1. General Information
Lineage: Descended from the House of Húrin.
Pippin saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes...
Denethor looked indeed more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful; and older.
He stood up and cast open his long black cloak... he was clad in mail beneath, and girt with a long sword, great-hilted in a sheath of black and silver.
'Thus I have walked, and thus now for many years have I slept, lest with age the body should grow soft and timid.' - Denethor.
Important Events in Denethor's life:
- 2930, TA - Birth of Denethor.
- 2951, TA - Sauron declares himself openly in Mordor.
- 2957-2980, TA - Thorongil serves under Thengel in Rohan, and Ecthelion in Gondor.
- 2976, TA - Denethor's marriage to Finduilas.
- 2978, TA - Birth of Boromir.
- 2983, TA - Birth of Faramir.
- 2984, TA - Death of Ecthelion. Denethor becomes 26th Ruling Steward of Gondor.
- 2988, TA - Death of Finduilas.
- February 26th, 3019, TA - Death of Boromir.
- March 13th, 3019, TA - Faramir is wounded.
- March 15th, 3019, TA - Denethor burns himself in the pyre.
Sometime between Faramir's (wounded) return from his errand to Osgiliath, and Denethor's death at his own hands, he received a vision of the Fleets of Umbar (which he refers to in a speech to Gandalf before the pyre).
A masterful man, both wise and learned beyond the measure of those days, and strong-willed, confident in his own powers, and dauntless.
[Denethor is] proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king.
He is not as other men of this time... and... the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in him... He has long sight. He can perceive, if he bends his will thither, much of what is passing in the minds of men, even of those that dwell far off. It is difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try.
Denethor II was a proud man, tall, valiant, and more kingly than any man that had appeared in gondor for many lives of men; and he was wise also, and far-sighted and learned in lore.
[Denethor] 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.
[Denethor] mistrusted all others who resisted Sauron, unless they served himself alone.
Denethor and Thorongil
Indeed he was like to Thorongil as to one of the nearest kin, and yet was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and the esteem of his father.
Later, when all was made clear, many believed that Denethor, who was subtle in mind and looked further and deeper than other men of his day, had discovered who this stranger Thorongil in truth was, and suspected that he and Mithrandir designed to supplant him.
*Note: Thorongil was an alias of Aragorn. Further evidence that Denethor anticipated the eventual arrival of Aragorn:
'So! With the left hand thou wouldst use me for a little while as a shield against Mordor, and with the right bring up this Ranger of the North to supplant me... I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.' - Denethor.
Denethor and the Palantír
The Anor-stone... was kept as a closely-guarded secret, accessible only to the Ruling Stewards and never by them used (it seems) until Denethor II.
[ The palantír contributed to Denethor's] premature old age, first observable when he was not much above sixty years old, although he belonged to a race and family that still normally had longer lives than other men.
It is probable... that he began to use the Anor-stone many years before 3019, and earlier than Saruman ventured or thought it useful to use the Stone of Orthanc.
It seems fairly plain that he had at once turned to the Stone as soon as he came to power, having long studied the matter of the palantíri... During the end of the rule of his father, Ecthelion II, he must have greatly desired to consult the Stone, as anxiety in Gondor increased, while his own position was weakened by the fame of Thorongil and the favour shown to him by his father... Denethor desired to surpass these usurpers [ Gandalf & Thorongil ] in knowledge and information, and also if possible, keep an eye on them when they were elsewhere.
The text goes on to describe the properties of the palantíri and the differences between their influence on Denethor and Saruman. Because Denethor was a legitimate user (Denethor had inherited authority) of the stone, he was not as susceptible to Sauron's attempts of domination than Saruman. Denethor remained true to Gondor, and continued to reject Sauron, although in the end, he was overwhelmed by despair.
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.
Denethor and Gandalf
The relationship between Denethor and Gandalf has never been a particularly good one. It is interesting to note that Thorongil always spoke in favour of Gandalf, and that may have contributed to Denethor's suspicions of Gandalf. Not much is said about the true origins of their animosity, though.
Thorongil often warned Ecthelion not to put trust in Saruman the White in Isengard, but to welcome rather Gandalf the Grey. But there was little love between Denethor and Gandalf.
In former days the members of my order [ The Istari ] had been well received there [Gondor], but Saruman most of all. Often he had been for long the guests of the Lords of the City. Less welcome did lord Denethor show me then than of old, and grudgingly he permitted me to search among his hoarded scrolls and books.
The tension and almost antagonistic behaviour of the two in RotK, can undoubtedly be traced to a mutual feeling of distrust and resentment.
Gandalf's haste to Minas Tirith, in addition to the urgency of the time and the imminence of war, was quickened by his sudden fear that Denethor had made use of a palantír... and his desire to judge what effect this had had on him: whether in the crucial test of desperate war it would not prove that [Denethor] (like Saruman) was no longer to be trusted and might surrender to Mordor.
Gandalf's dealings with Denethor on arrival in Minas Tirith, and in the following days, and all things that they are reported to have said to each other, must be viewed in light of this doubt in Gandalf's mind.
Denethor was evidently aware of Gandalf's guesses and suspicions, and at once both angered and sardonically amused by them.
Denethor and Finduilas
Not much is said about the nature of their relationship - whether it was a political marriage, love, or a mixture of both. The only line dealing directly with their marriage comes from Appendix A:
Denethor loved her, in his fashion, more dearly than any other, unless it were the elder of the sons that she bore him.
No matter how their marriage was started, it is clear that Finduilas' death brought immense grief to Denethor's life.
After her death, Denethor became more grim and silent than before, and would sit long alone in his tower deep in thought.
Denethor and His Sons
Throughout RotK, it becomes clear that Boromir was the favoured son in the family. It is possible that Faramir's dislike of war, and his friendship with Gandalf disappointed his father.
Boromir [was] beloved by his father... [ while Faramir ] in [welcoming Gandalf ] as in many other matters, displeased his father.
Tolkien explicitly states, however, that there was no rivalry or jealousy between the two brothers, and that between them "there was great love."
Also, although Denethor and Faramir exchanged harsh words in their few meetings glimpsed in RotK, there is no textual evidence that Denethor physically abused Faramir. I personally think that Denethor is guilty more of emotional neglect, and being too strict in his standards, than he is guilty of being a violent man towards his children.
* Information on Denethor's siblings obtained from HoMe 12.
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