The concept of a hero has long fascinated storytellers and audiences alike. Joseph Campbell’s theory of the “monomyth,” outlined in his seminal work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” has provided a framework for understanding the universal journey of a hero across various cultures and narratives (Campbell, 2008). This essay delves into the notion of a hero by analyzing the journey of Aragorn, a favorite character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, without revealing any major plot details. Through the lens of Campbell’s monomyth, we will examine Aragorn’s call to adventure, trials, transformation, and eventual return, shedding light on the timeless aspects that define heroic narratives.
Call to Adventure and Departure
In the realm of literature and beyond, Aragorn exemplifies the hero’s journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell. He receives a distinct call to adventure, setting him on a path to fulfill his destiny (Tolkien, 2014). Aragorn starts his journey as a humble ranger, concealing his true identity as the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. This call to adventure propels Aragorn into the world of heroism, encouraging him to embrace his lineage and destiny.
As Campbell suggests, the hero often encounters supernatural aid, and Aragorn is no exception. He receives guidance from mentors such as Gandalf and Elrond, who help him understand the significance of his role in the unfolding events (Campbell, 2008). These mentors provide Aragorn with valuable wisdom and insights, aiding him in his transformation from a wandering ranger to a leader capable of uniting nations against a common enemy. The hero’s departure from his ordinary world marks the beginning of a transformative journey, wherein he faces numerous trials that challenge his abilities, beliefs, and values.
Trials and Transformation
Aragorn’s journey is replete with trials that test his resilience, courage, and leadership (Tolkien, 2014). These trials mirror the various stages of Campbell’s monomyth, such as tests, allies, and enemies. The hero faces physical and psychological challenges that force him to confront his limitations, but also to harness his inner strengths. Along his path, he forms alliances with diverse characters, each contributing to his growth and development (Smith, 2018). These allies stand as the embodiment of Campbell’s theory that the hero is aided by companions and supernatural forces.
Furthermore, Aragorn’s transformation is exemplified by his acquisition of valuable tools and knowledge, enabling him to become a more capable and self-assured leader (Campbell, 2008). His journey includes moments of self-discovery and realization of his true potential, echoing Campbell’s concept of apotheosis. Through these experiences, Aragorn evolves from a reluctant hero into a figure of inspiration for those around him, highlighting the archetypal nature of his journey.
The Road Back and Return
As Aragorn’s journey progresses, he faces the arduous task of deciding whether to return to his ordinary world or continue fighting for the greater good (Tolkien, 2014). This critical juncture in his journey aligns with the monomyth’s stage known as “The Road Back.” Here, the hero must navigate the final challenges and internal conflicts before fully embracing his transformation and assuming the role he was destined for (Campbell, 2008).
Aragorn’s internal struggle during this phase mirrors the complexities of the hero’s decision-making process. He must grapple with his own doubts and fears, questioning his worthiness to fulfill the prophecy that hangs over his head (Tolkien, 2014). The uncertainty he faces is emblematic of the hero’s need to overcome self-doubt and gather the courage required to confront his final trials. This moment encapsulates Campbell’s assertion that the hero’s journey is not merely a physical adventure, but also an internal quest for self-discovery and growth.
The hero’s return, as envisioned by Campbell, encompasses a triumphant culmination of the challenges faced throughout the journey (Campbell, 2008). Aragorn’s return to his realm is more than a personal achievement; it becomes a symbolic victory for the entire land of Middle-earth. His transformation from a humble ranger to a powerful and noble king represents the fulfillment of his heroic potential and his commitment to a higher purpose (Tolkien, 2014).
The concept of the hero’s return is deeply rooted in the idea of sharing newfound wisdom and insights with the community he sought to protect. In Aragorn’s case, his return is characterized by his ability to unite various factions and races under his leadership (Tolkien, 2014). This unity serves as a testament to his personal growth and the embodiment of his journey’s challenges and lessons. The hero’s return signifies not only the physical return to his ordinary world but also a spiritual and emotional return, where he imparts the knowledge gained on his journey to inspire others to rise above adversity.
Furthermore, the hero’s return often involves a transformation in how others perceive and relate to him. Aragorn’s transition from a mysterious ranger to a recognized and revered king exemplifies this transformation (Smith, 2018). His journey of self-discovery and growth becomes a source of inspiration and hope for the people he leads. This transformation aligns with Campbell’s idea that the hero’s journey serves as a blueprint for personal and collective transformation, illuminating the potential for positive change.
The stages of “The Road Back” and “Return” within the hero’s journey are crucial in understanding the depth and complexity of Aragorn’s transformation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Aragorn’s internal conflicts, his decision to embrace his destiny, and his triumphant return underscore the hero’s multidimensional nature. The hero’s journey, as outlined by Joseph Campbell, transcends mere physical challenges, delving into the realm of psychological and emotional growth. Aragorn’s journey is a testament to the enduring relevance of the monomyth and its ability to capture the essence of heroism across cultures and narratives.
In conclusion, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the essence of a hero’s journey. Through the lens of this theory, the character of Aragorn from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy emerges as a prime example of the hero archetype (Campbell, 2008; Tolkien, 2014). Aragorn’s call to adventure, trials, transformation, and eventual return closely align with the stages outlined by Campbell, highlighting the universality and timeless appeal of the heroic narrative. By exploring Aragorn’s journey, we gain insights into the intrinsic qualities that define heroes across various forms of entertainment, bridging cultures and generations through the shared understanding of the hero’s path.
Campbell, J. (2008). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press.
Smith, K. E. (2018). Heroic archetypes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Journal of Popular Culture, 51(1), 199-213.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (2014). The Lord of the Rings. HarperCollins.