Forum: Deconstructing Denethor

Discussing: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Dwim wrote, on the original thread: Really this is an excuse to point out that there's a new Denethor nuzgul in the Hutch. I posted it on list and figured this would be as good a place as any to talk about it and to talk about the subject of this thread: the kinder, gentler Denethor who is known to exist at rare moments 'in the wild' (i.e., you can occasionally find him in fanfics if you hunt carefully). What is his textual basis? How does one go about writing him? [snip] Is there any evidence to support the claim of an existing kinder, gentler Denethor? I'd like us to try to compile whatever textual references we can find, if any, that would hint at moments when Denethor is, in fact, kinder. And once we have those references, how do you think we can reconcile those paragraphs with the moments when Denethor is at his worst (or best, depending on your own view of him)? A must for me has to be that reference on the Appendix when Tolkien writes that he was as like to Thorongil as one of close kin (I promise I'll find the quote and write it here). To me, that is indicative of a very noble, worthy personality, with all that entails. When, then, was the change produced, if there was one? I'd just love to see what we can, together, find out about this man: textual references from any of the works, conjectures, explorations of any kind- please, post it all! And, thanks again to Dwim for starting the thread and to all those who have responded. I so love talking Denethor... Cheers, Starlight

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

SSP! SSP! In this case, that would be Shameless Site Plug -- Liz's and my site "The Steward's Scrolls". Specifically, check out the "About Denethor" section. Liz has collected a wide assortment of quotes from LotR and UT that might be a good place to start. And I do say Liz -- the most I helped out with this particular section was along the lines of "yeah, that would be a good quote to include" when she suggested one. At any rate, it might be a good place to start. I'd comment more fully, but I'm about to dive into the morass that is RL. Cheers, Marta

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Yes, do check out Steward's Scrolls for a lengthy list of quotes pertaining to Denethor. It is very time-saving. The quote about his likeness to Thorongil is one of those intriguing quotes, I agree, that is open to interpretation in a variety of manners. Where, precisely, did the rivalry come from, given that both of them are (apparently) good commanders (proud and valiant and far-sighted), and also well-educated (learned in lore). The kicker is that term "wise". How am I to understand this? To me, this term gets employed in a somewhat equivocal manner throughout Tolkien's stories--it can mean one who has good strategic or tactical sense (i.e., prudent), which I take to be something that can be lost (maybe you just cease to care about this, or deliberately mess up, or you lose the ability due to changes in the 'material situation', as it were); it can also mean a sort of moral or spiritual wisdom that expresses itself beyond simple strategic judgment, which I think of as an active quality that requires a deliberate letting-go to lose; or it could be just knowing a lot of things (but the "learned in lore" makes that redundant in this context); it may also mean both at once. I think how one works out the designation "wise" with respect to Denethor and Aragorn is key in which way you go when interpreting their rivalry as a part of Denethor's evolution. The implication in Appendix A is that the rivalry was not over sheer ability—Denethor and Aragorn apparently were both highly competent people, though doubtless they had their individual styles of leadership, etc. The rivalry, it is implied, sprang up over the perception of favoritism—for reasons not explained, Aragorn was consistently esteemed the higher by Denethor's own people, and even by his own father. Whether this is strictly a perception on Denethor's part or whether it is real both have interesting connotations for me: if it's mere perception, then that, to me, weakens Denethor's claim on sense two of wisdom (and thereby also on sense three); if it's real favoritism, then I wonder what exactly Aragorn did (or what Denethor didn't do) that apparently the majority of Minas Tirith, including Ecthelion who would have been in a privileged position with regard to knowing his son, felt Aragorn was more worthy of esteem than Denethor. That's not to say Denethor wasn't worthy of esteem, just that Aragorn got more of it, and more consistently. What would be the objective basis for such 'favoritism' on the most charitable reading of Denethor that we can make, and how would that affect him if we are aiming to keep him to the lighter side of stern and grim? It's also interesting, the line that follows: "At the time, many thought that Thorongil had departed before his rival became his master; though indeed Thorongil had never himself vied with Denethor..." Apparently, there was enough friction between them or the perceived difference in worth was great enough that people thought Thorongil would want to leave before he was made to submit to Denethor as his lord. This comment never fails to intrigue me. It's not clear to me that the general populace would have a clear enough understanding of the dynamics between two captains that they would be able to form a truly objective understanding of how Denethor and Thorongil would've behaved were the former made the latter's master. So there's room for gross exaggeration of small differences between them. It could have been that for anyone who really knew the two, there was no reason to think any such thing. But something had to be there to start the speculation. Is it just that no one in Minas Tirith would believe that someone would submit to a man lesser than he without bitterness? Or was there something in Aragorn's or Denethor's (or both of their) behavior that obviously signalled it would be reasonable for Thorongil to take the opportunity to leave Gondor before Denethor became his lord? But harder for me to crack than things like rivalries is the situation with Finduilas. If I were a widower who had loved my wife more than anyone else (except the first son she bore me), then what exactly is it with me that I have this noticeable favoritism for Boromir? I mean, c'mon, Faramir is Finduilas' son, too! Surely I'd love him just as much if differently, because Finduilas was his mother and presumably also loved him. That always pushes me towards that puzzling phrase, that Denethor loved Finduilas "in his fashion", which seems a very strange thing to say of someone, indicating that his love has a noticeably different character to it that requires some kind of qualification or the outside world wouldn't recognize it. Put this observation alongside the rivalry of Thorongil and Denethor, and you can see why I go the directions I do, just based on those two facts. If anyone wants to cover those areas and show how to go a less dark way, there's a nuzgûl in another thread...

