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But the Palantir of Orthanc the King will keep, to see what is passing in his realm, and what his servants are doing. For do not forget, Peregrin Took, that you are a knight of Gondor, and I do not release you from your service. You are going now on leave, but I may recall you. And remember, dear friends of the Shire, that my realm lies also in the North, and I shall come there one day.'

First of all, I never could understand why Pippin would volunteer to become a soldier of a different people/species. He didn't at all have to do that just to help them and fight with/for them.

But once he had fulfilled his duty and fought and helped them and it was all over, and he is now returning back to his home, far away, why would Aragorn be this seemingly rude? It would stress me out beyond words to hear that I now can never relax in my hobbit village in the Shire, but have to constantly fear that I'm called to travel all the way back and help them out. Aragorn should've released him with a "honorable leave" and thanked him instead of putting this pointless pressure on him. It's almost as if he wants to subtly punish him for his "rash decision" to join their army. Which, again, I didn't understand in the first place, and seemed entirely out of character for Pippin.

And not only this. Aragorn goes on to claim that "his realm" also "lies in the North". What does that mean? Gondor is way down South on the map as far as I can tell. Is Aragorn claiming to be the king of all of Middle-Earth now? Not just Gondor?

I strongly doubt that this is meant to be interpreted as Aragorn showing a weakness and "evil side", as in, an increasing thirst for power and control. But maybe that's what's being implied here; that he has changed now that he is officially a mighty king. But still, I don't think this is the intention by the author, and it would seem oddly ominous in the context, but also fit in with the repeated fact of humans being weak and easily corrupted...

Am I reading too much into this? Am I misunderstanding Aragorn? Did he mean it more in a joking and friendly manner? He frankly seems almost threatening when he says this to Pippin. It makes me frustrated that he would not let Pippin go back without "strings attached".

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    Don't you think Aragorn meant "As the king, I rely upon you"? – Robbie Goodwin Oct 13 at 22:34
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    Given the general "halfling haha" attitude humans project towards Hobbits, I get the feeling that Pippin's service sort of gives him a status above that of a laughable Hobbit, which would mean a lot to a Hobbit who before the adventure was even considered on the lower end by Hobbits themselves. But I'm not sure that's ever explicitly addressed. – Flater Oct 15 at 10:42
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TL;DR: In this scene Aragorn confirms to Pippin that their relationship remains one of liege-lord and vassal within the feudal system of Gondor and Arnor. This confers high status and honour upon Pippin, as well as obligation: in fact, these are two sides of the same relationship.

The north-kingdom

When Aragorn says that his “realm lies also in the north” he is referring to the kingdom of Arnor. The history as described during the Council of Elrond:

Of Númenor he [Elrond] spoke, its glory and its fall, and the return of the Kings of Men to Middle-earth out of the deeps of the Sea, borne upon the wings of storm. Then Elendil the Tall and his mighty sons, Isildur and Anárion, became great lords; and the North-realm they made in Arnor, and the South-realm in Gondor above the mouths of Anduin.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1954). The Fellowship of the Ring, book II, chapter 2. London: George Allen and Unwin.

After the War of the Last Alliance, Gondor flourished but Arnor did not:

‘In the North after the war and the slaughter of the Gladden Fields the Men of Westernesse were diminished, and their city of Annúminas beside Lake Evendim fell into ruin, and the heirs of Valandil removed and dwelt at Fornost on the high North Downs, and that too is desolate. Men call it Deadman’s Dike, and they fear to tread there. For the folk of Arnor dwindled, and their foes devoured them, and their lordship passed, leaving only green mounds in the grassy hills.’

The Fellowship of the Ring II.2.

Although Gondor flourished at first, eventually “the line of Meneldil son of Anárion failed” and the kings were replaced by ruling Stewards, of whom Denethor was the last. This means that Aragorn, who “is descended through many fathers from Isildur Elendil’s son”, is now the heir to the crown of Gondor and of Arnor, a claim that he hopes to use to establish feudal rule over the former territory of Arnor.

