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Chapter 5

Denethor as Macbeth:
The Tragedy of the Last
Ruling Steward of Gondor

by Sanford S. Kaplan
October 6, 2013, with updates since then.


Dedicated to my German host-sons, whose generosity during our year together taught me
more about myself than I knew before. We have spent much time together, for which I am
thankful. May your future be as bright as you are!


Dieses Kapitel ist meinen deutschen Gastsöhnen gewidmet, deren Herzlichkeit während
unseres gemeinsamen Jahres mir sehr viel über mich beigebracht hat.
Wir haben viel Zeit zusammen verbracht, wofür ich sehr dankbar bin.
Möge Eure Zukunft genauso strahlend sein wie Ihr selbst!

I. Introduction
    Shakespeare and Tolkien
    Denethor and Macbeth
    Why Denethor?
    Denethor I and II
    The Plan of This Chapter
II. Denethor: A Chronology
    Some Uncertainties in the Chronologic History of Denethor
    Ecthelion, Denethor, and Thorongil: The Council of Gondor
    Continuing Chronology
    "The Enemy Has Found It"
    Denethor's Death
III. Denethor: Analysis
    The Battle of Maldon
    The Weltanschauung of the Elves and the Dúnedain
    Denethor's Pride
    Denethor as a Military Leader
    Denethor as a Husband and Father
    Denethor's Age and Physical Characteristics,
    Who Was Thorongil?
    The Asymmetry of Any Comparison Between Denethor and Aragorn
IV. Conclusions

I. Introduction

Literature abounds with tragic heroes, from the Biblical Saul, the Greeks Achilles and Hector, Antigone and Electra, the medieval Tristan and Isolde, to Shakespeare's Macbeth and beyond. Readers are drawn to the fate of these characters because they mirror our own lives. All of us are flawed in one way or another, and our lives represent the ways in which we choose to balance our failures and shortcomings with our more positive virtues. It is the sum total of these manifestations of our nature that define who we are. All of us must adapt our nature to the reality around us; whether optimistic or pessimistic, most of us understand that life has its ups and downs, its troubles and triumphs. No matter where we individually fall on the continuum between tragedy and joie de vivre, we can all appreciate the tales of the tragic figures we encounter both in literature and in our own lives. Understanding these characters can help us better understand ourselves; knowing how they respond to the stress of their environments can reassure us that we are not alone in facing the challenges of our lives. The best story tellers talk to us from the shared experience of the human condition; the best books address us as if they were written for each of us alone.


Shakespeare and Tolkien

It is important to note at the outset of this section that Tolkien was very familiar with the work of William Shakespeare, and had received an education in Shakespeare’s work as a student. Furthermore, as will be seen below, Shakespeare and his dramatis personae hold, for most people, an important place in the milieu of northern European culture that so attracted Tolkien as a scholar. Given his appreciation for Shakespeare’s world view and background, Tolkien may have easily been thinking about some of Shakespeare’s characters as he worked on his magnum opus.

T.A. Shippey (2000) relates in his book, J.R.R. Tolkien - Author of the Century, that Tolkien had complex feelings about Shakespeare. His early experiences with William Shakespeare were not pleasant. In Tolkien - a biography, Humphrey Carter (1977) relates that "In charge of the Sixth Class was an energetic man named George Brewerton, one of the few assistant masters at the school who specialised in the teaching of English Literature. This subject scarcely featured in the curriculum, and when taught it was confined chiefly to a study of Shakespeare's plays...." Shippey (2000) tells us that in a letter to W.H. Auden, Tolkien said "that at school he 'disliked cordially' Shakespeare's plays and remembered especially 'the bitter disappointment and disgust... with the shabby use made in Shakespeare [in Macbeth] of the coming of "Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill."'" Shippey (2000) tells of "the general opinion that Tolkien... was unswervingly hostile to Shakespeare." Nevertheless, a strong case can be made for comparing Denethor and Macbeth. Both men are fully human, and our first impressions of them are favorable, but "Shakespeare's Macbeth is a study of the evil that is in every human heart, and of one man's downfall as he willfully gives way to its temptations" (Microsoft Encarta, 2005). Denethor's fall also reflects an evil inclination, yet both of them are powerful characters, sharing the flaws of humankind, and we are drawn to their descent into despair and folly. Even as they fall, we can admire them still for their virtues, even as we wish they might have made different choices. We can see ourselves in them, and both Shakespeare and Tolkien display a tolerant and sympathetic view of human frailty.

Shippey (2000) debunks the general opinion about Tolkien's feelings towards Shakespeare. He points out that Tolkien "was guardedly respectful of Shakespeare" and suggests that Tolkien may have felt "a sort of fellow-feeling with him." Shippey (2000) notes that Tolkien and Shakespeare were close countrymen, Shakespeare coming from Warwickshire, where Tolkien spent a happy childhood. According to Shippey (2000), both Tolkien and Shakespeare were capable of writing "Shire-poetry."

There may be other connections between Shakespeare and himself of which Tolkien had an appreciation. Both men shared Germanic roots and names: Tolkien himself provided the origin of his name (Carter, 1977 and Shippey, 2000) and Shakespeare is a combination of two Anglo-Saxon words, Old English (OE) "Sceacan" (Middle English (ME) "s(c)haken"), and OE and ME "spere" to modern "spear" (compare to modern Danish and German "Speer"). Note that "spere" or "speare" retained its final "e" as late as ME times. Furthermore, Germans have long revered Shakespeare as "one of their own." In his short essay entitled "'The Classical German Shakespeare' as Emblem of Germany as 'geistige Weltmacht': Validating National Power through Cultural Prefiguration" Ken Larson (1991) discusses the German infatuation with Shakespeare. In addressing the question "Was Shakespeare really more German than English?" he provides an interesting answer: "Generations of otherwise sober and intelligent people have asserted he was so insistently that for our purposes today we might take their word for it." We must remember, of course, that Larson was delivering his essay at a meeting devoted to this subject. He goes on to say that "for Herder and others, there was consanguinity in a common Germanic origin." Goethe, influenced by Herder, referred to Shakespeare as "a bard, a mystical seer" (Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2003). Larson (1991) notes that in the 19th Century "Shakespeare became 'naturalized' in Germany," and that "By 1849 Gervinus describes his book on Shakespeare as 'eine nothwendige Erganzung' [‘a versatile completion, or addition’] of his history of German Literature. His language here - wir haben uns Shakespeare 'erobert' - [literally ‘we have ourselves Shakespeare conquered’] is worth noting." Finally, Larson writes that "The most brilliant formulation of this history is Friedrich Gundolfs 1911 tour de force…Shakespeare und der deutsche Geist" [Shakespeare and the German Spirit] in which he shows how in Germany's discovery of Shakespeare, the Germans in fact discovered themselves." More recent consideration of the “Germanization” of Shakespeare is provided by Annelies Martens (2017), with her short paper “Shakespeare as Unser? The Annexation of Shakespeare by German Culture.” Martens (2017) study begins with a rather humorous dialogue “between an English secret agent and a Nazi general (and) is from the American film Pimpernel Smith, produced in 1941 as anti-German propaganda.”

Tolkien was no doubt aware about much of this cultural history, and perhaps he shared some sort of satisfaction in the fact that a fellow countryman, Shakespeare, received such a devoted following in Germany. While recognizing his delight in the Germanic tradition, it is important to consider Tolkien's own expression of his distinction between German Kultur and what Germany had become in the 20th Century. In 1941, with his own children involved in England's war effort, Tolkien - a veteran of the Battle of the Somme in World War One - wrote "People in this land seem not even yet to realize that in the Germans we have enemies whose virtues (and they are virtues) of obedience and patriotism are greater than ours in the mass. I have in this War a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler for ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light" (Carter, 1977). Strong words, those. Furthermore, following the success of The Hobbit, a German publishing house was eager to print a German translation of the work, provided, of course, that Tolkien could prove his "Aryan" ancestry. Tolkien vigorously rebuffed the request, having no desire to see his book published in Germany under such circumstances. He went on to express his admiration for the Jewish people and their manifold contributions to human culture (Carter, 1977).


Denethor and Macbeth

Shippey (2000) enumerates several ways in which the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) is indeed indebted to Macbeth. Despite his disgust with Shakespeare's use "of the coming of Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill," Tolkien uses the very same motif in his march of the Ents and Huorns to Isengard. The Lord of the Nazgûl confidently tells Éowyn (a woman disguised as Dernhelm, a man) that "No living man may hinder me!" (RK-V-6) which clearly recalls the witches' warning to Macbeth that "none of woman born/ shall harm Macbeth" (Act IV, Scene 1). In addition, Aragorn's healing of the sick in "The Houses of Healing" (RK-V-8) "mirrors the account in Macbeth of King Edward the Confessor touching for the King's Evil, and healing through his sacred power of royalty." This last refers to a very old English belief that has survived until relatively recent times. In his biography of Samuel Johnson and his "extraordinary" Dictionary, Henry Hitchings (2005) tells us that "Johnson's ill health necessitated a trip to London when he was a child of just two (1711). Popular wisdom held that an infant could be cured of its ailments if touched by the monarch."

Furthermore, the whole motif of the dream that occurs once to Boromir and several times to Faramir ("Seek for the sword that was broken"), and that sets in motion the course of events leading to Boromir's arrival in Imladris, is similar to Macbeth. As Macbeth and Banquo are returning home after their successful battle, they encounter the Weird Sisters and the prophecy they receive form the Norn-like women serves as a sort of dream-like vision that begins Macbeth's path to the Kingship. Indeed, their encounter with the Weird Sisters is so startling and "unreal" that Banquo asks Macbeth "were such things here as we do speak about? Or have we eaten on the insane root, That takes the reason prisoner?" (Act 1, Scene 3).

An early Macbeth-like examination of the role of a steward and a king may be found in the LOTR (App. A), where Tolkien relates how Pelendur, the Steward of King Ondoher, took the leading role in rejecting the claim of King Arvedui, a direct descendant of Elendil and Isildur. Instead of giving the crown to the most valid claimant, King Arvedui of Arnor, Pelendur advocated giving the crown to Eärnil, a less-direct descendant of the line of Elendil. As noted in Chapter Four, Pelendur had ruled Gondor for one year following the death of King Ondoher and his sons. Having tasted rule for one year, Pelendur perhaps saw a chance for his own family to assume the "kingship," recognizing the Eärnil's son, Eärnur, was not married and had little likelihood of producing an heir.

Although Shippey (2000) believes that Tolkien may be thought of as offering a rebuke to Macbeth when he has Gandalf and Denethor discuss the role of stewards and kings, it should be noted that Tolkien provides us with not one but two Macbeth-like characters in the LOTR: Denethor, son of Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, and Saruman the White.1 If Shakespeare's Macbeth "is a study of the evil that is in every human heart" (Microsoft Encarta, 2005), then Denethor in particular is a tragic hero of the same dimensions. Tolkien gives us additional Macbeth-like heroes in The Silmarillion, including both Elves and Men, exemplified by Turin and Fëanor, perhaps, and also Beorhtnoth in The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm 's Son, Tolkien’s interpretation of the famous Battle of Maldon, one of the only Old English documents preserved, that recalls a defeat of the English by invading Vikings in 991 C.E.

Unlike Saruman, an immortal Maia, Denethor is fully human. He was a husband, and a father, the leader of Gondor, a still powerful and venerable land in battle with the titanic forces of evil that threaten all of the free West of Middle-earth. He possesses emotions that we can relate to, and like us, suffers "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1). He responds to the events around him in a way we can understand, even if we do not agree with some of his choices. How many readers thrill at the moment of Denethor's final decision, when Gandalf urges him to return to the defense of his city! Looking "with longing" at his unconscious son, Faramir, who in his fevered moaning calls for his father, Denethor stands trembling as he wavers over which course to follow. Most of us silently hope that Denethor will go on to lead his people, to meet the challenge and the risk of his City's fight for survival, but alas, Gandalf’s urgings are in vain. Convinced that his only remaining son will die, and that the overwhelming forces of Sauron are invincible, Denethor chooses to end his own life. Suddenly laughing, Denethor assumes his regal bearing once again, and defiantly reveals his possession of the Palantír of Minas Tirith.

Tolkien's final description of Denethor, his face shining in the glow of the palintír in his hands, is as dramatically stark and powerfully painful as King Lear's final "never" repeated not once, but five times. With a Shakespearian cadence, Tolkien tells us " ... the lean face of the Lord was lit as with a red fire, and it seemed cut out of hard stone, sharp with black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible. His eyes glittered" (RK-V-7-2). This is the man we must judge as we read the LOTR.


Why Denethor?

There are different ways of looking at Denethor. In his motion-picture series, "The Lord of the Rings," Peter Jackson has chosen to emphasize the more selfish and negative aspects of Denethor's complex nature. This essay takes a far more sympathetic view of him, and will attempt to show how a good man came to an evil end, in some part due to events beyond his control, a reality shared by most mortals.

A careful reading of the LOTR reveals that the chapters in Books I-VI consist of numerous "segments" separated by a small gap or several asterisks. As noted in Chapter 2, Tolkien uses these segment gaps to denote a simple temporal break in the action of the narrative, an emotional climax, or a contrast from one segment to the next. It was a careful study of these segment-ends that showed how Tolkien was using them to often give the reader an insight into a particular character or event. Segment-ends may reveal much about a character's personality and outlook. For major characters with the most segment-ends, such as Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, and Aragorn, there is ample development of their nature in the text as a whole. For characters with fewer segment-ends, however, and less exposure in the narrative, the importance of their segment-ending utterances increases tremendously, and these statements can provide significant clues about their emotional nature, taken along with other evidence in the text.

The seminal idea for this essay sprang from an analysis of Denethor's seven segment-ends in the LOTR and discussed in Chapter Two. It early became apparent, however, that Denethor belongs to a unique class of characters in the LOTR. Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, and Denethor, directly appear in only a few chapters. Denethor, for example, appears directly in only three chapters, all of them in "The Return of the King." The several characters mentioned above, however, have a high "influence ratio." The "influence ratio" as used in this book is the total number of chapters (not including the appendices) in which a character is mentioned or appears either directly or indirectly, divided by the number of chapters in which they personally appear. While only appearing directly in three chapters, Denethor is mentioned in a total of sixteen chapters, resulting in the highest "influence ratio" for any mortal character in the LOTR. Further exploration of character influence in the LOTR is presented in Chapter Seven.

Much information about Denethor is provided by surrogates speaking about or for him in other parts of the LOTR. The sum total of Denethor's direct and indirect appearances in the story itself, and data provided in Appendix A of the LOTR help "zero in" on his personality and nature. They help us understand the weltanschauung and the tragedy of a well-intentioned leader of the West who, through both his own faults and extenuating circumstances, ends his own life in ignominy, bitterness, and despair, on a pyre of his own making.

Tolkien provides plenty of scattered evidence, both positive and negative, with which to judge Denethor. Given the large number of contradictory clues in the LOTR, it seems that Tolkien himself chooses not to give us his last word on Denethor: he wants us to confront this complex character on our own terms. Tolkien is again challenging us to make a decision that furthers our insight into ourselves. Like all great epics, the LOTR goes beyond talking about the dramatis personae in the tale, it leads us to consider their story in terms of our own lives.


Denethor I and II

As indicated in Chapter Four, there was an earlier steward, Denethor I, who ruled Gondor from 2435 to 2477 Third Age. Denethor I named his son Boromir as well. All references to "Denethor" and "Boromir" in this chapter apply to Denethor II (who ruled Gondor from 2984 to his death in 3019, Third Age), and his son Boromir (2978-3019). Unless otherwise indicated by "F.A." or "S.A." (First and Second Ages) all dates in this chapter refer to the Third Age of Middle-earth.


The Plan of This Chapter

Tolkien typically demands a great deal from his readers and has been criticized for doing so. To fully understand a character in the LOTR we must look at the complete context of their lives, and link together the various references to them and their times, scattered throughout the LOTR and other constituent texts.

The remainder of this essay will be divided into three sections:
(11) a chronological history of Denethor,
(111) an analysis of the character of Denethor as revealed in his life story, and
(IV) a consideration of the tragedy of Denethor's Weltanschauung.

Denethor's life (and his relationships with his sons, his counselors, and his role in the War of the Ring) is in many ways a recapitulation of the history of the Elf-friends from their initial encounter with the Elves in the First Age to the end of the Third Age. Appendix 1 provides an abbreviated version of this history. For those not familiar with the history of Elves and Men in the First Age, or the fate of Númenor in the Second Age, a review of Tolkien’s Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales would be most useful.

Chapter Four provides an analysis of the history and geopolitics of the Third Age until the time of Denethor. A knowledge of the historical context of Denethor's role as the last Ruling Steward of Gondor is essential to understanding his complex character. The analysis of Denethor presented here will challenge one interpretation of him as an unfeeling, arrogant, and almost cruel man, who placed himself above the needs of his city and of his time.

It should be remembered that Denethor, like most mortal men, (and especially the Númenoreans), carried always a fear of death, the "Gift of Eru," that sprang from the lies and deceits Morgoth spread among Men in the First Age. This fear helped lead to the downfall of Númenor. It was most pronounced among many of those Men who had the closest association with the Elves, and who came to envy their immortality, rather than appreciating Eru's Gift for what it was. For, as Tolkien poetically emphasizes in The Silmarillion, the evil sown by Morgoth shall be an everlasting blight until the end, and as the days of Middle-earth lengthen, even the immortals will grow weary of their immortality. Tolkien (1996) provided a recapitulation of the nature of the Gift of Men in his less-well-known tale, the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, in which Finrod Felagund (to my way of thinking a very under-appreciated character in the Legendarium!) and Andreth (an even less-well-known character!), have a conversation about the views of Elves and Men concerning immortality and mortality, the “Great Hope” of Men, and the future of Elves and the Second Born beyond Arda. Chapter Six includes additional discussion on the Gift of Men, and on the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.

In addition, all those Edain of Númenorean descent absorbed through association some of the "wisdom and sadness" of the Elder Race (RK-V-4). It should also be noted that Barliman Butterbur expresses some of the thoughts held by most Men in Middle-earth concerning the Dúnedain: they “were believed to have strange powers of sight and hearing, and to understand the languages of beasts and birds.” This would suggest that, to the common people, the Dúnedain evinced their elvish connections. Tolkien carefully weaves the elvish weltanschauung into the tragedy of Denethor. These ideas resound throughout the LOTR and Tolkien examines these themes from several angles, using Denethor and his sons (among others) as surrogates for different points-of-view.


II. Denethor: A Chronology

A more complete account of the history and geopolitics of the Third Age up to the time of Turgon, the 24th Ruling Steward of Gondor (ruled 2914-2953) has been presented in Chapter Four. For the sake of continuity, a few of the salient events that occurred prior to Turgon's time, especially those that have a strong bearing on the War of the Ring, will be included here. As noted in the Introduction to this chapter, Denethor appears directly in only three chapters of The Return of the King. Comments about Denethor made by other characters will be presented in this section chronologically as opposed to their often atemporal placement in the LOTR.

Gandalf revisited Dol Guldur in 2850 and discovered Sauron was gathering all the Rings and searching for lsildur's Heir. During his visit, Gandalf found Thráin and received the Key of Erebor before Thráin died. (LoTR, App. B). At a meeting of the White Council in 2851, Gandalf urged an attack on Dol Guldur, but was "overruled" by Saruman, who had at some point read the scroll of Isildur in Minas Tirith, and had hopes of finding the One Ring for himself in the Gladden Fields, nigh to Dol Guldur. The Silmarillion tells us in "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" that at the meeting, Saruman assuaged the concerns of the Council by offering this explanation of the Rings whereabouts: "Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed."

Arathorn son of Arador was born in 2873, and Bilbo Baggins, hero of The Hobbit, who found the One Ring while on the quest of Erebor, was born in 2890. In the days of Turin II, the 23rd Ruling Steward (reigned 2882-2914), "Sauron was grown again to power and the day of his arising was drawing near" (App. A). In 2901, Turin II built secret refuges, like Henneth Annûn, in the Mountains of Shadow on the west of Mordor, and fortified the isle of Cair Andros in the Anduin, northeast of Minas Tirith. Gilraen, the daughter of Dirhael and his wife Ivorwen, of the northern Dúnedain, was born in 2907.

The "Fell Winter" of 2911 resulted in the freezing over of the Baranduin and other rivers in the North. All of Eriador was invaded by white wolves during the winter, and in the floods that accompanied the spring melting of the extensive snow cover, the crossing of the Greyflood at Tharbad was destroyed in 2912, effectively cutting off the North from the South.

Turgon, son of Turin II, ascended to the Stewardship in 2914 upon the death of his father. In 2929, Arathorn married Gilraen. Tolkien informs the reader in "A Part of the Tale at Aragorn and Arwen" (LoTR, App. A), that Dirhael was opposed to this marriage for two reasons: (1) Arathorn was some 34 years older than Gilraen, and she was not yet at the usual age for marriage, and (2) he foresaw that Arathorn would shortly become the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, but would himself be shortlived. Sharing in the fabled foresight of the Dúnedain, Ivorwen responded "The more need of haste! The days are darkening before the storm, and great things are to come. If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts" (LoTR, App. A).

In 2930 (App B "The Tale of Years"), Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, was born in Minas Tirith. The name of his mother is not provided in the LOTR, but it is safe to assume that she was of the "High Men" of Gondor (including the fief of Dol Amroth). Like his father, Denethor was the second of the line of Stewards to bear his name.

No information is available regarding the early years of Denethor. It seems apparent that he received training as the future ruler of Gondor. He no doubt learned the lore of the Dúnedain from their days as Elf-friends in the First Age, through the rise and fall of Númenor in the Second Age, and of their rule in the West of Middle-earth in the Third Age. Very likely much of his education especially dealt with the role of the Stewards in the history of Gondor, and their work as the rulers of the South.2 Denethor probably learned early the ritualistic use of the phrase "until the King returns" at the end of important pronouncements (see Footnote 37, Cirion and Eorl, in the UT), but he simultaneously learned or realized that such an event was unlikely, and if it happened, would not benefit the ruling role of the Stewards: while their oath of office included mention of their ruling until the King shall return, the ruling stewards "hardened their hearts" against the many in Gondor who still paid heed to the rumor of the continued existence of the royal line in the North of Middle-earth (LoTR, App. A). As noted in Chapter Four, it is possible that Saruman visited Minas Tirith during Denethor's boyhood and furthered Denethor's education. Denethor was also trained in the arts of war, as was required of any man of Gondor, especially during the last two millennia.

Arathorn II became Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North in 2930, when his father Arador was slain by hill-trolls. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, was born 1 March 2931. Two years later, Arathorn II himself was killed by orcs at the very young age of 60 years as he rode against them with Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond Halfelven. Just a toddler of two years of age, and now the Chieftain of the Dúnedain and the Heir of Isildur, Aragorn and his mother, Gilraen, were taken to Rivendell, where Aragorn was adopted by Elrond as his foster-son. "Elrond took the place of his father and came to love him as a son of his own" (LoTR, App. A). Aragorn spent his childhood and young adulthood among the Elves, learning from his distant kinsman Elrond the elvish attributes of skill-in-arms and healing, wisdom and compassion, lore, and nobility of character. Through the efforts of Gandalf (in 2850), the Wise were aware that Sauron was searching for the Heir of Isildur, and Elrond gave his foster-son the name Estel (Hope), to conceal his true lineage and identity from the Enemy.

