• Daniel Kephart

Being Aragorn

The great crisis faced by young men in the West is simply this: The statues are all shattered and broken. The modern male hero is embodied by Chris Pratt's Starlord, and he's an idiot. Young men everywhere are being told they should relate to an idiot who believes intergalactic strife can be solved by dancing.

PSA: I'm not bashing Chris Pratt. He's a talented actor, everyone's favorite face on Parks and Recreation, and a very intelligent comedian.

Yet Guardians of the Galaxy was a small comic franchise before it's film debut, and Marvel possessed a lot more elbow room for rebuilding its characters to their taste. Starlord is, apparently, what Marvel wants young men to aspire to be. And that's not great.

Yet if Starlord's sideburn-sporting character hides anything of value, he keeps it in his name. Starlord, Lord of the Stars. At heart, for good or ill, every man bears an aristocratic impulse. There is a dominion-seeking willpower common across humankind that men codified into the image of the king. And in the past hundred years of literature, there is no better king than Aragorn, Son of Arathorn.

Some of you just got chills.

Now, I'm going to look primarily at Aragorn as Peter Jackson portrays him, since that's what most of us are most immediately familiar with. That said, I also want to pull in some of Tolkien's original text, because it highlights why so many people adore Aragorn's character.

Essentially, it can all be broken down in three things: 1) Aragorn as wanderer, 2) Aragorn as sacred warrior, and 3) Aragorn as the returning king.

Everybody loves a good wandering warrior--and Tolkien definitely delivers. When we first meet Aragorn, we know him only as Strider, a mysterious Ranger of the North. Here's how Tolkien paints him...

A strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall, was also listening intently to the hobbit-talk. He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.

In the film adaptation, Peter Jackson does a great job of framing Viggo Mortensen (the actor who portrayed Aragorn) in the shadow of his hood, his keen eyes only illuminated by the dull red embers of his pipe. Immediately we know he doesn't belong in a little inn like The Prancing Pony. He's an outsider--a wanderer.

He's out of place. That's important, because you've probably noticed by now that you're out of place as well. Despite your best efforts, you are generally not all that great at fitting in. The same is true of Starlord, of course, which is part of why we can resonate with both Marvel's goofy protagonist and Tolkien's deadly ranger.

We are all a little out of place in this world. As adolescents, we realize that we aren't quite like our parents. We're our own people, and it's our responsibility to figure out how to survive in this chaotic world of ours.

And the best way to do that is to be a sacred warrior.

Aragorn embodies what we all love about the principled leader. He's fierce and rugged, but also restrained. He's the sort of person who knows how to use his sword, but doesn't pull it out until he's forced to. This is a far cry from Starlord, who talks a big game but usually doesn't manage to back it up.

When the chips are down, you don't want a guy who trusts in his dance moves to be your leader. You want a sacred warrior. Unfortunately, those kind of men and women are hard to find.

That's because they're in exile. Like Aragorn, we've banished these sort of individuals from among us. On the one hand, that's because they make us uncomfortable. They remind us of our failures. Humans aren't really into that.

The good news is, the exile seems to be ending, to some degree. The West, after hundreds of years of denial, is beginning to realize that it's been craving strong female role-models. Every day, more and more young women are coming to the rescue of western business, education, and politics.

Unfortunately, young men are backsliding. The decision of our cultural leaders to put men like Starlord on the big screens of America is resulting in a slow collapse of our society's belief that young men can be both dangerous and noble simultaneously. We don't want sacred warriors anymore.

On the surface, anyway. Who knows, maybe a return of the king is incoming? If so, the west can enter a new golden age of kings and queens never before seen.

We just have to keep our eyes on those hooded figures smoking in the corner.

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