The Lord of the Rings Reread

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

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.


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