Frodo and Faramir are asked “How is the Next Generation to Live?”

It is not always given to us to have the privilege of a clear choice. Good parents are anxious to help their children learn the difference between right and wrong and encourage them to choose right on all occasions. They are right to do so because without such a foundation little of value will be achieved in life and whatsoever of value does emerge will be unintended. We might wish such a foundation to be sufficient to guide us through every challenge that we might meet throughout our lives but sadly this will not always be the case. We will meet occasions in which there will be no good alternative that we can choose.

Such is the challenge that faces Frodo as he prepares to continue his journey after his encounter with Faramir and after the unhappy recapture of Gollum at the Forbidden Pool beneath Henneth Annûn. Such too is the challenge that faces Faramir as he seeks to counsel Frodo. All he is able to do is to warn Frodo of the dangers of the path that he has chosen in his efforts to enter Mordor and of the faithlessness of the guide he has chosen to take him there. “Do not go that way!” he cries in a last desperate attempt to dissuade Frodo from the way he intends to go.

That Frodo’s choice both of path and of guide is unwise is beyond doubt but so too is the alternative and this he makes clear to Faramir:

“If I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves and Men? Would you have me come to Gondor with this Thing, the Thing that drove your brother mad with desire? What spell would it work in Minas Tirith? Shall there be two cities of Minas Morgul, grinning at each other across a dead land filled with rottenness?”

Thankfully few of us will be called to make a choice as impossible as this but all who seek to live life with a moral seriousness will have to make choices in which the alternatives appear equally intolerable. Is there any guidance available to us for such a time?

In 1943 the German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a remarkable document to two fellow members of the Resistance within Nazi Germany that he entitled “After Ten Years”. In it he declared: “One may ask whether there have ever before in human history been people with so little ground under their feet- people to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant and futile.” Bonhoeffer goes on to outline the insufficiency of all responses to the circumstances facing himself and his fellow resisters, responses based upon such abstract principles such as reason, moral fanaticism, conscience, duty, freedom or private virtue. The only ones who can stand fast, he declares are those who are ready to sacrifice these principles when called to “obedient and responsible action in faith… the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”

Later he makes clear what shape such an answer might take: “The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live.” As Frodo and Faramir part in sorrow and with little hope both have made such a choice. Heroism is the last thing on either of their minds but both now offer up their lives that the next generation might be able to live.

5 thoughts on “Frodo and Faramir are asked “How is the Next Generation to Live?”

  1. Good food for thought! I like how you’ve delved into these small exchanges and framed them with added insight. I wouldn’t have thought of Frodo and Faramir’s actions here in the context of sacrificing for the next generation (I think we tend to admire, sometimes in isolation, their individual heroism), though that is what they’re doing. It reminds of Gilraen’s words, “I give hope to men but I keep none for myself.” Incidentally, her son ends up leading their people to victory, though she does not live to see it. (On a side note, I had to pause and think of the origin of that quote, since the movie used it in an exchange between Elrond & Aragorn).

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I began with the impossibility of the choices that lie before Frodo and Faramir at this point of the story and Faramir’s words, “I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun.” That took me thoughts to Bonhoeffer’s great essay of 1943 and then, of course, his thoughts re personal heroism (How do I look? How am I doing? How will this affect my reputation?) and the comparison with that simple but profound question “How is the next generation to live?”. That quote of Gilraen’s is in the story of Aragorn and Arwen in the appendices. How many mothers have said something like that over the long years? It is deeply moving.

  2. God have mercy. Imagine if “how the coming generation is to live” were asked by even half the living world right now. I think I will have to start asking myself that question daily.

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