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

I'd love to respond to all aspects of your post, but I don't trust myself to do it all in one post so for now I tackle them one at a time. My own theory on the subject of Denethor's 'favoritism' is as follows. I believe that Denethor's love for Finduilas has little to do with his apparent favoritism for his elder son, because as you said Faramir is Finduilas' son, too which I think therefore rules this out as a completely plausible possibility. Rather, I believe, it has more to do with the love Finduilas had for Denethor, to say the least of it. Let me explain. In examining the appendices, several things always jump out at me. The book says that Denethor was "learned in lore" and then a little later says that Faramir "was a lover of lore". Certainly there is a difference between being learned in lore and a lover of lore, but, is it wrong to assume that this pursual of 'book' knowledge on Denethor's part, was discouraged by his father? Tolkien shows Ecthelion's preference for men who would aid him in his quest to "strengthen his realm against the assault of Mordor" and "proved trustworthy" in that endeavor. Would being "learned in lore" really help him, and even if Ecthelion didn't discourage this pursual, don't his actions indirectly reflect this? Tolkien says that Ecthelion "loved [Thorongil] above all." Why? Because he was "a great captain" and gave military aid and advice. Denethor was a shrewd man (so Tolkien mentions in several places) and I doubt this subtle rebuke (if his father never confroted him directly on the matter) would be lost on him. I mean, if his son and heir could offer such military aid/advice, one would think that Ecthelion would turn to him instead of a complete stranger, right? Tolkien says that Denethor "was like to Thorongil as one of nearest kin" and then also says that he "was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and in the esteem of his father." Why? The most logical conclusion that I can draw is that, although Denethor was battle-wise to some extent and was certainly not devoid of knowledge when it came to military strategy it was not his forte nor his 'first love'. And Ecthelion knew that. This not only is unhealthy for Denethor because it conditions him (as it would anyone else in his position) to believe that to be of worth in society one must be a warrior and "great captain" (something he doesn't want to be and therefore, cannot be), it also has effectively relieved him of that place in his father's love that every male seeks and needs. He has been raised to one day lead the people of Gondor as a ruling Steward, and yet when he was a "ripe for the stewardship" as Tolkien puts it, suddenly his father and the people pull him to the side and place in his stead a complete stranger whose name and origin is completely unknown and whose only real qualification is his superior leadship/battle skills. I mean, what kind of message does *that* send out? I, for one, if I was Denethor, would have felt like next nothing and completely worthless. Adding to this developing sense of "your father and people will neither accept you as you are nor honor you if do not prove yourself great in battle" is that fact that Tolkien never mentions if Denethor had a(ny) brother(s). I believe it a key element in Faramir's development as both a person and a character that Boromir is there to encourage and reassure when Denethor is not. Just try and imagine Faramir w/o Boromir for a moment, leaving Denethor's criticisms of Faramir completely intact. Not exactly a pretty picture. If Denethor didn't have any brother's (which I believe Tolkien would have mentioned if he had) and if his mother took as passive a role in his life as to be completely overlooked by Tolkien, then it would be very easy to extend "your father and people" to "no one". It is a simple extension of this to realize that if Denethor believed this and had seen no evidence to the contrary for the better part of the first half of his life (where the foundations of your theories and ideas about the world are formed) and that if he loved Faramir (which I can't see him not doing) he would have tried to protect him from the loss and pain that not being cheifly concerned with battle had brought him by pushing Faramir to be more like his brother (who needed no of this pushing and therefore appeared to all his favorite). Parents often try to limit their children from doing things they believe will only result in pain and without meaning to, by those restricting and criticising actions cause the very pain that sought to protect their child from. In all this it is crucial to remember Finduilas (which brings me back to my original point) because although Denethor had extended his belief to "no one will accept you as you are nor honor you if do not prove yourself great in battle" a striking piece of evidence to the contrary soon enters his life in the form of Finduilas. Although most authors, drawing on their age difference and/or the author's dislike for Denethor, hold to the belief that Finduilas didn't really love him and was 'forced' to marry him, I cannot bring myself to believe it. For me, such a belief reduces Finduilas (whose character I hold in high esteem) to nothing more than a mere puppet who was too silly to escape Minas Tirith before death found her. I rather would believe that Finduilas indeed loved him and that by her love Denethor was forced to confront the fact that his supposition was incorrect; there was always someone out there who will love and honor you for who you really are. In confronting this fact he was then released from pretending so that he might win esteem and love from his father and his people and could instead develop a more healthy mentality. However, soon after she enters his life, she is gone and brings back his previous belief with a new bitter addition. "Although you may find that one person who will love and honor you as you are, life will inevitably end and death will take them from you." This only adds to the pressure he would place on Faramir because with Finduilas died the only being Denethor had ever seen who would accept and honor and love without regard for military ability or any other such petty thing. Her love was the only source of unconditional love Denethor ever received which should really never be the case in anyone's life, let alone someone who is in a place of leadership and therefore, under constant pressure. Because of this love she had for him, the love that he received from no one else for the entirety of is relationship with the person (unless you count his mother), and given his history to that point in his life, I think it would be supremely easily to conclude that without Finduilas, Faramir would have to face the same pain of rejection he had. However, he overlooked, as many parent's do, the fact that if he himself unconditionally loved Faramir it would have been enough. But then I wonder if Denethor wouldn't have concluded in his cynicism that then when he himself died Faramir would again be without. IMHO, Denethor has a tendency to draw too much upon himself, not necessarily in a prideful manner as if he believed that only he could do it right but that he believed that most everyone else had done it wrong, at that, at the very least he could do it a little better. Of course, near the end he realizes that he has caused Faramir that pain which he thought he was avoiding (an idea whispered in the back of his mind, I think, for many years previous). In conclusion, I don't think his apparent favoritism for Boromir, is favoritism at all. He loves both of his sons deeply, for the each are to him parts of his late wife whom he so loved. But one is the sort of man who the people will accept as great for his skills as a warrior and therefore can be openly encouraged and praised. The other, though, is of the sort more like Denethor himself was in his younger days, the sort who was never loved just for who he was by father or people and when that unconditional love was finally found, it soon was stolen away, the sort whom Denethor believes will only be met with pain and will "ever be placed second in the hearts of men". Therefore, public praise will encourage that which Denethor believes will ultimately bring Faramir only pain. Intrepreted by an outside source, Boromir is indeed his favorite, but when I look inside, I wonder if that truly is the case and if he doesn't really love Faramir just as much, but is trying too hard to protect him. Even Gandalf (who isn't Denethor's biggest fan, to put it mildly) sees that Denethor truly loves him. Well...I think I've rambled on quite enough for one day...perhaps a little too much. *innocent smiles* I'll hop down from the soapbox now. Anyone else want a turn? God bless, ~Denni

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Since no one else has, I should like to observe that Denethor's last act, his attempt to burn himself and Faramir, can be viewed as some perverse act of kindness. It was undoubtedly screwed up and certainly it convinced Pippin, Gandalf, Beregond, et. al. that Denethor had finally gone off the deep end, but it is incorrect to cast it off as “that crazy jerk tried to pull a murder-suicide.” I think we can psychoanalyze the “Pyre of Denethor” on two levels” one is that Denethor feels incredibly guilty for sending Faramir to his death and perhaps guiltier for all of those years in which he bestowed favoritism upon Boromir. This is therefore one final thing he can do for Faramir in order to “save” him. The other is that this poor guy had lost his wife, his firstborn, and now it seems as if he was losing his remaining son and his city. He has utterly failed as a father and as a steward. He also knows Aragorn (whom he probably realized was “Thorongil”) is coming and hence sees his position as steward becoming superfluous. If Mordor does not take the city, Aragorn will. Either way, Denethor loses power. Because Denethor, as Dwim said earlier, really has nothing he loves or is loved by in his personal life, all he has is the city. And regardless of whether Sauron wins or the King returns, he will not even have that. Thus he sees no reason why he should go on living. But why take Faramir with him? He has been vying with Sauron in the palantír for some time and believes, mistakenly, that he has control over it. Sauron leads him towards despair by censoring the images in the palantír so that all Denethor sees is the ruin and destruction of Minas Tirith. When the storm breaks and the armies of Mordor arrive at the gates of Minas Tirith, Denethor is convinced that they are all dead meat. He has held onto hope for many years and sought to hold off Mordor, but now it is too late, for Minas Tirith cannot withstand the siege (and it really couldn’t and would have fallen had the Rohirrim and Aragorn not shown up). Then what choices does he have? Since he has no clue that Théoden is on his way with a host of Rohirrim and that Aragorn will arrive with the Grey Company, it is not at all unreasonable to believe that Mordor will prevail. Is it better, then, to allow himself and his son to be tormented and enslaved by Sauron, or is it better to die before the city falls? Killing himself and Faramir becomes the ultimate act of mercy – better a fiery death than enslavement and torture.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Absolutely! I completely agree with you. It *is* incorrect to cast it off as “that crazy jerk tried to pull a murder-suicide.” Stories that do just make me *so* ....grrr...there's not even a word for it! >"He has been vying with Sauron in the palantír for some time and believes, mistakenly, that he has control over it." This is one thing that I've always used as key in my defence of Denethor. He truly doesn't begin his final descent until he sees in the palantir what he believes is the only outcome, i.e. the destruction of his city and everyone in it. Yet, as you say, all he can see is what Sauron allows him. If you were watching the brutal subjugation and/or annihilation of your people/city and thinking it to be the only way things could end, you'd go a little crazy, too, no?

