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Old 07-17-2005, 01:30 PM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril LotR -- Book 5 - Chapter 04 - The Siege of Gondor

Book 5 takes us back and forth between the Rohirrim and Gondor - that is to say, between Merry and Pippin. After seeing the Riders off in the last chapter, we return to events in Minas Tirith. The chapter begins with an atmosphere that continues throughout - the darkness that prevails, accompanied by a heaviness of both air and spirits. Two elements seem most important in this part of the story - the plot, with increasing warfare, preceeding the big battle; and the characterization of the various persons involved. The intertwining of those two elements is what makes this chapter so compelling to read!

We begin with the quiet before the storm, with preparations and planning, orders and skirmishes. Troops and messengers go back and forth, and we can feel the suspense thick in the air. The increasing power and dread that emanates from the Nazgűl is part of the developing threat. Parallel to that is Pippin's preparation by donning the livery and armour of the Guard.

The individual characters about whom we learn more, both by their actions and by their words, are: Pippin, Gandalf, Denethor, and Faramir, mainly. Minor characters who play their parts are Beregond and Imrahil - and, minor at least in the part he plays in this chapter, the Witch King.

I'd like to mention only a few things, knowing that others who post will have more to say. One fact about Faramir struck me, as it's mentioned twice: It is said of him that he masters both men and animals. To what would you attribute this ability? We've seen something similar in Aragorn.

Another thing that impressed me strongly was Denethor's horrible attitude, especially in his words to his only remaining son. His increasing despair is palpable, but the negative words to Faramir made me catch my breath, and put a tight ring around my heart. How do they affect you?

The rivalry, an inner battle, between Gandalf and Denethor shows in various passages. What do you think of the Steward's open jealousy?

What does the encounter between the Witch King and Gandalf show us? This is a topic that's been discussed recently on other threads, since the relative strength of both is a topic of interest.

A question that is asked anxiously throughout the chapter is the one about the Rohirrim - will they come? Will they come on time? Does their coming at the end of the chapter strike you as anticlimactic or relieving?

I'd like to add one last comment on the additional characterization of a person who is not present in this chapter - Aragorn. We learn something new about him in Gandalf's thoughts about what has drawn out Sauron so early.
Quote:
Ah! I wonder. Aragorn? His time draws near. And he is strong and stern underneath, Pippin; bold, determined, able to take his own counsel and dare great risks at need.
What a man, what a king!
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Old 07-17-2005, 08:57 PM   #2
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Denethor's attitude (at least at first) shows that in some ways he and Sauron are not so different. They both are interested in what somebody can do for them.
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Old 07-17-2005, 10:19 PM   #3
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Thoughts as I read the chapter...

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There Denethor sat in a grey gloom, like an old patient spider, Pippin thought; he did not seem to have moved since the day before.
Interesting comparison; Tolkien's portrayal of spiders has always been a negative one -- Shelob, Ungoliant, the spiders in Mirkwood -- and Ungoliant was called the Gloomweaver. Denethor is starting to deteriorate and fall victim to the shadows.

Quote:
"And why should such songs be unfit for my halls, or for such hours as these? We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it? Then we may feel that our vigil was not fruitless, though it may have been thankless." (Denethor)
Ouch.

Quote:
"Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature. But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself, and do good that he does not intend." (Gandalf)
This got me thinking. The traitors in LotR show themselves to be hardly comfortable with themselves and their deeds, and do actually "do good that [they do] not intend". Such was the case with Grima and the Palantir, and such will be the case with Gollum.

Denethor's words to Faramir in this chapter are, in a word, terrible! I saw the movie of RotK with a friend who had not read the book, and when she heard Denethor say that he wished Faramir had died instead of Boromir, she gasped aloud. And she was right -- what a horrible thing to say! And "That depends on the manner of your return" is just as bad.

Gandalf makes an important (and true) prediction:

Quote:
"You [Faramir] will be needed here, for other things than war."
It's also good to see that unlike his movie character, Denethor is actually doing something:

Quote:
And then a trumpet rang from the Citadel, and Denethor at last released the sortie. Drawn up within the shadow of the Gate and under the looming walls outside they had waited for his signal...
Quote:
The cavalry rode on. But Denethor did not permit them to go far. Though the enemy was checked, and for the moment driven back, great forces were flowing in from the East. Again the trumpet rang, sounding the retreat.
It is only after Faramir is wounded that he abandons all hope.

Quote:
Then the Black Captain rose in his stirrups and cried aloud in a dreadful voice, speaking in some forgotten tongue words of power and terror to rend both heart and stone.
Neat trick. I love these little unknowns that keep things mysterious.
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Old 07-18-2005, 01:46 AM   #4
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Silmaril

Esty: What a post!
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Originally Posted by Esty
Another thing that impressed me strongly was Denethor's horrible attitude, especially in his words to his only remaining son. His increasing despair is palpable, but the negative words to Faramir made me catch my breath, and put a tight ring around my heart. How do they affect you?
The way Denethor spoke to Faramir was enough to make the not-too-attentive reader think that their relationship is only like that of a soldier to his commanding officer. While I understand that desperation is driving Denethor to say such words to his own son, he did not realize that Faramir also has his own burden to bear - not only his, but also that which Boromir left behind. Faramir doesn't really need a nagger (nay, worse) along with all that.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Enca
Quote:
"And why should such songs be unfit for my halls, or for such hours as these? We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it? Then we may feel that our vigil was not fruitless, though it may have been thankless." (Denethor)
Ouch.
Exactly what I said myself. But compare this to what Halbarad said in the previous chapter:
Quote:
'A little people, but of great worth are the Shire-folk,' said Halbarad. 'Little do they know of our long labour for the safekeeping of their borders, and yet I grudge it not.'
This just goes to show that despite what he thinks of himself, Denethor is totally immature. Or is this also a comment brought about by their current situation, like the way Denethor treats his son?

There are a lot of changes Pippin has gone through in this chapter - so much that by the end of it you'll hardly remember how Pippin used to be.

All these began with a simple
Quote:
His old clothes were folded and put away.
They say clothes make the man, or the hobbit. This simple act shows that Pippin was forced to lay aside all his hobbit-ness and assume his new 'persona,' that of a soldier of Gondor.
Quote:
He looked now, had he known it, verily Ernil i Pheriannath, the Prince of the Halflings, that folk had called him; but he felt uncomfortable. And the gloom began to weigh on his spirits.
With his joyous nature taken away, he starts to see things in a new light, or in darkness in this case. And though he might look (and feel) more noble than ever before, he knows that who he has become is not the real him, and so he feels discomfort. And the fact that all these take place in such a somber environment does not really help him.

This summarizes the complete character change he has gone through:
Quote:
Already it seemed years to Pippin since he had sat there before, in some half-forgotten time when he had still been a hobbit, a light-hearted wanderer touched little by the perils he had passed through. Now he was one small soldier in a city preparing for a great assault, clad in the proud but sombre manner of the Tower of Guard. (italics mine)
Another thing that has greatly changed is his lack of cheer, replaced by his full grasp of the consequences of his 'costume change'.
Quote:
In some other time and place Pippin might have been pleased with his new array, but he knows now that he was taking part in no play...The hauberk was burdensome, and the helm weighed upon his head.
Unfortunately for Pippin, those physical troubles are not the worse of his experiences in that gear.

For one, here's this:
Quote:
"And I'm not used, Master Beregond, to wait hungry on others while they eat. It is a sore trial for a hobbit, that."
Poor, poor Pippin.

Now we digress a little, and see what this scenario reminds you of.
Quote:
...And when [Pippin] saw the pale face of Faramir he caught his breath. It was the face of one who has been assailed by a great fear or anguish, but has mastered it and now is quiet.
Merry and Dernhelm, anyone? While Dernhelm was off to seek death, Faramir seemed to be almost greeted by it. Dernhelm let 'his' feelings show while Faramir tried to control them. What does this tell us about Eowyn and Faramir, aside from "opposites (really) attract?"

