In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This week’s installment explores the creation of Faramir, one of the quiet heroes of The Lord of the Rings.
In a 1944 letter to his son Christopher, J.R.R Tolkien wrote:
A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir—and he is holding up the ‘catastrophe’ by lots of stuff about the history of Gondor and Rohan (with some very sound reflections no doubt on martial glory and true glory): but if he goes on much more a lot of him will have to be removed to the appendices. (79)
Tolkien’s words are tinged with self-deprecation: The Lord of the Rings was taking quite some time to write, in part because the plot was being interrupted by long and sometimes rambling discourses on the histories of languages, pipe weed, and other such distractions. Many of these passages—and Tolkien was well aware of this even as he wrote them—would ultimately be removed from the main text and either stowed away in various appendices and prologues or relegated to obscure drafts that were only discovered as Christopher arranged the History of Middle-earth series. Tolkien was “holding up the ‘catastrophe,’” and he knew it.
His attitude towards Faramir here is thus one of self-conscious amusement, for though he often said he identified with hobbit-culture, he knew very well that “As far as any character is ‘like me’ it is Faramir” (Letters 232). He felt that he understood Faramir quite well, though, as is often the case, the character did not appear in the tale as organically and suddenly as Tolkien himself claimed. Tolkien might have felt that he “did not invent him,” but as Christopher later notes, the drafts suggest otherwise (The War of the Ring, hereafter WR, 147).
When JRRT set out his outline before drafting “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit,” “the emergence of Faramir and the Window on the West was totally unforeseen” even while such details as “the broken statue at the Cross-roads was already present” (WR 132). In this regard, then, Faramir does come “walking into the woods of Ithilien” rather abruptly—but he does not do so as Faramir.
In the two earliest drafts of that chapter, Faramir is Falborn, son of Anborn, a distant relative of Boromir who was born in Ithilien and, along with his men, was acting as a sort of Ranger in an effort to keep the advances of Sauron out of that region (WR 136). Falborn was dropped altogether by draft C; Anborn, on the other hand, became one of Faramir’s few named followers. Remarkably, however, the meeting of Falborn, Frodo, and Sam is at this stage “achieved without hesitation” and is only different from the version in The Two Towers in a few small details. In fact, as Christopher notes, “Falborn’s conversation with Frodo and Sam proceeds almost exactly as does that with Faramir in TT” (WR 136), though at this point “there is yet no indication that he will play any further part” and the narrative does not suggest that Falborn means to detain the hobbits (137).
At this point Tolkien paused in his drafting to wrestle once more with chronology, for “the story was entirely changed by the entry of Faramir” (WR 142). It meant a delay in Frodo’s progress towards Mordor and also had implications for Gandalf and Pippin’s arrival in Minas Tirith, for Tolkien soon saw that Falborn/Faramir would return to speak with Denethor. Ultimately, however, Christopher believes that once the chronological difficulty had been solved, the drafting of “The Window on the West” took little more than a week and was “not extensively amended later” (WR 144).
The arrival of Faramir sent shock waves into the rest of the text. In the throes of writing the Faramir chapters, Tolkien was coming to terms with the fact that the opening chapters of “the Hobbit sequel” would need radical revisions in tone—they were too lighthearted, too childish. He had a darker story to tell.
We can see that sentiment, I think, through the original conception of Faramir as Falborn. Falborn, Christopher observes, is “harshly uncomprehending in tone compared to the later Faramir” (WR 165). And it’s true. Falborn has a tendency to respond severely to Frodo’s remarks—and to Sam’s, even more so. He claims, much like Boromir, that evil follows those who enter the Golden Wood; Faramir’s distinct respect for the Elves is missing. Pride and hardheadedness often marks Falborn’s tone, whereas Faramir is often described as “gentle.” Falborn’s response to Sam’s accidental revelation of the Ring is also less forgiving and less noble, though he does still immediately reject the idea that he might take it for any reason (unlike the notorious film-version of Faramir). What’s more, even as far as the second well-developed draft, “there is […] no suggestion at this point that the hobbits will not be allowed to go free” (WR 146). So Falborn is far more like Boromir than Faramir turns out to be: these early lines are not so clearly drawn, and the unfortunate hierarchy between the soon-to-be-brothers has not yet emerged. At the same time, however, we can see the shadow of Faramir as he will be: gracious, and most of all merciful.
At this point in the drafts, something changes. Tolkien gets a new idea. Christopher writes that JRRT’s “handwriting speeded up markedly and becomes very difficult, often a sign that a new conception had entered that would entail the rewriting and rejection of what had preceded” (WR 147). That new conception was Faramir’s vision.
