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Thread: The Enigmatic Denethor

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I noticed he isn't favored very much here...but I, personally, am quite fascinated with this character. Is there anyone else who did not cheer when he committed his glorious suicide?
No, the only time i cheered was when Gandalf stumbled into the abyss in the Mines of Moria.
I have mixed feelings about Denethor. Part of me was really glad when he finally shoved off. I was getting sick of him always being so horrible to Faramir. Sure, one of his sons just died, but that's no reason to treat the other one like dirt! On the other hand, it would of been nice if he had hung around long enough to sort things out with Faramir. Faramir must of had a bit of a shock when he found out that his dad had up and killed himself while he was unconscious and mortally wounded and everything.
The movie Denthor is very unlike the book one. Of course they do the same things but the movie Denethor has been characterised as an evil character and you just wish that he dies pretty soon. He was like one of those Kings who get arrogant and mad with all of the power they have vested in them. On the other hand, you can sympathise with the Denethor in the book since you can see that he wasn't like this before and has seen better times but because Sauron controlled hiswill through the palantir, did he turn that way. You can see that he's still a good person at heart but is deranged due to hopelessness and despair as he sees no hope for Gondor. But then I guess, PJ never liked the Denethor character.
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I was getting sick of him always being so horrible to Faramir. Sure, one of his sons just died, but that's no reason to treat the other one like dirt!


Did he? I mean, in the book? I should have made it clear from the beginning, I don't EVER think of movie!Denethor as a character worth any analysis at all. He's a type of a deranged power-hungry ruler, not an interesting many-sided character. So...please, no abusive!Denethor and teary!Faramir!

I don't know...I never ever thought that he wanted Faramir dead after reading the book. The famous "Do you wish our places exchanged" thing could have easily meant "Do you wish Boromir, not I, was at Henneth Annun to deal with Frodo?" Besides, the whole "Siege of Gondor" chapter is simply heartbreaking...and don't forget, Faramir, when tired to the point of breaking, leans on his father's chair...and when lying close to death, calls to his father. Not Boromir, not Gandalf, but Denethor.

My idea is that Denethor could have even envied Faramir his ability to remain so bright and lovable, while he himself became embittered and gloomy. It isn't easy to have a child that a parent cannot feel condescending towards. And then, not all love has the same appearance. Some people just don't know how to show it, but that doesn't mean those they love don't know it...
Denethor loved both his sons at first, but then the Palantiri made him love power, which led him to get twisted images of both his sons, turning Faramir into something weak and Boromir into something strong. So he loves Boromir. But then Boromir dies, so he's all bitter becaase he thinks he is left with nothing but a useless weakling son. Then Faramir comes back to Minas Tirith mortally wounded and the teeny bit of love long buried is suddenly dug out and laid bare. But he finds it too late to save Faramir, and he himself cannot bear his newly regained love for his son without guilt, so he decides to meet death with him.

That's the story of the crazy old Denethor. Faramir is a lot simpler.

He grows up with the love of his brother. He loves him back. He grows up with no signified love from his father. He loves him back still. Maybe he knew his father loved him deep inside, or maybe that was what he hoped. Faramir hoped a lot. Thus we see the kind, loving, understanding young man we see in the book. He had a lot of spiritual stuff to cling to, and that's what made him stronger in the face of temptation.

Nobody really likes Denethor, everyone loves Faramir, but really, if you love Faramir, then you should love Denethor as well.
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Nobody really likes Denethor, everyone loves Faramir, but really, if you love Faramir, then you should love Denethor as well.

That's probably because Denethor has been put as a deranged King and Faramir is all good, all glory. In fact, (like I said) Denethor was quite glourious and good in the old days himself (Read the appendices). Its just that he cold not contest Sauron's will and thus Sauron made Denethor see his destruction and the doom of the city that he loved, he obviosly lost all hope. Sauron obviously showed him the army stowed away in Mordor getting ready to attack him. And even during the battle in the Pelennor fields, Sauron also showed Denethor the black Ships from mbar in case Denethor had a fleeting ray of hope at the coming of the Rohirrim. Driven to despair and hopelessness, any person wold get insane. Insanity is the loss of all hope.