Last edited by Lhunardawen; 07-18-2005 at 01:57 AM. Reason: What's a 'touble?'
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Old 07-18-2005, 10:14 AM   #5
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I will, soon, have a much more full post about this chapter, but I just wanted to put this up right away -- it's a translation of the final paragraphs of the chapter into Old English:

Quote:
Gandalf ne stuređ. Ant i ţet ilke time, awei bihinden i sum curt burhene, coc creow. Schille ant schire he creow, ne haldende na tale of wichecreft ne weorre, bute gretende ane ţen marhen ţet i ţe heouene feor ouer ţe schadewes deađes wes cuminde wiđ ţe dahunge.

Ant as ţah ondswerende, an ođer song com from feor awei. Hornes, hornes, hornes. I dorc Mindolluines siden ha dimliche sweide. Great hornes of ţe Norđ wildeliche blawende. Rohan wes ed te leaste icumen.
As much as I'd like to claim it as my own, I found it here.

The two points I will make now are quite simple:

1) this is my single favourite bit of prose in the whole tale -- it surges ahead through heightened language and loaded symbolic resonances but culminates in the plain-style statement "Rohan had come at last". I love it so much because it mirrors exactly the action: Gondor and Mordor are confronting one another yet again in the long series of battles that go back to the First Age; Gandalf and the Witch King are facing off, the men of Westernesse and the orcs are fighting, and there they all are "lo-ing" and and "unto-ing" and "did fall-ing" all over the place, when the newer, younger race of Men rides up with their more contemporary and simple language. Their arrival is blunt, to the point and stirring beyond most of what's been happening in this chapter.

2) The movie exactly nailed this moment!

edit I'm away from my books and can't check, but in the timeline of the story aren't Frodo and Sam in Shelob's lair as battle rages on the Pelennor?? If so, that gives extra resonance to Denethor's being described as a spider: there are two non-Sauron enemies who must be overcome on each front before the heroes can hope to tackle the real Enemy. Also, this pairing is interesting in term of gender: Shelob/feminine and Denethor/masculine....herm....both present the threat of consuming the living, both are most dangerous in their stony lairs, both have retreated into themselves and pay no heed to the outside world.....more thought needed....

One more thing: the cock crowing who "recks nothing of wizardry or war" is always interesting to me, insofar as this line seems to point toward some kind of necessary connection between wizardry and war: is it a comparison of good and bad, light and dark, or are they linked in some other way? -- that is, are they being joined together as part of the same problem?

That would seem to be at least part of the implication of the confrontation of Gandalf and the Witch-King....
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Old 07-18-2005, 11:18 AM   #6
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The movie exactly nailed this moment!
I'm afraid that I couldn't possibly disagree more. The movie was horrible on this point. I'm not sure this is the place to discuss this in depth, but it was evident that (yet again) the filmmakers felt the compulsion to "jazz up" the action. They (yet again) made themselves look silly in the process.
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Old 07-18-2005, 12:05 PM   #7
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Quote:
One more thing: the cock crowing who "recks nothing of wizardry or war" is always interesting to me, insofar as this line seems to point toward some kind of necessary connection between wizardry and war: is it a comparison of good and bad, light and dark, or are they linked in some other way? -- that is, are they being joined together as part of the same problem?
I thought the words were chosen simply because they make sense and sound nice and alliterative.
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Old 07-18-2005, 12:48 PM   #8
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This is one of my favourite chapters- if only because it takes place in Minas Tirith and has a lot of memorably dramatic moments...

One thing that amuses me about the "Ernil i Pheriannath" or "Prince of the Halflings" is that Pippin is just that: he is the son and heir of the Thain of the Shire- it's crown prince, so to speak. This is a connection that really isn't made in the book until the "Scouring of the Shire", and in rereads it amused me to note that Pippin actually is the Halfling prince, even if no note is made of it, or no importance can be attached to it...

In this chapter, Denethor is often shown as heartless, and somewhat foolish to a reader who has known Gandalf for four books, in that he doesn't follow his advice, but he is shown, all the same as both sane and actively involved in the defence of his city. He may be a pessimist, but he hasn't stopped fighting.
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Old 07-21-2005, 01:58 AM   #9
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Silmaril Not that I'm inciting arguments, but...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil
In this chapter, Denethor is often shown as heartless, and somewhat foolish to a reader who has known Gandalf for four books, in that he doesn't follow his advice, but he is shown, all the same as both sane and actively involved in the defence of his city. He may be a pessimist, but he hasn't stopped fighting.
While I agree that Denethor still does his part in the defense of Gondor in this chapter, I'm not quite sure about him actively doing so. Being active in something is digging right into it, not minding the discomfort or the pain. What has Denethor done? Debate with Gandalf, engage in a staring contest with him , 'slave-drive' his son, sit in a meeting with other leaders, ask questions, express opinions. As far as I understand, he was not active. He could still wield a sword, and he has one, doesn't he? Why not step into the battlefield? I think in some ways this could show his cowardice - he hides behind his soldiers and lets them do all the dirty work. Definitely not the characteristic of a fighter.

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Old 07-21-2005, 02:56 AM   #10
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Abot Denethor not riding to battle, I think that he does it because of some kind of arrogance and of a terrible lust for ruling which he still feels in spite of the darkness that assails his city. And he tells Pippin that Sauron will not come to battle save only to triumph over him. And not only does he consider Sauron wise for doing that, but he also admits that this is the reason why he does not go to battle. Has lust for power made him so mad that he wants to be simillar to Sauron? Despite the fact that he is still able to fight, he chooses not to and sends not only his armies to death, but also his sons, just as any heartless tyrant would do. I think that this shows also how different Denethor is from Aragorn, who goes where battle is greater, together with his people.
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Old 07-21-2005, 06:54 AM   #11
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Boots Let's not go overboard here...

While in general I agree with the criticism of Denethor, it is important to understand that Denethor's reluctance to fight is not necessarily cowardice or the reflection of a tyrannical spirit.

Looked at from a charitable point of view, Denethor had a clear understanding of his situation and what was expected of him. I think a comparison with Aragorn and Theoden could be fruitful here. Both of them personally led their soldiers in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. However, what was expected of them was completely different than what was expected of Denethor. Aragorn and Theoden were both leading armies to the rescue of a besieged city. Denethor, on the other hand, was leading the defense of that besieged city. This necessarily requires that his actions be a bit more passive than Aragorn and Theoden. You will note that Theoden did not come out to fight until the last of the Battle of the Hornburg.

While Aragorn is undoubtedly very inspirin' out there in the forefront of the battle, it is very difficult for one to maintain a meaningful command function when one is out in the midst of the whacking and smashing. Maintaining his command function was obviously something that Denethor believed to be of the utmost importance, particularly in the opening more strategic phases of the campaign. While he perhaps took this too far, it is important to acknowledge that there is some sensible basis for Denethor's actions.
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Old 07-21-2005, 02:39 PM   #12
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As usual, I read the relevant chapters of HoM-e in preparation for this discussion, & the most interesting things were that originally Denethor was a far more sympathertic character, far more concerned for Faramir. It was also originally Faramir’s idea to go out to Osgiliath. Faramir becomes more sympathic as the story develops & Denethor becomes more of a ‘monster’. This dynamic is interesting, as it seems that Denethor becomes more & more a ‘shadow’ cast by Faramir. The more ‘saintly’ the son becomes, the more ‘demonic’ the father is made as a result. I wonder about this, as we seem to see this a lot in Tolkien’s work - the use of ‘light’ & ‘dark’ twins - Gandalf/Saruman, Frodo/Gollum, being the ones that spring most to mind. They seem to serve as alternate ‘options.’

The other interesting idea was that originally The WK was to have been one of Gandalf’s ‘Order’ from Numenor, & Gandalf was afraid of confronting him.

