It was in the year 2050 of the Third Age that Eärnur, the last king of Gondor, rode to Minas Morgul in answer to the challenge of the Witch-King, the Lord of the Nazgûl. No tale was ever told of a battle between them but Eärnur was never seen again. He had no heir but the people of Gondor chose not to make a member of another family their king but to wait for the king’s return. They chose a Steward to govern them “to hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return”.
A thousand years passed before the War of the Ring and the downfall of Sauron during which the Stewards of the line of Mardil did their office. In all but name they were kings of Gondor but they never sat upon the throne or wore the crown. Tolkien remarks that although “some remembered the ancient line of the north”, the descendants of Elendil and Isildur of the kingdom of Arnor, the Ruling Stewards “hardened their hearts” against a true return of the king. Denethor may have told Boromir that only in places of “less royalty” could a steward have claimed the throne but as we saw in his last days he regarded Aragorn as an upstart. At the end of his life he cried out to Gandalf, “I will not bow down to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity”.
Faramir saw things differently. It was one of the many ways in which he was divided from his father. Faramir may have been tutored by Gandalf, just as Aragorn was, but Gandalf could only teach him because he was already captured by the story of Númenor. There were effectively two stories of Númenor. Perhaps there are always these stories in every human enterprise. One was the story of the desire for power and a growing bitterness about everything that constrained them. At last all the bitterness about these constraints was concentrated upon anger about mortality and about the divinities, the Valar, who seemed to hold life unjustly as a private possession. The Valar, the governors or stewards of Earth on behalf of Illuvatar, the One, became through this belief as no more in the eyes of the kings of Númenor than rivals for power. Sadly this was the story that Denethor nourished in his heart and why he ended his life in despair and denial.
The other story, the story to which both Faramir and Aragorn gave their loyalty, was to Númenor as a gift. The first families of Men who wandered across the mountains into Beleriand in the First Age were befriended by and allied themselves to the Elves in the wars against Morgoth and the darkness. It was because of their faithfulness in those wars that they were given Númenor as a gift. So friendship and faithfulness lay at the heart of this other story and a submission also to the mystery of mortality. While the later kings of Númenor became embittered by this mystery, Elendil the Elf-friend and his followers chose to accept the mystery of mortality as a gift just as Númenor’s separation from the Undying Lands was also a gift.
We live in times in which the limitation of mortality is resented even as it was by Ar-Pharazôn, the last king of Númenor. Recently Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, argued that humans can only remain “economically viable” as cyborgs while Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, argues for human immortality by digital means believing that it will be a possibility by the 2030s. The philosopher, John Gray, describes these immortalizers as “the God-builders”.
Who is faithful to the true story of Númenor, the mystery of mortality, as a gift, as Aragorn and Faramir are? Who awaits the coming of the true king? It is because Faramir nourished his longing for the return of the king in his heart that on the great day when Aragorn comes to Minas Tirith to claim the crown that he is willing to be a true steward and to lay his ruling authority down. It is because of his faithfulness that renewal comes to Gondor.
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.