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(Click the character infographic to download.)
When Aragorn (son of Arathorn) first appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, he looks like your classic scruffy bad boy, the kind of guy you wouldn't necessarily want to approach in a strange inn in the middle of nowhere. But even if he looks kind of, well, rough, the Hobbits still have no choice but to trust him. After all, consider what they've been up to on their own: stumbling through the Old Forest, almost getting eaten by Old Man Willow, almost getting eaten by an evil grave spirit, almost getting killed by the Black Riders (in fact, how are they still alive?). Thank goodness Aragorn runs into these four when he does – we don't think they could have lasted another night with Sauron's servants hot on their trail.
Weirdly, Aragorn's grubby appearance actually works in his favor. As Frodo points out, if Aragorn were a servant of Sauron, he would probably try to look nice to get into Frodo's good graces. The fact that he is willing to look like an absolute mess when he approaches the Hobbits at the inn at Bree is a sign of his honesty. And underneath that thick layer of dirt is the heir to the throne of Gondor, descendant of Elendil and Isildur, and a mighty warrior and great healer to boot. In short, Aragorn is handy to have around, no matter what he looks like.
One reason that the Hobbits trust Aragorn so quickly is that he has a letter of reference from Gandalf. Gandalf leaves a message for Frodo with Barliman Butterbur (delivered almost too late to be of any use). In the message, Gandalf advises Frodo to trust Aragorn, because "all that is gold does not glitter" (1.10.73). In other words, Aragorn may look like a rascal, but he's a great guy really.
We mentioned in our "In a Nutshell" that Tolkien loves strong contrasts between the humble and the high, so that both characteristics seem all the more apparent. As we become more familiar with Aragorn and his destiny, his scruffy clothes and dirty face only draw attention to the greatness of his destiny. What's more, Aragorn's ability to appear equally confident in the Common Room of The Prancing Pony and in front of Galadriel and Celeborn in Cerin Amroth, in Lothlórien, indicates the adaptability of his character.
As of Fellowship of the Ring, a lot of Aragorn’s character development lies in the future. We know that he is (eventually) going to become king, because, after all, the final book of the series is called The Return of the King. But in this book, he takes less of a central role in organizing and leading the quest. He pretty much leaves all of that stuff to Gandalf once the Fellowship leaves Rivendell – that is, until Gandalf tangles with the Balrog and falls into a pit.
Once Gandalf dies, the responsibility for deciding the course of the Fellowship goes to Aragorn, and he seems awkward and uncertain about what to do next. By the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and the Breaking of the Fellowship, Aragorn does not exactly demonstrate the kingly decisiveness we might expect from an heir to the throne of Gondor. But luckily for him, he still has The Two Towers to practice his bossiness. (For more on the symbols that attach to Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring, check out our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" entries for "The Green Stone" and "The Sword That Was Broken.")