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.

26 thoughts on “I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo

  1. Ah, yes! And here is where Faramir the Scholar meets and advises Faramir the warrior. This is the argument for the study of History, too. Seeing the run of human time, where we’ve been before, shines a light on our choices. Boromir lacks that hindsight. He’s thinking only of the present and the future, trying to find a solution at any cost. The downfall of the White City is, for him, the end of all things. Denethor, poor many, sees only the future and, with Sauron whispering in his ear, sees only despair.
    Faramir, though, looks back and knows that, even if Minas Tirith falls (though it would break his heart) it is not the greatest evil that can befall. As you show, here, it is a city and a cause worth fighting for, but not at all costs.
    I think it’s a great image for Christians… a reminder that there are good things in this world that are worth fighting for, tooth and nail, worth dying for, even, but that these things are also ephemeral. A nation, or, I think, even the whole world, isn’t worth a single soul.
    We are to defend by all lawful means, according to the Law of God, and then, if the only way to victory is to violate the law, we must accept defeat. From the outside, I guess, that would seem a very stupid position to hold. It all hinges on another victory that none of us can yet see.

    Thank you for sprinkling some Faramir goodness into my day. It sorely needs it! Though I did have a good weekend. I went whitewater rafting and the river punched me in the jaw with my own paddle. 🙂 It was fun!

    • I hope your jaw isn’t too sore today! I haven’t done whitewater rafting too often but I enjoyed it when I did.
      I totally agree with you about the study of History. I taught History for six years before studying Theology to train for the Ministry. But it strikes me that it is very rare that a study of History produces a Faramir. For most it either leads to a sense of being “chosen” for greatness or a sense of “victimhood”. The highest morality that most achieve is the good of the tribe or the nation. The Law of God is then made to serve that “good”. I have a deep sense of pride that back in 1940 my country was able to stand alone against the triumphant power of the Third Reich in that time before the United States and Russia entered the war but at the same time we were trying to rule an empire across the world largely against the will of most of its peoples. To use Faramir’s phrase we were the mistress of slaves. I think many of Tolkien’s own thoughts are given to Faramir. I like to think Tolkien was an anti-imperialist.

      • “For most it either leads to a sense of being “chosen” for greatness or a sense of “victimhood”.” I am sad to hear that. Why is it, I wonder, that evidence so often fails to speak for itself?

        I think he probably was. He seems to think that the different peoples in the Lord of the Rings should govern themselves, and one of the marks of the downward turn for the Numenoreans came when they stopped being teachers to the men of Middle Earth and became, instead, conquerors.

        In my own country… from our treatment of native peoples to the slave trade, we have much to be ashamed of. And yet, we’ve produced much that is good, as well. History is a mix of great and terrible, and as such, ought to be able to break up both our overconfidence and our despair.

        Looking at my own heritage, I see people who, at various times in history, were killing each other. And now they are united in me. That, alone, offers a kind of hope.

      • Thank you for those thoughts. The distinction between teachers and rulers is very powerful. Later in The Return of the King there is a passage in which Gimli and Legolas speak both of the tendency of humans to fall into corruption but also the potential for renewal as well. We are, as Martin Luther put it, both Just and Sinners at one and the same time and should never forget that.

    • I totally agree with you about that and I am so glad that you formed your appreciation of Faramir by reading the books! As Jubilare said in her comment he is “so darn charming”! Men admire him and trust him to be their leader and I suspect that women envy Eowyn! The films get Faramir totally wrong! That is one of the reasons I wanted to write this blog.

      • It was thoroughly annoying to have him taking them to Gondor. If that wasn’t enough, Frodo actually had to pretty much tell a Nazgul he had the Ring, only to be knocked down a staircase by Sam, which was also annoying, because they made Frodo try to kill Sam for no particular reason. He sort of whips out the sword and puts it to his neck.

      • That is a pretty crazy scene, isn’t it? If the Nazgul had been there Sam’s efforts would not have made much difference. I suppose that Jackson was trying to show the effect of the Ring on Frodo in order to heighten the drama but there is enough drama in the story that Tolkien told.

