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.

Whose Side is Treebeard on?

Whose side is Treebeard on in the War of the Ring? That is another way of asking the question, whose side is nature on? Treebeard himself is undecided. “I am not altogether on anyone’s side because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays.”

Treebeard is on the side of the forests of the earth and since time immemorial he has been their shepherd. And what he has witnessed over the years has been the long slow defeat of the forest. Even the hobbits have not been on the side of the forest. You may remember how Merry  told his companions of the battle between his people, the Brandybucks, and the Old Forest early in their journey; of how fires had been lit by the Brandybucks to drive the forest back and a great hedge planted to withstand any further attempts at encroachment. You may remember too, how the Old Forest tried to trap the hobbits as they attempted to journey through it by forcing them down to the Withywindle and the clutches of Old Man Willow. The Forest had a long and bitter memory of Merry’s people and only the arrival of Tom Bombadil saved him and his friends from disaster and a speedy conclusion to the great Quest of the Ring. The Old Forest was not on their side.

And there is a sense in which even Treebeard’s world is divided against itself because the Ents, the shepherds of the wild forest, have long been separated from the Entwives, the tenders of the cultivated gardens of the world. In this world the untamed wilderness is the masculine principle, the animus, while the cultivated world is the feminine principle, the anima and as Treebeard says to Merry and Pippin, the Entwives “would like your country.”

Tolkien never answers the question of whether the wilderness and the garden, the masculine and the feminine, can ever live in peace together although he does seem to say that the final healing of the world will only come when they are finally reconciled. But one thing is sure and that is “there are some things, of course, whose side” Treebeard is “altogether not on… these Orcs and their masters.” For Saruman the wizard has betrayed the trust bestowed upon him by the Valar, the angelic lords of the earth, the task he was given to aid the free peoples of Middle Earth in their resistance to Sauron and that he has long been plotting “to become a Power”. Treebeard declares that Saruman has “a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.”

And in saying this Treebeard challenges us to declare whose side we are on in the War of the Ring, whether we, like Saruman, use growing things for our own purposes, plotting to become little powers. Whether we, like Saruman, have given way to despair, believing in the inevitable victory of the dark lords of our own times, seeking only to find some accommodation with them, some way of surviving in a world that they rule. If we do then we will find that all who become, or seek to become, dark lords will have little regard for our loyalty seeking only their own ends and we will find something else too. Nature will be against us and will have its revenge upon the dark lords and all who for their own ends choose to be their allies. In our own time we are already rousing the anger of nature and would do well to find a way to make peace before it is too late.