The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-648
“Tell me of yourselves,” Gandalf asked of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and so Aragorn tells the tale of the doings of the Fellowship since Gandalf fell in Moria until their meeting in Fangorn some six weeks later. He tells of their stay in Lothlórien, of the journey down river to Sarn Gebir in the hills of Emyn Muil and then of the sundering of the Fellowship and the death of Boromir.
“You have not said all that you know or guess, Aragorn my friend,” Gandalf replies to Aragorn as he thinks of Boromir. “Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.”
“A warrior, and a lord of men,” Gandalf says of Boromir, but not a thinker. And in this regard Boromir is different from his father, Denethor. Boromir set out upon the journey to Rivendell because it seemed a heroic enterprise. A dream came many times to Faramir his brother, as Boromir recounted to the Council of Elrond, and once it came to him. Why Faramir did not speak sooner of the dream we are not told. Perhaps he needed time for reflection. But as soon as Boromir had the dream he went straight with his brother to their father and demanded leave to go to Rivendell. Perhaps it required the man of action to put things in motion.
But why did the heavenly powers send the dream in the first place? Why was it necessary to make the link between Minas Tirith and Rivendell? Perhaps the link was meant to be Faramir who, like Aragorn, had been a pupil of Gandalf and who would have understood the need to destroy the Ring and not to use it in war against Sauron. An understanding that he was later to show when he met with Frodo and Sam in Ithilien. But Faramir made the dream a matter for thought and not for action, for understanding and not for deed, a private matter and not for debate and counsel. It was Boromir who instinctively made the connection between the dream and heroic action. The dream spoke of Imladris, of Rivendell, and so a journey had to be made. And perhaps this was a right reading of the dream and of the heavenly mind that sent it. The Council of Elrond was a providential gathering of the free peoples of Middle-earth. Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Humankind were represented there and were represented when the Fellowship was chosen to go with the Ring-bearer on his journey to Mordor.
Boromir never understood the necessity of the journey. “Why do you speak ever of hiding and destroying?” he asked of the Council. “Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need?” Perhaps the use of the adjective, Great, was a clue even then of Boromir’s state of mind. Greatness, power and decisive action were all that he could envisage. To hide and to destroy seemed unmanly, even craven. And although when Elrond and Gandalf sought to make it clear to him that the Ring could not be used against Sauron because it was “altogether evil”, Boromir bowed his head and replied, “So be it” his heart never accepted this answer. As a soldier he accepted the orders as they were given by the Council but his heart was never in them. And after Gandalf’s fall when everything was thrown into disarray and into doubt, and when it seemed that Aragorn did not know what action should be taken, whether to go directly to Mordor or to Minas Tirith, Boromir began to think of taking the Ring so that it could be used in battle to do what the only thing that he thought had any importance, the defeat of Sauron.
I suspect that Boromir was ultimately taken by surprise by his own thoughts. Not the thoughts about the need of his people but the fantasies that he was nourishing about his own greatness. When Gandalf and Galadriel were offered the Ring they were able to resist the temptation at least in part because they had brought it from the shadow places within their hearts into the light of conscious thought. Boromir never did that inner work nor thought that work was even of any importance. And so when his desires burst out into the open at the moment he tried to take the Ring from Frodo they took him by surprise. I think that we can see this by his horrified reaction after Frodo escaped from him. And we see his true spirit in the way in which he gave his life for Merry and Pippin. It was because the young hobbits were there and in need that allowed him to declare to himself what he truly was. A warrior, a lord of men, and a man of truth and nobility.