      • Really. Although Farmir did shoot the Nazgul’s steed, that wouldn’t make an enormous difference. And I don’t think it’s physically possible for two people, or hobbits, to fall down a staircase and survive, especially since they landed practically on topmof each other. Frodo and Sam did lots of impractical things in the movies – like both managing to fit under one cloak, falling down hills right in front of Easterlings and yet still not getting scene, managing to go right near a battle and not get killed, and sleep at the same time even with Gollum breathing down their necks. Plus they took out my favorite part. 😦

      • It’s the book version of Cirith Ungol, but they did it so badly it might as well not have been in the movie. In the book they were both going, “I thought you were dead!” *hug**hug**hug* and it was very cute. But in the movies it was just, “hey, here’s the Ring, let’s get out of here.” Their friendship was much more important in the books, because Peter Jackson seemed to think he was making a war movie instead of a movie about friendship and loyalty and love. I mean seriously, they were pracitcally brothers in the book, but we didn’t get to see enough of that in the movies. I don’t get why he left that out. It makes me sad. :.-(

      • The Tower of Cirith Ungol, but the real thing! In the movies it was just, “hey there Mr. Frodo, here’s the ring, let’s get out of here.” In the books it was, “oh my gosh I thought you were dead!” *hug**hug**hug*.

  2. Wow! Stephen, Jubilare

    I love the thoughts you explore here.

    And I so agree that there are good things worth – even needing – fighting for “tooth and nail”… But also that sometimes the means, so tempting, to which one is invited/tempted to recourse.. are not part of that which is good. They turn the potential victory for the Angels into one for … The other side.

    I find so often in conflict brought about for the best of intentions and reasons and fought with all hope of virtue, that the means employed result in dehumanisation and power seeking: corrupted.

    But we must beware of being somewhat Orwellian… It is not preordained that all our efforts toward Good will be corrupted.

    Thank heaven for Faramir and those like him whom we meet in life’s paths… Those who know for what they fight .. What it serves as you said last week, Stephen, and discern the path between strong and vital defence of good and innocence and the corruption of power and might.

    The world is full of hope with people such as these

    • I really like your introduction of Orwell into this! I remember my Zambian students making a similar point when we read “Animal Farm” together years ago. It strikes me that Denethor is a true Orwellian in that respect and in the end he gives way to despair. That is the reason I used the image of the crucifixion this week. The dark journey of the cross is also the journey of hope (Hebrews 12.1-3, following the chapter about the heroes of faith in a letter that basically tries to say, “Don’t give up!”) All our acts of kindness and generosity are acts of hope and a rejection of despair.
      On your excellent thoughts about conflict it has come to strike me more and more over the years that it is very rare that my victories are also God’s. I remember that when my younger daughter was bullied at school a few years ago I came to see that it was not punishment that I wanted but that those involved should come to see that their actions were wrong. I could not help but remember that I was a bully sometimes at school. Having power over another person and then using that power is so tempting. Sadly the school concerned did not manage to do anything right and we transferred her to another school where she was much happier. And, of course, we came to see that her happiness would not be served by our “winning” a battle against the bullies or their families or the school.

    • “It is not preordained that all our efforts toward Good will be corrupted.” Thank God! I remember my mother, one day when I was despairing of doing any real good in the world, taking me aside and saying, in effect, that we must do good, and trust that God will take that good and grow it, even though we may never, before death, see its fruits. Her point was that good isn’t thrown away, even when we don’t see it make a difference. In my own life, corruption seems to creep in when I take my eyes of God and put my sole trust in my own wisdom. Corruption isn’t inevitable, but it is still a threat and we must watch for it.

  3. She does that quite often. I am grateful to be her daughter.

    For some reason, your replies to my comments, and the replies of a few other people as well, are not showing up in my feed. This is very annoying. 😛

  4. Poking around on the Tolkien gateway, looking for where I might have seen that comment about Aragorn and Eowyn, I found this: http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Letter_66
    Tolkien apparently wrote this of Faramir! “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.”

    XD This makes me so happy! I know what that’s like! To have a character just walk into a story, and knowing, somehow, that they belong there.

    • One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings is the way in which it clearly takes its author by surprise in so many ways. That quote from the letter is truly delightful!

  5. Well done! Nicolas and I read this very passage this week. I was going to post something on it, but from a different angle. We may still.
    I think that Jackson used Faromir not as a character to contrast Boromir, but as a mere tool in moving the lure of the ring narrative forward.

    • I do hope that you will post something and look forward to reading it. I am going on a two week family holiday at the end of the week so if I don’t comment straight away it will come fairly soon. It is interesting how in writing about Faramir more than any other character conversation has turned to Jackson’s treatment of him. I am re-reading Thomas Merton’s classic, The New Man at the moment and it has struck me how much of what Merton writes seems to apply to Faramir. I want to reflect on that in my next posting. More and more I am impressed by Tolkien’s spiritual insight. It goes so deep that it suffuses the whole of his sub-creation.

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