By learning that Sauron's servants were searching the Gladden Fields nigh to the Anduin, Saruman deduced in 2939 that Sauron had learned of Isildur's end. Privately alarmed, Saruman chose not to share his knowledge with the Council (LoTR, App. B).3 Meanwhile, Gandalf (who had been very concerned with "the perilous state of the North" (LoTR, App. A)) enlisted the help of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins of the Shire to aid Thorin Oakenshield and his company of Dwarves in recapturing Erebor from Smaug the Dragon in 2941 (The Hobbit).4 Gandalf had been worried that Sauron would attack Rivendell as soon as he felt strong enough, so recapturing Erebor would improve the defense of the North (LoTR, App. A). It was on this quest that by chance Bilbo found a ring in a cave in the Misty Mountains that later proved to be Sauron's Ruling Ring. Gandalf temporarily left "Thorin and Company" to attend a meeting of the White Council at which Saruman was also present. At this time Saruman was only too glad to help the Council drive Sauron from Dol Guldur so that he could continue his own search in peace. Long aware that the White Council might attempt to confront him, Sauron prepared his old home in Mordor, and having "fled" before the White Council in 2941, Sauron shortly returned to Mordor in 2942 (FR­ II-2-9).

Towards the end of Turgon's reign, Théoden, son of Thengel of Rohan, was born in 2948, and "Finduilas, daughter of Adrahil of Dol Amroth" (LoTR, App. B) was born in 2950. The main event of Turgon's rule as Steward of Gondor was that in 2951 "Sauron declares himself openly" (LoTR, App. B) and began the rebuilding of the Barad-dûr in Mordor. The most important result of Sauron's removal to Mordor was that his main effort against the West of Middle-earth was directed against Minas Tirith in the South, rather than Imladris in the North: the kingdoms of the Dwarves, Men, and Elves in the North coupled with the distance separating Mordor from Rivendell offered a strong disincentive for Sauron to there launch his main attack.5 Sauron sent three of the Ringwraiths to reoccupy Dol Guldur in 2951.

It was at this same time that Elrond finally revealed to Estel, his foster-son, his true name and lineage, and explained to Aragorn about their kinship. Almost immediately thereafter, Aragorn saw Arwen Undómiel for the first time, and fell in love with her, as told in the short saga that Tolkien recounts in the LOTR as "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen." "Lovingly" taking leave of Elrond, the twenty-year-old Aragorn sets out (2951) for "the Wild," beginning his great "journeys and errantries" between the years 2957 and 2980. One could wish that Tolkien would have given us a more thorough account of Aragorn’s childhood in Imladris as Elrond’s adopted son, and of his life before the War of the Ring.

The "Last Meeting of the White Council" was held in 2953. App. B (LoTR) states that at this meeting Saruman "feigned" that he had discovered that the Ring rolled down the Anduin into the Sea, suggesting that this was the first time he mentioned it. However, as Gandalf states to the Council of Elrond (3018, FR-II-2-9) Saruman only reiterated in 2953 what he had already told the Council in 2841 (and noted in The Silmarillion as described earlier): "Into Anduin the Great it fell; and long ago, while Sauron slept, it was rolled down the River to the Sea" (FR-II-2). "It," of course is the One Ring. After this last meeting, Saruman began to fortify Isengard, and to spy on both the movements of Gandalf and the Shire in general. As part of this effort, Saruman enlisted the help of additional agents in Bree and the Southfarthing.

Ecthelion II, son of Turgon, became the 25th Steward of Gondor in 2953. App. A (LoTR) tells us that Ecthelion II "was a man of wisdom. With what power was left to him he began to strengthen his realm against the assault of Mordor." Orodruin (Mt. Doom) began an eruptive cycle in 2954, and knowing that Sauron was reestablished in Mordor, Ecthelion II may have seen the eruption as a sign of Sauron's intention to begin his war against the West.


Some Uncertainties in the
Chronologic History of Denethor

In chronicling the life of Denethor, there are several important events for which no exact dates are available.

The first of these uncertainties is Gondor's recapture of the east half of Osgiliath from the Enemy. As Beregond and Pippin gaze out from the Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith, Pippin sees a ruined city (RK-V-1). Beregond tells Pippin that what he sees "is the ruin of Osgiliath on either side of Anduin, which our enemies took and burned long ago."6 Beregond also tells Pippin that Osgiliath was recaptured by Gondor "in the days of the youth of Denethor," not as a place in which to dwell, but as a military outpost" (RK-V-1 ).

There is no date in the LOTR to tell us when this occurred; however, there are some clues that can perhaps serve to set a general time frame for this event. While sitting on the throne of Gondor, it was not unusual for the kings to send their sons and heirs on military missions in response to attacks on Gondor or its allies. King Ostoher (7th king) sent his son Tarostar to battle the Easterlings in 490. King Narmacil (17th king), who was childless, appointed his nephew Minalcar as Regent of the Realm; in 1248, as Regent, he led forces of Gondor against attacks by the Easterlings. King Rómendacil (Minalcar) himself sent his son Valacar as an ambassador to the Northmen, where he was likely to have served in skirmishes with Easterlings (1250). In 1944, King Ondoher and both his sons were killed in battle against the Wainriders before the Morannon. Eärnil, the Gondorian general who simultaneously led the southern armies against the Haradrim and immediately turned north and routed the Wainriders, sent his son Eärnur to the aid of the North-Kingdom in 1975.

The Stewards who ruled Gondor maintained this tradition; Denethor I (10th Steward) sent his son Boromir against the Uruks in 2475. Beren (19th Steward) dispatched his son Beregond against the Corsairs of Umbar, and later sent him to the relief of Rohan after the Long Winter (2759).

Given this long tradition of the son of the ruling king or steward leading Gondorian forces, it is not unlikely that Denethor also led the forces of Gondor when they recaptured East Osgiliath. When Ecthelion II assumed the stewardship in 2953, Denethor was twenty-three years old. Denethor married "late" taking Finduilas, daughter of Adrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth, as his wife in 2976. Perhaps Denethor decided to end his role of leading Gondor's military forces into battle himself at the time of his marriage.

Second, complicating this chronology is the presence of a stranger, Thorongil, in the service of Ecthelion. As the Steward began to marshal the strength of Gondor against the onslaught of Mordor, "He encouraged all men of worth from near and far to enter his service, and to those who proved trustworthy, he gave rank and reward" (LoTR, App. A).

Thorongil came to Gondor from Rohan where he had served King Thengel, "but he was not one of the Rohirrim," and no date is provided for his arrival in Gondor. At the time of his service, and following the counsel of his surrogate father, Elrond, and the Wise, Thorongil kept his true identity hidden from both Rohan and Gondor. We know that Thorongil, who while "in the wild" but not yet on his great journies and errantries" had met Gandalf in 2956. Thorongil began his long service to King Thengel of Rohan in 2957 (LoTR, Apps. A and B), but after several years, at least, he moved to Gondor where he became a favorite of Ecthelion. In the absence of any specific data, it may be statistically expedient to assume that Thorongil divided his time equally between Rohan and Gondor. If this is somewhat accurate, then Thorongil may have entered Gondor circa 2969, when Denethor was thirty-nine, which would have been seven years before Denethor’s marriage to Finduilas.


Ecthelion, Denethor, and Thorongil:
The Council of Gondor

Leaders of both Elves and Men respectively relied on the help and advice of a council before reaching major decisions concerning their community. In "The Council of Elrond" (the very name of the chapter recognizes the importance of a council-like meeting in the decision­ making process) we learn that Erestor is the chief of the counselors of Elrond's household. Aragorn appoints the Master, Mayor, and Thain of the Shire as Counselors of the North-kingdom (LoTR, App. B). Similarly, it is directly stated that Denethor "was master of his Council" (RK-V-4). Ecthelion too relied upon the help of the Council of Gondor, and Denethor and Thorongil were apparently both Council members. Denethor and Thorongil advised Ecthelion in like manner with but one exception: "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 " (LoTR, App. A).

Given the propensity of Gondor to celebrate events in a public way (see RK-VI-4 and 5) it is likely that a large wedding feast was held to celebrate the marriage of Denethor and Finduilas. If so, there can be little doubt that Thorongil, one of the chief counselors to Ecthelion and a favorite of the Steward, would have been present at the wedding of Denethor and Finduilas. Shortly after their marriage, Finduilas bore Denethor a son (2978), Boromir II, named after the legendary Boromir, who defeated a large army of Orcs in 2475.

Thorongil feared the threat "of the rebels in Umbar" and often advised Ecthelion that some action had to be taken to reduce their strength, or Sauron could use these allies to attack Gondor from the south simultaneously with an attack from Mordor in the east. Thorongil finally (2980) prevailed upon Ecthelion to allow him to form a small fleet that secretly came to Umbar at night "and there burned a great part of the ships of the Corsairs." Thorongil himself fought with the Captain of the Haven and defeated him before withdrawing his fleet "with small loss." After his small squadron docked at Pelargir, instead of returning to Gondor "where great honour awaited him," Thorongil left his battle companions, bidding them to say farewell to Ecthelion for him, then set off "towards the Mountains of Shadow" (LoTR, App. A).

Some in Gondor believed that Thorongil left the city before his "rival," Denethor, became the Steward, although if there was any rivalry between them, it was apparently only on the part of Denethor (LoTR, App. A). It is this notion of a "rivalry" felt by Denethor that leads to speculation that Denethor's taking of East Osgiliath occurred after Thorongil's destruction of the fleet of Umbar, perhaps as a sort of personal response, a one-upsmanship, to Thorongil's victory. Beregond's words to Pippin, however, suggest that the capture of East Osgiliath by Denethor did occur earlier in his career. "Youth" is a relative term, especially in the LoTR, but for Denethor "the days of his youth" may have ended sometime before he was thirty-nine, in 2969. The weight of the evidence suggests that the "uncertain" date of Denethor's victory at East Osgiliath did, in fact, take place between 2953 and 2969.

Finduilas presented Denethor with a second son, Faramir II, in 2983.7 Ecthelion died in 2984 and Denethor became the Ruling Steward of Gondor. He " ... proved to be a masterful lord, holding the rule of all things in his hand. He said little. He listened to counsel, and then followed his own mind" (LoTR, App. A). Gandalf says to Pippin that "By some chance the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true" in Denethor (RK-V-1-9).

Tragedy struck the Steward's family in 2988 when Finduilas died young, after only twelve years of marriage. One result of the early death of his wife was that Denethor withdrew more into himself, becoming "more grim and silent." App. A (LoTR) notes that Denethor would spend long hours alone, "farseeing" that Sauron would attack Gondor during his stewardship.

Another uncertainty in chronicling the life of Denethor is to establish when he first used the Palintír of Minas Tirith, one of the three palintiri remaining in the South. App. A (LoTR) suggests that in his depression following the death of his beloved wife, and needful of knowledge that he could use to combat Sauron, Denethor "dared" to use the palantír in his possession. App. A (LoTR) points out that none of the previous Stewards had done this, and not even the last two legitimate Kings of Gondor, Eärnil and Eärnur, had used the Palintír of Minas Tirith once Sauron gained the Palintír of Minas lthil. No matter exactly when it occurred, Denethor's use of the palantír enhanced his native wisdom and his inherent foresight as one of the Dúnedain, and provided him with the deep knowledge of events far and wide for which he was famous. This knowledge came with a price, however: Denethor became "aged before his time by his contest with the will of Sauron" (LoTR, App. A). Beregond, one of the select guards of the White Tower, tells Pippin that "Denethor can see far" and that many in Gondor believe "he will at times search even the mind of the Enemy, wrestling with him. And so it is that he is old, worn before his time" (RK-V-1).

Two additional uncertainties spring from Denethor's use of the palantír. First, how much freedom did he have in his use of the stone? App. A (LoTR) informs us that "the Stone of Minas Tirith was the Palintír of Ammon, most close in accord with the one Sauron possessed." A couple of statements in the narrative provide some ambiguous data regarding this question. In "The Pyre of Denethor" Gandalf states that Denethor "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" (RK-V-7). Later, in "The Last Debate," we are informed that the palantíri are incapable of "lying," and that Sauron himself cannot use them to spread untruths. He can, perhaps, control the visions seen by other users of the palantíri, and thus influence them (RK-V-9).

The second uncertainty that arises from Denethor's use of the palantír is if - and if so, when - he used it to discover the true identity of Thorongil, and this bears on how much freedom Denethor had in his use of the Stone.

We are informed in App. A (LoTR) that the subtle Denethor had "discovered who this stranger Thorongil in truth was, and suspected that he and Mithrandir designed to supplant him." How did he come by this knowledge, and when? It seems unlikely that Denethor could have obtained this information through more conventional means. In the "Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" in App. A (LoTR), it is stated that “his [Aragorn’s] true name and lineage were kept secret at the bidding of Elrond; for the Wise then knew that the Enemy was seeking to discover the Heir of Isildur, if any remained upon earth.” Who were “the Wise?” During the Third Age of Middle-earth, common opinion is that the Wise consisted of Elrond, Galadriel, Círdan, Glorfindel, Thranduil, and the Istari. Disregarding for the moment how Saruman failed to know that Elrond’s foster-son Estel was indeed the Heir of Isildur, it is not likely that knowledge of Estel’s existence would have had wide currency at the end of the Third Age. After Aragorn took leave of Imladris, and began his errantries, he traveled under a variety of monikers, including Thorongil, the name he used while serving both King Thengel of Rohan and Steward Ecthelion II of Gondor.

Having met Gandalf soon after the start of his travels, Aragorn was a strong advocate for the wisdom of Gandalf as opposed to that of Saruman. However, as we know, App. A (LoTR) states that"...there was little love between Denethor and Gandalf, and after the days of Ecthelion there was less welcome for the Grey Pilgrim in Minas Tirith" implying that Denethor suspected Gandalf from an early date. Perhaps this knowledge was a product of Denethor’s inherent foresightedness, and not his use of the palantír.

The problem is that if Denethor obtained his knowledge of Thorongil's true identity through the palantír, then Sauron (through Denethor's use of the Stone) would have been aware of the existence of an heir to Isildur as well. Yet we know that Sauron was totally unaware that an heir of Isildur still existed until Aragorn wrenched the control of the Palintír of Orthanc from him on 6 March 3019. When Aragorn "frees" the Stone to his own service, he purposefully reveals himself as the Heir of Elendil and Isildur. Alone with his kinsman Halbarad, Aragorn presents himself to Sauron "in other guise" than usual, and possibly with the kingly standard of Elendil, handcrafted by Arwen, in the background: "To know that I lived and walked the earth was a blow to his heart, I deem, for he knew it not till now...." (RK-V-2), as Aragorn relates to Gimli and Legolas). So: if Denethor did use his Palintír to discover Thorongil's identity before 3019, as seems a real possibility, perhaps everything he did with the Palintír of Minas Tirith was not known to Sauron, thereby suggesting that Denethor retained some control over his own Stone. If, however, he found out about Aragorn only when Sauron did, then one must suppose that Denethor's antipathy toward Gandalf after the death of Ecthelion was due to his natural foresight of the Dúnedain that "clued him in" to Gandalf’s intent and Thorongil's lineage. Given the very limited contact between North and South in the days of Denethor, it is hard, but not impossible, to imagine how he verified his suspicions while Thorongil was still in Gondor before 2980.


Continuing Chronology

As the grim and saddened Denethor was raising his children, events beyond Gondor continued apace. After his brief visit to the confines of Mordor, Aragorn passed through Lórien on his way back to Rivendell "to rest there for a while ere he journeyed into the far countries" (App. A, Tale of Aragorn and Arwen (Tale)). Meeting Arwen in Lórien, Aragorn gave her the Ring of Barahir, and they "plighted their troth on the hill of Cerin Amroth" (App. A, LoTR, Tale). In 2989 Balin left the Dwarf-kingdom of Erebor in an attempt to re-establish a Dwarf-colony in Khazad-dum, and in Rohan, Theodwyn, the youngest sister of King Théoden, was married to Éomund of Eastfold. The first of her two children, Éomer, was born in 2991. Balin's attempt to recolonize Moria ended in failure when the Dwarves there were slain by orcs in 2994. Éowyn, the second child of Theodwyn, was born in 2995.

Saruman the White began to use the Palintír of Orthanc around 3000, and was "ensnared" by Sauron while doing so (Chapter Three). Turning traitor to the White Council, his agents in Bree and the South Farthing told him that the Shire was being guarded by the Dúnedain of the North. In 3001 Gandalf began to suspect that Bilbo's ring was in fact the One Ring forged by Sauron in the Second Age, and he asks the Rangers to double their watch on the Shire.8

At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf tells those present that "Time passed with many cares, until my doubts were awakened again to sudden fear. Whence came the hobbit's ring?" (FR-11-2- 10). Recognizing the importance of the truth of the matter, Gandalf realized that he needed to find Gollum to learn where and when Gollum obtained his ring that he called his "precious." In the same year as Bilbo's Farewell Feast (and the doubling of the watch on the Shire), Gandalf called upon the aid of Aragorn, "the greatest traveler and huntsman of this age of the world" (FR-II-2-10) and they began the hunt for Gollum. Aragorn and Gandalf continued their search on-and-off for the next seventeen years.

While on the hunt, Gandalf occasionally visited the Shire to check on Frodo as he did in 3004 and "at intervals during the next four years" (App. B), paying "his last visit" in 3008. Aragorn also took a break from the search, returning to the North, where he visited his mother, Gilraen, who was now living alone. She died untimely in 3007.

In 3009 and the following eight years, Gandalf and Aragorn renewed their search for Gollum, travelling up and down the Anduin between northern Mirkwood and "the fences of Mordor" (FR-II-2-10). The waxing power of Sauron made the lands to the east of the Misty Mountains dangerous, and Elrond asked Arwen to return to Imladris (App. B, LoTR).

Sometime during these years (3009-3018) Gollum himself was captured and brought to Sauron for questioning. Sauron probably realized at this time that his "One Ring" had been found. Releasing Gollum in 3017 to unwittingly help in tracking the Ring's whereabouts, Gollum was caught by Aragorn "in the Dead Marshes, and brought to Thranduil in Mirkwood" (App. B, LoTR). While hunting for Gollum, Gandalf recognized that Saruman had to have a source for his "ring-lore." Reflecting on this, Gandalf realized that the only person to handle the Ring before its loss was Isildur himself. Knowing that Isildur had stayed in Gondor prior to departing for the High Kingship in the North, Gandalf left the hunt and hurried to Minas Tirith, hoping to find some record left by Isildur regarding the Ring (FR-II-2-10). Gandalf tells the Council that "less welcome did the Lord Denethor show me then than of old, and grudgingly he permitted me to search among his hoarded scrolls and books...." (FR-II-2-10). When Denethor gives his permission to Gandalf to search among his scrolls, Denethor tells him that "you will find nought that is not well known to me who am master of the lore of this City." This is where Tolkien, as noted in Chapter Four, gives the reader his "inside" joke: Gandalf adds that "there lie in his hoards many records that few now can read, even of the lore-masters, for their scripts and tongues have become dark to later men" (FR-II-2) ... and can be translated only by philologists and like-minded English majors who can, according to Garrison Keilor on "The Prairie Home Companion," do anything (NPR, 2010). Denethor, apparently, lacked this philological ability. Shades of Beowulf, indeed!

Faramir confirms that it was hard for Denethor to allow Gandalf into the vaults. "He got leave of Denethor, how I do not know " Faramir later tells Frodo (TT-IV-5).

On 20 June 3018 Sauron sent an army, under the command of the Lord of the Ringwraiths, against the forces of Gondor that had been holding eastern Osgiliath, on the far side of the Anduin from Minas Tirith. This is the "beachhead" won "in the days of the youth of Denethor" (RK-V-1). Boromir relates to the Council of Elrond that he "was in the company that held the bridge until it was cast down behind us. Four only were saved by swimming: my brother and myself and two others." Boromir also states that what defeated his forces was not only the vast army of Sauron, but the presence of "a great black horseman, a dark shadow under the moon" who could drive his own troops mad, and cause fear to fall on the boldest of his opponents (FR-11-2-5).

Overwhelming the defenders, the host of Sauron crossed the Anduin, attempting to take the eastern edge of the Pelennor. Upon reaching the western shore of the Anduin, Boromir rallied the men of Gondor and drove the Enemy back across the Anduin, securing the eastern margins of the Pelennor for Gondor.

Simultaneous with his attack on Gondor in the South, Sauron attacked the Elves of northern Mirkwood in an attempt to recapture Gollum. He was successful in freeing Gollum from the watch of King Thranduil, but Gollum shortly eluded the orcs themselves, and travelled alone towards Moria. Some later saw in these two attacks the first battles of the War of the Ring, in which "... Sauron tested the strength and preparedness of Denethor, and found them more than he had hoped" (The Hunt for the Ring, UT).9

Boromir later reveals to the Council of Elrond that immediately before Sauron's assault of 20 June, a dream came to his younger brother Faramir "in a troubled sleep" and that "a like dream came oft to him again, and once to me." In the dream, a voice called out eight lines of prophetic verse, beginning with "Seek for the sword that was broken" (FR-11-2-5).

We are indirectly introduced to Denethor for the first time when Boromir explains that both Faramir and he brought this dream to their father, Denethor, wise in the lore of Gondor, seeking an explanation. Denethor certainly did possess a great deal of wisdom and lore, though not, perhaps, as much as he may have thought himself, as shown by his statement to Gandalf when he gave the latter permission to search the scrolls of Minas Tirith. Denethor advised his sons that Imladris was located far to the north, and was the home of Elrond Halfelven, "greatest of lore masters." Faramir wanted to undertake the journey, but Boromir insisted on taking it upon himself to go (FR-11-2).

Leaving Minas Tirith on 4 July 3018, Boromir reached Rivendell at night on 24 October 3018 (LoTR, App. B),10 after a journey of 110 days (FR-11-2-5). The very next day he attends the Council of Elrond where the Ring and its effect on the overall geopolitical strategy of the West is discussed, and at which Boromir relates the events above.

Boromir's description, as he is first seen at the Council of Elrond by Frodo, provides the reader with a glimpse of his Gondorian roots and upbringing under the tutelage of his father. Boromir is described as being "... a tall man with a fair and noble face, dark-haired and grey-eyed, proud and stern of glance" (FR-11-2). This physical description of Boromir is a code phrase for the Elf-friends of the family of Bëor, beloved by the Noldorin Elves in the First Age. "The Men of that house were dark or brown of hair, with grey eyes; and of all Men they were most like to the Noldor and most loved by them, for they were eager of mind, cunning-handed, swift in understanding, long in memory, and they were moved sooner to pity than to laughter" (Sil). The Númenoreans all shared the legacy of the Houses of Bëor and Hador through marriages between the families in the First Age. Boromir is further described as being richly clothed, with a fur-lined cloak, though his clothing is stained with travel. Even though he does not claim to be a master of lore, Boromir is certainly well-schooled in the military history of Gondor. He speaks well, in the manner of the Men of Gondor: using the Westron tongue, but in a more archaic form than used in the North (TT-IV-4-12). Following his description, Elrond introduces Boromir to Gandalf.11 It should be noted that the word "proud" is used three times in describing Boromir (FR-11-2-1, 4, and 6).

