September 20, 2005

You've Got Questions? We've Got Answers.

A reader comments on yesterday's daily dose of Tolkien geekery:

I think PJ had a valid point of his treatment of Faramir and the ring. In addition to his desire to gain Denethor's approval, how is it that he is not even tempted by the ring when he has Frodo and Sam captured and powerless?

I loved the scene at the end of FOTR where Aragorn finds Frodo just before the orcs attack. When he sees the ring, you can hear it whispering to him.

The ring corrupted Boromir and was a serious temptation to Galadriel and Aragorn. What makes Faramir unusually resistant to its power?

Well, where to begin?

In fact, Jackson does seem to proceed from the notion that the Ring had a universal evil effect on anyone who comes near it. This is different from Tolkien's running theme about nobility of character and its effect on the ability to withstand corruptive temptation, a theme explored in the contrasting reaction of various characters to the Ring.

Unlike in the movies, there is never, ever, any hint in Tolkien's books that Aragorn is at any time tempted by the Ring. Aragorn is the future High King of the reunited Arnor and Gondor, and in him Tolkien places all the finest traits of the the Numenoreans, the Men of Westernesse. Indeed, if there is any weakness in Tolkien's writing, it is that Aragorn is perhaps too good.

Boromir, on the other hand, is an example of the lesser stature to which the Men of Gondor have fallen over the course of their history. He thinks only in terms of power, forgetting what it was about Gondor that made it good and noble and worth defending in the first place. Thus, he is naturally drawn to the Ring and, indeed, never even understands its evil nature until the very end. (As an aside - is the corruption of Boromir part of a plan by the Ring to disrupt the Fellowship? Or is it just a natural consequence of his character? I've never really thought about this.)

In Faramir, Tolkien created a character with a nobility of purpose much closer to Aragorn's (and Gandalf's) than to Boromir's and Denethor's. (Indeed, Boromir and Faramir are only half-brothers. While Denethor is their common father, they had different mothers.) Faramir appreciates Gondor for what it should be, not just for its power. Thus his ability to resist the Ring, even though it is almost literally dropped in his lap. In fact, Faramir's crisis in the books is that he craves his father's love but won't sacrifice his principles to achieve it.

As for Galadriel, well, the history of the dealings of the Elves with Sauron and the Rings of Power is rather complicated. She is far from perfect, but her wisdom and experience protect her from ever being seduced by Sauron's power. It's true that Frodo's offer of the Ring catches her flat-footed and makes her confess her fantasy, but while Jackson builds up a knife-edged temptation scene, from which she emerges dazed and gasping, in the book she ends her "All shall love me and despair!" speech with a sudden clear and pure laugh. And while she says, "I pass the test," as I believe she does in the movie, I've always understood this to mean that, in fact, she passed it a long time ago.

Yes, yes, I know. Book. Movie. Different. But notice how good I'm being about just fleshing out those differences here, instead of flogging them to death?

UPDATE: Whoops! I guess I got some anti-geek points for consistently mispelling Faramir's name, but then lost them again for catching the mistake.

UPDATE DEUX: We have a challenge on the field regarding the connection between Boromir and Faramir. I was going strictly from memory and could have sworn they had different mothers. It doesn't have any effect on my basic point, but we strive for accuracy. Further review is required.

UPDATE TROIS: After further review, the ruling on the field is overturned. Findulias was indeed the mother of both Boromir and Faramir. For whatever reason, the Numenorean blood that she carried from the princes of Dol Amroth ran more purely in Faramir than it did in Boromir.

Posted by Robert at September 20, 2005 02:05 PM | TrackBack

Plus, Galadriel already wears one of the Elvish rings of power . . . along -- if I'm not mistaken -- with Gandalf and Elrond (Gandalf's haven been given to him by Cirdan the Shipwright).

Galadriel possesses a perspective that none of the other characters has (with the exception of her husband Celeborn, I believe) -- she was actually in Valinor prior to the theft of the Silmarils -- so she has first hand knowledge of the Valar. I believe she is technically still under the ban until she passes the test of the ring, though -- then she is granted a pardon and allowed to return to Valinor. I may be mistaken on that detail.

Posted by: The Colossus at September 20, 2005 02:23 PM

Yes, you're right about the Rings. I think the Ban of the Valar still holds insofar as Galadriel has to give up everything she has wrought in Middle Earth before she can go back to Valinor, including Lothlorien. Since Celeborn was a Silvan Elf and not under the Ban, I suppose he could have sought the Havens whenever he wanted, unless he came under the Ban by virtue of his marriage to Galadriel.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 20, 2005 02:33 PM

Tell me true: have you ever gotten laid? Like, ever?

Now, I know that you're supposedly married and you often blog about having children, but there are a host of conspiratorial explanations for that, not the least plausible of which is that you are leading an extraordinairly deluded fantasy life on your blog.

I mean no offense, I'm just genuinely stumped: it seems improbable - nay, impossible - that a man geeky enough to author this post could ever feel the intimate touch of a woman.

Again, no disrespect intended, I'm just scratching my head over here. Any help explaining a flaw in my reasoning is most welcome.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 20, 2005 02:36 PM

Again, no offense, or anything.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 20, 2005 02:37 PM

Just confused, is all.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 20, 2005 02:38 PM

But as I say, I always understood in the book that Galadriel had already resigned herself to this - passed the test, as it were - and that there was never really any danger that she'd actually take the Ring when Frodo offered it to her.

At least that's my take.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 20, 2005 02:40 PM

Bill, my friend, you've got much to learn about life. The difference between a geek and a married geek is that the married geek knows when the hell to shut up about his geekery.

And are you forgetting the lesson of Revenge of the Nerds? S'true. All we ever think about. That's what makes us so guuuuuud.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 20, 2005 02:45 PM

Again, I'm not trolling or anything.

