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In the first book, Aragorn and the Hobbits set up camp and start a fire on the side of Weathertop. Why is stealth no longer necessary? Between setting off from the Shire and reaching Weathertop, the party goes to great lengths and faces many dangers and unknowns just to avoid being found by the Nazgûl. A fire makes light and smoke revealing their position. Unsurprisingly, the Nazgûl soon find and attack them.

Aragorn appears to do a 180: one moment, he still cares about stealth "I was too careless on the hill-top ... it was a mistake for three of us to go up and stand there for so long", but the next moment, he suggests starting a fire. Note that at this point, there is no indication that they have been spotted. Sam correctly points out that fire equals no stealth, but there is no response.

All the justification we get is:

Aragorn: Let us take this wood that is set ready for fire as a sign. There is little shelter or defense here, but fire shall serve us both. Sauron can put fire to his evil uses, as he can all things, but the Riders do not love it, and fear those who wield it. Fire is our friend in the wilderness.

I do not understand this. What is Aragorn's plan? Is he counting on remaining hidden, despite the fire? Has he given up on stealth? Why? Is he counting on being able to fight off the Nazgûl? The same Nazgûl who battled Gandalf a couple of nights prior? Did Aragorn not know how powerful they are?

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    @Valorum it would be nice if you told me what your sources for this information are. Gandalf appears to trust him (says so in his letter at Prancing Pony). Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 7:27
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    Was Aragorn perfect? is a start
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 7:29
  • @LogicDictates "More concerned" and "giving up" are not synonyms. Why the edit?
    – Andomar
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 7:43
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    @Andomar - The original title, "Why Aragorn gave up stealth at Weathertop?", wasn't grammatically correct, so I felt it should be tweaked. I considered changing it to "Why did Aragorn give up on stealth at Weathertop?", but this somewhat conflicts with the body of the question, where the OP asks if Aragorn had given up on stealth or not. I thought it was better to go with a title that didn't presume anything in that regard one way or the other. After all, it's not clear that he did give up on stealth; he just wasn't being as stealthy as he could be. Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 7:51

2 Answers 2

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Earlier Aragorn said:

They themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys; and in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared.

Maybe light and warmth are like darkness and cold to wraiths. Then comes your quote:

Let us take this wood that is set ready for fire as a sign. (...) Fire is our friend in the wilderness.

Perhaps Aragorn perceives the stack of wood as a sign from Gandalf, or another good power, saying they are meant to make a fire. To which Sam replies:

‘Maybe,’ muttered Sam. ‘It is also as good a way of saying “here we are” as I can think of, bar shouting.’

Aragorn does not reply. He may not agree with Sam.

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    So they can not see fire because they "do not see the world of light" and they see so well in the dark that camping with a fire is more stealthy than without? Wow! I am totally stealing this idea if I ever get to invent a magical monster or antagonist. Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 8:55
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    +1 Aragorn also may agree with Sam that a fire abandons stealth, but just come to a different best course of action.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 14:43
  • @AndreyBienkowski It's common for guards to avoid looking at light sources in order to protect their night vision. Eyes adapt.
    – Alan
    Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 14:11
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    @AndreyBienkowski: "So they can not see fire because they "do not see the world of light" and they see so well in the dark that camping with a fire is more stealthy than without?" I am kicking myself for not remembering the movie title, but there was a movie about a submarine being hunted by another submarine. Stealth was the primary tactic, IIRC the protagonists were testing a stealth engine. When close to being spotted they went topside, hung lights off of the ship, and sung loudly like a bunch of drunken sailors. The enemy sub's crew shook their heads and continued searching elsewhere.
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 3:44
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    @Flater: No prototype stealth engine, but Down Periscope does feature the crew hanging lights off the sub in storm while "drunkenly" singing Louie Louie (for the benefit of the enemy sub's hydrophones) to pretend to be a bunch of drunks on a fishing trawler. Probably the scene you're thinking of. Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 12:32
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Shortly beforehand, they see the riders on the road below Weathertop:

They could all see the black specks, but neither Frodo nor Merry could make out their shapes for certain; yet something told them that there, far below, were Black Riders assembling on the Road beyond the foot of the hill.

‘Yes,’ said Strider, whose keener sight left him in no doubt. ‘The enemy is here!’

Knowing they are so close, Aragorn believes that they will be able to find them that night, whether they light a fire or not, especially given the presence of the ring:

Also,’ he added, and his voice sank to a whisper, ‘the Ring draws them.’

‘Is there no escape then?’ said Frodo, looking round wildly. ‘If I move I shall be seen and hunted! If I stay, I shall draw them to me!’

The fire might make it easier to be found, but also gives them some chance at a defense:

There is little shelter or defence here, but fire shall serve for both. Sauron can put fire to his evil uses, as he can all things, but these Riders do not love it, and fear those who wield it.

Neither option is without risk, and he makes a judgement on which will give them the best chance of surviving.

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    This. They're about to be discovered anyway (if they haven't already been spotted), so might as well have (a) some warmth, and (b) something that might keep the Black Riders at bay.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 17:21
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    In terms of story, that judgement call shows Aragorn's bravery and tactical skill early on. The Riders will find them; he no longer has any choice in whether or not they will have to fight, so instead he chooses where and how to fight, to give himself the best chance. He makes the decision to stand and oppose them at a place of his choosing, rather than hide or run. This tells us a little about what sort of leader he'll be - and, eventually, what sort of king he could be. Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 10:23

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