The Despair of Denethor

When Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli entered the halls of Théoden in Meduseld it was into a place of darkness. The throne chamber of Minas Tirith is not dark and stifling but cold and austere. The darkness of Meduseld matched the mood of its lord but Gandalf was able to deliver him, taking him outside into the wholesomeness of the wind and the rain. The throne chamber of Denethor is not dark but light but the light is cold revealing a man who has already bidden farewell to hope. Tolkien finds the image that most truly describes the man who sits upon the Steward’s chair beneath the throne of Gondor even at the one point in scene that reveals a little warmth. He speaks of “a gleam of cold sun on a winter’s evening.”

The fleeting moment comes when Pippin offers his service to Denethor. It is a moment when he shows that Gandalf’s words about him at the defences of the Pelennor Fields are true and Denethor recognises this too. “Looks may belie the man- or the halfling.” Pippin is indeed “a valiant man”. He hardly recognises it himself but he is battle hardened and the pride with which he answers Denethor is a good pride. That it is able to reach Denethor, even for a moment, shows that the Lord of Gondor has still a spark of life within him. For a true elder delights in the pride of a younger man, by one who is not daunted by hard words, who speaks courteously and yet looks him in the eye. The true elder is not threatened by a young man who displays such character.

But the moment soon passes, for Denethor is in the process of casting aside his eldership. The one young man for whom he truly cares is dead and his horn lies broken upon his lap. Boromir died at the hands of orcs at the Falls of Rauros, giving his life for Merry and Pippin, seeking to atone for his attempt to sieze the Ring from Frodo. Denethor does not attempt to hide the true state of his heart. “Though all the signs forebode that the doom of Gondor is drawing nigh, less now to me is that darkness than my own darkness.” From now on every person will only play a part in the story of his private grief. He is no longer Steward of Gondor in anything but name and even his son Faramir must be punished for being the son who is alive when Boromir is dead.

Do we condemn Denethor for this? Surely our hearts go out to him in his grief and yet we remember that Théoden too lost his only son in battle but did not then choose to lay down the burden of kingship leading his people in battle, thus restoring their pride. We honour Théoden for this event as our hearts go out to him also in his grief.

Denethor’s grief is mingled with a pride that cuts him off from all other bonds. Ultimately it will cut him off even from his true self as despair will always do. The early Fathers of the Church understood this, teaching that metanoia, the radical turning of the heart toward the light that is usually translated as repentance, must be founded upon a renunciation of despair. Sadly this was later to be reduced to the modification of certain behaviours, usually those that did not conform to the social norms of the time, thus often pushing more adventurous spirits outside of the church. But this was not the case when the church itself was the true home of the adventurous spirit. And it is never true when a saint calls humanity home to its true selfhood when it is fully alive.

And this is how we know that despair, while it may call forth our deepest sympathy, is not a true state of the heart. Denethor is already preparing his own funeral pyre even as he questions Pippin and receives his service. For the one who is connected to the true self even preparing for death is not an act of despair but of expectation.

Sam Gamgee Teaches Us to Make Good Choices

Freaky Friday was a favourite movie in our family as our girls were growing up. Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother finds herself in the body of her daughter who is played by Lindsey Lohan and her daughter finds herself in her mother’s body and both of them discover that it is tough to be the other. And there is a line that we all came to enjoy  (and most especially my wife!) which was delivered by Jamie Lee Curtis to her daughter.

“Make Good Choices!”

It was a line that summed up a parent’s desperate desire for her child as she makes the journey towards adulthood and also the feeling of powerlessness that a parent feels as the child walks out of the door (which they must!) and into a world that the parent cannot control.

After he fights his great battles with Gollum and with Shelob Sam is presented with a choice. He is sure that Frodo is dead and that if the quest of the Ring is to be completed then he alone must do it. He remembers the words he spoke to Frodo at the beginning of their journey after they had met the elven company of Gildor Inglorion. “I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.”

And so poor Sam takes Sting and he takes the Star Glass of Galadriel and he takes the Ring. A voice within him declares that “the errand must not fail” and Sam knows that he must make up his own mind. No one can else can do it for him. Not that he has any confidence that he will make the right choice.

“I’ll be sure to go wrong,” he says, “that’ll be Sam Gamgee all over.”