In his discussion of the history of Sauron's Ring at the Council, Elrond describes how it was lost in the battle of the Gladden Fields. Boromir interrupts, saying that he has heard of the "Great Ring" but explains that like all men in Gondor, he thought it was destroyed at the end of Sauron's first reign. Elrond graciously corrects Boromir, stating that it is no "small wonder" that the tidings of Isildur's end and the loss of the Ring did not reach Gondor, as "only to the North did these tidings come" (FR-11-2).

In the general discussion about the Ring, several Elves, such as Galdor, express the belief that the "waning might" of Gondor is all that keeps Sauron from moving northwards along the western coast of Middle-earth. Boromir can rightfully contend that "Gondor wanes, you say. But Gondor stands, and even the end of its strength is still very strong" (FR-11-2-17). Indeed it is, as recognized by Gandalf (RK-V-1) when he tells Pippin " ... do not be afraid! For you are not going like Frodo to Mordor, but to Minas Tirith, and there you will be as safe as you can anywhere these days "

Boromir raises the question about the wisdom of seeking to destroy the Ring: his military predilection, combined with his own belief that the Ring should be used by the Wise as a weapon against Sauron, suggest to him an alternative to its destruction. He accedes to the wisdom of the Council, however, but the seed of the unlimited possibilities of using the Ring as a tool for the defeat of Sauron remains buried within his thought.

Only little evidence is provided in the LOTR about the day-to-day activities of the dramatis personae in Imladris between the Council of Elrond and the departure of the Company of the Ring on 25 December 3018. There is no mention of Gimli or Legolas at all, until Elrond tells the hobbits who the members of the Company accompanying Frodo will be (FR-II- 3-4). Since Boromir is returning to Minas Tirith anyway, he will be joining the Company for a considerable part of the journey. At the outset, none of the Companions know for sure how far they will stay together; Elrond tells Frodo that Legolas and Gimli are willing "to go at least to the passes of the mountains, and maybe beyond" (FR-11-3-4). Initially, Aragorn intends to go to Minas Tirith with Boromir, to assist in the defense of Gondor.

Before leaving Imladris, Boromir winds his great horn, "and all that heard that voice in Rivendell sprang to their feet" (FR-11-3-6). Upon receiving a warning from Elrond not to blow his horn again until he is close to home, Boromir bravely replies that he always winds his horn when setting out on a journey, and that he "will not go forth as a thief in the night" (FR-11-3-6).

Boromir proves a good comrade, willingly standing his watches, and offering good advice when he can. He wisely suggests that the Company take as much wood as they can as they began the climb to the Redhorn Gate. It is Boromir who recognizes the need for all to stop for the night (11 January) on the slopes of Caradhras as a blizzard falls about the Company. Boromir empathizes with the plight of the smaller hobbits as the snow piles up, and he leads the way in forging a path back down the treacherous slope through the drifts. Both Boromir and Aragorn make several trips on their rough path to carry the hobbits, and as Boromir carries him, Boromir's strength in forging a path through the snow strongly impressed Pippin (FR-11-3).

Following the "defeat" by Caradhras, Gandalf asks the Company to consider crossing the Misty Mountains via Moria. Along with Legolas, Boromir expresses dismay, and proposes an alternate route through the Gap of Rohan. The attack of the Wargs in the early hours of 13 January, in which Boromir plays a key part in the defense of the Company, convinces all doubters that Moria is the best option forward. Although Boromir questions Gandalf's wisdom in leading them to the entrance of Moria when Gandalf did not know the password to gain entrance, once again Boromir proves to be a loyal companion (FR-11-4). Boromir demonstrates his bravery in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and again at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, where he follows Aragorn onto the Bridge to stand beside Gandalf (FR-11-5).

Following Gandalf’s fall in Khazad-dûm, Aragorn assumes the leadership of the lessened Company and leads them towards Lothlórien. Again, Boromir has misgivings about entering the "perilous land" of the Golden Wood, of which it is said in Gondor "that few come out who once go in, and of that few none have escaped unscathed" (FR-11-6). Aragorn counters that only those who carry the taint of evil need fear it. (FR-11-6).

It is in Lothlórien, under the gaze of Galadriel, in which one is able to see and understand their heart's desire, that Boromir realizes that with the Ring in his possession he could achieve his goal of saving Minas Tirith, and become the hero of the age in the process. As the Company travels down the Anduin, this thought grows in Boromir's mind, tormenting him, although he is still capable of humor and comradeship with his companions (FR-11-9). Finally, on 26 February, near the lawn of Parth Galen, Boromir tries to seize the Ring from Frodo in a fit of madness and anger, as he says himself, before stumbling over a stone and falling to the ground. The sting of the fall restores his reason, and he realizes the enormity of his wrong. He dies shortly thereafter, defending Merry and Pippin from a host of Saruman's Orcs, winding his horn in vain for help. He is discovered by Aragorn, to whom he makes a full confession of his error, and says "I have failed." In an often overlooked scene of great redemptive power, Aragorn takes Boromir's hand, and kissing his brow, says to him "No!...You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!" The last words the dying Boromir hears are words of hope and succor, and with a smile on his face, he passes on. Instead of burying Boromir, as they had no time, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas put Boromir in one of the Elven boats of Lórien, and in a true warrior's farewell, they release his boat into the current of the Anduin, the River of Gondor.

Appendix B (LoTR) notes that when Boromir winds his horn, the sound of it reaches Minas Tirith, where it is heard by Denethor (RK-V-1) and simultaneously by Faramir (TT-IV-5). Faramir also tells Frodo that he saw the elven funeral boat of Boromir pass by him as he sat on the banks of the Anduin (TT-IV-5), and that the shards of Boromir's cloven horn were found along the Anduin (TT-IV-5).12,13 On the 5th of March, Gandalf and King Théoden, accompanied by Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Éomer, hold their parley with Saruman at Isengard. Gandalf breaks the staff of Saruman and in a parting shot, Gríma Wormtongue throws the Palantír of Orthanc, and Pippin is fascinated by the gravity and the pull of the Stone as he reluctantly gives it to Gandalf. Near midnight that evening, Pippin succumbed to the lure of the palantír, and looked into it, and a Hobbit was thus revealed to Sauron for the first time. Likely Denethor also had no idea what a Halfling looked like, but the text suggests that Denethor had seen a vision of Pippin in the Palantír of Minas Tirith sometime before 9 March (RK-V-1).

On 7 March, "Nigh on half past eight by Shire clocks" (TT-IV-4-8), Sam wakes Frodo from a short rest after Sam finished cooking the "brace of young coneys" obtained by Gollum. Sam's small cooking fire began to smoke, and Sam and Frodo soon saw that they had been discovered by four tall men, who came striding into their camp light, surrounding the two hobbits. Frodo is immediately struck by their resemblance to Boromir "for these Men were like him in stature and bearing and in manner of speech" (TT-IV-4). The leader of the group introduces himself as "Faramir, Captain of Gondor." Frodo reveals that he and Sam, "a worthy hobbit in my service" are in fact travelers, and that they had come from Imladris in the Company of seven other comrades. Faramir demands to know better who they are, and what they had to do with Boromir. In his typical fashion, Tolkien pays close attention to establishing times and dates that can correlate events from one thread of the story to another. Faramir tells Frodo to "Be swift, for the Sun is climbing!" Frodo establishes some credibility with Faramir by asking him if he knows the verse recited by Boromir at Imladris, which, of course, he does. In this initial interrogation of Frodo by Faramir, Frodo can see a subtle difference between the two brothers. "Faramir, though he was much like his brother in looks, was a man less self-regarding, both sterner and wiser" (TT-IV-5).

Once again providing a time reference, Faramir tells Frodo that "There will be hard handstrokes nigh at hand ere the day is full" (TT-IV-4) and goes off to lead a successful attack on a column of Southrons. A while later, before leaving the scene of his victorious battle, Faramir questions Frodo further in a scene that reminds Sam of a "trial of a prisoner" (TT-IV-5). Carefully answering Faramir's questions, Frodo gains additional reliability in Faramir's opinion, but does not earn his complete trust. Frodo is aware of this when he asks Faramir " ... will you not put aside your doubt of me and let me go? I am weary and full of grief, and afraid" (TT-IV-5). Faramir asks Frodo and Sam to accompany him and his men, and Frodo falls in "with this request, or order," and they go with Faramir to Henneth Annûn. As they are walking along, Frodo and Faramir exchange more information, including the fact that Gandalf, known as Mithrandir among the Elves and the Dúnedain, was lost in Moria on the way south, and that Faramir has a strong inkling about the nature of Isildur's Bane: "What in truth this Thing is I cannot yet guess; but some heirloom of power and peril it must be. A fell weapon, perchance, devised by the Dark Lord" (TT-IV-5). Faramir tells the hobbits that unlike Boromir, he chooses not to exalt battle in itself, but that he gives his love only to that which current battle defends: the beauty and wisdom of Gondor. Faramir tells Frodo that he "would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway." Frodo almost reveals to Faramir what he is in fact carrying, but holds back at the last moment, remembering what the lure of the Ring had done to Boromir. While he is sure that Faramir is of a different nature than Boromir ("unlike they were, and yet also much akin") (TT-IV-5), he is unwilling to test how deep the difference is. During a long conversation after dinner, Faramir reveals to Frodo and Sam some details of his life, and that of Boromir and Denethor.

Frodo related to Faramir many of the events of the journey of the Company from Imladris to Rauros, and took pains to emphasize "the valiant role Boromir had played in all their adventures" (TT-IV-5). Faramir, in turn, gave the hobbits an encapsulated history of Gondor, and the role of the Stewards in governing the kingdom after the disappearance of the last lawful king. He makes an important point about the Dúnedain of Gondor that directly echoes the fate of their friends the Elves: "We are a failing people, a springless autumn" (TT-IV-5). This similarity, expressed so succinctly by Faramir, had been noticed by Frodo (using the Noldorin "code phrase") when he first encountered the Rangers of Ithilien: Frodo saw Mablung and Damrod as "goodly men, pale-skinned, dark of hair, with grey eyes and faces sad and proud" (TT-IV-4, cf. FR-11-2), descendants of the Elf-friends of old, and sharing some of the Elvish weltanschauung.

The effects of the wine that Sam and Frodo drank at dinner with Faramir loosened Sam's tongue to the point where he let slip the fact that Boromir sought to take the Enemy's Ring from Frodo. In a scene reminiscent of Aragorn's rejection of the Ring in the Inn at Bree (FR-1-10-4), or Galadriel's forbearance at the Mirror of Galadriel (FR-11-7-9), Faramir realizes what lies within his grasp: the Ring of Rings, the power to do whatever he wants to, along with the evil that goes with that power. The irony that Frodo fled from Boromir only to run into Boromir's younger brother, with "a host of men" at his call (TT-IV-5) is not lost upon Faramir. But Faramir is not Boromir, and like Aragorn and Galadriel before him, he accepts the wisdom taught by the Eldar. Sitting down again with a quiet laugh, Faramir successfully follows through on his declaration that he would not use a weapon of the Enemy, even if that was all he had to save a falling Minas Tirith (TT-IV-5). A noble deed, that sets Faramir and his "sad and proud" nature, typical of the Dúnedain, on the heroic level. Proud, yes, but not the vain pride of Boromir, but the reserved pride of Aragorn and the Eldar. Small wonder that Faramir, like Aragorn, engenders the love of his followers.

After Frodo finally tells Faramir the goal of his mission, he is overwhelmed by fatigue, and almost falls in his weariness before Faramir lifts him gently and carries him to his bed. Finally recognizing the depth of Faramir's Elf-friend-like nature as he sees Faramir reject the Ring, Sam acknowledges Faramir's likeness to Istari in a short scene of elegant simplicity. Bowing to Faramir, Sam said "Good night, Captain, my lord....You took the chance, sir... and showed your quality; the very highest." Faramir's smiling response reveals a great deal about his humble personality: "A pert servant, Master Samwise. But nay: the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards." Sam replies that while Faramir saw an elvish air about Frodo, Faramir himself has an aura "of, of - well, Gandalf, of wizards" (TT-IV-5).

Again, likening the Dúnedain of Gondor to the Elves, Tolkien notes that at their parting on the morning of 8 March, Frodo and Sam"...marveled to see with what speed these green­clad men now moved, vanishing almost in the twinkling of an eye. The forest where Faramir had stood seemed empty and drear, as if a dream had passed." Tolkien always chooses his words carefully. If the forest was "empty and drear" after they left, it may be believed that it was conversely "full and cheerful" before they left, suggesting that Faramir gave the forest a wholesome and positive presence that one associates with the Elves.14

Sometime during the morning of 8 March, Denethor dispatches three messengers to King Théoden in Rohan, calling for the aid of the Rohirrim before Gondor is enclosed in a siege by the forces of Sauron. This is suggested by the fact that Gandalf and Pippin, astride Shadowfax, have just begun ("the night was not yet old" RK-V-1) their journey towards Minas Tirith on the evening of 8 March (the third night since Pippin looked in the Palintir of Orthanc) when they hear the messengers of Denethor thundering westward.15 As the neighing horses of the messengers recede into the west, Gandalf and Pippin resume their overnight ride, meeting Ingold and his work-crew fixing the last section of the Wall of the Pelennor requiring repair, near dawn on 9 March (App. B, LoTR, Faramir left Henneth Annûn later that same day). Pippin "gazed in wonder" at the majesty and grace of the City, and "cried aloud" when the rays of the rising sun struck the bejeweled Tower of Ecthelion.16

During the hard journey from Rohan to Minas Tirith, Gandalf tried to teach Pippin about the history and customs of Gondor. As they walked down the passage leading to the heart of the citadel, Gandalf whispered to Pippin a few more words of wisdom, telling him that "Théoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king" (RK-V-1-7). As noted earlier, Gandalf also tells Pippin, who is carrying first-hand news of Boromir's death, that Denethor "loved him greatly: too much perhaps;" and at the expense of Denethor's love for Faramir.

Pippin sees Denethor for the first time sitting upon "a stone chair, black and unadorned" on the lowest step of a dais climbing up with several steps to the throne of Gondor. "Pippin saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes, and he was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn" (RK-V-1-8). That Denethor is human cannot be doubted: in his first exchange with Gandalf, Denethor states that his own "darkness" due to the death of his son seems greater to him now than the darkness facing his City. Realizing that he is looking at a Hobbit, a Halfling, in the flesh for the first time, Denethor "grimly" tells Gandalf and Pippin that he bears little love for the name "Halfling," since it was the mention of a Halfling that led to Boromir's undertaking the journey to Imladris, and his death above Rauros. Denethor turns his "black glance" upon Pippin, and as he "keenly" looks on his face, Denethor asks "And how did you escape, and yet he did not, so mighty a man as he was, and only orcs to withstand him?" (RK-V-1-8).

"Stung" by the implied criticism in Denethor's words, Pippin offers his service to the Lord of Minas Tirith, in payment of his debt to Boromir for saving his life and that of his kinsman, Merry, near the lawn of Parth Galen. "A pale smile, like a gleam of cold sun on a winter's evening, passed over the old man's face," and he accepted Pippin's vow of fealty. Taking Pippin's sword, Denethor (true to his reputation as a lore-master) immediately recognizes it as an old relic of the Dúnedain of Amor, and taking Pippin as a thane, he admits that "looks may belie the man - or the halfling" (RK-V-1-8). After an exchange of oaths with Pippin, Denethor invites his two guests to sit with him, and graciously orders his servants to provide refreshment for his guests. Not for the first time, Denethor incurs Gandalf’s ire by talking to Pippin about Boromir's journey and death, and not talking to Gandalf about matters of greater import. As Denethor "turned his dark eyes on Gandalf' in response to Gandalf's protest about the agenda, Pippin saw both a similarity between them, and the contest of their wills (RK-V-1-8). Gandalf is well aware that Denethor is no provincial, unlearned, "kindly old man," and their relationship is on a more equal footing than that between Gandalf and King Théoden. Yet even Pippin noticed in the encounter between Gandalf and Denethor that the former "had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty that was veiled." At the end of their exchange, when Denethor withdraws his gaze first from Gandalf’s piercing eyes, Denethor comments that "though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them" (RK-V-1-8).

Denethor asks Pippin to tell his tale. After an hour of sharp questioning of Pippin about his journey, Gandalf and Pippin prepare to take their leave of Denethor. Gandalf had been growing increasingly impatient with Denethor's involved conversation with Pippin, and both Pippin and Denethor were aware of this. The Steward may have been purposefully ignoring Gandalf for his own ends. By way of pseudo-explanation, Denethor does finally tell Gandalf that "None shall hinder your coming to me at any time, save only in my brief hours of sleep. Let your wrath at an old man's folly run off, and then return to my comfort!" (RK-V-1). Gandalf lets Denethor know that he is aware of Denethor's purpose in questioning Pippin while he sat idly by, leading to an almost heated exchange, where Gandalf and Denethor argue over the role of the Steward of Gondor in the days to come. Denethor refuses to allow Gandalf to use him as a "tool" and states his belief his role of Steward of Gondor is foremost in his mind - and will be, unless, using the formulaic phrase, the king shall return. Gandalf responds that it is Denethor's "task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see." In a final word, Gandalf reminds Denethor that "I also am a Steward. Did you not know?" (RK-V-1-9). Not waiting for a reply, and angry at Denethor's apparent intransigence, Gandalf turns his back on Denethor, with Pippin running along beside him.

After returning to the spare but comfortable quarters assigned to them near the Citadel, Gandalf tells Pippin that he hopes "it may be long before you find yourself in such a tight corner again between two such terrible old men." Gandalf sagely realizes that Denethor learned far more from Pippin than the hobbit intended to say, especially given Gandalf’s earlier warning about not revealing the true purpose of the Company's quest or Aragorn's name. In a post­meeting assessment of Denethor, Gandalf makes several points to Pippin, including that Denethor "is not as other men of this time" and that "the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in him," as noted earlier in this chapter. Gandalf already knows that Denethor "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' (RK-V-1). Denethor is a powerful lord, who with the foresight inherent in many of the Dúnedain and his deep knowledge and wisdom, can be a dangerous opponent if one tries to deceive him. Gandalf may wonder where Denethor gains such great knowledge of events far from Gondor, but Mithrandir also understands that much of Denethor's ability to know "what is passing in the minds of men" is a function of his intelligence and native ability as a Dúnedain to ferret out the truth. Before leaving to attend Denethor's Council, Gandalf warns Pippin to remain wary, even though he is now in the service of Denethor, and asks if Pippin would be willing to check on the stabling of Shadowfax.

During Pippin's long visit with Beregond, several additional facts are presented concerning Denethor. As noted earlier, Beregond informs Pippin that East Osgiliath was retaken by the forces of Gondor "back in the days of the youth of Denethor" (RK-V-1-12), an offensive military operation. Beregond says that the crossings of the Anduin at Osgiliath fell once again to the forces of Mordor under the Lord of the Nazgûl in June 3018, until Boromir drove the Enemy from the western banks of the Anduin. Beregond admiringly corroborates Gandalf’s belief that "the Lord Denethor is unlike other men: he sees far." Beregond also conjectures, as do other men in Minas Tirith, that Denethor wrestles in thought with Sauron. This taxing enterprise has aged Denethor, "And so it is that he is old, worn before his time" (RK-V-1). It should be remembered that Denethor is eighty-nine years old (or close to it, see Appendix 2) at the time of the War of the Ring. Beregond is also aware that "There is a great fleet drawing near to the mouths of the Anduin, manned by the corsairs of Umbar in the South" (RK-V-1). It is unlikely that Denethor would reveal to any other man the source of the knowledge he gained of distant events, or encourage its dissemination. Therefore, the fact that the news of the fleet from Umbar was known to so many suggests that the tidings of its whereabouts must have reached Denethor and the Council of Gondor through more conventional means.

Beregond displays a well-informed knowledge of events and Gondor's role in the War of the Ring as he continues his conversation with Pippin, sitting on a bench in an embrasure of the battlement walls outside the Citadel. Beregond asks Pippin if he has "any hope" that Gondor shall withstand the coming war. As Pippin ponders his reply, a Nazgûl, flying high over the City, momentarily blocks the sun and utters an ululating cry. In an instant of despair, Pippin says the Nazgûl may signify the fall of Gondor (RK-V-1). Beregond concurs, saying "I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall." This segment ends on a note of gloom and despair.

As noted in Chapter Two, however, Tolkien often uses his segment-ends to offer a contrast in emotional state. In the first few phrases of the next segment, Pippin saw the sun shining, and the banners of Gondor flapping in the wind. Shaking off his gloom, Pippin changes his mind, and tells Boromir that he is not yet ready to give in to despair: "We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees." Beregond is stirred by Pippin's words, and he too rises from his fear. He notes that "Gondor shall not perish yet...There are still other fastnesses, and Secret ways of escape into the mountains"17 (RK-V-I).

At the end of their talk, Pippin expresses dismay at having to stand in a defensive posture only, waiting for the strike of the Enemy. Beregond responds that many in Gondor feel likewise. However, he suggests that when Faramir returns to Minas Tirith things may change. Beregond sees that Faramir is "less reckless and eager than Boromir, but not less resolute" (RK-V-1). Nevertheless, he also recognizes that there is little that Gondor can do offensively, hampered by a severe numerical disadvantage vis-a-vis the Enemy.

After lunch and before he goes on duty, Beregond suggests that Pippin might enjoy the company of his ten-year-old son, Bergil, for the afternoon (9 March). Like father, like son; Bergil is willing to fight (RK-V-1) if he needs to, but also shows an optimism about the coming war. "They will never overcome our Lord [Denethor], and my father is very valiant" (RK-V-1). It seems that Denethor engenders confidence in the men he leads from the elders to the youngsters.

On the evening of 9 March, King Théoden reaches Harrowdale (App. B, LoTR). Later that night, after dinner, the first of the three messengers sent by Denethor to Rohan reaches King Théoden. He introduces himself: "Hirgon I am, errand-rider of Denethor ...." (RK-V-3), and gives the king the Red Arrow. Hirgon informs King Théoden that Denethor would like the forces of Rohan inside the walls of Gondor, but King Théoden counters that Denethor knows the Rohirrim fight better on horseback than within a City's walls. He asks "Is it not true, Hirgon, that the Lord of Minas Tirith knows more than he sets in his message?" Hirgon replies that he does not know the mind of Denethor, or what his master may or may not mean with his message, but Hirgon does provide King Theoden with a sketch of the tactical situation, and reminds Theoden "For it is before the walls of Minas Tirith that the doom of our time will be decided...." Without hesitation, the King states publicly "We will come." He tells Hirgon to let Denethor know that Théoden himself will lead 6,000 men on the ride from Rohan to Gondor.

As part of his tactical plan, Sauron has conjured a great darkness in the form of a cloud, or gloom, that spreads from Orodruin westwards, first over Gondor, and then Rohan. The manifold purposes of this shadowing of the skies include, among others, to encourage those of his forces who prefer to fight in darkness, and to discourage the hope of Men, who fear the dark, and to cast a pall of dread on their hearts.

