Father and Son: Denethor and Faramir

Dressed in the livery of the Tower of the Guard, Pippin is hardly noticed as he enters the Chamber with Faramir and Gandalf as they come to speak with Denethor. He stands behind Denethor’s chair as befits his servant and so he is able to watch Gandalf and Faramir as Faramir gives his report to his father.

As we have learnt in recent weeks, Pippin sees with his heart and soul when Faramir reveals that he has met Frodo and Sam Pippin looks at Gandalf’s hands, “white they seemed now and very old, and as he looked at them, suddenly with a thrill of fear Pippin knew that Gandalf, Gandalf himself, was troubled, even afraid.”

Gandalf is afraid, and we will think more about this in another post on this blog, but Denethor is angry. He is angry, even beside himself with rage, because Faramir has chosen, not to bring Frodo and the Ring to Minas Tirith but to allow him to continue his journey to Mordor. Faramir has chosen to disobey his father.

“I know you well. Ever your desire is to appear lordly and generous as a king of old, gracious, gentle.”

As far as Denethor is concerned, that which made Pippin’s heart goes out to Faramir in love is mere play acting. Faramir is playing the part of a gracious lord. We can imagine that from childhood Denethor delighted in his warrior son, Boromir giving him praise even though it was Faramir who was more like his father in wisdom and insight. Does this suggest that Denethor secretly despised his own qualities and wished that he had those that Boromir displayed? I think that it does. After all, when Aragorn served Denethor’s father, Ecthelion, in disguise under the name of Thorongil, Denethor was jealous of him. Aragorn too displayed the warrior qualities that Denethor aspired to.

Aspiring to certain qualities that he perceived himself as lacking, learning to despise the ones that he had, Denethor even comes to believe that Faramir is merely acting. Here too we can see that Denethor has learned, himself, how to play a part. He is the same age as Aragorn and yet he is an old man sitting in his chair in the tower. It is one thing to play a part in our youth. In order to make our way in life we may even have to present ourselves for a time in a manner that others will respect and, perhaps, even admire; but as we grow older and our energy diminishes the effort required to play our chosen part begins to take its toll. Our lives lose the joy and spontaneity that comes when we are freely our true selves. In place of that joyous freedom comes both hardness and anger. The anger is directed at all who seem to display, naturally, the qualities that we desire. And when that person is someone close to us, especially when that person is a son to an embittered father that anger goes very deep indeed.

We can see why in the face of such hostility Faramir turned to Gandalf as a father. In Gandalf Faramir saw one who said a, Yes, to his true self. Under Gandalf’s loving and approving gaze Faramir, just as Aragorn did, was able to grow into his true self and to flourish. That is what true fathering does. It is not that the son has to find a self that is acceptable to the father. That is what Denethor desired of his sons. To find an acceptable self is just as destructive of the true self, of what we might also term as the soul, as is the rebellious self.

That is why we probably need others to be fathers to our sons. Sometimes we are just too close to be able to give them the freedom that they need to flourish. Perhaps that is where the old wisdom of godfathers comes from. It is a wise father who knows when to give way to another to provide what he lacks.

Denethor cannot do that. He needs to control and so his unhappy relationship to his son will play itself out to its tragic conclusion. Of that need to control we will see more next week when we think of Denethor and the Ring.


4 thoughts on “Father and Son: Denethor and Faramir

  1. I am listening to the magnificent BBC Radio adaptation of the tale for the umpteenth time and ache for the abuse Faramir must endure. He is my favorite man, a gentle man and a gentleman, a hobbit in a man’s skin is how I regard him in his gentleness and love. I am glad his heart did not grow bitter himself from all that he had to bear. He remained true to who he was, even if his father could never approve and his longing for that approval was never answered.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • It was a wonderful adaptation, wasn’t it?
      It has struck me on my current reading of LOTR that Faramir is entirely centred in every aspect of his life except one and that is the relationship with his father. Gandalf has to insist that Faramir does not throw his life away. Éowyn is not the only one who needs to be healed in The Houses of Healing.

  2. Yes, that’s just the part I listened to. That Faramir goes on this suicidal and vain quest to gain his father’s respect and approval and opens his heart up to be shot at yet again by asking to be thought of better if he returns and Denethor takes full advantage to shoot another arrow into that tender heart and call forth blood and pain from it again. Poor Faramir. But at least his brother loved him, undoubtedly his mother did too, and he still had so much love himself left in his own heart that he could be gentle with Frodo and loving with Eowyn. I love that Frodo gives him a big hug in the radio show when they part. 😉 Dear Faramir indeed. Love him, love him, love him. 🙂

    • Beautifully expressed!
      Faramir’s heartache and grief teach him wisdom and not anger. That too, is a challenge to me as I think of my own inner struggles when I feel myself to have been wronged by another.
      My heart still goes out to Denethor as well. I think that he is the truly tragic character in the story. There is greatness in him that is utterly overthrown by his pride; a pride that chooses despair over hope.

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