Oct 30 2009 5:03pm

LotR re-read: Two Towers IV.5, “The Window on the West”

cover of The Two Towers Aaaand we’re back to the Lord of the Rings re-read, finally, with Book IV, chapter 5 of The Two Towers, “The Window on the West.” As always, spoilers for all of The Lord of the Rings and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Sam wakes to find Faramir questioning Frodo about Isildur’s Bane. Frodo tries to avoid the subject, which leads to Faramir saying that Boromir is dead and suggesting that treachery was involved. Sam loses his temper and gets a politely devastating set-down. Frodo doesn’t know what happened, but grieves and begs Faramir to let them go to their task. Faramir decided the hobbits must accompany them to a nearby refuge.

On the journey, Faramir quietly tells Frodo that he regretted questioning him about Isildur’s Bane in public. From Frodo’s response, he infers Boromir’s desire and disavows it: “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.” But Frodo cannot yet bring himself to trust Faramir.

They arrive at the hideout in time to see sunset behind a waterfall. After dinner—and possible news of Gollum, about which Sam keeps quiet—they continue their conversation with Faramir. Frodo tells stories of Boromir’s courage; Faramir gives a short thematic history of Gondor’s fortunes since its founding and how it has declined in wisdom. Sam brings up Elves and goes into raptures over Galadriel, ending in him blurting out that Boromir wanted the Ring. Faramir appreciates the irony of this, but holds his prior statement as a vow. He asks where they are going, in case he can help, and is astonished when Frodo tells him and then more or less faints. He puts Frodo to bed and accepts Sam’s respect at passing the test.


Wow, talk-heavy chapters are tough to recap concisely. (Those of you also participating in the Wheel of Time re-read: yes, I know, but Leigh and I are doing very different things.)

In general chapter news, I am pleased to report that I like Faramir. This is a great relief to me, because I always had—he was my favorite, in fact—but I didn’t know if I still would. I don’t know if he’ll maintain favorite status now, but still: I like him, enough that I found myself trying to decide if he was too perfect, even. I know, can’t make things easy on myself: but I think I convinced myself that he wasn’t, for two reasons.

First, yes, he refuses the Ring, but the entire situation is set up very carefully to make that possible for him, culminating in the prior unqualified statement about not taking it from the roadside. Second, that statement itself stems from a reaction to Boromir, which is something I only understood on this read, just how much he frames himself in relation to Boromir. (I’m not only the oldest of two but also the Good Kid, so this isn’t something I’ve experienced first-hand.) Faramir’s just relived seeing his dead brother and acknowledged the flaws that led to his death—on an errand that Faramir thinks he should have taken instead—plus gotten a hint at the stakes when he heard that Gandalf was dead. Of course he would say, “I would do it all differently than Boromir.”

And the conversation just before Sam spills the beans is similarly structured. The thematic history about Gondor’s decline [*] culminates in “we now love war and valour as things good in themselves, both a sport and an end . . . . So even was my brother, Boromir: a man of prowess, and for that he was accounted the best man in Gondor.” Compare his prior description of himself: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.” Which, okay, is an implicit placing of himself as a High Man to Boromir’s Middle, and that does sound a little conceited, which is probably why Tolkien separated the statements in time and place. But the point is, to me the entire series of discussions reeks of, “I have spent my whole life loving and admiring my brother but also watching him and deciding how I am and am not going to be like him.” Boromir is like the heavy weight on the metaphorical rubber sheet of the universe, deforming Faramir’s orbit around him. And that’s very human and happily non-perfect to me. Anyway. Do we have any younger sibs out there? Does this sound right to you?

[*] Which I think is the first time we get anything at all resembling an explanation of the fall of Númenor in the text, and a great one it is, too:

Death was ever present, because the Númenóreans still, as they had in their old kingdom, and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anárion had no heir.

(Well, except that the first sentence could use a little rearranging as far as I’m concerned: the “and so lost it” is hard going where it is. At least once more in this chapter, Faramir sticks another hard-to-swallow clause in the middle of a sentence; I’ll be interested to see if Denethor does the same.)

* * *

To round off the discussion about Boromir, the non-vision of him in the boat. I’d never noticed before that Faramir described it as seeming “almost filled with clear water, from which came the light; and lapped in the water a warrior lay asleep.” On the prosaic level, it would be surprising if there weren’t water in the boat after going over the Falls. On the symbolic level, Boromir appears to have been definitively redeemed/forgiven/whatever to get the clear light treatment. Possibly via Galadriel and her water–light connection (not to mention boats), or maybe just an example of the natural world reflecting moral status.

And this is a great sentence: “And now the horn of the elder son lies in two pieces upon the lap of Denethor, sitting in his high chair, waiting for news.” It certainly makes me sympathize with the man, here before I meet him.

(That horn could be heard if blown “within the bounds of Gondor, as the realm was of old.” On one hand, necessary for the plot; on the other, I suppose no magical smiths are left to update the GPS on ancient items of armor . . . )

* * *

Two final things caught my eye in Faramir and Frodo’s first private conversation. First, Frodo thinks Gandalf is dead, and Faramir only now guesses that he was “more than a lore-master: a great mover of the deeds that are done in our time.” Oh, that’s right, the characters don’t know everything that we do! I like the reminder that Tolkien was paying attention to that. It’s something I often have trouble keeping track of, which is one reason why I tend to find political intrigue stories hard going.