We have been here before with Sam and what we know is that he will strive to do the right thing and that he will never be sure that he is doing the right thing. Furthermore, this time it will be even worse for Sam because in any moment of doubt in the story until now he has had a guiding principle that has carried him through and that has been to serve Frodo the best he can. Now, as far as he is concerned, Frodo is dead and the lode star of his life has been taken from him. Sam has to make a choice without him, perhaps for the first time in his life.

We are all grateful for the choice that Sam makes because if the orcs had found him beside Frodo the end would have been heroic but also swift and horrible. Sam is able to evade capture or death because he puts on the Ring. He then learns that Frodo is not dead but only drugged because Shelob’s preference is for live meat. He is horrified when he learns this but he has done the right thing. He could not possibly have saved Frodo from the orcs.

What has Sam taught us about making good choices in the really tough times in life? Surely the first thing is that often we will not be sure that the choice is right especially when more than one possibility seems to be the right one. Like Sam we will have to learn to live with the possibility that we may have been wrong. We may even feel, as Sam does, that we have acted against the grain of our nature. What we do know is that in a moment of crisis we must make a choice. Sam has made his and the very fact that he has made a choice makes all the difference. Next week we will see the part that Providence plays in every one of our lives but neither Providence nor Grace can be of much help to us if we remain entirely passive. We must make whatever choice we can even if it the only one we can make is to bear our lot as bravely and as lovingly as we can.

 

 

Gollum Worships His God

Their relationship must have begun because they were so similar in spirit. For Shelob is consumed with a lust for all life, true daughter as she is of Ungoliant the ancient monster in spider form. This lust is insatiable but it is limited by a need for secrecy and so prey must fall unawares into her lair. Gollum in time past has brought such prey to her. He is her “sneak” as the orcs call him.

Similar in spirit they are but she is so much mightier than he. And so Tolkien tells us, “in past days he had bowed and worshipped her, and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him, cutting him off from light and from regret.”

So it is that Gollum worships his god. She represents to him the embodiment of the principle that shapes and drives him, the desire to eat. Readers may remember the debate between the Gollum and the Sméagol principle that Sam overheard and could not be sure who had won at the end of it. In it the Gollum principle declares: “Perhaps we grows very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Sméagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum?  Eat fish every day, three times a day, fresh from the sea.” We might allow ourselves a smile at Gollum’s expense but the only difference between him and Shelob or even between him and Sauron is one of degree. Their lust is greater and more all encompassing and their power is greater too but there the difference ends. Sauron is simply a more powerful version of Gollum. Gollum is simply a weaker version of Sauron. Sauron can hurt Gollum but Gollum cannot hurt him.

At least, not yet, for Gollum dreams of the day when he will “pay everyone back!” And when he says, “everyone” he means all those for whom he carries a sense of resentment; and this is so great that all creatures must be punished for the wrong that he believes they have done to him.

And what does worship mean in this respect? It is simply this. That some creatures are more powerful than others and we must bow down to those who are more powerful than we are. As Sweeney Todd declares in Stephen Sondheim’s musical of the same name, “Because in all of the whole human race… there are two kinds of men and only two. There’s the one staying put in his proper place and the one with his foot in the other one’s face.” And so those, like Gollum, in the “proper place”, worship those above them who have their feet in their faces. It is a miserable and servile kind of worship and it is offered in endless resentment. And those who seek such worship must take care never to take the foot away from the worshipper’s face for fear that revenge might be taken.

This is the spiritual universe in which Gollum exists, a universe that he entered on the day he murdered his best friend in order to take the Ring for himself. It is a universe made up of endless lust and endless resentment and from which both regret and light must be expelled for ever. And there lies it’s vulnerability for from the moment that Bilbo first entered it deep below the Misty Mountains and chose, for the sake of pity, not to kill Gollum it has been at risk. Gandalf said that the pity of Bilbo “may rule the fate of many” and it does. This is what it means that Hell is harrowed by the crucified Christ whose words spoken to his executioners are “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Hell simply absorbs into itself an attack mounted in its own terms of lust and resentment. It falls when the attack is mounted in pity and in mercy and by those who have no desire to rule in Hell.

Sam Rejects the Possibility of Turning Back

For the last two weeks we have been resting with Frodo and Sam after the great climb up to the pass of Cirith Ungol. Soon they will attempt to enter Mordor. Sam takes the opportunity to think about all that they have been through together. He does not speak his thoughts often but when he does they are worth listening to. Some people cannot stop talking and so you might just miss the wisdom they have to offer because you have got out of the habit of listening to them very carefully. Sam thinks much and speaks little so that by the time he does speak his thoughts they have been carefully crafted. You really must listen when he speaks because he will give you something worth holding onto. Tolkien was like this as well, believing that words have power in themselves both in their meaning and in their sound and so must not be wasted.