Onwards...

We have a kind of repeat of earlier events with Pippin & Beregond returning to their seat in the embrasure, looking down on the Pelennor. The mood is darker, more desperate, but there is hope in the appearance on the field of Gandalf, driving back the Nazgul.

The Faramir/Gandalf/Denethor dynamic is interesting. Faramir seeks to do the right thing, but clearly he looks to Gandalf to discover (or confirm) what that ‘right’ thing is, not to his father. One can see where Denethor’s jealousy comes from - & it clearly is in large part simply that - jealousy of Gandalf who seems to have usurped his own fatherly role in Faramir’s mind. Denethor seems to feel he has lost a second son. He feels betrayed by Faramir & reacts with anger, lashing out at his son.

Its easy to forget that Denethor is a lonely old man. Boromir is dead, (as is Finduilas, let us not forget) he feels that all he has loved & worked for is about to be swept away, Faramir is all he had left & now even he has turned away from him. Faramir has betrayed not simply his position in the Gondorian hierarchy, but his lonely old father. Denethor is now isolated in his despair, with no-one to reach out to, yet he has responsibility. One feels this inner conflict. It will come to a head later in the chapter when Faramir lies at death’s door. That is the final blow, the last straw, that breaks him. All is lost, & the last, most precious thing that he has lost, he cast away himself.

But what of Faramir’s role in this? Did he try hard enough to understand & be there for his father? Did he allow his ‘ideals’ to seperate him from one who desperately needed him? Of course, he was put in an impossible situation by his father. He was ultimately faced with betraying what he knew was right or betraying the one who needed him most. Could Denethor have made it easier for himself & his son? Probably not. He backed himself into a corner & refused to come out, demanding rather that Faramir come in & stand beside him. Denethor is a tragic figure by the end & that end must be in line with high tradgedy. His ending will take on a mythic, old world dimension - he will die ‘like the heathen kings of old (‘Heathen’ is an interesting choice of word here, as originally it was used derogatively, refering to those believed to be ignorant country dwellers. Denethor is rejecting ‘civilisation’ & its values.) He, in the end, rejects his living son, the one who has ‘betrayed’ him, & prefers over him his dead son. because the dead may be built up in fantasy into the ideal. Denethor reverts into a fantasy world because there, at least, can be found someone who loves him.

Gandalf comes across as a little ‘callous’. He has his mission - the defeat of Sauron & the return of the King - to achieve, but it seems as if he has decided that Denethor is ‘surplus to requirements’. We see little kindness or compassion towards Denethor, or even an attempt to understand his position. If we didn’t know him as ‘an old man in a batered hat’ we might have a far less positive view of him, based on his behaviour to Denethor. Its almost as if his treatment of him is designed to provoke the response in Denethor that he gets. Gandalf has said he also is a ‘steward’, & we can perhaps see a similarity between him & Denethor. If Denethor will spend even his sons to achieve victory over Sauron, Gandalf will clearly spend Denethor to achieve the same end. Denethor has clearly percieved this. His desperate cri de cour, his standing & showing his armour & sword is, on one level, the attempt of an old man not to appear useless.

The horror of the events if the Siege bring us, as well as the inhabitants of Minas Tirith, to the point of despair. The heads of the fallen are flung into the city. The lower circle errupts in flame & finally the great Gate is broken. The use of the name ‘Grond’ is interesting, because for those who have only read LotR it means little, but for those who have read the Silmarillion it will call to mind Fingolfin’s battle with Morgoth. This is another link with events of the long distant past. Sauron clearly chose the name because he wished to use that memory to cow the defenders, but it may actually have inspired them with the memory of Fingolfin’s desperate courage.

Back to Denethor & Faramir. They come to the tombs, & are greeted by a ‘porter’. Whether this was intentional or not I couldn’t help but think back to Theoden’s story of the old man sitting before the Paths of the Dead. Merry has told Theoden that he will follow him even on those Paths. Pippin follows Denethor on similar Paths here. The dead lie in state, but Denethor will not follow them & become like them, he will burn. This is strange in a way - he is rejecting what they stood for while at the same time choosing to die among them.

Here Beregond comes into his own, & goes, at Pippins instigation to do the deed for which we will always remember him - his desperate defence of Faramir. He will disobey one of the ‘sacred’ commandments & draw sword & shed blood in the Hallows. How slose is his relationship with Faramir to that of Sam to Frodo. He is prepared to lay down his life in defense of his ‘Master’. The similarity of his desperate defense against ‘an old patient spider’ & Sam’s defense of Frodo against Shelob is too close, maybe, to be dismissed.

And finally, we have the great confrontation of Gandalf & the Witch King. ‘Do you not know Death when you see it?’ asks the WK. Gandalf no doubt does - he has seen death & passed through it. It is the WK himself who doesn’t know Death - yet. He dismisses the presence & the threat of the WK, because he knows what awaits the WK & his Master. When the WK says ‘This is my hour’ he knows not how truly he speaks - this is his hour - his hour of greatest ‘victory’ - he’ll never come this close to it again - but it is also his last hour, the hour when he himself will know Death. Irony or what? Its interesting that when he casts back his hood he is seen to have no ‘head’. He wears a crown, but he has no head, no face, no mind, of his own. He has lost his self & become faceless, without identity. He is ‘Death’ - the opposite of Life. In place of a ‘self’ there is a void. This is true ‘Evil’ not a dynamic, ‘living’ thing, Here is no Miltonic ‘rebel’ defying the Powers of Life & Goodness, but an emptiness, a ‘no-thing-ness’ .

And finally, we hear the Horns & experience the eucatastrophe. Hope comes, Light shines in the darkness, & the tide turns....
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Old 07-21-2005, 02:57 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by davem
Gandalf comes across as a little ‘callous’. He has his mission - the defeat of Sauron & the return of the King - to achieve, but it seems as if he has decided that Denethor is ‘surplus to requirements’. We see little kindness or compassion towards Denethor, or even an attempt to understand his position. If we didn’t know him as ‘an old man in a batered hat’ we might have a far less positive view of him, based on his behaviour to Denethor. Its almost as if his treatment of him is designed to provoke the response in Denethor that he gets. Gandalf has said he also is a ‘steward’, & we can perhaps see a similarity between him & Denethor. If Denethor will spend even his sons to achieve victory over Sauron, Gandalf will clearly spend Denethor to achieve the same end. Denethor has clearly percieved this. His desperate cri de cour, his standing & showing his armour & sword is, on one level, the attempt of an old man not to appear useless.
A very interesting point there...

To Theoden, Gandalf is kindly and works to save him- even despite some probably not all that sympathetic treatment in the past. He advocates forgiveness of both Gollum and Saruman.

What has Denethor done to be so callously dismissed?

Clearly, Gandalf and Denethor have a history, and both really don't care for each other that much. One has to wonder just how much HAS happened between them. Because we cannot blame Gandalf's callousness on being busy (he was just as busy in Edoras), or on giving him up as lost (I mean, Gollum!).

Now, obviously, Gandalf the Wizard is just as human in his emotions as Beregond, a Dunlending, or Aule-who-will-not-speak-of-the-Noldor. But one has to wonder WHAT happened...
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Old 07-21-2005, 03:02 PM   #14
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Gandalf comes across as a little ‘callous’. He has his mission - the defeat of Sauron & the return of the King - to achieve, but it seems as if he has decided that Denethor is ‘surplus to requirements’. We see little kindness or compassion towards Denethor, or even an attempt to understand his position.
Denethor was unwilling to perform his function. His function was to step aside when the king returned.

(I would open the old can o' worms about exactly how legitimate Aragorn's claim actually was, but perhaps this is not the best place for it...)

See, Gandalf understood Denethor quite well. Denethor's impulse was selfish. He wanted the prestige and power of being the ruler. If the king comes back he can't have that anymore. This is hardly an attitude that we can expect Gandalf to sympathize with.