Second, Faramir starts referring to Isildur’s Bane as “Isildur’s Bane,” italicized. Anyone know why? I find it mildly distracting.

* * *

I don’t suppose anyone has any picture references of what the sunset at Henneth Annûn might look like? (It wasn’t in the movie, right?)

* * *

We talked about Tolkien’s food descriptions last time, so naturally I had to quote this:

After so long journeying and camping, and days spent in the lonely wild, the evening meal seemed a feast to the hobbits: to drink pale yellow wine, cool and fragrant, and eat bread and butter, and salted meats, and dried fruits, and good red cheese, with clean hands and clean knives and plates.

This works for me, but not as mouth-watering sensory description, as part of the whole package of “Hey! Civilization again!” All they need is hot running water. (Oh yes, and Sam gets a little tipsy on the wine, which doubtless also contributes to his mouth running away with him.)

* * *

Another thing we talked about last time was the bits of information we get on the societies of the East and South. Here’s Faramir’s view when he describes the Stewards, who “made a truce with the proud peoples of the North, who often had assailed us, men of fierce valour, but our kin from afar off, unlike the wild Easterlings or the cruel Haradrim.” Everything people said about propaganda and history in comments is still entirely true, and yet it still feels to me like an authorially-approved statement. Your mileage may vary.

Also in this section we get his views on the Rohirrim, which strikes me now as a very small bit of foreshadowing: “And we love them: tall men and fair women, valiant both alike, golden-haired, bright-eyed, and strong.” Establishing a predisposition toward a particular type never hurts when you have a romance planned . . .

* * *

We’ve been ignoring Sam thus far, so let’s turn to him. He gets to be the comedic relief early, giving the readers and the Rangers the amusing “sight of their Captain sitting on the ground and eye to eye with a young hobbit, legs well apart, bristling with wrath.” The resulting set-down by Faramir not only shows that his character but identifies a flaw of Sam’s that will eventually result in grief (to me, at least): “Were I as hasty as you, I might have slain you long ago.” In other words, don’t jump to conclusions when the results might be irrevocable. Listen, Sam! (Except you won’t, because you can’t, because you’re a character in a book that was written decades ago. Drat.)

On the other hand, I like his decision to stay awake when they arrive at the hideout: as he says, it won’t do any good, but he has to do it anyway. I know the feeling, though from much less physically dangerous circumstances . . .

And then there’s the talking about Elves. I quite dislike his initial description of Galadriel, which is so ostentatiously folksy as to be utterly useless. I mean, “Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars”: what, she suffers from pathological extremes of mood swings? His reaction to Faramir’s calling her perilous interested me, though: “But perhaps you could call her perilous, because she’s so strong in herself. You, you could dash yourself to pieces on her, like a ship on a rock; or drownd yourself, like a hobbit in a river.” I can’t decide if Sam is being remarkably perceptive, or forced to mouth the author’s view because he’s there. This might be because I wouldn’t classify Boromir as having dashed himself to pieces against her, and so I don’t know where he’d have gotten the data to draw this conclusion from. (I saw Galadriel’s role as an agent of self-revelation, not someone or something he struggled against. Also, I dislike comparing Galadriel to a wrecker of ships, even if Sam says she’s not to blame; reminds me too much of Sirens and the like.) But then Sam also says here that he thought Boromir wanted the Ring even before Lórien, which is news to me!—so maybe it’s just his day to show off his L33T people-reading skillz.

Okay, clearly I haven’t caught up on my sleep enough yet. (I’ve written something like 13,000 words in the last couple of weeks, at some rather suboptimal hours.) Enough of this—I’ll try to be better about keeping up with comments for this post.

« Two Towers IV.4 | Index | Two Towers IV.6 »

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

1. DemetriosX
"or drownd yourself, like a hobbit in a river." That's a bit insensitive on Sam's part, considering how Frodo's parents died.

As for Boromir wanting the ring before Lorien, remember the scene on Caradhras, where Frodo falls and briefly loses the ring. Boromir picks it up and there is a "Moment". Sam picked up on that.
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
Yes, it is a bit--more evidence he's clearly not thinking of Frodo at all.

And that's a movie-only scene!
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
This is the closest I can find to a good sunset through waterfall picture. If you're ever anywhere near Ystradfellte, there's a west-facing waterfall you can walk behind, which is the way I always picture it. There isn't a room there the way there is at Henneth Annun, just a ledge.
4. Dr. Thanatos
I have always liked this chapter from the POV of a physician; we start to see more of the Denethor-Boromir-Faramir family dynamic; the father who favors one child, the son who longs for his father's love to the point of suicidal heroics; the other son who is, for lack of a better phrase, the Big Jock that no one can measure up to .

Being the younger sib to a Big Jock and to a Big Brain, and having had to deal with "oh, you're Schmuey's little brother" all the way from elementary through medical school, the whole Faramir thing resonates with me. (but now my therapy session is over, back to the book discussion...)

For those who have read this, and read The Children of Hurin, Tolkien's grasp of family dynamics and the effect of loss, lost love, sibling rivalry, etc is profound compared to other writers in the genre. Faramir's link to Eowyn, who also had some personal issues is also interesting, given the loud hints thrown in from time to time about the impact of the early death of Denethor's wife...

