Raksha The Demon
31 Jan 05 10:05 PM
Reply To: 37319
JULIE'S COMMENT (long):
"Re: Ch. 20 - Pride
When I read LotR Denethor burning himself and trying to kill his son I got a "I don't want to believe this" reaction. Something didn't seem right, something felt inconsistant. When I read HoME I understood my reaction: in the first notes about the seige of Minas Tirith, Faramir was near death, but Denethor didn't kill himself. There's a conversation outlined (I wish it had been full written!) between Denethor & Aragorn, see here for quotes from HoME & LotR.
There are two reasons that the change in the Denethor thread felt pertinant to me:
1. It echoed with something I got a negative reaction to in the finished LotR.
2. This change was of a different sort than the other evolution in the plot. Different JRRT quotes I have read, as well as my impression reading portions of texts in HoME, give me the impression that he is the kind of writer that would say "the characters tell me what to write": I remember a statement (from a letter) about how Faramir was a surprise, that if he continued to take up so much time that Tolkien would have to cut him out of the story. Many writers tell similar stories. It's happened to me (writing fanfic), it's happened to my husband (writing original fic).
In HoME or Letters or one of the biographies (I can't remember where now, it's been years ago) I remember a discussion about how JRRT was concerned (the publisher was concerned) about how long the "hobbit story" had become. He was about to write about the Pelannor Fields battle, Frodo and Sam were still crawling toward Mt. Doom, and JRRT didn't know how much plot there was left, but he needed the resolution to happen quickly. If Denethor took himself off the chessboard then Aragorn could step into the power vacuum without complecation.
The reasons to not have power politics would be:
1. Short chapter.
2. If Aragorn has to negotiate or fight (if only verbally) to get his crown he might look bad to a modern audience.
3. It makes the "Scouring of the Shire" more shocking & effective, if there's a trouble-free, fairy tale Return of the King. Instead of a "Happily Ever After" triumphal return home for Frodo (& the plot seems to be going that way) -- there is smoke & ruin & the Party Tree Is Cut Down. It's realistic war aftermath, Frodo can't stay & Grey Havens.
But, I believe, JRRT got there by (IMO) having Denethor's actions be plot-driven rather than letting the character take charge, as he did with so much else. I'm not saying JRRT's reason for making the change weren't valid. I'm saying that the subplot doesn't work for me. Rather than convincing me that Denethor was a complex, tragic character, he confused me. I couldn't define why the scenes didn't convince until I read the drafts. Then I realized what felt lacking in the whole Aragorn-gets-the-crown thread was that Tolkien was doing a lot of expert hand-waving to "side-step" or deflect the audience's attention to the fact that there should have been, realistically, some high-powered politics happening there, for one House (Ruling Stewards) to transfer power to another (Returned King). JRRT simplified things by making it that Aragorn filled a power vacuum, and held back the messy realistic stuff for the Scouring.
There's two fanfic ways to react to this.
1. Me: have a discussion of why the scene feels strained and try to work out different AU(s) where's a real transfer of power (or not).
2. Ang: do a deconstruction "interpretation"/patch gapfiller that explains why it happened that way, explaining Denethor ... but also examining how Gandalf acts.
MY REPLY (also long!):
Perhaps I'm more credulous. I had no internal objection to the pyre scene in the book; and felt that it was incredibly gripping and convincing and downright haunting. Especially since Denethor is not painted as an utter loony monster; the whole process is heart-rending; there are moments where he wavers, and we see his agony, and of course there's the 'do not take my son from me, he calls for me!' which is sooooo poignant.
I didn't feel that Tolkien was doing any hand-waving to deflect the audience's attention from Aragorn's easy accession to the throne of his ancestors. I thought JRRT set it up in a very realistic way.
1. Denethor's death doesn't come from out of the blue. He could have died on the walls or on the Pelennor during those days of battle where the City was attacked and burned. He had been under severe stress, and was showing signs of it; prior to Faramir's return in a comatose state, so his decline was not a shock to me. But it's not far-fletched that Denethor dies; his city is under attack; other lords die...