Denethor obviously loved Boromir more since he was a stout warrior and a very good captain and would have made a very good steward too. And since Boromir was a warrior, Denethor saw the salvation of Gondor in his elder son rather than in Faramir who "wasted" his time learning abot tales and legends from Mithrandir rather than excelling at arms which was what was really needed at those times (as according to Denethor) And after Boromir's death, Denethor blamed Faramir for it (wrongly, of course) since Faramir had the dream that led to Boromir's fateful journey.

And please, no parent ever gets jealous of their children if they achieve more than him.
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Denethor loved both his sons at first, but then the Palantiri made him love power, which led him to get twisted images of both his sons, turning Faramir into something weak and Boromir into something strong.

That is incorrect. The Palantír (not Palantíri, he only had one) only showed him what he wanted to see of Middle-earth. It is true that he had to mentally struggle with Sauron everytime he used it, but he managed to use it because he was a rightful user of the Palantír, as Steward of Gondor. The Palantíri were made by Fëanor himself, and were not malevolent.

Sauron couldn't use the Palantír to poison Denethor's mind and force him like he did with Saruman, because Denethor was a rightful user. All Sauron could do, was make it as difficult as possible for Denethor to use the Palantír - which succeeded, as Denethor aged very fast.
Sauron could also not show false images to Denethor - everything Denethor saw in the Palantír was real.

JRRT wrote in the appendices to LOTR that Denethor loved Boromir more because Boromir was so different in character than himself, whilst Faramir had the character of his father - but without the ambition and ruthlessness.
Moreover, Boromir was Denethor's firstborn and heir, therefor Denethor gave most attention and put all his hope on Boromir's shoulders. Denethor only gave Faramir attention to chastise him, it seems.

This is what JRRT wrote about Denethor (in a letter to W.H. Auden) :
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Denethor was tainted with mere politics: hence his failure, and his mistrust of Faramir. It had become for him a prime motive to preserve the polity of Gondor, as it was, against another potentate, who had made himself stronger and was to be feared and opposed for that reason rather than because he was ruthless and wicked. Denethor despised lesser men, and one may be sure did not distinguish between orcs and the allies of Mordor. If he had survived as victor, even without use of the Ring, he would have taken a long stride towards becoming himself a tyrant, and the terms and treatment he accorded to the deluded peoples of east and south would have been cruel and vengeful. He had become a 'political' leader: sc. Gondor against the rest.

For the rest, i refer to the last post in the 'Importance of Faramir thread', which was posted by me and deals mostly with Denethor : Concerning Denethor
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'Sauron couldn't use the Palantír to poison Denethor's mind and force him like he did with Saruman, because Denethor was a rightful user. All Sauron could do, was make it as difficult as possible for Denethor to use the Palantír - which succeeded, as Denethor aged very fast.

Well, it is written in the chapter The Pyre of Denethor in The Return of the King that :
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In the days of wisdom Denethor would not presume to use it (the palantir) to challenge Sauron, knowing the limits of his own strength. But his wisdom failed; and I fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looed in the Stone and was deceived: far too often, I guess, since Boromir departed. He was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless the only things which the Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind'

Hence, Sauron acted as a censor board and allowed Denethor to see only the might of Mordor and its prepartion for the war against Gondor and hence made seem the future of Gondor bleak and hopeless. And it was this that forced Denethor to insanity seeing his doom appraoch.

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Sauron could also not show false images to Denethor - everything Denethor saw in the Palantír was real.

But this is true that what Denethor saw was for real.

And also, I think it is said somewhere that the Palantir of Minas Ithil (which Sauron possessed) was the "brother" of the palantir at Minas Anor (which was with Denethor) and hence had a very strong connection between them. I think the very words used were
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The palantir of Isildur (at Minas Ithil which later came into Sauron's possession) and the palantir of Anarion (at Minas Tirith) were very closely in accord with each other
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Hence, Sauron acted as a censor board and allowed Denethor to see only the might of Mordor and its prepartion for the war against Gondor and hence made seem the future of Gondor bleak and hopeless. And it was this that forced Denethor to insanity seeing his doom appraoch.