I think that sections like this are what separates JRRT from other great fantasy writers like Dunsany, Peake, etc: his characters have the depth of real people, not just flat heroes and villains in a book. Kinda makes you wish he'd gotten to that long lost story about Sauron's growing up in his uncle's house in the little room under the stairs...
5. DemetriosX
Kate @2, you're right, that is a movie scene, but I'm sure there's something there. Boromir carries Frodo or something. I have a distinct recollection of some sort of conflict.
6. Formerly Underhill
To DemetriosX: Regarding "Boromir wanting the ring before Lorien," Sam was listening at the Council of Elrond, and Boromir pretty clearly wanted the Ring back then to be used against Sauron.
7. pilgrimsoul
The contrast made between Eomer and Faramir by Tom Shippey is interesting and instructive I think. Faramir is very subtle and highly civilized and refined. All of this is evident but JRRT has to insist on his warrior creds.
j p
8. sps49
Faramir- I think it was Faramir- at the beginning of the meal the Men stood up and faced West for a moment to Numenor what was and Eressea what is, and asked don't Hobbits do that, too? Maybe I identified with the Hobbits too much, but my reaction was "hey, no angels invited my forebears to Candyland, and I don't recall tales of Elves or Maia teaching us squat, but we try not to make our guests feel small. Okay, smaller."

And all this emphasis on Faramir being like Aragorn (Numenorean) just means his future with Eowyn is seen as a step down.

The commentary does make me wonder; when and where were Men split? Did they have three groups (or Nine, haha) at the beginning, similar to the Elves and Dwarves?

I don't think any picture or movie shot of Henneth Annun could be better than what I see in my mind's eye.

And don't overdo the writing, Kate, m'kay? Take care of yourself. :)
Kate Nepveu
9. katenepveu
bluejo @ #3, that's a great picture, thanks.

Dr. Thanatos @ #4, I hadn't connected Eowyn to his mother's early death before--though, now that you say it, there is at least one textual reference, something about his mother's cloak or something? Well, we'll get there.

DemetriosX @ #5, I don't recall anything or see anything in a quick skim, and there's only five chapters between Boromir's introduction and when they meet Galadriel . . .

Formerly Underhill @ #6, but Sam says that Boromir hadn't himself seen clearly what he wanted until then, and so I think that there's a difference between "I think we should use this as a weapon against the Enemy" and "it's mine, my precious," you know?

pilgrimsoul @ #7, I clearly ought to revisit Shippey (hah, another project) because I'd forgotten that. This is in chapter 4 of _Road to Middle-earth_, the section "The Edges of the Mark." Shippey notes that there are three scenes where men of the Mark and men of Gondor are contrasted: the "meetings in the wilderness," Eomer with the hunters and Faramir with the hobbits; the "building descriptions" of Meduseld and Minas Tirith's great hall; and Theoden and Denethor's arcs ("two old men who have both lost their sons").

Shippey points out that Eomer "takes little care to be polite," partly because he is ignorant--sceptical and superstitous both about Elves. Faramar is polite because he is "self-assured," thanks to the whole cultural hierarchy that he sets out, and also less straightforward. The scenes are as much about culture as personality.

sps49 @ #8, yes, it was Faramir, and I was very remiss in not mentioning the quasi-religious observance, because they're so rare in Middle-earth (as Shippey, again, points out, extra-textually this is because Tolkien didn't want them practicing religions before the arrival of Christianity so that they didn't damn themselves ). You're absolutely right, he could have been more tactful about it.

(There, absolutely positively not too perfect. => )

And thanks, but I am doing my best to take care of myself--even though, alas, it meant temporarily deserting y'all . . . But I am going to take that as an excuse to not tease out the history of Men from _The Silmarillion_ and go to bed early tonight. See you all later.
10. EmmaPease
Faramir might not expect respect to Numenor but he probably expected a certain knowledge and respect to the Valar and Valinor. Do ordinary hobbits even know about the Valar?

For Boromir in the boat with the shining water, I would think this is Ulmo giving a small nudge.

As for men, the Edain, the elf friends of the first age, were in three groups (or four if you count the Druedain) and most of the remnants of those groups went to Numenor at the beginning of the second age. However, there were many other groups. There were other men in Beleriand but they seem to have either turn to the Great Enemy or else been destroyed (do we ever learn what happened to the people of the sons of Bor who were faithful?). However many groups of men never entered Beleriand and their descendants would include the men of Bree, Beornings, Easterlings and Haradrim (who may have been many groups themselves, we know some at least of the Haradrim were descended from the Numenoreans), the Rohirrim, the Dunlendings, the men of Dale, etc.. Note that Hobbits are just a variety of men.
Soon Lee
11. SoonLee
sps49 @8:
When in Rome and all that. IIRC, in Rivendell, didn't diners pay respects to Elbereth at mealtimes?
12. Mritanga
"I quite dislike his initial description of Galadriel, which is so ostentatiously folksy as to be utterly useless. I mean, “Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars”: what, she suffers from pathological extremes of mood swings?"