On the morning of 10 March, as King Theoden and his entourage are present at the mustering of Rohan in the gathering dark, Gandalf and Pippin are once again walking towards the throne room where at the end of the hall Pippin sees Denethor sitting "in a grey gloom, like an old patient spider" (RK-V-4-2). Denethor asks Pippin if he used the remainder of 9 March to his profit and liking, adding that "Although I fear that the board is barer in this city than you could wish." Pippin's self-contained response is highly informative, and shows that Denethor had far more knowledge of Pippin's actions and even thoughts than Pippin might have wanted. No need for Denethor to use a palantír to gain this knowledge, and Pippin understands that Gandalf’s earlier assessment of the Steward is true: Denethor is highly perceptive, and "It is difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try" (RK-V-1-9). The text suggests that after conversing with Gandalf for a short while, Denethor turns to Pippin and asks him what he can do in the service of the Steward. When Pippin responds that he was leaving it in the hands of his lord, Denethor decides to appoint Pippin as his esquire, explaining that his former esquire wished to go to the out-walls in defense of his city. Denethor tells Pippin "You shall wait on me, bear errands, and talk to me, if war and council leave me any leisure. Can you sing?" Of course Pippin can sing, but the drinking songs of the Shire that he knows so well he believes to be highly unsuitable for the majestic halls of Denethor. Waving him off, Denethor bids him to go, and to get the livery and gear of a Citadel guard. Denethor apparently continued his discussion with Mithrandir and after collecting his gear, Pippin returned to serve Denethor for the remainder of the day (RK-V-4).

Pippin left Denethor around dinnertime (the "eleventh hour" since the shadowed sunrise) and met Beregond in the mess halls. After their meal, Pippin and Beregond returned to the little nook in the battlements that they had occupied the day before, and witness Gandalf’s rescue of the small force of the Rangers of lthilien, returning across the unnaturally dark Pelennor to the City, where they are attacked by Nazgûl. Mithrandir and Faramir regain the walls of Minas Tirith and Faramir is surprised to see "A halfling, and in the livery of the Tower!" (RK-V-4-4).

Gandalf and Faramir, along with Pippin, immediately go to the Tower and there meet with Denethor, where Faramir reports to his father on his doings in Ithilien. After giving an account of his battle with the Haradrim and other related events, Faramir looks at Pippin, and is reminded of his encounter with Frodo and Sam three days earlier. In another tautly wrought scene, Tolkien reveals much of Denethor's mood, and the emotional turmoil that is part of his balancing of his roles as Lord of Gondor while still a father to his living son, all touched by his sense of growing despair at facing an overwhelming enemy. As Faramir tells the story of his meeting with Frodo in Henneth Annûn, he reveals that Frodo was carrying the Enemy's Ring. Having seen that Faramir's glance strayed often to Gandalf, as if for approval, Denethor's response is one of anger at his son for failing to bring him this "mighty gift," and he berates Faramir for not recognizing what Denethor thinks would be the wisdom of having the Ring in Minas Tirith. Faramir, stung by his father's rancor, loses patience for a moment and tangentially asks Denethor why he was in Ithilien, and not Boromir; in essence asking Denethor why he gave the mission of the trip to hnladris to Boromir and not to himself. Denethor is convinced Boromir would have brought the Ring to him, and not allowed it to go into Mordor in the hands of "a witless halfling" on a fool's errand. Denethor clearly believes that he has the strength of will to forbear using the Ring, although Gandalf does not think so, and he certainly thinks that Mithrandir's plan of seeking the destruction of the Ring at the Cracks of Doom is madness. Denethor is quite willing to argue with Gandalf about the wisdom of the Quest of Orodruin: he acknowledges Mithrandir's insight but also tells Gandalf "yet with all your subtleties you have not all wisdom" (RK-V-4). When Gandalf asks Denethor what he would have done had the Ring come to him, Denethor simply says that he would have kept it unused and hidden, but with his knowledge of the Ring's corrupting influence, the wizard points out the impossibility of such an action. Mithrandir tells Denethor that he did not trust himself to wield the Ring, even when it was offered to him "as a freely given gift." Hearing Denethor speak, Gandalf says that he trusts the Steward even less than himself. He goes on to state that even if Denethor received the Ring for safekeeping " …it would have overthrown you. Were it buried beneath the roots of Mindolluin, still it would burn your mind away, as the darkness grows, and the yet worse things follow that soon shall come upon us" (RK-V-4). As Gandalf and Denethor stare deeply at each other, each seeking to understand the other, once again it is Denethor who withdraws his gaze first. Acknowledging the futility of wondering what might have been, Denethor recognizes that the Ring is now beyond their reach, and that only time remains to "show what doom awaits it, and us. The time will not be long. In what is left, let all who fight the enemy in their fashion be at one, and keep hope while they may, and after hope still the hardihood to die free." When the tired Faramir asks to take leave of his father, Denethor replies "Go now and rest as you may. Tomorrow's need will be sterner" (RK-V-4).

The next day (11 March), amidst the deepening gloom sent from Mordor, the Council of Gondor met "early in the morning." The Council decided their limited forces precluded any offensive action and thus left themselves in the uncomfortable position of waiting for Sauron to take the military initiative. Denethor recognized that additional forces could not be sent to Cair Andros, yet he was not willing to give up the wall of the Pelennor without a fight, if some brave captain would be willing to lead the forces of Gondor in such a defense. Acknowledging that there is always risk in war, Denethor does not want to give up the Causeway Forts without a fight (RK-V-4-7). Only Faramir accepts the mission, saying to his father "But if I should not return, think better of me!" Denethor rather curtly replies ''That depends on the manner of your return." Gandalf warns Faramir not to "rashly" throw his life away in bitterness at his father's apparent rejection. Gandalf reminds Faramir that his father loves him and will remember it ere the end" (RK-V-4-7). Later that day, Faramir left Minas Tirith for the Causeway Forts, as the men of Gondor wondered if Rohan would honor its oath to serve Gondor in its time of need. Gandalf assures those who will listen that King Théoden and Rohan will indeed come, but also reminds them that Denethor's messengers probably reached Rohan only two days ago (RK-V-4- 8). That night, word came to the City that an army from Minas Morgul was approaching Osgiliath (RK-V-4-9).

Early in the morning of 12 March it was learned in Minas Tirith that forces of Sauron had won across the Anduin and that Faramir was retreating to the Causeway Forts. Tolkien further states that Faramir's troops were "ten times outnumbered," and that the Enemy's forces were led by the Black Captain, the Lord of the Nazgûl, prompting Gandalf to go to the aid of Faramir (RK-V-4-10). Gandalf apparently spent the night at the Causeway Forts, as he returns to Minas Tirith the following morning (13 March) escorting wounded Gondorian troops from the ongoing battle. Gandalf goes at once to the Tower to talk with Denethor (RK-V-4-11).

The gathering gloom of Sauron's creation that began on 10 March reached its fullest on 12 March (RK-V-4-10). In the dark of the Enemy that discouraged the Men of the West, Denethor now sat "in a high chamber above the Hall of the White Tower" (RK-V-4-11). The text relates that Denethor's messengers had failed to return to Minas Tirith, bearing news of the Ride of the Rohirrim. They probably arrived at the walls of the Pelennor late on 12 March, and seeing them held by the Enemy attempted to return westwards towards safety. Masked by the dark of Mordor, King Theoden' s muster of the Rohirrim and their ride to the aid of Gondor was hidden to all eyes, especially those of Sauron. In his conversation with Elfhelm,15 King Theoden surmises that given the failure of his messengers to return to Minas Tirith, "Denethor has heard no news of our riding and will despair at our coming!" (RK-V-5-3). Pippin, looking at Denethor, noted that "Most to the North he looked, and would pause at whiles to listen, as if by some ancient art his ears might hear the thunder of hoofs on the plains far away" (RK-V-4-11).

When Mithrandir arrives at the Citadel, the very first question Denethor asks of him is about his son: "Is Faramir come?" Gandalf tells him that Faramir remained behind, intending to lead the retreat across the Pelennor, using the force of his will and leadership to hold his over­ extended and fatigued soldiers together. Gandalf admits that "one has come that I feared," namely, the Lord of the Nazgûl. Pippin, forgetting his place, asks if Mithrandir means Sauron himself, but is answered directly by Denethor in a powerful reply to his question: "Nay, not yet, Master Peregrin! He uses others as his weapons. So do all great lords, if they are wise, Master Halfling. Or why should I sit here in my tower and think, and watch, and wait, spending even my own sons? For I can still wield a brand"18 (RK-V-4-11).

Indeed he can! Dramatically casting off his cloak, and revealing his mail and sword, girt as his side, Denethor declares "Thus have I walked, and thus now for many years have I slept, lest with age the body should grow soft and timid." Again, an echo of the northern spirit. Gandalf responds that notwithstanding Denethor's - and Gondor's - preparedness, the Lord of the Nazgûl is now the master of the outer-walls of the Pelennor. Denethor chooses to taunt Mithrandir, saying to him that perhaps the Lord of the Nazgûl was too great a foe for Gandalf. In this emotionally charged exchange, Pippin was afraid Gandalf’s anger would blaze forth, but Gandalf calmly replied that his "trial of strength" with the Lord of the Nazgûl, the former King of Angmar, who defeated the last king of Arnor long ago, "is not yet come." In still another reference to Macbeth, Mithrandir repeats the prophecy of Glorfindel19 that the Lord of Nazgûl will not be killed by a man: "And if words spoken of old be true, not by the hand of man shall he fall, and hidden from the Wise is the doom that awaits him" (RK-V-4-11). Mithrandir continues to say that he came back to help guard the wounded returning to Minas Tirith, and suggests a sortie of mounted cavalry from the City should be prepared to ride to the aid of Faramir. He comments in passing that the Enemy is poorly provided with cavalry (RK-V-4-11). Denethor replies that "Now would the coming of the Rohan be in the nick of time." Denethor would obviously prefer the Rohirrim to be inside the walls of Minas Tirith despite his knowing, as King Théoden pointed out to Hirgon, that the Rohirrim are a people "who fight rather on horseback and in the open" (RK-V-3-6). Reasons for Denethor's tactical preference are open to conjecture. Gandalf also reports that fugitives from the island-fortress of Cair Andros have returned to Minas Tirith bearing word of a second army of the Enemy that issued from the Morannon and is heading towards the City. Denethor is not afraid to point out to Gandalf that he too is capable of gaining vital knowledge about the Enemy. It seems that Denethor enjoys challenging Mithrandir, or trying to "take him down a notch." Denethor is the only leader of the Free Peoples that dares to do so. As if to show his equal ability in this regard, Denethor says to Gandalf "to me this is no longer news: it was known to me ere nightfall yesterday. As for the sortie, I had already given thought to it. Let us go down" (RK-V-4).

Denethor is right in this. As he, along with Gandalf and Pippin, goes down towards the walls of Minas Tirith, in the late afternoon, Gandalf takes his leave to get Shadowfax and prepares to ride with the already waiting sortie led by Imrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth. As the Nazgûl screeched and bore down on the retreat, Denethor gave the signal to dispatch the sortie. Surprised by the intensity of the charge of Imrahil, the Enemy was overwhelmed and fled before the Cavalry of Gondor. Once the sortie had accomplished its mission of rescue, Denethor gave the signal ordering it to return to the City. The retreating troops of Gondor regrouped and marched proudly within the walls of Minas Tirith. The last of the sortie to reenter the City was the Prince of Dol Amroth, bearing the wounded Faramir before him. Imrahil brought his injured kinsman to the White Tower sometime during the late afternoon of 13 March, where he told Denethor of Faramir's great deeds in organizing and defending the retreat from the Causeway Forts. After Denethor saw to it that Faramir was comfortably settled on a bed in the great hall, "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." At the first reading, one most likely does not know that Denethor is looking into the Palintir of Minas Tirith, and sees, perhaps for the first time, the overwhelming forces of the enemy, reported (as noted) to outnumber the defenders of Gondor by a ratio of at least ten to one (RK-V-4-10). When Pippin saw Denethor, after he returned to the hall and sat beside the bed of his son, he noted that Denethor's face "was grey, more deathlike than his son's" (RK-V-4-13).

Ingold, the officer of Gondor who had greeted Gandalf and Pippin in challenge when they first reached the walls of the Pelennor on 9 March, was the last to enter the great gate of Minas Tirith before it was closed on the evening of 13 March. He brought word that one of Sauron's armies (the army from the Morannon that had earlier taken Cair Andros) had also invested Anórien and taken up positions along the Great West Road linking Rohan and Gondor, effectively blocking the likely route of the Rohirrim to the relief of Gondor (RK-V-4).

During the evening of 13 March, the orcs were busy building trenches leading them closer and closer to the Walls of the City. When they reached within range of their catapults, they began to launch missiles (and the severed heads of fallen Gondorian men) over the walls of Minas Tirith, the missiles bursting into flame as they landed. By the morning of 14 March, much of the lower level of the City was in flame (RK-V-4-15).

As noted, Sauron's darkness obscured the approach of the Rohirrim. Unbeknownst to both Denethor and the Enemy, on the same evening that Ingold carried word that Rohan could not reach Gondor, Ghan-buri-Ghan had provided the Rohirrim in Druadan Forcst with an alternate route through the Stonewain Valley that allowed King Theoden to arrive on the evening of 14 March at the Grey Wood, just outside the walls of the Pelennor, unheralded by any. In legend as in life, one's well-laid plans, made with the best and most-loving intentions, often redound to one's harm as easily as one's good.

On 14 March, as Sauron "put forth his strength" and as the Nazgûl cried above the City, the wounded and unconscious Faramir remained on his bed in the Tower, in the throes of a raging fever. He appeared to be dying, and as this rumor spread, it disheartened the defenders of Gondor. "And by him his father sat, and said nothing, but watched, and gave no longer any heed to the defence" (RK-V-4). As his esquire, Pippin watched Denethor's descent into himself. "No hours so dark had Pippin known, not even in the clutches of the Urukhai." Forgotten by Denethor for the moment, Pippin stood by the door of the gloomy chamber, fearful of the outcome of the scene before him, yet held by duty to his post. "And as he watched, it seemed to him that Denethor grew old before his eyes, as if something had snapped in his proud will, and his stem mind was overthrown. Grief maybe had wrought it, and remorse. He saw tears on that once tearless face, more unbearable than wrath."

Pippin suggested to Denethor that perhaps Faramir will get better, but Denethor brusquely brushes off his comments. "Comfort me not with wizards!...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" (RK-V-4-16).


"The Enemy Has Found It"

Denethor last looked in the Palantír of Minas Tirith sometime late afternoon on 13 March (RK-V-4). There is no mention in the LOTR of his looking in the palantír anytime on the 14th. What did he see in the palantír? This is a problematic question in establishing a chronology of events for this critical time.

Gollum led Frodo and Sam to Shelob's lair sometime during the late morning or early afternoon of 12 March (TT-IV-8). It no doubt took some time to advance through the tunnel beneath the pass of Cirith Ungol. Frodo's first encounter with Shelob, and her retreat from the blinding light of Galadriel's Phial, followed by her ambush of Frodo and Sam's assumption of the Burden, all took time. After Sam, bearing the Ring, left his beloved master for dead, he heard orcs approaching Frodo. Perhaps it was Tolkien's intention here to obscure the actual timing of events, unlike the usually precise chronology he imparts throughout the LOTR.

We know from the text and App. B that Frodo was captured by orcs and brought to the Tower of Cirith Ungol probably late on 13 March. As Frodo is carried off by the orcs, Sam overhears the conversation of Gorbag and Shagrat, Ore captains of Minas Morgul and the Tower of Cirith Ungol respectively, as they bring Frodo into the Tower. Sam learns that Shagrat's patrol from Cirith Ungol was not ordered out until one hour before the combined units of Gorbag and Shagrat found Frodo. He also overhears Gorbag say "our Silent Watchers were uneasy more than two days ago," i.e., sometime during the evening of 11 March, perhaps sensing Gollum, or the beginning of the climb of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum up the stairs towards Shelob's lair. Sam also discovers that more importantly, Gorbag's "patrol wasn't ordered out for another day," i.e., late on the 12th, and that NO message was sent to the Barad-dûr at that time. Discovering Frodo was still alive as he was carried into the fortress, Sam chased after the orcs, and fell into a swoon as he crashed into the closed gate of Cirith Ungol late on 13 March. After an indeterminate period of time, Sam regains consciousness, and "wonders what is going on in the world outside the undergate of the orcs stronghold" (RK-VI-1-1). Tolkien resumes his careful chronology by telling us that "Out westward in the world it was drawing to noon upon the fourteenth day of March " (RK-VI-1-1).

Sam effects his rescue of Frodo sometime later, probably during the afternoon of 14 March (App. B). Shagrat, the last survivor of the ore-fight in the Tower, eludes Sam and carries off his bundle containing Frodo's mithril coat, elven cloak and brooch, and Sam's short sword. App. B (LoTR) states that on 15 March "Frodo and Samwise escape and begin their journey north along the Morgai." The text indicates that this occurred around day break on the morning of the 15th (RK-VI-2-3). This chronology helps place Shagrat's departure sometime between 14 and 15 March, although it is difficult to fix the time more closely.

The key point of this discussion is that although the Nazgûl were "uneasy" perhaps as early as 11 March, they had no idea what was going on. This is clearly stated when Shagrat tells Gorbag that they learned this when they received the message ordering them out late on 13 March (TT-IV-10). On 13 March the orcs had not yet searched Frodo, or had any physical evidence, or even knew exactly what they had captured until the 14th. Furthermore, Gorbag had advised Shagrat (TT-IV-10-15) not to send any message to Sauron's Tower until Sam20 ("the big one that's loose") was captured. It appears that "The Eye was busy elsewhere" (TT-IV-10-13) and Sauron was not aware of Frodo's capture, nor had possession of his mithril coat et al. until at least sometime on the 15th. This assumes that somehow the wounded Shagrat made good his escape late on the 14th and reached a place where his "bundle" could be delivered to Sauron quickly, perhaps carried by a Nazgûl.

When Denethor therefore tell Pippin on the 13th that "The Enemy has found it" one wonders exactly what the Enemy had found and Denethor saw in his palantír. Shippey (2000) states that "The 13th is the day when Frodo is captured and taken to Minas Morgul. The likelihood is that that is what Denethor has seen, in a vision controlled by Sauron." As noted above, Frodo was taken to the Tower of Cirith Ungol sometime late on the 13th, possibly after Denethor looked in his palantír. Shippey's statement above is therefore questionable as regards the timing of events, and Frodo was taken not to Minas Morgul, but to Cirith Ungol, a lesser post than the former. In addition, the case has been made above that Sauron could not have shown Denethor the capture of Frodo. Had he done so, it would have argued for his knowing about Frodo's capture, in which case he would have devoted more effort to "bringing him in." As noted, Sauron did not have any of Frodo's gear at that time, nor was he paying attention to "minor details" in his own "secure" realm. Had Sauron used his palantír to check out the goings on at Cirith Ungol, in all likelihood he would have devoted more resources to the capture of Frodo and Sam. At best, Sauron might have received word about some "spies" in his western approaches. On 6 March, Aragorn revealed himself to Sauron in the Palantír of Isengard. Indeed, Aragorn's strategy of drawing Sauron's attention to himself was wise: " ... the Eye of Sauron, I thought, should be drawn out from his own land" (RK-V-9-4). This decision is seconded by Gandalf. With the dispatch of his armies against Gondor on 10 March (earlier than he had planned) and his ongoing battles with Lórien and Dale (App. B) beginning on 11 March, Sauron's attention was in fact "busy elsewhere."

Did Sauron possibly delude Denethor by showing him a ring - any ring - in the Palantír of Minas Tirith? Did Denethor's logic lead him to conclude that Sauron's truly overwhelming forces had to be augmented by his ownership of the Ring? It is difficult to be sure, because on 13 March we can be certain that Sauron had no gear of Frodo's, nor did he obtain the Ring. It does, however, also seem certain that the effect of Denethor's glimpse into the palantír may have been the culminating blow to his will and mood.


Denethor's Death

In the paragraph following his statement that "The Enemy has found it," Denethor suddenly acknowledges that he sent Faramir into needless peril (RK-V-4-15), and says so to Pippin. Recognizing that Faramir may die, he says "Nay, nay, whatever may now betide in war, my line too is ending, even the House of the Stewards has failed." When men of Gondor come to the door of the chamber, asking Denethor to take command of his forces, he refused to do so, declaring that he will remain by his son, who "might still speak before the end. But that is near." Speaking then to Pippin, he adds "Follow whom you will, even the Grey Fool, though his hope has failed. Here I stay" (RK-V-4-16). Again, Denethor is casting aspersions on the abilities of Gandalf.

Since at this point Denethor declined to take an active role in the defense of his city, Gandalf assumed the command of the last defense of Gondor on 14 March. Working with the Prince of Dol Amroth, he walked the circuit of the walls of Minas Tirith, heartening the defenders, as fires burned unabated in the lower levels of the City, and the Lord of the Nazgûl poured more and more forces into the fray. In the middle of the night (14-15 March) the Lord of the Nazgûl authorized the final assault on Minas Tirith. About this time, messengers once again came to Denethor, reminding him that he is still the Lord and Steward of Gondor. "Not all will follow Mithrandir. Men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned" (RK-V-4-19). Denethor reveals the madness that is overtaking him with his acerbic "Why? Why do the fools fly? Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must." It is here that Denethor outlines his plans for himself and his son, as he goes on to say "No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn! The messengers recoiled at Denethor's crazed reply, and fled" (RK-V-4).

Seeing that Faramir is still burning with his fever, Denethor bids farewell to Pippin and releases him from his service, telling him to go to "die in what way seems best to you," even in the company of Gandalf, whom Denethor blames for bringing Pippin to his death. Denethor orders Pippin to send him his servants, but before leaving to do so, Pippin tells his Lord that he refuses to be released from his service. He adds that he will not give up on life until Gandalf does so, fully aware that Denethor dislikes Mithrandir. Even in his short service, Pippin has come to admire the sharp-tongued but still noble steward, and his son, Faramir.21 Respectfully requesting leave to find Gandalf, Pippin's last words to Denethor are the heroic words of a thegn's fealty to his Lord: "And if they come at last to the Citadel, I hope to be here and stand beside you and earn perhaps the arms that you have given me." Denethor at this point allows Pippin to do whatever he wants, but unequivocally states his life "is broken" and orders Pippin to fetch his servants (RK-V-4-19).

Six servants enter and place Faramir on a cot. As they leave the Citadel, Denethor is now leaning on a staff, perhaps symbolizing the completion of his rapid aging process due to the despair in his heart. As they walk past the withered White Tree of Númenor, Denethor stops the slow procession for a moment in reverence before they proceed to the "Closed Door" to the "Silent Street." Taking a lantern from the surprised porter at the door, Denethor comes to the House of the Stewards on Rath Dinen. Going inside, the servants place Denethor and Faramir on the former's "table" and cover them both with a blanket. Denethor tells them to fetch wood and oil, "And when I bid you thrust in a torch. Do this and speak no more to me. Farewell!" (RK-V- 4-19).

Before running off to find Gandalf "in the thick of things," Pippin tells Denethor's servants to go slow. They ask Pippin who is in charge of Minas Tirith: Gandalf or Denethor. Pippin said "The Grey Wanderer or no one, it would seem" (RK-V-4-20). On his way to the lower levels of the City, Pippin runs into Beregond, who assumes Faramir is already dead. Pippin tells him no; "his death might be prevented." and goes on to tell Beregond that Denethor "has fallen before his city is taken. He is fey and dangerous," and he suggests Beregond go to try to prevent a suicide-murder. He must, says Pippin, "choose between orders and the life of Faramir." Reaching the gate of Minas Tirith, Pippin finds Mithrandir alone, defending the destroyed gate against the entrance of the Lord of the Nazgûl, the former Witch-king of Angmar.