(This is perhaps a hard view of Denethor's job, and I seem to be wildly alternating from attacking Denethor to defending him and back again...)

I also think that you perhaps overstate the return of the king as being part of Gandalf's mission. While it would be nice, I don't think Gandalf (in a "mission from the Valar" sense) considered it vital. His job was to defeat Sauron. He was using Aragorn as much as he was using Denethor. Obviously things would turn out a little better (if you want to look at it that way) for Aragorn than Denethor under this arrangement. I guess it is true that Gandalf was not particularly concerned about that.
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Old 07-21-2005, 03:12 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
I also think that you perhaps overstate the return of the king as being part of Gandalf's mission. While it would be nice, I don't think Gandalf (in a "mission from the Valar" sense) considered it vital. His job was to defeat Sauron. He was using Aragorn as much as he was using Denethor. Obviously things would turn out a little better (if you want to look at it that way) for Aragorn than Denethor under this arrangement. I guess it is true that Gandalf was not particularly concerned about that.
I think you're probably right about it not being a part of his mission. After all, Gandalf was around for a thousand years BEFORE either line of the kings died out. If it had been a part of his mission, I imagine that he and Saruman (he was a goodguy then, remember) could have restored the line of the kings a fair bit earlier, or supported Arvedui's claim. Or something...
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Old 07-21-2005, 03:29 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
I also think that you perhaps overstate the return of the king as being part of Gandalf's mission. While it would be nice, I don't think Gandalf (in a "mission from the Valar" sense) considered it vital. His job was to defeat Sauron. He was using Aragorn as much as he was using Denethor. Obviously things would turn out a little better (if you want to look at it that way) for Aragorn than Denethor under this arrangement. I guess it is true that Gandalf was not particularly concerned about that.
I think Gandalf's principal 'mission' was to help the free people's of Middle-earth to overthrow Sauron, but the ascendancy of Aragorn to the throne of Gondor will bring peace & stability to Middle-earth, & provide a strong foundation for Men's domination of the fourth & subsequent ages. The return of the True King was, I think, something Gandalf realised would be necessary. In Aragorn & Arwen the bloodlines of Men, Elves & Maiar are united & passed on through the ruling house. It is the ideal situation to leave Middle-earth in. I think Gandalf has realised this & this has become his goal - no doubt discussed with Elrond.

In short, I don't think Aragorn's succession is an 'optional extra' or merely a 'nice touch' to bring about a happy ending as far as Gandalf is concerned. He may not have been sent by the Valar with that specific goal in mind, but I think as time went on he would have come to include it in his mission......

IMO.....
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Old 07-21-2005, 04:14 PM   #17
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The return of the True King was, I think, something Gandalf realised would be necessary. In Aragorn & Arwen the bloodlines of Men, Elves & Maiar are united & passed on through the ruling house. It is the ideal situation to leave Middle-earth in. I think Gandalf has realised this & this has become his goal - no doubt discussed with Elrond.

In short, I don't think Aragorn's succession is an 'optional extra' or merely a 'nice touch' to bring about a happy ending as far as Gandalf is concerned. He may not have been sent by the Valar with that specific goal in mind, but I think as time went on he would have come to include it in his mission
I don't believe that you are laying enough emphasis on...

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And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come.
This I think is the clearest statement of what Gandalf really cared about that one will find anywhere. He says that Gondor may fall (and at that moment there was no certainty that Aragorn would win through and survive the war to become king). The success of his mission did not depend on Aragorn's triumph.
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Old 07-21-2005, 05:49 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
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And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come.
This I think is the clearest statement of what Gandalf really cared about that one will find anywhere. He says that Gondor may fall (and at that moment there was no certainty that Aragorn would win through and survive the war to become king). The success of his mission did not depend on Aragorn's triumph.
I think this shows that no one in particular was specifically important to Gandalf’s ultimate task of ensuring the defeat of Sauron. His many plans (i.e., getting Frodo to Rivendell, getting Aragorn to claim his throne, getting Denethor out of the way, etc…), rather, were simply ‘little’ things. They were little in the sense of the ‘big picture’, a big picture that meant only the defeat of Sauron…eventually (‘flower again in days to come’…sometime in the future, the things that survived would be free from Sauron’s power).

Gandalf’s ‘little plans’ were all things that acted in a ripple effect, and through this, ultimately gained his goal with the destruction of the Ring and the defeat of Sauron. Gandalf had no need to depend on one of these plans… Thinking of weaving, Gandalf was leading so many little threads into others to create the desired effect, that his final goal would not be gone if he lost any of these threads, as he had only to pick up more and try again.

(I had what I think was a more coherent post written, but due to my computer’s hatred of me, it is now sadly buried in cyberspace.)
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Old 07-21-2005, 08:12 PM   #19
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I disagree with one small part...

I think he (and everyone else) would have been in deep doo-doo had the "get Frodo to Rivendell" thread been lost (although he personally did not have a whole lot to do with that).
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Old 07-21-2005, 10:39 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
The Faramir/Gandalf/Denethor dynamic is interesting. Faramir seeks to do the right thing, but clearly he looks to Gandalf to discover (or confirm) what that 'right' thing is, not to his father. One can see where Denethor's jealousy comes from - & it clearly is in large part simply that - jealousy of Gandalf who seems to have usurped his own fatherly role in Faramir's mind. Denethor seems to feel he has lost a second son. He feels betrayed by Faramir & reacts with anger, lashing out at his son.
But wasn't it Denethor who didn't treat Faramir rightly from the start? He had always made it obvious that he preferred Boromir over Faramir, and Faramir accepted that. Now that Boromir's gone, Denethor would still not let go of him. Faramir was willing to do everything Boromir had left behind, yet Denethor still did not recognize that - when he said, "That would depend upon the manner of your return." I think Denethor only realized what he had all along (i.e., Faramir) when he was about to lose it.
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Old 07-21-2005, 11:38 PM   #21
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What a chapter!

This is my first time and if there are a few things posted here that have been discussed previously in other chapters, (for there are a few general things).I'm sorry. Please point them out.

To start off, this chapter rocks!
So many things happen here. This is probably one of the longest chapters. After the council and 'Shadow of the past', I think.

The best thing of this chapter, and indeed of the tale itself, is that we view it from the eyes of a small, simple and frightened hobbit to whom everything sounds so large scale and everything important, who holds every soldier as worthy and mainly who feels strongly for all his friends.. I'm sure it wouldn't have been as interesting if said from the view of a citizen of Gondor, a soldier or healer or someone or even fom Gandalf's or Denethor's view.. (This is where I hold Tolkien's works much better than some fanfics. Human emotion and the mighty's view is too complicated to suit imagination. Nothing seems very extrodinary.)

One thing I noticed. Look at this statement.
Quote:
...small things of border war that now seemed useless and petty, shorn of their renown.
We have always seen the story being told from a hobbit's perspective, atleast when they were present. But I'm sure pippin won't think of Faramir's report as petty, he has never witnessed such ambushes and daring actions of war and looks at everyone present in awe and respect. Is there another narrator present always. In the sense that, we are never told of what is going on in the minds of the better of the ones present. It has always been seen from the 'not so mighty' (for lack of better word) eyes, Sam's or Pippin's or Merry's or Legolas and Gimli's.I never noticed this before. Was that narrator present always, giving his thoughts in between?

