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The Lord Of The Rings: Aragorn's Ancestry Explained

There are few characters in "The Lord of the Rings" as epically awesome as Aragorn, son of Arathorn. The ranger fearlessly steps in to aid Frodo and his Hobbit companions when they show up at the Prancing Pony, and from there the man only becomes more and more integral to the plot. Of course, it's eventually revealed that the "mere ranger" that befriended the Halflings is actually the heir to the throne of Gondor. This puts Aragorn in the hot seat as he leads the forces of good against the rising threat of Sauron in the east.

In the end, the armies of the West are victorious, the One Ring is destroyed, and Sauron is vanquished. Aragorn becomes the king of the reunited kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, marries his Elvish bride, and goes on to live a happy life as a husband, father, friend, and king.

But why is Aragorn able to claim the throne of Gondor, again? After spending his entire life living as a wandering ranger half a continent away, what gives him the right to waltz up and sit on the royal seat in Minas Tirith? What is it about the son of Arathorn that makes him the "king returned?"

We decided to do a little research into Aragorn's family history and it turns out that the dude's family tree isn't just legit — it's overflowing with kings, queens, heroes, heroines, and a smorgasbord of famous Elves and Men that stretch back practically to the beginning of time. Naturally, this makes Aragorn's ancestry a bit complicated, but never fear. We've gathered up the details and laid them out in as plain and straightforward a fashion as anything Tolkienian can ever be.

Elvish beginnings

In Tolkien's book "The Silmarillion," he charts out the earliest history of the race of Elves and, eventually, the race of Men, too. As the story unfolds, we meet many characters and are introduced to several major members of the various royal houses of each race. While it's a bit too much to break down here, suffice it to say that over time a lot of these early Middle-earth aristocrats begin to intermarry. As a rule, this always takes place within the same people group. However, there are two important unions that take place between Elves and Men.

The first couple that gets hitched is Beren and Lúthien. Beren is descended from a royal line of Men while Lúthien is literally the daughter of an Elven king who marries a Maiar — a spiritual race that occasionally takes physical form, as is the case later on with the wizards. Tolkien famously modeled the pair's love story after his own romance with his wife, and yes, for those of you counting at home, this means Aragorn is very, very, very distantly descended from the same race as Gandalf himself.

The second union is between a man named Tuor and another Elven princess named Idril Celebrindal. Their son, Eärendil, marries Beren and Lúthien's grandaughter Elwing, bringing the three races of Men, Elves, and Maiar together into one big happy family. Eärendil and Elwing later have two sons of their own named Elros and Elrond.

Elros the Half-elven

Elros and Elrond represent a smorgasbord of different Middle-earth people groups mixed together. This leads to the inevitable question: are they immortal or not? The answer is yes and no. See, the various marriages between mortals and immortals lead to a distinct group of individuals in Tolkien's lore called the Peredhel, or "Half-elven." In "The Silmarillion," it explains that this group of individuals is "given choice of their own destiny" — meaning they get to choose between mortality and immortality.

For those of us mere mortals reading Tolkien's writings, the selection seems obvious. Eternal life all the way, baby. But Tolkien goes to great lengths to explain that death is actually a gift given to Men. In fact, Men move on from the circles of the world, and while it isn't known where they go, it's clear that they do continue. Elves, however, are intimately connected to Arda itself and their spirits don't leave, even when their bodies die.

The point is, the choice between mortality and immortality is actually a bit challenging, and the first two living beings who get to make it are Elros and Elrond. The brothers, in typical sibling fashion, make diametrically opposite choices. Elrond opts for an eternal life spent as a loremaster and counselor.

Elros, however, goes for mortality, choosing to spend his life as a leader and king of Men. Even so, "The Silmarillion" states that, for Elros, "still a great span of years was allotted, many times that of the Men of Middle-earth." In fact, "all his line ... had long life." This extended family lifespan starts at 500 years on the dot for Elros, and while it shrinks from there, the added centuries tacked onto his descendants' lives help explain why Aragorn looks so rakish in his 80s.

New kingdoms in Middle-earth

As a Man, Elros becomes the King and ruler of Númenor, an island nation that is established at the beginning of the Second Age. He rules over the Númenóreans for a whopping 410 years before passing the throne on to his heirs, who continue to rule throughout the next three millennia. As is usually the case with royal families, over time an offshoot of the royal house is born. While not directly in line for the throne, they become known as the Lords of Andúnië and are highly respected members of society.

The Lords of Andúnie come into the spotlight later in the Second Age when the kings of Númenor become corrupted by Sauron and begin to indulge in some pretty evil activity. Around this time, the Andúnie branch of the royal family becomes closely connected to a faction of the Númenóreans known as "The Faithful" who still remain friends of the Elves and resist Sauron's evil influence.

Toward the end of the age, the entire island of Númenor sinks into the waves in an Atlantis-like catastrophe. Only a few people escape in ships and — you guessed it — they're "The Faithful" led by the fearless Lords of Andúnie. The group sails back to Middle-earth, where the offshoot of the royal house comes to rule over the Númenórean settlements that were already established on the mainland.

These mainland settlements are formed into two new kingdoms: Gondor in the south and Arnor in the north. Both are initially ruled by the High King Elendil, a lofty dictator directly descended from Elros. As Elendil rules, his son Isildur is right by his side.

The kingship splits

At the end of the Second Age, Elendil is killed in battle and his son, Isildur, becomes the new king after cutting the One Ring from Sauron's hand. Yes, we're talking about that guy. Isildur rules Arnor while his nephew rules Gondor. However, when Isildur is killed in an ambush and loses the One Ring, the two kingdoms are set on different trajectories. While they continue to interact from time to time, they no longer are ruled with a single purpose or by one leader.

Now, the history of the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor throughout the Third Age is extremely convoluted and not worth going into in detail here. However, there's still a roughly 3,000-year time jump between Isildur's death and the coronation of Aragorn, and there are a couple of important things to point out that help close the gap.

First off, over a period of 2,000 years, the Northern Kingdom of Arnor slowly collapses and disappears. However, before that happens, one of Arnor's kings marries the daughter of the king of Gondor. They have a son, and when Arnor is destroyed, he continues to carry on the royal lineage in exile. The official title of this wandering king and his descendants is the Chieftains of the Dúnedain. They rule over the scattered survivors of Arnor and, among other things, quietly protect areas like the Shire.

Why does this matter? Because Aragorn is able to connect his ancestry to this marriage between the last king of the Northern Kingdom and a princess of Gondor. This gives him a unique claim to the crowns of both kingdoms. Of course, the entire claim is theoretical as long as he remains in exile as a ranger of the north.

A royal line in exile

At this point, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump from the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain to Aragorn himself. Of course, that leaping stride has to take place over roughly a thousand years. In fact, by the time of the War of the Ring, Aragorn is the 16th chieftain of the wandering and homeless northern survivors.

At that point, Gondor has also been kingless for a millennium. This happens after the Witch-king kills that nation's last king. Rather than falling apart like Arnor, though, Gondor is held together by the Stewards. According to "The Silmarillion," they literally swear "to hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return."

Aragorn is born into this scenario and waits patiently for over eight decades until his time comes. Of course, he doesn't just sit on his hands. He meets Arwen, helps save Gondor and Rohan while traveling in disguise, and goes on countless travels all over Middle-earth. Then, when the War of the Ring begins, he's the first one on deck with his reforged family sword Andúril in hand, and his uber ancient claim to the kingship ready to go.