2. When Aragorn enters the City after the Battle of the Pelennor, it is very reasonable that he be acclaimed as King. Think about it. The Steward is dead, his heir is dying; and the only other Lord with standing (and 500 formidable Swan Knights) to challenge Aragorn's claim, Prince Imrahil, is his comrade from the field and just can't wait to spread the news that the King has Returned. Faramir, who is the actual Steward of Gondor, beats his uncle to the punch in terms of formal recognition. Oh yes, the lost Heir heralds his Return with a great PR move - bringing his greatest legal rival, Faramir, back from the brink of death.
But who would have said No to Aragorn's Kingship at that point anyway? The capital of Gondor was damaged, the Gates destroyed, Mordor's forces retreated but still dangerous, and Aragorn's new best friend, the King of Rohan, is camped on the field encircling the City with a few thousand Rohirrim. And Mithrandir, who the people of Gondor trust or at least respect as a powerful fellow, is the Returned King's counselor and is soon put in charge of more or less everything having to do with the War against Sauron. Anyone wanna protest the Heir of Isildur's benign coup?
3. After Aragorn leaves with a good chunk of the military, Faramir, who is one of Aragorn's new best friends or at least devoted fans, takes up his duties. That would have been the time for Faramir, or anyone, to foment rebellion against He of the Many Names; but all are too busy worrying about when Sauron's forces are going to swoop down and kill them some more. JRRT set up Faramir's wish to live under the restored Crown back in TTT; Faramir has made his decision and lives with it; credibly I think.
4. Most of Gondor would probably have been too caught up in the joy of surviving the end of the Ring War, not to mention averting the end of their world, to suddenly think about ditching the Returned King. And even if they did; hello, who's got the biggest armed force among Men at his back at Cormallen? And with Faramir and Imrahil in the King's corner, who is going to give an opposition movement the credibility it would need?
5. JRRT also has Faramir go to the trouble of announcing Aragorn's qualifications to the assembled people in a way that stresses the Heir's connection to Elendil rather than Isildur, and asks the people if Aragorn should be crowned, instead of just announcing that the Heir of Isildur has come to take up the Kingship (that once was the property of the Heirs of Anarion). He, and JRRT, do this to provide multiple justification to Aragorn's assumption of power. Unlike the movies, this isn't just a matter of the guy with the heirlooms and the biggest army coming in and taking over (though that helps!); there is justification by precedent and law and lineage.
6. Given what JRRT set up, and in my opinion set up very convincingly, there wouldn't be too many thoughts of opposition until well after the coronation and fairytale wedding. Then there might have been some Lords who suddenly, as peace sank in, realized, hey, any power or influence they might have wielded under Denethor and Ecthelion was gone and there's a stranger running Gondor, a stranger with the Elves whispering in one ear and the Grey Pilgrim whispering in the other, who has a 3000-year-old bride, and it might seem a bit too much. But by then I think that Aragorn could handle opposition or even rebellion, especially with Imrahil and Faramir's help.
When I read a book, I only start to question the plot if it doesn't make sense to me, or if it appears to totally stretch credibility. Nothing in Aragorn's assumption of power makes me hackle. Now the fact that the Heirs of Isildur apparently survived several hundred years in the dangerous North, hunted by Orcs and Nazgul and whatnot, and Orc-hunting themselves, and produced only one male heir per Heir, definitely strains my credibility. I think the Valar must have been watching out for them, or each Heir had a distant cousin named as understudy. How the heck was Aragorn's dad allowed to sit around unmarried until the age of 60 when he found Miss Right? You'd think the Dunedain would have declared a national holiday rather than some of them worrying whether Gilraen was a bit too young, and then rushed them through the wedding, plied Arathorn with oysters and thrown him into Gilraen's bridal bed. And prayed to the Valar for a new little Heir of Isildur!
RAKSHA THE DEMON