One True King: An Exploration of the Jungian Male Archetypes in LOTR

in literature •  last year

Perhaps more than any other character presented in J.R.R. Tolkien’s High Epic Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, Aragon resembles and posses the most memorable, compelling, and arguably, the central heroic journey in the text. The journey from a ranger of the north to the rightful King of Gondor, is closely mirrored in Biblical and medieval texts and carries a common theme—there can only be one rightful and honored king. Comparatively, other characters fail at achieving the same role as Aragon, and therefore must seceded their powers to his rule; particularly so the weak king, Théoden of Rohan, and the tyrant and selfish steward, Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. Readers must then ask, what is necessary in the creation of a King of Middle-earth? It is my argument that Aragon is the rightful king because he is first and foremost divinely appointed. Secondly, he is both a good soldier and lover. Lastly, Aragon is the rightful king because his companions, Boromir and Faramir, recognize said call and in turn are empowered by their king—Aragon the true king of men.
In order to first understand how Aragon achieves his role as the rightful king, one must understand as to why the other men fail. Within the book The Two Towers, Tolkien is intentional in pointing out Théoden’s weakness within the text, describing him as a, “man so bent with age that he seemed almost a dwarf” (501). There is also a sense of his movements being slow and his need of a, “short black staff with a handle of white bone” in order to stand (501). While these images describe Théoden under the poisonous counsel of Wormtounge, once freed and no longer in need of a staff, there is still a sense of age to him. Upon realizing that a war may be eminent, Théoden admits, “I fear that already you have come to late only to see the last days of my house” (504). Respectively, his theory is correct. The fact that his son has passed means that there is no direct heir to continue to lead Rohan once Théoden passes. The film also does a good job with picking up on the old and what seem archaic traditions. The more Nordic style of the Great Hall, and less majestic kingdom suggests that Rohan itself is weakened and lesser power over the evil that threatens Middle-earth. Théoden is aware of this and understands that this war will be his last, and that he is not fit to lead after it is has ended.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is the tyrant or selfish steward. Unlike Théoden, who realizes his weakness, Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor, is unwilling to give up his power to go to war. After all, once the war is over he has everything to lose and would no longer be in power, as Aragon would rise to the throne. Introduced in the Return of the King, Gandalf’s warning to Pippin about Denethor’s character contrasts that of Théoden, “Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king” (Tolkien 737). With irony, Denethor stands not with a weak character, but with an arrogant and bitter worldview. Grieving too the loss of a son, Denethor’s reaction is to do nothing against the rising evil that threatens the well-being of Middle-earth. Denethor defends his reasoning and his rule, and unlike Théoden does not desire to secede, or as he tells Gandalf, “The Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy…my lord, is mine and no other mans…” (741). By proclaiming this Denethor is showing himself to fulfill the archetype of the tyrant. It is only through his suicide and madness that he makes way for Aragon to take the throne of Gondor.
Critics of the tyrant king archetype have pointed out what keeps him unfit to rule. Robert L. Moore writes in his book King Warrior Magician Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, “The tyrant exploits and abuses others. He is ruthless, merciless, and without feeling, when he is pursing what he thinks is his own self-interest” (64). Within the film The Return of The King, the most poignant scene to capture this occurs when the armies of Gondor are riding out to battle, and Denethor sits within the hall enjoying feast. His selfishness and arrogance keeps him from fighting with his men, and it is actions such as that which disqualify him as the rightful King of Gondor.
With the understanding of the limitations of the weak and tyrant king the meaning behind Aragorn’s epic journey to become the rightful King of Gondor is enhanced. As readers first engage with Aragon, he is hidden in the dark corner of the Prancing Pony and is unnamed as Mr. Butterbur states, “What his name is I’ve never heard; but he’s known around here as Strider” (Tolkien 153). Readers at once are given an ambiguity of Strider and are uncertain of his motives, but can sense that his role is not to merely sit and smoke in a dark corner. While there is a sense of mistrust, it is out of the dark corner, that Tolkien paints his most prolific character. Revealed in Gandalf’s letter to Frodo, readers see that Strider is actually Aragon, and his fate is foreshadowed with the lines, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all who wander are lost.” This refers to Aragon’s occupation as a ranger of the north. Yet even in his wandering and patrolling, he is not lost but is destined to be king (167). Certainly there is more to the “Strange-looking, weather beaten man” the audience is first presented with (153). Aragon, the rightful king of Gondor, begins his journey to the ascension of the throne upon meeting the Frodo and thus the text plays out the rest of his story.