After five days of Sauron's darkness, the first rays of true light from the rising sun break through the gloom on the morning of 15 March. As a cock crows in a courtyard within the City, the horns of the Rohirrim are heard on the Pelennor Field. The Nazgûl Lord retreats to attend to affairs on the battlefield, and Pippin runs up to Gandalf, telling him of Denethor's madness. Gandalf is hesitant to go, but Pippin tells him that Denethor plans to burn himself and Faramir alive "if someone does not stop them." Perking up his ears, Mithrandir asks Pippin for further details, which Pippin provides. Pippin also says that he has told Beregond what is going on, but he is not sure Beregond will leave his post, as he is on duty. He appeals to Gandalf to save Faramir, as Mithrandir is the only one who can do so at this point. Aware of what harm the Black Captain can wreak on the Pelennor Fields, Gandalf realizes that if he goes to the aid of Faramir, "then others will die, I fear. Well, I must come, since no other help can reach him. But evil and sorrow will come of this. Even in the heart of our stronghold the Enemy has power to strike us: for his will it is that is at work" (RK-V-7-1). Gandalf turns Shadowfax, and gathering up Pippin, turns his back on the battle and goes back through the City to the Citadel. As they climb through Minas Tirith towards Rath Dínen, the men of Gondor were rallying and marching towards the destroyed gate. Gandalf tells Imrahil to take command of the forces of Gondor in the absence of Denethor.

Discovering that Beregond has left his post at the gate of the Citadel, Pippin takes it as a sign that Beregond has gone to the aid of Faramir. Approaching the "closed door," Gandalf and Pippin find the dead porter, and nearing the House of the Stewards, they hear the sound of clanging swords and the cries of combat. When at last they reach the entrance to the House, wherein Pippin had earlier left Denethor and Faramir on their pyre, they discover Beregond keeping the servants of Denethor from entering, holding the door with one hand as he wields his sword with the other. Gandalf springs forward to stop this fight, and at the same moment Pippin heard Denethor's strong voice from within the building ordering his servants to do as he had asked them. "Thereupon the door which Beregond held shut with his left hand was wrenched open, and there behind him stood the Lord of the City, tall and fell; a light like flame was in his eyes, and he held a drawn sword" (RK-V-7-2). Tolkien writes that true to his nickname of the White Rider, Gandalf’s arrival at the door "was like the incoming of a white light into a dark place." Using his gifts as a wizard, Mithrandir causes Denethor's sword to fly out of his hand, the sword with which Denethor intended to strike down Beregond so as to allow his servants to enter.

The final confrontation between Gandalf and Denethor is an emotionally-charged, powerful narrative, some of which has already been cited. Let us focus on specifics that emerge in Denethor's conversation with Gandalf that reflect the Steward's mood and thoughts.

Gone is the crutch that Denethor leaned on to reach Rath Dinen. He stands, "tall and fell," having just wrenched open the door from the grasp of Beregond - a tall man in the prime of life, perhaps in his thirties or early forties. When Gandalf asks what is going on, Denethor proudly answers that he is not answerable to Mithrandir. In one of the only signs in this entire section of his fall into madness, Denethor says that Faramir is "already burning" and repeats " ... 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!" Recognizing that at this moment Denethor has succumbed, given in to his madness, Gandalf pushes him back inside the House, with Pippin and Beregond close behind. Discovering that the feverish Faramir is still alive, Gandalf removes him from the pyre. In doing so, "Faramir moaned and called on his father in his dream" (RK-V-7-2).

The sound of his son's voice calling for him snaps Denethor out of his crazed mood: "Denethor started as one waking from a trance"(RK-V-7-2). Apparently seeing Denethor's return to sanity, in the exchange that follows Gandalf reminds Denethor that his duty is to defend his people and his city. Denethor, however, is sure that his son will die, and asks Gandalf why they should not die together, as father and son. Mithrandir responds that the Stewards of Gondor were not given the "authority," as were those in the direct line of Elros, the half-elf, to order the time of their death. With a religious reference, Gandalf tells Denethor that " ... 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." Gandalf strode from the chamber, effortlessly carrying Faramir in his arms, and lays him on the cot at the door that brought him to Rath Dínen. In an eloquent passage, Tolkien reveals Denethor's mood. "Denethor followed him, and stood trembling, looking with longing on the face of his son. and for a moment, while all were silent and still, watching the Lord in his throes, he wavered." Here is the moment of crisis, the time of choice for Denethor. As we too watch Denethor, we can hope that he will remember his duty, and return to help the fight in defense of his city for which he has so ably prepared for so many years. For a moment only: Denethor gives in to his pride and despair, not unlike many of us, and chooses to follow his path of self-destruction.

Tolkien often has some of his characters softly laugh or smile after they make an important decision. Aragorn, Galadriel, and Faramir all smile or laugh at themselves, or at the absurdity of their taking the Ring when it is within their reach. Denethor too laughs after he makes his decision, but his laughter carries no hint of comfort: standing up "tall and proud again" he strides back to the table on which he and Faramir had lain, and grasps the Palantír of Minas Tirith that had been serving as his pillow. Revealing it to all those present, Denethor asserts to Gandalf that he knows more than Gandalf may think he does. He is aware of the Black Fleet sailing up the Anduin from Pelargir. He has seen the vast forces of Sauron still arrayed in Mordor. He is convinced that against the titanic forces of evil there can be no victory.

Denethor assumes that he knows more than Gandalf because he used a palantír to gain his knowledge, not realizing, as we discover later, that Sauron could in fact use the palantír to delude Denethor. When Mithrandir protests that "such counsels" will ensure Sauron's victory, Denethor finally reveals his belief that Gandalf's only interest is to see the lawful Steward of Gondor replaced by a "Ranger of the North" (RK-V-7-2) who Gandalf can control through his "subtleties" (RK-V-4-5). Denethor declares he "will not become the dotard chamberlain of an upstart." He further denigrates Aragorn by saying that Aragorn is descended from Isildur, who was not the founder of Gondor at the beginning of the exile from Numenor.22 Denethor here shows that his deep understanding of the events happening around him springs not only from his use of the palantír, but also derives from his innate shrewdness, wisdom, and perception.

In the climactic moment, Gandalf asks Denethor what he would have, if he could, and Denethor at last tells Gandalf his wants: for life to go on as it had, with the stewards ruling Gondor, and the thought of a king in Gondor only a memory.

This is the point where Shippey (2000) suggests that Gandalf and Denethor fully develop their views about the role of a steward, for Gandalf answers Denethor, telling him that a steward who faithfully discharges his duty is not diminished in love or honor... but to no avail. When Gandalf further tells Denethor that he will not allow him to take the life of his son, Denethor strides to Faramir's cot, attempting to slay him, but is interdicted by Beregond with his sword drawn. In a pitiable scene, Denethor sees that some of his own knights are no longer loyal to him. This is the penultimate event where we come face-to-face with the essence of Denethor's despair. He cries out to Gandalf "So!...Thou hast already stolen half my son's love. Now thou stealest the hearts of my knights also, so that they rob me wholly of my son at the last. But in this at least thou shalt not defy my will to rule my own end" (RK-V-7). Thinking that some of his men remain loyal to him, he addresses them as well, saying "Come hither!...Come, if you are not all recreant!" He seizes a torch from one of them, and thrusts it into the wood stacked around his table. Leaping upon it, he breaks his rod of office upon his knee, bows, and lays down amidst the flames, clutching the palantír to his chest.

Denethor's influence extends beyond his death. When Gandalf and Aragorn summon the leaders of the West to a strategic briefing in Aragorn's tents on the Pelennor Fields, the lack of recent offensive operations by Gondor is a topic of consideration.


III. Denethor: Analysis

Tolkien enjoyed a life-long love-affair with linguistics and etymology. This interest led to his study of Anglo-Saxon, and the even earlier proto-Germanic from which it was derived. Early in his career, Tolkien came across "The Battle of Maldon," an Old English poem, that tells the tale of the proud and luckless Earl Beorhtnoth. Tolkien thought a great deal about this poem over the course of his career, and he was inspired by the theme of loyalty and devotion to duty, even in the face of defeat, that is so well-expressed therein. Tolkien's poetic version of the story, "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth" epitomizes this idea of duty in a Kantian sense, and brings to the fore what Tolkien considers the "supreme contribution to Europe" represented by this "noble northern spirit." Tolkien weaves this theme into his entire oeuvre, looking at it from many different angles, with his perspective changing over time. Understanding this theme, and how Tolkien may have used it as a "yardstick" against which we can measure the worth of characters within the LOTR, is critical to understanding Denethor.

The Battle of Maldon

"The Battle of Maldon" is an Old English poem about the battle fought in 991 C.E. between Earl Beorhtnoth23 and invading Vikings on the banks of the River Blackwater, near Maldon, Essex. The 325-line long fragment is one of the few extant pieces of Old English (OE) literature and is of great interest to students of the Germanic languages. The poem itself is a factual account of the battle that tells how the Vikings, camped on a bar in the river, were not able to advance on account of their poor position. The Vikings appealed to Beorhtnoth's sense of their common cultural fair play, and he recklessly allowed them to cross the River Blackwater, where he was killed in the ensuing fight that resulted in the defeat of the English. Many of the Earl's own men panicked and deserted the Earl in his need. "The names of the deserters are carefully recorded in the poem along with the names and genealogies of the loyal retainers who stand fast to avenge Byrhtnoth's death" (Encyclopredia Brittanica, 2005). What raises "The Battle of Maldon" from an obscure relic of an ancient tongue, of interest only to philologists and others who love the ebb and flow of language over time, is the final verse of the poem that expresses the "Germanic Ethos of Loyalty." These are the lines that stirred Tolkien's soul when he was a young student, and can resonate with us even today: speakers of a language far different from the Old English in which the poem was written:

       Hige sceal ϸe heardra                      Heorte ϸe cenre

       Mod sceal ϸe mare                          ϸe ure maegen lytlaծ

These are the lines that mean as much for us as they did for Beorhtnoth's thanes, facing sure defeat at the hands of a stronger foe. These lines express the essence of "that noble northern sprit" that Tolkien so admired all of his life:

        Will shall be harder,                      Heart the keener,

        Spirit shall be more (greater),        As our strength lessens.


The Weltanschauung of the Elves and the Dúnedain

Early in the First Age of Middle-earth, the Valar summoned the First-born Elves to come to the Undying Lands; to be safe, it was thought, from the threat of Morgoth. Not all of the Elves hearkened to this summons, preferring to stay in the shadows of the then-dark Middle-earth, far from the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. Over a long period of time, three "families" of Elves took ship and left Middle-earth for the Undying Lands of Aman. These three groups were the Vanyar, Noldorin, and Telerin Elves. As noted in the Silmarillion, following the theft of the Silmarilli by Morgoth, Fëanor, possibly the greatest Elf of the Eldar, rallied most of the Noldor to him, saying that even if the Valar chose to do nothing, he would take action against Morgoth. Despite being more-or-less forbidden by the Valar to undertake the journey, the Noldor exiled themselves from Valinor to return to Middle-earth, seeking to recover the Silmarilli from the Dark Lord. Although the Vanyar returned to Middle-earth at the end of the First Age, to fight against Morgoth in the War of Wrath, most of the Elvish weltanschauung that we read about in the constituent texts reflects the Noldorin perspective. It seems reasonable to suppose, however, that even the Elves in Valinor, having heard of the travail of Elves and Men, or having seen for themselves the effects of Morgoth's wrong-doing on Arda and Sauron's continuation thereof, share the Noldorin viewpoint on the battle between good and evil. After far more than six thousand years of battling evil, only to see it spring up time and time again, the Elves may realize that in the end, this battle is unwinnable. Tolkien thought long and hard about the fatalistic sense of the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty, with its call to keep fighting even when there is no hope of victory as reward. This sense of hopelessness (lack of estel) was in direct conflict with Tolkien's Catholic beliefs, and he had to internally reconcile these differences. Some of Tolkien's resolution may be reflected in his treatment of the end in both “The Lay of Luthien” and “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen", or the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth. Nevertheless, who better than the Elves, Tolkien's creation most close to his heart, can express the lofty heights of the “Hige concept”: the willingness to fight on against adversity, as the Sun sets and the darkness grows? As they sat around a dancing fire on the long, cold, black, winter nights of the North, when the very light of the Sun seemed pale and empty, who better than the Northmen of Europe could see the final victory of chaos at the Armageddon of Ragnarok, yet will themselves to struggle on?

While the Leitmotiv of Growth and Decay (Chapter Four) allows that hope does spring eternal, Tolkien suggests throughout The Silmarillion and the LOTR, that even while it may do so, it may be something less than it was originally, and is no guarantee against the coming chaos. "Hoffnung ist der Wanderstab von die Wiege zum Grab" says the modern German Volkssagen,24 but this only highlights the human angst of not knowing the future. We may wonder about Legolas' conversation with Gimli, given at the start of Chapter Four, and the Elves may wonder why their best efforts, allied with the Valar, have not rid Arda of evil...and even Manwë knows not the mind of Eru (Sil).25

Elrond summarizes this Elvish mindset at the Council of Elrond, when he recalls the mustering of the forces of Gil-galad and Elendil in Amor before they marched to Mordor to face Sauron in battle. He relates to the Council how the sight of their many banners reminded him of the Elder Days, yet he also notes that despite the splendor of their army, they "were not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken, and the Elves deemed that evil was ended forever, and it was not so" (FR-11-2-4). After Frodo blurts out astonishment of Elrond's clear memory of events even two ages ago, Elrond gives one of the clearest statements of the elvish weltanschauung: "I have seen three ages in the West of the World, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories." No wonder that Elrond can truly empathize with the stand of Denethor and the Dúnedain of Gondor, arrayed against the forces of Sauron, facing irrevocable defeat. “But the Lords of Minas Tirith still fight on, defying our Enemies, keeping the passage of the River from Argonath to the Sea.” Like Beorhtnoth's thanes, like Hurin and the Men of Dor-1ómin (Sil) in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Denethor and the Men of Gondor defy Sauron -- the embodiment of evil -- living up to the ideal of the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty.

Galadriel too understands the threat of approaching chaos with its associated loss of all that is good, and all that she has striven to sustain in the lands of Middle-earth. Marching with the hosts of Fëanor as they fled Valinor, and then betrayed by Fëanor at Alqualonde, and along with Fingolfin and her family left behind at the Helcaraxë, Galadriel still continued on to Middle-earth, to fight against both the evil of Morgoth and the ill-will he engendered in the heart of even Fëanor. Proud of her stature as a Noldo, perhaps the greatest woman of the First-born,26 Galadriel finally realized the limits of her pride when she rejected the Ring, freely offered by Frodo at her mirror in Lothlórien. Galadriel lost all her older brothers -- Finrod Felagund, Orodreth, Aegnor, and Amras -- in the fight against evil; only she remained. Yet in diminishing herself, in recognizing her hopeless battle against evil for what it is, Galadriel acknowledges its final arrival, its seemingly ineluctable victory, and in doing so, waxes greater than she was before.

As the Companions gather together in the court of Celeborn and Galadriel, set amidst a mighty tree in Caras Galadhon, Galadriel tells them how she and Celeborn have lived together for "years uncounted... and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat" (FR-11-7-5). A brilliant choice of words that restates the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty, and reflects the Elves willingness to fight against chaos recognizing that they cannot win in the end. Galadriel stares defeat in the face, and soldiers on to stave off Sauron, even at great cost to herself. She does not know if the Valar will allow her to return to Valinor, given her refusal to go back as part of the amnesty given to the Noldor at the end of the First Age. She does know that whether or not Frodo succeeds in his quest of Orodruin, the power of Nenya, the elvish Ring that she bears, will be broken.

In what is clearly one of the most moving scenes in the entire LOTR, Galadriel stands with Frodo and Sam beside her mirror, in her hidden garden in Caras Galadhon. As Frodo stands trembling, having seen the Eye of Sauron in Galadriel's mirror, she can tell Frodo that she now understands Sauron's goals, especially as they concern the Elves. She rejects the Evil of which Sauron is a servant, and notes that while the "light" of her wisdom can see into the darkness of Sauron's soul, he has no corresponding ability to read her mind. As she declaims this to Frodo, he comes to understand Galadriel's power and wisdom, and the strength of her will. Frodo then freely offers the Ring to Galadriel, ending his offer with a somewhat wry comment “It is too great a matter for me.” The power and eloquence of the exchange between Galadriel and Frodo resounds throughout the LOTR, and deserves re-reading ("The Mirror of Galadriel" FR-7).

Who better than Galadriel can therefore turn the Elvish “Futurangst” into song, and chant the following few lines of her lament before she and Celeborn bid farewell to the Companions “in the last end of Egladil?”

O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day,
The leaves are falling in the Stream, the River flows away.

After giving her gifts to the Companions, including the touching scene where at Galadriel's request, Gimli asks for a gift that she refused three times to give even to Feanor,27 the Companions leave Lórien. As they paddle down the swift Anduin, Frodo looks back to see Galadriel once more singing: but now in the ancient language of old Valinor. She reiterates the sad longing of her people, but on a far more personal level of loss and sorrow at an approaching fate that holds little hope for her.

Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar!
Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

Time and time again, Tolkien examines the close kinship between the Dúnedain and the Elves, as noted earlier. From the earliest days of contact between the Edain and the Elves in the First Age, Men have been influenced by the Elves and their world-view. The Silmarillion states that “many young and eager men of the Edain went away and took service with the kings and lords of the Eldar” and “young men often took service for a time in the hosts of the kings.” In doing so, they would learn much about the Elvish culture, outlook, and fighting skills. Furthermore, the earliest Men soon discovered that the Elves were immortal, whereas their lives were relatively short. Hurin told Turgon “ ...for us the time is short, and our hope and strength soon wither” (Of the Ruin of Beleriand, Sil).

In close league with the Noldorin Elves, the early Edain fought in the First Age battles of the Dagor Bragallach and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, often giving their lives in defense of Elvish kings and leaders, as did Hador when he led the rearguard of his lord Fingolfin when the King retreated from Eithel Sirion in the Dagor Bragollach. Both Húrin and his younger brother Huor fought in the rearguard that stood to defend the retreat of Turgon, High King of the Noldor, from the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, where Huor was slain and Húrin taken by the Orcs. Long lives in legend the image of Húrin, wielding his axe, shouting “Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!,” last man standing among the Men of Dor-Lómin.28 Like Beorhtnoth's thanes, facing death and defeat, the loyal Men of Dor-Lómin allowed Turgon to escape and fight another day. Tolkien relates in the Unfinished Tales that Ulmo tells Tuor, as Tuor stands before him at the edge of the Great Sea, “For the valour of the Edain the Elves shall ever remember as the ages lengthen, marvelling that they gave life so freely of which they had on earth so little.” A true manifestation of the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty.

The Edain living on the island of Númenor, especially in the first half of the Second Age, were enriched by continued contact with the Elves, and through close proximity to Valinor. Tar-Minastir sent aid to his friend Gil-galad shortly after 1693 S.A., as recounted in “The Tale of Aldarion and Erendis” (UT). Speaking through Tar-Minastir, Tolkien makes an eloquent statement about how a peaceful people should respond to war. This image is suggestive of the Elvish preference for tranquility, quiet, and reflection. Ironically, this debate is given not by an Elf, but by one of the Edain, influenced by the Elves, as he agonizes over the choice of preparing for war, when Gil-galad calls for the help of Númenor in the fight against Sauron.

The later friendship of Elendil and Gil-galad led to their combined defeat of Sauron at the end of the Second Age, but resulted in their own deaths during the final combat with Sauron near the Barad-dûr. This close historical relationship makes it clear that on a spiritual level the Elvish weltanschauung has rubbed off on the Dúnedain. Denethor’s son Faramir, clearly one of the wisest of the Dúnedain in Middle-earth during the War of the Ring, tells Frodo that "It is long since we had any hope... We are a failing people, a springless autumn" (TT-IV-5-10). The echoes between Faramir's acknowledgment and Galadriel's lament are uncanny: Faramir restates the Elvish outlook as if he were an Elf himself.29 Despite the self-knowledge of their ultimate doom, the Dúnedain continue their fight against Sauron, taking as their own the Elvish expression of the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty.

The similarity between the Dúnedain and the Elves is not only spiritual, but also physical. Frodo notes that Mablung and Damrod "were good men, pale-skinned, dark of hair, with grey eyes and faces sad and proud" (TT-IV-4-12, and noted earlier). Using the keywords describing the Elf-friends of old, Tolkien once again draws a connection between the Dúnedain and the Elves. As noted earlier, when Faramir and his guards almost instantaneously leave Frodo and Sam, disappearing into the woods in a twinkling, Frodo immediately recognizes the loss of an elf-like, wholesome­ dream, in the woods surrounding them. Even the relatively unsophisticated Sam sees the elf-like nature of Faramir when he compares Faramir to Gandalf, a Maia, one of the people of the Valar, beings on a level far higher than that of mortal Men.

When Pippin sees Faramir for the first time, he readily realizes that Faramir was a cut above even the run-of-the-mill Dúnedain. Pippin notes his “proud and grave” nature, and his resemblance to Boromir with his “lordly but kindly manner.” Looking a little deeper, Pippin's heart was stirred in a new way, recognizing Faramir's “high nobility,” and his likeness to Aragorn. Most importantly, Pippin saw Faramir as a latter-day example of the glory of the “Kings of Men... touched with the wisdom and sadness of the Elder Race” (RK-V-4).

As a member of the Dúnedain of the South, indeed, one of the "high born" of Gondor, the Elvish weltanschauung was very much a part of the cultural legacy that permeated Denethor's being, both emotionally and rationally. This fatalistic, grim perspective, reinforced through their own experiences, was more-or-less inbred with the Dúnedain, and gave rise to their "sad but proud" nature that was seen so clearly by Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin - perhaps, as Tolkien intended, the closest surrogates for modern man in the LOTR (see Chapter Seven). Denethor reveals part of this grim outlook when he tells Gandalf "Go forth and fight! Vanity... But against the power that now arises there is no victory" (RK-V-7-2). Given the perspective of the Elves and the Dúnedain, Denethor's belief may hold more truth than one might be comfortable with. To his great credit, Denethor has attempted to transcend this view: he married, and raised a family, in defiance, so to speak, of the hopelessness surrounding him.


Denethor's Pride

As a devout Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien was familiar with the "seven deadly sins," originally grouped together in the 6th Century C.E. by St. Gregory the Great and elaborated upon by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century Summa Theologica. The wide cultural currency of these sins is attested by their use in a variety of art forms, "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is a good example. The sins are listed as (1) vainglory, or pride, (2) covetousness, (3) lust, (4) envy, (5) gluttony, (6) anger, and (7) sloth (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2003). Note that "pride" is listed as the first of the deadly sins.

Several characters in the LOTR make mention of Denethor's pride. Imrahil tells Aragorn that Denethor “is strong-willed and proud”30 (RK-V-8-3). Gandalf tells Pippin that Denethor is "proud and subtle"31 and is "of far greater lineage and power" than King Théoden (RK-V-1-7). Gandalf is well aware that Denethor is unlike most of his contemporaries in that Denethor possesses many of the best features of the people of Westernesse. Gandalf adds that Denethor "has long sight" and has the ability to perceive what even men in the hinterland are thinking about (RK-V-1-9). Denethor's followers, such as Beregond, clearly see that “the Lord Denethor is unlike other men, he sees far.” We later learn that in the back of his mind, Gandalf might have been thinking about where and how Denethor got his information. Gandalf was wondering if Denethor was using the Palantír of Minas Tirith, but Gandalf was not certain the palantír still existed, or that Denethor had in fact looked in the stone. Many critics have also noted Denethor's pride (see Shippey, 2000), perhaps, in some cases, overestimating its influence on his personality.

Denethor is aware that he is an effective, well-rounded leader, and a successful father, having raised two good sons. Although in the heat of his anger he may disparage Faramir for preferring kindness, gentleness, and knowledge, to the art of war, Denethor knows that he too is a master of lore, as he says so himself, and appreciates the arts (as when he asks Pippin if the hobbit can sing). Denethor directly displays his mastery of lore when he immediately recognizes Pippin's sword as having been made by the Dûnedain of the North. When Pippin prepares to take his vow of fealty to the Lord of Minas Tirith, he lays his sword in Denethor's lap. Looking at it, Denethor sees that "Surely this is a blade wrought by our own kindred in the North in the deep past?"32 (RK-V-1-8).

When considering Denethor's pride, it is important to note his feelings about his role as Steward. As usual, Tolkien provides some interesting insights concerning this matter, and Tolkien's skill in the careful choice of his words also bears on the issue.

While in Henneth Annûn, Faramir related to Frodo that as a boy, Boromir would ask his father how long it takes “to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?” (TT-IV-5-4). Denethor wisely replies “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty. In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice” (TT-111-5-4). It seems Denethor does not aspire to the kingship of Gondor. Perhaps this reflects Denethor’s thinking as a younger man, before overweening pride grew in his heart. Yet reflecting over one thousand years of the steward's cumulative thinking about their role and that of the kings, Denethor, sitting beside the bed of his wounded son, suggests something else to Pippin. Denethor tells his esquire that "even the House of the Stewards has failed" (RK-V-4-15). The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1987) provides many definitions of the word "even." As is usual with dictionaries, the most common definitions of a word occur first, followed by more rarely used or archaic meanings of the word. The Random House dictionary states that their 16th definition of "even" is that it can be "used to suggest that something mentioned as a possibility constitutes an extreme case or an unlikely instance." With this in mind, one can interpret Denethor's statement as perhaps suggesting that whereas it is not unreasonable to expect that the line of Anárion would fail, it is highly unlikely that the line of the Stewards would fail, being somehow stronger or wiser.33 This is a subtle interpretation, but contrary to the opinions of those critics who dismiss the LOTR as lightweight pabulum, an example of “fantasy literature,” Tolkien's masterwork abounds in subtle contrasts, use of idiom, and development of both plot and characters.

Led by the Witch-king of Angmar, recently returned to Mordor after his defeat at the Battle of Fornost in 1975, the forces of Sauron captured Minas Ithil in 2002, taking the palantír of Isildur as prize. The last two kings of the House of Anárion, Eärnil and Eärnur, forbore using the Palantír of Minas Tirith once Sauron's surrogates gained control of its “sister” (Isildur’s palantír) from Minas Ithil, out of fear (most likely) of encountering the Witch-king or Sauron himself. None of the stewards afterwards dared to use it as well, since Anárion's palantír was “most close in accord with the one that Sauron possessed,” and communications between palantíri in close accord were enhanced. Knowing that Sauron's powerful will could likely overwhelm that of another individual when the palantíri of Isildur and Anárion were in communication, the last kings and the following stewards wisely refused to use Anarion's palantír to avoid being subjugated by Sauron. In his pride, Denethor chose to use the Palantír of Minas Tirith.

Tolkien is careful to point out in App. A (LoTR), that Denethor's use of the palantír was due to his need for knowledge and his “being proud, and trusting in his own strength of will.” Tolkien connects Denethor's pride and his use of the palantír. Denethor wanted to use the knowledge he could gain through the use of the stone to help him plan for the defense of the West. There is no suggestion that he intended to use the palantír to help establish himself in any role other than that of the Steward of Gondor. One may deplore Denethor's audacity, but even Gandalf validates some of Denethor's pride and confidence in his own strength of will by telling the Captains of the West that Denethor “was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power” (RK-V-7-5).

Denethor drops several hints about his use of the palantír as when he tells Gandalf and Pippin that "though the stones be lost they say, still the Lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them" (RK-V-1-8). Could Denethor's hinting be a sort of confession, a realization that he has erred?

Denethor as a Military Leader

In any consideration of Denethor's ability as a military leader, it cannot be forgotten that Gondor had lost considerable geopolitical leverage over the 1,500 years before the War of the Ring. The "waning night of Gondor" is recognized by many characters in the LOTR, is mentioned several times at the Council of Elrond, and is referred to by Beregond in his conversations with Pippin. Even Faramir admits the same to Frodo in Henneth Annûn. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Boromir at Elrond's Council, even in its weakened condition, Gondor is still strong, as is acknowledged by Elrond and Gandalf, among other leaders of the West. Elrond admires in so many words the dogged determination of Gondor to "defy" Sauron. Approaching Minas Tirith after leaving Rohan, Gandalf tells Pippin the he will be safer there than probably any other place in the coming battle, even though Sauron considers Minas Tirith to be his chief enemy, and the object of his greatest hatred (RK-V-1-1, RK-V-4-12).

This segment will examine Denethor as the military leader of Gondor in terms of three components: his preparation for war, his tactical decisions, and his ability as a leader of men.

Second-lieutenant Tolkien of the Lancashire Fusiliers was well-aware of military planning and the preparation for battle. He drops clues throughout the LOTR alerting the reader to the war-readiness of Gondor, from the pre-war logistics of storage and supply to the allocation of the limited forces available to Denethor prior to the conflict. Again and again, Tolkien gives the reader evidence for Denethor's wise use of whatever military assets he has at his command.

Prior to the start of the siege of Minas Tirith, Denethor wisely selected men descended from families that had dwelt in Ithilien to serve as the Rangers he sent to the enemy-occupied east bank of the Anduin {TT-IV-4-12). These Rangers, with a hereditary attachment to the land of Ithilien, provided Denethor with vital intelligence about Sauron's troop movements as he reinforced Mordor, and could occasionally act to waylay unwary units marching towards the Black Gate. It was Denethor's foresight in using this elite force - the Rangers of Ithilien - to harass the Enemy that fortuitously allowed Faramir and Frodo to meet.

When Denethor's messengers finally reach King Théoden in Dunharrow, and the marshaling of the Riders of Rohan begins, Théoden realizes that the urgency of Denethor's call for help will require his mounted forces to travel light. He inquires if there are sufficient supplies in Minas Tirith to sustain his troops once they arrive. Hirgon responds that there are adequate stores, "long prepared" (RK-V-3-6). Obviously, Denethor has given thought to the ability of Minas Tirith to withstand an initial siege.

When Gandalf and Pippin finally reach the outer wall of the Pelennor on 9 March, they find Ingold and a work-crew from Minas Tirith busy at work repairing the wall and Gate that face the west. Gandalf tells Ingold that it is too late to be involved in repairs, and that Ingold's men would be better served sharpening their swords. Ingold replies that the gate through which Gandalf is passing is the last part of the wall to be repaired. Most of the work has already been done at Denethor's direction. After he enters Minas Tirith for the first time, Pippin is struck by the strong military posture of Minas Tirith, a reality that demands organization and preparation.

Pippin and Beregond observe the evacuation of civilians from Minas Tirith on the day of Pippin's arrival in the city. Pippin recognized at once that what had appeared to be a chaotic movement was in fact a well-organized and ordered evacuation reflecting careful planning and preparation. As if to emphasize this point, Tolkien has Beregond tell Pippin that the road leading up to the Gates of Minas Tirith must be cleared of the evacuation convoy before the arrival of the Gondorian forces from the outlands. The coordinated approach of these troops from the far-flung fiefs of Gondor speaks volumes about the careful planning of Denethor and his Council. While it may be argued that such preparatory planning represents the will of the Council of Gondor, Denethor is ultimately responsible for the defense of his city, his land, and of the West in general. Tolkien notes that Denethor was "master of his Council" (RK-V-4-7) and that the Council's decisions reflect his thinking and strategic outlook.34

As the military situation changes from one of preparation for conflict to combat, the primary focus of military leaders shifts from logistical and tactical planning to tactical decision-making in the theater of operations. In this area also Denethor displays those characteristics of decisiveness that mark him as a strong and knowledgeable tactician. From the doling out of food starting on the second day of Pippin's stay, and the earlier order that no lights shine out from the windows of Minas Tirith, Denethor's tactical orders reflect sound reasoning.

Given his understanding of the tactical situation and the overwhelming size of the Enemy's forces, Denethor made the decision to gather his strength within the walls of Minas Tirith and initially fight a defensive battle. Realizing that it is the attacking force that suffers the greater casualties, Denethor may have thought his sole opportunity to strike at Sauron's forces would only occur sometime after they had lost a considerable number of their troops in fruitless attacks against the virtually impregnable walls of Minas Tirith. In this light, Denethor's request to King Théoden to arrive in Minas Tirith before the fortress was surrounded by the Enemy is not unreasonable, unless it was a ruse to emphasize the urgency of the Riders of Rohan getting to Gondor. King Théoden may have realized this when he asked Hirgon if Denethor meant more than he did with his message, but it seems likely that Denethor's tactical plan, as described above, represented his true intentions in fighting his war.

Tolkien reveals a great deal about Denethor's strength as a tactician when he relates the retreat of Faramir and his men from the Causeway Forts. Gandalf, addressing Denethor in the Citadel, advises that a sortie be made ready to ride to the help of the retreating men of Minas Tirith. Denethor replies that he has already done so, and that the sortie, under the command of the Prince of Dol Amroth, is awaiting his signal to be released. Walking down to the walls, Denethor personally gives his signal, demonstrating his leadership of his men. Furthermore, after successfully relieving Faramir and his forces, Denethor does not allow his victorious sortie to travel too far in their pursuit of the fleeing enemy, and orders his men to return to the safety of the City before they overextend themselves: a prudent course of action for the badly outnumbered forces of Gondor.

Denethor's grasp of the military situation goes beyond his skills as a tactician. He understands the wider and longer-term importance of strategic thinking, exemplified by his recapturing East Osgiliath as a young man. In coordination with Ecthelion and the Council of Gondor, Denethor was using what limited offensive capability he had to achieve an important strategic objective: control of the east-bank of the Anduin. Sauron himself saw this position as vital to his tactical plans when he recaptured it from Gondor in June, 3018. Gandalf told the Companions that when Sauron reoccupied East Osgiliath, and used the battle as a cover to release the Nazgûl to search for the Ring, he found the strength and preparedness of Gondor more than he had hoped, another testament to Denethor's strategic wherewithal (UT).

Even more important than mastery of the materiel and tactics of war, is the mastery of the art of leadership. The LOTR is clear about Denethor's leadership of men, and his ability to gain the loyalty and even the love of his men. As noted, Tolkien uses the historic friendship between the Elves and the Númenoreans to hold Gondor to a higher standard.35 Interestingly, The Silmarillion tells us that Sauron used a "dark cloud" of gloom and fear to help him in his assault upon the original Minas Tirith, built by Finrod Felagund, one of the kings of the Noldor in the First Age. As if to further develop the likeness between Elves and the Men of Gondor, and following his Franckian preference for cyclicity, Tolkien has Sauron use the same "dark cloud" against the second Minas Tirith in the War of the Ring. Like teacher, like student; like Elves, like the Númenoreans. Nevertheless, it is Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, who has to lead his people, and sustain their will and heart in the face of Sauron's longstanding hatred. The steadfastness of Gondor in the face of Sauron's onslaught is but one example of Denethor's ability to lead.36, 37

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher who defined the concept of categorical and hypothetical imperatives. Kant considered hypothetical imperatives to be things we do to satisfy conditional circumstances, that can and often do change over time. Sandel (2009) explains hypothetical imperatives as always being conditional in nature, "If you want X, you do Y."

Categorical imperatives represent a higher-order idea than hypothetical imperatives. They are more demanding because they require a rigorous adherence to an absolute standard of "good," or doing that which is right, even at cost to oneself. In other words, we should choose to do something not because doing so will advantageously gain us an objective, which is a conditional situation, but because doing that something is the only right course of action to take.38 Denethor adhered to the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty as admired by Kant and Tolkien, and in his application of a categorical imperative up to the time of his death, Denethor was demanding of himself, his sons, and his followers. In Denethor's case, the categorical imperative was duty to the defense of Gondor, representing a higher good. Denethor understood this idea well, even as expressed in the oath of fealty to Gondor that Pippin recites repeating it after the Steward at their first meeting.

To his great credit, Denethor never knuckles under to Sauron. As Gandalf later points out, Denethor fared even better than Saruman, a Maia, in that Denethor was "too great" to give in to Sauron's will. Until the very end, lost in the bitterness of what seems to him the likely death of his second son and only remaining child, Denethor himself is ready to fight despite the overwhelming odds he faces. Denethor was no hypocrite, and what he required of his sons and his followers, he required of himself. Consider the powerful scene when Denethor twitches aside his cloak and reveals himself to Gandalf and Pippin fully clad in armor, a sword at his side, and declares that he can “Still wield a brand... Thus have I walked, and thus now for many years have I slept,..lest with age the body should grow soft and timid” (RK-V-4-11).

Denethor does not give in to sloth or timidity with his advancing years: he requires of himself the same discipline that he expects from the men he leads. Consider when Denethor tells Faramir to go and rest as he can, as “Tomorrow's need will be sterner” (RK-V-4-5). Denethor taught and expected his sons to follow his example of leadership no matter the cost to themselves - and they demonstrate this: Boromir defending Merry and Pippin at Parth Galen, and Faramir leading the defense of the Causeway Forts. Also note Denethor's use of the word “sterner” in his advice to Faramir, a word that recalls the first line of the ,,Hige” verse, and a word often used to translate that line as “Will shall be sterner.”

The men that Denethor leads see him display this devotion to duty himself, a categorical imperative, and therefore can accept the same burden willingly. Denethor's adherence to Kant's higher order imperative earns the loyalty and even the love of his followers. Like the men he leads, we can only admire Denethor's willingness to lead by example, and to stand by the higher standard of a categorical imperative, like the thanes of Beorhtnoth.

Denethor tells Gandalf and Pippin that his esquire, who served him on an ongoing basis, begged leave to be sent to the walls of the Pelennor under the command of Faramir. To be willing to volunteer for such a dangerous outpost speaks well of the esprit de corps of the troops led by Denethor. Even in his short service to Gondor, Denethor's leadership engenders loyalty in Pippin.

If in truth the quality of a leader is reflected by the quality of the troops he leads, then Beregond's bravery and wisdom speaks well of Denethor. Beregond, “but a plain man of arms of the Third Company of the Citadel” (RK-V-1-14), has full understanding of the role of Gondor in the coming war. He is knowledgeable about the strategy of the conflict from both Sauron's perspective and that of the Allies, led by Denethor. He is aware that the upcoming battle is the culmination of long thought and planning and that it will be a “total war” involving places as distant as northern Mirkwood, Harad, and eastward of the Inland Sea.39 Beregond appreciates the fact that Gondor, the object of Sauron's deepest hatred, will bear the brunt of the Enemy's war against the West; he also understands the history behind Sauron's enmity (RK-V-1-12). Yet despite the overwhelming odds, and the overmastering strength of the Enemy confronting Gondor, Beregond is willing to fight. He is willing to go to the aid of Faramir, the Captain he loves, when Faramir is attacked by the Nazgûl during his retreat from the Causeway Forts.

The common foot soldier of Gondor has more knowledge of the war in which he fights than a similar fighter from Rohan. It is possible that Hama, the Captain of Théoden's guard, does not even know where Harad is, or that there is battle from Mirkwood to Umbar. So: the “sad but proud” nature (TT-IV-4-12) of the forces of Gondor, their sophistication and knowledge of their role in the battle against the evil of Mordor, is reflected both up and down the chain-of-command. If Beregond can see the coming war with as much understanding as he does, maintaining his will to fight Sauron and to serve his captain, Faramir, then his actions typify those of his ultimate leader, Denethor.

Tolkien even uses Beregond's ten-year-old son, Bergil, to show the willingness of Gondorians to fight when they need to. When Pippin first meets Bergil, he is challenged to a fight by the boy. Pippin temporarily scares Bergil with a grim face, but Bergil recovers and comes back to continue the fight “with clenched fists and the light of battle in his eye” (RK-V-1). Fortunately, Pippin defuses the tense situation, and as his father wished, Bergil gave Pippin a short tour of Minas Tirith, ending with their standing at the Gate of Minas Tirith, watching the men from the outlands march in. Just before the final closing of the gate, Pippin and Bergil, now fast friends, reenter the city “hand-in-hand,” and go their separate ways. Bergil confidently tells Pippin that “They will never overcome our Lord, and my father is very valiant” (RK-V-1-20). Later in the tale, as Merry and Bergil watch the army of the West depart for Mordor, Merry is overcome by the pain of his wound, and his mood of angst and gloom, as all his friends march off to a battle from which they will probably never return. Once again Bergil offers encouragement, as he tells Merry “But do not fear! They will come back. The Men of Minas Tirith will never be overcome. And now they have the Lord Elfstone, and Beregond of the Guard, too” (RK-V-10-2).

It is doubtful that Bergil learned this attitude of faith in his leaders in a vacuum; he probably absorbed his positive view of Denethor's ability to lead from his father. Although sharing in the weltanschauung of his fellow Dúnedain, Beregond, like many of his fellows, must have had a more optimistic view of the future, and this is shared to a greater degree by his son, Bergil. Up to the tragedy of his death, it was Denethor who led the men of Gondor, it was Denethor who inspired his followers by example. Like father, like son; like Steward, like servants: Denethor and Beregond share the “wisdom and sadness” of their people, and yet fight on. Despite its weakened geopolitical situation, the Stewards of Gondor have managed to maintain the integrity of the core of the kingdom they took over after the death of King Eärnur in 2050. That Denethor continues this tradition of capable military leadership is documented in the LotR. In maximizing the use of the military assets at his command, Denethor has done more than many of his predecessors in terms of wisely preparing for Sauron's war. Gandalf and Beregond, among many others, know that Denethor and Minas Tirith face not only Sauron's deep-seated hatred, but will also bear the “main force of Sauron's attack” (RK-V-1-13). It is interesting to note that the original Minas Tirith, the “Tower of Watch,” was built by Finrod Felagund in the First Age. Tolkien states that Sauron took the First Age “…Minas Tirith by assault, for a dark cloud of fear fell upon those that defended it;…” Sauron no doubt further hated Gondor, and its leader, because of their similarity to the fortress of Finrod Felagund in the long ages past.

Near the start of "The Last Debate" (RK-V-9-4), Imrahil asks Gandalf if he recommends a retreat to the fortresses of Gondor and Rohan. Gandalf, who usually tries to see the best in his allies, engages in some unfortunate character assassination when he responds “That would be no new counsel. ...Have you not done this and little more in all the days of Denethor?” Gandalf’s tart retort completely overlooks Denethor's recapture of East Osgiliath, the forays by the Rangers of Ithilien, and disregards the geopolitical reality of Gondor's shortened military reach since the days of its glory. What, if anything, could Denethor do against Mordor? The inability of Gondor to undertake offensive action is recognized even by Beregond, who tells Pippin “we cannot assault the mountains of yonder realm” (RK-V-1). Similarly, the Council of Gondor recognizes that it cannot make “any stroke of war on their own part” (RK-V-4). App. A (LoTR) notes that there was “little love” between Denethor and Gandalf, and the Grey Pilgrim too has some pride: alone among the leaders of the West (Saruman is a special case), Denethor does not kow-tow to Gandalf, and tells him “You have not all wisdom” (RK-V-4-5). Gandalf also was capable of anger; perhaps his reaction to Denethor reflected this. Gandalf’s reply may therefore be taken not as a statement about Denethor's military and strategic leadership, but as a release of Gandalf's pent-up frustration and anger towards Denethor.

That Denethor can inspire his men to stand and fight is a tribute to his skill as a leader of men. Denethor displays a keen knowledge of military logistics and tactics. In noting that the political and strategic outlook of both Aragorn and Denethor was essentially the same (App. A, LoTR), Tolkien is giving the latter a “stamp of approval.” The available evidence suggests that the portrayal of Denethor as a military leader is favorable.

Denethor as a Husband and Father

Tolkien does not provide much information about Denethor in his role as a husband and father. As is the case for many readers of rich literature, we may hunger for more knowledge, but in his admittedly "short" book, Tolkien was unable to frequently fulfill his own desire (or that of his readers) for more background.

As noted in the chronology, in 2976, Denethor married Finduilas, the 26 year-old daughter of Adrahil, when he was 46 years old. Finduilas was a woman “of great beauty and gentle heart” (App. A, LoTR) and “Denethor loved her, in his fashion, more dearly than any other.”

The daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth, Finduilas would have been counted as one of the high-born of Gondor, a more than suitable match for the Steward. The wear of living in Minas Tirith, so close to the oppressive gloom of Mordor, weighed heavily upon her, and overwhelmed her gentle nature. "The shadow in the east filled her with horror, and she turned her eyes ever south to the sea that she missed" (App. A). Legend states that the line of the Princes of Dol Amroth traced its ancestry to the marriage of an Elf-maiden and a man (UT), and perhaps Finduilas too carried the sea-longing of the Elves of Middle-earth. Finduilas bore two sons for Denethor: Boromir, the elder, and Faramir.

In his short comments describing Denethor's feelings for his wife, Tolkien tells us that Denethor deeply loved her. The fact that Finduilas' death caused Denethor to become “more grim and silent than before” testifies to his love for his wife. Perhaps Denethor always tended to be an emotionally distant man, shying away from overt expression of his feelings or dealing with the feelings of others, but the death of his beloved wife pushed him further in that direction. Yet there is ample evidence that Denethor loved his sons as well.

The quote about how Denethor loved Finduilas "more dearly than any other,.." is immediately followed by " ... unless it were the elder of the sons that she bore him." The text emphasizes in many places how Denethor favored Boromir over Faramir. The motif of a father favoring one son over another is an old one, and Tolkien was well aware of the Biblical story of Jacob, and how his favoring the sons of Rachel - Joseph and Benjamin - had tragic consequences for Jacob's family as a whole. Gandalf observed Denethor's favoritism, perhaps picked up by watching Denethor and his sons during his visits to Minas Tirith. As Gandalf and Pippin are about to meet with Denethor when they first arrive in Minas Tirith, Gandalf tries to provide Pippin with an explanation for Denethor's behavior. Describing Denethor's love for Boromir, Gandalf insightfully says "He loved him greatly: too much, perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike" (RK-V-1-7). When they take their leave of Denethor, with the objectivity of an outside observer, Gandalf can see that the “blood of Westemesse” ran strongly in Denethor, as it did in Faramir, but did not in Boromir, whom Denethor “loved best.”