Tolkien had toyed with the idea of a vision before. When Falborn and Frodo discuss the finding of Boromir’s horn by the Men of Gondor, Tolkien noted that Falborn’s men certainly already knew of Boromir’s death—but how? “A man riding 70 miles a day,” he determined, “could have brought news of Boromir’s death by word of mouth to Minas Tirith before Falborn and his men left the city” (WR 146). But was this what had happened? Perhaps Falborn and a handful of his men had seen a vision of Boromir’s death as they camped in Ithilien (WR 146, 149).
It seems that in the moment described above, as Tolkien’s handwriting became considerably more illegible than it already tended to be, he decided that Falborn had indeed seen a vision. This is the first of a few moments in which the Faramir character experiences something like second sight: we’ll see it again later as he and Éowyn await news from the Black Gate.
Interestingly, it’s the addition of Falborn’s vision that also introduces the idea that he and Boromir are brothers (WR 147). This does not yet affect Falborn in any significant ways. He retains his name, perhaps suggesting that Tolkien had not yet settled on the fraternal naming conventions of the people of Gondor.
Falborn becomes Faramir in draft C, which, Christopher explains, is curiously “written on odd bits of paper, much of it very roughly, […and it] is not continuous” (WR 148). In this draft, however, some of the important adjustments were made to Falborn’s temperament and tone that transformed him into the Faramir of the finished product. He responds less sharply; his reverence of the Elves is elaborated on; and he shows more respect for what we might call gentility. He is still a hard man in many ways, as Faramir is and must be; but nevertheless, he begins to develop that air of gentleness and kindness that ultimately sets Faramir apart from his father and brother.
In draft D of the chapter “Faramir,” the Stewards of Gondor make their first appearance, and they do so in nearly their final form, though Tolkien had never before written anything concerning them (WR 153). It’s clear that JRRT at least had them in mind some time before committing their description to paper.
Tolkien also starts to develop the stark contrast between Boromir and Faramir, writing that the latter “was doubtless of a different temper [than the former], but Frodo feared the power and treachery of the thing he bore: the greater and wiser the stronger the lure and the worse the fall” (WR 167). Later, he speaks of Denethor, saying that “whatever be his ancestry by some chance the blood of the men of Westernesse runs true in him, as it does in his other son Faramir, and yet not in Boromir whom he loved most. They have long sight” (WR 281). Here we see that Faramir’s “second sight” is in fact a condition of his Númenorean ancestry. It sets him apart from his brother because he, much like his father, has the ability to see further into situations and thus determine a wiser course. Boromir, by contrast, often makes up his mind rashly, and once decided, refuses to be swayed.
Faramir, on the other hand, is willing to let himself be changed. When he first comes “walking into the woods of Ithilien,” the young captain is represented in ambiguous but subtly threatening terms that are slowly softened by his graciousness and grave wisdom. In the beginning, he questions Frodo and Sam harshly, enforces a radical political binary, and sternly resists an easy acceptance of what he sees. Instead of instantly passing judgment on the situation, he devotes precious hours to developing a deeper understanding of the two hobbits who have fallen into his hands: he says that he will “‘spare a brief time, in order to judge right justly in a hard matter’” (LotR 665). We learn later that he has been a student of Gandalf’s and that in peaceful days he was more inclined toward learning and lore than war.
In a letter to an unidentified reader that was never sent, Tolkien resisted his reader’s shallow understanding of Faramir’s gentleness and gravity. “I think you misunderstand Faramir,” he explained. “He was daunted by his father: not only in the ordinary way of a family with a stern proud father of great force of character, but as a Númenorean before the chief of the one surviving Númenorean state. He was motherless and sisterless […], and had a ‘bossy’ brother. He had been accustomed to giving way and not giving his own opinions air, while retaining a power of command among men, such as a man might obtain who is evidently personally courageous and decisive, but also modest, fair-minded and scrupulously just, and very merciful” (Letters 323).
Faramir continues to grow into this character as the story develops. “Once [he] began to write it,” Christopher notes, JRRT finished out The Two Towers “virtually without hesitation between rival courses” (WR 171). Book V turned out to be more difficult.
Tolkien wrote and abandoned more than one version of Book V’s opening. Faramir’s place in it is obscure at first, and minor. According to a few of the many outlines Tolkien attempted, Faramir was to return to Minas Tirith but play no other distinct role until he stormed Minas Morgul while the main force assaulted the Black Gate (WR 260). At this point, there’s no indication that Faramir will return to defend Osgiliath; no hint that this will nearly cost him his life; no foreshadowing of his near death on a heathen pyre alongside Denethor. Most of Faramir’s major plot points, in fact, are developed as Tolkien drafts.
It’s not until the first drafting of “The Siege of Gondor” that Faramir sets foot in Osgiliath (WR 324). Then, as in the finished Return of the King, he and his men are forced into a disorganized retreat, saved by his own strength of will and Gandalf’s power.
