1. Proud and Stern of Glance
This is an essay I wrote back in 2002, about a year after the Fellowship of the Ring film first came out in theaters. This defense of Boromir was written as a result of ongoing discussions at a Lord of the Rings discussion board that began in advance of the films, which I joined because I loved talking with others about my favorite LotR characters, and with the coming of the films, there was a renewed interest in something that had held my attention for many years already. I had read the books many times prior to 2001 when the FotR film debuted, so I had a well-developed love for Boromir by that time; but it became evident to me that my opinion of him differed to some extent from the common view! Thus I sought to share my understanding of the kind of man he was, referencing both the book and the film. My writing style has changed a bit over the years, but this essay is still "not too shabby" as they say, 11 years or so later. I've edited it just a bit to avoid myself some embarrassment, but for the most part, it is as it was when I first posted it.
I guess it is fairly obvious that I am a Boromir fan. I was a Boromir fan before Peter Jackson's film, and I will be one after the films have gone, because I still have my books! I am also a fan of Aragorn and Sam, so I have that to look forward to before the films go their way! But this musing is about Boromir. My purpose is not really to try to convince anyone to change the way they see Boromir (though if I succeed in that, great!), rather it is more to get some things straight in my own mind, as I see the praises and the criticisms that are posted here on our discussion board.
There has been a lot of talk and discussion about Boromir taking place, and it is interesting to see how Boromir seems to bring out the extremes in people. I'm not sure why that is, except maybe because whatever else he was, he was a man who failed and betrayed a friend's trust. That seems quite horrible to us, especially when we think of Frodo, who was small and hurting, and Boromir discounted all that when he tried to take the Ring from him. Those who are fond of Boromir can make excuses that he was under the control of the Ring (which he was), that he didn't know what he was doing (though I think he did, at some level), and that he was good at heart (which I also believe). Yet, he did fail, and he did hurt Frodo, and there's no getting away from that.
That said, no matter what else others may think or say about Boromir, I personally do not believe he was an evil, treacherous man who had no other thought in his head than to get the Ring from the moment he saw it at the Council. The attempt to take the Ring from Frodo was indeed a horrible thing, but I believe Boromir arrived at that point gradually, and up until then, was a "regular guy," a friend to the Fellowship and worthy of their trust, even though he was struggling with temptation. That he did eventually yield to the Ring's pressure and attempt to take the Ring is significant, but we can't stop there, or he truly would be the villain of the piece. Boromir realized his wrong, was sorry and did what he could to make amends. That does make a difference in my eyes.
We tend to speak of two Boromirs -- book Boromir and film Boromir -- but since the film came out almost a year ago, I have been of the opinion that there is one only. When I saw the film for the first time, I said, "Yes! That is Boromir as I have always imagined him!" Putting aside the blond hair vs. dark issue, I saw not only a Boromir who resembled physically to some extent the Boromir of my imagination, but also one whose character matched what I had gleaned from my years of reading. When I read the book now, I can see the film Boromir in the book Boromir, and I am happy that it should be so. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, and that's okay, but I've gotten to the point now that I want to try to at least explain why I think this way. It is not because I am smitten by an actor's portrayal of the character that makes a good guy of a bad guy; I really, truly have always seen the good in Boromir.
There is no getting around the fact that Tolkien described Boromir as a proud and confident man, who was secure in the knowledge of his own abilities, strength, and station in life; a man who was sometimes scornful of others and cared more for arms than for lore; a man strong and daring, and sometimes reckless. But he was also a leader of men, who was well-loved by those under him and by those who knew him, acknowledged as a man of prowess and strength, the best in the land. All these words describing him come most often from the lips of his brother Faramir, who knew him well, and did not hesitate to speak of his weaknesses, yet always with love. Even Eomer and Theoden spoke highly of Boromir and mourned his loss. A man so proud and confident and self-ssured as Boromir, who was yet loved well and without restraint by men like Faramir, Eomer and Theoden, must have had some good traits.
Tolkien does not state them obviously, but they are there to be seen as we read the tale of the Fellowship; Boromir was a man who took the battle against evil seriously, and his sense of duty was powerful. He cared about his people, enough that he was willing to admit at the Council that they needed help, in spite of his pride. He was a man of his word (that he broke his word eventually is one of the tragic tales of the Ring's evil history) and a man who did not balk at danger. He was the last to leave Khazad-dûm after the fight with the Balrog (in the book), and he was exceedingly careful of the hobbits in the snow on the mountain. He left behind a brother who loved him dearly and regretted his death, one who praised him continually even while acknowledging his weaknesses.
Such a man does not seem to be the kind who would fall too suddenly and sharply to the lure of the Ring, no matter how weak or proud he may have been, without it being obvious. More likely it was gradual, though the temptation and downward trend may have begun early on, and the call of the Ring grew louder the closer to Minas Tirith they came.
Boromir's weaknesses might never have mattered if he had not gone on the quest and been confronted by the Ring. Some might say he should never have gone in the first place, but I do not actually believe that. Just as it was meant that Frodo should have the Ring and carry it, so also it was meant for Boromir to be one of the Company. Certainly it is true that Faramir received the dream more times than did Boromir, but could it not be that once Boromir received the same dream, it was then that they realized something needed to be done about it? By acting on it, there was no further need for the dream call to go out to seek out Imladris. I sometimes wonder how many times Boromir would have had the dream, if they had continued to ponder it, instead of obeying the command to go?