Sam has been thinking of the “tales that matter” and how we do not so much choose to be part of such tales but are chosen to be in them. “Folk seem to have been landed in them, usually- their paths were laid that way.” So it has been for Frodo and so it has been for Sam who was landed in this story by overhearing what Gandalf’s words to Frodo while he was tending the garden outside Frodo’s drawing room window. At least in one sense we can say that Sam was landed in it in this way but more truly he was landed in the story of the Ring because of the love he had for Frodo.

Sam goes onto talk about the possibility of “turning back”. “I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back,” he says,”only they didn’t. And if they had we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.” Frodo offered Sam this opportunity the morning after they had enjoyed the hospitality of Gildor Inglorion and a company of High Elves even before they had left the Shire. Sam had longed to “see Elves” and his desire had already been granted. Frodo asked whether he still wanted to go on and Sam replied that he knew that he must because there was something that he must see through to the end. He must stay faithful to Frodo. Of that he is sure all the way through the story. Eventually he also knows that he must play whatever part he can in the attempt they must make together to destroy the Ring. He is part of that bigger story too.

Whoever takes the risk of loving another is drawn inevitably into their story. For most of us this comes when we “fall in love” with another and decide to stay together and to journey onward together throughout our lives. All that the beloved has done for good or for ill becomes our story too. So too does all that has been done to the beloved. And we can turn back at any point in the story because we come to believe that the price of carrying on has become too great for us to pay. It might be our life partner about whom we have come to believe this or it might be our children or a member of our family or any community or any friendship of which we have become a part. We can choose not to be a part of their story any longer, to turn back.

I am aware that we are in a place of great sensitivity here. Women and children have been told to stay in abusive relationships and this telling can become part of the abuse itself. We cannot make a law of staying, of going on; all that we can say is that those who have blessed the rest of us who are tempted to give up are the ones who have gone on just as Sam did. We use the language of invitation. Those who carry on have taught us what there is to gain if we do not turn back. We are inspired and strengthened by their story.

 

The Tales that Really Matter and A Life of Our Own

Gollum guides Frodo and Sam away from the dead valley of Minas Morgul up a steep stairway seemingly cut into the rock of the Ephel Dúath, the outer fence of the dark shadow of Mordor, up, up, reaching toward the pass of Cirith Ungol through which they must go in order to reach their goal at the fires of Orodruin, Mount Doom and so to destroy the Ring. Just before they are about to make the final climb into the pass Frodo and Sam take a moment to rest. To Frodo it seems that they are about to begin the “final lap” and so he must gather his strength.

As they rest Sam begins to reflect on all that they have been through together:

“We shouldn’t be here at all, if we had known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures as I used to call them.”

Sam thinks back to the times of delightful pastime when as a young hobbit in the Shire he would listen to stories at Bilbo’s knee and so found his imagination awakening and his desire to see the things of which he had heard in those tales begin to grow. For Sam these tales were adventures and his hearing of them something to which he looked forward. And just as he chose to listen so he used to feel that the heroes of the stories that he loved had somehow chosen to be a part of their own tale.

“I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk in the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport as you might say.”

So Sam used to think until he found that he was within a great tale himself. He knows that he did not choose this tale and that from the very beginning he was, in effect, chosen for it but he does not regard this as some kind of honour that has been done to him. Sam’s own involvement in the tale of the Ring began with Gandalf hauling him through an open window from the garden at Bag End into Frodo’s drawing room and even though it was his desire to see Elves and his distress at the thought that Frodo might be going away that first led him to his hiding place beneath the window he had no idea that his desire and his distress would eventually bring him to this place on the borders of Mordor. He has been “landed” in this place, in this tale and, as he puts it, that seems to be “the way of it” with the tales that really matter.

We live in a time in which the ability to shape the events of our lives and to be the mistress or master of our fate is praiseworthy almost above any other quality. As German sociologists, Ulrich Beck and Elizabeth Beck-Gernsheim put it, it is the ability to “live one’s own life” in the world. “Money means your own money, space means your own space, even in the elementary sense of a precondition for a life you can call your own. Love, marriage and parenthood are required to bind and hold together the individual’s own, centrifugal life story. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that the daily struggle for a life of one’s own has become the collective experience of the Western world. It expresses the remnant of our communal feeling.” Thus in this understanding the adventure of all of our lives is this expression that Beck and Beck-Gernsheim speak of.