There are a few more things which I'll post in detail later, more to do with the chapter itself.
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Old 07-22-2005, 02:48 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
This I think is the clearest statement of what Gandalf really cared about that one will find anywhere. He says that Gondor may fall (and at that moment there was no certainty that Aragorn would win through and survive the war to become king). The success of his mission did not depend on Aragorn's triumph.
I'm not saying the success of his mission depended on it, I'm saying it had become a part of it. It wasn't just a matter of just defeating Sauron, & then walking away from the possible chaos that might result, it was about leaving Middle-earth in some kind of order for its new beginning. Having Aragorn become king, re-establishing the Royal line, etc, were all part of that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lhunardawen
But wasn't it Denethor who didn't treat Faramir rightly from the start? He had always made it obvious that he preferred Boromir over Faramir, and Faramir accepted that. Now that Boromir's gone, Denethor would still not let go of him. Faramir was willing to do everything Boromir had left behind, yet Denethor still did not recognize that - when he said, "That would depend upon the manner of your return." I think Denethor only realized what he had all along (i.e., Faramir) when he was about to lose it.
Denethor was a man- that was his tragedy, if you like. He screwed up, behaved badly & was over proud, but at heart he was a flawed human being like all of us. Its too easy to judge. There but for the grace of God....
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Old 07-22-2005, 09:26 AM   #23
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Looking objectively at Denethor and forgetting for a moment how much we all love Faramir, his behaviour shows him to have been a great leader who has slowly been worn down by the threat of war. He may also have felt undermined by Gandalf’s influence on hiss second son. When Boromir is gone, Denethor expects Faramir to take his place, and when he is not immediately eager to do so his anger is roused. He points out that despite his fine qualities, Faramir must also demonstrate his martial qualities:

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Ever your desire is to appear lordly and generous as a king of old, gracious, gentle. That may well befit one of high race, if he sits in power and peace. But in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death.
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'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.'
It is quite possible that this exchange has another meaning. They have been discussing Faramir's rejection of the Ring, an item which denethor in his heart believes he could have kept safe and kept to save his people, however misguided he has been by using the Palantir. And we must admit, it might seem nuts to send this Ring in the hands of a small seemingly defenceless Hobbit. He has sent Boromir to get the ring, but it is Faramir who has been presented with the best opportunity to take it. From these lines, particularly viewed in context of the second part, it could mean that Denethor believes Boromir would have taken the Ring. I like the possible double meaning as it brings depth to the relationship and how father and son misunderstand one another, and possibly always have misunderstood one another.

Quote:
'If I had this thing now in the deep vaults of this citadel, we should not then shake with dread under this gloom, fearing the worst, and our counsels would be undisturbed.
Denethor is convinced that he could protect the Ring, but he is sorely misguided. Sooner or later Sauron would have waged war on Gondor, which seems, in military terms, to be woefully inadequate in terms of attack, focussing all its resources on defence. The resources available to Gondor are starkly clear:

Quote:
he can afford to lose a host better than we to lose a company. And the retreat of those that we put out far afield will be perilous, if he wins across in force.'
This strategy can only hold out for so long against an aggressor. When that war came, the Ring would have been taken. In addition, he seems only to think of Gondor. Had the Ring been taken then it would not have just been Gondor that suffered, yet Denethor thinks of having the Ring only in terms of defence of his own country.

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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 think, and watch, and wait, spending even my sons? For I can still wield a brand.'
Denethor’s notion of leadership is interesting. Sauron has ‘slaves’ to fight his wars, and Denethor has ‘soldiers’. The difference only lies in that soldiers may have had a choice in the matter. They still cannot break an oath or run from their posts; maybe the punishment would be less in Gondor, but it would still be a grave error for any man to do so. This of course is how modern wars are fought; it has been a long time since a British monarch was active in battle though we have had princes involved. Yet to spell out his notion of leadership betrays an arrogance, an air of superiority. Other leaders in Middle earth join the battle, but Denethor does not; he underlines how refined he is, how strategic and ‘advanced’.

I wonder what sort of technology Sauron has access to. The armies laying siege to Gondor use a number of interesting techniques, including hurling the heads of the Gondorian men over the walls. This would have not only a profound psychological effect but could possibly also spread disease, weakening the people. They have ‘planes’ in the form of the Fell beasts, and they have engines of war with the Mumakil.

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Busy as ants hurrying orcs were digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring, just out of bowshot from the walls; and as the trenches were made each was filled with fire, though how it was kindled or fed, by art or devilry, none could see.
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It was no brigand or orc-chieftain that ordered the assault upon the Lord of Mordor's greatest foe. A power and mind of malice guided it. As soon as the great catapults were set, with many yells and the creaking of rope and winch, they began to throw missiles marvellously high, so that they passed right above the battlement and fell thudding within the first circle of the City; and many of them by some secret art burst into flame as they came toppling down.
The trench building is ingenious, and no doubt learned through other sieges (of Eastern cities we do not know of?); this would hide Sauron's forces from the eyes of the Gondorians making it not only impossible to hit them but to see what they were up to. I wonder about how that fire was kindled. Could it have been with oil? And what about the secret art that caused the missiles to burst into flame as they landed? Could they have been incendiary devices, filled with unstable compounds?

But the chief weapon of the enemy is fear, a very potent topic these past few weeks in the real world.

Quote:
the Black Captain leads them once again, and the fear of him has passed before him over the River.'
Quote:
the darkness had reached its full and grew no deeper, it weighed heavier on men's hearts, and a great dread was on them. Ill news came soon again
Quote:
But it is the Black Captain that defeats us. Few will stand and abide even the rumour of his coming. His own folk quail at him, and they would slay themselves at his bidding.'
He does not only scare the Gondorians, he scares his own people, who will willingly lay down their own lives if he wishes them to do so. In our own world such sacrifices are achieved through tyranny of the mind, and it appears that in Middle earth the same methods are used, though perhaps in a more mysterious way. Just mention of him is frightening enough, but when he arrives, he brings real and tangible terror to everyone save the one person who can understand the true nature of this ‘Black Captain’, Gandalf. And what an entrance he makes to the city! :

Quote:
there was a flash of searing lightning, and the doors tumbled in riven fragments to the ground.

In rode the Lord of the Nazgul. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgul, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.
All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dinen.
Finally, here we also have what I think is proof that the Witch King is possibly without any body or Hroa:

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The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
Though the following line makes me wonder about Gandalf and the nature of his own mortality, or is it a slip of the pen, a commonly used image that Tolkien let slide by?

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'Just now, Pippin, my heart almost failed me, hearing that name.
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Old 07-22-2005, 10:16 AM   #24
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I think he (and everyone else) would have been in deep doo-doo had the "get Frodo to Rivendell" thread been lost (although he personally did not have a whole lot to do with that).
Woops... Hehe, good point.
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Old 07-22-2005, 01:43 PM   #25
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I'm not saying the success of his mission depended on it, I'm saying it had become a part of it. It wasn't just a matter of just defeating Sauron, & then walking away from the possible chaos that might result, it was about leaving Middle-earth in some kind of order for its new beginning. Having Aragorn become king, re-establishing the Royal line, etc, were all part of that.
This may be deserving of its own topic, but...

I'm not sure that Middle-earth would have been left in chaos. Gondor would have been left under the rule of Faramir (and I can think of far worse people to be ruled by). Rohan might have ended up being ruled by Eowyn. That opens up the possibility of a Gondor/Rohan merger...

I guess the real difference is that there would have been no king over the wide empty spaces of Eriador.
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Old 07-22-2005, 01:52 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
This may be deserving of its own topic, but...

I'm not sure that Middle-earth would have been left in chaos. Gondor would have been left under the rule of Faramir (and I can think of far worse people to be ruled by). Rohan might have ended up being ruled by Eowyn. That opens up the possibility of a Gondor/Rohan merger...

I guess the real difference is that there would have been no king over the wide empty spaces of Eriador.
Ok, but there would have been no Aragorn-Arwen marriage, with the loss of that bloodline stretching back to Melian & beyond. I certainly can't imagine either of them marrying anyone else...