That, I think, is meant to illustrate Sam's reactions to Galadriel's little "demonstration" of Elven magic and her words about the risks of sending the Ringbearer to Lothlorien.

It's also a rather clever way of rounding out Sam's initial response to first meeting Elves - "They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak," answered Sam slowly. "It don't seem to matter what I think about them. They are quite different from what I expected - so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were."
Chapter IV - A Short Cut To Mushrooms, pg 85.

Galadriel, being one of the High Elves, and furthermore Queen in one of the few surviving High Elven realms, might be expected to take this characterization to new depths, new heights.
13. Harry Connolly
(Except you won’t, because you can’t, because you’re a character in a book that was written decades ago. Drat.)

This is the one aspect of reading a good book that drives me nuts. I come to love the characters but can never give them a Good Talking To.

Never mind that it never works in real life...
14. A.Willow
re:Sam's description of Galadriel,
I always saw this as Sam's 'inner poet' shining through.He was trying to desribe something spiritual,which is very,very hard to do with day-to-day words and language.He was probably using the phrases he knew to describe something he didn't,which rarely works.I seem to remember he just sat and observed while the Fellowship were in Lothlorien,probably gathering more 'data' than those who brought their own preconceptions into their view of the elves.Also,the description doesn't seem contradictory to me.I know people who are 'hard enough to break ships on' while being very gentle people at the same time.
Anyway,sorry I belaboured the point so much.I liked Sam's description of Galadriel a lot,though (how often do you hear a female character described as strong without qualifications and/or a pejorative slant?)
Andrew Foss
15. alfoss1540
The Faramir/Boromir - Favored first son vs insignificant puppy second son is played out here well - and shines light on the other interplay of hereditarily perfect Kings line vs the dirty distant second office of the stewards.

Faramir is written to be the doting and accepting 2nd child (do Princes Andrew or Edward look anywhere as good as the genetically perfect Charles? - or his perfect child Wills?). And Boromir the perfect Firstborn ready to take over as Head Steward - Not king.

As an American, where all men (sic) are created equal, this is insulting. Why shouldn't we all have a chance. Especially when #1 , #2 or #3 may flawed or might be putz's? Forget my feelings. I am a second son of four children. Since my older brother was adopted, does that make me more a first born or second born? I never let it get me down.

In the end it all plays out, but as we debate other issues about racial stereotypes and how they are presented, see that it happens at all ends of the spectrum. Heierarchical societies will always put One group on top and the rest trailing behind.
Soon Lee
16. SoonLee
There are advantages to being the insignificant child. After all, Valandil became Isildur's Heir because he didn't get to go with his father & three elder brothers to fight Sauron.
17. pilgrimsoul
I did NOT like Boromir--until he was incarnated in the luscious Sean Bean. But I liked/trusted Faramir from the first. Any insights into why?
Andrew Foss
18. alfoss1540
Pilgrimsoul@17 - Faramir was a stud above studs - until Jackson emasculated him and turned him into a bumbling fool.

Sean Bean helped show real insight into the flaws in Boromir's character - made him very human. Boromir's whole life was an epic vaunt, that he seemed happy to live up to. I often wonder what kind of person he would have been if he hadn't been #1 son to Denethor, heir to the Stewards seat.
19. sofrina
i believe all siblings tend to differentiate and so create themselves in relation to one another. as a firstborn, i'm independent, bossy, and generally well-behaved, also shy with strangers. i tend to follow rules. my brother, not so much. he's the flip side of the coin: noisy, impulsive, daring and happy to follow my plan (provided he agrees with it). whenever he got into trouble as a kid, i made a greater effort to provide calm and stability by doing more chores and being extra well-behaved.

we're all looking to distinguish ourselves from the get-go.

that said, boromir/faramir have the added dimension of primogeniture which imposes all sorts of additional issues and might even divide the heir from the others since he's being groomed to rule over them. i wonder less about prince charles' younger brothers and more about his elder sister, anne, who fell to the back of the line with the birth of each brother and then their own children.

i've always thought of boromir's role in the war as that of one who divided the fellowship at a critical point and set all the players to their appointed tasks. falling to the ring was necessary for him to achieve his pre-ordained purpose so of course he would be redeemed.

there are so many different hero archetypes represented. boromir's falls to the classic warrior hero with his love of weapons, war songs and battle lore. i think it says he didn't even love women like he loved fighting. what kind of leader would he make under those circumstances? how could he assume the steward's seat and have heirs of his own? as a man of action, he couldn't be happy in such a life.

so boromir receives the appropriate death for a warrior hero: overwhelming odds. he's outmanned and taken down (i'm pulling this from memory from "the epic hero", miller) "surrounded by the high-piled bodies of his enemies." that was, by the way, beautifully illustrated on film. everyone in the theater was so sad, but he was surrounded by all the orcs he'd killed single-handedly. pretty awesome send off.
20. EmmaPease
I suspect Boromir wanted to be Captain of the armies not Steward (the Stewards took care of things at home, they did not go out to battle except in dire need). Kings had the option to either send captains out and take care of things at home or else lead their armies and let the steward (or stewards) take care of things at home. Perhaps Boromir should have been the younger son.

