Steward's Sons, The
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Pride and Despair: 2. Author's Notes
What is this, movie-verse or book-verse?
Some people have noted that some of the lines in this story are similar to lines in the movies, particularly Denethor's "Move your feet!" in the first flashback and "They [the palantíri] are not all accounted for" in the third flashback. This has led them to think (incorrectly) that this story is movie-verse. It isn't. I have always loved "The Pyre of Denethor" in Tolkien's The Return of the King, and I doubt any adaptation, film or otherwise, could ever do that chapter justice. I have also drawn on the palantíri essay in Unfinished Tales, comments about Denethor in the Appendices and in Tolkien's letters, and Tolkien's earlier drafts in HoMe. This piece is thoroughly based in book-verse, though I have drawn inspiration from movie-verse where the movies did not contradict the books.
I have actually borrowed many more quotes from the books than I did from the movies, but some of the book quotes are a little obscure. You might not catch them all if you're not as obsessed as I am.
Did all of these scenes really happen, in the books, or are you making some of them up?
All of these scenes are either described or implied by Tolkien in his books. The scenes between the flashbacks are based on this passage from The Return of the King:
"'Come hither!' he [Denethor] cried to his servants. 'Come, if you are not all recreant!' Then two of them ran up the steps to him. Swiftly he snatched a torch from the hand of one and sprang back into the house. Before Gandalf could hinder him he thrust the brand amid the fuel, and at once it crackled and roared into flame.
"Then Denethor leaped upon the table, and standing there wreathed in fire and smoke he took up the staff of his stewardship that lay at his feet and broke it on his knee. Casting the pieces into the blaze he bowed and laid himself on the table, clasping the palantír with both hands upon his breast." ("The Pyre of Denethor")
The first and second flashbacks are extrapolated from incidents described by Tolkien. In The Return of the King, Tolkien writes:
"Over all the Lady Éowyn wore a great blue mantle of the colour of deep summer-night, and it was set with silver stars about hem and throat. Faramir had sent for this robe and had wrapped it about her; and he thought that she looked fair and queenly indeed as she stood there at his side. The mantle was wrought for his mother, Finduilas of Amroth, who died untimely." ("The Steward and the King")
Similarly, Boromir's "how many years" question is described briefly in The Two Towers:
"This I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. 'How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?' he asked. 'Few years, maybe, in places of less royalty,' my father answered. 'In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.'" ("The Window on the West")
Tolkien never explicitly states that the incident in the third flashback occurred, but he did imply it:
"In the days of his wisdom Denethor did not presume to use it, nor to challenge Sauron, knowing the limits of his own strength. But his wisdom failed; and I [Gandalf] fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looked in the Stone and was deceived." ("The Pyre of Denethor", The Return of the King)
If Denethor challenged Sauron using the palantír, as Gandalf states he did, logically there must have been a first encounter.
Are you saying Denethor didn't really believe his answer to Boromir's question? That he lied to his sons?
I think it's entirely possible that Denethor did not mean his answers, but he had valid political reasons to give the answer he gave even if he did not believe it.
Do the colours mean anything specific?
Yes, on many different levels.
When the knights of Dol Amroth rescue Faramir on the Pelennor their banner is blue ("The Siege of Gondor"). Later, the Stewards' banner is described as "argent like snow in the sun, bearing no charge nor device" ("The Steward and the King"). Aragorn's banner is described as black: "He [Aragorn] bade Halbarad unfurl the great standard which he had brought; and behold! it was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness." ("The Passing of the Grey Company")
Outside of Tolkien, different colours carry different meanings for different people. Much of this symbolism is culturally-tied, and different readers may read different things into the colours. That's fine. But here's at least how I interpret these colours.
Blue is a colour of cleanliness. Think about the sky on a cloudless day, or a river or a lake that hasn't been polluted. In a way, it's innocence that hasn't been dirtied yet. But blue also represents sadness (if a person feels "blue", they may feel slightly depressed). The memory of Finduilas is a sad one, because Finduilas dies not long after this memory.
White also represents purity. But whereas a crystal-clear lake will clean itself to a certain extent, it takes more effort to keep a snowbank perfectly white. Any sort of stain shows much more plainly on white than on other colours. White is potential: a writer fills a white page, an artist covers a white canvas with other colours. When that potential is used, though, the object ceases to be white. As Saruman says to Gandalf, "White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken." ("The Council of Elrond", The Fellowship of the Ring)
Black is the colour of night and shadow. In Middle-earth terms, black is often associated with Mordor. Even when it is not associated with evil, black is a very sober and reliable colour. It is the colour of Puritans and clergymen. It is the absence of light and so is the colour of nothingness. Black is, in a way, inescapable.
I also played with the heraldric symbolism of azure, argent, and sable in this story, and if you know something of these colours it might be interesting to consider this story in relation to those tinctures. You can find out more here and here. But as anyone who knows much about such things probably knows more than I do, I shall leave them to draw their own conclusions.
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