The meeting of Faramir and his father is a cold one. Mocking Faramir’s gracious manners, Denethor barks that “in these black hours gentleness may be bought with death.” When Faramir responds, “So be it,” Denethor attacks him with a dark scenario from his own imagination, calling up the memory of Boromir: “So be it […]; but not by your death only. The death also of your father and of all your people whom it will be your part to rule ere long—now Boromir is no more” (WR 328).
But the following passage is softened somewhat in the early drafts, though slowly and surely Tolkien revises it to be as hard as stone. It’s a well-known scene. This is the first version:
‘Do you wish then,’ said Faramir, ‘that our places had been exchanged?’
‘Yes, I wish that indeed,’ said Denethor. ‘Or no,’ and then he shook his head; and rising suddenly laid his hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Do not judge me harshly, my son,’ he said, ‘or think that I am harsh. Love is not blind. I knew your brother also. I would only wish that he had been in your place, if I were sure of one thing.’
‘And what is that, my father?’
‘That he was as strong in heart as you, and as trustworthy. That taking this thing he had brought it to me, and not fallen under thraldom.’ (328)
The second draft is made even less troubling: Denethor’s response to Faramir’s question becomes qualified:
‘Do not judge me harshly, my son,’ he said quietly, ‘or believe me more harsh than I am. I knew your brother well also. Love is not blind. I could wish that Boromir had been at Henneth Annun when this thing came there, only if I were sure of one thing.’
‘Sure of what, my father?’
‘That he was as strong in heart and selfless as you, my son. That taking this thing he had brought it here and surrendered it, and not fallen swiftly under thraldom.’ (332)
Of course, the final version (made even more devastating in the film) is the harshest of all as Tolkien realized exactly what the strained relationship between the Steward and his youngest son had to be. I’ve discussed this passage in detail in my piece on Denethor, though, so we won’t spend more time on it here.
The other pieces of Faramir’s story fall into place with relative ease when compared with the rest of his tale. Many times, the first drafts achieve nearly the final form, save for occasional minor changes. Faramir returns to Osgiliath, is nearly killed, and returns to Minas Tirith where he lies unconsciously burning in a fever. Denethor, gone mad at last in despair and helplessness, attempts a live cremation and Faramir is only just saved by the bravery of Pippin and Beregond, and the timely arrival of Gandalf. Later Faramir is healed of his wounds by Aragorn, and falls in love with Éowyn while the two are confined in the Houses of Healing. He offers up his post as Steward at Aragorn’s coronation, but is reinstated and given Ithilien to rule. He and Éowyn, with the help of Legolas, cross the Anduin and rebuild a garden more beautiful than any other in Middle-earth.
One moment in particular stands out to me as we draw to a close. Sam Gamgee is often identified as the hero of The Lord of the Rings—even by Tolkien himself. It’s fitting, then, that Sam and Faramir share a moment in which they suddenly understand each other far better than they have any right to, given the short time they’ve known each other. Faramir sees beyond his preconceived notions and realizes that Sam is “praiseworthy.” Sam senses that Faramir is of high quality, and like Gandalf—a spiritual emissary sent from the Valar.
‘Good night, Captain, my lord,’ [Sam] said. ‘You took the chance, sir.’
‘Did I so?’ said Faramir.
‘Yes sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.’
Faramir smiled. ‘A pert servant, Master Samwise. But nay: the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards. Yet there was naught in this to praise. I had no lure or desire to do other than I have done.’
‘Ah well, sir,’ said Sam, ‘you said my master had an Elvish air; and that was good and true. But I can say this: you have an air too, sir, that reminds me of, of—well, Gandalf, of wizards.’
‘Maybe,’ said Faramir. ‘Maybe you discern from far away the air of Númenor.’ (LotR 682)
To me, Faramir is one of the great heroes of The Lord of the Rings, not because he necessarily performs great feats in battle or because he pushes himself to the limits of endurance and sanity. No, he’s a hero to me because he manages to maintain his gentle, patient, and selfless spirit even in the most brutal of circumstances. Faramir makes an effort to understand and value those around him in a way few other characters take the time to do. He literally undergoes trial by fire—and comes out the other side an even kinder and wiser man than he was before. He’s an important male role model in the book because he doesn’t make his way through the story with bravado and arrogance, but with humility and respect.
 “‘There are no travellers in this land,’” he says: “‘only the servants of the Dark Tower, or of the White’” (IV, iv, 657). Frodo’s response, “‘But we are neither,’” resists this simplification imposed by the laws of the Steward of Gondor (presumably Denethor) and holds that space open for one who is something else entirely, someone who is in-between.
Megan N. Fontenot is a Tolkien scholar and fan who’s an unabashed fan of Faramir and who wishes everyone to know that he’s really nothing like he seems in the films. Catch her on Twitter @MeganNFontenot1 and feel free to request a favorite character while you’re there!