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

This is one thing that I've always used as key in my defence of Denethor. He truly doesn't begin his final descent until he sees in the palantir what he believes is the only outcome, i.e. the destruction of his city and everyone in it. Yet, as you say, all he can see is what Sauron allows him. If you were watching the brutal subjugation and/or annihilation of your people/city and thinking it to be the only way things could end, you'd go a little crazy, too, no? I, too, am going to be addressing just one aspect of these posts. I agree: taken from that perspective (i.e., from Denethor's, potentially), you can see the attempt to take Faramir with him as the mercy of a maddened, broken spirit. We can certainly attribute the lion's share of the blame to Sauron. Nevertheless, to me, there's a slight gap here that doesn't quite jive with that as being the most relevant point of view (unless you *are* writing from Denethor's POV). Denethor tells us a lot about himself in his final speeches. Certainly, he doesn't admit to having been driven mad; he thinks he's perfectly sane. Clinically depressed is probably closer to the mark, for whatever the reason. Therefore, I also use the palantir to show that Denethor is not a villain on the order of Sauron or anyone who was turned. But that doesn't make him, to my eyes, innocent or a victim worthy of being excused (which I suspect would be abhorrent to him) in the usual sense. He's extraordinary, and I think part of that is that up until the very end, he is as much in control of his own destiny as anyone in this story is, and he insists on that beyond any other character (save Sauron and Saruman). In the end, that's what matters most to him--over and above Faramir, what matters to him is that his own will is done: "I would have things as they were in all the days of my life... and in the days of my long-fathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard's pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught; neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated." I would argue that there's an awful lot of "me, my, my, me, I, my, mine, mine, my own, my precious (tee hee!)" in this statement that does not come from a breakdown fundamentally, but from something more fundamental to Denethor's personality that was built in and up a long time ago. I would also say that this passage offers (to my mind) a stronger explanation of why Faramir's relationship with Denethor is not as good as Boromir's: Faramir is, in Denethor's eyes, not his own man, but someone else's (and that someone else is not Denethor, but Gandalf, with whom Denethor has a history). Additionally, I think Appendix A gives good indirect evidence that both Denethor and Thorongil were "learned in lore"--immediately after the listing of Denethor's characteristics (including the "learned in lore" description), is the line "Indeed, he was as like to Thorongil as one of closest kin". To me, that indicates that those qualities are common among both Thorongil and Denethor. So I don't think, as I said above, that it's a question of sheer ability in arms *or* scholarliness that puts Thorongil above Denethor in Ecthelion's esteem. I also would note that Ecthelion, too, is described as "a man of wisdom"--I'm not quite sure what that means (as noted above, it could mean several things). It's ambiguous, but if it's wise in sense 1 (prudence), and he's primarily concerned with war counsel and captainly competence in matters of advice about war, then it's very puzzling that he should favor Thorongil so highly over Denethor when the only point of policy difference between them is Gandalf's worth to Gondor. Thorongil gets the glory of pushing for the raid on Umbar, but Denethor, we can infer, also would have agreed with that counsel. Beyond that, we're given no reason to think, otherwise, that Denethor has no abilities as a captain; he is neither explicitly identified (as Boromir is) as a man of war to almost no other interests, nor is he specifically identified as quite the lover of the arts that Faramir is. My guess is he's somewhere in the middle w.r.t. his sons--he's "valiant", as Aragorn also is valiant, and that's not a term that you get by not showing guts and courage in war. So he can do it, I think, and he probably does fight (he is the heir, after all), and he may be closer in his attitude towards warfare to Faramir than Boromir (who was unlike him); that says nothing about his abilities in the field (just as Faramir's attitudes say nothing about his command abilities). And (implied, as I read it) he is so close to Thorongil, in ability and looks, that they are described as having the likeness of "closest kin".

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

I totally agree. I was going to also point out in my last post, before I had to run and thus could not add it, that Denethor probably felt he had to be in control of his own fate in the end. After all, he could not control what happened to his city, but his own destiny remained in his hands. He certainly has a stronger will than Saruman, who did not fight Sauron to the end but rather became his willing pawn (though he probably intended to betray Sauron in the end, but Saruman is simply the sort of guy who will screw over ANYONE), or Pippin. Denethor seems to be a frustrated control freak. And I mean that in the most non-pejorative way possible. But for someone as strong of will and noble as he, life must have been quite aggravating. Ecthelion favored "Thorongil" more than he favored Denethor, and there was nothing Denethor could do about that (note: he kind of did the same thing to Boromir and Faramir, and while Boromir and Aragorn are as unalike as two people could be, Denethor and Faramir are not -- the apple not falling far from the tree... Freud would love this one). His wife died and there was nothing he could do about that, either. Faramir seemed to him more interested in following Gandalf and doing what Gandalf wanted rather than Denethor. Possibly because Denethor gave Faramir a lot more negative reinforcement than did Gandalf and it comes as no surprise that Faramir would latch onto Gandalf, but Denethor probably never clearly percieved the connection and the situational attributes of it because most people don't (fundamental attribution error, psych people call it). Then Boromir goes off on this crazy quest and gets killed, which must have been terribly upsetting and again, Denethor had no control over it. In the meantime Sauron's force strengthens, which Denethor can see via palantir. Then Gandalf shows up with this usurper and then Sauron assaults Minas Tirith and it all looks very bad. And since Denethor has been getting propaganda from Sauron about what will happen, he utterly despairs. He wanted to be a great steward in a reign of peace, but that was not to be his fate. And he had no way of doing anything to stop anything. This is wild speculation, but had he been more zen-like about life in general, perhaps he would not have been driven to such despair. Losing a wife and a son would send anyone to the edge, of course, but Denethor's coping mechanisms never seemed that good to begin with. He ostensibly got frustrated with the little things too, like his father's apparent preference for "Thorongil" or Faramir's relationship with Gandalf.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

