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: