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Old 10-10-2004, 11:40 AM   #1
Kransha
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The Importance of Being Denethor

I, in my infinite wisdom…or, rather, minute wisdom, have been pondering something. Lately, in the wake of the release, DVD release, and impending Extended Edition DVD release of The Return of the King, Peter Jackson’s epic vision of Tolkien’s world, one aspect of the film, and the books as well, has been hotly debated. That aspect is, in fact, a character, who many believe Peter Jackson wronged with his portrayal, and I am inclined to agree, but for somewhat different reasons. That character is one of my many favorites, but not because I relate to him, but because his motives and, as of recently, sanity are such enigmatic and interesting subject. The character I refer to is none other than everyone’s favorite pyromaniac Steward of Gondor, Denethor II.

Even before the movies came out, Denethor has been a character caught between good and evil, in the spectrum of Tolkien readers. As far as I know, Tolkien does not discuss Denethor much outside of The Return of the King and appendices, except in one instance, which I will cite soon enough. Many avid book-readers are of the opinion that Denethor was good, and Sauron’s voice through the palantír corrupted and tainted him, driving him to a perturbed, evil state. Some say he was bad to begin with, and that the palantír only finished the job in a succinct fashion. Today, without the presence of the palantír in Jackson’s third film, cinema-goers argue that Denethor was inherently bad, though they are more often boxed in by canonical proof otherwise. Either way, Denethor is a touchy character, playing a very complex political game that is often ignored. So, in the long run, what was he? Insane? Evil? Nepotistic? Righteous? Corrupted? Fallen? What?

First, let us look at a prominent description of Denethor from the appendices:

Quote:
'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. Indeed he was as like to Thorongil as to one of nearest kin, and yet was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and the esteem of his father.
-Appendix A, The Return of the King

…Generic, but concise and to the point. Physically, Denethor is not exactly a stereotypical evil-doer. Several other references refer to Denethor as good-looking, noble, and with royal features. The first time we all see Denethor, it is Peregrin Took who looks upon the Steward, and his comparison is noteworthy: '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' (The Return of the King, Minas Tirith). In The Peoples of Middle-Earth, Denethor is also likened to one of Númenórean descent: ‘He was very tall and in appearance looked like an ancient Númenórean’ (The History of Middle-Earth, The Peoples of Middle-Earth, The Heirs of Elendil: Denethor II). And lastly, back in Minas Tirith, Denethor is also compared to another prominent figure: ‘Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful; and older’ (The Return of the King, Minas Tirith).

Denethor, as far as Tolkien is concerned, looks more like everyone else than everyone else, technically; as wizardly as Gandalf, as kingly as Aragorn, and as Númenórean as Númenóreans. Physically, he bears a lot of noticeably fair traits. It’s not common to look like an Istari, or bear the regal heir of one of Elendil’s Line, when one is not of that line. Denethor is no stereotypical usurper, or caricature of a villain. He has the looks and gait to be a Steward, or even a King. But, artistic and cinematic depictions often portray him as evil-looking, scowling, hunched over and suspicious, which is an image that would probably be more apt for Grima Wormtongue. Why is he seen this way? Well, as I have heard and been told by the active Anti-Denethors, there are a number of good reasons why Denethor is thought of, and seen as, evil. But, each one of them is a lot deeper than they seem…

Filial Favoritism (For the Love of Faramir)

Now then, lots of people like Faramir, I included. I could argue why he’s not the best character, but I’d be getting off of my own topic. Point is: many people are most aggravated at Denethor because of his seeming hatred of his son, Faramir, his favoritism, and his misconstrued attempt to ‘kill’ Faramir. Since this is the Books Forum, I won’t rant about how the popular theory that Denethor was trying to get Faramir out of the picture is utterly ridiculous. Instead, I’ll point out, as well as I can, why the equally popular theory that Denethor didn’t love Faramir is at least partially inaccurate. The following dialogue, from The Return of the King, was included, with little editing, in the movies. It doesn’t shed a very good light on Denethor…

Quote:
'Do you wish then,' said Faramir, 'that our places had been exchanged?'
'Yes, I wish that indeed,' said Denethor. 'For Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard's pupil. He would have remembered his father's need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift.'
-Return of the King, The Siege of Gondor

But, though that passage is strictly canon, Tolkien wasn’t done with it, so to speak. Or, at least, that canon wasn’t always canon. In The History of Middle-Earth, lies a relevant excerpt containing the original or semi-original draft of the same sequence an exchange, except, this one is very different.

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

Now, as said, this is not canon, but it was. There is no reason given, that I can see, as to why this was replaced, but one can ponder a guess. At the time of the exchange, Denethor was still suffering from the affliction of the palantír, and was, as will be debated later, mad. If the above exchange had been kept, the image of a maddened, marred Denethor might have been lost. Whether or not Denethor was a good man, who loved his son, his motives had to remain mysterious, and he had to seem reclusive and nepotistic to keep his newfound persona going. But, Tolkien did not abandon that canon. In The Return of the King, he still presents the fact that Denethor loves Faramir as his son. The most prominent and crucial instance of this remained in the movies. As Faramir leaves Minas Tirith, possibly to court his doom, Gandalf gives him final reassurance: 'Gandalf it was that last spoke to Faramir ere he rode east. 'Do not throw your live away rashly or in bitterness,' he said. 'You will be needed here, for other things than war. Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end. Farewell!'' (The Return of the King, The Siege of Gondor). Later on, we are reminded of Denethor’s love again, when he says “'Do not take my son from me! He calls for me!”

So, based on these findings, and proof, canon and non-canon, was Denethor a bad father? A father who withheld his love from Faramir for his entire life, and wanted to do him in? Not in my book. But, his ‘hatred’ of Faramir is not the only reason for anti-Denethorism. His ‘hatred’ of Aragorn seems relevant as well…

Rowdy Rivalry (Grudge Match: Denethor v. Aragorn/Thorongil)

Denethor, from his first meeting with Aragorn, who was, at the time, masquerading as Thorongil, is thought to have supremely disliked and loathed the Dunadan. Well, Denethor never exactly hated Aragorn/Thorongil; there was considerable rivalry, which is natural, as they were of the same age, ranked the same, and Denethor’s father, Steward Ecthelion II, showed some deference to Thorongil in matters of counsel and war. Surely it would irk anyone if his father listened to another over him! Denethor was no fool, and even in the Appendices, Tolkien says that it was widely believed that Denethor had found the truth behind the mysterious 'Thorongil', and believed that he and Mithrandir designed to supplant him. This is touched on cinematically, but PJ had to cut a lot of politics, so the first conversation between Denethor and Gandalf ended with Denethor looking as if he was trying to horde the throne. In RotK, just before Denethor’s grandiose kicking of the bucket via self-immolation, Denethor says:

Quote:
'But I say to thee, Gandalf Mithrandir, I will not be thy tool! I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.'
-The Return of the King, The Pyre of Denethor

Now, the issue is no longer hatred of Aragorn, but the actual political implications. Who had the right to throne of Gondor? Denethor, and the Stewards, or Aragorn, and the Line of Isildur. Which brings us to:

Peculiar Politics (It’s Good to be the King)

The statement I’m about to make is a bit rash, but I’ll defend it as much as I can. I think that, despite the fact that Aragorn would have been a better ruler than Denethor, Denethor and the House of Stewards were the ones who rightfully controlled the kingship of Gondor, though primarily for a big fat loophole in Gondorian politics.

The whole situation can be traced back to the first instance in Gondorian history when there was no one on the throne, but first, we go even farther back, to the Second Age of the Sun. Gondor was founded south and east of the Misty Mountains, and survived even after it lost its king. Arnor was Elendil's kingdom, and Gondor was ruled jointly by his sons before the Last Alliance. When Elendil and Anárion were killed by Sauron, Isildur became king of Arnor and relinquished Arnor to his brother's son, Meneldil. After over a thousand years of peace, both kingdoms started running into trouble with various enemy forces, and came under attacks from their neighbors. But, the really important fact, at first, is that Isildur gave full control of Gondor to Meneldil. Of course, he expected to return from his journey north, instead of get ambushed and lose his precious Ring. Here is the first loophole. Isildur’s Line controlled Arnor, Anárion’s controlled Gondor.

The second loophole came when Gondor became leaderless…

Quote:
On the death of Ondoher [King of Gondor at the time, slain by Wainriders] and his sons, Arvedui of the North-kingdom claimed the crown of Gondor, as the direct descendant of Isildur, and as the husband of Fíriel, only surviving child of Ondoher. The claim was rejected. In this Pelendur, the Steward of King Ondoher, played the chief part.
'The Council of Gondor answered: "The crown and royalty of Gondor belongs solely to the heirs of Meneldil, son of Anárion, to whom Isildur relinquished this realm. In Gondor this heritage is reckoned through the sons only; and we have not heard that the law is otherwise in Arnor."
'To this Arvedui replied: "Elendil had two sons, of whom Isildur was the elder and the heir of his father. We have heard that the name of Elendil stands to this day at the head of the line of the Kings of Gondor, since he was accounted the high king of all the lands of the Dúnedain. While Elendil still lived, the conjoint rule in the South was committed to his sons; but when Elendil fell, Isildur departed to take up the high kingship of his father, and committed the rule in the South in like manner to the son of his brother. He did not relinquish his royalty in Gondor, nor intend that the realm of Elendil should be divided for ever.
'"Moreover, in Númenor of old the sceptre descended to the eldest child of the king, whether man or woman. It is true that the law has not been observed in the lands of exile ever troubled by war; but such was the law of our people, to which we now refer, seeing that the sons of Ondoher died childless."
To this Gondor made no answer. The crown was claimed by Eárnil, the victorious captain; and it was granted to him with the approval of all the Dúnedain in Gondor, since he was of the royal house. He was the son of Siriondil, son of Calimmacil, son of Arciryas brother of Narmacil II. Arvedui did not press his claim; for he had neither the power nor the will to oppose the choice of the Dúnedain of Gondor; yet the claim was never forgotten by his descendants even when their kingship had passed away.
-Appendix A, The Return of the King

So, at the time that Arvedui claimed the High Kingship, the Gondorian Council thought that the Kingship belonged more to Eärnil (being a descendant of Telumehtar, great-grandfather to King Ondoher). Earnil’s son, Eärnur, ended up manufacturing the final loophole not much later. After a successful campaign expunging the Witch-King of Angmar from the ruined north, Earnur sought out the Chief Nazgul and never returned. Problem was: he left control of Gondor to his Steward “until his return.” Over the course of the next millennia, the Line of Isildur all but vanished and became, as Denethor said, “long bereft of lordship.” So, based on a series of slip-ups, the Stewards controlled Gondor, by order of Gondor’s King, and the Line of Isildur, which should’ve controlled Arnor, only commanded scattered Dúnedain. No matter how kingly Aragorn was, and royal his blood remained, his claim to Gondor’s throne was barely as legitimate as Denethor’s. In my opinion, Denethor had a very good reason to believe that Gandalf was trying to oust him and install Aragorn as a puppet king in his stead.

This also gives some slight explanation of why Denethor sometimes antagonized Faramir. Denethor no doubt knew that his meek, selfless son would allow Aragorn to have the throne, without putting up a fight. With Boromir dead, Faramir was to be the next Steward, and he would let Aragorn become King, and squander a millennium of Stewards’ maintenance of Gondor. And, Faramir did just that:

Quote:
"Faramir met Aragorn in the midst of those there assembled, and he knelt, and said: 'The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.' And he held out a white rod; but Aragorn took the rod and gave it back, saying: 'That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs' as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!'"
-The Return of the King, The Steward and the King

And, dutifully, Aragorn uses the backing of the Steward to claim kingship.

Quote:
"'Men of Gondor hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! one has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Númenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?'"
-The Return of the King, The Steward and the King

This whole discussion leads us down a final road. Denethor seems politically competent, if he could surmise all this, but was he fit to remain in office? Was he mentally stable, and, if so, why?

Malevolent Madness (Rights, Rites, and Who’s Right)

Some may say that Denethor had no right to use the palantír, which allegedly drove him mad. Using the helpful story about the palantíri in Unfinished Tales, we get this information…

Quote:
‘After the days of the Kings, and the loss of Minas Ithil, there is no further mention of their open and official use. There was no answering Stone left in the North after the shipwreck of Arvedui Last-king in the year 1975. 2 In 2002 the Ithil-stone was lost. There then remained only the Anor-stone in Minas Tirith and the Orthanc-stone.
Two things contributed then to the neglect of the Stones, and their passing out of the general memory of the people. The first was ignorance of what had happened to the Ithil-stone: it was reasonably assumed that it was destroyed by the defenders before Minas Ithil was captured and sacked; but it was clearly possible that it bad been seized and had come into the possession of Sauron, and some of the wiser and more farseeing may have considered this. It would appear that they did so, and realized that the Stone would be of little use to him for the damage of Gondor, unless it made contact with another Stone that was in accord with it. It was for this reason, it may be supposed, that the Anor-stone, about which all the records of the Stewards are silent until the War of the Ring, was kept as a closely-guarded secret, accessible only to the Ruling Stewards and never by them used (it seems) until Denethor II.’
-Unfinished Tales, The Palantíri

We also get this, which is a key point:

Quote:
‘Actually they must normally have been used by such deputies. Each Stone had its own warden, one of whose duty it was to `survey the Stone' at regular intervals, or when commanded, or in time of need.’
-Unfinished Tales, The Palantíri

So, he had enough ‘right’ to use it, it seems, even if he did not have the power to. But, when examining the use of the palantír, it was not that use that drove him mad. He probably would have been powerful enough mentally to handle the palantír, but Sauron was the one who made all the difference. This third excerpt from the essay about the palantíri in UT resolves the matter of what was the ‘breaking strain’ as far as Denethor’s palantír usage was concerned.

Quote:
‘The breaking strain of Denethor's confrontation with Sauron must be distinguished from the general strain of using the Stone. The latter Denethor thought he could endure (and not without reason); confrontation with Sauron almost certainly did not occur for many years, and was probably never originally contemplated by Denethor.’
-Unfinished Tales, The Palantíri

The use of a palantír does involve inevitable strain, but this Denethor thought he could handle, and he might’ve been able to as well. The ‘breaking strain’ was a mental confrontation with Sauron and it must be admitted that Denethor acquitted himself extraordinarily well. After all, he is a mortal Man, and Sauron is a Maia. Denethor is indeed not to be taken lightly, even after a battle of wills with a great power like Gorthaur the Cruel, he (mostly) retained his senses, even if he was deluded by the words of the Dark Lord. Even Aragorn suffered a similar strain (though in the end he did not succumb to that strain, like Denethor did):

Quote:
“‘You forget to whom you speak,' said Aragorn sternly, and his eyes glinted. 'Did I not openly proclaim my title before the doors of Edoras? What do you fear that I should say to him? Nay, Gimli,' he said in a softer voice, and the grimness left his face, and he looked like one who has laboured in sleepless pain for many nights. 'Nay, my friends, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough – barely.’
He drew a deep breath. ‘It was a bitter struggle, and the weariness is slow to pass. I spoke no word to him, and in the end I wrenched the Stone to my own will.’”
-The Return of the King, The Passing of the Grey Company

Aragorn didn’t exactly breeze through his encounter. He may have done better than Denethor, but Denethor can still be compared to Saruman, who was, though a Maia, fully corrupted by Sauron’s will. Does being adversely effected by one of the most powerful forces of Arda make one evil? Once again, I certainly don’t think so.



So, there’s my overly long sum-up of the Denethor debate. I’m desperately curious to find out the views of the Tolkien magi (my fellow BDers, that is). Perhaps, some of my unanswered questions can be answered, or my already answered questions can be argued against. As a man who loves controversy, I hope avidly for discussion. So, after all this, what’s your opinion of everyone’s favorite pyromaniac Steward of Gondor?

((P.S. I did search for a thread of this caliber, and came up with some long-dead questions that have little to do with many of the queries I proposed, so I can only assume that this is not a redundant issue))

Last edited by Kransha; 10-10-2004 at 12:15 PM.
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Old 10-10-2004, 01:53 PM   #2
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For now, a few brief comments:

1)One of PJ's failures with Denethor was not showing the complexity of Denethor,
arguably the deepest, and hence in a way the most interesting, in LOTR.
2)My impression of the appendix debate in Gondor about Arvedui's claim to the throne was that he won the debate, the council knew it, and so just didn't reply, and one could surmise considerable political pressure was put by the Steward on the Council to reject Arvedui.
3)Denethor actually did a quite competent job preparing Gondor's defenses as best he could (ignore another silly PJ line put in Gandalf's mouth: "And you've done nothing.").
4)Perhaps one of the most sympathetic aspects of Denethor is the way he seems
to have been fighting for his father's approval against that of Thorongil, it makes
even more understandable his lack of glee when he seems to have deduced the
return of this stranger.
5)While in LOTR JRRT presents a many-sided Denethor, and the above discarded
Faramir/Denethor exchange is an "eye-opener", casting Denethor in a much
more sympathetic light, this is in contrast with a surprisingly negative JRRT
observation about Denethor in 1956 (Letters #183 ):
Quote:
Denethor was tainted with mere politics: hence his failure, and his mistrust of Faramir. It had become for him a prime motive to preserve the polity of Gondor, as it was, against another potentate, who had made himself stronger and was to be feared and opposed for that reason rather than because he was ruthless and wicked. Denethor despised lesser men, and one may be sure did not distinguish between orcs and the allies of Mordor. If he had survived as victor, even without use of the Ring, he would have taken a long stride towards becoming himself a tyrant, and the terms and treatment he accorded to the deluded peoples of east and south would have been cruel and vengeful. He had become a 'political' leader: sc. Gondor against the rest.
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Old 10-10-2004, 04:01 PM   #3
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Quote:
Denethor is no stereotypical usurper, or caricature of a villain. He has the looks and gait to be a Steward, or even a King. But, artistic and cinematic depictions often portray him as evil-looking, scowling, hunched over and suspicious, which is an image that would probably be more apt for Grima Wormtongue.
It is the same principle that allows artists to put wings on their balrogs.

As for the rest, you’ve made very astute points all round. You can, of course, expect to hear (and indeed you already have) from those who believe Arvedui should have been accepted, or as I put it, “like to rain on Eärnil’s parade.”

As far as the personality of Denethor goes, I can hardly do better than to applaud Tuor for providing that apt quotation.

Looks can be deceiving, and the Númenórians themselves became tyrants in their own right long before Sauron started meddling with them.

It wasn’t so much Faramir’s potential servitude that bothered Denethor. Denethor wanted Faramir to be a compliant pawn to himself rather than anybody else. Poor Faramir was just going to be second fiddle no matter what he did. (The old fashioned respect for the young had gone completely out of style.)

Quote:
though in the end he did not succumb to that strain, like Denethor did
And there we have the key to the matter. Aragorn was the stronger of the two. Denethor only had an air similar to Aragorn. Aragorn was the genuine article. Same thing with Gandalf, Denethor had the look but Gandalf really was.
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Old 10-10-2004, 04:45 PM   #4
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First off I'd like to say Kransha that was a very well, thought out, argument. I've always been one to defend Denethor, so here's a few things I would like to add.

Denethor cared deeply for Gondor. As Tuor pointed out he made very little mistakes when it came to the defenses of Gondor. One mistake I thought, would have been of course him sending out Faramir to Osgiliath. Other then that, he had the defenses set up when Gandalf arrived, the defenses were already set up and coming in, plus not to mention the beacons were lit. PJ's slaughter of these scenes does tend to get me mad, it absolutely destroys the real Denethor. As you've said, people just say he's a terrible man, and I of course get mad at that. From what I understand, PJ's excuse for making Denethor Gandalf's little boxing bag was because he wanted to show that Gondor needed a king, and he wanted to build up that "need" for Aragorn.

But, did Gondor really need a king? I admit Aragorn would be a much better ruler then Denethor, there is no doubt about that. But, that doesn't mean Gondor "needed" a king.

Gondor would not have prevailed without Denethor, and it would not have prevailed without Gandalf. Here is a thread of mine that goes more into the details. Basically, just saying Denethor was the brains behind the defenses, Gandalf was more of that influential pep-talker.

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthread.php?t=10922

On to some of the other points, I love the part in the book when Denethor shows his sword in defiance of Sauron. As you put it, Denethor seems to be portrayed as "noble" and "valiant," not some crooked, scowling, villain.

Quote:
The Siege of Gondor:
Denethor lauged bitterly. "Nay not yet, Master Peregrin! He will not come save only to triumph over me when all is won. 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 thing, and watch, and wait, spending even my sons? For I can still wield a brand."
He stood up and cast open his long black cloak, and behold! He was clad in mail beneath, and girt with a long sword, great-hilted in a sheath of black and silver. "Thus have I walked, and thus now for many years have I slept," he said, "lest with age the body should grow soft and timid."
This part, we can also learn a lot about Denethor. He's still in good physical shape at AGE 88, which is considerably old, if he carries a full suit of mail and a sword. We get to see him defy the dark-lord, showing he's still willing to fight, and if Sauron wants to win it will be over his dead body.

Tuor, thanks for providing us with that quote, here is a little more just to support it.

Quote:
Appendix A
The Stewards
Thus pride increased in Denethor together with despair, until he saw in all the deeds of that time only a single combat between the Lord of the White Tower and the Lord of Barad-dur, and mistrusted all others who resisted Sauron, unless they served himself alone.
Now a few notes on Aragorn's claim to the throne. You bring up a nice point Kransha, how the council rejected Arvedui's claim. I suspect, if Aragorn HADN'T of won the hearts of the people, and been victorious at the Morannon, and Pelennor, if he just simply came in and had a rightful claim, Denethor's chances would look good. I say this because in one of Tolkien's earlier drafts, Boromir lived, and went to Minas Tirith with Aragorn. Aragorn then tried to reclaim the throne, in which case Boromir objected, and ARAGORN KILLED BOROMIR! So obviously, Aragorn feared his claim would be rejected if someone like a Boromir doesn't support it, so he kills Boromir. Now, Tolkien threw out that idea and I'm glad he did. My point being, if Aragorn just simply pulled an Arvedui, and proven his lineage Denethor's chances were really good. But, since Aragorn was victorious, and proved himself in battle, he won the hearts of many Gondorians, and his chances would have been far greater.

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Old 10-10-2004, 08:17 PM   #5
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Excellent argument, Kransha; you have made me see Denethor in a new light. I especially liked the earlier draft you gave of Denethor's answer to Faramir's "Do you wish, then, that our places had been exchanged?"

I have very little to add, but there's just one thing I'd like to throw out here:

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Indeed he was as like to Thorongil as to one of nearest kin, and yet was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and the esteem of his father.
While Denethor does not hate Faramir, per se, he definitely plays favorites. It's interesting that he should do so when he failed to gain all of Ecthelion's love and attention. I mean, why do something to your own son that you know, from experience, is hurtful? Just seems a bit odd to me.
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Old 10-11-2004, 02:29 AM   #6
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Well, Kransha has put the case well in his 'hagiography' of Denethor, but i can't let it stand, lest others be seduced

I have to say that while Denethor seems, as Tolkien says, more than capable of reading men's hearts, he is incapable of reading his own. He is simply unable to accept that anyone else could rule better than himself (or perhaps he simply doesn't care whether anyone else could - he has the rule & that's it. What he forgets (or chooses to ignore) is that he is not King. He swears an oath to rule till the King comes back, but plays around with the the letter of the law till he convinces himself that that possibility can never happen.

It seems he values the letter of an oath rather than its spirit. Oathbreaking is to be punished with 'vengeance' - yet how does Denethor understand the nature of an oath?

As ruler he has an obligation to put the good of the realm & people first - 'The rule of Gondor is mine & no other man's[/i]' - this is a meaningless statement of simple fact: it adds nothing, it is simply saying 'I'm in charge!'

Denethor, unfortunately, has identified himself with Gondor - he is Gondor in his own mind - he sees no difference between himself & the realm, so that if he falls Gondor falls, if he surrenders - to Sauron or to Aragorn - Gondor surrenders. In short he has identified himself with his role & lost his humanity in the process. What we see in his final moments is a whining coward, or a lost child, perhaps, crying over the loss of his 'son' who probably symbolises for him his 'house' - his rule, his power. What he has doen to Faramir is what he has done to his realm - thrown it away in his madness & he is now crying over the milk he has spilt, & has decided he will trash the house because he can't get it back into the bottle.

He is (was) a competent tactician, but his motivation was saving his own power base, not the good of his people.

[|QUOTE] 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 sons? For I can still wield a brand."[/QUOTE]

No they don't - no 'Great Lord' does that - Theoden may have done it with Theodred, but he was old & broken when he did so - Denethor is neither. How can he possibly justify 'spending his sons' when he can 'still wield a brand'? Whatever that is, it is not 'wise', it is callous. And to speak (to even be able to think of his sons as something that can be 'spent', shows how far he has fallen.

He fears his 'body will grow timid' - why - only because his mind & heart have already. He is like the First World War generals, sitting safely in their war rooms, miles from the front, 'spending' their country's 'sons'.

Of course there are reasons for his behaviour & choices, but not good ones. We can see his character developing all through his life into what it becomes at the last. Basically, Denethor is incapable of doing anything but rule others - a steward should be a servant, but Denethor has never, it seems, considered himself a 'steward'. He doesn't have the right or the authority to reject Aragorn's claims out of hand - which is what he does, because he asks no-one's advice in the matter - no his councellors, his allies, or even his surviving son's. He acts like he is King, but he isn't. In a sense, his desire for the Ring has overwhelmed him - but that's because it was already in his nature to be overwhelmed by it. Its interesting to see that someone can be taken over by the Ring without even having seen it - because the 'Ring' is not just the physical object itself, its more, its desire for power & control.
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Old 10-11-2004, 03:35 AM   #7
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Excellent topic, Kransha! You put well-researched facts together to show the whole picture. Denethor is another example for the depth of Tolkien's characterization - no black or white here! I'd like to add one thing that I noticed (Encaitare touched on it briefly) - history, including family history, repeats itself when we do not learn from it. Denethor suffered from his father's favoritism towards Thorongil, whom he perceived as his rival, and what does he do as a father? The same thing! It didn't take modern psychology and knowledge about dysfunctional families to be aware of that - it shows up in early Bible accounts as well. (See Jacob, who didn't learn from his father's mistake in favoring Esau and did the same with Joseph... )
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Old 10-11-2004, 01:29 PM   #8
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Absolutely Estelyn, no black and white here. Not perfect like Aragorn, Denethor is arguably the most complex character in the entire works of Tolkien. I would ask something myself here (begging your pardon Kransha). Are there any others among us who like Denethor precisely because he is such a 'bad' good guy? Villains are fascinating to me, and I have always considered Denethor a villain, albeit a villain with many admirable traits.

The film representation of the Steward was possibly Peter Jackson's most grievous error. He turned this dream of a character into somewhat of a pantomime villain (at least in my book). Clearly Denethor can be established in different ways (only a couple of posts into this thread and we discover that!) but for me he will remain a dastardly political leader full of inner turmoil and regret. Very human, and fallen.
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Old 10-11-2004, 05:45 PM   #9
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Kransha! I'm shocked! Nay dismayed!! Given your predeliction for the Bard and obvious admiration for Denethor, how could you have failed to note the ways in which he is a tragic hero?? Like all really great tragic heroes he is both someone we admire and someone we fear or even dislike (I love Hamlet, but would not want to be trapped in a castle with him; Lear is monumental but terrifies me; Othello and Macbeth are both twerps, but greatly so).

For me, the hallmark of a tragic hero is somebody trapped by his own greatness -- that is, the very qualities that make him admirable are what ensure his downfall (again, to cite from Shakespeare: Hamlet's intelligence is what makes his situation so difficult -- a stupid person would just kill Claudius without bothering to consider the consequences; Othello's abilities as a soldier make him unable to understand women): what could be more true of Denethor. He is the Steward of Gondor in every way, and as you have shown he is the greatest of all Stewards -- at least for a very long time. But that is a tragic position: the fulfilment of his role in this world is to forsake that role; the moment of apotheosis for the Steward is the moment at which he lays aside that role for someone else. Can you imagine Denethor as a gentleman of arms and not the Steward? Of course not -- that role, be necessity (historical, providential, personal) is his identity, without it he is nobody.

I think that this helps explain why he is like everybody (brilliant point Kr): he is the summation and embodiment of all that is great in Men; in fact, he is the absolute Man -- which means in him we find our own natures expressed in the most wonderful, and in their most horrible, form. He is not Aragorn, the Man who is more than men, and thus the only one capable of defeating Sauron. Denethor is, however, the Man who is the best of men, but within the limited abilities of men: like Hamlet, he is smarter and more noble than any other in his world, but this intelligence puts him at odds with the powers about him; like Othello and Macbeth he is the greatest soldier, but as a consequence he is unable to form lasting or healthy family relationships; like Lear he is the only one in his world whose eyes are capable of looking the full nature of reality in the eye, but doing so drives him to despair and madness.

It's hard for us to see the full tragic sweep of Denethor because we come in only near the end of his story: he's already had his fall, and is concluding the final cathartic sweep of his action. The story is not, after all, his story. Thanks to the kind of work that Kransha has done for us here, we can see his whole story and appreciate Tolkien's achievement.

I think the real function of Denethor is that he demonstrates how Aragorn is a hero beyond tragedy: Aragorn is a Man for whom his greatness is not a burden, nor is it dangerous, or he is guided by a faith and a light that transcends the limits of the world; Frodo is not capable of tragedy, not posessing the requisite greatness from which to fall (he himself admits that he does not possess wisdom or strenght, both of which Aragorn has in spades).

Denethor is, oddly enough, the clearest mirror we have of ourselves in Middle-Earth -- expanded in our capacities to the greatness of the greatest Men, and warped in our desires to the most despairing vision of our insignificance. Our reaction to him is thus appropriately mixed: we love him for what he is, hate him for what he does, and are terrified by how much he reminds us of ourselves.
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Old 10-11-2004, 07:27 PM   #10
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Tuor, I must, as others have done, applaud you. I had not searched much of Tolkien’s Letters for Denethor material. I found one tidbit, but it was so little that it did not merit inclusion. Your quote is interesting, if a little foreboding. There is certainly some evidence that Denethor, after the war, might’ve been headed for a reign more tyrannous than righteous. Of all the Stewards, he suffered most from the ruler mentality, which also helps explain his great hostility and suspicion, thinking everyone is out to oust him from his mighty roost. I think that many mannish leaders from those times would have ended up tyrannical in some respects. It is the same principle borne by Ring seduction…It is hard for even the noblest of men to resist power. The Ring represents a much greater well of power than Stewardship, so it tempts greater men. Who knows what would’ve happened if Denethor got near the Ring?

Kuruharan, I agree with you on technicality, but I must argue another point. I do not wholly agree with the fact that Denethor is good, gone bad, but I have chosen a side and will dutifully defend it, even if my points are moot. Yours, of course, are very good, and I will retaliate with, what I hope, is likewise. Though I agree with the fact that Denethor was more of a mind to have Faramir follow his own devices, he was still, even if unintentionally, thinking in the best wishes of his ‘un-favored’ child. He didn’t want Faramir to play ‘second fiddle’ as you so aptly put it; he wanted Faramir to be like Boromir. This brings up a rather interesting point which one might consider. Denethor did support Boromir over Faramir, though, in my opinion, he loved them both. If he did support the mind-set and actions of Boromir, perhaps this reflects another circumstance.

Faramir’s gallantry is often forgotten, and a certain aspect was cut fully from the movie. That aspect was Faramir’s ability to resist the temptation of the Ring. Faramir tells Frodo that he would not take it if he found it by the wayside. He is miraculously unaffected by the thing that effects everyone else. Perhaps he would be the person Denethor thought he should be if he was tempted by the One Ring. He would seem more human, more like his father, and, despite that temptation, be seen as something of a man with more initiative and goals to strive for. The Ring tempts even the Elves, a very human quality which they possess, but that same addiction and seduction does nothing to the Captain of Gondor, now does it? If it did, the character of Faramir that we know would be severely changed, but the story would be comparatively different and less interesting. I think that another failing of PJ is doing such a thing to Faramir. It adversely affected everyone else as well. If Faramir, as he was portrayed in the movie, had been tempted, his personality would be more like Denethor’s, like his father wanted him to be, which reverses the crucial plot point that Faramir and Denethor are different. In the movie, Faramir ‘breaks free’ of his want and desire to please his father, and lets Frodo go with the Ring, but that is still confusing. This cinematic change of heart does not explain Denethor’s deep-rooted disappointment in Faramir. If Faramir were trying to please Denethor so much, why would Denethor dislike him? In the books, it is evident that, even though Faramir desires his father to love him, he is not as eager to please, and does not attempt to act in the way that his father wishes.