So he can do it, I think, and he probably does fight (he is the heir, after all), and he may be closer in his attitude towards warfare to Faramir than Boromir Absolutely! All that I really meant was that there is a difference between someone who is good at fighting/battle strategy/etc. and someone who is good at it *and* enjoys it, for lack of a better word. Denethor certainly *can* lead in battle and certainly is valiant, I just don't think he can lead quite the way his father wants him to due to the fact that his attitude towards warfare is closer to Faramir's. Faramir is adept and skilled and leading and tactics to be sure, but men don't follow him as they did Boromir, just as men didn't follow Denethor as they did Thorongil. Or something like that. *grins* Forgive me. I am but a 15-yr old who likes to think she knows something. *laughs at self* I think Appendix A gives good indirect evidence that both Denethor and Thorongil were "learned in lore"--immediately after the listing of Denethor's characteristics (including the "learned in lore" description), is the line "Indeed, he was as like to Thorongil as one of closest kin". To me, that indicates that those qualities are common among both Thorongil and Denethor True. But two people being "learned in lore" doesn't necessarily negate the possiblity that they did different things with that 'learned-ness' (not that you said it did). And they could always be learned in different areas. *grins* now I'm just making things too complicated...aren't I? would argue that there's an awful lot of "me, my, my, me, I, my, mine, mine, my own, my precious (tee hee!)" in this statement that does not come from a breakdown fundamentally, but from something more fundamental to Denethor's personality I've often thought the same thing myself. I would certainly agree it comes more from something fundamental to his personality than any breakdown. Personally, I think it might have sprung from the fact that he feels like so much has been stolen from him. The esteem of his father, the love of his people, Finduilas, Boromir, his reign as Ruling Steward, his credibility, Faramir (his relationship w/Gandalf and then later what he sees as his inevitable doom). He even complains about people (namely Gandalf) stealing the hearts of his guards: "Now thou stealest the hearts of my knights also..." And I think that Gandalf didn't help the situation any with his little admonitions. "Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death..." didn't actually improve the problem and I think only made it worse. Denethor's response to this has always seemed to me to sound like "Oh yeah? Watch this!", a sentiment that seems to me to be echoed in his line "In this at least thou shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end." The guy had some serious control issues to be sure. my own, my precious (tee hee!)" Could you imagine if Denethor *had* gotten his hands on the Ring? A note to Gypsum: I think Denethor would prefer it if you refered to him as a "control enthusiast" instead of a "frustrated control freak" (although I must admit, that sounds about right, ). "Control Enthuisast": I mean, it just sounds nicer, doesn't it? *grins*

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

A quote from the appendices I just remembered and looked up that adds to the view of Denethor as a "control enthusiast": "When Denethor became Steward he proved a masterful lord, holding the rule of all things in his own hand. He said little. He listened to counsel, and then followed his own mind." (emphases mine)

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

True enough about "learned in lore" perhaps meaning other things, but the way I see that used in Tolkien, that almost universally means an education in history and 'literature' (the Homers of the day, etc.) that infuses and informs the horizon against which all things are measured. I have not yet seen Boromir, for instance, the foremost example in LOTR of someone who is militarily adept, described as "learned". That isn't his orientation, although I don't think that he could possibly be an untutored yokel. But that isn't what informs his character; history and literature aren't alive for him, I don't think, as they are for Aragorn and for Denethor and for Faramir. Also, the reason I brought up that bit about Ecthlion being wise is that that has to be integrated into judgments of Ecthelion's character and relationship with his son, even as it has to be considered with respect to Denethor's character and relationships to other people in his life. Clearly, Ecthelion's wisdom is linked to his perception of Gondor's need, which is for men who are competent to serve her in the field and (I think) in the counsel chambers, even if they are not from Gondor. He sees what's coming, and he is preparing the realm for what he knows is going to eventually be the bitterest fight of Gondor's history (and possibly the last). But I never got the same sense from Tolkien's description of him that he was only able to really appreciate captainly qualities. This could be purely a personal perception, but the tone of the passage doesn't suggest very much to me that Denethor's scholarly skills come through in such a way that Ecthelion would favor Thorongil over his own son. And I think that Gandalf didn't help the situation any with his little admonitions. "Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death..." didn't actually improve the problem and I think only made it worse. Denethor's response to this has always seemed to me to sound like "Oh yeah? Watch this!", a sentiment that seems to me to be echoed in his line "In this at least thou shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end." The guy had some serious control issues to be sure. That's very similar to how I see it--defiance, at base. Perhaps we also need a new slogan: Go not to wizards for crisis counseling while Rom--I mean, Minas Tirith, burns.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Thanks so much for the link, Marta. This has been such a fun thread. Thanks so much! Here are my two quick cents on a few of the issues discussed above: Dwim wrote: The rivalry, it is implied, sprang up over the perception of favoritism—for reasons not explained, Aragorn was consistently esteemed the higher by Denethor's own people, and even by his own father. Whether this is strictly a perception on Denethor's part or whether it is real both have interesting connotations for me: if it's mere perception, then that, to me, weakens Denethor's claim on sense two of wisdom (and thereby also on sense three); if it's real favoritism, then I wonder what exactly Aragorn did (or what Denethor didn't do) that apparently the majority of Minas Tirith, including Ecthelion who would have been in a privileged position with regard to knowing his son, felt Aragorn was more worthy of esteem than Denethor. That's not to say Denethor wasn't worthy of esteem, just that Aragorn got more of it, and more consistently. What would be the objective basis for such 'favoritism' on the most charitable reading of Denethor that we can make, and how would that affect him if we are aiming to keep him to the lighter side of stern and grim? To me, it has always been real favoritism. The Appendix is not written from Denethor's POV, so I assume that an outsider recorded that information, therefore the favoritism had to be somewhat widely perceived for it to have such a specific mention in the records. It seems to me Tolkien gives great importance to that fact, too. So, the next natural question is the one you pose: "What did Aragorn did, or what Denethor didn't do? To answer that I can only speculate (and this is not a speculation I like) but I think it has to do with charisma. Not charisma in the strict sense, charisma is not the word I'm looking for, but that quality that Aragorn possesses that draws people to him and his leadership (something like what happened to Pippin when he saw Faramir for the first time and knew that he'd follow him to the bitter end). It's hard to explain this- I'm sure Denethor was a very charismatic man. That's the only way I can envision him, but unlike what Tolkien says of Faramir, he was drawn more sooner to scorn than to pity. So, of course he was stern, and we never get that visual of Aragorn (Tolkien goes to great lengths to describe how noble, how good and king Aragorn is, always). I see Denethor's charisma being based upon different things, and there might be found the difference between them. One would naturally be more attracted to one who finds pity in his heart for one's weaknesses, instead of the other who would more readily see the negative- that's how I interpret the people favoring Thorongil more than Denethor: I figure it is based upon a personality trait, a strong one, rather than talents or abilities (which we know both had in abundance). Then we encounter the problem of Ecthelion. That's a stumble block for me, and I can only cross it by assuming that Denethor and Ecthelion were not very close, and Thorongil somehow established a communication line that Ecthelion did not share with Denethor, but that's too easy a way to read things, and I'm not convinced by it. I could not believe that Thorongil became "the son I never had." I don't think Ecthelion would put an unknown man in the place of a son just like that, and it would be good to remember that his preference of Thorongil, as we know it, is the perception of an outsider observer. Neither do I think that Ecthelion "liked" Thorongil better because the people in Minas Tirith sympathized more with him. There has to be something else there, but it is complicated for me to figure what. I have to run now, and this post is way shorter than I thought it'd be. I'll be back soon, and thanks for the wonderful posts. Starlight

