A Chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to Show his Quality!

Poor Sam! It is so long since he has enjoyed what he would call “proper” food and the wine has gone to his head. Add to that the way in which talk has drifted away from the melancholy decline of Gondor and its people to the abiding beauty of Galadriel, “Hard as di’monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars,” and Sam’s guard is gone completely and he has told Faramir about his brother, Boromir’s desire for the Ring.

And so Faramir is put to the test: “In the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings”. He has within his grasp the means to bring victory to Gondor, to vanquish the ancient enemy of his people and perhaps even to restore the dream of Númenor that he has nourished for so long. So why then does he turn down the opportunity to take the Ring from Frodo and Sam? Why does he pass the test and Boromir fail?

Faramir tells us: “We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.”

Perhaps Faramir is a little too generous in his assessment of the moral quality of his people. After all Boromir was present at the moment when Frodo was charged by the Council in Rivendell with the task of taking the Ring to the Fire in order to unmake it and in choosing to be one of the Fellowship committed himself to defend the Ring from those who would seek to take it. Perhaps he shows us his humility by speaking not of his own virtue but of that of his people. For we have seen that the vision of Númenor and of Gondor that he has nourished has not been one of greatness as a mighty power, “a mistress of many slaves” but greatness of wisdom and of beauty, “not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” It is moral greatness that Faramir desires above all else and it is in the cherishing of this desire that he passes the test.

In the 16th century a young Spanish soldier called Íñigo López de Loyola nourished his soul with tales of military romance such as the tales of the knights of Camelot, dreaming of the kind of greatness that they achieved. We can imagine that the young Boromir would have done likewise so learning to dream of his own glory. Eventually Íñigo was badly wounded in battle and during the enforced rest that followed found that the only book available to him was a Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony in which the reader is encouraged to place her or himself imaginatively within the Gospel stories. So began a new spiritual and imaginative practice that changed his life and led to the formation of The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Pope Francis is a member of this society.

We cannot avoid spiritual discipline. As soon as we begin to make conscious choices we nourish our souls by means of our imagination. It is not that Íñigo’s dreams of military valour were bad. He took the ardour, the passion, that they inspired to his reading of the Gospels and the Lives of the Saints, especially that of Francis of Assisi, and to a courageous life as a follower of Christ that inspired many other young men to join him. But it was the conscious discipline of meditating on the Gospels that transformed him. We have seen in our recent reflections that Faramir is a man of disciplined reflection and so when the Ring comes within his grasp he shows his quality. He renounces all that the Ring might give both to himself and his people.

9 thoughts on “A Chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to Show his Quality!

  1. “We cannot avoid spiritual discipline. As soon as we begin to make conscious choices we nourish our souls by means of our imagination.” The connection is almost paradoxical, but you have articulated it so well here. Moral agency, and with that the discipline, reflects the essence of what it means to be human. I have heard people describe Faramir as ‘unrealistic’ (I think this is why he was so altered in the movie, to make him more ‘believable’). But is this realism or pessimism, if we cannot believe in people like Faramir. Perhaps in this consumerist age, the notion of spiritual discipline is a bit of an alien one, hence the goodness and self-control of a mere mortal must always be doubted, or muddied to be believable. But it is characters like Faramir who make the story a hopeful one, despite all the darkness and pain of war and exile that run through it. And I suppose this is reflective of real life.

    • Thank you again for a thought provoking comment. I cannot help but feel that those who describe Faramir as “unrealistic” are those who have given way to the same despair as Denethor did who cannot believe in his own son either. I intended a certain paradox in the way I sought to express the idea of spiritual discipline. The young Íñigo practised a spiritual discipline in his reading of romances just as the child who spends his leisure hours on Minecraft does as well. I think that what is lacking at present is a confidence to seek a certain quality of spiritual discipline. We fear the accusation of elitism. Interestingly Denethor accuses Faramir of this as well.

  2. Indeed, poor Sam.

    And I think this is when we find out how truly different Faramir and Boromir are, that one of them would spare Frodo and renounce the Ring, while the other would attack him and try to take it. That’s why I hate what they did to Faramir in the movie.

    • You are absolutely right. I like Earthoak’s comment where he said, “I have heard people describe Faramir as ‘unrealistic’ (I think this is why he was so altered in the movie, to make him more ‘believable’).” There really are people in the world who choose to do what is good.

  3. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I’ve always loved Faramir, both in the books in his idealized form, and in his more tortured movie form. I think the movie changes were less about making Faramir more believable than they were about finding a way to keep the focus tightly on the ring and its power. In the end he still chooses rightly, which is what matters, really.

  4. I have thought long and hard about that relationship between heart and treasure in recent years partly because for some years my work was to encourage the development of Christian discipleship in the context of Anglican parishes in a diocese in England. I began to see that we all invest our treasure in “heaven” as we see it or perhaps it would be better to say we invest it in what we believe to be our own particular road to heaven. An Anglican parish in England tends to raise money for two purposes. One is to maintain what are often beautiful historic buildings and if you want to break hearts then just try suggesting that it would be best to close a church. The other to pay the clergy and I am struck that the latter does not arouse the same passion. I have found great resistance in both clergy and laity in examining this relationship. I wonder if we fear what we might find there. My own belief is that once we have discovered our own road to heaven by examining where our treasure is then we can journey on with honesty.
    As to Faramir I think it is clear where his heart lies because his whole being is invested there. I think I have to acknowledge that he is to some degree “idealised” but surely that is because Tolkien gives him his best lines, that is to say, Faramir speaks for the author himself. In re-reading the Faramir story I have gone back to The Silmarillion and to the letter to Milton Waldman of 1951 and it seems to me that Faramir carries much of what Tolkien was trying to say there. If anything the desire for immortality is stronger now, especially among the very rich, than it was 65 years ago. Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering for Google (I don’t know if he still is), expresses that idea very strongly and his belief that it can be achieved by the middle of this century. I agree with Tolkien that the story of the Ring is not an allegory but that it is applicable and surely one of those applications is that it expresses a belief that the limitations of time and space can be transcended? The seduction of Númenor by Sauron is surely an expression of this? My own belief is that the desire expressed by Kurzweil and others suggests that Sauron is seducing the powerful and those that follow them in our own time. Faramir expresses the rejection of Sauron that lies at the heart of book even as he rejects the Ring itself when it lies within his grasp.

  5. “Perhaps Faramir is a little too generous in his assessment of the moral quality of his people.” Perhaps he does, bless him. But I want to point out something. Boromir gave his word even though he felt the council made the wrong choice. He kept his word for a long time, considering that he was traveling, there, beside the object of his desire, and no doubt he also still struggled with the choice of the council. We know very well that the Ring could reach out and pull at people. We can be sure it did so to Boromir, perhaps even targeting him as the weakest link on the fellowship.
    So even though Boromir eventually did break his oath, he still had the sort of metal Faramir speaks of. And we never learn how Faramir would have fared in a similar test. I think he would have held out longer, maybe even permanently, but we just don’t know. His actions with Sam and Frodo are to his credit, for sure. But lest we forget, he and Boromir are brothers, and he is human, too. 🙂

    • Thank you for your defence of Boromir. I think it is just and a good challenge to what I wrote about him here. Perhaps Boromir’s repentance and willingness to die for Merry and Pippin is related to his truthtelling. I think too that Faramir is aware of his potential weakness when he agrees with Frodo that if the Ring came to Minas Tirith it would do untold harm.

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