It must first be understood as to what qualifies Aragon as the rightful king—the properties of the archetype that one must have to fulfill such role and then discuss the means as to how Aragon achieves his destiny. The first requirement must be, without question, that the rightful king must also be a Divine Child. Moore argues that, “everyone in a leadership capacity needs to be connected to the [child] in order to manifest his full potential and advance his cause” (26). While Aragon’s background is absent from the text, Tolkien is careful to point out Aragon’s past in the appendix:
Then Aragon, being now the Heir of Isildur, was taken with his mother to dwell in the house of Elrond; and Elrond took the place of his father and camr to love him as a son of his own. But he was called Estel, that is ‘Hope’, and his true name and lineage was kept secret at the bidding of Elrond; for the Wise then knew that the Enemy was seeking to discover the Heir of Isildur, if any remained upon the earth (Tolkien 1032).
The Divine Child properties lie within Aragon as he is taken away from his original home to dwell with a mentor for safety. Moore argues that his specific myth is told by “the religions of the world” (19). Similar to Christ to Christianity, or Moses to Judaism, the Divine Child must be protected from the threat of evil that seeks to destroy him.
Secondly, the rightful king must also be a soldier or fighter. Moore argues that, “The good and generative king is also a good warrior” (49). Aragon cannot only be the Divine Child but must also be a warrior who is willing to go into battle and fight. Unlike Denethor, Aragon will ride into battle with his men. While battles are not described with depth within the text, Peter Jackson’s films translate them perfectly to the screen. In Return of the King the armies fighting for the greater good of Middle-earth march to the Black Gate of Mordor to buy more time for Frodo to destroy the ring. Facing the overwhelming army within the gates, Aragon faces them with bravery and accomplishes his requirement to be a good warrior as he looks back at his company and says, “for Frodo” (Return of the King). Aragon is made the rightful true king by also being a good warrior in fighting not for his throne but for the sake of the greater good.
The third requirement is that the rightful king must be, “a great lover” (Moore 49). It is the lover within the king that gives him a sense of purpose as love is the, “source of our longings for a better world for ourselves and others” (Moore 140). Moore’s argument suggests that the lover is what keeps the king attached to the human element and “keep them from becoming sadistic” (140). Elrond warns Aragon, saying, “Many trials lie before you. You shall neither have wife, nor bind any woman to you in troth, until your time comes and you are found worthy of it” (1034). In love with Elrond’s daughter Arwen, Aragon is aware that he must complete his journey in order to be married. He must become the fullest positive masculine within himself to become the true king. The love he has for Arwen must then be held at length, as Aragon must leave and fight for the safety of Middle-earth, “Thus the years drew on to the War of the Ring…And it came to pass that in the hour of defeat Aragon came up from the sea and unfurled the standard of Arwen in the battle of the Fields of Pelenor, and in that day he was first hailed as king” (Tolkien 1036). This description of the tale of Aragon and Awren found in the appendix of the text allows readers to see the deeper love story that runs through the tale. Exceptionally well, the film uses the description given in the appendix to herald Aragon as a great lover. Furthermore, it is the love that he bears for Arwen that also justify the case of being king.
It is not the call alone that allows Aragon to become the fully realized king of Gondor, however. It is the journey that he must take and the choices Aragon makes that allow him to achieve his full potential. Elrond speaks to Aragon “A great doom awaits you, either to rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil, or to fall into the darkness with all that is left of your kin” (1034). Much like the dark corner that readers first find Aragon mentioned, his past dwells in Shadows. Descendent of Isildur, he that was weak to the power of the ring, allowed the evilness and soul of Sauron to survive, Aragon must face his past. In order for Aragon to conquest the evil that threatens Middle-earth, he must “rise above” the “darkness” that is within his “kin”.
More importantly, it is not that Aragon must cease his rightful place on the throne and defeat Sauron, but he must also fight the darkness within himself or better yet, the temptation to wield the ring of power. At the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo offers the ring to Aragon upon his realization that Aragon is indeed the heir to the throne:
‘Then it belongs to you and not me at all!’ cried Frodo in amazement, springing to his feet as if he expected the Ring to be demanded at once. ‘It does not belong to either of us,’ said Aragon; but it has been ordained that you should hold it for a while (Tolkien 240).