Feudalism

What is this feudal rule that Aragorn hopes to establish? Feudalism was a form of government in medieval Europe that operated by personal relationships of fealty. A feudal lord owned a territory that was too large to administer in person, and there was no system of civil administration on which he could depend, so he installed trusted vassals as tenants on parts of his territory. The vassals swore fealty to their liege-lord and there was a mutual relationship of support and security between them: the vassals were expected to support their lord by providing military service, and the lord was expected to support his vassal through gifts of land and treasure, and to protect the vassal if he was threatened by invasion, raids, or rebellion.

Describing the origin of the feudal system in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, Marc Bloch wrote:

[Charles Martel and his successors] wanted to establish order and Christian peace through their reams. They wanted soldiers to spread their dominion far and wide and to carry on the holy war against the infidel, an enterprise both conducive to the growth of their own power and beneficial for souls.

The older institutions appeared inadequate for this task. The monarchy had at its disposal only a small number of officials: but these were in any case not very reliable men and—apart from a few churchmen—they lacked professional tradition and culture. Moreover, economic conditions precluded the institution of a vast system of salaried officals. Communications were slow, inconvenient and uncertain. The principal difficulty, therefore, which faced the central government was to reach individual subjects, in order to exact services and impose the necessary sanctions. Thus there arose the idea of utilizing for the purposes of government the firmly established network of protective relationships. The lord, at every level of the hierarchy, would be answerable for his ‘man’ and would be responsible for holding him to his duty.

Marc Bloch (1939). Feudal Society, volume 1, p. 157. Translated by L. A. Manyon (1961). University of Chicago Press.

Thus vassals governed their own territories by subinfeudation, appointing their own sub-vassals to form a feudal hierarchy. This system was held together by personal relationships: ties of family and marriage, campaigning together in times of war, hunting, feasting, gift-giving, and so on. Vassals sent their sons to serve with their lord, and their daughters to serve their lord’s wife, in order to acquire these connections.

As kings they had to get supporters and above all create an army. So they attracted into their service—frequently in return for gifts of land—many men who were already of high rank. Former members of the military following, establishied on property granted by the ruler, did not cease to be regarded as his vassals; and his new followers were considered to be bound to him by the same tie, even if they had never been his companions-in-arms. Both groups served in his army, followed by their own vassals, if they had any. But, since most of their time was spent away from their master, the conditions under which they lived were very different from those of the household warriors of but a short time before. Each one of them was the centre of a more or less widely scattered group of dependants whom he was expected to keep in order; if necessary, he might even be required to exercise a similar supervision over his neighbours. Thus, among the populations of the vast empire, there became distinguishable a relatively very numerous class of ‘vassals of the Lord’—that is, ‘of the Lord King’ (vassi dominici). Enjoying special protection of the sovereign and being responsible for furnishing a large part of his troops, they also formed, through the provinces, the links of a great chain of loyalty.

Bloch, pp. 158–159.

Government of Arnor

With this model in mind, we can see what is happening in the exchange between Aragorn and Pippin. Aragorn has just been crowned king of Gondor, and he also claims the crown of Arnor by his descent from Isildur. In Gondor, there seems to be a well-established system of feudal loyalty, as we can see from the description of the feudal levy summoned by Denethor:

The men of Ringló Vale behind the son of their lord, Dervorin striding on foot: three hundreds. From the uplands of Morthond, the great Blackroot Vale, tall Duinhir with his sons, Duilin and Derufin, and five hundred bowmen. From the Anfalas, the Langstrand far away, a long line of men of many sorts, hunters and herdsmen and men of little villages, scantily equipped save for the household of Golasgil their lord. From Lamedon, a few grim hillmen without a captain. Fisher-folk of the Ethir, some hundred or more spared from the ships. Hirluin the Fair of the Green Hills from Pinnath Gelin with three hundreds of gallant green-clad men. And last and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1955). The Return of the King, book V, chapter 1. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Aragorn has secured his hold over these lords of Gondor through his bravery and leadership in the War of the Ring. But in the case of Arnor his rule is much less secure: the Rangers of the north are his loyal kinsmen, but Arnor is a vast land. Aragorn needs all the help he can get while he cements his rule by rebuilding the strongholds of Annúminas and Fornost Erain and installing loyal vassals there. A peaceful and loyal Shire will be an useful bulwark of the kingdom during this period of uncertainty, and so he reminds Pippin of the oath of fealty he swore:

‘Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and let go, in need or plenty, in peace and war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings.’