I think you have a point about another thread on this subject - was Aragorn's succeeding to the throne of Gondor necessary, & if so for what reasons? Faramir would not have assumed the Kingship of Gondor, so the realm would have remained ruled by a steward 'until the King come again'.
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Old 07-22-2005, 02:21 PM   #27
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Maybe the people of Gondor would have adopted a new system. If Aragorn had died, leaving no heir, then there would have been no one else to rule. Faramir was a beloved leader in Minas Tirith, and perhaps knowing that there was no "rightful" king anymore, the people there would have decided to crown Faramir instead. Kind of like how in the youth of the US, people wanted Washington to be king.

Mere speculation, of course.

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Old 07-22-2005, 04:50 PM   #28
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Boots Contributing to the delinquency of this thread

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Ok, but there would have been no Aragorn-Arwen marriage, with the loss of that bloodline stretching back to Melian & beyond.
Well, yes this is true. This is an almost "elvish" point in not wanting this last little bit of "magic" to pass from Middle-earth.

If the king had not returned it would not have made such a grand ending (in such case some "modernist" critics might have found it more appealing). However, Gandalf as a character could not concern himself with such things. On the other hand, he was rather "elvish" in disposition.

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Maybe the people of Gondor would have adopted a new system. If Aragorn had died, leaving no heir, then there would have been no one else to rule. Faramir was a beloved leader in Minas Tirith, and perhaps knowing that there was no "rightful" king anymore, the people there would have decided to Faramir instead. Kind of like how in the youth of the US, people wanted Washington to be king.
I think Faramir would have had a reaction similar to that of Washington.
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Old 07-22-2005, 08:24 PM   #29
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I think Faramir would have had a reaction similar to that of Washington.
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Old 07-24-2005, 02:50 PM   #30
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Who made the fireworks?

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The bells of day had scarcely rung out again, a mockery in the unlightened dark, when far away he saw fires spring up, across in the dim spaces where the walls of the Pelennor stood. The watchman cried aloud, and all men in the City stood to arms. Now ever and anon there was a red flash, and slowly through the heavy air dull rumbles could be heard.
'They have taken the wall!' men cried. 'They are blasting breaches in it. They are coming!'
This is the 'blasting fire' of Orthanc which breached the wall of Helm's Deep:

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"But the Orcs have brought a devilry from Orthanc," said Aragorn. "They have a blasting fire, and with it they took the Wall. If they cannot come in the caves, they may seal up those that are inside. But now we must turn all our thought to our own defence."
So, was Aragorn right? Was it Saruman who invented 'gunpowder', or did he learn it from Sauron?

Or did Gandalf start the whole nasty business off - he's the one who's famous for fireworks after all?

Gandalf seems, on the face of it, the most likely candidate - he was the bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire. Is it possible that Gandalf's little toys inspired his fellow Istari to come up with the explosives used at Helm's Deep, & that Sauron then obtained the knowledge from him via the Palantir?

Whatever the answer it seems that this 'blasting fire' was less of a shock to the Gondorians than it was to the Rohirrim. Its appearance at Helm's Deep certainly seems to have thrown the defenders into confusion, whereas the men of Minas Tirith appear to see it almost as a 'standard tactic' of Sauron's forces - they are not stunned into silence by something totally unexpected, but know that a 'flash' & a 'dull rumble' in the distance means explosives.

A more interesting question is how far away they were from creating cannons? Probably not far. It seems that the defeat of Sauron put an end to the development of firearms. That technology dies with the defeat of Sauron. The West does not take it up & make use of it later - even for self-defence. I don't know whether that was Tolkien's comment on the use made of Nazi rocket technology by the allies in the post war period, but it certainly points up a difference between the victors in the War of the Ring & the victors of WW2.

Another interesting weapon is the incendiary 'bombs'. As Lalwende says:

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And what about the secret art that caused the missiles to burst into flame as they landed? Could they have been incendiary devices, filled with unstable compounds?
Tolkien seems to be referring to something like Greek Fire. Again, 'high-technology' weaponry is being employed against a civilisation armed only with swords, arrows & spears. Clearly, the West would stand little chance of survival if the Ring had not been destroyed, but I think there is perhaps a deeper theme underlying the West's refusal to use this kind of weaponry. It is like the Ring in one way - use of it will corrupt the user. Just as one cannot use the Ring without becoming like Sauron so one cannot use the 'lesser' weapons of the Enemy without risking a similar fate. To behave like the enemy requires one to think like him, to think like him is to risk becoming like him. The promise of easy victory is what lures one to the edge of the abyss. Just as the West must reject the Ring, so it must reject the use of 'blasting fire' & incendiary devices.

Of course, that's fine for a fantasy world - things are different in the 'real world' aren't they?
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Old 07-24-2005, 11:19 PM   #31
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Reading Lalwendë's 'defense' of Denethor made me feel a bit remorseful of the way I have viewed him the first time I read this chapter, and even until now. I had the spectator's perspective that made me know more things concerning the Ring than Denethor did, plus I had the privilege of 'being in the Council of Elrond' while he never even saw his 'emissary' to the Council again.

With these in mind, I'm beginning to entertain notions that maybe it was Gandalf who erred all along. He was too harsh in dealing with Denethor's misconceptions about the Ring, and he did not even think of correcting him gently - not that Denethor would listen to him. But at the very least he could have done his part in lovingly trying to rebuke Denethor, even though him being scorned upon in return by the Steward is almost a given. Giving Gandalf the benefit of the doubt, though, maybe he had been too caught up with the events that he did not think of doing so.

But on the other hand, probably it was Denethor's 'responsibility' as Steward to do his research on the Ring, to (sort of) get to know his Enemy better. And at this critical point in time, Gandalf had no room for irresponsible Stewards.

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Old 07-25-2005, 07:14 AM   #32
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As always, late to this debate, but what garden is ever complete and never in need of more tending, eh?

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Originally Posted by Lalwendë
Looking objectively at Denethor and forgetting for a moment how much we all love Faramir, his behaviour shows him to have been a great leader who has slowly been worn down by the threat of war.
I'm not so sure it is our love for Faramir which colours our reading of Denethor, but the cumulative effects of our reading the story. I think Lhunardawen's initial stance as a reader is closer to what the narrative offers.

As I reread this chapter, I was struck by how much our interpretation of the Steward depends upon our remembering the fall and passing of Boromir and the Council of Elrond. And of how well we have attended to Sam and Frodo's story and the effect of the Ring there.

There is, first of all, Pippin's rather bizarre image of Denethor:

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There Denethor sat in a grey gloom, like an old patient spider, Pippin thought; he did not seem to have moved since the day before.
Is it simply happenstance that Tolkien gives to Pippin the spider image or are we to recall the malevolent creature whose personal self-indulgences have led to so terrible a state for Sam and Frodo? Shelob of course left others immobile in her webs, but this spider-Denethor seems to be trapped within a web of his own making. However we recall--or not--Shelob, Pippin's image is hardly one of grandeur and, indeed, implies a self-imposed imprisonment. The suggestion is that Denethor is trapped by his own making and is not a leader who is reacting to events, but is frozen. At least, this would appear to be Pippin's interpretation.

Then there is the meeting in Denethor's private chambers, where Faramir is to report to his Lord upon his ten days' errand. How Tolkien handles this scene is interesting, for we have not one word from Denethor to Faramir about strategic details. Yes, he bows his head as if he knows all, and we come to understand why he should be so unquestioning about events, but Tolkien gives to Gandalf the role of military strategist, having the wizard ask pointedly about time, days, distances travelled. Denethor is moved to involvement, to reply, only when he is displeased by the personality of his younger son. Despite his criticism that Faramir fails to demonstrate the appropriate miliatary judgement, Denethor himself does not display such judgement and instead reacts not to the military questions at hand, but to something personal and intimate between him and his son; Denethor also allows himself the luxury of jealousy with Gandalf rather than remaining above questions of personality.

Then too, we have Denethor discussing the use of the Ring in terms which recall those Boromir used at the Council of Elrond, the pride and arrogance of an old family who believes itself personally entitled to rule (and, within Tolkien's values of Middle-earth, without the blood of kings to vouchsafe that belief). Denethor never once asks Gandalf to report on the Council of Elrond; he never inquires about Elrond's reasoning. It is true that Gandalf does not offer it, but once again, Denthor fails to ask a military strategist's questions.

