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Not Without Hope: 3. Author's Notes
A: Short answer: No. I tried very hard to make this strictly canon based.
Long answer: Romantic ideas of a lost prince aside, it actually makes very little ‘real world’ sense to have Aragorn AND Gilraen in Rivendell while Aragorn is growing up. The most obvious solution, if Aragorn must go to Rivendell for safety, would be for Aragorn to go alone. I started with that as my premise. Elrond could probably have come up with some scenario to account for a boy living there that did not include any references to the line of Elros or Gilraen’s son.
Think of it this way: Prince Charles dies and Diana, Princess of Wales and two-year-old Prince William vanish from London. She is later known to be living with the Doge in Venice with one son, Fred, who not only is the same age as William but also is similar to him in colouring and looks. Is your first thought, “Aha! That must be William!”? Yes? No? Even if you truly believe, from some combination of naïveté and willingness to follow suggestions, that Fred isn’t really William, are you curious about the strange situation? Do you find yourself avidly following the gossip columnists to discover what happened to the missing heir and just who is Fred? Do you really think that the average Ranger or the agents of the Sauron wouldn’t think the same way?
Or this scenario: Prince Charles dies and Di goes back to her parents, remarries and has more children. Tragically, William succumbs to a fever and the line of Windsor ends. Five years later, you hear that the Doge of Venice has adopted a boy his sons found abandoned after a Saracen attack. Do you make a connection between the heir dead five years and the boy being adopted? Probably not.
How you reintroduce the heir, in either scenario, eighteen years later is a whole ‘nother problem, but we all have to work within JRRT’s framework.
The Dúnedain cared very deeply for the lineage of their chiefs. As a scattered and beleaguered people with a very long and proud history, it mattered to them, in a way it does not to most 21st century people, that their leaders were entitled to their position by being properly born to it. Gilraen wasn’t an unimportant person who could just move out after her husband died and no one would care where she went. She was considered a fitting bride for the latest in the line of Númenorean kings and important in her own right. She was descended from kings on her father’s side; and the fact that they kept track of that descent for fifteen generations tells you something about how important they thought it, and she, was as the last Chieftain’s wife.
Lots of people were bound to ask, “Where is Gilraen? Where is Aragorn?” I really don’t think the average Dúnedain would have taken “Don’t ask!” as an adequate answer and stopped thinking about it. The Rangers-in-the-field might if ordered to, but the women, the farmers and craftsmen? This was a horrible thing to happen. The Line of Númenorean Kings died out after two ages of the world! Woe unto the Men of Westernesse! Surely any hint of hope that it wasn’t true would have been seized on. Gossip and ‘common knowledge’ must have said something believable about what happened to Gilraen and Aragorn or Sauron wouldn’t have stopped looking for Isildur’s Heir. One of the main plot points of LotR is that Sauron does not find out there is a living Heir until Aragorn reveals himself in the palantir after the battle at Helm’s Deep. If toddler-Aragorn just disappeared under mysterious circumstances, why did Sauron believe Isildur’s line had died out and stop looking so hard? I refuse to believe that all the agents of the Dark Lord are so stupid that they have less intelligence and less curiosity about a mysterious disappearance than the average reader of a weekly tabloid.
Arathorn was fifty-six when he finally took a wife and Gilraen was only twenty-two. This was not only something that needed to be told to the whole Dúnedain population of the North, it was a very gossip worthy event! I’m sure everyone heard about this as fast as the news could travel. Aragorn’s birth was an equally newsworthy event. “Rejoice! The succession is assured! The line of kings in exile continues at last!”
There has to be a reason why this boy, Estel, the same age as the missing heir, looking like a typical Númenorean lord, being fostered by Elrond in Rivendell in the same manner as the previous fifteen generations of Ranger chieftains and living with his mother, Gilraen, who was the widow of the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, was not believed to be Aragorn by everyone up to and including Sauron. “Whatever happened to Gilraen?’ “She’s living at Rivendell with her son.” “I thought the line of kings ended?” “Well…” There is a difficulty here.
What do we know about Gilraen?
