The Suffering of Faramir

Denethor has sent Faramir to the fords of Osgiliath so that he might try to hold them against the invaders for as long as possible. All remaining hope is pinned upon the arrival of the Rohirrim to raise the siege and Denethor hopes that in holding the outer defences of the Pelennor he can keep the hosts of Mordor from the walls of Minas Tirith itself and that the Rohirrim will not be divided from the defenders of the city.

That is Denethor’s hope but the invading force is too great in number for Faramir to withstand and soon they are in retreat and eventually the retreat becomes a rout. Only the action of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, who turns back the attack, and of Gandalf, who withstands the Lord of the Nazgûl, saves the fleeing force from slaughter.

But for Faramir this comes too late. Even as the Nazgûl swerve aside Faramir is struck by a deadly dart and Imrahil carries him from the field of battle. Faramir is defeated and his life hangs by a thread.

Faramir has lain down his life for his friends, a line from the Gospel of John in which Jesus, on the night of his betrayal declares that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for one’s friends”. It is a phrase that Shakespeare takes up in the speech made by Henry V to his men before the Battle of Agincourt where the king calls them brothers “be he ne’er so vile”. Faramir has fallen at the head of his men seeking to ensure an orderly retreat. Imrahil declares to Denethor that Faramir has done “great deeds” but he has fallen and will play no more part in the war except to declare Aragorn, king, and then to wait.

I meet very few people who are able to wait well when their work is finally done. Often they rail against a loss of power and influence sometimes seeking to intervene when it is no longer appropriate that they should. They should have been ready to pass on a task or responsibility to another but they fail to do so. They may become angry at their apparent impotence and the lack of respect or gratitude that they feel they should receive from others and their anger may turn to bitterness or depression.

Faramir does not give way to this although he will come close to it and will need the intervention of the king in the Houses of Healing. But just as we thought of his Christlikeness in the laying down of his life for his people so too do we see him pass through dereliction on his road to healing and serenity. We are reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But why does Faramir’s dereliction end in life while Denethor’s ends in a despairing death? My conviction is that Faramir truly suffers. In saying that I use the word in its old sense of giving permission to something to happen, of believing that there is something that is bigger even than my death. Something that gives meaning to my death even if I do not know what it is. Ultimately Denethor’s death is a denial of suffering. He gives permission to nothing. Nothing has meaning. Faramir will awaken through the aid of the king and will serenely await the outcome of the final battle. If it ends with victory and the king returns he will lay down his office even as he was prepared to lay down his life. If it ends with defeat he will lead his people in a final defence of the city believing that this too will have meaning. One heart will be won entirely by the nobility of his patience but that is a story we must tell another time.

7 thoughts on “The Suffering of Faramir

  1. The more I re-read LOTR, the more I admire Faramir. The way he leaves to Osgiliath is heart-breaking. Him saying ‘Then farewell! But if I should return, think better of me!’ always makes me tearful. There’s so much desperation in the manner of this parting. Faramir clearly understands where he’s going to and how it may turn out. Sometimes it even seems to me that he doesn’t care anymore. Still he accepts his fate with so much humility. His patience and self-sacrifice were well rewarded in the end.

    • I think that you are right when you say that Faramir at one point of the story seems not to care any more. I think he comes close to giving way to despair. The story of the coming of the king to the Houses of Healing is one of the most beautiful in the whole book and one that I look forward to thinking about again soon.
      I think that one thing that Faramir and Éowyn share in common is this experience of despair but they also share a giving of their lives in spite of this. Is this the difference between optimism and hope that you spoke of recently? I also see it in Aragorn in the pursuit of Merry and Pippin and their orc captors when he speaks of going on without hope.

      • I believe you’re right about hope here. It seems that even though both – Faramir and Eowyn are on the verge of despair, they still act with hope in their hearts. This hope might be faint, but still I’m sure it’s there and it’s the hope that keeps them going.

      • And the thing about hope in both of them is that it does not include an absolute requirement that they should survive. In Jackson’s films the nearest that any character gets to express it is in Sam’s speech that “there is some good in the world and that it is worth fighting for”. I rather think that it is closer to your helpful reflection on Estel.

      • That’s a very important point! They have hope, but they can’t be sure they’ll survive. It’s just hope necessary for doing everything they can for the successful outcome of their mission, making a good contribution, even though it might be at the cost of their own lives.

  2. I love Faramir. I had not thought of him in this way before, the Christ-like manner of laying down his life or being ready to. His waking and loving Aragorn, the dream made flesh that he has longed for for so long is so wonderful. So opposite of his father who fled into death so he would not come the point of doing what Faramir does so willingly and lovingly and straightaway too. 🙂

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • It is wonderful, isn’t it? More and more I am drawn to those who hold onto love against all the odds. Faramir comes so close to despair. Gandalf has to call him not to throw his life away needlessly. But he achieves a great victory. God bless you too, Stephen.

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