Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Trotter: A description of the development of the character Aragorn

Trotter was the name originally used for the character who would eventually become Strider (Aragorn) in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. This character underwent a series of developments and name changes before reaching his final identity. One of the things which was consistent throughout was the use of Trotter as his pseudonym. It was only after the story was complete that Tolkien decided to change it to Strider. It is important to note that Tolkien did not have the full plot of the story, or its background planned-out when he started writing. Rather, he “discovered” it as he wrote. This is the reason for the complex development of many of his characters.

Trotter the Hobbit

Trotter appears for the first time in the inn at Bree as a peculiar hobbit of whom very little is known. Trotter is initially described as "[A] queer-looking, brown-faced hobbit…He had an enormous mug…in front of him and was smoking a broken-stemmed pipe right under his rather long nose. He was dressed in dark rough brown cloth, and had a hood on in spite of the warmth, − and very remarkably, he had wooden shoes!"1 The innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur also refers to him as a “Ranger (which at that time meant nothing more than “one of the wild folk”), who speaks little, but can tell fascinating stories. He is a frequent visitor at Bree, but no-one knows his real name.

Despite being nothing more than an outlandish hobbit, Trotter’s role in the early drafts concerning Bree is very similar to that of Aragorn (Isildur's heir) in the final text of The Lord of the Rings. He manages to persuade Bingo (which was the name given to Frodo at that stage of writing) that he is a friend of Gandalf, and leads the hobbits on the perilous journey from Bree to Rivendell.

Whilst writing, Tolkien was continually plagued by the question, “Who is Trotter?” This character, who had appeared from nowhere, had not been planned and yet he seemed to be someone of great importance. It would take a very long time before the answer to this question was settled in his mind.

After reaching the arrival at Rivendell for that first time, Tolkien got to a point where he was unhappy with certain elements of the story. Before going back and reworking the story from the beginning, he wrote down a series of notes entitled "Queries and Alterations".2 One of his notes suggested that the Rangers should not be hobbits as originally planned. This would mean that Trotter was not a hobbit either. He also suggested that if Trotter was a hobbit [who associated himself with the Rangers] he must be someone that is well known [to the other characters]. The latter suggestion was linked to an early comment which Bingo had made in Rivendell, saying that there was something familiar about Trotter. Tolkien made a proposal that he might be Bilbo Baggins himself, but quickly rejected that idea. The reason that Bilbo was not the main character in the sequel to The Hobbit was that it had ended with the line “he lived happily ever after to the end of his days…”.3 On this basis, Bilbo could not get involved in any further adventures.

Another suggestion was that Trotter was a hobbit named Fosco Took (later changed to Fosco Boffin), a relation of Bilbo’s who had vanished from the Shire. This suggestion was further considered the next time the question “Who is Trotter?” arose. Then, in a collection of notes entitled “New Uncertainties and Projections”, Tolkien wrote “Trotter turns out to be Peregrin, who had been to Mordor”.4 This was not the Peregrin Took (Pippin) of the final text, since the names of the hobbit companions were also undergoing various changes. The reference was to Peregrin Boffin, a nephew of Bilbo, who had mysteriously disappeared from the Shire when Frodo (now so called) was very young. (Gandalf and Bilbo had been blamed for his disappearance.)

The idea of Trotter as Peregrin Boffin was maintained for some time, making it into early drafts of Rivendell and beyond. It is also in Rivendell, that we are given a hint as to why the hobbit, Trotter, wore wooden shoes. While helping Gandalf hunt for Gollum, he had been captured by the Dark Lord and tortured. The nature of the torture is never revealed since, when he ceased to be a hobbit, the issue of the wooden shoes is no longer present or in need of explaining. The only further hint that Tolkien gives is a note in the margin which says that it would later be revealed that Trotter had wooden feet. This, however, never happens and is the last we hear of it.

Trotter the Elf

Tolkien stopped working on The Lord of the Rings for about a year. When he started again, he went back to the beginning, making various changes. (Christopher Tolkien refers to this as the ‘’Fourth Stage’’ of writing).5 In a note made before he continued, appears a remarkable, but short-lived idea. It suggests that “Trotter is a disguised elf, and friend of Bilbo’s”.5 It then goes on further to propose that he is a spy from Rivendell, sent out and pretending to be a Ranger. This idea, however, was not taken very seriously.

Trotter as a Man

As has been mentioned, Tolkien had from time to time had doubts about Trotter being a hobbit and had even thought he might be a man. In a note, which may have been written at the same time as the “elvish suggestion”, he considers this again. Here, for the first time, Trotter is given the name Aragorn. He is also called here “a man of Elrond's race”.7 Elrond, of course, is not an elf, but one of the Half-elven (or Peredhil), and is even described as such in The Hobbit, which had been published at that time. While the story of Númenor and the descendants of Elros (Elrond's brother) was not fully developed, the germs of it were in existence, and would come to be connected with The Lord of the Rings as the character of Trotter developed. The story of the heirs of Elendil, and Trotter’s connection with them, was still far from complete, but this was the beginning of what would become a very important part of the story and change the role of Trotter drastically.