Sauron could only 'censor' Denethor when the latter was using the Palantír to look towards Mordor, I guess (just like Gandalf guesses in that quote).

Here's a fairly long excerpt from UT, concerning Denethor and the Anor-stone, without any guessing :

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But the Anor-stone had become a secret: no mention of its fate after the fall of Minas Ithil appeared in any of the annals or records of the Stewards. History would indeed make it clear that neither Orthanc nor the White Tower in Minas Tirith had ever been captured or sacked by enemies, and it might therefore be supposed that the Stones were most probably intact and rema-ined in their ancient sites; but it could not be certain that they had not been removed by the Stewards, and perhaps "buried deep" 10 in some secret treasure-chamber, even one in some last hidden refuge in the mountains, comparable to Dunharrow. Gandalf should have been reported as saying that he did not think that Denethor had presumed to use it, until his wisdom failed. 11 He could not state it as a known fact, for when and why Denethor had dared to use the Stone was and remains a matter of conjecture. Gandalf might well think as he did on the matter, but it is probable, considering Denethor and what is said about him, that he began to use the Anor-stone many years before 3019, and earlier than Saruman ventured or thought it useful to use the Stone of Orthanc. Denethor succeeded to the Stewardship in 2984, being then fifty-four years old: a masterful man, both wise and learned beyond the measure of those days, and strong-willed, confident in his own powers, and dauntless. His "grimness" was first observable to others after his wife Finduilas died in 2988, but it seems fairly plain that he had at once turned to the Stone as soon as he came to power, having long studied the matter of the palantíri and the traditions regarding them and their use preserved in the special archives of the Stewards, avail-able beside the Ruling Steward only to his heir. During the end of the rule of his father, Ecthelion II, he must have greatly de-sired to consult the Stone, as anxiety in Gondor increased, while his own position was weakened by the fame of "Thorongil" 12 aid the favour shown to him by his father. At least one of his motives must have been jealousy of Thorongil, and hostility to Gandalf, to whom, during the ascendancy of Thorongil, his father paid much attention; Denethor desired to surpass these "usurpers" in knowledge and information, and also if possible to keep an eye on them when they were elsewhere.

The breaking strain of Denethor's confrontation of Sauron must be distinguished from the general strain of using the Stone. 13 The latter Denethor thought that he could endure (and not without reason); confrontation with Sauron almost certainly did not occur for many years, and was probably never originally contemplated by Denethor. For the uses of the palantíri, and the distinction between their solitary use for "seeing" and their use for communication with another respondent Stone and its "surveyor," see pp. 429-30. Denethor could, after he had acquired the skill, learn much of distant events by the use of the Anor-stone alone, and even after Sauron became aware of his operations he could still do so, as long as he retained the strength to control his Stone to his own purposes, in spite of Sauron's attempt to "wrench" the Anor-stone always towards himself. It must also be considered that the Stones were only a small item in Sauron's vast designs and operations: a means of dominating and deluding two of his opponents, but he would not (and could not) have the Ithil-stone under perpetual observation. It was not his way to commit such instruments to the use of subordinates; nor had he any servant whose mental power were superior to Saruman's or even Denethor's.

In the case of Denethor, the Steward was strengthened, even against Sauron himself, by the fact the Stones were far more amenable to legitimate users: most of all to true "Heirs of Elendil" (as Aragorn), but also to one with inherited authority(as Denethor), as compared to Saruman, or Sauron. It may noted that the effects were different. Saruman fell under the domination of Sauron and desired his victory, or no longer opposed it. Denethor remained steadfast in his rejection Sauron, but was made to believe that his victory was inevitable, and so fell into despair. The reasons for this difference were doubt that in the first place Denethor was a man of great strength of will, and maintained the integrity of his personality until the final blow of the (apparently) mortal wound of his only surviving son. He was proud, but this was by no means merely personal: he loved Gondor and its people, and deemed himself appointed by destiny to lead them in this desperate time. And in the second place the Anor-stone was his by right, and nothing but expediency was against his use of it in his grave anxieties. He must have guessed that the Ithil-stone was in evil hands, and risked contact with it, trusting his strength. His trust was not entirely unjustified. Sauron failed to dominate him and could only influence him by deceits. Probably he did not at first look towards Mordor, but was content with such "far views" as the Stone would afford; hence his surprising knowledge of events far off. Whether he ever thus made contact with the Orthanc-stone and Saruman is not told; probably he did, and did so with profit to himself. Sauron could not break in on these confer-ences: only the surveyor using the Master Stone of Osgiliath could "eavesdrop." While two of the other Stones were in re-sponse, the third would find them both blank. 14

