Saturday, 4 August 2018

Faramir, Boromir and Providence in Lord of the Rings?

From The Council of Elrond, Boromir speaking:

On the eve of the sudden assault a dream came to my brother [i.e. Faramir] in a troubled sleep; and afterwards a like dream came oft to him again, and once to me.

In that dream I thought the Eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying: 

Seek for the sword that was broken: 
In Imladris it dwells; 
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells. 
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand
For Isildur's Bane shall awaken
And the Halfling forth shall stand.

This is a very interesting passage, for several reasons. Most obviously, the content of the prophecy is remarkable. On the one hand it is expressed in a riddling form, that none of the recipients could fully understand. Only Denethor knew what Imladris was (i.e. Rivendell), and he did not know exactly where to find it. - just that it was in a 'far Northern dale'.

(I am unsure whether Denethor realised that Isildur's bane was the One Ring, or even suspected it; but I doubt it - or else Denethor would surely have 'briefed' Boromir on the matter and instructed him what to do with the Ring.)

But the prophecy was certainly helpful; and some aspects of the prediction are remarkably exact - especially that in Imladris a token would be shown - i.e. the One Ring; and that the Halfling would stand forth - which was fulfilled when Frodo volunteered to be the Ring Bearer.  The dream came to Faramir on 19th June and the Council of Elrond was 25 October - and a lot happened between the two events; specifically Frodo was in great peril and in danger of death several times.

To an alert observer (Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn) the prophecy would confirm that there was a destiny ruling their choices and actions; and there was a 'right answer' they ought to seek and do.

Who, exactly, was it that sent this prophetic dream - clearly it was divine, and also benign: on the side of Good. I think it most likely that this dream came from Eru, The One, God - rather than one of the Valar (angelic rulers or gods); because I don't think the Valar have that kind of detailed foresight, nor (at least in the Third Age) do they seem to intervene directly in this proactive and strategic way.

Did this mean that Frodo was never really in danger, and also his dangers were pretend, and his decisions could not have been otherwise? No. I think we must assume that a Halfling would have offered himself as Ring Bearer, but it need not have been Frodo - but if it had not been Frodo, then things would probably have turned-out worse, overall. Furthermore, the Council needed to choose the correct Ring Bearer - the Halfling would have stood forth, but the Council might have chosen somebody else.

Also Frodo's wrong choices, and failures to resist The Ring's temptation, led to the permanent psychological damage he suffered from the stabbed with the Morgul knife on Weathertop.   

An example of things turning out worse is probably that it was intended to be Faramir who undertook the journey to Imladris; since the dream came to him first and many times, but to Boromir only once - and perhaps merely as a confirmation of its objective validity.

It was the bad decision of Denethor (based on his bias and also the beginnings of his corruption, despair and exhaustion) that over-ruled the proper choice of Faramir and enabled Boromir instead to join the Fellowship of the Ring; and it was of course the corrupted Boromir who prevented Plan A being pursued by attacking Frodo and attempting to take The Ring. We can infer that if Faramir had been present, 'things' would have turned-out better.

Overall, it seems that God provided the kind of prophecy which left a great deal of hard work to the forces of Good, in terms of both interpretation and action; and all the important decisions still needed to be made by Men (also hobbits, dwarves, and elves) unaided... Or, unaided except by their intuitive sense of what was right; which all the best characters have (even when they sometimes fail to follow it for various reasons).

This fits with a picture of the world in which God has made the world such that Men's agency is primary; is indeed absolutely sacred - but made a world in which God is always present, and will sometimes intervene directly (as divine Providence) in order to create situations where it is possible for Men to make the right choices, leading to the best possible outcomes (the best possible - given the cumulative effects of evil in the past).


Chiu ChunLing said...

Always keeping in mind that "best" is measured in the availability of morally significant choices. The enduring appeal of Utopia is that all the choices (that one even has at all) are "easy", it just doesn't make any sense to ever do the 'wrong' thing. But such a situation is fatal to the moral development of the generation that grows up taking it for granted (typically the generation following those who only heard of moral difficulty from their parents).

In that sense, the best outcome may always be what actually occurs, people making the right choices only by application of hard virtues, and otherwise being under the necessity of repenting of the moral faults that led to wrong choices.

Boromir is a particularly good example. His place in the Fellowship confronts him with a moral test that he did not realize he was ill-equipped to face. His error was not assured, it was still his choice, and he could have repented by facing his weakness before fracturing the Fellowship. But he didn't...yet he was still able to repent (and confess) afterward.

Denethor also has a chance to confess and repent his error...but he does not.

His final choice is to rail against all that is good and true for having failed, in his opinion. But while one can say having been allowed that choice does Denethor little good compared to having been morally insignificant in an indolent utopia, it is not at all clear that it does him any real harm in the eternal scheme of things, and his end does stand as a warning not to delay repentance.

