If Tolkien had Spared Boromir

by Varda, with responses

It seems clear reading the Lord of The Rings that Boromir is doomed. You know that character in a disaster movie, the one walking along without a care; you just KNOW he is going to come to an awful end. usually the fact that he is an unknown actor gives the game away.

In the same way, Tolkien does not seem to want us to get too close to Boromir, or know him too well, because he is about to die. All his actions contribute to one of three things;

His 'valiant' nature ;(Aragorn's words) We see this time and time again during the journey from Rivendell.

His character as the Heir of Gondor, the next Steward. 'we of Gondor' he says proudly to the Council, and he is impelled by a tortured concern for her safety and a scorn for other nations who have not fought the enemies of the West as vigorously.

And thirdly, and most importantly, Boromir is defined by his desire for the Ring. His longest speech is his self-justifying rant to Frodo at Amon Hen, just before he makes a grab for the Ring. He here is just a shell, possessed entirely by desire for the Ring, just as Sméagol is when he sees Déagol with it.

Outside of these three influences, Tolkien does not give us much more; few little interludes, few conversations, such as Gimli's with Legolas, or Aragorn and Gandalf, or of course Sam and Frodo and Pip and Merry. Boromir does not have much communication with anyone, and seems a lonely isolated figure in the Fellowship. Tolkien denies his own character intimacy with either other characters or the reader, because he is about to die and Tolkien knew, as all good storytellers, the truth of Frodo's words to Sam on sensing an impending sad ending;
'Close the book now, Sam, we don't want to hear any more...'

But in Marples' essay The Hamletian Hobbit, the author refers in passing to what might have happened to Boromir had he survived his fall from grace. She thinks he might have suffered a similar fate to Frodo, sent into a sort of spiritual exile, as no-one who had ever succumbed to the Ring ever fully recovered; even Frodo, so much more resistant to it than Boromir, in the end was defeated, and never recovered from his defeat, or the pain of his trials.

The suffering that drove Frodo away at the end is not physical, although his wounds are of the body as well as the mind. It is a mixture of grieving for his own lost happiness and grieving for the loss of the Ring. Even if Boromir had washed away the shame of letting his comrades down, could he ever have lost the spiritual and mental scars left by the Ring when it overcame him?


Response by Avondster:

It sounds logical indeed, but I can't help but notice a difference.

Frodo has had the Ring in his possession for eighteen years, put it on a few times, carried it all the way to Mount Doom, and there finally succumbed to it. Boromir had never actually touched the Ring, and only seen it once, at the Council.

I think it is true that Boromir was scarred by his fall from grace as you call it, but I think the effect would have been different, more human, perhaps.
Frodo was so connected to the Ring at that point on Mount Doom, that I think a piece of him went down into the fire with it.

Boromir lost his honour by breaking his oath; Frodo lost his soul.


Response by Linaewen:

Good musing! I agree, Tolkien doesn't give us much to go on with Boromir, and I suspect that was as much for his own sake as well as ours -- the more you speak of a character and get to know him, the harder it is to kill him off. If he had kept with his plan for Boromir to run away and join Saruman against Aragorn, then we might have learned more, but as it is, it is pretty sparce.

Until he is dead. Then it seems we hear much more about him, from the lips of others -- Eomer, Gandalf, Pippin and even Theoden -- and of course, Faramir and Denethor, as well as many of the men of Gondor who have something to add here and there. There are lots of clues about Boromir from the speech of others that put together, make a bit of a clearer picture.

Even if Boromir had washed away the shame of letting his comrades down, could he ever have lost the spiritual and mental scars left by the Ring when it overcame him?

The answer to that question depends, I think, on how one sees how anyone would cope with such a failure or loss. Each person would be different to a degree, depending on how sensitive one might be. Frodo and Boromir are two different types, though they both were dealt wounds by the same thing -- the Ring; and they would react differently to the effect the Ring had on them, perhaps.

Myself, I think Boromir's scars would have remained, and he would have been reminded of them now and then -- as we all remember past failures, though we forget them most of the time. He might struggle with the loss and the need for the Ring, but I don't know that it would have been the same as it was with Frodo. Boromir never touched the Ring, and though he had quite the desire for it, part of that desire at least was for the purpose of saving Gondor -- and if he had lived to see that come about, that might have gone far to assuage some of the effect of the Ring. Yet, the Ring did make its mark, no question.