The Return of the King V.1.

But as discussed above, the obligation goes both ways: if Pippin, as a vassal of the king of Gondor, is obliged to provide service to his lord, then Aragorn, as Pippin’s liege-lord, is obliged to support him in turn. It seems very likely that after the coronation of Aragorn, his vassals, including Pippin, swore fealty to him, and Aragorn swore his part of the obligation using similar words to those of Denethor:

‘And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance.’

The Return of the King V.1.

This two-way relationship means that Aragorn, in reminding Pippin of his duty, also confers on him the honour and status as the personal representative of the king. We can see hints of this status in VI.6, where on the journey north “Pippin rode with the knights of Gondor”, establishing personal relations with his peers of the realm. We can see Pippin making use of this status when he returns to the Shire:

‘I am a messenger of the King,’ he said. ‘You are speaking to the King’s friend, and one of the most renowned in all the lands of the West. You are a ruffian and fool. Down on your knees and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you.’

The Return of the King VI.8.

In the appendices we find that Aragorn uses his personal relationships with the members of the fellowship of the ring to help cement his control of the Shire and the lands to the west of it (the Westmarch):

1434 Peregrin becomes the Took and Thain. King Elessar makes the Thain, the Master† and the Mayor‡ Counsellors of the North-kingdom. […]

1436 King Elessar rides north, and dwells for a while by Lake Evendim. He comes to the Brandywine Bridge, and there greets his friends. He gives the Star of the Dúnedain to Master Samwise, and Elanor¶ is made a maid of honour to Queen Arwen.

1451 Elanor the Fair marries Fastred of Greenholm on the Far Downs.

1452 The Westmarch, from the Far Downs to the Tower Hills, is added to the Shire by the gift of the King. Many hobbits remove to it.

1462 At his [Sam’s] request the Thain makes Fastred Warden of Westmarch.

† Merry, the Master of Buckland. ‡ Sam, the Mayor of the Shire. ¶ Daughter of Sam and Rose.

The Return of the King, Appendix B.

Note Aragorn’s use of gifts of treasure (the Star) and land (the Westmarch) to his vassals, and his recruitment of Elanor (his vassal’s daughter) to his court to ensure that these relationships persist into the next generation. Elanor’s husband is then appointed lord of the Westmarch, extending Aragorn’s control over this region of Eriador through ties of loyalty and kinship.

Pippin’s motivation

The question wonders what motivated Pippin to offer his fealty to Denethor. But Pippin explains this clearly: it is a repayment of a debt he owes to Boromir, who died at Amon Hen in an attempt to save the hobbits. He cannot repay the debt to Boromir, but he can repay it to Boromir’s father.

Pippin flushed and forgot his fear. ‘The mightiest man may be slain by one arrow,’ he said; ‘and Boromir was pierced by many. When last I saw him he sank beside a tree and plucked a black-feathered shaft from his side. Then I swooned and was made captive. I saw him no more, and know no more. But I honour his memory, for he was very valiant. He died to save us, my kinsman Meriadoc and myself, waylaid in the woods by the soldiery of the Dark Lord; and though he fell and failed, my gratitude is none the less.’

Then Pippin looked the old man in the eye, for pride stirred strangely within him, still stung by the scorn and suspicion in that cold voice. ‘Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.’ Twitching aside his grey cloak, Pippin drew forth his small sword and laid it at Denethor’s feet.

The Return of the King V.1.

