The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.537-540
In Tolkien’s telling of the tale the whole of Boromir’s last fight takes place off stage and we are taken with Aragorn upon his pointless climb after Frodo up Amon Hen and then his equally pointless descent of the hill when he hears the horn of Boromir and realises that both Boromir and, probably, the hobbits are in need. At last he draws his bright sword, and crying out, Elendil! Elendil! he crashes through the trees.
But it is all too late. Aragorn finds Boromir “sitting with his back to a great tree” as if he was resting. His body is pierced by many orc arrows, his sword is broken near the hilt and his horn is cloven in two by his side.
Boromir’s final words are both a report on how the hobbits have been taken by orcs and an admission of guilt.
“I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,” he said. “I am sorry. I have paid.”
Aragorn’s response is one of great, and gentle, kindness.
“No!” said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!”
And Boromir smiles; and then he dies.
Is Aragorn simply being kind to a dying man? One might begin to try to answer this question by saying that such kindness is never a simple matter. When we are with someone as they reach the moment in which they will cross the river, never to return, it is a deeply solemn affair. We are aware that a fellow human being is entering into a mystery about which we know almost nothing. If we are people of faith then we will have received from our traditions some sense of what awaits them and rightly we will seek to comfort the one who is dying with the confidence of that tradition but we all know that faith does not mean seeing. We may even receive some comfort from the dying. A good friend of my wife told me that when her mother was dying she began to speak with joy to the people who were waiting to greet her and our friend was, indeed, greatly comforted by this. But for all the comforts death remains a mystery.
“Alas!” said Aragorn. “Thus passes the heir of Denethor, Lord of the Tower of Guard! This is a bitter end.”
But Aragorn’s words to Boromir are more than a matter of comfort, important though that is. They are a matter of truth. Boromir did conquer. Although he did try to take the Ring from Frodo, almost immediately after Frodo’s escape he became aware of what he had done and returned with bitter regret to the place where the rest of the Company were. He met Aragorn’s distress and anger without any attempt at self justification and upon Aragorn’s command to go after Merry and Pippin and to watch over them he did so without question and then gave his life in their defence when they were attacked and taken by the Uruk Hai of Isengard. One might think that for the heir of the Steward of Gondor, one of the mightiest lords of Middle-earth, to give his life for hobbits, perhaps the least significant of its peoples, was a wasted gift, but doubtless Boromir remembered his words to Frodo, of his curse upon all halflings, and wished with all his heart to undo them, to pay a price for what he had sought to do.
Boromir’s deed in laying down his life for the hobbits was a victory over his desire, at all costs, to achieve greatness, to be the hero of Middle-earth and the Third Age. In itself this was a conquest. But it also achieved much in the task of the Fellowship. In taking Merry and Pippin the orcs believed that they had accomplished their mission to seize the halflings and so Frodo and Sam were able to make good their escape and to continue their journey to Mordor. Surely the fact that a great warrior was defending the hobbits convinced Uglûk and the Isengarders that they had done what they had been ordered to do. There was no need to hunt and kill anyone else. They could return to base. The lives of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were probably saved by this mistake. And surely there is something in Aragorn’s declaration that Minas Tirith would not fall that is linked to Boromir’s conquest. Just as the pity of Bilbo, when he did not begin his keeping of the Ring with the murder of Gollum, was to rule the fate of Middle-earth, might we not say that Boromir’s conquest over the corrupting power of the Ring in his own heart, expressed in his sacrifice for the hobbits and his truth telling to Aragorn, also rules the fate of his people?
Many thanks to Overly Devoted Archivist for letting me know about the source of the artwork. To find Matthew Stewart’s work please go to the comment below and click on the link there.
6 thoughts on ““You Have Conquered. Few Have Gained Such a Victory. Be at Peace!” Is Aragorn Just Being Kind to Boromir as He Dies?”
Love Boromir and love this.
I think the artist you’re looking for is Matthew Stewart: http://www.matthew-stewart.com/middle-earth#/the-horn-of-boromir/ 🙂
I love Boromir too. He reminds me of an elite athlete who has work to do on his emotional intelligence. Time with hobbits would give him a lot of help with this. They have what he needs.
Thank you, as well, for letting me know about Matthew Stewart and the artwork. I think that it is a painting that tells the story from the inside of something powerful.
Thank you for this reflection on Boromir. In my first reading of him many years ago, I was too caught up in his sins to recognize the genuineness of his repentance and the fruit thereof. None of us deserves forgiveness; that it is freely given should be a source of great comfort. Aragorn later healed physical wounds. Here he spoke healing to the deepest wound of all, that of Boromir’s soul.
My thoughts about Boromir were very much the same. Surely an essential part of the receiving of forgiveness is the heart that is open to receive it. Aragorn’s words, as you say, enable Boromir to die in peace.
stephen, this was really moving to read. And made much more sense of Boromir and his death to me. Thank you. There is often a sense in life that we learn the most when we fall the hardest. Boromir finds his way to such a dignity as you write it here, and redemption, and indeed his story and the way it unfolds becomes an inextricable part of the pattern of the whole. Gifts wrenched from darkness perhaps.
Thank you. As ever i have nothing really to say of any weight, but sometimes i cannot resist simply recording my thanks
As always, it is a delight to hear from you, Victoria. Thank you for taking the trouble to express your appreciation. The one thing that I would add to what you say is that a lesson learnt at the end of a life has as much value as one from an earlier stage. This is certainly true with Boromir’s triumph.