Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 7

The Pyre Of Denethor
"'Denethor has gone to the Tombs', said Pippin, 'and he has taken Faramir, and he says we are all to burn, and he will not wait, and they are to make a pyre and burn him on it, and Faramir as well.'"
Meanwhile, as the main battle takes place on the Pelennor Fields, there is another battle - for the life of Faramir - going on inside the Citadel. We return to the White Wizard after the Witch-King abandons the Gate. Pippin is hopeful about the sound of the horns and is never able again to hear a horn blow in the distance without feeling the same emotion. But the thought of Denethor and Faramir breaks the spirit of the moment. He begs Gandalf to return with him to the Tower because he fears for Faramir's life.

Gandalf is torn. He feels he must ride off to battle but Pippin tells him of what he has witnessed. The wizard knows that if he goes with Pippin, others may die. But he must save Faramir! Catching the hobbit up onto Shadowfax, Gandalf rides swiftly towards the top of the city. Finding the door to the building at the rear of the sixth level, they come to the Rath Dinen, or the "Silent Street". It leads to the Houses of the Dead where the tombs of the Kings and the Stewards are kept.

Gandalf calls for the soldiers of the Guard to "stay this madness". He springs up the steps and enters the chamber to behold the Lord of the City. Denethor's sword drawn, but, using an unseen power, Gandalf lifts it away. The wizard asks for Faramir. The Steward tells him that he lies with his flesh burning from fever, but he says soon they both will burn, by fire. So Gandalf rides forth, climbs the pile of wood that was constructed for the pyre and carries Faramir away. Denethor despairs that all is lost. He pulls out from its hiding place a Palantir!
"'Pride and despair!' he cried. 'Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against a Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves'"
Denethor accuses Gandalf of wishing to rule in his place. He tells the wizard of his conversations with Pippin and how he manipulated the hobbit into divulging the names and purposes of his companions in the Fellowship. He refuses to allow "this Ranger of the North to supplant me." In Tolkien's original draft, Denethor learned about Aragorn from the Palantir and was aware that he was the one aboard the black ship and what his coming meant. Christopher Tolkien writes:
"As first written, the different view of Denethor's knowledge of Aragorn and the black fleet is preserved, though changed later on the manuscript to the final form [in Return of the King]"
The version we know today uses Denethor's knowledge of the Corsairs as a final proof that Sauron's forces are too great to withstand. As he says in the passage quoted above "even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails", indicating he did not know that it was Aragorn and men of the southern fiefs aboard the ships.

At this point, Denethor leaps atop the table covered with wood and oil and, snatching a torch, he ignites the pyre. With both hands he holds the Palantir as he burns to death. Here there is one other minor change to Tolkien's first writing. In the original text Gandalf closes the door and says "Let the Stewards burn, their days are over". But this seemed a bit cold and perhaps a little out of character for Gandalf. Tolkien changed this to the final version, which reads:
"'So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion,' said Gandalf. Then to Beregond and the Lord's servants that stood there aghast. 'And so pass also the days of Gondor that you have known; for good or evil they are ended.'"
They carry Faramir to the Houses of Healing and along the way they hear a great cry coming up from the field. This terrible shrill sound was the last cry of the Witch-King as Merry drives his blade into the back of his leg. And Gandalf's heart was lifted up. He looked out as the light grew clearer and the sun broke through the clouds.

Later Gandalf reflects on the Palantir that was in Denethor's possession. Long had he suspected that the seeing stone of Minas Anor (the original name of Minas Tirith) was not lost, but rather hidden away in the Tower. With the Palantir, Denethor learned of the victory of Rohan at Helm's Deep and against Saruman. He also learned of the multiple forces that Sauron had sent from Mordor, including the black fleet. And the last vision that Sauron showed him was of Frodo locked in the Tower of Cirith Ungol and Denethor had believed that, having captured the hobbit, the Enemy now had the Ring. Sauron could not show things in the seeing stone that were false, but he could show Denethor only what he wanted, causing the Steward to give up hope.

As Gandalf looked out on the Pelennor Fields, he saw a great smoke where once there was fire. He saw that the great battle was over.

[Chronology: March 15th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Houses Of Healing

(revised 10/24/06)


At 7:03 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Denethor is a perfect example of a powerful man who trusts too much in his own intellect. He is strong enough to withstand Sauron directly while using the Palantir, but he is enslaved nonetheless.

Evil will always seek to destroy the hope that drives good to labor against it. Those who forget faith and lean only on reason will lose hope. Contrast Denethor with Sam, who never loses hope.

At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a difference attitude makes, huh? The arrival of Aragorn is an example of what Tolkien describes as a "eucatastrophe" - the positive opposite of a catastrophe. When we get to Mount Doom and the Army of West at the Morannon facing even bigger odds, I'll go more into that particular topic.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Lord Floppington said...

I could picture Denethor thinking of Aragorn's arrival as the final cruel twist of fate against him. It would be the final straw breaking the Steward's mind and driving him to suicide.

Tolkien making Denethor believe they are Corsair ships gives a feeling of some sympathy for him and his despair. Killing himself in a jealous rage over the loss of his position to some upstart hobo from up north makes him seem like less of a nice guy caught up in terrible circumstances.

I don't like Denethor, does it show?

Did the Palantir survive the fire?

I knew I really liked the last chapter, but the write-up on this chapter has really helped me to appreciate it more than I used to.

Keep it up!

At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Palantir did survive the fire. As Denethor burns, the passage continues "And it was said that ever after, if any man looked in that Stone, unless he had a great strength of will to turn it to another purpose, he saw only two aged hands withering in flame."

In the Fourth Age, at least during the reign of Elessar, there was peace throughout the lands and no doubt there was little need to use any of the Palantiri again. However, if Aragorn wished to, I'm sure he would have possessed the will to use it.

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is it that Sauron could show Denethor Frodo trapped in the tower, yet not find the ring? It would seem that if he knew Frodo was trapped, he would have sent the Nazgul there right away, and when they did not find the ring on Frodo, would have found Sam eventually...just seems impression was that Sauron did not know about Frodo/Sam until it was much too late.

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why should Sauron send a Nazgul to Cirith Ungol to find the Ring? It never occured to him that the captured hobbit would have it. The idea of someone bringing the Ring to Mordor and destroying it never entered his mind. When the Orcs captured Frodo, they were looking for "spies" that may have secretly entered Mordor, not a hobbit who might have the Ring.

When Sauron showed this vision to Denethor (among all the others), he thought he was showing him that one of his "spies" had been captured. It was just another in a series of visions designed to drive the Steward of Gondor to despair. Denethor assumed that Sauron now had the Ring because he knew of his quest. But Sauron didn't.


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