The Rings of Power has been airing for a little while now. Love it or hate it, it has at least presented us all with one thing: an excuse to talk about this series for uncomfortably long periods of time again. Which is what I’m going to be doing right now.
Not that I’ve ever needed an excuse…
The transition between the LOTR books and the original Peter Jackson movies is an interesting one. They didn’t just settle for axing certain scenes to fit a film’s runtime. In some cases, they reworked the characters themselves to bitter fit into a more exciting and engaging cinematic experience.
And no character embodies this better than the King of Men himself: Aragorn.
Before we dive into the differences between book Aragorn and movie Aragorn, let’s look at what remains the same between the two versions. In both, Aragorn is a rugged, experienced ranger who goes on to be a noble and mighty king. He’s a firm man who will firmly put his foot down in an argument, but he’s still kind and even has a sense of humor. In either version of the story, he’s a badass through and through.
The only real fundamental difference isn’t in his character arc itself. Rather, it’s the timing of events.
For starters, let’s look at book Aragorn. When we first meet Aragorn in the books, he’s fully ready to embrace his destiny as the future king. After meeting Frodo and joining the party, he declares that the time has come for him to claim his birthright. Then, in Rivendell, he is given Andúril before he sets out with the rest of the Fellowship. From there on, he frequently uses the sword, using it as a symbol to prove himself to others.
In that way, Aragorn’s story is over before it really begins. He’s already emotionally and physically prepared to become the king. All that remains is for him to actually take the throne. It’s still an exciting story, but it doesn’t offer much for emotional growth on his part.
Now, let’s look at movie Aragorn. Unlike his counterpart in the original novels, Aragorn in the films denies his destiny. He’s afraid that he’ll end up making the same mistakes his ancestors did, so he rejects his claim to the throne. When the Fellowship sets out from Rivendell, Aragorn does not do so with Andúril in hand. The Sword that was Broken remains behind, still waiting.
Throughout Fellowship, movie Aragorn adamantly tries to avoid the path to Gondor. He refutes Boromir’s every argument at every turn, often becoming quite angry at the other Man. It’s only after Boromir’s death that Aragorn realizes that he must face and accept his destiny; if he doesn’t, the White City and the race of Men will fall.
Then, over the course of Two Towers, Aragorn tries to put himself in the position of king. In doing so, however, he comes into conflict with Theoden, the king of Rohan, who doesn’t much care for Aragorn telling him what to do. In this movie, Aragorn’s drive to become the king he’s destined to be is tested. A test he passes, as he inspires his companions to ride out to battle one last time against absolute despair.
Finally, we reach Return of the King. It’s here that movie Aragorn reaches the point that book Aragorn started at. Now fully prepared to become king, Aragorn is finally given Andúril by Elrond in order to pass one last test. Once he overcomes this final trial, he leads the forces of Rohan and Gondor to the Black Gate, finally completing his arc and fulfilling his destiny.
Neither version is inherently better than the other. Book Aragorn works just fine because his arc isn’t the centerpiece of the story, but a small part of it; wrapping it up quickly like Tolkien did let him focus more on the other narratives going on in Middle-Earth. Movie Aragorn’s arc was much more in the forefront, so it needed more time to develop over the course of three films. Plus, that version is engaging and exciting, just what you need for films like these.
Either way, we can all agree that Aragorn is one of the greatest characters in LOTR. Whether he’s Viggo Mortensen or words on a page, he has a presence and power few other characters in fiction can claim to have. LOTR wouldn’t be the same without him.
Maybe that’s part of why people are so mad about the Rings of Power? I dunno, I haven’t watched it yet.