Denethor's Appendix

by Varda with Linaewen, Tworivers & Rogorn

...no, I am not getting into the medical history of the House of the Stewards, just thanking Tworivers and others who replied to my post about Denethor.

About Denethor and Thorongil (Aragorn) I have a confession to make, I find that whole story hard to believe. It is way out of character to both Aragorn and Ecthelion. Tolkien makes plain the people of Minas Tirith are very proud and not too keen on strangers, but they and their Steward are supposed to fall down and worship some anonymous soldier because he is...a good soldier. And the Steward to honour him before his own son.

I don't buy it. This is a warrior people, not easily impressed. And the house of the Stewards, as we know from Boromir and Denethor, is fiercely close-knit and loyal. It also seems risky for Aragorn to go to the city he does not want to claim, even incognito.

I have to plead again for a study of the characters based on what is in the book, as edited and presented to the publishers by Tolkien. Not on appendices, letters, notes or whatever. What if a letter was lost, or found, does that change the character? You have to draw the line somewhere, and Tolkien did that for us when he handed over his manuscript to the printers.

It is important to realise where the appendices came from. This is clear if you read the drafts (published by Christopher Tolkien); when a passage got out of hand, was too long and rambling, or contradicting something Tolkien already wrote, he 'dumped' it into the appendices. That means a great deal of it is work in progress, and the finished book made it irrelevant.

For example, there were quite a few preliminary drafts for the chapter on Faramir, all quite different from what eventually was published. In one, Faramir tells Frodo 'if you try to escape I will kill you.'

Now, Faramir certainly did not intend to let Frodo escape, but the Faramir Tolkien eventually gives us, in the finished Two Towers, would never threaten to kill Frodo. Faramir developed in Tolkien's mind, and we can be sure so did Denethor and Aragorn, and I think the Thorongil story was a fossil from an early idea of both characters.

Anyway, we have plenty of material with which to assess Denethor's (and Aragorn's) character. There are long conversations between Denethor and Gandalf, three decisive encounters. There is Gandalf's question to Denethor;
'What do you want, then?' and his answer;
'For everything to remain the same'.

Two proud, powerful men, and this is an exchange you might expect of children.

There is also Faramir's long talk with Frodo in which he tells the hobbit about Minas Tirith and the Stewardship and the culture in which it is grounded, and obliquely tells him about Denethor.

It is tempting to think going back to Denethor's childhood might explain what he is. But Tolkien gives us plenty of the man's own words, to Gandalf, Faramir, Pippin and to himself and that holds the key to understanding him. If something from his childhood was important, Tolkien would have left it in the book, not relegated it to the appendices.

As I have said before, trust the storyteller, and the story in the book. Everything you need to know is there.

Just my opinion of course, thanks for your replies!

Reply from Linaewen:

It does seem that Tolkien sent stuff to the Appendices that didn't fit in the main body of the work, but I also get the impression that he chose what eventually ended up in those appendices -- hopefully with care -- so that it would not end up as being just one big dumping ground for a bunch of stuff that didn't really fit with the rest of the story, or a lot of stuff he ended up discarding as unusable. That's the kind of thing that went into Christopher Tolkien's works, to show the history of the writing of LOTR and the Silmarillion.

In which case, one might be able to make a case that the material is there because Tolkien felt it was enough in character with what was already written in the main tale that it was important to include for further background, when the third volume of LOTR was finally published. My idea of the Appendices has always been just that, more background -- not essential to the tale, but interesting.

Your point about Echthelion and Thorongil being out of character is interesting and bears thinking about. At face value it makes sense (at leasst to me, especially in relation to Denethor's POV) what is said in the Appendices, but I can see your point as well. One thing is, it would seem that Aragorn as Thorongil would have been in Gondor for some years, so I doubt if he would have been accepted immediately. He'd have to have worked his way up, so to speak. If I'm any good at math, he might have been there some 20 years as a soldier of Gondor; that would be long enough to rise in the esteem of the people. Still, to be held as better than his own son by Echthelion is an odd thing. Perhaps it was because Thorongil was out there doing things and Denethor was not. But that's all conjecture.

I have been reading the Appendices for as long as I have been reading the main work of LOTR, and always accepted them as is, but I am learning that it is wise to look at things carefully, and never accept anything at face value.

Reply from Tworivers:

I have definitely felt all along that the book was foremost, especially superceding letters, unfinished writings, and so on. And I do agree that a reading (a careful one, as you obviously have done) gives a lot of insight into any major character (and some minor ones).
I maybe have been under a misapprehension as to the nature of the Appendices. I had assumed that they were composed in order to give background information that would elucidate, expand on, or give the historical context for various events in the story as told in the novel part of the book. Tolkien definitely wanted his world to have an authentic, a real, an old feel to it, not just something someone made up and put these odd characters into. The Appendices, along with the songs and tales that are included in the main novel part, do this -- or so I have thought.

But, as I hinted above, I have not read letters, the Unfinished Tales, the different versions that exist of some parts of the story -- I have only read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, the appendices to that latter work, and part of The Silmirillion. I am by no means a scholar!

