The Two Towers
Book IV, Chapter 5
Summary — The Window on the West
“[I]t was Gondor that brought about its own decay . . . thinking that the Enemy was asleep, who was only banished not destroyed.”
Sam falls asleep and awakens to find Faramir interrogating Frodo. Faramir wants to know why the hobbits originally set out from Rivendell, and under what circumstances they parted with Boromir. Faramir knows of a prophecy that states that a Halfling will arrive bearing something of great value, and he asks Frodo what this object is. Frodo answers only that he is on an errand to deliver the object elsewhere. Frodo makes a great effort not to speak ill of Boromir, even though Boromir tried to seize the Ring for himself. Faramir, knowing that Boromir is dead and attempting to trick Frodo, announces that Boromir will clear up everything when he arrives. Frodo, however, is unaware of Boromir’s death. Faramir hints that he suspects Frodo of betraying Boromir.
Faramir reveals to Frodo that Boromir is his brother. He asks Frodo whether he recalls any particular object Boromir possessed, and Frodo remembers Boromir’s horn. Faramir recounts how once he was staring at the sea, and either in a dream or in real life he saw Boromir floating by on a boat, his horn broken. Faramir says he knew that Boromir was sailing to the land of the dead, and that he had been killed. Frodo says that it must have been a mere vision, as Boromir had undertaken to go home across the fields of Rohan, far from water. Faramir addresses the dead Boromir in deep grief, asking for answers to his questions about what happened to Boromir before death. Faramir knows that there has been some wrongdoing, but he no longer suspects Frodo.
Faramir announces to the hobbits that he must take them back to Minas Tirith, the great city of Gondor. On the way, Faramir commends Frodo’s truthfulness, though fully aware that Frodo has withheld the fact that the hobbits did not like Boromir. Faramir tries again to extract information about the valuable object—which he knows only as Isildur’s Bane—that he knows Frodo is carrying. Faramir suspects that Isildur’s Bane killed Boromir, perhaps because it caused contention among the men. Frodo answers that there was no fighting in the ranks, and Faramir understands that the cause of the problem was Boromir alone.
When the woodlands begin to grow thinner, Faramir orders his men to blindfold Frodo and Sam so that they will not know the location of the hideout where they are headed. When the blindfolds are removed, the hobbits see the splendid Window of the Sunset, as Faramir calls the waterfall-covered window of the cave in which they are hiding.
Faramir offers Frodo and Sam food and drink. While they eat, Faramir recounts the former glory of the kingdom of Gondor and its later slide into weakness as the kingdom offered land to the Rohirrim in exchange for military defense. As they talk, Sam accidentally blurts out the fact that Boromir had sought to get the Ring. Faramir is shocked that his brother was guilty, but he appreciates Sam’s honesty, and affirms that he has no interest in getting the Ring for himself. Frodo tells Faramir of his own mission to throw the Ring into the Crack of Doom to destroy it. Faramir is astonished.
Frodo’s tense encounter with Faramir, who initially suspects the hobbit of being responsible for the death of Boromir, is an important plot development in several ways. First, the episode brings unity to the two disparate halves of The Two Towers by bringing us back to the first chapter, in which Boromir’s death is recounted. Now, near the end of this volume of the novel, we hear about the death of Boromir once again, but from a different perspective that gives us information we were not offered before. In circling back in the novel in this manner, Tolkien again reminds us that everything in The Lord of the Rings comes back to where it started—the Ring. Moreover, the new point of view on Boromir’s demise reminds us of the emotional consequences of the bloodshed in the novel, an aspect that sometimes is overlooked. We hear of the death of Boromir in the first chapter of The Two Towers, but do not grieve over it much, having little familiarity with Boromir, even after reading The Fellowship of the Ring. We judge Boromir’s death mainly in terms of what it means for the hobbits’ mission. But here, when we watch Faramir sorrowfully address his dead brother, begging for answers to his questions about Boromir’s death, we are reminded that the death carries with it a great emotional burden for Faramir. In a novel in which death is so widespread, Tolkien does well to remind us that these deaths, however numerous and sometimes anonymous, have an emotional importance above their status as mere plot points.
The episode with Faramir also shows us a new side of Frodo. The hobbit has suffered all manner of hardships in the novel, but he has never had to face an interrogation of the sort that Faramir forces upon him. Frodo could easily escape Faramir’s suspicions simply by stating the truth: that Boromir was a traitor who sought possession of the Ring himself, betraying the Fellowship. But Frodo refuses to admit the truth out of regard for Faramir’s honorable memory of his late brother. Of course, Boromir was not completely evil, and for a while he was the solid ally of the hobbits; in this regard, Frodo may be attempting to pay tribute to his former colleague. But the fact remains that, in his conversation with Faramir, Frodo sacrifices his own comfort and honor to preserve the good memory of someone who betrayed him. The nobility of Frodo’s act is impressive indeed. When we watch how well he holds up under pressure from the accusatory Faramir, we develop a deeper respect for the hobbit’s empathy and strength of character.
Faramir’s reaction to the news of his brother’s ignoble behavior is itself highly noble. Faramir does not curse Frodo and Sam as the bearers of bad tidings, nor does he label them liars, unable to believe or process the fact that his beloved elder brother could be capable of treachery. On the contrary, Faramir accepts the hobbits’ story with grace and calm. His acceptance of the distressing truth about his brother may suggest that Faramir is, on some level, well aware of the possibility of good turning to evil in the world. Faramir continues to exhibit this awareness in his touching recount of the fall of Gondor from a land of peace and prosperity to a realm of wickedness and corruption. The inhabitants of Gondor, Faramir explains, grew spoiled by their easy lives, and forgot about the necessity of constantly striving for good and defending themselves against evil. Faramir does not mention his brother in his tale, but indeed we might say the same things about Boromir—a good man who, in the face of temptation, became open to corruption and evil.
by CBCoulter, July 11, 2012
In the Sparknotes guide to The Lord of the Rings, on page 186 in the Character List for The Return of the King, Eomer is mis-identified as Theodan's son and heir. This is incorrect; Eomer is Theodan's nephew. Theodred was Theodan's son, and he was killed by Orcs, making Eomer, next in line for the throne, the new heir.
Is this error put in to trip up folks who aren't going to read the book, or is it a serious editing oversight?
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