If Boromir had survived the war and still on the side of good, I suspect he would have made a great captain of King Elessar's armies. Faramir would have also been a good captain but was better suited as Steward. Boromir might have been willing to give up his right to the stewardship to his younger brother (and might have become instead the new Prince of Ithilien and chief captain of the armies under the King).
21. ***Dave
To mix my novels, I've recently been plowing through Ellis Peters' Cadfael mysteries, and I'm struck my how many of the murders and other intrigues stem from arbitrary rules of legitimacy, primogeniture, inheritance and the like. Even the 12th Century backdrop of the civil war between Stephen and Maud is all about who's "more legitimate" than whom. It does make me think about what might have been different (if one can fictionalized about fictional characters) had Boromir and Faramir been in a different order.

Is it established how the Stewardship of Gondor was arranged prior to the failing of the line of Kings? While inheritance of the monarchy usually follows strict rules, it would be odd if the role of Steward was intended to be inherited, vs. by merit (though doubtless from the nobility). I presume it became hereditary after the line of Kings failed, but that, in itself, indicates a presumption and imitation of the "true" dominion which would lead in Tolkien's eyes to the flawed family dynamic of Denethor, Boromir, and Faramir.

As a side note, I will confess that while I enjoy Faramir as the "More Numinorean Than Thou" admirable fellow in the books, I don't find his rewrite in the movies to be all that egregiously awful (esp. in comparison to how Denethor is treated). Presented with the opportunity to be the dutiful son and to gain his father's approval, he behaves arguably more realistically than the mythic High Man in the books. It makes the plot creak more than a bit, but the character works just fine to my eyes.
22. Marc Rikmenspoel
As I've hinted at in past chapter discussions, this is one of my favorite parts of the story. I admit to be an outsider to the dynamics of sibling interactions, since I am an only child, and on one side, an only grandchild. My parents and grandparents are all long deceased, but back in the day, I was accustomed to being the center of their universes ;-)

What I like about Faramir and this chapter is the notion of two sides to something. Tolkien inserted a lot of duality into his writings. An example is the difference between Arnor (the Dunedain lost their kingdom, but kept the line of kings) and Gondor (the Dunedain kept their kingdom, but lost their line of kings). And Faramir and Boromir fit this mold. Boromir is the great warrior, and presumed the better man for that reason, while Faramir is more the scholar, and seen as less because of it.

Yet the lesser man resists the challenge that fells the greater man. This really impressed me back in 1983 when I was 13 and read LotR for the first time. I was greatly disappointed when the movie of The Two Towers took away this contrast between the brothers. I was gratified that Jackson and his crew evidently took a lot of grief for this, since Fran Walsh acknowledges in the behind the scenes commentary that they may have made a mistake at this point in the movie.
Ralph Giles
23. rillian
Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anárion had no heir.

This is indeed a great paragraph, but I really have a problem with the way it goes anti-science at the end. I understand Tolkien's theme on the loss of the countryside to industrialization, and I sympathise with it. This starts out as a very eloquent picture of decadence, but when it gets to the part where what sounds like rational investigation stands for the same I fall off the wagon.

This could be read as practising evil sorcercy, I suppose, but there are several other lines in this vein. Gandalf's remark at the Council, "Dangerous to all of us are the devices of an art deeper than we ourselves possess." Or Treebeard's about Saruman having a mind of wheels. (Is that one in the book? I can't remember if it's a movie-only line, but I don't think so.) Those two are both somewhat justifiable in their context, but this one pushed it over the edge for me.

All of these really bothered me this time through, and I'm glad you quoted it, since I'd forgotten I was waiting for this bit before bringing it up. I find it just as problematic as the free will question of the Orcs, really.
24. Confutus
I suspect that what the ancient kings of Numenor were were practicing was more alchemy than chemistry, and more astrology than astronomy.
j p
25. sps49
rillian @23-

The point is the same as the rest of the paragraph; the kings were more concerned with ancestry than the present or future (running the nation and ensuring descendants), the alchemy and astrology (which are pseudosciences, not science) are wastes of time to the exclusion of what they should be doing.
Kate Nepveu
26. katenepveu
EmmaPease @ #10, I suppose ordinary hobbits might know about the Valar, but I could equally imagine them not.

SoonLee @ #11, I see no references to observances before meals in Rivendell.

Mritanga @ #12, excellent point about Sam's description of Galadriel being his initial reaction to Elves turned up to 11. And welcome, since I don't remember saying hello to you before.

Harry Connolly @ #13, indeed, that's why giving people a Good Talking To is a prominent part of fantasies of political agency!

A.Willow @ #14, it's very and sadly true that you don't often "hear a female character described as strong without qualifications and/or a pejorative slant," thanks for the reminder.

alfoss1540 @ #15, I have a couple scholarly articles about _LotR_'s treatment of hierarchy that I'm saving for the start of Book V, when it starts really coming to the forefront. But yeah, as I've said before, hereditary monarchy is a system I have a hard time really getting behind when I stop and think about it . . .

pilgrimsoul @ #17, you liked Faramir from his very first appearance, during the last chapter? Because that is interesting, I hadn't seen anything to give _me_ that feeling, before we got to this chapter and the author basically telling us, "you can like and trust him!"

sofrina @ #19, those are very chewy thoughts about Boromir, thank you for bringing them (and welcome, because I don't think I've done so before). I'd like to suggest a slightly different take on Boromir's purpose & redemption, though: I think I would phrase it that Boromir was knowingly put to the test and thus given the opportunity to redeem himself by fighting for Merry & Pippin, which even though he wasn't successful, was judged sufficient.