The LotR contrasts the two brothers, in many places, and through the voices of different characters. Boromir delighted in feats-of-arms, military history, and the songs and poems of old battles. He was an accomplished warrior, did not marry, and reminded Éomer more of the sons of Eorl than “the grave men of Gondor” (TT-111-2-14). Boromir did not seek knowledge of lore in and of itself, and did little to learn from Gandalf. Faramir eagerly sought wisdom, and learned from Gandalf what he could, and in doing so, displeased Denethor. Faramir admits to Frodo that he does not take pleasure in warfare, but serves as a warrior only because he must in defense of his city and people. Nevertheless, Faramir is an accomplished fighter and military leader. When Eówyn gazes at Faramir, she can see empathy and compassion in his eyes, yet recognizes that there were no Riders in Rohan who could defeat him in battle. Beregond also saw that Faramir's gentle demeanor masked a resolute and fearless leader who could master both beasts and men (RK-VI-5-2, RK-VI-4-3). Faramir, like Aragorn, could clearly engender the love of his followers.

Some commentators suggests that Faramir was “exiled” from the court of Minas Tirith. While the “favored” son undertook the hard journey to Imladris, Faramir was sent to Ithilien to lead the only offensive operations east of the Anduin undertaken by Gondor since Denethor's recapture of East Osgiliath. Leading the Rangers of Ithilien was not an exile, but was the command of an important, though limited, arm of Gondor's war plans.

App. A (LoTR) indicates that there was "great love" between Boromir and Faramir, and no hint of envy between them. Furthermore, both Boromir and Faramir were able to demonstrate love (in the broad sense of the term) for their city, companions, and the men that they led. Merry and Pippin both sensed this leadership ability in the brothers, as did the men of Gondor, from Beregond, a guard of the Citadel, to the lowliest man-at-arms. Pippin, like Beregond, saw the similarities between Boromir and Faramir, yet both sensed a deeper nobility in the latter. “Yet suddenly for Faramir his heart was strangely moved with a feeling that he had not known before... He knew now why Beregond spoke his name with love. He was a captain that men would follow, that he would follow, even under the shadow of black wings” (RK-V-4-4).

The key point is that love does not grow without nourishment. Boromir was nine to ten years old, and Faramir was four to five at the passing of Finduilas. No doubt Finduilas, with her loving and gentle nature, attempted to instill a strong sense of love in both her sons. Faramir was more like Finduilas in this regard than Boromir; perhaps his mood allowed him to be more responsive to his mother's sensitivity and gentle, refined love than his more self-possessed brother. Nevertheless, considering Faramir's tender age at the death of his mother, it is obvious that Denethor also contributed to the development of an empathetic, loving nature in Faramir.

In a touching scene, Tolkien reminds us of Faramir's loving, empathetic nature, mingled with his memories of his mother. As Faramir and Eówyn walked the walls of Minas Tirith, awaiting word from the departed Aragorn and the Host of the West, Faramir sent for the warm cloak that belonged to his mother, so he could wrap it on the shoulders of Eówyn. For Faramir, the cloak that was “a memory of loveliness in far days, and of his first grief” (RK-VI-5-2)

Why does Denethor favor Boromir? Gandalf surmises that it is because Denethor saw Boromir as unlike himself. It is likely Denethor saw in Boromir something that he himself wanted to be: a strong-willed, powerful man, a leader who would be followed without question, and most importantly, a favored son. At first, Denethor was hesitant about sending either Boromir or Faramir northwards to Imladris. Upon reflection, Denethor saw some wisdom in dispatching Boromir to Rivendell. Denethor may have felt that Boromir was more unquestioningly loyal to him. Perhaps Denethor believed that Boromir would be able to discover if there was a sound basis for the persistent rumor that an “Heir of Isildur” still lived on in the North, and provide him with this useful intelligence.

Denethor possibly liked Faramir less simply because he recognized more of himself in Faramir than he cared to admit. Was there some part of himself that Denethor disliked so much that he transferred this antipathy to Faramir? On another level, Faramir's resemblance to Denethor's beloved Finduilas may have been a constant reminder to Denethor of his own grief of her untimely passing. As a result, did Denethor transfer some of his grief at Finduilas' early death to Faramir, who was, and always would be, the second son? It seems Faramir was constantly in a “no-win” situation with his father.

Despite Denethor's apparent favoritism for Boromir, Gandalf was able to see that Denethor still deeply loved Faramir. As Faramir readies himself to take over the defense of the Causeway Forts, the last person he talks to before leaving is Gandalf, who advises him not to throw his life away in bitterness, having just been rebuked by his father. Gandalf reminds Faramir that “Your father loves you, and will remember it ere the end” (RK-V-4-7). Indeed: when Gandalf returns to Minas Tirith, escorting the wounded men from the Forts, the very first question Denethor asks of Gandalf is about his son: “Is Faramir come?” (RK-V-4-11, note Tolkien’s use of a much older style of English).

The sight of Denethor weeping over his wounded son, perhaps realizing at last that he had wronged Faramir, and that his own folly might have led to his son's likely death, so powerfully affected the silently watching, empathetic Pippin that the hobbit was beset with sorrow and grief at what he saw. Did Denethor recognize, in this cathartic moment, his own folly? How many of us, when it may be too late to fix things that we have done wrong, are overwhelmed by the pain and grief of self-realization, especially when our errors affect those we love? How many of us, when time slows to a crawl, and every breathless second is a world of remorse and regret, wish that things were other than they are, and that we had, still, the wherewithal to change them?

Denethor's Age and Physical Characteristics

Born in 2930, Denethor is approximately 90 years of age at the time of the action in the LOTR. Being one of the "high born" of Gondor, Denethor was of "purer blood" and might anticipate a vigorous life expectancy of well over 100 years (see Appendix 2) before the onset of “old age.” Denethor is a character whose physical appearance seems to change with the scene in which he is taking part. Upon meeting Denethor for the first time, Pippin is struck by his likeness to Aragorn, who is never described as “old” in the LOTR, but more often-than-not is described as a “younger” man. A short time later, in the same scene, Pippin sees a similarity between Gandalf and Denethor.40 Shortly thereafter, Gandalf tells Pippin that he hopes it will be a long time before the hobbit is caught “in a tight corner” between two arguing “old men.” In his conversation with Pippin on the walls facing the Pelennor, Beregond notes that Denethor “is old, worn before his time” (RK-V-1-12). Yet there is a lot of evidence that Denethor is a very spry “old man.” It is Denethor who can dramatically reveal himself fitted out in armor, with a sword at his side, ready to do what he can for the defense of the kingdom he guards for the return of the king. It is Denethor who can stride to the walls of Minas Tirith, and firmly oversee the release of the sortie going to the succor of Faramir and his forces.

Denethor maintains his appearance as a vigorous, forceful man up until the time that Faramir is brought into the Citadel unconscious, and Denethor briefly leaves his side to look into the Palantir of Minas Tirith. Upon his return, Pippin sees Denethor as having lost all shreds of vitality, noting that Denethor's face “was grey, more deathlike than his son's” and “that Denethor grew old before his eyes.” Pippin senses that Denethor's stern mind was overthrown. Perhaps for dramatic effect, Tolkien emphasizes Denethor's rapid change from vigor to weakness by having him walk with a staff for a crutch as he walks beside Faramir's litter to the Rath Dinen.

Yet at the final confrontation with Gandalf in the burial vault of the stewards, Denethor's vitality suddenly returns. He can wrench the door to the vault out of Beregond's hand, and prepare to attack him with his sword, until Gandalf, the wizard once again, causes Denethor's sword to fly from his hand. Denethor can talk to Gandalf in a strong, powerful voice. It is in these final moments that we see a reinvigorated, vital, Denethor, "noble, proud, and terrible." His crutch gone, Denethor can leap upon his funeral pyre, to be wreathed in flame, an old man no more.

Who Was Thorongil?

It is impossible to fully understand Denethor without understanding his interaction with Thorongil, a stranger to Gondor, whose nature and skills soon earned him a place on the Council of Gondor. It is only after reading App. A (LoTR) that we discover that Thorongil was indeed Aragorn, “the nine and thirtieth heir in the right line from Isildur, and yet more like to Elendil than any before him” (Sil). In “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields” (UT) it is noted that Elrond thought Aragorn also resembled Elendur, the oldest son of lsildur, whose upright conduct at the Gladden Fields revealed him to be a true man of Westernesse, and an exemplar of the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty and probity.

It has been earlier noted that after serving King Thengel of Rohan for approximately 11 years, Aragorn, maintaining his disguise, entered the service of Ecthelion II around 2968. Assuming that he was about 37 years of age at the time, still a "youngster" among the Dúnedain of the North, Aragorn impressed everyone with his elvish mien, wisdom, nobility, and his inherited, familial devotion to the “Hige” ideal.

Tolkien takes great care to establish the descent of Aragorn from his distant forebears Eärendil and Elwing, and thus even further back to Lúthien herself. The sons of Eärendil were Elros and Elrond, known as the Peredhil, or Half-elven. In App. A (LoTR) Tolkien states that “In them alone the line of the heroic chieftains of the Edain in the First Age was preserved; and after the fall of Gil-galad the lineage of the High-elven Kings was also in Middle-earth only represented by their descendants." Just as Elrond Halfelven chose the immortality of the elves, and became an Elf, then Elros can likewise be thought of as a Half-elf who chose the mortality of Men by becoming a man, but otherwise maintained his elvish lineage.

As a descendant of Elendil, Elros, Eärendil, and ultimately Lúthien, Aragorn would have been “noble by blood,” “fair in face and mind,” and beardless,41 as well as possessed of a measure of other elvish attributes, such as keen sight, superior physical abilities, wisdom, and empathy.42 When he recounts the ride on the Paths of the Dead, Legolas reminds the reader again of Aragorn's descent from Lúthien, beloved of the Elves. Referring to Aragorn, Legolas says that “nobler is his spirit than the understanding of Sauron,” and that the line of Lúthien shall never fail (RK-V-9-3). As noted earlier, Aragorn’s line is linked to the House of Bëor. Of the three Houses of the first Men in the West, the House of Bëor was most loved by the Noldorin Elves, for they saw themselves in them.

The History of the Lord of the Rings46 reveals that Tolkien was stymied by his introduction of Aragorn, the mysterious Ranger, in the Inn at Bree. It took a while for Tolkien to settle on the role that Aragorn would play in the LOTR, but once established, Tolkien chose to slowly develop Aragorn's character, and gradually reveal his high ancestry and elvish antecedents. Nevertheless, when considering Aragorn vis-à-vis Denethor, we must deal with the “complete” Aragorn we come to know at the end of the entire LotR.

Some of Aragorn's traits have already been given in Chapter One, and additional consideration of Aragorn's growth through the tale will be given in Chapter Six. Descended from the union of some of the greatest of the Elves and the Edain, and enhanced by the gifts of the Valar, Aragorn's stature is greater than that of other Dúnedain, just as much as that of the Dúnedain exceeds the stature of the Men of the Twilight, such as the men of Rohan or Dale.

It should not be forgotten that the only character in the LotR who directly challenges Sauron “face-to-face” is Aragorn, when he looks in the Palantír of Orthanc and wrests its control from Sauron. Even Gandalf was afraid to do so, and admitted he might never be “ready for such a trial” (TT-11-6). That Aragorn can successfully take on Sauron in this fashion is a clear indication of his strength, character, and nobility of purpose.

Finally, consider Aragorn’s elvish lineage, and the descriptions of Aragorn that Tolkien provides in the LotR. Remember that when Frodo awakens in his bed in Imladris, he tells Gandalf that he saw a shining figure in white on the far side of the Bruinen as he challenged the Nazgúl. That figure in a shining light was Glorfindel, without doubt one of the mighty Elves of the First Age. Gandalf informs Frodo that he saw Glorifndel “as he is upon the other side.” (FR-II-1 Now consider what Legolas saw as the Three Hunters were confronted by Éomer near the border of Rohan and Fangorn: a white flame flickering on the brow of Aragorn as he revealed his true identity and ancestry to Éomer. It is certainly rare for a mere mortal man to evince this image, again suggesting that Aragorn, despite his mortality, is far more than a mere mortal. Finally, at his crowning, Tolkien tells us that a light was about Aragorn, reminiscent, perhaps, of Frodo’s vision of Glorfindel on the banks of the Bruinen. Aragorn is clearly the most elf-like of mortals. Furthermore, on his death bed, Aragorn assumed an elf-like appearance: “Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together.” Very similar to the description of Aragorn’s step-father, Elrond: “The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young…Venerable he seemed as a king crowned with many winters, and yet hale as a tried warrior in the fulness of his strength.” (FR-II-1).

The Asymmetry of Any Comparison Between
Denethor and Aragorn

This dynamic results in any comparison between Aragorn and Denethor being asymmetric, and this imbalance goes to the heart of the crisis in Denethor's soul that affects his mood throughout the LOTR. Despite the fact that Tolkien stresses the similarities between Aragorn and Denethor, as, for example, when Pippin first sees Denethor and “was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn” (RK.-V-1-8), Denethor cannot compete on an even field with Aragorn, despite the fact that he too was one of the High Men of the West, and probably shared some of the same lineage as Aragorn, though not “in the right line.” The most telling lines about the tragedy of Denethor appear in App. A (LoTR), where Tolkien compares Denethor with Aragorn, while he was in service to Ecthelion II as Thorongil.

Tolkien writes that “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” (App. A, LoTR). Yet despite the fact that Denethor “was as like to Thorongil as to one of the nearest kin,” he could not garner the respect and the love of the people of Gondor in the same way that Thorongil so easily could. Even though Thorongil “never himself vied with Denethor,” nor ever sought to replace Denethor in the eyes of Ecthelion, Thorongil's natural excellence drew the devoted following of the people of Gondor. He was “ ... a great leader of men, by land or by sea” (App. A, LoTR), and as seen by both Legolas and Eówyn, could command not only the admiration and the respect of his followers, but their love as well. Aragorn's inherent leadership, wisdom, strength, and empathy, only reinforced his heroic standing among the people of Gondor. We should not forget that Legolas notes that Aragorn can hold even the dead to his will, as the Companions travel the Paths of the Dead enroute to Gondor.

Denethor, the heir to the stewardship of Gondor, found himself in the unenviable position of being held second to Aragorn in the love and esteem not only of his landsmen, but in the heart of his own father. No matter his innumerable virtues, carefully articulated by Tolkien, Denethor remained “number two.” The greatest sorrow of Denethor's life is the fact that in Thorongil, Ecthelion II “had the aid and advice of a great captain whom he loved above all.” Furthermore, and most damning, Denethor “was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and the esteem of his father” (App. A, LoTR).

This in a nutshell may be the key to understanding not only Denethor and his weltanschauung, but his differing feelings for his sons Boromir and Faramir. Relegated to the role of being "number two," even in the heart of his father and in the love of his landsmen, it becomes easier to understand both Denethor's great love for Boromir, his first-born son, who would never be "number two" to anyone, and his own deep-seated feelings of inferiority that perhaps led to his hubris. Like Denethor, Faramir was also a "number two:" did Denethor reject the son who was most like him because Faramir reminded him not only of his own strengths, but also his insecurities?

On top of that, like all the stewards before him, the presence of the White Tree of Minas Tirith in the fountain by the Citadel, reminded him daily that a king just might come again. Going back even further, the Kings of Gondor since the days of Meneldil realized that the High Kingship of the West resided in the North, with Elendil, and later his older son Isildur. Denethor no doubt felt the generations-old angst of the Kings and Stewards that they too were "stand-ins," they too were ever-second to the Kings from the Line of Isildur.

IV. Conclusions

After the escape from the Chamber of Mazarbul and the Companions flight from their recent fight with orcs, everyone is amazed to hear the supposedly dead Frodo tell Aragorn to put him down. A short while later, after continued flight, Gandalf remarks to Frodo that “There is more about you than meets the eye…” (FR-II-5-6). Indeed, as is the case with Frodo, there is far more to Denethor than meets the eye. This chapter has attempted to bring together the relevant facts scattered throughout the constituent texts that flesh out Denethor as a man. It seems evident that had Denethor not had to, in his mind, compete with Aragorn, the scion of the house of Elendil, his life might have turned out differently. He says as much himself, when Gandalf asks him what he would have, if he could. Denethor responds to Gandalf’s question by replying that he would have things as they were before the events of the wider world led to the intrusion of Aragorn, a world in which he could pass on the stewardship to his son.43 Gandalf replies that Denethor would not be diminished in honor by faithfully discharging his duty as a steward, and continuing to serve Gondor through fealty to a rightful king. Nevertheless, Denethor's hubris prevents him from seeing this role as a fulfilling work, and in the face of either Sauron's success or Aragorn's ascension to the throne of Gondor, he sees no place for himself.

Denethor elicits our sympathy because he himself is a worthy man. We may deplore the hubris that led to his downfall, but we can recognize that his pride may mask an underlying, and very real, sense of inferiority. We can empathize with Denethor's pain at being "number two" in the eyes of his father and Gondor-at-large. Perhaps only another father could grasp the depth of Denethor's anguish as he watches Faramir's glance stray to Gandalf, as if seeking the Wizard's approval, as the threesome discuss Faramir's mission in Ithilien. Perhaps Denethor felt that Faramir's desire to learn from Gandalf was yet another rejection of his own wisdom, this time by an unappreciative son. Denethor may have thought that his favored first son would have been more loyal to him, but with the insight that only an outsider can achieve, Gandalf told Denethor that if Boromir had somehow returned to Minas Tirith bearing the Ring, he would be loyal to nothing save the Ring itself. It may appear to Denethor that he has already lost Boromir through his death defending Merry and Pippin, and that he has also lost the regard of his younger son, Faramir, who now seeks approval from Gandalf, instead of his father. How deep the mysteries of a family's affections! Despite his stoic exterior, Denethor must have shared the pain of King Lear, when the latter declared "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!",44 even though Faramir was in no way thankless towards his father.

No family in the LotR is as carefully dissected, character-by-character, as that of Denethor's. Yet by giving us glimpses of Denethor as a husband, a father, and a leader of the beleaguered West, Tolkien is emphasizing Denethor's humanity. We can relate to Denethor as a man, and understand him.

Tolkien perhaps chooses to frame Denethor's life in terms of duty, and his dedication to the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty. As long as Denethor adheres to the categorical imperatives of duty, loyalty, and service to Gondor, he functions at a high level as a revered, capable lord45. It is only at the end, buffeted by what seems to him to be a cruel and unyielding fate, that Denethor fails to live up to the “Hige" idea and falls to both his own inclinations and to despair. His life-long sense of duty overthrown by what n to a petulant, self-centered decision to end he believes to be the ultimate catastrophe -- giving up the rule of Gondor to either Sauron or Aragorn -- Denethor gives ihis own life, and tries to take that of his remaining son as well. Ironically, Denethor tells Gandalf and Pippin that despite Sauron's overwhelming force, men should retain the "hardihood to die free" yet at the end, he dies enslaved to his vanity, bordering on madness.

Denethor's fall from the high standard of the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty ends in his death by fire. Tolkien was familiar with the northern European ritual of cremation. Having Denethor commit suicide through self-immolation serves to connect him with this old custom and the ethos of those who practiced it. Shakespeare, like Tolkien, weaves the concept of duty and loyalty not only into the character of Macbeth, but also into many of his other tragic heroes, including Hamlet, Othello, and Brutus. Both Denethor and Macbeth share the tragedy of overstepping their fate, and trying to control their destiny, whether from pride, or fear, or some other combination of their human needs and desires. Their lives may give us pause to consider our own life-purposes, and our impact on others as a consequence of our acts. The Teshoo Lama in Rudyard Kipling's Kim tells Kim that "Thou hast loosed an Act upon the world, and as a stone thrown into a pool so spread the consequences thou canst not tell how far." Like Denethor, our acts "loosed... upon the world" will have consequences greater than those we imagine.

One wonders which way Denethor was facing in those final moments, as he bowed before he leaped upon his pyre. Was he looking to the East, the home of Sauron's evil, or was he bowing to the West, to the undying lands and virtue of the Valar? Tolkien leaves the choice to us.



1Saruman was one of the five Istari, or Wizards, sent by the Valar to Middle-earth to encourage and strengthen Elves, Men, and other Free peoples in their fight against the evil represented by Sauron, the Dark Lord, in the Third Age. Other than a brief note in the Unfinished Tales, we never come to know Saruman before his fall, so readers can be excused for feeling less sympathy for him than a character like Denethor.

2We can learn something of Denethor's education as a child from the statement that Faramir makes to Frodo and Sam in the outpost of Henneth Annûn. He relates that as children both he and his brother Boromir "together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city" (TT-IV-5-4).

3The terse entry in "The Tale of Years" (App. B, LoTR) is problematic. We know from an earlier entry in App. B that in 2851 Saruman began to search the Gladden Fields, most likely using men in his service. It is unlikely that he would have entrusted such a task to his orcs because, as Aragorn points out to Legolas and Gimli on the borders of Fangorn, orcs "are not trusty servants" (TT-111-5-2). Saruman's agents likely became aware of Sauron's efforts and reported them to their Master. It is also possible that Saruman learned of Sauron's search through the observations of birds lent to him for just such a purpose by Radagast the Brown, perhaps as early as sometime after the White Council meeting of 2851 (Sil). Unaware of any duplicity on the part of Saruman, the "honest Radagast" (FR-11-2-14) thought Saruman was monitoring the movements of Sauron as part of the overall defense of the West (Sil). Further discussion of this matter can be found in Chapter 3, Section III. The intriguing question is how Sauron learned of Isildur's end. It is not likely that he or his agents (even if he somehow managed to induce a Gondorian to work for him) read the scroll of Isildur buried in the vaults of Minas Tirith. Faramir tells Frodo "It is not said that evil arts were ever practiced in Gondor, or that the Nameless One was ever named in honour there...." (TT-IV-5-10). This leaves another possibility: somehow orcs of the Misty Mountains who survived "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields" (UT) passed on an account of that battle to someone capable of recording it. Further elucidation is necessary.

4Assuming that "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" in App. A represents some of Tolkien's later thoughts about Aragorn (notwithstanding the development of the LotR presented in "The History of Middle-earth" edited by Christopher Tolkien) an intriguing possibility is that Bilbo Baggins met Aragorn (Estel) as a boy when Bilbo stopped at Imladris on his way both to and from Erebor. The Hobbit states that the Dwarves and Bilbo "stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave" (p.51, Hobbit) as they were travelling to Erebor. On his return to the Shire, Bilbo spent another week in Rivendell, arriving on 1 May (Hob). Given the immortality of the Elves, it would seem that at any one time there would be few Elf children around; it seems unlikely that a ten-year -old boy, whom Elrond loved as a son of his own, would remain invisible for the duration of Bilbo's stays. There are only a very few oblique references as to elvish child-rearing in the constituent texts, but given the elvish inclination towards empathy and compassion, it would seem likely that in the relatively few years of childhood, elf children would eat with their parents, and spend considerable time in their company. If Bilbo did indeed meet Aragorn as a child, it might help explain his fondness and support of Aragorn as developed in the LOTR.

5After the Battle of the Five Armies (2841), the Dwarves reestablished their Kingdom under the Mountain in Erebor under Dain II Ironfoot. Bilbo Baggins returned to the Shire in 2942, and Bard became King of Dale and rebuilt his kingdom. King Thranduil continued to rule the Elves of northern Mirkwood. The Dwarves and Men of Dale developed a strong friendship and economic trading zone that enhanced both kingdoms. Legolas, one of the Nine Companions of the LOTR, was the son of King Thranduil. Further discussion of these kingdoms and their geopolitical impact is contained in Chapter Four.