We will think more about this in the next few weeks as we pause with Frodo and Sam before attempting the pass of Cirith Ungol but just for now I hope that you can see that Frodo and Sam are not living “a life you can call your own”. As Sam puts it, their paths have been “laid that way”. And as we consider our own lives so we too must think of the tension between our desire to live a life that we can call our own and the tales that really matter.

Frodo and Faramir are asked “How is the Next Generation to Live?”

It is not always given to us to have the privilege of a clear choice. Good parents are anxious to help their children learn the difference between right and wrong and encourage them to choose right on all occasions. They are right to do so because without such a foundation little of value will be achieved in life and whatsoever of value does emerge will be unintended. We might wish such a foundation to be sufficient to guide us through every challenge that we might meet throughout our lives but sadly this will not always be the case. We will meet occasions in which there will be no good alternative that we can choose.

Such is the challenge that faces Frodo as he prepares to continue his journey after his encounter with Faramir and after the unhappy recapture of Gollum at the Forbidden Pool beneath Henneth Annûn. Such too is the challenge that faces Faramir as he seeks to counsel Frodo. All he is able to do is to warn Frodo of the dangers of the path that he has chosen in his efforts to enter Mordor and of the faithlessness of the guide he has chosen to take him there. “Do not go that way!” he cries in a last desperate attempt to dissuade Frodo from the way he intends to go.

That Frodo’s choice both of path and of guide is unwise is beyond doubt but so too is the alternative and this he makes clear to Faramir:

“If I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves and Men? Would you have me come to Gondor with this Thing, the Thing that drove your brother mad with desire? What spell would it work in Minas Tirith? Shall there be two cities of Minas Morgul, grinning at each other across a dead land filled with rottenness?”

Thankfully few of us will be called to make a choice as impossible as this but all who seek to live life with a moral seriousness will have to make choices in which the alternatives appear equally intolerable. Is there any guidance available to us for such a time?

In 1943 the German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a remarkable document to two fellow members of the Resistance within Nazi Germany that he entitled “After Ten Years”. In it he declared: “One may ask whether there have ever before in human history been people with so little ground under their feet- people to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant and futile.” Bonhoeffer goes on to outline the insufficiency of all responses to the circumstances facing himself and his fellow resisters, responses based upon such abstract principles such as reason, moral fanaticism, conscience, duty, freedom or private virtue. The only ones who can stand fast, he declares are those who are ready to sacrifice these principles when called to “obedient and responsible action in faith… the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”

Later he makes clear what shape such an answer might take: “The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live.” As Frodo and Faramir part in sorrow and with little hope both have made such a choice. Heroism is the last thing on either of their minds but both now offer up their lives that the next generation might be able to live.

Faramir remembers “That which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

So we come to the last of these three reflections on Faramir’s explanation of the silence that he and his men observe in his refuge of Henneth Annûn before they eat, a silence that is woven into the life of Gondor and most particularly into Faramir’s own heart. In the first we thought about the tragic fall of Númenor as recounted by Tolkien in The Akallabêth a chapter near the end of The Silmarillion. In the second we thought about the two mysteries of the Children of God, the immortality of the Elves and the mortality of Humankind, which neither Elves nor Humankind can penetrate. And in this last we will think about that which “will ever be”.

It was Sauron who, when a prisoner of Númenor, denied the reality of any reality beyond that which his captors could perceive save only that which they already knew which was the darkness. For all the Númenorians could perceive in respect of their mortality was the experience of death and decay and an unknown that lay beyond their perishing. So Sauron spoke to them of what he named “the Ancient Darkness”. And of this, he told them “the world was made. For Darkness alone is worshipful, and the Lord thereof may yet make other worlds to be gifts to those that serve him, so that the increase of their power shall find no end.”

And  Ar-Pharazôn, mighty king of  Númenor, facing his own mortality as an implacable limit upon all his ambitions and perceiving the Valar, the angelic rulers of the earth, as the greatest enemy of those ambitions, listened to all that Sauron had to say to him and so became a worshipper of the Dark and of its Lord first secretly and then openly desiring the worlds of which Sauron had spoken and a power that would “find no end”.