***Dave @ #21, from Peters' Cadfael to Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, and Agatha Christie, on down . . . (Sayers and Stout has several will-based mysteries. Christie does too, plus appears to be obsessed, in some very peculiar and to me distasteful ways, about adoption and hidden children and nature over nurture.)

I don't believe it's established in _LotR_ proper about the Stewardship prior to them assuming the rule, no.

Marc Rikmenspoel @ #22, ooh, nice point about Arnor and Gondor. I like it.

rillian @ #23, I have criticized _LotR_ for being anti-science in the past (the breaking white light line), but here I read the reference to elixirs & the stars as a continuation of the fixation on immortality, rather than being condemned in their own right. That is, the last king had no heir _because_ he was obsessed with tombs and heraldry and death. (I would think that Tolkien approved of heraldry as a general matter, for instance.)

(or, what sps49 said while I was composing and just saw on preview!)
27. Dr. Thanatos
Kate @#26

I believe in the appendices it was stated that the stewardship became hereditary prior to the disappearance of the last king; it was one or two generations before that.
28. Dr. Thanatos
In addition, while Faramir implies that the line of kings failed due to their obsession with ancestry and staving off death, the appendices suggest otherwise; that the last king was more concerned with being a warrior than providing an heir, and gave in to the taunts of the Witch-King and rode to his death without having gotten wife or child. . In addition, there were other members of the royal family, but memories of the civil war prevented any further discussion as to who was the rightful heir.

This again may have been Faramir's take, rather than seeing the "fall from the high estate of old" and "becoming more like the men of the twilight," of which his brother was perhaps the poster-boy, as the real issue.
29. Dr. Thanatos
re: Hobbits and the Valar

It's not explicit but in the preface, when discussing the Riddle Game, reference is made to the Authorities with a capital A. I always wondered if this is a hint that the hobbits did reference a Higher Power ?
30. pilgrimsoul
@Kate #26
Well--actually I did as irrational as it was. I think it was the way he spoke. Rangers of Ithilien was the clincher for me. Rangers! Like Aragorn. They must be ok.
Soon Lee
31. SoonLee
Kate @26:
I'm wrong. Serves me right for posting without checking the text first.
32. sofrina
kate, thank you. i've not been following these as i meant to in the beginning. i would have commented more on boromir back at the "departure" thread.

i agree with your point. our points are pretty much the same. as i understand the novel, these events are guided from without, but they (mostly) require that the free peoples choose rightly and therefore earn the salvation of m-e. as a player in this, boromir must succumb to the ring's influence (not hard) and yet his essential valor must be enough to allow him to choose to do the right thing.

he falls long enough to force frodo to make the necessary choice to strike out on his own (take responsibility for his commitment), and then boromir recovers in time to heroically defend the decoy hobbits who will then draw the others to rohan and isengard. all necessary movements in the winning of the larger war.

i think of boromir's death as his greatest gift to gondor and middle-earth. that he went down fighting, and that his desperate companions took the time to give him a proper send off complete with the broken weapons of his enemies is quite a tribute.
Iain Coleman
33. Iain_Coleman

The "Authorities" referred to in the prologue are simply those people who are generally regarded as giving authoritative rulings on the proper play of the riddle game.
34. dr. thanatos
Iain @33:

This is based on what?
Kate Nepveu
35. katenepveu
Dr. Thanatos, thanks. I begin to think that I should also skip ahead and read the Appendices about Gondor's history now, except that then I wouldn't be experiencing the text in the order it is presented.

I also read the reference to "Authorities" regarding the Riddle Game as being purely secular, and a reference to the community of people who self-police the rules of such games; the tone seems entirely wrong for it to be a covert reference to deities or sub-deities.

pilgrimsoul @ #30, hey, you're allowed to like Faramir right at first! I was just curious why.
j p
36. sps49
Dr. Thanatos @28-

Yes regarding Earnur II, but the same process had been happening to all the Gondor Numenoreans. The Kin-strife was begun because that king had also died childless.

Kate, yes, read the Appendices if you haven't. Fun, fun. Lots of little treasures in them.
Andrew Mason
37. AnotherAndrew
Hobbits and Valar: if I remember rightly, the Hobbits use names for the days of the week which include 'Highday' for the Valar, and also 'Trewesday' for the two trees, which implies an awareness of the Valinor story. Now, it's possible that they use these names without awareness of their origins - after all, how many English speakers know about the Norse gods who inspired some of our day names? - but I think the information must have been around for anyone who cared to look for it.
38. legionseagle
In tone, the Prologue is closer to The Hobbit than it is to much of LOTR, and it's interesting to compare the reference to "the Authorities" in the Prologue to the discussion of the riddle game in The Hobbit (Unwin Books, Third Edition, 1966 p.74)

" knew, of course, that the riddle-game was sacred and of immense antiquity, and even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat when they played at it. But he felt he could not trust this slimy thing to keep any promise in a pinch. Any excuse would do for him to slide out of it. And, after all that last question had not been a genuine riddle according to the ancient laws."