Faramir wanted to be the one to make the journey, but Boromir took it upon himself as the elder and as the stronger (both true, admitted Faramir), and also because Boromir saw himself ever as the protector of his brother (this is stated by Tolkien in the appendices, along with the statement that there was no rivalry between the brothers). Not that Faramir was a weakling who could never do anything dangerous, but having established himself in such a role since childhood, I am certain that a confident and self-assured man like Boromir would certainly want to go in Faramir's stead, even if he had not had the dream himself. Having been given the dream, Boromir was as much a candidate for going as was Faramir. I doubt that Denethor gave Boromir any inkling of what he might have been thinking about the dream's meaning. I think it is more likely that Denethor allowed Boromir to take on the quest, in the hope that whatever came of it, Boromir would know the need of his City better than Faramir, and do what was necessary to aid it. I fear they both misjudged Faramir here, but while Faramir was hurt at his father's choice, he accepted Boromir's choice to take on the quest. His regret was that Boromir did not return and that he lost the battle with temptation.
So Boromir comes to Rivendell. Taking the book and the film together, we see a man proud of his heritage and his country's strength and place at the forefront of the fight against Sauron. We see that he is proud, and shocked at the revelation that there is an heir to the throne when he thought he was the heir, and considered his father king in all but name. In the film, Boromir is much more scornful and rude to Aragorn than he is in the book; in the book he is doubtful, but not rude. In both, we see that he is struggling to understand the reasoning behind the need to destroy the Ring. When Boromir sees the Ring at the Council, he sees it as the weapon capable of defeating Sauron. "Valor needs first strength and then a weapon" says it all. This inability to comprehend why the Ring can't be used is the basis for his downfall. In his pride and confidence in himself and in his abilities, which have never let him down in the past, he thinks that good men will not be swayed by the Ring's evil; but to take it into the land of Mordor where it will surely be retaken, is folly. I doubt that he ever sees it any other way until it is too late. Yet he is loyal to the Company and defends his companions with his life, even though he disagrees with the policy they have taken to destroy the Ring.
In support of this, I think it is significant what Boromir says to Frodo in their argument over the Ring. This, in my opinion, summarizes well Boromir's whole struggle with the Ring, and why in the end he made a bad choice. "True-hearted men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him... And they tell us to throw it away! I do not say destroy it. That might be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not. The only plan that is proposed to us is that a halfling should walk blindly into Mordor and offer the Enemy every chance of recapturing it for himself. Folly!" With this in his mind for months, it is not surprising that he would eventually come to believe that the Ring should be used, by a great leader like Aragorn, or "if he refuses, why not Boromir?" This way of thinking does not excuse him, but it does explain him, I think.
Over the days and weeks and months it took to arrive eventually at Amon Hen (Boromir left Minas Tirith in July, saw the Ring in October, and died at the end of February), throughout the rest of the journey, we see the growing struggle -- which is indeed a struggle for a man who has never really had to struggle before. Always he has known what course to take, always he has been a leader with the ability to succeed. Now he is the follower and they are going a way he does not wish to go. It is interesting that he does know how to take orders, even then. It is significant that he can take them from Aragorn; the only one who did not run away helter-skelter at Amon Hen was Boromir, who having failed his friend, stood and took orders from Aragorn without a word, and obeyed them, and went to his death.
Yes, Boromir is "proud and stern of glance," to quote Tolkien. Yet pride, confidence, daring and self-assurance are not bad in themselves and can add much to a person's personality. A proud man can still be compassionate, a confident man can do great deeds in defense of those he calls his friends, and a self-assured man can still be an unselfish friend and respectful of authority. Yet it is not surprising that Boromir would be the one member of the Fellowship who would become the Ring's prey, because these aspects of his character that make him a good leader, are also those that bring him down in the end. He is a hero by any definition, but he is also human, and like the best of us, he has his weaknesses.
Maybe that's why I like him so much. In spite of his weaknesses, in spite of his failure, he is noble enough to admit his wrong and name his failure, and seek forgiveness. It is so significant that Faramir can say to Frodo, "Whether he erred or no, of this I am sure: he died well, achieving some good thing. His face was more beautiful even than in life." And I say the same; whether he erred or no, whether he wanted the Ring from the beginning or came to desire it gradually, in my humble opinion, he was not a villain, and never was a villain. He was simply a man who put his hope and his trust in the wrong things.
I set my hope on the White City,
But she was besieged and came close to falling;
I placed my trust in my heritage,
But my blood ran red as any common man's;
I set my hope on my ability to lead men,
But I broke my oath and attacked my friend;
I placed my trust in my sword and shield,
But my sword did not bring victory, for my enemy outnumbered me.
I set my hope on my right to rule,
But I fell to temptation, while another resisted;
I placed my trust in battles and sorties,
I should have listened, and let others lead;
I set my hope on myself, on my honor,
My honor was broken, and my strength revealed as weakness.
I sought answers to a riddle;
I found the answer, but did not understand.
I sought aid for the battle;
I found one who would take my place.
I sought to please my father;
I should have obeyed my King.
I sought friendship;
I found it, and lost it,
And found it again, ere the end.
I sought forgiveness;
I received it, though not from the injured one.
But it was enough.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.