How ironic are his words: "He would have brought me a mighty gift." At this point in the story, readers have enough knowledge to understand that Gandalf here is in the right when he says,

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"He [Boromir] would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own, and when he returned you would not have known your son. . . . And now hearing you speak I trust you less, no more than Boromir. Nay, stay your wrath. I do not trust myself with this, and I refused this thing, even as a freely given gift."
Surely also as Denethor speaks of what he would do with the Ring readers remember Galadriel's refusing of it.

My point is less to attack Denethor than to consider how the chapter leads readers to make certain interpretations about its events. The chapter is slippery as befits a depiction of a man who is in the final stages of madness. How much so, readers will learn in the next chapter when Denethor decides to place the still living Faramir on a burning pyre with himself. But for now, we have a complex character who has many sympathetic and positive traits but who has fallen by a technology as powerful as the Ring. Denethor is unknowingly the traitor within and this chapter gives readers the chance to balance the Steward's point of view with that of Gandalf. We might wish that Gandald had been more patient and persuasive with Denethor, but all of the wizard's statements are points which we as readers have already seen are the 'right' interpretation.

In other words, Denethor is fated to not understand because the author wished his character not to understand, and provided evidence in the text for readers to see how his understanding failed.

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Old 07-26-2005, 04:55 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by Lhunardawen
Reading Lalwendë's 'defense' of Denethor made me feel a bit remorseful of the way I have viewed him the first time I read this chapter, and even until now. I had the spectator's perspective that made me know more things concerning the Ring than Denethor did, plus I had the privilege of 'being in the Council of Elrond' while he never even saw his 'emissary' to the Council again.
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry
My point is less to attack Denethor than to consider how the chapter leads readers to make certain interpretations about its events.
I would not say I was defending Denethor, more that I was trying to view him without the weight of the story bearing down on his character. At this point as readers we have learned much and are fully convinced of the bad effects of the Ring, but Denethor is not, he is a character who has not left Minas Tirith in all that time.

I would suppose that differing viewpoints must originate from the way we read. When we read all the way through we don't tend to drop what we have learned that easily, but for these CbC discussions we are reading slowly and closely. Therefore it is much easier to step into Denethor's shoes as we don't have the impetus to keep going with the story at all costs. I think it is helpful, too, to momentarily unburden ourselves of what we have learned and see what is really going on in this character's mind at this point.

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'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.'
Denethor is being driven by a host of conflicting emotions at this point. He is suffering grief for his elder son, the city he is responsible for is finally coming under attack after years of waiting, he is also responsible for a great number of people, and we must presume that he has been looking in the Palantir and has been shown things designed to work on his fears and break him down. Here his second son returns with news that just about finishes him off - if he is heading for a mental breakdown then this is the catalyst.

This Ring means a lot to Denethor. He truly believes that it will help him defend his city and people; he is about to see the military strength which Mordor can put forwards and it surpasses his worst fears, and Gondor stands no chance against this enemy. He needs that Ring. These are desperate days, and time is running out, and we see all these characters in a heightened state of fear, which is partly why they fail to communicate effectively with each other. There is no time, and tempers are high.

Denethor, who is not only a father but a leader, has sent one son to bring the Ring to Gondor, and he has lost him. Not only that, but he has only just heard how his son died. His other son has been given the opportunity to take the Ring on his own doorstep and has turned it down. Denethor cannot believe this. Consider how one son has accepted the task he has offered and died in the process, while the other son is handed success on a plate and turns it down. If we apply this to a modern situation then Denethor's reaction is wrong, but it is also not unexpected, especially for a man cracking under pressure.

Bearing in mind that Faramir is suffering not only grief at the death of his brother (and close comrades?) but also a blow to his own self-worth in seeing Minas Tirith finally beginning to succumb, and we also have Gandalf making an appearance, and miscommunication becomes increasingly likely. It does seem that Denethor has a long standing resentment against Gandalf for his influence on his second son, and this is brought bubbling to the surface when he finds out what opportunity Faramir has given up. He clearly believes that Faramir has been influenced more by his sometime mentor than by his own father, and such a reaction is believable as it stems from the seething instincts of love and jealousy. This is what is interesting about what Denethor spits out at Faramir. he could mean that he wishes he had Boromir back by his side, but it could also mean that he simply wishes that it had been Boromir who met Frodo defenceless in Ithilien.

I think that the story is so much more effective, and conveys far more of the tragedy when we can look at it through the eyes of each character and how they respond to events. I'd rather not look at Denethor as a flat out bad guy. I'm not seeking to defend him, but I want to know why he reacts in the way he does, as the story must have been written that way for a very good reason.
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Old 07-26-2005, 08:11 PM   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë
I would not say I was defending Denethor, more that I was trying to view him without the weight of the story bearing down on his character. At this point as readers we have learned much and are fully convinced of the bad effects of the Ring, but Denethor is not, he is a character who has not left Minas Tirith in all that time.

. . .

I think that the story is so much more effective, and conveys far more of the tragedy when we can look at it through the eyes of each character and how they respond to events. I'd rather not look at Denethor as a flat out bad guy. I'm not seeking to defend him, but I want to know why he reacts in the way he does, as the story must have been written that way for a very good reason.
Oh, I am in complete agreement with you, Lalwendë, in your wishes to explore a character's mind on his or her own terms and I commend you for it. I would really be interested in exploring this point of view as it sheds light on, for example, Saruman, as I think most of our discussions here have tended towards an easy acceptance of the narrative's opinion of him.

My wish was slightly different, to point out how the narrative as well as a character's own actions can direct our interpretation. I think we-you and I-- both have similar interests, to understand why Denethor is shown the way he is. To be honest, I cannot help but feel he is doomed to fail as Tolkien wishes to show the ill effects of a stewardship based on faulty reasoning. Here is the leader not like Beowulf or Beortnoth, who lead out in battle, but someone supervising from the rear so to speak. Yet vanity is his downfall also. I also cannot help but think of Chamberlain when I read Denethor. A good man but not in the right place at the right time? Or is it that he lacks a stiff upper lip? Maybe there was no Eton in Gondor?

I think, though, that it is very constructive to recall Boromir's behaviour when we see Denethor, just as it is well to see how Faramir has had to struggle, as has Aragorn. In Middle-earth, there is something salutary about pain and struggling.
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Old 07-26-2005, 09:28 PM   #35
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Denethor has always struck me as one of the more 'complete' characters in the stroy, so like Bb and Lal I prefer to take him 'on his own terms' -- or, put another way, I am happier giving him a psychological reading than with just about any other character: there are complexities in him that don't exist in a lot of other characters in the tale.

But at the same time he is still a character in a story and not a real person, so I can only make sense of him in relation to other characters, specifically his sons. Faramir and Boromir are yet another example of an interesting polarisation in characterisation with Boromir providing the vainglory (honour for the self) and Faramir the sacrifice (honour for the city). Denethor seems to be a wonderful mixture of them both: he has been broken by the conflicting demands that are placed upon him as an individual and as a leader of a city: he must protect Minas Tirith until such time as the king returns, but the only way he can do that is by sacrificing himself by looking into the Palantir (and sending out his sons to die) which is also an act of hubris ("I am so great that I can look into the Palantir; I am the greatest man in Minas Tirith, so it's my job to protect it until a better man comes along").

Another pattern I think he fits in, is with Saruman and Gandalf -- three "terrible old men" who know about the Ring, are aware of the full implications of what's going on, and who contend with the Eye directly. Again, Denethor fits nicely in the middle of the two wizards, with Saruman going all the way over to Evil, Gandalf staying with the good, and Denethor doing evil without pledging himself to evil.