It was part of the lie that Sauron told that he should deny any other reality than the Dark, even to claim that any other reality was the malicious invention of the Valar in their desire to deny immortality to Humankind, “seeking to enchain Men in servitude to themselves.” Now, in the likelihood of the victory of the Dark and of its messenger, Sauron, Faramir rejects the Dark. He will face it courageously even in defeat. He will be a true follower of Elendil and the Elf-friends of old until the end. He will accept the limitation that his own mortality imposes upon him not as a punishment but as a gift looking towards a home that “is not here, neither in the land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World.”

Augustine, writing in the fifth century, spoke of humankind as those eager to “achieve unity by themselves, to be their own masters and to depend only on themselves”. In The Lord of the Rings it is Faramir who is given the part of articulating the rejection of such desire, a renunciation of the despair that leads to the worship of the Dark. Faramir affirms the hope that the last word of all belongs, not to the Dark, but to the Light. It is in this renunciation that his greatness lies but what will he do when he learns that the Ring of Power, the very symbol of the greatness that the Dark can confer upon its master, lies within his grasp?

Faramir Remembers “Elvenhome that Is”

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

As Faramir leads his men in an act of remembrance before they eat his mind turns to “Elvenhome that is” that lies forever beyond Númenor and can no longer be reached by any save those to whom grace is given by the Valar, the angelic rulers of the earth. For after the faithless kings of Númenor sought to invade the deathless lands and so achieve immortality for themselves the world was changed, “bent” as Tolkien put it, so that those who dwelt within it could only sail endlessly and wearily within it, returning once again to the point where they began.

So it is that for Faramir, as for his ancestors, Elvenhome is a place to which they cannot go even as the fate of the Eldest is one that he cannot gain. For it is the fate of the Eldest, the Elven folk, not to die just as it is the fate of humankind to become weary of life and then to leave it. In the Akallabêth, the tale of the downfall of Númenor, messengers from the Valar try to explain this to the King of Númenor. The Eldar “cannot escape, and are bound to this world,never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs.” Wherever they dwell upon the earth, either in the Blessed Lands or within Middle-earth they draw from each place its deepest beauty and they teach all other peoples to do the same according to their kind and their deepest longings. So it is that the lands of Rivendell and of Lothlórien represent within Middle-earth a living memory of blessedness as long as they endure and yet those who dwell within them must watch the decay of all things living about them and to hold an ever growing sorrow within the heart as they remember that which was and is no longer.

The sorrow of the Eldest is not the fate of humankind for whom even the longest life is so achingly brief. And yet for humankind is the sorrow of the discovery of delight that must then be left behind, first in weariness and then in death. The messengers of the Valar spoke of this fate, not as a punishment, for, “Thus you escape,”  they said, “and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness… This we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World.”

So Faramir looks toward “Elvenhome that is” and knows he can never go there nor know the deathlessness that its people know. Even if he wished it the temptation to go its shores is no longer a possibility for him. He must remain within the circles of the world and its fate. He may choose, even as we may, to regard this fate either as punishment or as possibility. We live in a time in which the most powerful among us desire an immortality within the world and cry out against all that confines them whether death or the smallness of the world or the limits of its resources. They and all who wish to be like them regard all that is good in the world as something to be stolen either by guile, by wit or by force. That which is praiseworthy is only themselves and the measure of these qualities that they believe they possess. Nothing is gift to be delighted in for its sake alone and most certainly the thought of One who gives gifts freely never crosses their mind. For a gift can be enjoyed when received with gratitude but it can never be possessed as if it were never given and they wish only to possess.

Faramir has already told us that he rejects the desire of his ancestors to be a master of slaves even “of willing slaves” and so he is prepared to receive life and all good within it as a gift. And the gift of mortality? Is Faramir prepared to receive that as good? That we shall consider next week as we think with him of “that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo

Last week I promised to think about the price Faramir is prepared to pay for the saving of his people. These reflections are based on all that he says as he walks with Frodo and Sam towards the hidden refuge of Henneth Annûn after the battle against the forces of Harad.