I guess I see Boromir the kind of person who could at least live with such spiritual and mental scars -- especially if he has "learned his lesson" so to speak; he might even be able to move past them to the point that they might not have such a hold on him that he could not function or live relatively happily. Especially if he had the support of others around him to encourage him and remind him that he is loved. I really feel that if he could move past the shame of letting his comrades and his people down, then he could move past the other as well -- it's that shame that would be the worst barrier for such a proud man.

That's what I think today, anyway! I fluctuate on this point, because it is a hard one. The very fact that we know so little about Boromir makes it hard to know how he would respond in truth. Each one will see it differently and put together the facts we know according to their own feelings about forgiveness and living with consequences and dealing with loss.

Response from NorthStar:

I suppose I never considered that Boromir would survive gaining the ring. His desire for the power - even in the name of Gondor - and the influence of his father and his madness, I always felt, would have brought him down. Unfortunately, I think his fate would have been similar to his father's; the power of the ring would have warped his mind in a way that a human couldn't recover from. This is assuming as well that the Nazgul didn't get him first. If even a stalwart Frodo would have offered it to them just to be rid of the pain, how would a lone human without a Sam have defied them? And the Nazgul attack on Minas Tirith would have come far sooner, without the means to repel it. The very thing that was meant to save Gondor would have been its downfall.

Reply from Varda:


Then it seems we hear much more about him, from the lips of others -- Eomer, Gandalf, Pippin and even Theoden -- and of course, Faramir and Denethor

But what we hear tells us as much about the character speaking as it tells us about Boromir. Faramir saw a brave man who rides down life's problems, whereas Denethor sees him as the perfect son, and they end up arguing over what he would have done. Boromir in death is like a footprint in sand, rapidly filling up with the incoming tide, and reflecting whatever face looks into the water.

Gandalf saw his death as a deliverance, a 'mercy', for he views it from a wider picture of wrong and right choices and redemption. Even Faramir suspected some sorcery from the Lady of the Golden Wood, showing Boromir something in himself he could not face up to.

Pippin, telling Denethor of his son's death, probably did not mean to be blunt, but his words 'a brave man can be slain by a single arrow but Boromir was pierced by many...' is graphic yet tells the father nothing of Boromir's death, for of course Pippin did not actually see Boromir die, nor did he know that Aragorn comforted the dying man. And of course, Denethor never speaks to Aragorn and so never learns of his son's last moments.

The guards at the gate know him only as the Prince, and fret more for their city's peril now he is gone than for the man himself.

The only one who has real insight into Boromir and tells us more of his character is Faramir, and that is part of that strange section in Ithilien, and his Boromir seems not quite right with the man we saw in the Fellowship. So remembering Boromir creates a man of mirrors, telling us more of the person recalling him than about Boromir.

Laura Marples in her essay thought Boromir would have found it very hard to recover from the spiritual wounding of the Ring. it is true that hobbits and men are unlike, but there is a strange parallel; Gollum, as Sméagol, was a hobbit who fell disastrously to the Ring, yet Frodo resisted to the end. Similarly, Boromir fell but Faramir was able to resist it to the end.

One result of the guilt of succumbing to the Ring is isolation, as seen from Frodo in the Shire at the end. He is unable to participate in the community. Something from the experience of being invaded by its power shuts one off from one's own people. Boromir would have been forced away, on a physical if not a spiritual journey. Frodo looks for healing, perhaps Boromir would need expiation. As Gandalf says, 'mercy'

Response from Linaewen:

Varda wrote:
..what we hear tells us as much about the character speaking as it tells us about Boromir... Boromir in death is like a footprint in sand, rapidly filling up with the incoming tide, and reflecting whatever face looks into the water.

Wow! That's really a good point - I hadn't considered that aspect of it, but it's so true.

The idea of a physical, and maybe even spiritual journey for expiation, as a result of the isolation brought on by the Ring effect, is a fascinating one. I can actually see that as a possibility. A living Boromir, once the "excitement" of battle and deeds to do is over, might indeed find it hard to settle and be comfortable in the same old surroundings, and feel the need to do something to help "get over" it, or at least prove to himself that he is fit again to be given responsibility. If possible!

More thought is definitely in order.