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.

6 thoughts on “Faramir Teaches Us How to Remember Well

    • I think you have made a really good point. It was something that Tolkien and C.S Lewis and their fellow “Inklings” struggled against. They saw that the “modernists” had a prejudice against wisdom that came before the modern era. They wanted to show that wisdom could be learned from the Middle Ages as well. Just because something is new does not make it necessarily more true.

  1. “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.” Preach it, brother! 😉

    Faramir’s words, here, remind me of something from G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy.” Chesterton speaks of loving a place, not because of any inherit merit it has, but simply because it is yours. He uses Rome as an example, stating that she was not loved because she was great, but that she became great because she was loved. When that unconditional love was removed, and she was loved because of what she could give, then she began to decline. I see the same thing happening in my country. It’s extremely disturbing.

    Faramir is remembering the greatness of Minas Tirith, but instead of looking back and bemoaning what is lost, he is looking forward, hoping beyond hope that the love of his people for their home can, once again, be awakened. He sees the coming of the King as something that will help them shake off their despair. That despair is what has eaten his father alive and made him grim and stagnant. I always feel so sorry for Denethor. He has been eating up the enemy’s taunts until he can see no hope in the future.

    • I think that in what you say about your own country you speak about the whole West. I think that Tolkien intended us to reflect in this way when he created his geography of Middle earth. I love that thought of Chesterton’s about becoming great by being loved. That challenges me today to renew my own love and not to fall into despair as Denethor did. It is so easy to become cynical.

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