"The Authorities" therefore seem to me to be those who are considered competent to rule on a question of interpretation of ancient laws. Who set those laws and why "even wicked creatures" are afraid to break them is another matter, but there appears no reason to suppose "the Authorities" are anything other than secular, since their function is one of interpretation only.
Michael Ikeda
39. mikeda
For what it's worth, Robert Foster in "The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth" concluded that the "Authorities" was another name for the Valar.

(In this context, I agree with him. It seems to me that the overseers of the Riddle-Game almost have to be outside of Middle-Earth. And "even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat" suggests the overseers are very powerful.)
40. pilgrimsoul
@Kate #35 It was interesting to think about why!

And as far as the Authorities and Riddle Game go--I thought or rather felt that they were transcendent authorities of some kind--not merely political or cultural but moral or spiritual. I have no evidence though.
Kate Nepveu
41. katenepveu
sps49 @ #36, oh, I've read the Appendices, I just don't remember as much as I probably should!
Harriet Culver
42. Aitchellsee
Sofrina @ 19 - speaking (pedantically) of male-preference primogeniture and the British crown, it's worth noting that the Princess Anne was not bumped to the back of the line by the birth of Charles because she's actually the second-born in her family - Charles was born first, in 1948, then Anne in 1950. So, not his elder sister. The male-preference thing, though, did mean that her younger brothers bumped her down the line :-)
43. legionseagle
Mikeda@39 I have some difficulties with the idea of "the Authorities" being the Valar for the purposes of the Prologue, based on the narrative conceit which holds the Prologue together (how far the same narrative conceit carries through into the rest of LOTR has been touched on at various points on earlier chapters, though I don't think anyone has ever come up with a conclusive theory).

The first question is who is "the author" of the Prologue? The Prologue is presented as an editorial summary, in which Bilbo et al are treated as real historical figures and the source texts are alluded to: The Hobbit, for example, is described as "a selection from" and as having been "derived from the early chapters of"the Red Book of Westmarch.

The Prologue's author is not a hobbit ("'The Big Folk' as they call us") nor an Elf (though with access to Elven records: "only the Elves still preserve any records of that vanished time" as well as to those of Gondor) and is writing some considerable time after the events described, though at a time when hobbits still exist, though are scarce and hard to spot. Other source texts referenced by the human author of the Prologue are ones written by Merry after the events of LOTR as well as several (potentially conflicting) accounts of the events described in LOTR - apparently different (earlier or later) transcriptions of the Red Book.

Accordingly, the human narrator of the Prologue has access to a very extensive Middle Earth library and is writing during the Fourth Age or later.

That being so, what he says about "the Authorities" reads as follows: "The Authorities, it is true, differ whether this last question was a mere 'question' and not a 'riddle' according to the strict rules of the Game, but all agree that, after accepting it and trying to guess the answer, Gollum was bound by his promise."

Now, if the Authorities are the Valar, undiluted, how has a direct ruling on the precise circumstances of Bilbo obtaining the Ring been obtained by that narrator in those circumstances? No ship has come back from Valinor bearing the ruling; it hardly seems likely that Gandalf bothered to ask about it while lying post-Balrog on the slopes of Caradhras, and I understand that direct Valar intervention in Middle-Earth itself is right out.

However, it does occur to me that given the milieu described in the Prologue (an extremely well-appointed Middle-Earth library) there is nothing to prevent "the Authorities" from being works of Authority, possibly having a sacred source, and that when the narrator of the Prologue says, "the Authorities differ" what he actually means is that essentially there are two conflicting precedents for what constitutes a riddle (so Gollum could validly have rejected the question and demanded another), but that the principle about what happens once a player accepts a question as valid is unquestioned.
jon meltzer
44. jmeltzer
@44: As the Prologue refers to tobacco by its scientific name, I dare say it was written not that long ago. I even venture to say that it was written by J. R. R. Tolkien (although the rest of the work is, of course, translated from the Red Book of Westmarch. That's beyond doubt.)

One would hope that the original manuscript of Meriadoc's "Herblore of the Shire" would surface in, say, the Bodleian Library. But books as rare and valuable as that one need to be protected.
Andrew Mason
45. AnotherAndrew
It seems to me that the very phrase 'the authorities differ' reads naturally if 'the authorities' means 'the experts' (those whose opinions are treated as authoritative), and not at all naturally if it means 'those in authority' (with actual powers of enforcement). That just strikes me as the context where such a phrase would normally be used.
46. Dr. Thanatos
Andrew @45

What sparked this thought in me that led to this part of the thread was not that the phrase referred to "the authorities" but to "the Authorities." The capitalization seemed to suggest some signficiance, just as when CS Lewis referred to Aslan as You Know Who.
Kate Nepveu
47. katenepveu
Dr. Thanatos @ #46: ah, see, I took the capitalization to be a little cutesy/tongue-in-cheek/etc., in keeping with the rest of the tone.
48. Dr. Thanatos

that is also a reasonable interpretation. I was looking at it as if it were written by a country yeoman of Tolkein's youth, the sort of people he modeled hobbit society after; in which case the capitalization might be significant.
49. Nimble
Thank you KN and everyone else for such an enjoyable discussion. After multiple re-readings earlier in life I haven't picked up the books in a long time. I think of reading the trilogy as an intensely private experience of childhood. What a contrast to read the sociable discussion of a chatty and well-informed bunch of enthusiasts. It's great fun and agreeably disorienting.

