Tolkien’s Heroes

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  The Lord’s Prayer

Die-hard fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the longer, darker The Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR to fans) read Prof. Tolkien’s works “religiously.”  True scholars know that he was very religious and imbued his story with Christian themes such as temptation, sacrifice, cowardice and courage.  They’re what make the books so beloved in modern literature.  You seldom find such heroism and striving for good in the modern canon of literature.

Peter Jackson’s movies attracted legions of new fans.  For faithful fans of the books, the movies were largely a pleasure.  Jackson was more than faithful to the books, for the most part; he even tamped down some of the book’s flaws.  However, fans were dismayed at his treatment of one of the secondary characters, Faramir, the younger son of the steward of Gondor.

The Oxford University professor on Glenn Beck’s show didn’t quite get it right when it came to the characters tempted by the ring.  He said that Faramir, in particular, failed the test.  Only in the film did Faramir fail the test of the ring.  In the novel, the temptation is only momentary.

Faramir is not alone in being tempted by the ring.  The question isn’t whether you suffer a character flaw if you feel tempted by something; the important point is whether you succumb to that temptation, or deny it outright after considering the consequences.

In the book, Aragorn is the first to be confronted by the presence of the ring.  When Samwise doubts his intentions (“How do we know you are the Strider that Gandalf speaks about [in a letter], Strider stands up, very tall especially to the hobbits, and says, “…my only answer to you, Sam Gamgee, is this.  If I had killed the real Strider, I could kill you.  And I should have killed you already without so much talk.  If was after the ring, I could have it – NOW!”

“He stood up, and seemed to grow taller.  In his eyes, gleamed a light, keen and commanding.  Throwing back his cloak, he laid his hand on this hilt of a sword that had been concealed by his side.  They did not dare to Move.  Sam sat wide-mouthed staring at him humbly.

“’But I am the real Strider, fortunately,’ he said, looking down at them with his face softened by a sudden smile.  ‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and if by life or death I can save you, I will.’”

Jackson waits until the climax of the first movie to tempt Aragorn, one of those things that didn’t happen in the book.  Jackson frequently gives characters other characters’ lines.  When Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli confront the resurrected Gandalf in the woods it is Gimli, not Aragorn, who warns the others not to trust the stranger.

Gandalf, Galadriel, and Boromir are all tempted by the ring, in keeping with Tolkien’s writing.  Jackson is a little more sympathetic towards Boromir than the book is.  Gandalf refuses the ring, recognizing that his good intentions would soon turn to evil.  Galadriel imagines herself as the Lady of the Ring, “beautiful and terrible as the night.”  Wisdom prevails and she passes the test.

Boromir, seeking the glory of Gondor and an authority he would never have otherwise as the future steward of Gondor, fails the test, as we see in the movie.  For Boromir, there is redemption in sacrificing his life for the other two hobbits, Merry and Pippin.  In the end, he acknowledges Aragorn’s true claim as the king of Gondor and swears loyalty to him.

Faramir is where Jackson gets it woefully wrong.  Movie-goers won’t know the difference but fans who have read the books do and were up in arms at the mistreatment of the heroic, gallant Faramir.

Faramir is a reluctant soldier.  His real passion is in knowledge and learning, especially through the mysterious traveler, Mithrandir (Gandalf).  It’s what gets him in trouble with his father, Denethor.  Denethor resents his younger son’s admiration of Mithrandir.  Faramir learns about the history of the ring from Mithrandir and he discusses this history with Frodo and Sam when he first takes them prisoner, and then as wards.

Faramir is chiefly upset by his brother’s death and worries that Boromir’s death is somehow connected to “Isildur’s Bane” (another character who succumbs to the power of the ring).  He tells Frodo and Sam how he thought he should have gone to Rivendell for the meeting but that Boromir was better fit physically for the journey.  Faramir knew that the meeting concerned this “Isildur’s Bane.”

“’If it were a thing that gave advantage in battle, I can well believe that Boromir, the proud and fearless, often rash, ever anxious for the victory of Minas Tirith (and his own glory therein), might desire such a thing and be allured by it.  Alas that he ever went on that errand!’

Faramir goes on to say, “’But fear no more!  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.  For myself, I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace; Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair.  So fear me not.  I do not ask you to tell me more.  I do not even ask you to tell me whether I now speak nearer the mark.”

A day or so later, they’re talking again.  Faramir tells the hobbits more of the history and they tell him of their adventures.  But then Sam forgets himself and spills the beans about Boromir trying to take the Enemy’s Ring.

“You’ve spoken very handsome all along,” the abashed Sam blusters, “put me off my guard, talking of Elves and all.  But handsome is as handsome does we say.  Now’s a chance to show your quality.”

“’So it seems,’ said Faramir, slowly and very softly, with a strange smile.  ‘So that is the answer to all the riddles!  The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world.  And Boromir tried to take it by force?  And you escaped?  And ran all the way – to me!  And here in the wild I have you:  two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings.  A pretty stroke of fortune!  A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality!  Ha!’  He stood up, very tall and stern, his grey eyes glinting.

“Frodo and Sam sprang from their stools and set themselves side by side with their backs to the wall, fumbling for their sword-hilts.  There was a silence.  All the men in the cave stopped talking and looked towards them in wonder.  But Faramir sat down again in his chair and began to laugh quietly, and then suddenly became grave again.

“’Alas for Boromir!  It was too sore a trial!’ he said.  ‘How you have increased my sorrow, you two strange wanderers from a far country, bearing the peril of Men!  But you are less judges of Men than I of Halflings.  We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor.  We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt.  Not if I found it on the highway would I take it, I said.  Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I know not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.’

“’But I am not such a man.  Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.’”

There is one final character who is tempted by the Ring before it’s destroyed, and that’s faithful Samwise.  He does put on the Ring briefly to elude the orcs.  Then he’s tempted a second time.  Perhaps the scene wound up on the cutting room floor.  He doesn’t put it on again, but the power of the Ring is such that without even putting it on, he sees himself transformed into Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, transforming the desolate vale of Gorgoroth into a garden of flowers and trees.

“In that hour of trial, it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense.  He knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him.  The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”

All along their dark journey, there are always signs of hope.  As Frodo and Sam make their way through the Land of Mordor, they take turns sleeping.

“Then at last, to keep himself awake, he [Sam] crawled from the hiding-place and looked out.  The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot.  Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale.  There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.  The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.  For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:  there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

Jackson is faithful to the scene, but there’s just something so much more powerful reading the passage in the book than even this wonderful film can convey.  Tolkien is at his most inspirational in this passage; it’s the reason why those who love the film should also take the time to read the trilogy.  As long as it is, it is worth the time.  A reader will also get a sense of the very long journey Frodo (and his faithful) servant must make and how it transforms Frodo, yet changes very little in Sam.  The book begins with Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announcing the celebration of his eleventy-first birthday and ends with Sam returning home to his wife and little children.  “Well, I’m back.”

The sight of the star from the heart of darkness is Tolkien’s best symbol of Christianity’s eternal power.  It’s especially affecting at this time of year.   There is light and high beauty forever beyond the reach of evil, if we simply reach for that bright star rather than the evil.







Published in: on December 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

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  4. Very well written. Tolkein was one of my major influences towards becoming a classical liberal. His lessons on the allure of power and what happens if one uses that power to force others to thier will even with the best of intentions was not lost on me.

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