Anyway, it was not that what you described, what forced Denethor to insanity. It was merely a contributing factor, together with the death of Boromir and the loss of the Ring (which he saw as Gondor's last hope after Boromir's death). The final straw, which ultimately caused his despair to turn into insanity, was when a badly wounded Faramir was brought to him.

But still, my point stands that Sauron could not poison Denethor's mind like he did with Saruman's, let alone force Denethor.

Denethor must not be blamed in all this; after all, a military victory of Sauron was inevitable, safe perhaps if someone of great strength would take up the Ring and challenge Sauron - and this was Denethor's plan for himself. When the Ring was out of his reach (did he see Frodo, Sam and Gollum enter the Morgul vale through the Palantír, perchance?) he lost his last hope of victory.
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Denethor must not be blamed in all this; after all, a military victory of Sauron was inevitable, safe perhaps if someone of great strength would take up the Ring and challenge Sauron - and this was Denethor's plan for himself. When the Ring was out of his reach (did he see Frodo, Sam and Gollum enter the Morgul vale through the Palantír, perchance?) he lost his last hope of victory.


Well of course nobody should blame Denethor. He's not evil, after all. But then, from this viewpoint, we shouldn't blame Feanor, or Maeglin or Isildur, or even Saruman. I don't know if I'm that forgiving...
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But then, from this viewpoint, we shouldn't blame Feanor, or Maeglin or Isildur, or even Saruman.

Feanor's resolve led to Silmarillion, Maeglin reslted in the discovery of the city of Gondolin by Melkor, Saruman helped Sauron and attacked Rohan, Isildur refused to destroy the Ring and that led to The Lord of the Rings. But the point is, Denethor didn't do anything evil except maybe committing suicide (which was good in one way). So why is he classified as "evil"? He was quite a good fellow who turned to insanity due to unfortunate turns of events.
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So why is he classified as "evil"? He was quite a good fellow who turned to insanity due to unfortunate turns of events.

I agree. One could say that Denethor would've killed Faramir if Gandalf wouldn't have interfered, but as the man was already mad as a hatter by that point, he cannot be blamed for that either. Denethor is a hapless man, who fell to his own weaknesses.

The only grudge one can have against Denethor, was that he was jealous of Thorongil and hostile towards Gandalf, and that he daunted Faramir - but compared to what Fëanor and Maeglin did, this is really nothing.

Isildur never did anything evil in my opinion. He just made a mistake, and paid for it in the end.
I agree with much said here. Denethor was not evil, nor did he hate Faramir. His intentions were for the good of Gondor but as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think Denethor confirms this.

Having read much about him in UT and Letters, as well as LotR, I have a lasting impression of someone who strove at great personal cost to do what he thought was right for his people. A ruler who truly loved his people but after a time of great strain and grief lost sight of the 'big picture' and saw himself as their only hope of salvation. He was a hero in many ways but Tolkien shows through him that even good can have bad consequences and not all heroes can hold out until the end. Denethor is human. Sauron and Saruman are not. The things he saw in the Palantir ended up reinforcing his own doubts and fears. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Nevertheless, he did well and without him Gondor may well have fallen before the Ring was found.

As for Denethor and Faramir...

From the Siege of Gondor Denethor says to Faramir

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You are weary, I see,' said Denethor. ' You have ridden fast and far, and under shadows of evil in the air, I am told.'

'Let us not speak of that!' said Faramir.

'Then we will not,' said Denethor. 'Go now and rest as you may. Tomorrow's need will be sterner.'