The change did not come immediately, though. Tolkien even left Trotter as Peregrin Boffin, the hobbit, at the beginning of Stage Four. But not far into writing, he did change things and he finally became a man.

The next important steps in Trotter’s development occurred in the subsequent drafts concerning Bree. At first his physical description is the same as that given to Trotter the Hobbit, except that he is a man, and his wooden shoes are omitted. Gandalf’s letter which Frodo receives from Butterbur undergoes much development. At one stage, Trotter even has an accompanying letter from Gandalf to prove that he is who he says he is. In the first draft of his letter, he is called “Aragorn, son of Celeborn, of the line of Isildur”.8 This is the first time his connection to Isildur is mentioned. (Isildur and his association to the ring already existed, but his history and position were yet to be explained.) A significant development in Gandalf’s letter is that of the rhyme “All that is gold does not glitter.”
There are numerous versions of the rhyme. The first draft says:

All that is gold does not glitter;
all that is long does not last;
All that is old does not wither
not all that is over is past.9
In the next draft a number of new lines appear. The most significant are:
Not all that have fallen are vanquished,
A king may yet be without crown
A blade that was broken be brandished
and towers that were strong may fall down.10
The next version is very similar to that given above, except that it has “not only the crowned is a king” and the last line is “And fire the doom of the ring”. Christopher Tolkien suggests that the reference to the crownless king in these versions had nothing to do with Trotter at that stage. They were simply a “further exemplification of the general moral”11 of the poem which was that “things are not always as they seem”.

The broken sword, however, was significant, as this was the first mention of the shards of Narsil. In the final draft, Trotter would draw out the broken sword as proof of who he was.

The sword was to appear again at the council of Elrond (in the riddle of Boromir).12 At this stage, Boromir’s city was called Ond (not Gondor). Here Tolkien considers, for the first time, that Trotter’s fathers were kings there. But it would still be a long time before he would develop the history of Gondor and Arnor, and explain why the kings were now “exiles” in the North.

The development of Trotter’s connection to Ond was long and complex, as was his association with Boromir, the man from Ond. The relationship between Boromir (whose character was pretty much in the final form from the beginning) and Trotter was uneasy from the start. As Tolkien wrote, ideas came to him and the history of Trotter's ancestors developed. Much of this development took place in drafts of "The Council of Elrond" as the history of the Ring was being told.13 Initially it is said that Trotter's fathers were Númenórean kings who ruled over the non-Númenórean people of Ond. Sauron raised a rebellion and the citizens drove their kings out of the land. It had already been stated that Trotter was descended from Isildur, and Isildur was already connected with the Ring. In subsequent drafts the story developed further, till that of Elendil, his sons and the battle of the Last Alliance was properly reached. At one time, Tolkien seems to have conceived only three generation between Isildur and Trotter,14 but this was not maintained as it contradicted a number of previous statements implying that the battle of the Last Alliance had been a very long time ago.


Tolkien had a great deal of trouble deciding what Trotter’s “real” name was. Although Aragorn was the first suggestion for his name as a man, it was changed a number of times between Bree and Lothlórien. It was altered from “Aragorn son of Celegorn” to “Elfstone son of Elfhelm” to “Ingold son of Ingrim”. Tolkien's main problem with the name “Aragorn” was that it was an “elvish” name and that would not do for Trotter who was a man.15 This was no longer a problem, however, when the book was finished, since the Númeróreans could speak Elvish, and gave their children elvish names. Surprisingly, Tolkien never explains the meaning of Aragorn, though most of his other names are explained.

When Tolkien reached the initial texts concerning Lothlórien, he was using the name Ingold for Trotter. But Galadriel's gifts would lead to another change. Originally, it was Gimli the Dwarf who would receive the green emerald (Elessar) from her. Gimli accepted the gift with the words “Elfstone shall be a name of honour in my kin for ever”.16 After writing this, Tolkien decided that he would rather change Trotter’s name back to Elfstone and that he would be the one to receive the emerald. On further revision, however, Tolkien decided to change his name again to Aragorn. Elfstone (translated as Elessar) became an assumed name, one which had been “foretold for him” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p 391). The name of his father was changed from Keleborn to Eldakar to Valatar and ...before reaching the final form, Arathorn.17

In the margin of drafts of the chapter entitled “The Last Debate”, Christopher Tolkien notes the presence of a remarkable passage. It is a conversation between Merry and Gimli in which Gimli says that the folk of Lebenin have been calling Trotter the “Lord of the Ring”.18 Merry thinks it must be a trick, to make Sauron think that Aragorn has and will use the One Ring. Gimli doubts this, saying that Aragorn would never allow such a rumour to be spread, even to trick the enemy, and that Elrond’s sons had also called him by that name. On another scrap of paper, is a note that says that Galadriel must give her ring to Trotter, but Tolkien immediately rejects this idea as it will leave Lothlórien defenseless.

Further Character Developments

From the time they left Lothlórien, the role and character of Trotter had almost been fully realized. He was to do and say much of the same things that Strider would in the final story; including leading the company from Moria, and choosing not to follow Frodo to Mordor.