That's what I find so compelling about him: he never sides with Sauron (quite the reverse) nor does he ever adopt the techniques and strategies of Sauron; but neither does he follow Faramir, Frodo or Eomer and simply accept Aragorn as the Good (that he is).

He's one of the few instances in the stories which acknowledges that evil happens in many different ways, and that simply destroying the Dark Lord will not be the end of evil; this is why I think, Bb Denethor is being directly compared to that other 'free agent of evil' Shelob in that passage you somewhat coyly cited above. I have already promised at some point a fuller Denethor-Shelob meditation, but again time is against me here...
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Old 07-26-2005, 10:35 PM   #36
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He truly believes that it will help him defend his city and people; he is about to see the military strength which Mordor can put forwards and it surpasses his worst fears, and Gondor stands no chance against this enemy. He needs that Ring.
I'm not sure I'd put it like that. I think a better way of phrasing it is that he would have preferred to have it in his own hands. His expressed desire it to have it locked away unused somewhere. He only planned to pull it out at the uttermost need (which I think shows that he did not understand it all that well because the uttermost need would probably be just a bit too late).

Of course, I suppose that it is anybody's guess what he really thought, but I thought I would point out his expressed intention.
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Old 07-27-2005, 02:20 AM   #37
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Silmaril ramblings

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë
I would not say I was defending Denethor, more that I was trying to view him without the weight of the story bearing down on his character.
I understand that; I said 'defense' not so much because you were actually defending him, but because in my point of view you were trying not to say things against him, which I think was what you were actually doing. But I have to admit that it's very difficult to look at him objectively and without his faults seeping through. It just so happened that his character was revealed to us at a bad time; he was experiencing the worst events in the entirety of his life, was expecting things much worse, and was expected to hold himself up amidst all this - the perfect recipe for a person to actually break down. Had he been introduced in a much earlier time, a period of relative peace, we would have seen more commendable traits in him.

Not really...remember his jealousy towards Thorongil?

Hush!

See? That's exactly what I mean.

In my mind I can't help but compare him to Theoden, and in doing so I realized that indeed too much wisdom and knowledge can be detrimental.

Theoden was out of commission during the time the beginnings of the war can be seen, thanks to Grima, and 'woke up' to see his kingdom in danger. Instinctively he fought his way to 'safety' with a few friends along the way. He listened to Gandalf's words fully and trusted him completely. He had (almost) no knowledge of the Ring, and so did not really know how it relates to him and to Rohan. Until the end he remained hopeful, with a bright perspective of life and death.

On the other hand, Denethor was well aware of the happenings despite not stepping out of Minas Tirith - whether he gathered information through emissaries or spies or the Palantir does not really matter. He was in constant debate with Gandalf (except for the sortie thing) and believed he knows more than what Gandalf thinks he does. He came into an indirectly close contact with the Ring through his son Faramir, and felt indignant when the Ring was not brought to his hands. He saw and found out too much than what is good for him through the Palantir, and was too much analytical of others and the goings-on. All these assumptions and foreknowledge led to his dark and dreary view of life.

This brings me to believe that it's better not to hear about the Ring at all.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
I'm not sure I'd put it like that. I think a better way of phrasing it is that he would have preferred to have it in his own hands. His expressed desire is to have it locked away unused somewhere. He only planned to pull it out at the uttermost need (which I think shows that he did not understand it all that well because the uttermost need would probably be just a bit too late).
That makes me wonder why he was mad at Faramir at all for not getting it. Did Denethor think that the Ring would be the safest away from Sauron if it were in Gondor? Or did he really mean to use it, but said "I would hide it" so Gandalf would not know his real intention? Why did he want to have the Ring in his hands at all if he only thinks of hiding it, when there could be a whole lot of other hiding places?

(There goes me suspecting Denethor of lying. )

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Old 07-27-2005, 06:49 AM   #38
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There goes me suspecting Denethor of lying.
It is hard to deny that it is a reasonable assumption.
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Old 07-27-2005, 08:49 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
He's one of the few instances in the stories which acknowledges that evil happens in many different ways, and that simply destroying the Dark Lord will not be the end of evil; this is why I think, Bb Denethor is being directly compared to that other 'free agent of evil' Shelob in that passage you somewhat coyly cited above. I have already promised at some point a fuller Denethor-Shelob meditation, but again time is against me here...
And having time enough, I shall coyly await your thoughts on Denethor-Shelob. I do so enjoy it when people pick up on my hints.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lhunardawen
That makes me wonder why he was mad at Faramir at all for not getting it. Did Denethor think that the Ring would be the safest away from Sauron if it were in Gondor? Or did he really mean to use it, but said "I would hide it" so Gandalf would not know his real intention? Why did he want to have the Ring in his hands at all if he only thinks of hiding it, when there could be a whole lot of other hiding places?

(There goes me suspecting Denethor of lying. )
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
It is hard to deny that it is a reasonable assumption.
This is what is so fascinating about Denethor, the complexity of his motivation. It strikes me that in his vanity--as Fordim says, his 'vainglory'-- he assumes that he alone must or can save his city, whereas so much of LotR suggests that it is a community united in common belief and pursuits that provides the best defense. He is arguably one of the first to demonstrate the "Trust No one" perspective.
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Old 07-27-2005, 09:19 AM   #40
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I would really be interested in exploring this point of view as it sheds light on, for example, Saruman, as I think most of our discussions here have tended towards an easy acceptance of the narrative's opinion of him.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim
But at the same time he is still a character in a story and not a real person, so I can only make sense of him in relation to other characters
Well I for one enjoy any discussion of Saruman as he is fascinating! Yes, I understand what you mean, that there can be two ways of analysing characters - either in context of the entire text, which is how we encounter them (coloured by other characters' opinions, reported behaviour and so forth, which is particularly relevant with Saruman) or alone, isolated within their part of the story. One of the reasons that these CbC discussions are so good is that it gives us a perfect opportunity to do just that.

When we read about a character we can only learn so much in any case, gleaning snippets from what has been put before us; in Tolkien's case we learn a lot more from their interactions and behaviour than from any interior monologues. So it pays to read closely.

And there's an odd thing, if you think about it, any character's mere existence is simply due to the fact that they play a part in the story. So we can analyse them or try to speculate on where exactly they went wrong, or how it came to be that they did the right thing, but it was all in the hands of the author all along.

But now I've wandered into one of the thorniest part of the woods...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
I'm not sure I'd put it like that. I think a better way of phrasing it is that he would have preferred to have it in his own hands. His expressed desire it to have it locked away unused somewhere. He only planned to pull it out at the uttermost need (which I think shows that he did not understand it all that well because the uttermost need would probably be just a bit too late).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lhunardawen
That makes me wonder why he was mad at Faramir at all for not getting it. Did Denethor think that the Ring would be the safest away from Sauron if it were in Gondor? Or did he really mean to use it, but said "I would hide it" so Gandalf would not know his real intention? Why did he want to have the Ring in his hands at all if he only thinks of hiding it, when there could be a whole lot of other hiding places?
When I came to the conclusion that Denethor 'needed' the Ring, it was pretty much in the way that Lhunardawen says. His anger at Faramir for not securing it, and his actions in sending Boromir (not only a beloved son, but a vital part of his military) suggest that he was determined to get it, despite the cost being high (the risk to Boromir and estrangement from Faramir). I would have thought that only need would have driven him to that. But I too think he may have been lying when he said he would just have hidden it.

Comparing Denethor with Theoden, we are lucky in that we get to see the King of Rohan after his period of madness. We see him in a variety of situations, including those which are relatively happy, such as talking to Merry as they ride. But we never get to see Denethor in those kinds of situations, we only get to see him at extremes. If we visit a town when it is raining and all the shops are shut we might think it's a horrible place and if we never go back nothing will change our opinion; that is how we see Denethor sadly. but as I've said, maybe that's how we have to see him, as he's a character, there to fulfill a purpose.
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