Ranger said...

Though of course Eru himself could have been the source of the dream, I have always had a sneaking suspicion that it was Olorin, a Maia of the Vala of dreams, who knew both brothers personally, preferred Faramir, but ended up accepting also Boromir to help in the Quest.

Divine providence interfered in that it waa actually better for Boromir to be the one in the Fellowship, and Faramir to have hundreds of men at his command with the Ring at his grasp. If you invert the brothers, even if Faramir was leading the two hobbits instead of Gollum, thungs would have gone a lot worse.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ranger - an interesting argument. My response would be that if Faramir had been in the Fellowship, things would probably have been different (and better) from an early stage - and there is no reason to suppose that Frodo, Sam and Gollum would have been in Ithilien where they were captured.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I will endorse that insofar as that, with simple reversal of their respective places, Faramir could have been with the entire party and advised them as to how to avoid revealing the tempting nature of the Bane being taken into Mordor.

But such a simple substitution of two characters without dramatically affecting all other elements connected to them is suspect. Boromir was no doubt skilled in leading skirmishing rangers, but his inclinations and status with his father meant he would have been commanding larger formations of more conventionally deployed troops elsewhere (and possibly turning the tide of an important battle or two). Faramir might have made Frodo more confident and willing to endure the mountain path Gandalf initially preferred...the consequences of that choice are utterly incalculable.

That is to say, I doubt there is any real use in talking about how "things could have gone better" once you are actually more than a consequence or two down the line from the diverging outcomes.

Would Boromir have had the opportunity for sincere repentance without his place in the Fellowship? I don't know...cannot know. Would Faramir have been better off in the end? That I frankly doubt, though again I should say I cannot know. Denethor...was probably already lost to the whispers of the enemy by the time he chose Boromir for a mission that was more naturally suitable to Faramir (from a variety of considerations).

But could he have indirectly saved himself by making the other choice?

And there is quite the conundrum. After all, simply making the logical choice would have been a step away from the influence of the enemy. Suffering the lose of Faramir's talents rather than blaming inevitable reverses on not having Boromir to rely on, losing the dynamic of favoritism between brothers...this one difference is a host of differences in one.

Denethor should have made different choices...for his own sake. But, ironically, it was by making choices selfishly that he ended up making the wrong ones.

Providence has a peculiar implication. It is that each of us is presented with a right choice and told how to find it if we're willing to ask. But we have to ask, and we have to choose right. If we were handed the happy result without doing our part, it wouldn't be Providence.

Ranger said...

Agreed that Faramir would have been a better fit. Even in my theory, who am I to disagree with the Wisest of all Maiar? And Denethor showed particularly bad judgement in selecting Boromir. It seems that he really thought Faramir was good for nothing, since, when you consider both brothers' considerable talents, Boromir is the most natural fit to lead the defense of the city, while Faramir is most fitted for a long quest through the wilderness.

The more I read the Lord of the Rings the more sympathy I have for Boromir, by the way. He would have been a great leader of the defense of Minas Tirith, but he was singularly unsuited to come into close contact with the Ring.

I also noticed, re-reading the prophecy and the timeline that:
1- Though the riddle was hard to read for the recipients, it is trivially easy for Gandalf (and, in that moment, of all middle-earth, only Gandalf could read all of it)
2- Apparently Faramir receives the dream at first as Gandalf is about to leave Bag-End, where he was staying mostly out of sight.

Apart from Eru Himself, Gandalf is the only obvious candidate (though it is hard to know the extent of the knowledge of the Valar about what was going on)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting - thanks!

Some lazy questions: what languages do the people of Gondor usually speak? What language was the verse in? Do we have it (from Tolkien, or another) in any of the ancient languages of the Third Age of Middle-earth?

More lazy questioning: what are the comparative dates of the writing of the Fisher-King like woundings of Ransom in Perelandra and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I'm not learn-ed in these matters - but Westron (Common Speech) was the ordinary speech of Gondor, and would have been the speech of the Council of Elrond (so that all participants would understand). The Gondorian nobility knew the elvish languages - and I guess a prophecy might well have been in Quenya.

I can't recall any other language variants of the prophecy from The History of Middle Earth (though I haven't checked), although modern post-Tolkien elvish scholars could provide one, presumably. I'm not familiar with any of that literature.

What you are asking about Frodo is presumably the concept that he should remain wounded after the ring had been destroyed, in the years before he went to the Havens. I can't recall when that part of the story emerged or solidified - but I doubt that it had anything to do with the Fisher King story, since the parallels are weak. Whereas the Perelanda wounding was clearly a deliberate reference to the Arthurian story, along with many others.

Perelandra was written during WWII - and I don't think it was conceieved until after Silent Planet was finished - I don't think a 'trilogy' was originally intended.

In sum, I don't think the two woundings have anything to do with each other!