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I've been thinking quite a bit lately about character backstory and how it can help shape how the writer presents a character and how the reader feeds off that. In particular I've been thinking about Aragorm from the Lord of the Rings. Aragorn remains one of my absolute favorite Fantasy characters. He's a person who ends up with a very different life than he had when we first meet him. And he's someone who suffered and lost so much along the way.

When I was young I didn't realize just how dark a past Aragorn actually has. While Tolkien never really delved into it, once he ventured out from Rivendell Aragorn spent many decades living in a very dark and brutal world. If you really stopped and thought about it Aragorn has probably done some pretty nasty things along the way. I wonder how many Bill Ferny's might be buried in shallow graves across Arnor. While it might be easy to say Aragorn's nobility and sense of honor might keep him from such actions it wouldn't surprise me to find out Aragorn and the Dunedain were brutal and merciless when the need called for it in protecting west of the Anduin or the Misty Mountains.

Considering Tolkien had originally planned to have Aragorn kill Boromir in single combat it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine him having to take similar distasteful actions.

It speaks to Aragorn's strength of character that he could come through all he endured without too much damage.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, I remember wondering those very things.

Edited to add: on my latest reread, the whole arc with Eowyn took on new coloration. I wondered if, rather than rejecting her gender, he was saying, 'Look, you really don't want to be a PTSD haunt like I am.' But she did, and he understood, and so he looked out for her from a distance, and was relieved when she found healing with another PTSD wreck, Faramir.

Edited at 2012-03-08 04:08 pm (UTC)
Mar. 8th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
That's similar to how I viewed Aragorn's reaction to Eowyn. I felt she saw Isulder's Heir and the glory and full throttle living she felt her duties at court denied her.

And I felt Aragorn was relieved she and Faramir found healing and peace with each other.

I've heard a lot of grumbling over the years about Tolkien's portrayal of Eowyn. Yet she has always struck a chord with me. As a young boy (I think I was 8 or 9 when I first read LotR) I didn't see gender issues. I responded to her longing to match her brother and uncle as the yearning of the younger child not as a woman. I'm a middle child and I think that shaped my interpretation of her character.

Getting back to Aragorn he recognized that Arwen could understand the long dark road brutal road his life took to live up to his family's name. She possessed the unique perspective to understand the long road of the life and struggle of a descendant of Numenor.
Mar. 8th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree about Arwen.
Mar. 8th, 2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
As a follow up I actually find it interesting that I didn't notice back then the issue of Eowyn not being allowed to join the battle with her brother as being a gender issue. She herself lamented her place in Rohan society as a woman. I'm not sure why that didn't stand out to me.

Perhaps because, back when I was 8 or 9 (early 1970s) it didn't strike me as socially odd considering most of the mothers I knew were stay at home moms at the time, including my own? I'm not really sure.

It was only about 10 years later when I had one of my uncle's read a bit of my own writing that I was so proud of at the time (which now I cringe at lol) which caused him to ask me: "Where are the women?" that I realized I had simply not factored them into the POV characters.

And that really threw me. Was it how society and my own family raised me? Was it that of all of my relatives only a small handful were women and all the rest were male? Was it the Science Fiction and Fantasy I was reading throughout all that time? Come to think of it even the female authors usually stuck to male leads. I don't know that I can ever really answer that question? Ot if there is a simple answer?

Looking at the stories I've written since I've seen quite a big change in my characters. I've learned to let them come at me as they will, male or female, or alien or divine. I have a lot more diversity, and not just in gender but in characteristics as well. In character motivations, in ethnicities and cultures. And I think it makes for far more interesting a tale.

Of course I need to keep honing my writing craft if I ever hope for others to enjoy them but that's a whole different subject.

Gender equality in genre fiction has been at the forefront in the blogoshpere for a while now and I think its an important topic to keep alive.

I guess as a man I tend to not think of it as much as I probably should.
Mar. 8th, 2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
As a 14 year old in the mid sixties, I was hyper aware of her being shut out specifically because of her gender. It took me years and years to see past that.
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