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

I do love how Tolkien will drop exceedingly interesting sentences that are vague, but laden with intrigue. Aragorn's brief description of his journey to Mirkwood with Gollum -- I am reading about 300 pages of psych stuff for tomorrow in the student center and thus do not have FOTR on me -- so paraphrased briefly it was , "It was so horrible that I don't even want to give you the details and you probably don't want to know" intrigued me. Thus I wrote my long epic cause Tolkien never ever gave us the details. I digress... So from his one or two sentences in Appendix A decribing the relationship of Ecthelion, Denethor, and "Thorongil," I speculated that Ecthelion was inclined to take Aragorn's advice about battles and strategy over Denethor's. Aragorn was more knowledgeable or skillful in that area of expertise than Denethor. He didn't have to actively DO anything other than assist Gondor as best he could. Also, he was quite charismatic, which made people want to follow him. Not that Denethor wasn't, but Aragorn simply had more natural charisma, and he had the skill in battle to back it up. Denethor sees that his father listens to Thorongil more than he, and he sees that people will follow Thorongil through anything. He wants to be "that guy" who carries the unquestioned loyalty of all Gondor and is held in the highest esteem by his father. And wait, he's not. In his view, it therefore seems that Ecthelion "likes" Thorongil more, which might not be the case. Ecthelion probably thought it sensible to take advice about strategy and war from the guy who was really good at it. How much he "liked" Thorongil over Denethor might not have even been a major issue for him, even though it was for the rest of the world. And it paid off since Aragorn's campaigns were quite successful. But Denethor, probably seeing great value in his views being heeded by the Steward, percieves Thorongil as a threat and indeed, earning more of his father's favor than he himself has. His views might have been reinforced by the general populace, who might have agreed that taking Thorongil's counsel over Denethor's = liking Thorongil more, regardless of the practical reasons for doing so. Perhaps that in part explains why Denethor treated Boromir and Faramir the way he did. At an unconscious level, he saw in Boromir the qualities he wished he had that would have been held in greater esteem by Ecthelion, and in Faramir he saw the qualities that he thinks screwed him over in terms of Thorongil and his father. Again, probably not a conscious process. And speaking of. back to psych reading.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Hi all, just wanted to say how wonderful it is to read all those insightful remarks and little essays on Denethor’s character. It’s so good to see that my own assessment of his personality isn’t off the mark at all. You’ve only put the ideas into words much better than I’d have ever been able to. Looking forward to more, Astara

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Following the discussion with great interest! Starlight asked me to come over and expand on a point I made over at Domain of the Dunedain So here's my two cents worth.... In Appendix A, it says of Ecthelion "He encouraged all men of worth from near or far to enter his service, and to those who proved trustworthy he gave rank and reward." My interpretation of that is that Ecthelion valued many different qualities in the people who served him - I suspect Thorongil and Denethor did have different temperaments, abilities and skills, but I believe Ecthelion valued them both for what they could contribute. I'm certainly sure he was aware of Denethor's abilities as a field commander as well as a counsellor. Beregond, when talking to Pippin about Osgiliath in Minas Tirith Book V Chapter 1, says: "Yet we won it back in the days of the youth of Denethor: not to dwell in, but to hold as an outpost, and to rebuild the bridge for the passage of our arms." I'd like to think this was something Denethor did before Thorongil arrived (although "youth" is a relative term when you are talking about somone who is nearly 90!) - I do feel if the famous Captain Thorongil had been involved, Beregond would have mentioned it. Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that I think people - including Ecthelion - saw Denethor as very worthy and I think they respected and admired him a great deal. The problem for Denethor, as I see it, was that Aragorn/Thorongil simply had immense charisma. He was just one of those people who naturally put others at their ease and made them feel special. Whereas Denethor, who I'm sure had extremely pleasant manners and in most company would be seen as charming and welcoming, simply didn't have the same "it" factor. And yes, I agree, it's something like the way I see the differences between Boromir and Faramir. I see Boromir as the jolly, hearty, charismatic type who is very easy to like on slighly acquaintance and makes everyone feel special for two minutes. I see Faramir as someone who just doesn't have the same "dazzle" factor, so the general population admires and loves him a great deal, but doesn't take him into their hearts to quite the same extent. Yet, people who do get to know Faramir "up close" seem willing to go to extraordinary lengths for him (Beregond, for instance, is willing to disobey orders and kill several men who are obeying orders). So, to me, the issue is simply Thorongil's greater charisma - Denethor knows very well that if Thorongil hadn't been around, he would have been the one receiving the adulation (as he probably did before Thorongil turned up). Anyway, fascinating stuff Cheers, Liz

 

 

TANGENT!

Liz, accidentally stumbling into one of my perennial favorite speculative questions, said: Yet, people who do get to know Faramir "up close" seem willing to go to extraordinary lengths for him (Beregond, for instance, is willing to disobey orders and kill several men who are obeying orders). Opinions: Beregond presents himself as "a plain man-at-arms" of the Third Company (not even the First, just some company guarding the City, and apparently with access to the highest circles). So if he's not a captain, and he's not in (apparently) a special regiment, and he's not a Ranger, when, how, and why did he meet Faramir such that he would be "up close" to him? Is it the case that he has personally had significant contact with Faramir, or is he one of those men who, although not himself apparently very gifted in the arts, recognizes Faramir's worth, even without the benefit of knowing him "up close"? This should probably be discussed elsewhere, but I thought I'd mention it, just because Liz gave me such a perfect opening. Thanks Liz.

 

 

Re: TANGENT!

