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.

29 thoughts on “The Interrogation of Frodo Baggins

  1. ‘Only those who speak the truth can discern the truth’

    Good point. Faramir later says, ‘We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor’, while Eomer has a proverb that goes something like, ‘The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore are not easily deceived’. Likewise ‘To crooked eyes, truth can wear a wry face’ (as Gandalf says to Theoden). The repeated message is that, in Tolkien’s moral world at least, deception deceives itself while truth is not only right, but it is also successful. If Frodo had chosen to lie, Faramir would have picked up on it immediately – remember his searching gazes at Gollum to discern whether he is lying or not – and arrested him. Disaster!

    In contrast, I was reading Dorothy L Sayers quotes yesterday, especially about advertising. Eg.
    “Of course, there is some truth in advertising. There’s yeast in bread, but you can’t make bread with yeast alone. Truth in advertising is like leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal. It provides a suitable quantity of gas, with which to blow out a mass of crude misrepresentation into a form that the public can swallow.”

    That feels like our contemporary world. We (the Press especially) tip our hats to truth just enough to not be libelous, but think nothing of twisting words so far away from their original context and intention as to be lies. And that leaves me skeptical of EVERYTHING, whilst often being less-than-truthful myself. Frodo and Faramir would never be like that.

    • Good to hear from you again, David. Thank you for the reminder of the place of truth telling in Tolkien’s story.
      Of course, Sayers knew all about advertising as she worked in that world for a time. What strikes me about it is that it always seems to try to make something bigger than it really is. My feeling is that the more we ground ourselves in things as they really are the better we are. That means a desire for simplicity in all things; especially of speech (Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No?) Such simplicity is a small act of resistance against the press and the other Powers but then so was the journey of a couple of hobbits in the wild.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes! I love the simplicity of goodness – lies are so convoluted!

    And to skip ahead slightly, it is Sam’s simple honesty (coming from the Gaffer’s insistence of prioritising cabbages and potatoes over elves and dragons) that leads him to disclose the nature of the Quest to Faramir. Faramir says that Sam’s heart is shrewd and sees more clearly than his eyes, which reminds me of Frodo longing to trust Strider in Bree, regardless of what his outer appearance suggests.

    So much to say that a commitment to simplicity and truth peels back the layers to get to the heart of things.

    • As I read your comment I quoted Faramir’s words to Sam about seeing more clearly with his heart than his eyes to my daughter. That is truly wonderful! I have thought a lot about the Gaffer and cabbages and potatoes as well. I thought Sam had to leave that in order to transcend it but you are right. He takes it with him wherever he goes.

  3. Thanks for this post; the interrogation is a powerful scene in the book. I am always struck by the nobility and truth in the exchange between Frodo and Faramir. They maintain an honesty and deep courtesy, despite both being under intense pressure and with every right to fear and suspect. You articulate their qualities well here.

    • Great to hear from you after your adventure on Ben Nevis! I think you express beautifully what I was struggling to say in my posting. I also think you add something as well which is the way that both Faramir and Frodo think it is worth the effort to create the space for courtesy and honesty. This space seems like a luxury for those who think that action is the only thing that matters but the whole outcome of the story depends on both of them giving value to such space. Denethor thinks this is just affectation on Faramir’s part. How wrong he was! What a challenge to all of us in our troubled times. I am deeply grateful to you.

      • Thank you! Though your blog was articulated brilliantly! Your comment is spot on: “Faramir and Frodo think it is worth the effort to create the space for courtesy and honesty” – they are neither of them typical heroes in literature, but this is where their heroism lies.

      • It was one of my disappointments in Peter Jackson’s films of LOTR that the scene (cut from the cinema version but left in the extended one) when the herald of Sauron debates with Aragorn & Gandalf etc before the final battle is ended with Aragorn killing the herald. That Jackson should even think such an action justified shows how little he understood characters like Aragorn. He certainly got Faramir completely wrong.

      • Yes I agree! I remember waiting for the Faramir/Frodo discussion to take place in the film, and waiting for the real Faramir to show up…he never did. I didn’t get round to watching the extended edition of the 3rd film, I heard it was an improvement but I lost interest in Peter Jackson’s interpretation by that stage. The changes to the characters – not just in plot terms, but altering the essence of who they were – jarred the most. Faramir suffered the biggest change as you mentioned, Frodo also came out much weaker all round.

      • One of the reasons why I began to write this blog (apart from the sheer pleasure of writing about something I love) was to make a small contribution to getting people to read Tolkien again. It is clear that many people only know LOTR though Peter Jackson. I confess that I enjoyed the films but as I went back to the books I began to realise that much of the depth of the story had been lost. Jackson is totally seduced by the glory of the warrior for its own sake. He loves power and if any character questions that then that character is dismissed as being weak.

