With the narrative in a two-week montage, I’ll be taking a bit of time to look back on time spent in Rivendell. Today, let’s take a look at Strider as mentioned in Frodo’s debriefing by Gandalf upon waking up.
Strider was completely unknown to the hobbits prior to the meeting at the Prancing Pony. Frodo and Sam were both distrustful at first, and Sam’s uneasiness lasted until Glorfindel obviously approved of him. This says quite a bit more about Sam’s blind trust of Elves than it does about his blind distrust of Men, but anyway, that’s how it was.
Frodo had the impression that Big People were stupid. This isn’t really understandable. If he had heard Bilbo’s stories, he would have heard of Bard, who was clearly not stupid. But then, he would have also heard of the Master of Laketown, who couldn’t have made a great impression. At any rate, it’s somewhat surprising that he didn’t compare Strider to Bard.
Instead, he says simply: “I thought he was only a Ranger.” Gandalf doesn’t tell him much, but enough to whet Frodo’s interest.
“But there are few left in Middle-earth like Aragorn son of Arathorn. the race of the Kings from over the Sea is nearly at an end.”
This wasn’t the first time that Frodo heard the name Aragorn. He first heard it from Gandalf before leaving the Shire. He called him “the greatest traveller and huntsman of this age of the world” when telling Frodo about the hunt for Gollum.
Then again at Bree, his name was mentioned in Gandalf’s letter. Even Strider himself played that card: “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.” Finally, Glorfindel referred to him as Aragorn when they first met just after the Stone-trolls.
But this was the first we had heard more. It could be said that Strider was the “greatest traveller and huntsman,” a Ranger. And Aragorn was descended from the “race of the Kings from over the Sea.” Of course, those things were one in the same. The Rangers were the former Numenorians.
“In the north Arnor dwindles, is broken into petty kingdoms, and finally vanishes,” wrote Tolkien in a 1951 letter. “The remnant of the Numenoreans becomes a hidden wandering Folk, and their true line of the Kings of Isildur’s heirs never fails. This is known only in the House of Elrond.”
In the Prologue, Tolkien also explained that the hobbits “forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labours of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it.”
These Guardians were the Rangers. Tom Bombadil also mentioned these men to Frodo at the Barrowdowns. They had just found their weapons and he explained that they had been “forged many long years ago by Men of Westernesse.”
“‘Few now remember them,’ Tom murmured, ‘yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding form evil things folk that are heedless.'”
The narrator tells us that “the hobbits did not understand his words.” They had no idea that the Shire was guarded, that it had been guarded long before the One Ring came back with Bilbo. They were merely performing their duty, protecting their former lands from evil. They were basically ninja knights.
While Bombadil went on a bit about this, and while the hobbits listened without comprehension, they had a vision of “a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim with bright swords, and last came one with a star on his brow.” They could have had no idea that this man was Strider, whom they would meet the following day.
Lastly, Strider himself mentioned being from that line. When they were on their seventh day out from Weathertop, Strider told them a bit about the towers near the Trollshaws, explaining that he knew these things because “the heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past.” The hobbits, again, didn’t pick up on this.
Even with all these clues, Frodo still didn’t have enough to go on. He could possibly have figured out that Strider wasn’t just a Ranger, but what did that even mean to him? He had heard tales of Numenor and knew from Strider that their line still existed, but would the name Elendil have meant anything to him?
It certainly should have. During his visit with Frodo in the Shire, Gandalf gave a brief account of the Ring and how it came to be with Bilbo. He mentioned the Men of Westernesse, as well as Isildur, introducing him as “Elendil’s son,” as if Frodo should know who that was.
So if he had been listening, he could have known that Strider was descended from Elendil and the Numenoreans. If the hobbits had been more mindful of their history, rather than reading books “filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions,” maybe they would have remembered that the Guardians, the Rangers were the Dunedain, the Men of Westernesse.
Bilbo (and maybe Farmer Maggot?) was probably the only hobbit to know of Strider’s true identity. Maybe he had even mentioned him in passing to Frodo, who knows – certainly not Frodo, his listening skills leave much to be desired.
A Few Notes
- Yeah, yeah, I get that Frodo was seriously wounded through some of this. But the other hobbits weren’t.
- I know that my friend Jeff wants me to go on and on about the Numenoreans, but what if this was all I had to say? I bet Tolkien explained the crap out of them in some letter or something.
- You know that I’ll get to it, be patient!
About the Photo
Fact: the Rangers hide in the bushes, sometimes disguising themselves as old Mail Pouch Tobacco ads.
- Day 98
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 485
- 435 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,293 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped east of the Bruinen, along the foothills of the Misty Mountains. (map)