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The Warrior Figure


Obvious as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, or Hans Solo in Star Wars, less obvious as Fielding in A Passage to India or Sirius Black in Harry Potter, the warrior figure in literature has many common traits across the world of fiction. Like Aragorn, Hans Solo or even Fielding, these characters tend to start off as duplicitous - they are presented to the reader as potentially villainous, with loyalties not quite to be trusted, shadowy. This ambiguity is their characteristic quality.

Aragorn, in The Lord of the Rings, is clearly one of these archetypes, of the kind described in the book How Stories Really Work. They are figures in transition, often losing a father in the process, and the long arc of Aragorn’s story follows this pattern from the beginning.

Aragorn lacks at least one parent, his father Arathorn having been killed by an orc arrow, and he doesn’t know who he is or his role in the world throughout his strange childhood. His foster-father is Elrond, for example, who was, to be sure, as gracious as he could be to the young bereaved mortal boy, but who was an Elflord whose own father was the Morning Star. Early on, Aragorn gets an idea of the immense burden he carries, the heritage of Men as a race, stemming from the alliances with the Elves thousands of years in the past, and the destiny of the Kings of Arnor and Gondor and their war with Sauron. As if that wasn’t enough, around this time Aragorn meets and falls in love with Arwen, daughter of Elrond, princess of the Elves, already over two and a half thousand years old when they meet.

For twenty three years Aragorn disappears from our view, undertaking great journeys and battles against the forces arrayed against the West, working both for the King of Rohan and the Steward of Gondor in disguise. Aragorn could have turned dark at any time, overwhelmed by the void within him, faced with impossible goals and an unreal love. His identity as a man is put to the test. The gloom of these years clings to him and his burden does not lessen: Elrond, with his Elvish sense of the rightness of things, gives his foster-son permission to marry his daughter, on the condition that he must first become king of both Gondor and Arnor, for only a king would be worthy of Arwen's hand.

When Aragorn first encounters the four fleeing hobbits in The Prancing Pony, in The Lord of the Rings, we readers don’t know anything about this back-story. Nevertheless, its darkness lingers in the initial description of the figure in the shadows:

Suddenly Frodo noticed that a strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall, was also listening intently to the hobbit-talk. He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.

'Who is that?' Frodo asked, when he got a chance to whisper to Mr. Butterbur. 'I don't think you introduced him?'

'Him?' said the landlord in an answering whisper, cocking an eye without turning his head. 'I don't rightly know. He is one of the wandering folk -Rangers we call them. He seldom talks: not but what he can tell a rare tale when he has the mind. He disappears for a month, or a year, and then he pops up again. He was in and out pretty often last spring; but I haven't seen him about lately. What his right name is I've never heard: but he's known round here as Strider. Goes about at a great pace on his long shanks; though he don't tell nobody what cause he has to hurry. But there's no accounting for East and West, as we say in Bree, meaning the Rangers and the Shirefolk, begging your pardon. Funny you should ask about him.'

But at that moment Mr. Butterbur was called away by a demand for more ale and his last remark remained unexplained. Frodo found that Strider was now looking at him, as if he had heard or guessed all that had been said. Presently, with a wave of his hand and a nod, he invited Frodo to come over and sit by him. As Frodo drew near be threw back his hood, showing a shaggy head of dark hair necked with grey, and in a pale stem face a pair of keen grey eyes.

'I am called Strider,' he said in a low voice. 'I am very pleased to meet you. Master Underhill, if old Butterbur got your name right.'

'He did,' said Frodo stiffly. He felt far from comfortable under the stare of those keen eyes.

That uncertainty about Aragorn is mirrored in Luke Skywalker’s uncertainty about Hans Solo and in many protagonist’s doubts about this companion in stories. In Comedies and Epics these figures often emerge as the love interests for the female figures - examples abound, including Darcy and Captain Wentworth in Austen’s novels, who begin somewhat overshadowed but who are redeemed by their heroines later.

In whichever story they appear, however, they eventually shake off the suggestions of duality and become kings, generals or leaders, doers, husbands, men of action and command.

It is Aragorn who wins the military side of the War of the Ring, Hans Solo who rescues Luke and becomes General Solo, Fielding who stands up against British injustice in the trial of Adela, Sirius Black who commands power in Harry Potter.

Darcy loses his pride and becomes a mover of events; Boo Radley comes out of hiding to save the children in To Kill a Mockingbird; Jules Winnfield rejects his criminal background and decides to 'walk the earth' in Pulp Fiction.

So these characters we have become accustomed to call warrior figures are figures in transition and move out of their shadows in the course of a wide variety of fiction.

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