This should probably be discussed elsewhere, but I thought I'd mention it, just because Liz gave me such a perfect opening. Thanks Liz. You're welcome Perhaps we should take this over to Domain of the Dunedain, but I'd love to know what answers you've come up with to your speculations. Have you written a fic about this? Or do you plan to do so? As you say, it would be a fascinating story to explore. Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Book-Boromir never showed much charisma, at least in my opinion. Pippin, who practically falls in love with Faramir the first time he sees him, thinks that Faramir reminds him somewhat of his brother, whose lordly and kindly manner he had liked, but also of Aragorn, having Aragorn's high nobility in lesser but also "less incalculable and remote" measure. Pippin also observes that Faramir is a captain that "men would follow, that he would follow, even under the shadow of the black wings". When Imrahil brings the injured and unconscious Faramir into the city, men weep and cry Faramir's name. Tolkien also says "for all the people loved him". I don't have the feeling that people are so overwrought about Faramir just because Boromir's dead and they're pouring all the love they had for Boromir onto Faramir, even though he's not as charismatic as Boromir. I get the feeling that Tolkien wanted to convey, and did, that Faramir was as charismatic as Boromir in terms of eliciting people's love by his character and appearance (as well as his words and deeds). Which makes me wonder at the difference between the brothers, and why Denethor favored Boromir so obviously, and, during ROTK, so cruelly in terms of rubbing like salt into Faramir's emotional wounds. Boromir is always more proud and arrogant than Faramir, he doesn't seem to suffer from any self-doubt until the Ring starts eating at him. Faramir is more the type to think before he acts, and seems more controlled than Boromir. The only time he betrays his doubts and insecurities are during his meetings with his father; and I would definitely say that Denethor and Faramir do not have a good or healthy relationship at this point, though there is undoubtedly love underneath it. We don't see Denethor's love for Faramir until the latter is brought home dying; but we do see a rather odd and pathetic pattern in their two confrontations during THE SIEGE OF GONDOR of Faramir's reaching out for Denethor's approval, to be rebuffed, then breaking restraint to show resentment or plead, like a sad child, for some affection before being sent off on another mission - the line "But if I should return, think better of me!" is almost scary, given that it implies Faramir has to practically beg for some sign of affection when he's about to leave on a very dangerous mission. This isn't the confident, mature, able commander we met in Ithilien, that person is reduced to a lonely kid begging for signs of love from a distant parent when talking to Denethor. So I have to believe that Denethor had shown love to Faramir in the past, maybe distant past, but sufficiently within Faramir's memory that he emotionally expected some love from his father and is feeling quite bereft when he doesn't get any sign of it, particularly now that the brother Faramir loved is dead and the destruction of Gondor seems imminent, not to mention Faramir and Denethor's deaths. If Faramir had no memory of his father loving him and showing some sign of it, he wouldn't bother to reach out to him, he'd show him respect as his commander-in-chief and turn to Mithrandir and Imrahil for emotional sustenance. We know that Faramir and Denethor are eerily similar to each other, with one difference. While Denethor's ability to read the hearts of men moved him to scorn, Faramir's ability to read the hearts of men, inherited from his father, moves him to pity. Maybe this is why people respond to Faramir; and perhaps they never responded to Denethor on the same level. And that's one reason why Denethor didn't favor Faramir. Faramir IS Denethor, only younger and a better version (in my opinion at least); and has the charisma to win people's hearts because, among other reasons, Faramir is more moved to pity than scorn. Faramir also has enough of Denethor's pride and inner toughness that he doesn't, in the book, come across as a milksop just because he pities the weak. Denethor might never have had the pleasure of hearing people call his name with love as he entered the city. Maybe he wanted to be able to pity and have a gentle heart, but couldn't, especially with a father who comes across as rather quick to favor a charismatic stranger over his own son, and, remembering his own misery during his youth and Thorongil's time, punishes Faramir because Faramir reminds him of what he was close to being, might have wanted to be, but couldn't be. That, and Faramir's obvious allegiance to Gandalf, who Denethor despises. But I see the bond between Gandalf and Faramir intensifying during Faramir's adolescence as a reaction to Denethor's increasing distance; deprived of a mother, and with his beloved brother-protector increasingly called elsewhere by military duties, Faramir reached out to the brilliant, kindly wizard for the encouragement that he wasn't getting from his father. That brings me to Boromir. I see Denethor's intense love for and favoring of him as an emotional attempt to rewrite his own past. I think Denethor saw Boromir as a sort of hybrid between Thorongil and Denethor; Boromir as the version of Denethor that Ecthelion WOULD have favored. I can also see Boromir, as an infant and toddler, being incredibly extroverted and charismatic, the type of kid who goes bounding up to anything and everything; and Denethor might well have been utterly charmed, not seeing any of his own failures in the child. Unfortunately for Faramir, he might well have reminded Denethor of himself and his own past problems and insecurities, so Denethor ultimately succeeded in repeating them with Faramir. And I also think Denethor might have blamed Faramir for Finduilas' death, or had a seed of resentment in him for whatever connection his younger son's birth had to Finduilas' decline and death, and of course that seed was nurtured to bloom by prolonged palantir usage. Before you run me off the board for talking too much about Faramir and not loving Denethor enough, I will say that Denethor is a fascinating character, even if I think he has a significant role in his own ruin; he's far more interesting than most of the other humans in the Trilogy. I also agree with the poster(s) who said that Denethor is something of a control freak. And Denethor has a strong ego, perhaps that is one of the few qualities he shared with Boromir. Liz said that Denethor knows that if Thorongil hadn't been around, he would have received the adulation that the unknown warrior was given. I don't necessarily think that would have happened, but Denethor probably did believe it. Denethor craves control of things, and, as things are spinning out of control and the world is ending, seems to be more worried about his own pain than his responsibility to the people left in the city he is duty-bound to protect. As horrible and sad as Denethor's final end is, it might have been kinder to the person he had become than would the alternative - having to give up the rule of Gondor to a man he hated and distrusted, not to mention knowing that Mithrandir had influenced the turn of events. Or he might have held on, and civil war could have resulted. Pain and suffering for Denethor either way. Sorry for the rambling format of this post. It's a fascinating thread... Raksha