Boromir88, I believe that you have struck on a concept I raised, in greater detail, which was the theory of Denethor’s actual, physical sanity at the time of the Siege of Gondor. Some say defending Minas Tirith, and sending Faramir to Osgiliath, was a strategic failing. It is hard to argue with this, as not many points can be raised to the contrary. But, as you said, his presence on the whole was essential. Aragorn and Gandalf were not in Minas Tirith to defend it before him, and he still managed to keep it standing. The important point is that, in the movie (I’m afraid I can’t stop using references to PJ’s failings), Faramir is defending Osgiliath the whole time, after a foray into Ithilien. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that means that Denethor was the one who had set up Osgiliath’s defense, since it was being attacked at the time that Faramir was in Ithilien with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. So, Denethor at least had the competence to set up generic defenses, and still heralded his people. Your quote helps this theory, and is greatly reminiscent of Theoden’s film-recovery (prior to his exorcism ala White Wizard). Of course, the book sheds that event in a different light, in fact, in a different filter, whereas the movie sheds Denethor in an equally different light. He carries a sword and a hauberk of mail in the movie to ward off indolence only, not to be a courageous leader.

Ah, master davem, our paths cross at last. Let me respond to you as best I can.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
]I have to say that while Denethor seems, as Tolkien says, more than capable of reading men's hearts, he is incapable of reading his own. He is simply unable to accept that anyone else could rule better than himself (or perhaps he simply doesn't care whether anyone else could - he has the rule & that's it. What he forgets (or chooses to ignore) is that he is not King. He swears an oath to rule till the King comes back, but plays around with the the letter of the law till he convinces himself that that possibility can never happen.
This is interesting, but possibly does not delve deep enough. A human psyche is a hard thing to understand, even for the esteemed Prof. T. himself. He was at least grooming Boromir for a role as King. The fact is, even if he is self-centered, it is merely a mortal quality, one of a tragic hero (to be touched on later). He loves his sons, and would doubtless be proud to see them on the throne. But, your point gets my little, teensy-weensy mind to thinking again.

The absence of Finduilas, Denethor’s wife, may have played an important role in his persona. Many fathers, without mothers to assist them, begin to take on maternal qualities. Many Downers here are mothers (or fathers), so you may…or may not know what I mean by this, but here we go anyway. Denethor may have assumed some qualities that a mother might show, one of those being a sort of over-protectiveness. Fathers can be this way as well, an I’m trying not to stereotype, but I mean, simply, that, without his wife or father, Denethor reverted to a very hermit-like man, in some ways, a bit reclusive and alienated, and, I admit, very suspicious. He was grooming both his sons for Stewardship, and was determined not to fail them, or let them become so malleable that they could be pushed aside by a “dotard chamberlain of an upstart.” To touch upon what Estelyn said, I think that Denethor’s own upbringing may have had some effect on his raising of Faramir and Boromir, except for the aforementioned dual-parent-syndrome.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
Kransha! I'm shocked! Nay dismayed!! Given your predeliction for the Bard and obvious admiration for Denethor, how could you have failed to note the ways in which he is a tragic hero?? Like all really great tragic heroes he is both someone we admire and someone we fear or even dislike (I love Hamlet, but would not want to be trapped in a castle with him; Lear is monumental but terrifies me; Othello and Macbeth are both twerps, but greatly so).
Shocked and dismayed, are you? Well, I am shocked and dismayed that you have the nerve to call the great Macbeth, Thain of Cawdor, Glamis, AND King of all Scotland, a twerp...even if I do agree with you. Let me assure you, I could argue such a point for ages...but I digress.

You make a good point, Fordim, as always. In fact, the point is fascinating. Denethor, unlike many other characters, does not seem to exemplify the principles of a bildungsromans, generic or otherwise. There is a story arc, and sub-plot for Denethor, and he does change, which eventually results in his self-immolation, but he is predominantly a character who effects other characters, a point who exemplifies characteristics, good and bad, of all the other points on the spectrum, and they move around him. Of the four wheels of the proverbial LotR automobile, he is possibly one. One might claim that Elrond is such a character in The Fellowship, a wheel axle which allows the others to turn. Denethor is the penultimate mortal man. Aragorn is too perfect to be fully related to, so we turn to the lesser characters of men. The Hobbits are like us, and they are prime protagonists, so we seek out knowledge of them, vut we see ourselves in Theoden, Eowyn, Boromir, Faramir, and Denethor. They are part of the Shakespearian influence, I believe, all archetypal of certain endowments that the Classical Greats presented.

If you want to get Bardian on me, though, I’ll willingly seek some farfetched allegory. I know that Master Tolkien did not like allegory (cordially), though I suppose Shakespeare may have loved it. I think there is already a thread that compares Tolkien to Will somewhere, so I won’t steer the topic off course, but the topic is Denethor, so I think I manipulate that to my own whims *insert oodles of maniacal, Bela Lugosi-esque laughter herein*. Denethor, like the animals of the ecologic biosphere, has his own niche in Tolkien’s work. Many of Tolkien’s niches, as much as I hate to say so, are more like dues ex machinas, (Ex: Eagles, Erkenbrand, and even Elrond in some ways…Hey! They all start with the letter E! I think I’ve hit on some deep philosophical discovery!) He is not, though he easily could be. He is in a position where it might have been convenient to make him devoid of personality, and simply a mean old coot. I think that Jackson, in a way, did make him a dues ex machina, for his purpose is served without motive. Tolkien did him a far greater justice in the end. Other characters are more crucial than Denethor, but his niche is still unique. He’s not a King, not a Warrior, not a Madman, not an Innocent…he’s somewhere between everyone else, part of all the other types, and essential as well. His small, navigable course also helps to direct the path of Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, and, before RotK, Boromir. His actions have a profound emotional effect on many characters who never knew him before, unlike two long-time friends who changed each other, for example.

