“A Disciple is Not Greater than His Master”: Frodo and Aragorn

Thorongil, alias Aragorn, part 4

Some more observations on Appendix A’s account of “Thorongil.” Thorongil’s departure from both his friends and from Gondor on the shores of Anduin while he set “his face towards the Mountains of Shadow” adds some additional perspective and pathos to what is essentially Frodo’s recapitulation of that same act at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, as well as to Aragorn’s decision not to follow Frodo (and Sam) but to rescue Merry and Pippin instead. Frodo, as it turns out, is having to do what Aragorn did before him (and Aragorn, accordingly, is having to let Frodo do what he did before him). Observe Sam’s summary of Frodo’s dilemma and Aragorn’s response:

‘Begging your pardon,’ said Sam. ‘I don’t think you understand my master at all. He isn’t hesitating about which way to go. Of course not! What’s the good of Minas Tirith anyway? To him, I mean, begging your pardon, Master Boromir,’ he added, and turned. It was then that they discovered that Boromir, who at first had been sitting silent on the outside of the circle, was no longer there.
`Now where’s he got to? ‘ cried Sam, looking worried. ‘He’s been a bit queer lately, to my mind. But anyway he’s not in this business. He’s off to his home, as he always said; and no blame to him. But Mr. Frodo, he knows he’s got to find the Cracks of Doom, if he can. But he’s afraid. Now it’s come to the point, he’s just plain terrified. That’s what his trouble is. Of course he’s had a bit of schooling, so to speak-we all have-since we left home, or he’d be so terrified he’d just fling the Ring in the River and bolt. But he’s still too frightened to start. And he isn’t worrying about us either: whether we’ll go along with him or no. He knows we mean to. That’s another thing that’s bothering him. If he screws himself up to go, he’ll want to go alone. Mark my words! We’re going to have trouble when he comes back. For he’ll screw himself up all right, as sure as his name’s Baggins.’
‘I believe you speak more wisely than any of us, Sam,’ said Aragorn. `And what shall we do, if you prove right? ‘
‘Stop him! Don’t let him go! ‘ cried Pippin.
‘I wonder? ‘ said Aragorn. `He is the Bearer, and the fate of the Burden is on him. I do not think that it is our part to drive him one way or the other. Nor do I think that we should succeed, if we tried. There are other powers at work far stronger.’ (“Breaking of the Fellowship”)

Frodo, as a kind of disciple of Aragorn, is having to take up Aragorn’s “cross,” as it were, turning his back on his friends (and hence on Gondor) as he turns his face towards Mordor. Later, Aragorn gives this account of Frodo’s purpose which we may presume to give us an insight into what his own thinking was in departing from his companions and from his ministry in Gondor so many years earlier:

I met Sam going up the hill and told him to follow me; but plainly he did not do so. He guessed his master’s mind and came back here before Frodo had gone. He did not find it easy to leave Sam behind!’ ‘But why should he leave us behind, and without a word?’ said Gimli. ‘That was a strange deed!’ ‘And a brave deed,’ said Aragorn. ‘Sam was right, I think. Frodo did not wish to lead any friend to death with him in Mordor. (“The Departure of Boromir”)

Finally, we have Aragorn’s decision not to follow Frodo but to rescue Merry and Pippen. Again, I’m suggesting that, in light of Appendix A, we may read Aragorn’s own personal history and experience as part of the relevant context:

‘Let me think!’ said Aragorn. ‘And now may I make a right choice and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!’ He stood silent for a moment. ‘I will follow the Orcs,’ he said at last. ‘I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!’ (“The Departure of Boromir”)

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