She is ‘noble’, counts first Chieftain as direct ancestor, no one objects to her lineage, just her age.
She marries young, age 22; marriage opposed by Dirhael her father, supported by Ivorwen her mother.
She comes from a family that has foresight, although there is little evidence that she ever ‘foresaw’ things. When Aragorn says “ Then bitter will my days be and I will walk in the wild alone.”
“That will indeed be your fate,” said Gilraen; but though she had in a measure the foresight of her people, she said no more to him of her foreboding…” This is the only known place where she ‘foresees’ events.
She moves to Rivendell when Aragorn is two.
She stays at Rivendell – even after Aragorn is grown, learns who he is at age 20 and leaves – even though she is well within the childbearing years of a Dúnedain. Gilraen is only 44 years old and could certainly have moved back into the Ranger controlled lands and taken up a life of her own at this point if she had wanted to.
She finally goes back to her people in Eriador. It comes in the narrative after Arwen agrees to marry Aragorn. The exact wording is “After a few years Gilraen took leave of Elrond”, so she is at least 73 years old.
She lives alone in Eriador.
She is ‘aged by care’ and probably depressed. She ‘kept no hope for herself’. She does not foresee an end to darkness and cannot face living even though her son tells her: “Yet there may be a light beyond darkness”.
She dies in the spring of 3007, age 100.
She lived in Rivendell from age twenty-six to at least age seventy-three. That’s forty-seven years in a place protected by an elven Ring and free from Shadow and she still comes out of it a sad recluse not willing or unable to take her place in the affairs of the Dúnedain. I think I can postulate a scandal in her background to account for that without straining canon too far.
As to why this never comes up in the Red Book narrative, I think Aragorn would probably be a tad touchy about his mother’s honour and the years when he thought he was not Arathorn’s son. If his mother was Arathorn’s wife but he wasn’t Arathorn’s son, even though he had to have been born when Arathorn was still alive, who was he? It is canon that Aragorn's lineage was hidden from him while he was growing up. What did they tell him, and who did he think his father was? I can't believe that he, an intelligent teenager who was being trained to think, wouldn't have come up with some very interesting ideas about that. But that’s another story.
I suppose one could argue that Rivendell was very isolated and it was unlikely that word of a boy living there would be generally known. I could have spun it that way, but it doesn’t make as interesting a story and to me it doesn’t do as a good a job of explaining Gilraen’s later behavior. YMMV.
Q: Where do all these fortresses come from?
A: Their living conditions also depend on what you want to count as canon. In HoME Tolkien says: "In the latter days of the last age [> Ere the Elder Days were ended], before the War of the Ring, there was a man named Dirhael [> Dirhoel], and his wife was Evorwen [> Ivorwen] daughter of Gilbarad, and they dwelt in a hidden fastness in the wilds of Eriador; for they were of the ancient people of the Dúnedain, that of old were kings of men, but were now fallen on darkened days...."
Someone living in ‘a hidden fastness’ is not living in a cottage or wandering around as hunter-gatherers. Webster’s Revised Unabridged dictionary defines a fastness as
2. A fast place; a stronghold; a fortress or fort; a secure retreat; a castle; as, the enemy retired to their fastnesses in the mountains.
I’m, obviously, going with the ‘hidden strongholds’ theory, not the ‘secret and wandering people’ theory to account for how they live. The Rangers as soldiers and guardians are ‘secret and wandering’, but they have ‘hidden strongholds’ to retreat to and grow food in and such.
Q: How big are these ‘great estates” anyway?
A: Not very. If you take Domesday Book numbers for amount of land that needs to be used to support roughly one hundred people it comes to about two and half square miles of land. Using a two-field system only half of that is cultivated at any given time. And some is also pasturage, etc. I assume less than 1% of the land within the old boundaries of Arnor is currently used, and it still gives me about 3,600 square miles of land that could be cultivated and support a population of about 100,000 people in about 360,000 square miles. There is still plenty of room for the wild and a reasonable Dúnedain population. I also assume they know how to use a three-field system, because they were taught by elves.
Q: Um, I can’t think of anything else.
A: That’s OK. If you have any more questions, please contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org
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