I found the re-read a few weeks back and assumed it was all finished long ago. I'm excited that I get to follow along in "real time" now. Thanks again!
Kate Nepveu
50. katenepveu
Dr. Thanatos, I always see Tolkien as the person speaking in the Prologue as well as the Foreword--doubtless this results in my bedrock disbelief in the framing device.

Nimble, welcome! I'm glad you can join us.
51. Stephen Morrison
I recently came across a passage in The Peoples of Middle-earth which bears directly on Faramir's threefold division of human nations. This is from "Of Dwarves and Men":
[quote]On the relations of the different kinds of Men in Eriador and Rhovanion to the Atani and other Men met in the legends of the First Age and the War of the Jewels see The Lord of the Rings II.286-7 The Window on the West]. There Faramir gives a brief account of the contemporary classification in Gondor of Men into three kinds: High Men, or Númenóreans (of more or less pure descent); Middle Men; and Men of Darkness. The Men of Darkness was a general term applied to all those who were hostile to the Kingdoms, and who were (or appeared in Gondor to be) moved by something more than human greed for conquest and plunder, a fanatical hatred of the High Men and their allies as enemies of their gods. The term took no account of differences of race or culture or language. With regard to Middle Men Faramir spoke mainly of the Rohirrim, the only people of this sort well-known in Gondor in his time, and attributed to them actual direct descent from the Folk of Hador in the First Age. This was a general belief in Gondor at that time, and was held to explain (to the comfort of Númenórean pride) the surrender of so large a part of the Kingdom to the people of Eorl.
And, a few paragraphs later:
Thus it came about that the Númenórean term Middle Men was confused in its application. Its chief test was friendliness towards the West (to Elves and to Númenóreans), but it was actually applied usually only to Men whose stature and looks were similar to those of the Númenóreans, although this most important distinction of ‘friendliness’ was not historically confined to peoples of one racial kind. It was a mark of all kinds of Men who were descendants of those who had abjured the Shadow of Morgoth and his servants and wandered westward to escape it—and certainly included both the races of small stature, Drûgs and Hobbits. Also it must be said that ‘unfriendliness’ to Númenóreans and their allies was not always due to the Shadow, but in later days to the actions of the Númenóreans themselves. Thus many of the forest-dwellers of the shorelands south of the Ered Luin, especially in Minhiriath, were as later historians recognized the kin of the Folk of Haleth; but they became bitter enemies of the Númenóreans, because of their ruthless treatment and their devastation of the forests, and this hatred remained unappeased in their descendants, causing them to join with any enemies of Númenor. In the Third Age their survivors were the people known in Rohan as the Dunlendings.

A caveat, though: this essay is from a section titled "Late Writings" consisting of material from about the late 1960s. It's hard to say how much of this Tolkien had in mind when he wrote LotR, or how far he did agree with Faramir's attitudes.

P.S. I'm having trouble commenting; I keep getting the message
Please choose other alias (Your name), this alias is in use (or it is part of some other existing alias): 'Steve Morrison'
Roy Ayres
52. Rgemini
Not a comment on this chapter, but on this whole re-read:

I found this excellent site a couple of weeks ago and have been catching up since. I read and re-read LoTR many times in my teens and 20s, and occasionally since then - I'm now in my early 60s. My favourite way of spending a Sunday was to start reading in the morning and just keep reading until I reached the end of RotK, usually about midnight. I stopped rereading a while back because the text had become so familiar; but your analysis, and the other commentators', has rekindled my interest and I am now reading it once more and thinking about the text more deeply, so thank you!
Kate Nepveu
53. katenepveu
Steve Morrison: I've sent the site admins a note about the commenting trouble (if you try and register under that name and can't, let me know--additional data point). Thanks for the passages, those are very interesting and strike me as consistent with what we know so far.

Rgemini, welcome! I'm so pleased to hear that this project is bringing you back to the text as well. Thanks for taking the time to say so, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as we continue.
54. Dr. Cox
I thought the sibling discussion was interesting; I'm an only child, but I've grown up trying to not be like my cousins, 'specially the older ones (I'm the youngest cousin by seven years on one side fo the family), and not so much from a snotty was as a "no I don't want to have those experiences" way, i.e. I'm still single and shall remain so.
However, I still like a good romance, especially the
Eowyn-Faramir sub-plot. Marion Zimmer Bradley makes a very accurate comment about Eowyn's "Heroic Age" crush on Aragorn. Having been through a couple of those myself, I can say that the conventional crush is less stressful (and I'm in the midst of one now . . . and the guy I'm crushy about knows, and doesn't mind).
55. Judith Proctor
Kate, you say "Sam wakes to find Faramir questioning Frodo about Isildur’s Bane. Frodo tries to avoid the subject, which leads to Faramir saying that Boromir is dead and suggesting that treachery was involved."

My understanding is that Farmir realised where the conversation was leading (towards the Ring) and deliberately changed the subject to Boromir because people were listening and he wanted to distract them from thinking about 'Isildur's Bane'.
In fact Faramir says this explicitly a few pages later.

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