate as they journey east. Boromir increasingly realizes that the Fellowship will not change their destination, leading him to thoughts of stealing the Ring. For Aragorn, this confirms that men’s lust for power has not altered since the time of Isildur.
In Lothlorien, both men are challenged by Galadriel. She unearths Boromir’s treasonous thoughts, but instills hope. He realizes that Aragorn, not the Ring, may be Gondor’s remaining hope. He shares this with Aragorn, imagining a day when together they triumphantly ride into Gondor, heralded by their people. In this moment, Aragorn, who has spent his life with elves, has his responsibility to mankind starkly revealed. Galadriel reiterates his lack of choice; he can choose to rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil or to fall into darkness with all that is left of your kin.
The Ring tests both men at the Falls of Rauros. Boromir fails the test, trying to take the ring. After Frodo disappears, he realizes that Gondor’s last hope cannot be the Ring; it must be Aragorn. Aragorn passes the test, overcoming his greatest fear – that he would succumb to the Ring’s allure. Frodo, by leaving, releases Aragorn from his pledge, which frees him to assume the throne and his destiny.
Finally, as Boromir lies dying, he asks Aragorn to save their people, which Aragorn promises to do. Both men have accepted Aragorn’s fate. With his last words, Boromir crowns Aragorn, I would have followed you, my brother, my captain, my king.
Through these internal conflicts and resolutions, I no longer imagined a one-dimensional hero and failed hero, but sympathetic people with hopes and fears – people with whom I wanted to spend my time.