6This is not exactly true. In 1432, King Eldacar of Gondor escaped from Osgiliath during the Kin-strife, driven out by hunger and flames set by Castamir, the leader of the rebellion. App. B (LotR) states that Castamir was "cruel and ungenerous," and that he "destroyed Osgiliath." Furthermore, during the reign of King Tarondor (1636-1798) Osgiliath began "to fall into ruin." No doubt further destruction occurred once East Osgiliath was taken by the Enemy. Further details are given in Chapter Four.

7Coincidentally, 2983 may have been the birth year of Samwise Gamgee, son of Hamfast, who served as servant and companion to Frodo Baggins (born 2968) in the LOTR (App. B). Additional evidence (App. C, LoTR) and the text suggest Sam's birth year was actually 2980. See Appendix 2.

8There is some question as to when the watch on the Shire began. Based upon comments made by Aragorn at the Council of Elrond (FR-11-2) and Halbarad, his kinsman (RK-V-2), it is possible to conclude that the Dúnedain have been “guarding” not only the Shire, but Bree, and other parts of the North-kingdom, since the death of Arvedui, Last King at Fornost. This is clearly stated in the Prologue to the LOTR where it is noted that the Hobbits “were, in fact, sheltered but they had ceased to remember it.” This is reiterated by Tom Bombadil, when he tells the hobbits about the wandering "sons of forgotten kings" who still guard the North (FR-1-8-9). It is also likely that a special watch on the Shire was instituted after 2941, when Gandalf began to first suspect that Bilbo's ring was one of the Great Rings. The Silmarillion states directly that the One Ring was found by one of the Periannath, the Halflings, and brought back to the Shire in the very same year as the assault on Dol-Guldur (2941). Through a combination of luck and "vigilance," Gandalf learned of the Ring before either Sauron or Saruman did. Not sure of what Bilbo had found, and also worried about what might happen if his fears proved true, Gandalf asked the Dúnedain of the North "to set a watch upon the land of the Periannath"(Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, Sil).

9Following the crowning of King Elessar, the Companions lived together in a house in Minas Tirith. It is related in the UT that when asked, Gandalf offered this statement to Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Gimli. The whereabouts of Legolas and Sam are unknown, unless they were present also but not mentioned in the text.

10There is some question about when Boromir exactly arrives at Imladris. As noted, App.B (LoTR) clearly states that on the 24th, "Boromir arrives in Rivendell at night." Yet Elrond tells Gandalf and Frodo that "He arrived in the grey morning" which would be on the 25th. A possible explanation is that Boromir did arrive in Rivendell at night on the 24th but did not meet Elrond until early on the morning of the 25th.

The fact that Elrond feels that he needs to introduce Boromir to Gandalf raises some interesting questions. It seems likely that Elrond should have been aware that Gandalf had been to Gondor not once, but several times in the last few years, as verified by Faramir, when he tells Frodo that he has seen Gandalf as a child and then "twice or thrice" more (TT-IV-5-3). Gandalf arrived in Rivendell on 18 October (7 days before the Council) and no doubt both he and Elrond met many times to consider the fate of the Ring, and the plan for the conduct of what then appeared to be a likely Council meeting, given the propitious arrival of so many important guests in Imladris. No doubt Gandalf would have likely met Boromir when he was still a child, and, as indicated by Faramir, twice or thrice thereafter, unless Boromir's disdain of "lore" caused him to avoid Gandalf. It may also be that Boromir shared his father's antipathy towards the Grey Pilgrim, although on the journey of the company, Boromir evinced no hostility towards Gandalf, and treated him with respect. Perhaps Elrond forgot Gandalfs numerous visits to Minas Tirith, or thought that Gandalf might not have recognized Boromir since seeing him as a child, but this also seems unlikely since Elrond probably knew that Gandalf had last been in Minas Tirith as recently as 3017 (App. B) when Boromir was 39 years old. It is possible that Gandalf did not see Boromir on his last trip to Gondor: Boromir may have been away from the city, on duty with the Gondorian troops near Osgiliath. The text in the LOTR states '"Here,' said Elrond, turning to Gandalf, 'is Boromir...."' (FR-11-2-2). It may be that Elrond was in fact only introducing Boromir to Frodo, who was seated nearby - it is likely Gandalf may have still been standing.

12The rest of the quote by Faramir includes the line "Strange chances, but murder will out, 'tis said" (TT-IV-5-3). Not only was Tolkien a Scholar of Old English, but he was clearly well acquainted with Chaucer, where the same line appears in "The Nun's Priest's Tale" of the Canterbury Tales: "Mordre wol out, that se we day by day" (line 232).

13Based upon the chronology given in App. B and in the narrative, it appears likely that the shards of Boromir's horn were found on 30 February, since their discovery apparently occurred after Faramir saw Boromir's funeral boat, but before he left Minas Tirith on 1 March to resume the command of the Rangers of Ithilien in their attack on a column of Southrons heading north to the Black Gate of Mordor. As of this date Faramir knew that "now the horn of the elder son lies in two pieces upon the lap ofDenethor...." (TT-IV-5-3), unless he was informed of this by a messenger.

14Compare this to the passage of Gildor and his Elves through the Shire's Woody End (FR-1-3-9) early in the LOTR, or the journey of the departing Elves - with Gildor - through the same land at the very end of the tale, as they fare westwards towards the Grey Havens (RK-VI-9- 9). The Elves passage is hidden to the sight of most mortals, and when they are gone, the shimmer of their passing disappears like a dream.

Cesar Franck (1822-1890) was the master of the musical idiom of cyclicity. Though born in Belgium of a German mother and a Walloon father, Franck spent his musical career centered on Paris, and he was the quintessential French composer of the Late Romantic Era. Franck's major compositions often feature a cyclic return to earlier themes, particularly at the end of the work. Although not a literary innovator in this regard, Tolkien reveals a cyclic structure in the LOTR on both the large and small scale. Tolkien gives us a recurring theme of the Elves wandering through Middle-earth, and the Shire in particular, touched upon near the beginning of the story and once again at the end. This cyclic repetition resonates strongly with Franck's Symphony in D, and its transcendent finale, where the first and second themes of the work are triumphantly woven together with third theme. Unlike most symphonic works of the 19th and 20th centuries, Franck's Symphony is in three movements, as Tolkien's LOTR appears in three volumes. It would be nice to know if Tolkien too liked Franck's works.

15The somewhat confusing phrase "the third night since...." (RK-V-1-1) gains some additional credibility as being the early evening of the 8th of March when one looks at Gandalf’s statement "See, there is the fire on Amon Dîn, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan." The wording suggests that Amon Dîn and Eilenach are ahead of Pippin and Gandalf while Nardol and the rest of the War-beacons are behind them to the west. This would place Shadowfax near the northwest corner of the Drúadan Forest when they encounter Denethor's messengers - some 60-70 miles from Minas Tirith. Whereas Gandalf, Pippin, and Shadowfax rested during the daytime on their three-day journey from Edoras, Hirgon and his companions probably rode straight through, using "fresh horses from the posts, as is their wont" (RK-V-5-3) arriving at Dunharrow sometime before midnight on 9 March. The speed with which Denethor's messengers covered the distance between Minas Tirith and Edoras is incredible, and is confirmed by their return trip to Gondor. They left Edoras after the Muster of Rohan on 10 March, sometime during the late morning. Following King Théoden's final meeting with Ghân-buri-ghân early in the evening on 14 March, in the Grey Wood, Elfhelm tells the king that Hirgon's body had been found. Elfhelm surmises that Hirgon reached the out-wall of the Pelennor "two nights ago" and found it held by the forces of Sauron. That would make Hirgon's arrival at the out-wall sometime late on 12 March, indicating that he made the trip back from Edoras to Minas Tirith in about 2 days.

16Compare Pippin's view of the City of Gondor, the Guarded City, "last memory of Westemesse" (RK-VI-4-11), with Tuor's first view of Gondolin, the guarded city of Turgon, son of Fingolfin, and High King of the Noldor (Sil, UT). In this first comparison between Gondor and Gondolin, Tolkien gives the reader another cyclic repetition of a theme, but in this case spread over three ages of Middle-earth. Second, note that the White Tower of Ecthelion, an arresting feature of Gondor's skyline, was built in 2698, by Ecthelion I, Steward of Gondor (ruled 2685-2698). Ecthelion I may have been named after Ecthelion of the Fountain, the Elf­ warden of the seventh gate of Gondolin (as was Ecthelion II, father of Denethor). Third, the access to Gondolin, "the mighty ravine of Orfalch Echor" (Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin, Sil) was guarded by seven gates, just like Minas Tirith. Tolkien provides an extensive description of the seven gates of Gondolin in the Unfinished Tales.

As Gandalf and Pippin are allowed through the out-wall of the Pelennor, Ingold tells Gandalf " ... you know the passwords of the Seven Gates and are free to go forward" (RK-V-1- 2). Passwords were also needed for the Gates of Gondolin. As he does for Gondolin, Tolkien provides a thorough description of Minas Tirith and its construction around an "out-thrust knee" of Mount Mindolluin, and how each of the seven levels of the city are guarded by a wall with a gate facing in a different direction from the gate below. There are many strong similarities between Gondolin and the "City of Gondor," Minas Tirith, even though the latter itself is named after the Minas Tirith (Tower of Watch) "built by Finrod Felagund on Tol Sirion" (Index, Sil).

17Coming on the heels of his earlier comparison of Gondor and Gondolin (note 16), Tolkien adds yet another link between both cities: Beregond tells Pippin of "the secret ways of escape" into the mountains west of Gondor. Similarly, amidst the peace of Gondolin, the heart of ldril Celebrindal, daughter of Turgon and wife of Tuor, "misgave her, and foreboding crept upon her spirit as a cloud. Therefore in that time she let prepare a secret way, that should lead down from the city " (Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin, Sil).

18Again, Tolkien brings his mastery of the English language to bear in creating a mood in the LOTR. In his use of the word "brand" Tolkien is not using one of the modem senses of the word, that of a burning branch, or stick, but one which is noted in the dictionary as being an "archaic" meaning of the word: a "brand" can mean "sword." Chapter Six provides additional notes on this subject.

19After King Arvedui, the last King of Arnor, was routed in battle by the Witch-king of Angmar (1974), help from Gondor finally arrived at the Grey Havens. King Eärnil sent his son Eärnur with a great fleet (but nevertheless still "a small sending force of the whole might of Gondor") of troops and cavalry. Joining forces with the Elves of Lindon and the remnant of the Dúnedain of Arnor, all led by Cirdan the Shipwright, they advanced towards the Hills of Evendim. In a battle "on the plain between Nenuial and the North Downs" the forces of Angmar were utterly defeated (1975). Gathering his surviving troops, the Witch-king tried to escape back to his stronghold of Carn Dûm when he was caught in a pincers movement between the cavalry of Gondor led by Eärnur and an army under Glorfindel arriving from Imladris. Near the end of this battle, with his forces destroyed such "that not a man nor an ore of that realm remained west of the Mountains," the Witch-king himself appeared, and singling out Eärnur, rode upon him in "the fullness of his hatred." While Eärnur would have withstood his onslaught, his horse would not abide the coming of this specter of death and evil, and swerved aside. As the Witch-king taunted Eärnur, and laughed at his cowardice, Glorfindel came riding up and the King of Angmar turned and fled, still laughing. Eärnur finally mastered his horse, and was returning to face the Witch-king, but Glorfindel advised him not to pursue the Lord of the Nazgûl, saying "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall" (App. A, LoTR). In fact, the Lord of the Nazgûl does return to the North, when he and the other Ringwraiths pursue Frodo in the Shire and along the East-West road as they try to reach Rivendell. Additional details are provided in Chapter Three.

20Sam is described, at different times, as being a "bloody-handed" Elf, a tark (a man of Gondor, App. F), and a "great fighter" (RK-VI-1-7).

21Pippin names what appears to be his own first son Faramir I in honor of Faramir, the Prince of Ithilien.

22There may be some basis in fact for Denethor's feelings about Isildur, that reflect his upbringing among the Dúnedain of Gondor. The constituent texts suggest that Elendil was the only son of Amandil and that Isildur was Elendil's oldest son (he is named first), followed by Anarion. In the latter days of Númenor, the youthful Amandil was a close friend of Pharazon even though Amandil was an Elf-friend. For this reason, Sauron hated Amandil, and during Sauron's ascendancy, Amandil was dismissed. As the influence of Sauron waxed at the court of the King, Amandil's numerous adversaries dared not seize him as a rebel, because he was “still held in honor by many of the people.” When Amandil heard the Sauron was encouraging Ar-Pharazon to destroy the White Tree of Númenor, he was deeply saddened, recognizing that Sauron would have his way. Amandil then spoke with his son and grandsons, reminding them of "the tale of the Trees of Valinor," the telling of which inspired Isildur to go to Armenlos in disguise to try to get a seed from Nimloth, guarded as it was prior to its destruction. Fighting his way out of the city, Isildur barely made it back to Rómena where he handed the seed to his grandfather. Exhausted and hurt, Isildur fell into a swoon. Amandil planted the seed, but Isilidur came close to death, and did not recover until a shoot from the seed leafed out in the Spring (Akallabêth, Sil). Isildur's nobility and loyalty to the values of devotion to the Valar and friendship with the Elves was possibly inherent in his nature, given his direct descent from Elros. Yet this same man erred in keeping the Ring for himself upon the death of Sauron at the end of the Second Age - a decision growing out of hubris that led to his death and that of his oldest three sons. Tolkien tells the reader that Meneldil, the son of Anarion (who died during the siege of the Barad-dûr) was only too glad to have Isildur leave the North to assume the High Kingship in Amor (UT), but was this due to a recognition of Isildur's "weakness" or jealousy on the part of Anarion's offspring? Meneldil's envy as the son of Isildur's younger brother may have reflected his father's possible "sibling jealousy" of his more renowned older brother.

Denethor’s disparaging remark about Isildur is off the mark. Elendil took the High Kingship of the united realms of Arnor and Gondor, while Isildur and Anárion established the Kingdom of Gondor in the South. Thus, Isildur was a joint founder of Gondor.

23Tolkien uses the spelling "Beorhtnoth," however other sources (see the Encyclopaedia Britannica) spell it as "Bÿrhtnoth." Philology is far from an "exact" science, and Chapter Eight will look into a few examples of this fascinating study.

24"Hope is the walking-stick from the cradle to the grave."

25Tolkien talks about the future fates of Elves and Men in The Silmarillion. No doubt his views of their final fate evolved over time. It appears clear that Eru did not reveal all of his thought concerning Arda to the Valar, and so they had no knowledge of their future "post Arda" existence. " ... the Eldar wondered much at the strange fate of Men, for in all their lore there was no account of it, and its end was hidden from them" (Sil).

26Some might justifiably argue that the "greatest woman of the First-born" should be Lúthien. In defense of my choice of Galadriel, however, it should be noted that Lúthien was the daughter of Melian, a Maia, one of the people of the Valar themselves, who existed before the arrival of the Elves. Lúthien is thus “half-Maia.” Also, Galadriel, in addition to her grace and beauty, was a powerful leader (UT) in the fight against evil.

27The Unfinished Tales relates how three times Fëanor asked Galadriel for some strands of her hair, whose beauty rivaled that of the Silmarilli. Galadriel refused him, and they "remained unfriends forever." Only a reader familiar with this would recognize the immensity of Gimli's request, and appreciate even more Galadriel's good will in granting it. Reading through the LoTR for the first time, one may be excused for not reacting to this scene. It assumes much greater power after one has read the Unfinished Tales, and realizes what Gimli is asking.

28A full accounting of many of the chieftains of the Edain who died in defense of the Elves is given in "Of the Ruin of Beleriand;” “Beren and Luthien," and "The Firth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad" in The Silmarillion. Mention is made of Bregolas (died beside Angrod and Aegnor); Barahir, the father of Beren (Barahir defended the retreat of King Finrod Felagund and was later hunted down by Morgoth); Beren himself (who took in his chest the spear aimed at Lúthien and later thrust himself in front of King Thingol to protect the latter from the springing Carcharoth, the hell-hound of Morgoth).

29Faramir's sentiment reiterates a statement in The Silmarillion. As Fingolfin, Feanor's younger half-brother and High King of the Noldor, considered an offensive battle against Morgoth, he (as well as the rest of the Noldor) did not understand that their battle with evil was “without final hope,” a lesson the Elves clearly learned by the Third Age.

30Using an older sense of the word, Imrahil further notes that Denethor's mood “has been strange” since the wounded Faramir was brought back to Minas Tirith. Perhaps this strange “mood” included Denethor revealing a more prideful side of his nature.

31Foster (1971, 1979) remarks that “many of the Dúnedain become decadent and over­proud,” so Denethor was not alone among his people in this regard.

32How would Denethor know this, without having a vast store of lore at his call? Furthermore, does Pippin's ownership of such a sword trigger in Denethor's mind the idea that Pippin might in some way be connected to the Dúnedain of Arnor?

33Contrast this with the statement in App. A (LoTR), describing Denethor's use of the palantír, that Denethor dared to use it. "None of the stewards had dared to do this, not even the kings Eärnil and Eärnur, after the fall of Minas Ithil when the palantír that had belonged to Isildur fell into the hands of the Enemy...." Here the sense is reversed; whereas it is not unreasonable to expect that the steward would refrain from using the palantir, it is highly unlikely to assume that the Kings Eärnil and Eärnur would not use it either. Faramir himself suggests to Frodo that the stewards were wiser in encouraging marriage between the people of Gondor and some of the “Men of the Twilight” who were untouched by the angst of the elvish weltanschauung. Tolkien again uses the archaic sense of “even” when Gandalf tells Pippin “Even in the heart of our stronghold the Enemy has power to strike us” (RK-V-7-1). Furthermore, in some of his last writings about Middle Earth, Tolkien notes in “The Palantíri” (UT), that “The Steward was strengthened, even against Sauron himself, by the fact that the stones were far more amenable to legitimate users.” Tolkien notes also that Sauron failed to dominate Denethor, as noted earlier, and that Sauron had no servants “whose mental powers were superior to Saruman’s or even Denethor’s.”

34This point is emphasized by Tolkien pointing out that Denethor listened to counsel, then made up his own mind (App. A, LoTR).

35It is reiterated in the LOTR that Minas Tirith will bear the brunt of Sauron's attack. Gandalf too knows this, telling Aragorn that “mostly he looks towards Minas Tirith. Very soon his strength will fall upon it like a storm” (TT-111-5-10).

36The Silmarillion notes that Sauron assaulted Finrod Felagund's Minas Tirith with “a dark cloud of fear” that dismayed its defenders. If even the Elves can be unmanned by Sauron's dark cloud, it is not surprising that the same cloud should be a cause of fear among the Men defending Minas Tirith of Gondor. As discussed in Chapter 4, the Men of Minas Tirith were still capable of defending their city after several days of suffering Sauron's dark. Many of Denethor's troops still continued fighting on the outer walls of Minas Tirith even after their retreat was cut off by fire.

37Sauron himself was apparently limited in his ability to personally lead his forces after Isildur cut the Ring from his finger. The on-the-ground commander of the forces of Mordor was the Lord of the Nazgûl, the former Witch-king of Angmar, ever a foe to the Dúnedain, his own people of old.

38Kant makes the important point that humans can only act autonomously when they are free of hypothetical imperatives based on conditional circumstances. Kant uses the word “categorical” in terms of its meaning “unconditional,” that is to say not subject to the constraints of circumstances. Kant considers “duty” to be a categorical imperative, in accordance with the Germanic Ethos of Loyalty. Found within the pages of a German grammar book (Strutz, 2008) is this brief discussion of Kant's thoughts on “duty” and “inclination”:

,,Kant lehrte, die Neigung müsse sich der Pflicht beugen. Er muss wohl an den alten Spruch gedacht haben: ,Dein Müssen und dein Mögen, sie stehen dir oft entgegen. Du tust, am besten nicht was du magst, sondern was du musst.'"
(“Kant taught that inclination must yield to duty. He must indeed have been thinking about the old saying: ‘Your duty and your inclinations (likes) often stand opposed for you. You do best when you do not what you like, but what you must.’”)

39The Sea of Rhûn.

40If Denethor is first compared to Aragorn and then to Gandalf, it is not hard to grasp how Pippin can later compare Aragorn to Gandalf in the Houses of Healing. Pippin asks Merry if he can think of anyone like Aragorn, who can compare to him in terms of wisdom, strength, and character. Pippin concludes his statement by telling Merry that he believes Aragorn and Gandalf “must be related,” thus completing the triangle of similarity between these three critical characters.

41In the Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien comments that in a note written by his father in December, 1972, J.R.R. Tolkien discusses that "the Elvish strain in Men" may be seen "in the beardlessness of those who were so descended." C. Tolkien states that Elves were characteristically beardless, and that this remark written down by his father was among his last writings "on the subject of Middle-earth."

42Aragorn must have been a very handsome man. The fact that on first introducing Aragom in the Inn at Bree Tolkien chose to mask his appearance under a weather-worn, grim face, may represent a device to add to the suspense of slowly revealing Aragorn for who he really is. The following material provides only some of the evidence for supposing that Aragorn's elvish lineage gave him an uncommonly fair face.

When we first encounter Aragorn, Frodo notes that his hair is "flecked" with grey" (FR­ I-9-3). The use of the word "flecked" is interesting in itself: the etymology of the word suggests its first appearance in Middle English around 1350-1400 C.E., and that it is akin to Old Norse flekkr, meaning a "spot," or a "streak." It is closely related to the Old High German word ,,flee" and modern German ,,Fleck," and these associations suggest it had an Old English equivalent. The fact that Aragom's dark hair is only "flecked" with gray suggests his age to be somewhere in his forties or early fifties, certainly not the 88 year old man that he is when Frodo meets him in Bree. Furthermore, when the Company first enters Lórien after the passage through Khazad-dûm, Frodo finds Aragorn standing at the foot of Cerin Amroth, and Frodo saw how " ... he seemed to be clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see: (FR-11-6-14). As the LOTR progresses, most references to Aragorn's hair drop any hit of "gray."

Four decades before Frodo sees him at the base of Cerin Amroth, Aragom had passed through Lórien on his way from Gondor back to the North, to visit his mother, and to rest before undertaking his travels to Rhûn and Khand. When he first arrived in Lórien, Aragom did not know that Arwen was also there, but Galadriel (in her role as match-maker) "clothed him in silver and white, with a cloak of elven-grey, and a bright gem on his brow. Then more than any kind of Men he appeared, and seemed rather an Elf-lord from the Isles of the West" (App. A, LoTR). If this is what he looked like right after leaving the service of Ecthelion, one can only imagine what Aragom looked like during his stay in Gondor.

Even in death, Aragom showed the "youthfulness" and ever-lasting vitality of the line of Luthien, and the Edain and Elves of old. (See Chapter Seven, this text.)

43'This is perhaps why Shippey (2000) characterizes Denethor as an "arch-conservative" compared to Saruman, a radical, who wanted to change the world order by moving into a rapid industrialization.

44Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 4.

45As clearly seen by the devotion of the men under his command, evidenced by Beregond’s comments and those of his son, Bergil, for example.

46Tolkien, J. R. R. (1988), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-49863-7