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    More detail (and more and more, a ridiculous amount of detail) about Aragorn's descent from the line of Arnor and claim to the throne of Gondor. – Rand al'Thor Oct 12 at 11:57
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    Perhaps it should be explicitly noted that Pippin is the heir to the Thrain - the "leader" of the Shire - who's vassals are the Master of Buckland (Merry's father, which Merry inherits), the Mayor of Hobbiton (a position to which Sam is elected), and then later the Warden of The Westmarch. During the old wars of the Witch King against the (by then split) kingdoms of Arnor, The Shire mustered a company of archers to the aid of their liege-lord. – OrangeDog Oct 12 at 14:29
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    Furthermore, Aragorn's clam to the sceptre of Arnor is far more certain than his claim to the crown of Gondor, which he attained by popular acclimation more than by right of inheritance. – TRiG Oct 12 at 15:06
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    Just as an additional point for Pippin's status back home, note that it would not be Pippin deciding to leave for Aragorn's court, but Aragorn commanding his presence. How impressed would your friends be if you could say "Sorry lads, I can't go down the pub tomorrow because the King/Queen/President/Sheikh has asked for me"? :) – Graham Oct 12 at 16:33
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    There's also an element of jest, though, I believe, in the same vein as when Aragorn "banished" Beregond to Ithilien. Aragorn obeys his own law that no Big People may set foot in the Shire, so one can assume that the inhabitants of the Shire will allowed to exist with minimal interference from outside. – chepner Oct 12 at 17:12
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I agree with the content of the answers of Gareth Rees and hobbs, however, aside from the content of what he said, I think it's also important to address Aragorn's tone here. In particular: He's joking.

Aragorn's 'harsh' tone to Pippin here is firmly tongue-in-cheek. His statement is a humorous way of expressing his appreciation for Pippin's service to him, to Gondor, and to the mission of the fellowship, as well as and his desire to continue their friendship and for them to work together again in the future. He is indeed expressing the value and importance of Pippin's service to Gondor as the other answers point out, but he's just using a humorous tone to do it. His firm and harsh tone is verbal irony meant to humorously contrast with the gratitude and respect he's actually conveying.

If there were any doubt about how Aragorn felt about the four hobbits, it should be completely dispelled (in the movies, at least) in another line when he's being completely serious:

My friends, You bow to no one.

While that particular scene isn't in the book, Aragorn's respect for and gratitude to the Hobbits certainly is. At the beginning of the chapter Many Partings, Frodo goes to Aragorn, who tells him:

'I know what you have come to say, Frodo: you wish to return to your own home. Well, dearest friend, the tree grows best in the land of its sires; but for you in all the lands of the West there will ever be a welcome. And though your people have had little fame in the legends of the great, they will now have more renown than many wide realms that are no more.'

A few paragraphs later, Aragorn further tells Frodo,

'But now before you go I will confirm the words that Faramir spoke to you, and you are made free for ever of the realm of Gondor; and all your companions likewise. And if there were any gifts that I could give to you to match with your deeds you should have them; but whatever you desire you shall take with you, and you shall ride in honour and arrayed as princes of the land.'


Aragorn's statement to Pippin was but one of many examples of tongue-in-cheek dialog Tolkien employed in the Lord of the Rings books. As chepner mentioned in a comment on another answer, another example of this, also from Aragorn, was his 'punishment' of Beregond for spilling blood in the Hallows and leaving his post without leave (in order to save Faramir's life from Denethor):

And the King said to Beregond, 'Beregond, by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or of Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty. Now therefore I must pronounce your doom.

'All penalty is remitted for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for the love of the Lord Faramir. Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the city of Minas Tirith.'

The the blood left Beregond's face, and he was stricken to the heart and bowed his head. But the King said:

'So it must be, for you are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.'

Tolkien provided us with more amusing tongue-in-cheek dialogue a few pages later between Gimli and Eomer:

And before he [Eomer] went to his rest he sent for Gimli the Dwarf, and he said to him: 'Gimli Gloin's son, have you your axe ready?'

'Nay, lord,' said Gimli, 'but I can speedily fetch it, if there be need.'

'You shall judge,' said Eomer. 'For there are certain rash words concerning the Lady in the Golden Wood that lie still between us. And now I have seen her with my eyes.'

'Well, lord,' said Gimli, 'and what say you now?'

'Alas!' said Eomer. 'I will not say that she is the fairest lady that lives.'

'Then I must go for my axe,' said Gimli.

'But first I will plead this excuse,' said Eomer. 'Had I seen her in other company, I would have said all that you could wish. But now I will put Queen Arwen Evenstar first, and I am ready to do battle on my own part with any who deny me. Shall I call for my sword?'

This humorous exchange references back to when Gimli and Eomer first met as Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli encountered Eomer's company of horsemen in the second chapter of The Two Towers while chasing the Uruk-Hai orcs who had captured Pippin and Merry. Eomer had spoken unkindly about Galadriel, leading Gimli to threaten him. That encounter ended with the exchange:

'Farewell, and may you find what you seek!' cried Eomer. 'Return with what speed you may, and let our swords hereafter shine together!'