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor - Denethor and Faramir

Another thought I had but forgot to put in the long, rambling post I just made: I can also imagine, given what Tolkien said about Denethor's love for his wife, and Denethor's own essentially proud and reserved nature, the rift between himself and his younger son growing as follows: 1. Denethor would have been terribly, terribly hurt by Finduilas' death. She was the world to him; and the only person he loved equally was Boromir. I think Denethor was likely to have withdrawn from his sons in the days and weeks after his wife's deaths, because he couldn't cope with their grief, so great was his own. 2. The boys, also terribly hurt, turned to each other for comfort and bonded very tightly, with Boromir becoming his little brother's emotional caretaker and being very protective of him. I can see the five-year-old Faramir coming to sleep in Boromir's bed every night, that sort of thing. Finduilas would have undoubtedly told her older son to take care of his little brother, and Boromir would have wanted to follow her wishes, and taking care of Faramir might have made him feel less lost and bereft. I think that the boys probably spent some time in Dol Amroth after the funeral; Imrahil might have had the decency and kindness to ask for them, and Denethor, though in emotional agony over Finduilas' death, would still have been a loving enough father that he would have wanted to do the right thing for them, especially if it involved maintaining that distance for awhile. 3. The boys would have spent a few months, or maybe a little longer, in Dol Amroth and recovered as much as they could have. And they would have continued their own relationship with Boromir as the devoted caretaker to his little brother; maybe not every minute, but a strong bond would have formed and held. Eventually, they would have returned to Minas Tirith. 4. Denethor would have managed to also recover from Finduilas' death, not completely, I think something was broken in him permanently, but to the extent that he wanted his sons home and wanted to be a father again. The trouble would have been that the distance had driven a wedge between him and the boys; they would have become used to being each other's emotional support, perhaps leaning on Imrahil as a substitute father, and Boromir might have resented Denethor's not being there for him after Finduilas died, not to mention being sent away for so long. At this point, Denethor would have possibly wanted to cling emotionally to Boromir, his favorite child, and be a father to both boys again, but Faramir wouldn't trust him because of the months that have passed and because Boromir would have become a substitute mother and father to him, the emotional center of his world. Denethor might start, unwittingly and then reluctantly, to resent Faramir for, as Denethor sees it, coming between Denethor and Boromir, being a third wheel in the close love the two used to have. Neither of the boys are mature enough to understand how hurt and bereft their father is; and Denethor doesn't manage to ever close the distance between himself and Faramir, although eventually he does succeed in showing Faramir that he loves and cares for him, but there is a distance and it will only get wider as time and the use of the Palantir continues. Although Faramir and Boromir disengage physically, what with Faramir's growing older and not needing his brother's physical caretaking and as much emotional 'babysitting' as was necessary after their mother's death (and Boromir beginning, in early adolescence, his military training), the bond of the brothers is set for life, with Faramir thinking that Boromir is the greatest and Boromir being his brother's protector. Does this make any sense? Is my imagination running wild? Or am I too Faramir-centric for this thread...

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

The quotes listed in the article of The Steward's Scrolls is fairly comprehensive, IMO. But I did miss this one: He turned to Faramir. "What think you of the garrison at Osgiliath?" "It is not strong," said Faramir. "I have sent the company pf Ithilien to strengthen it, as I have said." "Not enough, I deem, " said Denethor. "It is there that the first blow will fall. They will have need of some stout captain there." "There and everywhere else in many places," said Faramir, and sighed. "Alas for my brother, whom I too loved!" He rose. "May I have your leave, father?" And then he swayed and leaned upon his father's chair. "You are weary, I see," said Denethor. "You have ridden fast and far, and under shadows of evil in the air, I am told." "Let us not speak of that!" said Faramir. "Then we will not," said Denethor. "Go now and rest as you may. Tomorrow's need will be sterner." (The Siege of Gondor, LotR) Especially with respect to the goal of showing a kinder, gentler Denethor, this scene seems to me to be quite important. He asks Faramir's opinion, he sees his weariness and is obviously concerned about Faramir's health and bids him to rest. OTOH, I sometimes think this scene doesn't really fit in with what we see of Denethor at that time. I have a theory that it may be a leftover scene (never revised, maybe unintentionally?) from earlier conceptions of Tolkien, where Denethor is far less forbidding towards Faramir, and even retracts the infamous sentence about how he wished Faramir's and Boromir's places were exchanged. What do you think? Have you had similar thoughts? Imhiriel

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Hi Imhiriel The quotes listed in the article of The Steward's Scrolls is fairly comprehensive, IMO. Thanks! But I did miss this one: I'll talk to Marta about adding it! I have a theory that it may be a leftover scene (never revised, maybe unintentionally?) from earlier conceptions of Tolkien, where Denethor is far less forbidding towards Faramir, and even retracts the infamous sentence about how he wished Faramir's and Boromir's places were exchanged. Imhiriel, if you are able to read about the evolution of this chapter in HoMe 8 (War of the Ring), you will find this is the case. This was a scene Tolkien reworked several times to move from having Denthor as much more demonstrative and obviously loving to having him appear much colder and harsher. The main change I can remember without digging out all the quotes is that the original version had : "You are weary, my son," said Denethor. There is also a much less harsh first draft of the earlier passage about wishing Faramir's and Boromir's places were exchanged. It's fascinating stuff Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Thanks! You're welcome. Thank you in return about the confirmation that this scene rather belongs to this earlier conception. I only know it from hearsay, and from what quotes come up from time to time w.r.t. this topic, so it's nice to hear that my thinking fits right in. The main change I can remember without digging out all the quotes is that the original version had : "You are weary, my son," said Denethor. Actually, as I was writing the quote, I accidentally wrote "my son" in this place, and only saw it when I checked for a last time ! There is also a much less harsh first draft of the earlier passage about wishing Faramir's and Boromir's places were exchanged. That's what I meant when I said "retract". IIRC, he did say the words, but then said WTTE of "I really didn't mean it, it was just the strain we're all living under..." Right? Imhiriel

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

There is also a much less harsh first draft of the earlier passage about wishing Faramir's and Boromir's places were exchanged. That's what I meant when I said "retract". IIRC, he did say the words, but then said WTTE of "I really didn't mean it, it was just the strain we're all living under..." Right? What's really interesting is that, in the first draft, the "places exchanged" dialogue is clearly about Denethor wishing Boromir had been in Ithilien rather than Faramir but not that Faramir had died and Boromir had lived. And even in Tolkien's notes on the final form of the scene, it's clear his intention for the meaning of that exchange hasn't changed and become as harsh as "I wish you had died instead!" Btw, a lot of the quotes from Home 8 about this can be found at the CanonNoFanon website Cheers, Liz