I definitely have noticed an attempt in a couple of places in the Appendices to tie up loose ends. One example is the conversation recounted as taking place in Minas Tirith, after the coronation of Aragorn, but before the wedding, I think, between Gandalf and Gimli. In that conversation Gandalf goes to great pains to explain why it was so important to him that Thorin Oakenshield go and try to slay the dragon in the Lonely Mountain. Now, that always seemed a bit weak to me, as if Tolkien was trying to tie The Hobbit in to this larger story with threads other than the obvious one of Bilbo's finding that magic ring.

But I had never given any thought, really (aside from recognizing the parallel ideas, as I have said elsewhere) to the reasonableness of the Denethor vs. Thorongil storyline as recounted in the Appendix. So, I shall have to reread that more carefully, and (when I get to the pertinent sections of the novel) consider whether it makes sense or not.

One thing that I do think, though, is that the movie overworks Aragorn's reluctance to be king. In the book, Aragorn proclaims himself more than once, even to the hobbits (though not, maybe, directly enough for Pippin, walking with ears and mind closed, to pick it up). He carried the broken sword, he recited Bilbo's verse about himself, he named himself at the Council of Elrond, he said to Gandalf that he, of all people, had the right to have the Palantir of Orthanc and to use it if he dared, and other occasions. He did not shrink from the challenge or the glory -- he was wise, in a political sense, but not very self-effacing. Now, the movie is trying to establish a slightly different ethos to the king-thing, I think, than the book is, and it is a reasonable point of view. But it is not entirely 'true' to Aragorn's character to have him be so reluctant.

There are definitely parts of the Appendices that are very 'right-' feeling -- such as Sam's riding away to sail over the sea after Rosie's death, and the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, and the mention that Eomer fought alongside Aragorn in the smaller battles that took place after the defeat of the Dark Lord. The account of Legolas taking Gimli with him when he sailed away over the sea, after Aragorn died, is just too beautiful not to be true. And the histories of, especially, Rohan and the Dwarves have little to contradict them elsewhere, so they may as well be true. The stories of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor have always rung true to me, as well. So, to think that the Denethor/Thorongil part of it might not be true will take a mental adjustment, one which I am very happy to be urged to consider.


Reply from Rogorn:

Bringing Denethor up the cliff again.. Well, I have to say I’m not that concerned with the lessons a book can teach you, or even all the implications about its meaning. I turned from the path of formal literary criticism long ago. I found that it helped my enjoyment of books only up to a point, then it started becoming more of a nuisance (again, that’s for me).

Anyway, I don’t exactly see the problem with Denethor’s behaviour. I don’t see any type of contradiction, and about Ecthelion we hardly know anything, so there isn’t anything we can really compare it to. I only meant that, at least in the case of Tolkien’s writings, involving so many characters, when one of them reacts in a way you wouldn’t have expected him to, instead of thinking if I buy that or not, I incorporate that into his personality, which gives him depth and complexity.

I have said before that, LOTR being one very untypical year in the life of the characters involved, I find it hard to extrapolate their actions to their whole ‘personalities’. Aragorn is Elessar, is Estel, is Strider... and is Thorongil too. In fact, Thorongil gave me a much better image of Elendil’s heir than another Chieftain of the Rangers scrambling for food in the forest all their lives.

I argue that the appendices are part of LOTR because they are part of ROTK (Christopher Tolkien always cites from them as ‘ROTK, page such and such’), and therefore what’s there should be incorporated to the background of the characters whenever possible. Is then the prologue on Hobbits to be doubted too because it’s not part of the tale exactly? Why treat it differently? Because it’s in bigger print?

Talking about drawing lines, the whole biography of Aragorn just couldn’t be fit into the tale, and that’s enough for me, and even commendable. The appendices work fine for me. Faramir’s bit about Gondorian history made it only just, but should it have been put in doubt if it was at the back?. I don’t think in this case displacing stuff to the appendices meant rubbishing it, in the same way that one does not rubbish the action figure that one can’t squeeze with all the others on the shelf. But I have posted below already how I think this fits from the Appendices anyway.

And back to Denethor, who started all this, I think I don’t see exactly what the difficulty is or the discrepancies lie. I know you’ve posted lots on him, Varda, but would you mind posting what your character study of him is, so that we could answer to you better? (And Ecthelion and Aragorn if you have the time) Including any bits you reject as non-acceptable.

More about appendices from Rogorn...
Still on that topic, I think that they must be considered canonic, as much as the rest of LOTR, for several reasons.

One, Tolkien wanted to publish them as part of the third book, so much so that the publication of ROTK was delayed only for this reason. They were in a publishable state, as decided by Tolkien, even if revision was planned and carried out, in the same way that any Tale of Years of our RW history would change in content and shape year after year, even when talking about the past. We might consider after a few years that there are other events that should be mentioned and others that are in should be left out.
They might have been under revision, but they were not unfinished.

Two, the fact that there might be some inconsistencies doesn't invalidate the whole. You just try to write all you know about Human history, or the 20th century, or even your own life. Then do it two or three more times and see if it doesn't come our different. Anyone, point to me any inconsistencies and I'll see how to make sense of them.
Part of them were summaries of stories that were very old in his mind alreday, part lore that went around the figures in LOTR that could not be fitted into the story of the Ring, part were liguistic essays, etc etc, all relevant, interesting, and (also a valid reason) the only other source we have.

Three, Christopher has put together 13 books on how exactly all his father's works were put together, so that any doubts can be answered there.

I maintain that without the appendices and the Sil, to me, and many people, the enjoyment of LOTR would be diminished, less deep and rich.