One significant feature which did not yet exist, though, was his relationship with Elrond’s daughter, Arwen. This meant that when he first met Éowyn (Théoden's niece), the interest which she showed towards him was not one-sided.19 In notes, probably written after the first drafts of “King of the Golden Hall” chapter, Tolkien even suggested that Aragorn would marry Éowyn at the end of the story. He then had second thoughts, claiming that Aragorn was “too old, lordly and grim.”20 (He also makes an interesting comment here that Éowyn would be Éomer’s twin sister, but this idea did not survive either.) After this are other notes suggesting that Éowyn would die to save/avenge Théoden, and that Aragorn did love her after all, and would never marry after her death. This, however, was not the way things were to happen.

The first mention of Elrond's daughter is in reference javascript:;to the banner which she made for Trotter that his fellow Rangers brought to him in Rohan.21span style="mso-spacerun: yes;"> Her name is originally Finduilas (The name of an elf in The Silmarillion, and later that used for Boromir and Faramir's mother). Tolkien does not give any hint here as to why she made it, and whether she had any further part to play. The next mention of her is in a note (written during the “Houses of Healing” chapter) concerning Tolkien's plans for the end of the book. It says that Finduilas will come to Minas Tirith at the end.22 In the note referred to in the section on Names (about Galadriel giving Trotter her ring) we find a suggestion that the reason for this gift was that he was to marry Finduilas.23 It is only after the completion of the chapter concerning “Mount Doom” (i.e. after the destruction of the One Ring) that we hear of Finduilas again. In a sketch entitled “The Story Foreseen from Kormallen(sic)” Tolkien again outlines his plans for the rest of the book. Here it is said that Elrond, Celeborn and Galadriel will bring Finduilas to Minas Tirith after Trotter's coronation.24 There he and Finduilas will be married. The next point in this note says “also Faramir and Éowyn”. This is the first hint we have of their relationship, which may have simply developed out of their being “stuck together” in the Houses of Healing.

In the first draft of the “Steward and the King” (at the end of which Trotter is married) Elrond's daughter is still called Finduilas, and for the first time it is explained that she is Galadriel's granddaughter.25 In a manuscript text which followed this draft, her name is finally changed to Arwen. It is only in his working on the appendices of The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien records the full tale of Aragorn and Arwen to explain the events of the book.26

Why Strider?

Originally The Lord of the Rings was to have an epilogue, a final chapter in which Sam tells his children stories of his adventure.27 In the initial texts of this the king is still called “Trotter”, showing that the pseudonym was maintained right till the end. It was only on revision that Tolkien decided to change it to Strider. Why this decision was made is never explained. One can only guess that Tolkien realised Trotter had outgrown his name. What worked for an obscure hobbit with wooden shoes, did not quite work for the heir to the throne of Gondor, even if he was secretly living in exile.

All Trotter’s Names


Bilbo Baggins (short-lived idea)
Fosco Took/Boffin
Peregrin Boffin



Translations of the Elvish form of Trotter, used by Glorfindel:
Ethellion Used by Bilbo, being the translation of “Peregrin”
Tarkil Used by Bilbo, meaning “Númenórean”
This was changed to Dúnadan in the final version
Tarakil Used by Trotter himself, being the Quenyan translation of “Trotter”
This was changed to Telcontar for “Strider” in the final version



Succession of names:
Aragorn → Elfstone → Ingold → Elfstone → Aragorn
Alternate versions of “Elfstone”:
Erkenbrand, Elf-friend, Elfmere, Elfspear, Elfwold
Alternate translations for “Elfstone”:
Eladamir → Eldavel → Eledon → Quendemir → Elessar


Rejected Title

“Lord of the Ring”



1. RS: 137-138. 
2. RS 
3. RS: ??.
4. RSw: 369-387. 
5. TI: 18. 
6. TI: 6. 
7. TI: 6-8. 
8. TI: 50. 
9. TI: 76. 
10. TI: 80. 
11. TI: 171. 
12. TI: 116 & 128. 
13. TI: 110-160. 
14. TI: 360-361. 
15. TI: 277-278. 
16. TI: 275 . 
17. TI: ??. 
18. WR: 425-426. 
19. TI: p 445. 
 20. TI: p 448. 
21. WR: 307. 
22. WR: 386. 
23. WR: 425. 
24. SD: 52. 
25. SD: 58. 
26. PME: 262-270. 
27. SD: 114-135. 


RS: The Return of the Shadow, J. R. R. Tolkien (1988), Christopher Tolkien, (ed.), Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  

TI: The Treason of Isengard, J. R. R. Tolkien (1989), Christopher Tolkien, (ed.), Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 

WR: The War of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien (1990), Christopher Tolkien, (ed.), Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 

SD: Sauron Defeated, J. R. R. Tolkien (1992), Christopher Tolkien, (ed.), Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 

PME: The Peoples of Middle Earth, J. R. R. Tolkien (1988), Christopher Tolkien, (ed.), Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

1 comment:

Mariah B'Forre said...

Nice! It was neat to see a bit into the development of LotR. :) I like to sometimes read about Tolkien's books, because I really like Tolkien but can't read most of what he writes. ;) So, yeah, neat post!

-Islie :)