The Long Lunch
I was whiling away a sleepless night by
watching the Return of the King EE dvd and somehow it seemed a long
time since I had seen it, and I noticed some things that I had missed
During that famous and futile charge of Faramir and his men against the
orcs at Osgiliath, I realised that Denethor is eating a seriously long
The sequence goes a bit like this; first of all we see Faramir and
Pippin in the presence of the Steward. In the EE the added scene where
Pippin and Faramir talk about the livery that has been given to the
hobbit, and where Faramir says it was his, takes place just previously.
So presumably they were talking because they were both in an
antechamber waiting to be called into the presence of the Steward. They
easily make friends as both are probably nervous, certainly Faramir
knows he is for the high jump, as the EE scene where Denethor berates
him for letting Frodo go with the Ring also took place just previously.
So there is a sequence in the EE that is lost in the theatre version;
Faramir has a stormy interview with his father (I thought that was the
best of the added scenes, and it uses a great deal of Tolkien's text)
Then he and Pippin make friends as they wait to be brought to the
Steward's presence. Then there is the long scene where Denethor
basically has lunch. But it is what the suits call a working lunch.
First, Denethor accepts Pippin's allegiance. The hobbit struggles to
remember his lines; doubtless he was practising them when Faramir found
him in the hall. Denethor sits on the Chair of the Steward, amused but
not giving the hobbit any prompts. But he glady accepts his allegiance
when he is finished. He is aware of Faramir standing like a criminal
waiting for his sentence, but gives no sign of knowing he is there
except for a dark glance when he says the words ' (I will reward)
disobedience with vengeance...'
Then some black-clad flunkies bring lunch, at a very slow pace. As
Denethor flicks out his napkin and tastes his wine he tells Faramir he
thinks they had better retake Osgiliath.
This is a great moment of film. We have seen the battle for Osgiliath,
what a horrific loss of men and horses, all to no gain. Now this sadly
deluded leader proposes a repeat performance, all over the antipasto.
To his credit, Faramir is not overawed by his stern father and tells
him this course of action is impossible. Denethor, in the maddening way
of parents when faced with offspring rebellion, replies with a
'Must much be risked in war'
Faramir then makes a serious error; he turns the discussion to the
personal, asking his father
'you wish I had died and Boromir had lived' and of course Dad says yes.
After that, Faramir has his judgment torched by emotion. Pippin
looks upset when Faramir turns to go; maybe he wants to say to him to
fight his corner, not let his father condemn him and his men to certain
death. But Faramir is in a mad mood of self-immolation and just turns
and goes. His parting request to his father to 'if I return, think
better of me' is hypothetical as both he and we know there is no return
By this time Denethor is raining destruction down on the tomatoes,
with Pippin standing desolately and hungrily by. The Steward has gone
past the starters and is attacking the main course.
Next thing we see Faramir and his men in armour, riding through the
grieving crowds in the streets of Minas Tirith. In medieval Ireland
anyway it took ages for a mailed knight to get ready, even though he
did it a lot faster than his English counterpart as he had no plate
armour and his castle was usually under attack. Faramir musters his
men, finds suitable mounts for them, arms them and equips them with
armour, arranges them in squadrons under their officers, orders his
squires to get his own armour ready and put it on him, mounts his horse
and makes it down to the front gate of Minas Tirith while Denethor is
still demolishing a chicken. Or quail, or whatever it is.
Then, Gandalf stops Faramir at the gate, and they have a brief
discussion of Faramir's embattled family relations. It is true that
Faramir does not stop his horse, but this chat still delays things. (it
is even longer in the EE as Faramir speaks of the beauty of Numenor and
her culture) Denethor however is still pulling wings off the chicken
(or quail) and has only just noticed the grapes.
It is hard to tell, but there seems to be about a hundred mounted men
in Faramir's command. They all have to pass out through the front gate
of the city, having first negotiated the crowds and narrow streets.
Then, they have to cross the Pelennor, which was a fair stretch of the
legs, to quote John Wayne in the Quiet Man. They also have to deploy to
battle formation, which could take cavalry a very long time in medieval
times as there were no walky talkies and orders were given by voice,
herald or flags.
Despite all this time Denethor is so far from being finished his meal
that he asks Pippin to sing a song to lighten the tedium of wolfing
down the generous slices of white meat. Pip clears his throat and does
his best, in fact does very well and his song is my favourite part of
the sound of this film. But it must have been a longer song than we get
to hear, as it lasts the whole time it takes the cavalry to cross the
This would been a good long while, because cavalry usually trotted into
battle in medieval times, only charging the last little distance. They
had to save the horses, and men fell off a lot, and a short fast bit at
the end meant fewer accidents on the way to the battle.
By the time Faramir puts his men to the gallop, in sight of Osgiliath
(and its orc archers) Pippin is just finishing his song, but Denethor
is not nearly finished his dinner; he has just turned his attention to
the cherry tomatoes, and the drink, a great draught of which leaves him
dribbling red wine down his chin in a ghastly visual metaphor of the
blood spilled on the battlefield. Pippin closes his eyes, although
whether in grief for Faramir and his men or dismay at the lack of table
manners on the part of the highest lord in Gondor is not made clear.
Joking apart, when I watched this scene again I realised that the
obvious dissimilarity between the time-scales of Faramir and his men
attacking Osgiliath on the one hand and the Steward eating his lunch on
the other never struck me before. It was as if both existed not just in
different time zones but in different areas of reality. The Steward is
thinking of nothing but lunch, even after he has eaten. He has put out
of his mind his son and the futile attack that he has ordered. Perhaps
the director sought to show the blindness that deliberately ignoring
the truth brings to even the most intelligent people?
It is a bit like how Lothlorien has a special and different kind of
time to the rest of Middle Earth. But it also has different weather,
colours and light, and an atmosphere of beauty and nobility. In reading
the book these Tolkienien 'zones' are even more noticeable, even though
a book proceeds at the pace you read it. But events move in a different
way in the Shire, as Tolkien says, time passes slowly because
*uneventfully* in the Shire.
Events move in a different way during the battle of the Pelennor, not
just in timescale but in the effect of the deeds. It means more to us
than to Denethor; for him, it is just lunch. For us, the fate of
Faramir and his brave knights is something life and death. The hour of
truth for Gondor and the house of Denethor is played out during a meal,
just as Lothlorien's failing, which has taken so many aeons, speeds up
during this war. But only those who can see, like Frodo and Gandalf, or
Pippin, Faramir and Galadriel and we the timeless observers, can be
aware of all Tolkien's time scales at once.
Just musing, thanks for listening!
Varda, sleepless in Dublin