Thread: Theoden vs. Denethor
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Denethor was still strong-willed enough to "rule his own end" and defy Gandalf, even when in the throes of despair. Sauron could not master him, right to the end only show him signs that battle was futile. And actually Denethor was right, even there, though he mistook the Black Fleet for more enemies. "Though you triumph on the field for a day, against the might that now arises there is no victory." He could see the forces arrayed against Minas Tirith, and no one could beat them, not Aragorn, not Gandalf, not Rohan, not Gondor: in the end they made a kamikaze charge on the Black Gate and were saved by a "fool's hope". Otherwise Denethor would have been proved right, and it might well have been better for both him and Faramir to die when he chose to die, than be captured and tortured by Sauron for however long the Dark Lord took pleasure in their torment.
Denethor was a man of a different caliber than Théoden, nearly Aragorn's match, a Númenorean in whom the blood flowed nearly true, as it did in his son Faramir. He could fight at need and wore sword and armor in case that need came. His mind was far stronger than Théoden's, who was overmastered by Gríma's whisperings, whereas even the Palantir could not master Denethor. He could read even Gandalf's mind. Théoden is an appealling old hero, but he is of the folk of Éorl, who are high-hearted and brave, but always (according to Tolkien's scheme) lesser men than the folk of Westernesse.
Denethor was never bowed and spent like Théoden rotting in his own throne; we never see a hint of physical weakness in the Steward of Gondor. Nor I think would Denethor have needed rest after the battle at Helm's Deep. There are several times when Théoden must concede that "his old age is not wholly feigned, nor due only to Wormtongue's promptings". Gandalf leaves Aragorn to look after him. Théoden is sprightly for a seventy-year-old, but his last ride is his last ride: the old man was defying the frailty of his own body by will alone, it seems to me, whereas Denethor is not frail.
I think Gandalf said it best: "Théoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king."
There is a reason why Sauron arrayed so much force against Minas Tirith, even in the days of its waning. There is a reason why Gandalf speaks to Denethor as if he were an equal. There is a reason why Aragorn does not come into the city even after declaring himself on the field. Denethor is formidable. We may not like him very much, but he held his domain together until there truly was-- by all logic-- no hope, whereas Théoden let a lesser foe, Saruman, run rough-shod over his own land, and barely had the strength to fight one battle against the wizard's army at Helm's Deep, aided by Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and the ents. Denethor had held off the mustered might of Sauron for decades.
In one way only might Théoden have beaten Denethor: mounted and with spear, against an armored swordsman on foot. But that would not have been very chivalrous. I am not sure whether, if both were mounted, the advantage of the spear would be enough for Théoden to defeat such a man.
Whoever may or may not have won this hypothetical duel is irrelevant really. What can be said, however, is that Theoden (who had been under Saruman's spell) managed to pull himself together in the end and die bravely with dignity, while Denethor (who had been under Sauron's spell) did not.
Although Sauron's grip would have been a harder one to break free of, Denethor failed in the end to do what Theoden had.
Got to agree with Val 100% here! When it really came down to it, when all the chips were on the table, and the stakes were at their highest, Denethor showed his true colors. No matter what your personal stance on this topic may be, like Val said, Theoden died with honor, bravery, and dignity, while Denethor went out like the cowardly chump he was. Denethor may have been wise to a certain degree, but ultimately it was his wisdom that was also his greatest fault. He thought he was a lot smarter than he was, and that made him arrogant, and his arrogance led to ignorance.
Here's to Théoden, only king on Middle-Earth that got Elessar, Imrahil, Faramir, Elrond, Arwen, Galadriel, and Celeborn at his wake, and deserved 'em. We never hear of any sort of funeral for Denethor, and...
well, sorry, Faramir, but your ada was a twit.
Now about Legolas dropping his bow when faced with a Balrog...
I do feel though that Tolkien went to a fair bit of effort to directly compare these two men (even down to point where they each gain a hobbit retainer). Again in both cases, they had a heir who had defied them (Eomer persuing orcs against Theoden's orders, and Faramir releasing Frodo). So many comparisons, and then such a huge difference in the way they die. Denethor may have chose the time of his own death, but by trying to take Faramir with him, it seemed sordid and wrong. Theoden, however, died amid trumpets, in battle with great honour.
Théoden is an appealling old hero, but he is of the folk of Éorl, who are high-hearted and brave, but always (according to Tolkien's scheme) lesser men than the folk of Westernesse.
Sepdet I totally agree with you....
but in my opinion Denethor never broke Sauron's grip on him
That brings up a point, Theoden would never have been great if Gandalf hadn't broken Saruman spell over him. Would Denethor have been better if Sauron hold on him had been lifted?
Would Denethor have been better if Sauron hold on him had been lifted?