Aragon’s ability to resist the power of the ring allows him to be elevated in the esteem of kinghood, as he must not stoop to the sins of his ancestors. Aragon is aware that he must not allow the ring to be used by men for it will corrupt him. Denying the power of the ring in comparison to Boromir’s desire for the ring also sharpens the argument of Aragon as king as readers see the power the ring posses the other men that surround it.
Respectively, it is not Aragorn alone that must fulfill his journey to become the rightful king but it is also required that the lesser men deny their own power and realize the rightful king within Aragon himself. Moore argues that, “the king energy is primal in all men” (49). Within the men of the entirety of the text of The Lord of the Rings, specifically Théoden the weak king, Denethor the tyrant, and Boromir and Faramir the sons of the Steward of Gondor—each must abandon the “king energy” within themselves to make way for the one true king. While it is understood that Théoden in battle attributes his death in honor of Aragon it is not the case for and Denethor who selfishly keeps his authority till his demise in suicide. Only, it is important to note fully the interactions between Aragon and both Boromir and Faramir.
While Aragon has many companions, (i.e. Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf), the ones that particularly matter are the ones of his same race. Boromir and Fairimir, both men with chances to be king must face Aragon’s ascension to the throne. Within The Two Towers, Boromir’s death allows readers to see the yielding of power and honor to Aragon for the first time in the text. Boromir apologizes for trying to take the ring from Frodo and charges Aragon saying, “Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed” (Tolkien 404). Aragon accepts his apology with a kiss and says, “No you have conquered. Few have gained such a victory.” Promising to save Minas Tirith, Aragorn accepts Boromir’s yield. Similarly, Faramir begs to surrender his office of the last Steward of Gondor. Interestingly enough, Aragorn does not allow Faramir to step down, “That office is not ended, and it shall be thines and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do thy office” (Tolkien 945). While Faramir yields his powers to Aragorn, Aragorn realizes such yielding and in return empowers both Boromir and Faramir—measuring Aragon to be not only king, but also a servant of his people.
Herein lies the utmost responsibility of the one true king—to lead and empower the people in serving the people, rather than lord his power over them in greatness and demand servitude in return. Moore writes, “the mortal man who incarnates the King energy…while in service to his fellow human beings, in service of the realm, in service of the cosmos,” is the true essence of the rightful king archetype (50). Aragon exemplifies this as he is crowned the King of Gondor in The Return of the King. Readers pick up on a sense of humility within the scene as, “Aragorn did not put the crown upon his head but gave it back to Faramir,” and then requests that “the Ring-bearer” crown him king as “the labour and valor of many” has given him the ability to be king thus attributing the “victory” to Frodo rather than himself. Ideally so, the film picks up on the theme as Aragorn tells the hobbits, “You bow to no one,” and thus bows to them (Return of the King). This act of humility as king is the cumulating moment of the realization of Aragon as the one true king and has a strong impact on such an argument.
It is no question that there is only one true king of Middle-earth and it is obvious for such mentioned reasons that Aragon fulfills the role beyond adequate measure. Aside, from the obvious humility those he posses, it is also due to his ability to be strong, and therefore not weak. Unlike Théoden, who has seen the last days of his house and does not have the age nor the power to conquer the evil of Sauron and lead Middle-earth, Aragorn is both strong and resilient. As the Divine Child he is the one true heir, destined to rise to the throne. In contrast to the tyrannical king, Denethor, Steward of Gondor, Aragorn’s humility and service to the people rather than the lordship of power is the qualifying attribute Denethor is missing. Furthermore, it is Aragorn’s divine right as well as ability to be a good Warrior and Lover. Indeed he not only commands his soldiers but also fights with them, for them. His love for Arwen is his motive and sanity as he must conquer the evil and seize his rightful place as king before he may be married. Moreover, the men that surround Aragon, must recognize the nature of his calling and lay down their own crowns to make way for his majesty. In surrender, however, particularly with Boromir and Faramir, Aragon empowers, encourages, and releases them to fulfill their duty to the throne. In such possession of traits and actions of grace, Aragorn companies the necessary elements to be the true King of Middle-earth and is thus Tolkien’s greatest hero within the works entirety.

Works Cited
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Dir. Peter Jackson. By Fran Walsh. Perf. Elijah Wood,
Vigo Mortensen, Ian McKellen. New Line Cinemas, 2003. DVD
Moore, Robert L., and Douglas Gillette. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the
Archetypes of the Mature Masculine. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. Print.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1955. Print.
Tolkien, J.R.R. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954. Print.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954.

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