As he walks he muses aloud about the nature of Isildur’s Bane and as he does so he gets close to its true nature. “What in Truth this thing is I cannot yet guess; but some heirloom of power and peril it must be. A fell weapon, perchance, devised by the Dark Lord.” Such a weapon, he guesses, would have been desired by Boromir if it might have given hope for the victory of Minas Tirith over its great enemy. But then he declares: “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her,so, using the weapon of the  Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”

But why not seek the triumph of Minas Tirith? Surely the triumph of the city that has resisted the forces of darkness for so long is something worth paying any price for? How could the victory of Mordor and its lord be in any way preferable to the victory of Gondor? I think the answer lies in the memory that Faramir speaks of when he speaks of his city. Like Aragorn he is a man of the West, a man of Númenor, the great island in the Western Sea formed by the Valar as a gift to the Edain, the men who fought alongside the Elves against Morgoth, Sauron’s lord of the First Age. The men of Númenor became so mighty that they were able to defeat Sauron in the Second Age and make him a prisoner. But Sauron was able to corrupt the King of Númenor and most of its people, turning them from worship of Ilúvatar to the worship of Morgoth and of all that was dark so that even in the temple of Ilúvatar human sacrifice was made. Eventually Sauron was able to persuade them to make war upon the Valar an act that led to the destruction of Númenor itself. During the days of the corruption of Númenor Elendil and his family were a focus of resistance to Sauron and all his works and although Faramir is not himself of the house of Elendil his ancestors supported them and so were among those spared when the mighty wave destroyed the island. So it is that Faramir holds the memory both of a people corrupted even in the moment of their greatest victory and also of a people who resist the corruption, who remain a faithful remnant even as it appears to triumph.

Faramir knows that any victory gained by using the weapons of darkness opens the door to the same corruption as destroyed Númenor and so he declares his rejection of such a triumph. There is only one thing worse than being defeated by evil and that is to become evil oneself. Surely that is the deepest meaning of the last petition of The Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from Evil”? Nearly a year ago I wrote a post on this Blog entitled “The Dark Lord is Afraid of the Dark” https://stephencwinter.com/2014/10/23/the-dark-lord-is-afraid-of-the-dark in which I tried to show that it is those like Sauron and his servants who are in thrall to darkness and who fear it. Those who can embrace the dark are those who can truly pray “Deliver us from Evil” and Faramir is such a person. He is prepared to die rather than win a battle with the weapon of darkness. Such preparedness is the truest rejection of despair because it is an expression of the profound hope that light will conquer darkness, love will conquer hate. In every generation we need those who like Faramir are prepared to declare and live by this truth.

Faramir Teaches Us to Ask: “Whom does This Serve?”

Faramir is a true man. That does not mean that his journey is complete. He has far yet to go and much still to learn and he will be tested to his very limits and beyond them; but the four great masculine archetypes, the king, the warrior, the magician and the lover are all possessed by him in a mature manner and yet he is not possessed by any of them. He lives in a time of war in which the very survival of his people is uncertain, indeed improbable and it is hard to blame his people for honouring the warrior above all else. Faramir is a mighty warrior who leads his men bravely in battle and yet he tells Frodo: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the men of Numenor.” And even the city is not to be defended at any cost but that we will think about next week.

Faramir has learned to ask the question that only those who have achieved maturity are able to ask. “What is this for? What does this serve?” The immature are dazzled by the brightness and sharpness of the sword, by the flight of the arrow as it speeds toward its mark and, above all, by the glory of a mighty warrior whom they long to emulate. Boromir, great warrior though he was, was one such man. His desire was that in achieving victory for his people he would be the hero of the story. To be the hero is the natural desire of the young man in the first half of life and we can hardly blame Boromir for what is natural. But such a desire can also be dangerous and in Boromir it led to his attempt to take the Ring from Frodo justifying his treachery in his claim that only in using the Ring against Sauron could victory be guaranteed. When a warrior refuses to accept the authority of the true king harm will come of that rebellion. Boromir’s rebellion cost him his life though much good came from the way in which he acknowledged his guilt and sought to right the harm he had done.

Faramir, by contrast, does not seek glory for himself but for the city of Numenor and even that glory is not the power that she will have over others but it is “her memory, her ancientry, her beauty and her present wisdom.” Such maturity does not diminish his might in battle (which is the mistake that the immature make about this kind of wisdom) but it does understand the purpose of might aright. Power is not a good or an evil in and of itself. It can only become a good when those who wield it learn that it does not exist for its own sake but in order to achieve a good that is higher than itself. It is not wrong to seek or achieve success in a career, to build a successful enterprise or to win a beautiful bride. Such desire can only do harm when it becomes an end in itself; when the car is loved for its swiftness and glamour alone, the house for its size, the success of the enterprise for the glory it gives to the one who created it, the beauty of the bride for the envy aroused in other men. When we learn to ask “Whom does this serve?” then we will be mature. We will be whole.