I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo

Last week I promised to think about the price Faramir is prepared to pay for the saving of his people. These reflections are based on all that he says as he walks with Frodo and Sam towards the hidden refuge of Henneth Annûn after the battle against the forces of Harad.

As he walks he muses aloud about the nature of Isildur’s Bane and as he does so he gets close to its true nature. “What in Truth this thing is I cannot yet guess; but some heirloom of power and peril it must be. A fell weapon, perchance, devised by the Dark Lord.” Such a weapon, he guesses, would have been desired by Boromir if it might have given hope for the victory of Minas Tirith over its great enemy. But then he declares: “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her,so, using the weapon of the  Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”

But why not seek the triumph of Minas Tirith? Surely the triumph of the city that has resisted the forces of darkness for so long is something worth paying any price for? How could the victory of Mordor and its lord be in any way preferable to the victory of Gondor? I think the answer lies in the memory that Faramir speaks of when he speaks of his city. Like Aragorn he is a man of the West, a man of Númenor, the great island in the Western Sea formed by the Valar as a gift to the Edain, the men who fought alongside the Elves against Morgoth, Sauron’s lord of the First Age. The men of Númenor became so mighty that they were able to defeat Sauron in the Second Age and make him a prisoner. But Sauron was able to corrupt the King of Númenor and most of its people, turning them from worship of Ilúvatar to the worship of Morgoth and of all that was dark so that even in the temple of Ilúvatar human sacrifice was made. Eventually Sauron was able to persuade them to make war upon the Valar an act that led to the destruction of Númenor itself. During the days of the corruption of Númenor Elendil and his family were a focus of resistance to Sauron and all his works and although Faramir is not himself of the house of Elendil his ancestors supported them and so were among those spared when the mighty wave destroyed the island. So it is that Faramir holds the memory both of a people corrupted even in the moment of their greatest victory and also of a people who resist the corruption, who remain a faithful remnant even as it appears to triumph.

Faramir knows that any victory gained by using the weapons of darkness opens the door to the same corruption as destroyed Númenor and so he declares his rejection of such a triumph. There is only one thing worse than being defeated by evil and that is to become evil oneself. Surely that is the deepest meaning of the last petition of The Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from Evil”? Nearly a year ago I wrote a post on this Blog entitled “The Dark Lord is Afraid of the Dark” https://stephencwinter.com/2014/10/23/the-dark-lord-is-afraid-of-the-dark in which I tried to show that it is those like Sauron and his servants who are in thrall to darkness and who fear it. Those who can embrace the dark are those who can truly pray “Deliver us from Evil” and Faramir is such a person. He is prepared to die rather than win a battle with the weapon of darkness. Such preparedness is the truest rejection of despair because it is an expression of the profound hope that light will conquer darkness, love will conquer hate. In every generation we need those who like Faramir are prepared to declare and live by this truth.

Faramir Teaches Us to Ask: “Whom does This Serve?”

Faramir is a true man. That does not mean that his journey is complete. He has far yet to go and much still to learn and he will be tested to his very limits and beyond them; but the four great masculine archetypes, the king, the warrior, the magician and the lover are all possessed by him in a mature manner and yet he is not possessed by any of them. He lives in a time of war in which the very survival of his people is uncertain, indeed improbable and it is hard to blame his people for honouring the warrior above all else. Faramir is a mighty warrior who leads his men bravely in battle and yet he tells Frodo: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the men of Numenor.” And even the city is not to be defended at any cost but that we will think about next week.

Faramir has learned to ask the question that only those who have achieved maturity are able to ask. “What is this for? What does this serve?” The immature are dazzled by the brightness and sharpness of the sword, by the flight of the arrow as it speeds toward its mark and, above all, by the glory of a mighty warrior whom they long to emulate. Boromir, great warrior though he was, was one such man. His desire was that in achieving victory for his people he would be the hero of the story. To be the hero is the natural desire of the young man in the first half of life and we can hardly blame Boromir for what is natural. But such a desire can also be dangerous and in Boromir it led to his attempt to take the Ring from Frodo justifying his treachery in his claim that only in using the Ring against Sauron could victory be guaranteed. When a warrior refuses to accept the authority of the true king harm will come of that rebellion. Boromir’s rebellion cost him his life though much good came from the way in which he acknowledged his guilt and sought to right the harm he had done.

Faramir, by contrast, does not seek glory for himself but for the city of Numenor and even that glory is not the power that she will have over others but it is “her memory, her ancientry, her beauty and her present wisdom.” Such maturity does not diminish his might in battle (which is the mistake that the immature make about this kind of wisdom) but it does understand the purpose of might aright. Power is not a good or an evil in and of itself. It can only become a good when those who wield it learn that it does not exist for its own sake but in order to achieve a good that is higher than itself. It is not wrong to seek or achieve success in a career, to build a successful enterprise or to win a beautiful bride. Such desire can only do harm when it becomes an end in itself; when the car is loved for its swiftness and glamour alone, the house for its size, the success of the enterprise for the glory it gives to the one who created it, the beauty of the bride for the envy aroused in other men. When we learn to ask “Whom does this serve?” then we will be mature. We will be whole.