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

This thread is fascinating, and it's bringing up a ton of ideas I'd never considered. I recently came up with a very different interpretation of Denethor's relationship with his sons than the one I'd held previously, and I thought I'd throw it out here. I don't exactly believe it, but it's just something I was considering, based upon extrapolations on two quotes (Thanks, Marta and Liz, for the easy access to the quotes on your site): 1. "Denethor loved her [Finduilas], in his fashion, more dearly than any other, unless it were the elder of the sons that she bore him" & 2. "[Gandalf:] 'He loved him [Boromir] greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike.' " As well as a bit of folk wisdom: "Opposites attract, and like sets sparks" From this, I conclude that both Finduilas and Boromir were unlike Denethor, sort of a balance for him. He's described as grim, stern, proud. Maybe they were the more cheerful, playful half of the family. To Denethor, perhaps Finduilas was the light and the laughter and the pleasure in a world covered by encroaching Shadow. He might not even have realized how much she did to lighten his spirit until she was gone. When he lost her, he lost the part of himself that allowed for joy and happiness and fun. I think, however, that Boromir might have helped fill this hole. If, as I'm guessing, Boromir and his mother were alike, and both unlike Denethor, he would have been more cheerful and optimistic, a balance to Denethor's grimness. As a result, Denethor would have sought out his son's company. Boromir would have been someone he turned to for friendship and relaxation, resulting in the claim of favoritism. Faramir, on the other hand, was much more like his father. As a result, in childhood he probably never had the experience of being his father's friend, as Boromir did; Denethor didn't need to seek out anyone to make him more aware of the pessimism of the situation! (This seemed to be OK with Faramir; Tolkien tells us that he never thought that he or anyone could compete with Boromir. I assume that he was also attracted to Boromir's hope, and subconsciously even understood why his father appeared to love Boromir more.) However, that doesn't explain how Denethor ended up at such odds with his younger son. I love Faramir, and up until the last time I read Return of the King I went with the "unloved child trying desperately to prove himself" theory for him. For some reason, the last time I decided to see if I could find an explanation that forces Faramir to bear some of the blame for the estrangement. It requires a very different reading of their conversations, though, one Tolkien probably wouldn't attest to. If they are so much alike (proud, learned in lore, farsighted), they probably came into conflict at times about what the best course of action was. When Faramir became a military advisor as well as a son, Denethor probably found himself arguing about his plans - especially since he had palantír knowledge that he couldn't tell anyone about. Their relationship reminds me a little of some people I know, who can't talk to their parents without it turning into an argument. I can see Denethor as the concerned father who sees his son growing up and forming opinions he doesn't agree with (Gandalf, for instance) and whose attempts to try and show him what he considers "right" always fail. By the War of the Ring, they've probably gotten to the point where they can't communicate effectively - everything turns into barbed words, and both of them read insults into every statement. Since I've they goad each other, based on that annoying ability some relatives have to get under each other's skin with only a word, and things just go badly. Like I said, I don't think the evidence is very convincing, but it would be possible to form a Kindler, Gentler Denethor out of this. Edited in a desperate – and unfortunately unsuccessful – attempt to make this post less epic-length and rambling.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

I found this alternate version of a scene very fascinating: 'Do you wish then,' said Faramir, 'that our places had been exchanged?' 'Yes, I wish that indeed,' said Denethor. 'Or no.' And then he shook his head, and rising swiftly he laid his hand upon his son's bowed head. 'Do not judge me harshly, my son,' he said quietly, 'or believe me more harsh than I am. I knew your brother well also. Love is not blind. I could wish that Boromir had been at Henneth Annûn when this thing came there, only if I were sure of one thing.' 'Sure of what, my father?' 'That he was as strong in heart and selfless as you, my son. That taking this thing he would have brought it here and surrendered it, and not fallen swiftly under its thraldom. For, Faramir - and you too, Mithrandir, amid all your wide webs and policies - there is a third way, that is neither the folly of wizards nor the lust of warriors....' Here, Denethor openly says that he believes Faramir to be stronger and more selfless – i.e. a better person – than Boromir.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

Maybe he wanted to be able to pity and have a gentle heart, but couldn't, especially with a father who comes across as rather quick to favor a charismatic stranger over his own son, and, remembering his own misery during his youth and Thorongil's time, punishes Faramir because Faramir reminds him of what he was close to being, might have wanted to be, but couldn't be. [snip] That brings me to Boromir. I see Denethor's intense love for and favoring of him as an emotional attempt to rewrite his own past. I think Denethor saw Boromir as a sort of hybrid between Thorongil and Denethor; Boromir as the version of Denethor that Ecthelion WOULD have favored. I think these are both excellent points. Denethor's treatment of Faramir seems to be largely based in his own self-loathing, stemming from his own father's favour of Thorongil over his son. I think Ecthelion has never accepted enough of the blame in this, although perhaps his intentions were as benevolent as any other father trying to forge a good leader out of his privileged son: by inserting some competition and have him strive against it. Tough love, maybe -- call it what you want. In any case, it should perhaps also be considered in terms of Denethor's treatment of Faramir. My own humble interpretation of the great Steward it this: Denethor wants to believes he knows what's best for Gondor, that he is worthy of ruling it; so the knowledge that he will have to one day give up his position to another is abhorrent, I think. But at the same time, Denethor is an intelligent man. He knows exactly what he's doing in order to accomplish this. And when he looks at Faramir -- the man who is so like him, both physically and in terms of their blood gifts of Westernesse -- he sees what he could have been, had he made better choices or taken a more difficult path. Examine the evidence: Faramir, who was also treated in a similarly way in his youth, still grew up to love the man his father favoured, in spite of the insecurities that may have been bred by his upbringing. Faramir, who seemed to have been constantly hounded about his flaws and faults, turned that knowledge into strength and self-awareness. Faramir, who loves Gondor and appreciates the burdens of duty as much as his father does, still doesn't grasp for things to which he has no claim. And although Faramir keeps trying to please his father, he can accept on a certain level that he never will, because Denethor doesn't trust him. I think it's only after Faramir demonstrates his unconditional love for his father, in the most unequivocal manner possible (i.e. offering his life) -- that Denethor finally comes face-to-face with what he has become. And that is what drives Denethor to suicide, in my humble opinion. I find the premise of Denethor's decision to burn his son and himself as a benevolent act a little disturbing. I don't doubt that was behind his reasoning at the time, but to see himself as the sole judge of who lived and who died .... I just see it more as final proof of the extent of Denethor's growing narcissism, tragic though it was. I think Denethor's story -- and, by extension, Boromir's and Faramir's -- is ultimately tragic, and I don't find him unsympathetic. But I also think it reflects a common thread throughout Tolkien's work: that the root of evil lies in the desire to take/dominate/conquer.

 

 

Re: The kinder, gentler Denethor-examining the evidence

the root of evil lies in the desire to take/dominate/conquer. Power corrupts and all that? That's one possible interpretation, although Tolkien's use of the palantir as the device that hastens Denethor's fall somehow belies that, I think. If Denethor were an example of a man grasping at power for it's own sake, the palantir would be unnecessary. Instead, the palantir helps establish that Denethor is a good ruler, who exercises his power for the welfare of Gondor, but is ultimately poisoned by the evil that comes through the palantir. His psychotic rage and inexplicable decision to destroy himself and Faramir are just the culmination of this poison-by-palantir, in my opinion. As for his relationship with Faramir, I find it hard to believe that Denethor had no love for his second son. I don't find it hard to believe, however, that he had little attachment or affection for him, in contrast to his affection for Boromir. Boromir is born early in Denethor and Finduilas' marriage (which I assume for the sake of this post was a happy one), at a time when Denethor is not yet consumed with his responsibilities to Gondor and can spend quality time with his young family, bonding with his son, etc. On the other hand, Denethor becomes Steward shortly after Faramir's birth. By this time, Finduilas is probably beginning to fail, so that Denethor has little time available to bond with Faramir and never learns to have the same affection for him as he does for Boromir. I think Denethor's love for Faramir manifests itself in more non-conventional ways. I like to think that he encourages Faramir's study of lore and literature, that he recognizes his second son will be an astute politician and master of statecraft one day. Although he dislikes Mithrandir, he apparently doesn't stop Faramir from interacting with the wizard long enough to become "a wizard's pupil."

 

 

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