NOV / DEC 2012: BY CHARITY BISHOP
Tolkien fills his stories with elements of Christian theology and symbolism, particularly when it comes to his many Christ-figures. These include Frodo (the “Suffering” Christ, bearing a burden of Sin to its destruction), Gandalf (the wizard who is more than he appears, and after sacrificing his life for others, comes back “glorified”), Arwen (who intercedes for and sacrifices her mortal life for those she loves), and even Sam (as the eternal helper and servant). But never is the Christian theology more clearly expressed than in the story of Aragorn as it unfolds in The Lord of the Rings.
Our introduction to Aragorn is as a stranger in a wayside inn. He is far more than he first appears, for under the rough exterior beats the heart of the King of Gondor. Like Joseph took Mary and young Jesus to Egypt to escape his death at the hands of King Herod’s armies, Aragorn was taken out of Gondor to Rivendell after the death of his father, to spare his life so that he might grow up into his kingship. Like Christ gathered disciples about Him, Aragorn takes under his leadership the Hobbits in Gandalf’s absence. He defends, leads and teaches them so that each may continue on in his absence. He tries to guide Boromir in the way of truth, until like Judas, Boromir betrays his trust and tries to take the Ring from Frodo. Yet in his final moments, when Boromir identifies Aragorn as “my captain and my king,” Boromir indicates that his heart has changed, and softened toward the “savior” of Middle-earth.
When Aragorn is tempted by the Ring, he refuses it… just as Christ refused Satan’s temptation, and went on to suffer but triumph.
Others encourage Aragorn to embrace his destiny earlier than is required, but he instead waits until the proper time. When it is finally time for him to become the man he’s born to be, Aragorn is given Andúril, a sword that was reforged from the broken shards of Narsil, the blade that struck the Ring from the hand of Sauron in the First Age. Andúril represents the Sin of Aragorn’s ancestor, Isildur, who let the Ring survive. It is reforged for Aragorn, which reminds us of Christ’s ability to take a sinful life and renew it. Aragorn takes Andúril into the Paths of the Dead, where through its influence (through defeating sin) he takes control of the long-dead army of Gondor, and emerges as King of the Dead. Christ did the same thing in death; it couldn’t hold Him, there he prophesied to the dead spirits, and when He was resurrected, many dead came back to life and walked through the streets of Jerusalem.
Aragorn’s separation of Arwen, his eternal love and his greatest source of faith in his ultimate triumph, is reminiscent of the separation of Christ from the Church (Believers), until they are reunited under the newly blossoming Tree of Gondor, in his very own “New Jerusalem,” when Aragorn is crowned King. Like many Christians over the centuries, Arwen never gives up on Aragorn, even when it’s in her best interest to do so. She believes in him. She waits for his return, and is rewarded with the happiness that her sacrifice brought about: he marries her.
There are significant differences in the books and films. The theology is the same but the presentation is different. In the books, Aragorn is never a “reluctant king.” He is simply waiting to fulfill his destiny, thus the symbolism is much more intact. He carries Andúril with him from the start and lets no other man touch it, signifying that Christ was always equipped with the power to defeat sin, just waiting for His Father to say “it is time.”
In making Aragorn fearful of his destiny, the writers of the film series enabled other characters to play much more significant roles and in many ways, further blatantly illustrated the symbolism of their lives. With Aragorn reluctant to embrace his destiny as the King of Gondor, Arwen becomes a much more powerful character, since she believes in him even when it seems he may abandon or disappoint her. Her sacrifice is greater, since we can’t be certain Aragorn is worthy of it. But her faith in him is justified and in the end, her father allows them to marry without further concern. Aragorn’s upbringing also reveals Elrond as much more of a God figure in his own right, since he never does more than nudge Aragorn toward his destiny. He knows what he wants for him, and what is best for him, enabling him along the way, but still the choice is left up to Aragorn.
Aragorn not only reminds us of Christ, he exemplifies what may come of a life when we cease to fear our sinful origins and place our trust in God’s plan for our life. Our denial of God is rather like movie Aragorn’s fear of embracing his heritage. Until he accepts that he is a Son of the King, he can’t be all that he was meant to be. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!