Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Rangers: From Merry Men to Dúnedain (and beyond)

Rangers. A well-known Fantasy designation now, an archetype found in many works of literature and role-playing games (such as Dungeons & Dragons), they share many common attributes: Often wise and unfailingly hardy as well as cunning and perceptive folk who are past-masters in the arts of stealth, wilderness survival, and combat with a particular specialty in archery and other ranged weapons. But where did this archetype come from? Two places, the first of comes not from a single Fantasy author but from the ballads and legends of our own world. Namely merry old England for, as I have said in the past and as any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, Fantasy literature draws much of its inspiration from myth and legend, both of which are empowered with wonder and mystery. In the case of Rangers, take a guess. Green clad archers of the forest who defend the common people? If you are thinking Robin Hood and his Merry Men then you hit the bullseye straight on, for from their woodland abode in Sherwood Forest they are fit and basically founded all the key attributes listed above. I say basically because, to start, they were not called Rangers and, for all that stories of Robin Hood are serious in that they face a real tyrant in the form of Prince John, they are more comic in nature; the Merry Men are called such for a reason.

Today, however, the most common form a Ranger takes is a cloaked, grim-faced woman or man with an aura of mystery about them and who tends to be something of a loner, making them similar to the Merry Men, but different enough to be notable. Which brings one back to the question of where did this archetype come from. Two places, the second being where, also as any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, the Fantastic draws much of its inspiration: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. More directly from the Rangers of the North (who are the last remnant of the Dúnedain of Arnor) and their leader Aragorn son of Arathorn who in the town of Bree is known as Strider; and their southern Gondorian Dúnedain cousins the Rangers of Ithilien under Captain Faramir. Often grim, particularly the Northerners, and garbed camouflaging browns, greys and dark greens, the Rangers of the North protect the lands they wander although their secretiveness made other peoples look upon them with wariness and distrust. Whereas the the Rangers of Ithilien were a Gondorian special operations force that routinely harass and ambush Sauron's forces from several secret retreats. As one can clearly see, this covers all the bases the Rangers of the North exemplifying the noble community of mysterious loners type of Ranger, while the Rangers of Ithilien operate in a more official capacity in that they are an military unit within a larger country.

Of course, it is hardly a coincidence that I am writing about all this shortly after beginning The Red Fox Clan, book #2 of the Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger series by John Flanagan, and indeed I have thought and known all of the above for years. But it was only late last week that I realized with shock that I had not written it down. Which brings us to the glorious topic of Rangers in Fantasy literature, or rather what would be a glorious one if it was used enough to even be deem a topic. Strange at it is to say, while other Tolkienesque tropes and elements have been harvested and employed almost to the point of exhaustion in some cases, only John Flanagan took the Rangers and built something of them: his Ranger’s Apprentice books being an international bestseller and the Ranger Corps of the Kingdom of Araluen a flawless combination of both the Rangers of North and Ithilien in how Araluens view them and their official function in service to the Throne. If Halt is not based off Aragorn and Gandalf I will eat my quiver. 

(On a side note, today is a most apt day for this post because today is the day that book #4 of the Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger series comes out!)

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