The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 239-40
Let me begin by speaking well of this young man. It is necessary that I should do so because it will not take long for Bilbo of the Shire to lose patience with him. Boromir has listened in polite silence to Elrond for a considerable amount of time and during that time he has interrupted only once. He has even listened in silence while Elrond has rehearsed the history of Gondor speaking of its slow but inexorable decline. So let us praise this proud young man for remaining silent whilst his elders speak. But now he can remain silent no longer.
“Give me leave, Master Elrond…first to say more of Gondor.”
And so he speaks, but when he does so everything that he says is well known to the company that are gathered there and much of it displays his ignorance of the world outside the borders of his land. For Boromir knows nothing of the mighty deeds done by others that have also kept the enemy at bay. He does not know of Gandalf’s ceaseless toil and the great battle of the Five Armies on the slopes of Erebor without which it would be a mighty dragon and vast orc armies that would have controlled the vales of Anduin behind the borders of Gondor and at which Gloín fought and Bilbo was present. Nor does he know anything of the mighty deeds of Aragorn who has trod the Morgul Vale alone, a place where no man of Gondor has been in ages long since their last king rode to hopeless battle with the Morgul Lord. Nor does Boromir know that all present know of whom he speaks when he tells them of the power present at the taking of the bridges of Osgiliath who caused fear to fall on the boldest of Gondor and he does not know that Aragorn and Glorfindel have just faced this same foe at the Fords of Bruinen. Indeed Aragorn has done so twice, the other occasion being the fight in the dell below Weathertop. And indeed we might add that there was a hobbit there on both occasions who did not flee but sought to withstand “the great black horseman”, namely Frodo.
But we forgive him because we know that space must be given to the pride of young men to express itself and that such pride must be guided and not crushed. We know that life itself will teach wisdom to young men through failure and humiliation and that it does not require those of us who are elders to bring about such failure through our cruelty or even our malice. Boromir will fail in the most terrible manner and will live only just long enough to to achieve redemption and to learn wisdom and humility from his fall. Those few moments that he is granted after his fall in which to find redemption are some of the most poignant in Tolkien’s story. Not everyone who falls will find such peace as he does. Sauron, Saruman and the Morgul Lord will all fall into nothingness. That is truly tragic.
An ancient prayer begs for that we might be delivered from sudden death because such an event will rob us of the opportunity for repentance, for the changing of our minds. As we shall see Boromir was granted that grace and yet, as far as we know Isildur was not, and yet Isildur was a far greater hero than Boromir ever was. Boromir does not say to us that he could not face the Morgul Lord but it seems to be implied. Isildur faced the Dark Lord himself and armed only with a broken blade prevailed against him and yet Isildur’s fall, which would have taken him on the same and terrible spiritual journey that led Sauron to become the Dark Lord could only be prevented by sudden death in battle. It was the possibility of this journey that both Gandalf and Galadriel had to face when Frodo offered them the Ring. At this point in his career Boromir has no idea that such a fall is even possible, believing as he does in his own nobility and the nobility of his people and his country where the “blood of Númenor” is not spent, “nor all its pride and dignity forgotten”.
The gathering of nobility, wisdom and greatness in the house of Elrond that day listens patiently to this young man speaking of his pride. They know because everyone of them have made the same journey that life will teach Boromir wisdom through failure. Now it is guidance that he requires.
2 thoughts on ““Give Me Leave, Master Elrond… to Say More of Gondor.” Boromir Speaks of His Homeland and Himself.”
This piece has me wondering: If Boromir’s history teachers had taught him about the Battle of Five Armies, what lesson would they have wanted him to learn?
I love that question! As a young man I taught history in a Zambian secondary school (high school) for six years. Zambia had been Northern Rhodesia in the British Empire, named after the godfather of African empire whose desire to build a railway from Cape Town to Cairo was still recalled in the name of the main street in Lusaka, the capital city (The Cairo Road). As time went on I became increasingly embarrassed by the whole project of the British Empire. David Livingstone’s preaching to young students of Commerce and Christianity had, for all its shortcomings, a certain nobility about it, as did his own character, but Rhodes was a grubby man whose main desire was for power and wealth and yet has managed a control over his legacy through his Rhodes scholarships which, of course, are a major part of British soft power, counting the occasional American President in their number.
I reflect upon this because my own historical insight has changed over the years and continues to do so. Boromir and Faramir are both sons of Denethor and one must assume that he, at one point at least, was their main teacher, although Denethor eventually complains that Faramir is a more a student of Gandalf than of himself. Boromir certainly believes in Gondorian Exceptionalism as does his father.
One recalls Faramir telling Frodo that his desire is that Gondor should be “high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens”. It is clear that Boromir thought otherwise, as did his father. I do not know if Denethor knew of the Battle of the Five Armies although I would not be surprised if he had not some knowledge of it. But I cannot help but think that even if he did he would regard it as being merely marginal to his own interests. It is only Gandalf and his pupils, Aragorn and Faramir (and Frodo to a certain extent) who have a broader geopolitical sense, one that embraces the whole of Middle-earth.
Thank you for offering me the opportunity for a good ramble on this! But I would love to know what you think. We have discoursed together on Denethor in times past. What do you think now? Both about him and his pupil, Boromir.
PS. I will be thinking about Boromir’s wish to undertake the mission to Rivendell next week. I would love to know your thoughts on this matter as well.