FOTR: Bk 1, Ch 10
"Go on then!" said Frodo. "What do you know?"
"Too much; too many dark things," said Strider grimly.
How ironic that a character who would become so central to the plot of The Lord of the Rings should be created with so little direction in mind. Tolkien admits quite candidly that when he first seated this strange man in a dark corner of the Prancing Pony he really had no idea how he would ultimately fit into the story. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he writes in letter number 163 that "I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo". Over time, however, he was able to give Strider quite a bit of backstory - laying the foundation for the role he would play as the heir of Isildur.
The rangers of the North were descended from the Dunedain (pronounced DOO-na-dine), a race of men who escaped the destruction of Numenor and sailed to Middle-Earth during the Second Age to establish the Realms in Exile of Arnor and Gondor. The Dunedain were considered the noblest race of men and, having been enriched with elven-blood, they were blessed with a lifespan approximately three times that of ordinary men.
After the Northern Realm of Arnor failed due to war and kin-strife, those later generations of Dunedain became scattered. They were reduced to the role of protectors of the lands that made up the former kingdom. In fact, although the presence of the Dunedain rangers was unknown to the residents of the Shire, it was their efforts to keep the forces of evil in check that allowed the land of the hobbits to enjoy its isolation from the rest of Middle-Earth.
Aragorn (Strider's true name) and his Dunedain kin stayed closely allied with the Elves and from them they were able to derive great wisdom and learning. They were also fluent in the Elvish languages. After Aragorn's father, Arathorn, was killed by an orc-arrow, he and his mother, Gilraen, were taken under the protection of Elrond in Rivendell. Being descended directly from Isildur, Aragorn's destiny becomes tied to the fate of Ring and ultimately the future of Middle-Earth.
After most of the guests have left or retired, Frodo and his friends returned to the parlor where they had dined to meet with Strider, who informs them that he has important information that would be advantageous to them. The only price he asks in return is that they "must take me along with you, until I wish to leave you". Although Frodo is at first non-committal, Strider describes the dangers that surround him in Bree, including the proximity of the Black Riders that are still on his trail and such shady folks as Bill Ferny and his associates from the South.
It becomes clear that Strider's knowledge of the lands beyond would prove useful to the hobbits once they leave the village. And despite Sam's warnings to Frodo (due to his natural distrust of strangers and his protective instinct for his master), Frodo is inclined to at least learn more about this ranger before he decides whether or not to trust him. For this, Strider admires Frodo's prudence. After a time, Barliman Butterbur enters the parlor to tell Frodo that he finally remembered what it was that he had so much trouble recalling. He informs Frodo that he was told to look out for a hobbit that fit his description and traveling under the name "Underhill". His original instruction was also to forward a letter to a Frodo Baggins of the Shire, which he had forgotten to do.
The letter, which he now gives to Frodo, is from Gandalf. After Butterbur leaves, Frodo opens the letter which is dated Mid Year's day (roughly the equivalent of July 1st by our calendar). In it, Gandalf warns Frodo that he must leave the Shire immediately because of some ill news that he has become aware of. While he expects to meet up with the hobbits at some point, Gandalf writes to Frodo that he should look out for a man called Strider, whose real name is Aragorn. As part of the letter, Gandalf includes a passage from a legendary poem:
"All that is gold does not glitter,The poem describes the prophecy of the true heir of Isildur re-forging the sword Narsil (which was broken at the Battle of Dagorlad fighting Sauron) and returning to seek his rightful claim as king of a united Arnor and Gondor. That heir of course is Strider. Interesting to note is that the last four lines of the above poem are included in Peter Jackson's The Return of the King and are spoken by Arwen.
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
Incidentally, there is a gaffe committed by Tolkien in the text of Gandalf's letter. The letter was written on Mid-Year's Day, months before Frodo ever left the Shire. However, one of the postscripts warns Frodo "Do NOT use It again, not for any reason whatever!". As of that time, Frodo had not used the Ring ever. Tolkien was no doubt referring to Frodo's use of the Ring at Tom Bombadil's (not to mention) his most recent instance earlier that evening. But unless Gandalf had a pretty good hunch that Frodo would use the Ring before receiving the letter there is no reason he should warn him not to use it "again". Likely this was an editing error from early drafts before Tolkien had fully worked out the circumstances of Gandalf's absence. In fact, in an original outline, Strider (under the early name Trotter) was the one who gave Frodo a version of the letter, having received it from Gandalf himself. Evidently at this point Gandalf's imprisonment at Orthanc had not yet been thought of.
Frodo asks Strider why he didn't tell him that he was a friend of Gandalf at the outset. He answers that without the letter, it wasn't likely that he would have believed him. What's more, Strider adds "I hoped you would take to me for my own sake. A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But here, I believe my looks are against me." The reader is able to sense the kind of loneliness that Strider must feel as a wandering ranger. At this point, he bears his true identity to Frodo: "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn; and if by my life or death I can save you, I will".
Throughout his works, Tolkien uses this theme of the importance of one's identity and protecting it by not revealing one's true name. This is especially true of the dwarves. There is an old superstition that by choosing to give your real name to someone you don't know, you are ceding an advantage to them over you. For Tolkien, a person's name has power. This is why so many times in The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is referred to as "the enemy" of "the shadow of the East" rather than by his true name. So Aragorn's revelation is a significant show of trust for Frodo. And this is the beginning of a bond that is formed between the ranger and the hobbit that will strengthen over time. Frodo agrees to let Strider be their guide.
At this point the reader can be forgiven for forgetting about Merry, who had decided to stay in the parlor for a bit and then go out for a walk. He returns at that moment, out of breath, reporting that he has seen a Black Rider, on foot and talking with someone on the street not far from the Prancing Pony. They decide it would not be safe to go back to their room and instead they gather up their belongings and sleep in the parlor. They plan to depart early in the morning.
Before he goes to sleep, Frodo looks out the window up into the starry sky. Once again Tolkien has Frodo observe a sight familiar to the reader. He looks up to see a constellation called the "Sickle". In a footnote at the end of the chapter, Tolkien points out that this is the hobbits' name for the "Great Bear" (Ursa Major). We also know this familiar star formation as the "Big Dipper".
[Chronology: September 29th through September 30th 3018 T.A.]
Next: A Knife In The Dark