|'The Pillars of the Kings' © Ted Nasmith|
Reflecting on Stephen Winter's latest post on the hands of the King made me think again of this passage, which led me to see suddenly an allusion to scripture I had not seen before, but which now seems so obvious, as such things always do. Consider:
Sheer rose the dreadful cliffs to unguessed heights on either side. Far off was the dim sky. The black waters roared and echoed, and a wind screamed over them. Frodo crouching over his knees heard Sam in front muttering and groaning: 'What a place! What a horrible place! Just let me get out of this boat, and I'll never wet my toes in a puddle again, let alone a river!'
'Fear not!' said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.(FR 2.ix.393)
And Matthew 14:22-33 (KJV):
22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
We know from Mark 6:48 and John 6:19 that the apostles were rowing, just as the members of the Fellowship were rowing, which strengthens the possible link. We might even allow that Tolkien is a being a bit sly and mischievous, with Sam's swearing that he'll never stick even his toes in a puddle again if he gets out of the boat alive paralleling Peter's trying to walk on water, too. Moreover, the phrase present in Matthew, Mark, and John, μὴ φοβεῖσθε, which the KJV renders 'be not afraid' may equally well be translated 'fear not.'
Of course Tolkien is not suggesting that Aragorn is Christ or even Christlike. Nor am I. The sword Aragorn brings is no metaphor. And a moment after he is revealed to Frodo as a king returning to his own land, his doubts about the course he should now take resurface and he wishes for the counsel of Gandalf. Rather it is the demonstration of the King within him to those in the boat, just as it is Jesus' demonstration to his disciples that he is the Son of God, that lies at the heart of this parallel. In this moment those who follow them see them as far more than they had seen them before.