He shows consideration for Faramir's tiredness. He does not send Faramir off there and then yet he knows that he must make some 'stern' decisions. Faramir is warned of this. And true to his word Denethor demands risks he knows are not agreed with. When Faramir is brought back severely injured Denethor goes to look into the Palantir. What things did he see? When he returned to Faramir his face was "grey, more deathlike than his son's."

Is this the point Denethor loses all hope and crosses over into depression and despair which leads to his intention to burn himself and Faramir. Is he really insane or is it just a temporary loss of sanity? Suddenly Denethor was no longer concerned with the defence of the city. Had he already seen that it would be breached and would fall? Had he seen the vast armies marching towards it? This is now a man who, after sacrificing much, realises that everything he has done or could do is in vain and that the overwhelming forces against him will prevail. To him there is no hope left. And as well as that his one remaining son lies dying. He sent both his sons to their deaths. The least he could do now would be to end it for himself and Faramir so that they die free men at the hour of their choosing.

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'The fool's hope has failed. The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes; he sees our very thoughts, and all we do is ruinous.

I sent my son forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins. Nay, nay, whatever may now betide in war, my line too is ending, even the House of Stewards has failed. Mean folk shall rule the last remnant of the Kings of Men, lurking in the hills until all are hounded out.'


Luckily he is prevented from including Faramir in his death pact so instead takes his own life in quite a spectacular way. He jumps onto the burning table, stands wreathed in fire, breaks the staff and then lays himself down, clasping the palantir with both hands on his breast. It is not a quick death, Gandalf hears him cry out 'after a while'.

Denethor is not evil; even at the end he is not evil. He is grief stricken, hopeless and desperate and understandably a little nuts, but not evil.
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'The fool's hope has failed. The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes; he sees our very thoughts, and all we do is ruinous.

I always understood this that Denethor either saw in the Palantír that Frodo was captured, or that perhaps Sauron showed the mithril mail to Denethor in the Palantír, to make Denethor believe he had regained the One Ring, which would be the end of all hope. That may have been the final straw for Denethor's sanity, other than Faramir's debilitated condition.

I agree with most of what has been posted above; it is true that Denethor loved his city and people above all, and that he deemed himself alone in his struggle vs Mordor. But also, as can be read in one of JRRT's letters (see above), he despised lesser men and would've become a tyrant -with or without the Ring- had he been victorious.

Furthermore, he would've never accepted Aragorn's claim for Kingship. The loss of his wife 30 years prior to the events of LOTR, and using the Palantír throughout the years, whose mental strain was even more aggravated by the mental struggle with Sauron, made him a grim man, who only showed some open affection towards Boromir. I don't believe he ever loathed Faramir, but he did mistrust him in the end.

Of course, there's the part where Denethor says he wished Boromir and Faramir to switch places, but imo he means that he wishes that Faramir would've gone to Rivendell instead of Boromir, not that Denethor wishes that Faramir had died instead of Boromir.

Just like Sauron, in his own way, Denethor was another ‘wise fool’, who only looked at the events from his perspective of Steward of Gondor – unlike Elrond and Galadriel he only wanted to save Gondor and henceforth use the Ring, but he never considered the danger the Ring would form for the entirety of Middle-Earth. He failed to understand that the destruction of the One Ring was the solution, even though this could mean that Gondor would fall.

Denethor comes across as a very biased, narrow-minded, stubborn man in ROTK, but one must not forget this is due to the fact that he spent decades in Minas Tirith, losing his beloved wife due to the threat of Mordor, seeing Sauron’s armies grow and grow in and around Mordor, realizing that a military victory is impossible, which left only a miracle to save Gondor. When finally a miracle was possible due to the Ring, and when that miracle went out of his reach, it was completely understandable that he lost all hope as he had seen in his Palantir that it was nearly impossible to enter Mordor as the Morannon and Cirith Ungol were nearly impassable.

In the end, he fell to his own weaknesses. He had started using the Palantír out of jealousy for Thorongil - he wanted to know the latter's whereabouts at all times. But then, whilst he was at it, he decided to look at various other places around Middle-earth (Isengard, among others), and finally set his eye on Mordor -- and that's when the long downward spiral to this self-afflicted doom begins.

Denethor failed, and can both be blamed and not be blamed for failing.