When I first began to think about writing about The Lord of the Rings a particular scene from the story came to mind before any other. Frodo and Sam are in the refuge behind the Falls of Henneth Annûn and are about to eat with Faramir and his men.
“Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
‘So we always do,’ he said as they sat down: ‘we look towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.'”
Even now as I write these words I am deeply moved by them. In a brief moment of formal gesture we learn of all that inspires the best in the people of Gondor. It is an action that takes but a moment to learn but whose meaning requires a lifetime of faithfulness in order to understand. It is not enough simply to know the history and the faith that lies behind the action although the next time I write this blog I will write about this history and this faith a little more. What is required for true understanding is to live this history and this faith. All present at this meal are faithful in the deed. Perhaps only Faramir is faithful in all that the deed signifies.
I first read The Lord of the Rings as a young teenager. I will be forever grateful to my classmate, Jon Flint for introducing it to me. Jon was the son of a senior officer in the Royal Air Force and in many ways a Faramir like figure or one I can imagine Faramir being as a boy. At first we mistook his love of poetry and art for a kind of weakness, even effeminacy, and we began to torment him. One straight left punch into the nose of a tormentor was enough to teach us our mistake! I can imagine Faramir teaching similar lessons. In a moment I learnt that manliness and a love of beauty could exist in one person. Thank you, Jon.
Tolkien was a man of profound spiritual insight and I feel that in the creation of Faramir he displays that insight quite wonderfully. Recently I began to re-read Thomas Merton’s great spiritual classic of the late twentieth century, The New Man, and as I did so I could not help but feel that Faramir was an example of the kind of person that Merton was describing.
“In those who are most alive and therefore most themselves, the life of the body is subordinated to a higher life that is within them. It quietly surrenders to the far more abundant vitality of a spirit living on levels that defy measurement and observation. The mark of true life in man is therefore not turbulence but control, not effervescence but lucidity and direction, not passion but the sobriety that sublimates all passion and elevates it to the clear inebriation of mysticism. The control we mean here is not arbitrary and tyrannical control by an interior principle which can be called variously, a ‘super-ego’ or a pharisaical conscience: it is the harmonious coordination of man’s powers into one perfect actuality which is his true self, that is to say his spiritual self.
Man, then, can only fully be said to be alive when he becomes plainly conscious of the real meaning of his own existence, that is to say when he experiences something of the fullness of intelligence, freedom and spirituality that are actualised within himself.”
Frodo felt “strangely rustic and untutored” in the presence of Faramir at the moment of silent recollection even as I do before Merton’s words here. Perhaps the best I can do is to offer my desire to learn and so to grow into my true self which is my spiritual self.