Faramir Teaches Us How to Remember Well

Faramir has completed his interrogation of Frodo and now he takes Frodo and Sam to a secret refuge. As they walk together Faramir begins to speak of what is in his heart.

“For myself… I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves.”

Faramir is a man of memory. Each beauty that he recalls, the White Tree, a scion of Nimloth the Fair, the tree given to Elros, first king of Numenor, by the Valar and the Silver Crown of Elendil that awaits the return of the true king, is alive within his heart. Indeed these beauties, and his long contemplation of them, shape his heart. Now that Boromir is dead Faramir is heir of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, whose task is to rule until the King returns and yet Faramir does not speak of ruling as did his brother. For the White Tree cannot flourish until the king returns and when the king returns the Steward will rule no longer. And even the task of ruling is not seen as being the mistress of slaves, “not even a kind mistress of willing slaves” but as a beautiful queen among other queens, “loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty; and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as a men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” When someone remembers in the way that Faramir does that which is remembered is not an expression of a longing to return to some idealised past. Later we will see Denethor expressing his wish that all could remain unchanged, that all could be as it once was. For people such as Denethor the way in which meaning in life is formed connects to something perceived as lost. For such a person life becomes a matter for regret and the ability to do good is sadly diminished. Such a person may become so wedded to that which is lost that they may even try to hinder the good that others would yet do. This is not so with Faramir. He does not allow memory to become the pathway to despair. For Faramir, the memory, the beauty and the ancientry are an inspiration to present action and to present wisdom.

When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings it formed part of his desire to make a mythology for England. Mythology has been described as that which never happened and that which is always true. The nature of modernism is to believe that the only truth is that which has happened and seeks to reduce everything to something that can be observed and measured. Thankfully modernism has never held complete sway over our hearts and minds or else we would have no ability to perceive beauty or to experience joy or grief. But when we experience such things those who are modernists whether consciously or not do not know what to do with them. Modernism offers us no narrative that allows the experience of beauty, joy or grief to enrich or enliven us. All we are left with, at best, is mere nostalgia and its attendant regret. At worst we give way to despair completely. Tolkien’s work challenges all its readers to engage with the gift of our own history in such a way that we can be enlivened and as we examine our own lives we will want to consider the role that memory plays; whether it enlivens us or leads us toward despair.

The Interrogation of Frodo Baggins

After the successful conclusion of the battle against the force from the south Faramir begins an interrogation of his prisoner. When Sam awakens from his sleep he finds Frodo standing before Faramir’s men seated “in a wide semicircle, between the arms of which Faramir was seated on the ground… It looked strangely like the trial of a prisoner.”

At the heart of Faramir’s questioning is the verse that Boromir took to Rivendell in order to seek counsel from Elrond.

Seek for the sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells; There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells. There shall be shown a token That Doom is near at hand, For Isildur’s Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand.”

It is Isildur’s Bane about which Faramir shows most interest and Frodo tries to deflect this by speaking of the sword of Elendil and about Aragorn for Isildur’s Bane is the Ring of Power that Isildur took from the hand of the Dark Lord and which slipped from his finger so betraying him to the Orcs that had ambushed him. Frodo has already seen what the Ring can do when he narrowly escaped from the clutches of Boromir; now he learns that Faramir is Boromir’s brother and for the first time he learns that Boromir is dead.

Frodo may have tried to deflect Faramir from asking more about Isildur’s Bane but at no point does he try to deceive his captor. Frodo is a truth teller and he simply tells Faramir that he cannot speak more of his errand or of the nature of what Isildur’s Bane might be. His authority comes, not from himself, but from the Council that charged him with his task. When he speaks to Faramir and his men it is as if Elrond himself stands there and alongside him Gandalf, Aragorn heir of Elendil and Glorfindel, long ago the conqueror of the Witch King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgul; for all were present at the Council and all charged Frodo with the task of taking the Ring to the fire in order to destroy it. Frodo is their messenger and he does not speak for himself alone.

When a person with authority speaks to another who has authority and a person who sis a  truth-teller speaks to another who is a truth-teller they will recognise each other. Frodo feels in his heart that Faramir though “much like his brother in looks, was a man less self-regarding, both sterner and wiser”; and Faramir says to Frodo, “there is something strange about you… an Elvish air, maybe.” So Faramir chooses not to make a final judgement but to take Frodo and Sam to his secret refuge in order to give himself time to think more about what he should do.

Only those who speak the truth can discern the truth when it is spoken to them. Faramir’s caution in dealing with Frodo is not the consequence of a mistrust of the one with whom he has to do but a consequence of the gravity of the choice he has to make.

There is a lovely story in the gospels of an encounter between Jesus and a Roman Centurion, whose servant is near death. Jesus, the man of occupied Palestine, gives the centurion of the occupying army an order. Immediately the centurion recognises that Jesus has the right to do this, obeys the order and finds his servant healed. Those who learn to live most effectively in the world are those who learn to live under the authority of the deepest reality of all.