Location(s): Eriador (around the Shire), Helm's Deep, Dunharrow, the Paths of the Dead, Pelargir, the Fields of Pelennor
Type/Kind: Dunadan of the North
Title(s): Dúnadan, Ranger of the North
Dates: b. ?-d. 3019
What Does It Mean?
The meaning of the name 'Halbarad' is not wholly clear, but we can subject it to intelligent analysis with the help of Ardalambion and individuals more knowledgeable of Sindarin than I.
'Hal-' has two possibilities: Sindarin 'hall' meaning 'noble'; or the root 'skal' which appears in "Haldir" as meaning "hidden hero."
'-barad': taken in itself, this would seem to be the word 'barad,' meaning 'tower.' However, Sindarin compound names often undergo lenition of the second element (e.g., "Gildor" from Gil + taur). The only thing that leaves me with is "parad" or some similar form, but there is no listing of such a stem to my knowledge.
Taken together, however, the name suggests nobility, one who rises above others, a stalwart defense (accepting 'barad' as it is), a hero who goes unrecognized. All of these would be symbolically appropriate for a Ranger and for Halbarad in particular (see below speculation concerning his function in the story).
Thanks to Nath for her help with the linguistics.
"[I]n the moonlight, a horseman could be seen dismounting and walking slowly forward. [...] At ten paces the man stopped. He was tall, a dark standing shadow. Then his clear voice rang out. 'Rohan? Rohan did you say? That is glad word. We seek that land in haste from long afar.'" (Book V, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RotK, 50)
"'They are a strange company, these newcomers,' said Gimli. 'Stout men and lordly they are, and the Riders of Rohan look almost as boys beside them; for they are grim men of face, worn like weathered rocks for the most part, even as Aragorn himself; and they are silent. '" (Book V, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RotK, 53)
"A little apart the Rangers sat, silent, in an ordered company, armed with spear and bow and sword. They were clad in cloaks of dark grey, and their hoods were cast now over helm and head. [...] There was no gleam of stone or gold, nor any fair thing in all [the horses'] gear and harness; nor did their riders bear any badge or token, save only that each cloak was pinned upon the left shoulder by a brooch of silver shaped like a rayed star." (Book V, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RotK, 55)
Apart from his initial appearance to the Riders of Rohan, in the dark after the incident with the Nazgul, we have no individual description of Halbarad. However, we may extrapolate something of his manner and what he must have looked like given that he was the leader of the Grey Company, and given the characteristic grey eyes/dark hair combination that marks most men of Númenorean descent.
We do not know who his parents were, nor whether he had siblings or a wife and children. We do know that he is related to Aragorn closely enough to merit mention: Aragorn refers to him as "kinsman," and Legolas quickly picks up on this and uses that word to describe Halbarad to Merry.
Halbarad brought word south to Aragorn from Arwen concerning the crisis approaching, and also brought with him the standard that Arwen had made for Aragorn. He was the only one to stand with Aragorn when the latter challenged Sauron through the Isengard palantír in the Hornburg. One wonders whether the fact that he took the standard up into the tower gives an indication of how Aragorn might have shown himself to the Dark Lord, since "he saw me, but in other guise than you see me here" (Book V, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RotK, 57).
Halbarad, like the rest of the Grey Company, followed Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead, and therefore also took part in the battle that overthrew the Corsairs.
During the Battle of Pelennor, he was Aragorn's standard-bearer, and at some point during the battle was slain, as he had foretold in the Dimholt, before the Door of the Dead. We do not know anything specific of his deeds in either of the battles he is known to have fought in, but in the tally of dead, Halbarad is referred to as "Halbarad, dour-handed Ranger," implying that he was no small threat to his enemies. He is not mentioned, however, in the poem at the end of "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields."
In the end, we know very little that is concrete about Halbarad. We know that he was one of the Rangers who took part in the Shire Watch, and that he esteemed the hobbits as a folk of no small worth:
"A little people, but of great worth are the Shirefolk,' said Halbarad. 'Little do they know of our long labour for the safe-keeping of their borders, and yet I grudge it not' "(Book V, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RotK, 57).
From Aragorn's enthusiastic greeting of Halbarad in "The Passing of the Grey Company," and his subsequent association with him, we can infer that they were great friends as well as kinsmen. One may infer that Halbarad was a man of honor, courageous, and loyal.
Speculation: Why Halbarad?
Halbarad's function in the story is not entirely clear. Halbarad did bring the standard to Aragorn, but Elladan or Elrohir could have done that. He led the Dúnedain south, but again, Elladan or Elrohir could also have done that.
His unique function seems to be that he serves as a representative of Aragorn's people, an individual Ranger who stands out from the grim and silent and orderly crowd. In doing so, he also gives an indication of the sort of person Aragorn attracts.
One parallel that may be drawn is that he, as an authority figure and so 'steward' in the North, is the counterpart of Denethor, who is Aragorn's steward in Minas Tirith. Between them, Halbarad and Denethor serve as examples of different kinds of stewardship, both of them ending in death. But whereas Halbarad, knowing that he will die, presses on to the end and in dying fulfills his purpose, Denethor, believing only that he and Gondor will fall, commits suicide, thereby wrongly abandonning his post.
In the end, however, the simplest fact of Halbarad's existence may be the one that defines his purpose in the story: he is one of the many who fall to Sauron's malice. In this case, he and Háma are akin in terms of representing Eriador's and Rohan's losses, which are high, for "no few had fallen, renowned or nameless, captain or soldier..." (Book V, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," RotK, 136). Under this interpretation, it is perhaps fitting that he remain the unsung ('hidden') hero.
(Thanks to Shauna for first drawing my attention to the question of what Halbarad stands for in LOTR, and for specifically identifying him as one of the many who must die for the war to be won, and who must die almost nameless in order for others to have their renown.)