Nothing but respect for you. Big fan.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 20, 2005 02:46 PM

Ah, you are right -- Celeborn is Sindarin. More here. I mistakenly thought he was one of the Noldor.

So he wasn't under the ban, though his wife was.

Posted by: The Colossus at September 20, 2005 02:52 PM

BTW, Bill, we've got some extra Brie & Beaujolais here if you'd like some.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 20, 2005 02:56 PM

Those were probably the two changes Jackson made in the movies that bothered me the most - especially the Faramir thing. Good post, BTW. Not geeky at all.

Except where you talked about LOTR.

Posted by: TheRoyalFamily at September 20, 2005 03:58 PM

Big fan, big fan.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 20, 2005 04:43 PM

Some good points here, but I have to point out: Boromir and Faramir were full-blooded brothers. Both were sons of Finduilas of Dol Amroth and Denethor II, which would make them nephews of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and cousins of Lothiriel of Dol Amroth, who later married Eomer of Rohan (the brother of Faramir's bride, Eowyn).

I can't believe that I'm still single.

Posted by: miss matheson at September 20, 2005 05:09 PM

Wow, my own response post, no less. I'm flattered: blog geekery and Tolkien geekery in one day.

A very good rebuttal concerning the various character's desire for the ring. Again, this gets back to the whole book vs. movie method of storytelling. My main thrust was that the ring was not just a passive object, but an active evil influence. Aragorn, Faramir, et al were not just resisting their own temptations, they were coping with an active force seeking to bend their will to Sauron, something not even the maia (Saruman) were immune to.

Also, the insertion in the movies of Aragorn's self doubts about living down the actions of Isildur is definitely a departure from the book, but one that adds greater depth to the character.

Not that I'm happy with all the liberties PJ took with the story, but this internal struggle against evil is hard to show on screen without some overt action towards an evil path that is eventually rejected.

I'll wait until Gary gets to the rest of the books in his blogging to comment more, but if the movie is 12 hours long anyway, they should have thrown in some more Faramir and Eowyn character development.

Also, I agree that the Ent section of the movie was totally against the grain (pun intended) of the books as well.

Posted by: bws at September 20, 2005 05:18 PM


Not only am I re-rereading the book because of this, now I've got to go back and watch the movies as well.

Like I have anything better to do anyway.

BTW, when you reference the movies, are they the theatrical release? Or the "Special Edition" extended version on DVD which I haven't seen yet, even though I told my wife NOT to buy the DVDs until the full, overpriced "Special Extended Version Edition" was released as a box set.

Posted by: Vinnie at September 20, 2005 06:57 PM

I'm feeling a bit less geeky at this point.

Posted by: Gary at September 20, 2005 07:45 PM

BTW, I'd love to post the next chapter but F-ing Blogger is down. Might have to wait until the morning. :-(

Posted by: Gary at September 20, 2005 10:38 PM

Just for the record Robbo, the Numenorean blood flowed pretty darn strong through Isildur's veins, but it didn't seem to help him.

Posted by: Gary at September 20, 2005 10:41 PM

Hm, I just wrote and erased a comment 3 times in 20 minutes.

I better just go back to the book and get up to speed.

I will say one thing though, I don't think Numenorean blood had anything to do with the difference.

Posted by: Vinnie at September 21, 2005 12:43 AM

I always thought that Boromir was more susceptible to the lure of the Ring because of who he was and how he thought. Think about it, Boromir was very much a man of action and not one to discount anything that he thought could give Gondor an advantage over Sauron.

In fact he reveals this first at the Council Of Elrond:
'I do not understand all this' he said. 'Saruman is a traitor, but did he not have a glimpse of wisdom? Why do you speak ever of hiding and destroying? why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the Enemy. That is what he fears most, I deem.

The Men of Gondor are valiant, and they will never submit; but they may be beaten down. Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!'

Faramir, on the other hand, was a man of thought as well as action. He was a student, or at least friend of Gandalf's and was more inclined to a thoughtful solution to a problem than Boromir's "run in and whack things with a sword" approach.

Aragorn is much the same as Faramir. A thinky man of action, friend and student of Gandalf's. He knows that the power of the ring would turn any task to evil, no matter what the intent.

But it's not just that Faramir and Aragorn are men of uncomprimising principle and Boromir is not. It's just that Boromir's principles are much more amenable to being twisted by the Ring. Boromir has just as much honor as Faramir and Aragorn, but it's different, and arrived at from a different perspective.

As for Gandalf and Galadriel and their temptation for the ring, they're both beings of power. Galadriel is one of the Eldar and Gandalf one of the Istari. They know better than to trust themselves with the power of the ring. After all, one of the Ainur has already fallen to evil (Melkor) and one of the Maiar (Sauron). And by the time the fellowship makes Lothlorien Galadriel already knows that one of the Istari has been corrupted also. The Ring clearly taints those with power faster than those with none.

Posted by: Matt Navarre at September 21, 2005 01:40 AM

I think your position that nobility of character allows a person to resist the corruption of ring is supported by considering Tom Bombadil. I believe that he is the only person (or whatever he actually is) that the ring has no power over at all. When he tried the ring on it didn't even make him dissapear and when Frodo put it on Tom was still able to see him clearly. I think the reason for this is that Tom does not seek power or control over anything even though he apparently has at least as much power and wisdom as any character in the book. Below, I've pasted an excerpt of a letter Tolkien sent to an inquisitive reader. I think he was asked to explain the purpose of the Bombadil character and to elaborate on his mysterious nature.

"But if you have, as it were, taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the questions of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless...

Posted by: Kirk at September 21, 2005 11:58 AM