'I will come,' said Aragorn.

'And I will come, too,' said Gimli. 'The matter of the Lady Galadriel lies still between us. I have yet to teach you gentle speech.'

'We shall see,' said Eomer. 'So many strange things have chanced that to learn the praise of a fair lady under the loving strokes of a Dwarf's axe will seem no great wonder. Farewell!'

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  • I thought the same when I first read the quote, but is Tolkien known for using such tongue-in-cheek remarks? Your answer could benefit from other examples of this – Gallifreyan Oct 12 at 21:29
  • @Gallifreyan Another example was mentioned by chepner in comments. – Rand al'Thor Oct 12 at 22:05
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    @Gallifreyan Added a couple of other examples. – reirab Oct 13 at 1:43
  • I wonder how true to the books the "You bow to no-one" quote is, and by extension the respect Aragorn pays to the Hobbits. – Prometheus Oct 13 at 1:59
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    Another tongue-in-cheek example of Aragorn's affection for Pippin is when after the battle of Pelennor Fields, Pippin wishes for some pipe-weed, and Aragorn says he has not passed though all of this to return a pack to a soldier who threw it away in the battle (while the pack was actually sitting right next to him). Hobbits are said to be fond of jests, and Aragorn has evidently learned to speak to them with an affected seriousness, as you correctly say, tongue-in-cheek. – Mike Oct 14 at 3:03
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While I agree almost entirely with Gareth Rees' answer, I think it can be made simpler with a bit of cultural context. Aragorn is a king. He's in a position to command, and while he's not the king of all Middle Earth, he has claimed the throne of Arnor as his birthright, which includes the part of Eriador that the Hobbits call the Shire. Pippin is a high noble of the Hobbits, the heir of the Thain of the Shire.

If Aragorn had said to Pippin "go now, with my thanks. You've served me well, now return to your Shire and live as you will", then, leaving aside the material benefts that Gareth Rees discusses, it would have been quite an insult to Pippin and to the Hobbits! A dismissal would have been a statement that Pippin had nothing to offer that Aragorn could want, that Hobbits were irrelevant, and that the Shire should go back to obscurity and not get involved in the affairs of the big people. Instead he's saying "we've defeated Sauron, but there's been so much destruction, and now it's time to rebuild the world. I want you, my trusted friend and sworn servant, to help me with that job, and in return, I will make sure that you, and the Shire, benefit from it." That this comes as a solemn command, with no option of refusal, well, that's just part of the cultural trappings of feudalism — but it was still a mark of trust.

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I have just read The Lord of the Rings to my kids (yes, the whole thing! took a while...) We live in the UK, and they are 7 and 9 respectively.

When I read that particular passage, they both sniggered (and the youngest hid his face under his blanket to muffle the noise. He very much identifies with Pippin...) Aragorn is joking. The mood of that particular scene is that, after all these adventures together, they are now parting company (and it's a bit sad). And Aragorn is letting them know that this is good-bye, not farewell: they are still friend, he's not forgetting them, and they will meet again. He might be King, but he's also still Strider. They have a bond, and this bond was in fact made stronger, not weaker, through him becoming King: their fellowship is now enshrined in law. That's pretty strong! That's how I read it.

And, by the way, the entire book is littered with serious characters making tongue-in-cheek jokes from times to times. It's a very "British academic" thing. So culturally, probably not very accessible to most people (and easy to misread), but obvious if you're part of the culture.

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    For what it's worth, it seemed pretty obvious to me as an American. Indeed, the tongue-in-cheek dialogue was one of the reasons I liked those books so much. I can see how it might not be obvious to non-native speakers, though. – reirab Oct 13 at 22:13
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I entirely agree with the answers already given, but possibly there is another - probably minor - additional point here. During the time of the Fellowship, Pippin has a few times shown poor judgement, for example at the well in Moria ("Fool of a Took!") and when he picked up the Palantir and was seen by Sauron. Possibly by telling Pippin that he will be watching, Aragorn is nudging Pippin to act with greater forethought, so he will grow in wisdom.

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