Suite101: Of thegns and kings and rangers and things – Michael Martinez’ J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

by Mar 30, 2001Lord of the Rings (Movies)

The fall of the kingdom of Arnor brought about an end to the kingship of the Heirs of Isildur. But an examination of the Rangers and the role they played in Eriador reveals some interesting possibilities about how the Heirs of Isildur may have preserved both their royal authority and their ties to Eriador’s people through a unique blend of feudalism and inheritance law.

Here is an excerpt:

Maybe only once have I ever seen anyone ask how many Rangers would have been guarding Sarn Ford the day the Nazgul showed up. And then no one was able to provide a satisfactory answer. It’s a tough question because, so far as we know, J.R.R. Tolkien himself never tried to answer it. And in trying to answer that question for ourselves, we quickly get drawn into digressions and tangents.

Any attempt to figure out how many Rangers were stationed there inevitably gets bound up in an effort to calculate how many Rangers there must have been altogether. An interesting question which also occasionally gets asked is, where did they all go during the War of the Ring? And were the thirty Rangers whom Halbarad led to Rohan the last of their kind? Halbarad’s words to Aragorn, “I have thirty with me; that is all of our kindred that could be gathered in haste,” seem to imply there were more Rangers who stayed home.

But if Halbarad couldn’t gather them all in his haste, where were the other Rangers? They certainly weren’t guarding the Shire any more because Saruman’s ruffians were in the process of taking over. They weren’t guarding Bree because Bree was having to take care of its own problems with Saruman’s ruffians.

The Rangers are a curious group Tolkien never gives us an explicit history of the organization. Nor does he tell us how they managed to survive as a people. It seems most likely that the Rangers were merely a special group supported by the larger Dunadan tribe or nation. When Aranarth decided not to re-establish the Kingdom of Arnor, he took the title of Chieftain of the Dunedain, but he also retained the title of Lord of the Dunedain.

Since Tolkien left no word unturned, but used them all in both innovative and traditional ways, it may help to examine where the words chieftain, lord, and ranger come from, or at least how they are integrated into Middle-earth’s mythology. Tolkien believed that a good mythology was interwoven with the language which expressed that mythology.

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