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Timeline Event

Denethor deceived by Sauron via the Palantíri

Event Type: Military/Strategic

Age: 3rd Age - Ring War

Date: March 13, 3019

Description:
An event in the Siege of Minas Tirith; see that entry for an overview:

The mounted knights returned, and at their rear ... the Prince. And in his arms ... he bore the body of his kinsman, Faramir son of Denethor, found upon the stricken field. ...

The Prince Imrahil brought Faramir to the White Tower, and he said: 'Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds,'.... But Denethor rose and looked on the face of his son and was silent. Then he bade them make a bed in the chamber and lay Faramir upon it and depart. But he himself went up alone into the secret room under the summit of the Tower; and many who looked up thither at that time saw a pale light that gleamed and flickered from the narrow windows for a while, and then flashed and went out. And when Denethor descended again he went to Faramir and sat beside him without speaking, but the face of the Lord was grey, more deathlike than his son's.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor

And as [Pippin] watched, it seemed to him that Denethor grew old before his eyes, as if something had snapped in his proud will, and his stern mind was overthrown. ...

'Do not weep, lord,' he stammered. 'Perhaps he will get well. Have you asked Gandalf?'

'Comfort me not with wizards!' said Denethor. 'The fool's hope has failed. The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes; he sees our very thoughts, and all we do is ruinous.

'I sent my son forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins. Nay, nay, whatever may now betide in war, my line too is ending, even the House of the Stewards has failed. Mean folk shall rule the last remnant of the Kings of Men, lurking in the hills until all are hounded out.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor

'The first circle of the City is burning, lord,' they said. 'What are your commands? ... Men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned.'

'Why? Why do the fools fly?' said Denethor. 'Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. ... The West has failed. Go back and burn!'

The messengers without bow or answer turned and fled.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor

'What is this, my lord?' said the wizard. 'The houses of the dead are no places for the living. And why do men fight here in the Hallows when there is war enough before the Gate? Or has our Enemy come even to Rath Dínen?' ...

'[Faramir] lies within,' said Denethor, 'burning, already burning. They have set a fire in his flesh. But soon all shall be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire, and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away on the wind!'

Then Gandalf seeing the madness that was on him feared that he had already done some evil deed, and he thrust forward ... they found Faramir, still dreaming in his fever ... and bore him towards the door. ...

... said Gandalf, ... '[Faramir] must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas your part is to go out to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you' ...

'He will not wake again,' said Denethor. 'Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?'

'Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,' answered Gandalf. 'And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.' Then ... he took Faramir from the deadly house and laid him on the bier.... Denethor followed him, and stood trembling, looking with longing on the face of his son. ...

'Come!' said Gandalf. 'We are needed. There is much that you can yet do.'

Then suddenly Denethor laughed. He stood up tall and proud again, and stepping swiftly back to the table he lifted from it the pillow on which his head had lain. Then coming to the doorway he drew aside the covering, and lo! he had between his hands a palantír. And as he held it up, it seemed to those that looked on that the globe began to glow with an inner flame, so that the lean face of the Lord was lit as with a red fire....

'Pride and despair!' he cried. 'Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.'

'Such counsels will make the Enemy's victory certain indeed,' said Gandalf.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

At last [Gandalf] spoke. ... 'Things of great sorrow and renown have come to pass. ... Beyond hope the Captain of our foes has been destroyed.... But he has not gone without woe and bitter loss. And that I might have averted but for the madness of Denethor. So long has the reach of our Enemy become! Alas! but now I perceive how his will was able to enter into the very heart of the City.

'Though the Stewards deemed that it was a secret kept only by themselves, long ago I guessed that here in the White Tower, one at least of the Seven Seeing Stones was preserved. In the days of his wisdom Denethor did not presume to use it,1 nor to challenge Sauron, knowing the limits of his own strength. But his wisdom failed; and I fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looked in the Stone and was deceived: far too often, I guess, since Boromir departed. He was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind.'

'Now I understand what seemed so strange to me!' said Pippin shuddering at his memories as he spoke. 'The Lord went away from the room where Faramir lay; and it was only when he returned that I first thought he was changed, old and broken.'

'It was in the very hour that Faramir was brought to the Tower that many of us saw a strange light in the topmost chamber,' said Beregond. 'But we have seen that light before, and it has long been rumoured in the City, that the Lord would at times wrestle in thought with his Enemy.'

'Alas! then I have guessed rightly,' said Gandalf. 'Thus the will of Sauron entered into Minas Tirith; and thus I have been delayed here.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

'My lords,' said Gandalf, 'listen to the words of the Steward of Gondor before he died: You may triumph on the fields of the Pelennor for a day, but against the Power that has now arisen there is no victory. I do not bid you despair, as he did, but to ponder the truth in these words.

'The Stones of Seeing do not lie, and not even the Lord of Barad-dûr can make them do so. He can, maybe, by his will choose what things shall be seen by weaker minds, or cause them to mistake the meaning of what they see. Nonetheless it cannot be doubted that when Denethor saw great forces arrayed against him in Mordor, and more still being gathered, he saw that which truly is.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 9, The Last Debate

... the Stones were far more amenable to legitimate users: ... to true "Heirs of Elendil" (as Aragorn), but also to one with inherited authority (as Denethor), as compared to Saruman, or Sauron. It may noted that the effects were different. Saruman fell under the domination of Sauron and desired his victory, or no longer opposed it. Denethor remained steadfast in his rejection of Sauron, but was made to believe that his victory was inevitable, and so fell into despair. The reasons for this difference were no doubt that in the first place Denethor was a man of great strength of will, and maintained the integrity of his personality until the final blow of the (apparently) mortal wound of his only surviving son. He was proud, but this was by no means merely personal: he loved Gondor and its people, and deemed himself appointed by destiny to lead them in this desperate time. And in the second place the Anor-stone was his by right, and nothing but expediency was against his use of it in his grave anxieties. He must have guessed that the Ithil-stone was in evil hands, and risked contact with it, trusting his strength.2 His trust was not entirely unjustified. Sauron failed to dominate him and could only influence him by deceits.

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 3, The Palantíri


Notes

1 Gandalf should have been reported as saying that he did not think that Denethor had presumed to use it, until his wisdom failed.

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 3, The Palantíri

[Tolkien's] emendation ... of "Denethor did not presume to use it" to "Denethor would not presume to use it" was (apparently by mere oversight) not incorporated in the revised edition.

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 3, The Palantíri: Notes, Note 11

2 The use of the palantíri was a mental strain, especially on men of later days not trained to the task, and no doubt in addition to his anxieties this strain contributed to Denethor's "grimness." It was probably felt earlier by his wife than by others and increased her unhappiness, to the hastening of her death. [Author's note.]

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 3, The Palantíri: Notes, Note 13

Contributors:
Elena Tiriel 19Sep05

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