Never have I been so excited about a new series on the blog, or more nervous. My first association with The Lord of the Rings series happened when I was 10 years old. I watched the entire movie trilogy with my family and I was instantly impressed. I finished reading the series in 8th grade and I vividly remember that it took me 3 weeks to complete it. I had taken a few days of sick leave and I had the book with me throughout. Ever since, I have never truly let go of it. I make it a point to watch the trilogy and read the books every year at least. If this hasn’t already told you how crazy I am about this series, perhaps the blog posts that I have in store for September will.
I don’t rightly remember when exactly I came up with this idea though. I had always planned to talk about The Lord of the Rings on my blog, but somehow I shied away from it. I always looked at it with pure awe, for I am convinced that I cannot conceive a world so rich even though I pour a lifetime of work into it. There are layers of complexity and depth that I have only grasped after repeated reading. I have tried to assemble all my jumbled thoughts and intense feelings associated with this series and failed many times. But several things forced me to finally translate them into words. Firstly, it was a question I found on Quora asking how the works of George R. R. Martin are better than that of J. R. R. Tolkien. I was a bit puzzled as to why the two were being compared, but since I have not read A Song of Ice and Fire yet, curiosity compelled me to read some of the answers. Needless to say, they left me outraged. As a die-hard fan, I was all set to write a thesis-length rebuttal to some of the nonsensical claims, but I checked myself in time, for no good would come of arguing with strangers in some corner of the Internet (also, I was sure nobody would have the patience to read my thesis-length arguments). I decided that I would address them elsewhere, when I could be more objective. Secondly, the Tolkien Reading Event hosted by Krysta and Briana over at Pages Unbound Reviews (they have a fantastic book blog, BTW) gave me the inspiration to perhaps host something like that on my own someday. Third and lastly, it was the Character Evolution Files over at Sara Letourneau’s blog that got me into my fangirling mode again. Sara illustrated the positive arc with the example of Aragorn, which compelled me to dissect the various characters of the trilogy for myself, which culminates in this endeavour of mine.
A word of caution before we proceed, though. I must admit that I am no expert on this topic or a scholar. I am just an ordinary reader trying to explore the depths of my eternal favourite series. Sometimes, I may read too much into a thing, or come to the wrong conclusions. If you feel that I have, point it out in a comment and forgive me. Also, there are certain parts that I may have overlooked in my study. You can always bring that to my notice, again through the comments section. Also note that since this is a book discussion, it will invariably contain spoilers, so choose to read on at your own risk. With that out of the way, let’s jump in!
Best Character Arc: Boromir
There are many interesting characters throughout the trilogy, but since I had to pick one (and vent out my frustration on those Quora answers), I chose Boromir. J. R. R. Tolkien makes several references to the corrupting influence of the One Ring. It is perhaps best illustrated through the fall of Boromir. Although he is mostly remembered for trying to take the Ring from Frodo, thus breaking the Fellowship, and his character lasts for the length of a single book in a six-volume series, it is worthwhile studying his arc nonetheless. It is often said that The Lord of the Rings has clearly marked good and evil characters, with which I vehemently disagree. A notable example, other than Boromir, would be Sméagol, whose character is much more complex than that of my choice here, but more on that in subsequent posts. For now, let us get to know our ill-fated man a bit more.
We first encounter Boromir in The Council of Elrond, Book II, but pieces of his story are littered throughout the series. We learn of his youth and his disposition through the words of his brother, Faramir, that of Denethor, the father who loved his eldest son to a fault, and a little also from others such as Éomer and Gandalf. Information can also be gathered from the Appendices.
Boromir, second of that name, was born in the year 2978 of the Third Age to Denethor II and Finduilas of Dol Amroth. His brother, Faramir, was born five years later. It is said that there was great love between the two brothers and there was never any sign of jealousy or rivalry between them. To the young Faramir, there was no equal to his brother in Gondor and Denethor loved his eldest son the most, even though they possessed very different natures. Boromir soon grew to be a man of great strength and courage. He was promoted to the post of the Captain of the White Tower and it is mentioned in the literature that he fought in the many battles of Gondor against the Enemy. This won him renown not only in his country, but even Éomer speaks of his valour highly.
Boromir deeply loved Gondor and its people. His experience with war made him yearn for a way to defeat Sauron, although it is seen that both his pride (and that of Denethor, along with his false beliefs) prevented Gondor from asking for aid. However, he also longs for personal glory along with victory in the war. Faramir notes [The Window on the West, Book IV] that, ‘And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?” he asked. “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty,” my father answered. “In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”‘ In appearance, he is described as tall, fair, dark-haired, and grey-eyed.
The Council of Elrond
Boromir sought the land of Imladris, home of Elrond Half-Elven, because of a dream that came to him once and several times to his brother. In fact, he volunteers for the mission as he believes that he is the hardier of the two, although his father gives him leave grudgingly. His journey took a hundred and ten days and he travelled through “roads forgotten” to reach Rivendell, though, as he said, “few knew where it lay”. Thus, he reaches in time to be present for the all-important Council.
Once there, he learns that Isildur’s Bane is none other than the One Ring brought forth by Frodo, the Halfling, as mentioned in the verse from his dream. From there, perhaps, the obsession starts. When he asks why the Ring should not be put to use, he is answered by Elrond chiefly and Gandalf. His reaction is worthy of note: Boromir looked at them doubtfully, but he bowed his head. ‘So be it,’ he said.
Part of the Fellowship
From that slight slip-up though, Boromir again goes back to his old self. He proves to be a valuable member of the Fellowship, especially in the ordeal at Caradhras. However, as he is accustomed to lead, he often provides an alternate opinion in their discussions. He openly rejects the path of Moria, and after the fall of Gandalf, he continuously opposes the choices of Aragorn.
We begin to see a slight change in his behaviour from the moment he meets Galadriel in Lothlórien. He seems more and more interested in Frodo, and Tolkien masterfully hints at his growing corruption under the influence of the Ring through the observations of Frodo, Sam and Pippin. It is a steady downfall from then on.
It is portrayed differently, but brilliantly, in the movies, as can be seen in the following video [only till 1:20 is relevant to the discussion].
Things come to a head at Amon Hen, where the Fellowship halts before deciding on their course. The exchange between Frodo and Boromir finally reveals his desire for the Ring.
‘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. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!’
Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly. Almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise.
After the rejection of the Ring by Gandalf, Aragorn and Galadriel, it is Boromir who fails the test. He tries to forcefully take the Ring from Frodo, at which point Frodo puts on the Ring and vanishes from sight. Boromir trips and falls; an allegory, no doubt. The reason I loved the character arc of Boromir though, is because of how Tolkien chooses to end his story.
Boromir returns to the rest of the Fellowship subsequently and as they run off in search of Frodo, he is commanded by Aragorn to protect Pippin and Merry. His fate is only revealed in the next book, in the first chapter aptly named The Departure of Boromir.
Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas honour his death by laying him in one of the boats and giving him up to the great river Anduin.
But in Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars.
The point I was trying to highlight with Boromir’s example is that Tolkien’s legendarium does have grey and complex characters. The qualities that made him a famous warrior of his time and a fierce patriot were also the ones that led him down the dark path of temptation and power. Even though he descended to the lowest depths, he was able to find himself again and learn the error of his ways. Therefore, his character arc is neither the classic tragedy nor is it a positive one. He does not remain a villain in the story, but is laid to rest as a hero.
I have let my fangirl side go rampant with this post, but I had a really good time writing it. What are your opinions on Boromir? Can you think of other characters that do not rigidly fit into the three types of character arcs within the scope of Tolkien’s works? Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.