      • That’s a really good point – yes, the status of characters were often ‘inflated’ in the film by giving them a fight scene, or some other kind of forced conflict. I’m thinking about the relationship between Sam, Gollum and Frodo – in the book, Frodo’s empathy for Gollum is complex but it never jeopardises his bond of trust with Sam. In the film, this becomes a source of resentment, rivalry and mistrust. Conflict is added for ‘tension’, to the detriment of the characters, while the fight scenes are long and seem to glorify violence – disappointing to say the least. I wonder if a book as deep and rich as LOTR could ever be translated on film successfully. I have just started to listen to the BBC audio dramatisation, I’ve heard it fares much better – not just because it’s loyal to the book, but I suppose because it imposes less on our own imagination.

      • My wife and I listened to the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation on cassette tapes on our honeymoon. It remains my favourite retelling of the story. I still think that radio has better pictures than any visual medium. Storytelling and reading aloud does as well.

  4. “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.” Wow. I always love your posts, but sometimes you pen a sentence that is so powerful that it can just stand by itself.

    • Thank you. By drawing my attention to this you challenge me to aim to do the same today. I think that in Faramir Tolkien drew a character who is formed by a conscious discipline of life. We need such people today perhaps as much as we ever have.

      • Faramir is one of my favorites… it’s hard for any author to create a character who, on the one hand, is so noble, capable, and good, and yet, on the other, is so down-to-earth and relatable.

      • He is one of my favourites too. It suddenly struck me over the weekend that Eowyn certainly knew a good man when she saw him as she fell in love with the two best men in the story and would settle for nothing less than the best. That’s a risky strategy for finding happiness but it works for her! I agree with you entirely that Faramir is “down to earth and relatable” and I wonder if something happens within Eowyn that enables her to move from the god-like Aragorn to Faramir who is more relatable.

      • I wonder if, that as the story continues, Aragorn has to become more kingly. When Pippin cries out “Strider the Ranger has come back!” Aragorn protests that “Strider” has never been away but I think Pippin gets it just right. Later when Pippin calls Aragorn, “Strider” again Imrahil of Dol Amroth is offended. Proper kings aren’t addressed like that! Faramir, on the other hand, happily sheds his kingliness. I suspect that the Steward of Gondor could never have been allowed to marry Eowyn but as soon as Aragorn becomes king Faramir gains the freedom to follow his heart. And he is charming, isn’t he? One of those rare men that are liked equally by men and women.

  5. Mm, but I never got the impression that the Steward would not be allowed to wed an ally princess.
    Eowyn comments that the Numenoreans might think it odd that one of their princes would marry a foreigner, but it doesn’t sound like a real barrier.
    If I remember rightly, Tolkien had originally intended to pair Eowyn with Aragorn (I am glad he changed his mind), and if the King would be allowed to marry her, I doubt there would have been a problem with the Steward doing so, at least from the Numenorean perspective.

    The only things standing between Eowyn and Faramir, I think, were the possible (as they then thought) end of the world, and her reluctance.

    • I am sure you are right on this. I probably tried to push that argument a little too far! I do think that Faramir enjoys the growth of his freedom though. I did not know about Tolkien’s original intention to pair Eowyn and Aragorn.

      • I think you are right, there. Aragorn’s coming releases Faramir from the rulership that weighed so heavily on his family. His words about Ithilien show, I think, where his heart is, and that is a dream that could not have been realized had he remained Steward. 🙂

        I can’t recall where I read it. If I come across it again, I will let you know where it was. But in effect, it said that he came to feel that Aragorn was too old and grave/grim for Eowyn. I think it’s probably a case of the characters pulling at the author’s intended plot, thus creating something more complex and authentic. It also helps explain why poor Arwen is so conspicuously absent in the main text. ^_^

  6. Probably not. Most of his characterizations are at least a bit off, and some are wide of the mark. Still, I think he did a good job, on the whole, with LotR. Now the Hobbit is a different case… grrrrr.

    • I agree with everything you say here. Somehow the truth of the story comes though in LOTR but fails to do so in The Hobbit. I don’t mind the story of the assault on Dol Goldur by the White Council. It could have been used to draw out the relationship between Saruman and the others and also placed the story of the quest of the dwarves into a bigger context. I don’t mind developing the story of how the Woodland Elves are drawn into the bigger story (which includes Legolas, of course). What I do mind is the way in which the whole thing was turned into a movie for teens. I first read Tolkien when I was in my teens and I was drawn at first by his gifts of storytelling and the remoteness of the world he created that I longed to enter. Now over 40 years later the tale is still growing for me.

      • I’ve been forming a critique of the Hobbit movies for some time, but I just haven’t been able to make it gel, yet. When I finally do post it, I will be very late to the party. Ah well.
        But yes… I think part of the problem is that LotR was treated with a reverence. Even while things were changed, attention was paid to the tone of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The Hobbit comes off, in contrast, as a cheep commercial venture. There are good elements in it, but the lack of respect paid to the story, and the amount of pandering to the supposed audience really wrecked it for me.

        I just started listening to my audio-book of LotR again, something I do periodically. Somehow, every time I do, it’s like a brand new thing.

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