P.S. About Hamlet. His intelligence is still highly debatable. One could compare him to Einstein in certain ways, or perhaps Dr. Frankenstein, so involved in plots and conspiracies that he lost track of the ‘stupid’ simplicity of simply offing Claudius. There are countless nuances about Hamlet that make that play one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing works…But, I’ll save all those stored-away rants for another time.
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Old 10-11-2004, 09:14 PM   #11
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Very good topic, a few things though,
Quote:
Denethor can still be compared to Saruman, who was, though a Maia, fully corrupted by Sauron’s will.
Denethor wasn't corrupted by Sauron's will as Saruman was. Denethor's madness was partly due to the general strain of using the stone, and partly due to dispair. Sauron was not able to break Denethor's mind, but was able to control what he saw. Sauron showed him his vast armies and this caused Denethor to lose hope and sink into depression. This along with the loss of Boromir caused him to go mad. Saruman on the other hand wasn't strong enough to resist Sauron and so had his mind overthrown. I believe this is mentioned in the Unfinished Tales section on the palantiri but without my book at the moment I am unable to provide direct quotes.
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Old 10-12-2004, 01:32 PM   #12
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1420!

I would also like to touch on another point made by Kransha.

Quote:
Denethor, as far as Tolkien is concerned, looks more like everyone else than everyone else, technically; as wizardly as Gandalf, as kingly as Aragorn, and as Númenórean as Númenóreans.
Tolkien is definately comparing Denethor to the traits of Aragorn, Gandalf, and the numenoreans. But, if we look at these quotes we can see an important thing.

Quote:
'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' (The Return of the King, Minas Tirith)
Quote:
‘He was very tall and in appearance looked like an ancient Númenórean’ (The History of Middle-Earth, The Peoples of Middle-Earth, The Heirs of Elendil: Denethor II).
Quote:
‘Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful; and older’ (The Return of the King, Minas Tirith).
If you look at all these quotes they use the words "look" and "reminded." To me this is saying Denethor LOOKED or APPEARED as kingly as Aragorn, as wizardry as gandalf, and like the Numenoreans. But in reality he isn't. He isn't as kingly as Aragorn, or as wizardry as Gandalf, or like a Numenorean, he only APPEARS, or LOOKS to be. Here are some quotes to sort of help you understand where I'm going.

Quote:
In the contest with the Palantir Aragorn was the rightful owner. Also the contest took place at a distance, and in a tale which allows the incarnation of great spirits in a physical and destructivle form their power must be far greater when actually physically present.
That is a quote from Letter #246, just explaining the battle between Aragorn and Sauron in the palantir, and explaining that Aragorn had won. Where Denethor didn't have the "will" like Aragorn, didn't have the "strength" like Aragorn to beat Sauron. He certainly tried to contend with Sauron, but in the end Sauron was victorious.

This is from ROTK Minas Tirith
Quote:
Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly beautiful, and powerful, and older. Yet by a sense other than sight Pippin perceived that Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty was veiled. And he was older, far older. "How much older?" he wondered, and then he thought how odd it was that he had never thougt about it before. Treebeard had said something about wizards, but even then he had not htought of Gandalf as one of them. What was Gandalf? In what far time and place did he come into the world, and when would he leave it? And then his musings broke off, and he saw that Denethor and Gandalf still looked each other in the eye, as if reading the other's mind. But it was Denethor who first withdrew his glance.
The first part is from Pippin's perspective, how Denethor LOOKS like he is greater then Gandalf, but in the end he starts to wonder, and know that Gandalf is indeed the greater. Then we have that last line, But it was Denethor who FIRST withdrew his glance. That to me comes off as if Gandalf had won the battle, whatever Denethor and Gandalf were trying to do, it appears as if Gandalf wins, as Denethor first withdraws his glance.

Denethor has a bit of Numenorean decent in him, so he was probably above the normal Gondorians, but again he's only partial Numenorean, and wouldn't have all their traits, or wouldn't have the "full numenorean" in him.

So, to sum up my point. With all the quotes, Denethor is shown, or LOOKS like he is great and mightier then all these "great and mighty" people, Gandalf, Aragorn, and the Numenoreans. But, in the end, he actually isn't "physically" as powerful or kingly as Aragorn, Gandalf, and the Numenoreans, he only appears to be.

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Old 10-12-2004, 01:37 PM   #13
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He didn’t want Faramir to play ‘second fiddle’ as you so aptly put it; he wanted Faramir to be like Boromir.
Quite right. I’m afraid I followed my usual habit of throwing out statements that I don’t bother to explain fully. I intended that statement to encompass the time while Denethor was still alive. So long as Denethor remained Steward, Faramir was to remain a subordinate to his father (thus, second fiddle). Of course, as Denethor saw it was for Faramir to submit himself to Gandalf. Denethor probably thought of Faramir submitting himself to his father as gaining independence or true manliness, or something.

Since Faramir became the heir, he needed to develop his capacity for independent thought and action. However, Denethor was not necessarily going to approve of this independence when it manifested itself. As you say, Denethor wanted Faramir to be like Boromir, or at least as Denethor perceived Boromir. Gandalf had a few words to say on that matter that seemed to indicate that Denethor did not understand Boromir as well as he thought he did.

Quote:
Perhaps he would be the person Denethor thought he should be if he was tempted by the One Ring.
I find that a interesting statement. Faramir needed to be flawed in order for him to be the man Denethor wanted him to be.

There is probably a lot of philosophical discourse that could flow from that idea.

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I think that another failing of PJ is doing such a thing to Faramir.
And all the people said, “Amen!”

(One of these days I may get off that hobby horse).

I would have to ask how much attention Denethor paid to Faramir in the days before Boromir went off into the Blue?

My first impression was that Faramir had perhaps been rather neglected growing up. However, my first impressions usually utterly fail to withstand further thought. This is particularly in light of your statement about Denethor being over-protective of his children.

Ponder on this, I will.
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