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In praise of Aragorn, the most well-rounded sex symbol on Middle (or any) earth

A deep appreciation of a true king, the babe of the west

It is not particularly novel to note that Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the Dunedán, Elessar, the Elfstone, is hot. One may as well announce that Elves are old, or that Hobbits have large feet. But consider, if you will, the enduring nature of that hotness. Its versatility.

The film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings does a lot of things across the 10-plus hours it takes to experience them, but when you focus on Aragorn, it becomes an episode of Planet (Middle)earth about the many unexpected ways he can be hot.

2021 marks The Lord of the Rings movies' 20th anniversary, and we couldn't imagine exploring the trilogy in just one story. So each Wednesday throughout the year, we'll go there and back again, examining how and why the films have endured as modern classics. This is Polygon's Year of the Ring.

One can almost hear Sir David Attenborough narrating: Observe, in a dark corner of the Prancing Pony, a man crosses his legs, smokes his pipe, and a generation of viewers swoon, helpless. But what did we swoon over? His artful tobacco indulgence? His fierceness on Weathertop? His filthy nailbeds, affectionately closing the eyelids of the fallen Boromir? The valor of a man who should be king, but refuses the call?

Aragorn occupies a unique position in the canon of formative crushes in blockbuster cinema in that he’s absolutely a sex symbol, while the actor who portrays him is absolutely not. This is not a judgment of Viggo Mortensen’s attractiveness (for the record: hot), but an observation in how his career trended before and after he played Aragorn. In years prior, Mortensen was a regular supporting player with a career stretching back to the mid-’80s, and few breakout roles. After Lord of the Rings, Mortensen eschewed blockbusters almost entirely. With the exception of Hidalgo, the actor almost unilaterally preferred arthouse films like A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, and starred in fewer and fewer movies going into the 2010s.

Compared with say, Orlando Bloom — who went on to be a go-to heartthrob in the early 2000s as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean (ironically once again competing for attention with a grimy man nearly 20 years older than him) and in romantic dramas like Elizabethtown — the attractiveness of Mortensen’s characters was not a recurring theme in his career. Aragorn’s attractiveness, however? It has endured, smoldering on like the fires of Mount Doom.

Interested in this formative figure of Millennial youth, I asked a bunch of people over the internet what, specifically, makes Aragorn Hot, and I was delighted to find that fans weren’t merely interested in discussing his swarthiness, but his journey.

Aragorn wearing the crown of Gondor’s kings in The Return of the King. Image: New Line Cinema

“I think it relates to how he tends to embody a kind of perfect (to me) masculinity,” wrote Polygon contributor Chris Eddleman. “He is both rugged and gentle, humble and capable, affectionate but fierce in the face of adversity.”

“He has all the ‘traditional’ masculine attributes like strength, protectiveness, bravery but he’s not a bully,” said Kiki Intarasuwan across multiple tweets and DMs. “He’s also kind, compassionate, not afraid to show his emotions and he respects women’s choices. When I think of Aragorn, I think of the scene where he consoles Boromir as he dies and then kissing him on the forehead. That and the battle of Helm’s Deep were really turning points for him because he initially wasn’t ambitious and didn’t want to be king. But his compassion and vulnerability make him a good leader and he naturally stepped up in that role.”

Intarasuwan also noted how that compassion also seems to radiate from Viggo himself in interviews and public appearances out of character, something Observer entertainment editor Eric Vilas-Boas also notes.

“There’s layers to the hotness: onscreen external physicality but also the meta-notion/fan-maxim that Viggo left it all on the field for them.”

Vilas-Boas, like a lot of people, also mentioned a specific moment emblematic of Aragorn’s all-encompassing Noble Hotness. For him, it was telling the King of Rohan to ride out and face the orcs.

For Linda H. Cordega, that moment was one of the first, at his introduction in the Prancing Pony.

“I saw LOTR when I was 11 and the entire course of my life shifted when he put out a candle with his bare hand. I literally went home and tried it and had a blister for a week,” they told me. “I have had Extensive Conversations about this with me and my friends and we are (for the most part) p. Gay and also p. Asexual but like…there’s a VIBE. Like do I want to take him to bed or do I…want to BE him???”

Of course, when talking about incredibly hot Aragorn scenes, one towers above them all: His arrival in Helm’s Deep, A.K.A. The Door Scene.

I got A LOT of messages about The Door Scene.

And a few that just get at a very essential truth about Aragorn: He just looks good dirty.

Aragorn holding a torch in a forest in The Fellowship of the Ring. Image: New Line Cinema

“He’s the king of the specific niche that really only works in fiction & not life, which is ‘looks better covered in an artful layer of dirt & grime than clean.’”

This brings up an interesting corollary to Aragorn’s hotness: He is sexy, specifically, as Strider, the man on the road, and less so (but not by much) when he is the cleaned-up King of Gondor at the conclusion of The Return of the King. Both versions, my colleagues at Polygon note, exude powerfully admirable levels of Wife Guy.

Of course, not everyone who watches Lord of the Rings is moved by Aragorn’s brand of hotness. Some, like Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz in The Cut, are not Aragorn Girls, but Legolas Girls. Others, as Polygon has shown at length, have plenty reason to find its many orcs hot. Some may just be in it for an enduring tale of friendship and perseverance, and quietly wish that we perverts would also diminish, and fade into the west.

To them, I must apologize, because to me? Aragorn is the one to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them … if you know what I mean.