I have been through a lot recently. And when I go through a lot the person in all of literature I think of most is Boromir of Gondor from J.R.R. Tolkien’s unassailable masterpiece “The Lord of the Rings.” I think of Boromir because while there are more righteous characters, those characters are not meant to be identified with directly, but only admired. I speak specifically of Frodo, Aragorn, and other high-elven heroes.
For those of you who are not fans of Tolkien, or not especially familiar I am going to detail some of Boromir’s backstory and charge you earnestly to become familiar with what may well be the greatest literature the human mind has ever produced.
Boromir is the son of Denethor II, the Steward of Gondor. Gondor is a kingdom of men, founded by an ancient, grand, and high group of men called Numenoreans who helped the elves of eons past defeat the greatest threat of Tolkien’s universe—Morgoth.
The Stewards of Gondor have been ruling Gondor in the absence of a king for almost 1,000 years, and are themselves high men, blessed with long life and other useful powers, including will (a Tolkien concept), intelligence, wisdom, and power. They are not simply craven lackeys. Boromir could probably expect to live to be about 160 years old. He is in fact related to Aragorn, his king.
Denethor II was presiding over a waning kingdom. Gondor was losing lands to Mordor. Their population was decreasing; their wealth, prestige, effectiveness, and glory is waning. Tolkien thinks of this as due to the lack of venerable leadership, but it is not entirely Denethor’s fault. He is inheriting a less noble people. Denethor also was making the mistake of using the Palantir, seven mystical stones that allowed distant visions and wisdom, but only to those with a strong enough will to use them. Since Sauron had at least one he was able to manipulate Denethor into believing the coming war with Mordor was inevitable and hopeless. Gondor would lose, Mordor would win, and the world would be subject to Suaron’s evil, slavery, and tyranny.
The only solution to this problem was the return of the ancient kings of old—the moral giants who founded Gondor in the first place, and defeated Sauron handily. But none existed, and the one or two rumors of one who did were wandering wildmen 1,000 miles away, who haven’t had a kingdom in nearly 1,000 years, and a much smaller kingdom at that. Were these men capable of handling the disaster to come? Did they care about Gondor? Would they be better rulers than the estimable steward line? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
This viewing of the Palantir artificially aged Denethor, who then lost all joy when his wife died young, leaving him two sons: Boromir, his first and favorite, and Faramir who killed his mother indirectly. Boromir was caught between trying to please his father, a harsh man, saving his country, and caring for his younger brother whom his father saw as weak and stupid for caring more for ancient scrolls and elvish wisdom than his own country of Gondor. *(Oddly enough, it was Aragorn as a young man, under an alias, who pushed Denethor to use the Palantir because Aragorn was gaining favor as a young captain and Denethor wished to surpass him.)
Boromir as a young army captain fought the patrols of Mordor along the edge of his territory, but every year the orcs came closer, and were greater in number. With great efforts he retook the old Gondorian capital of Osgiliath (Minas Tirith was originally only built to withstand sieges), but it was an unsustainable victory. Nonetheless, Boromir was renowned and respected by all kingdoms, including the elven ones.
With the weight of his country, his father, and still to be strong enough to provide fatherliness to his brother from age ten onward, Boromir was told to go the Council of Elrond to safeguard The One Ring of Power. For those who do not know, the Ring of Power is able to bend the will of lesser minds to the will of the wearer. It can make armies more valiant, subjects more servile, enemies afraid, workers more diligent. Wonders can be worked by the wearer, but it exposes evil in the heart, and corrals it. Yet, Boromir wanted to safeguard The Ring for good intentions.
After The Council, Boromir swears his life and sword to the destruction of the ring, a task he feels is both impossible and foolish. Marching into the heart of enemy country, always under watch with no reinforcement, or even food to scavenge, they would have to march up a guarded volcano to throw the most powerful weapon ever forged into it. But he soldiers on, ready to do his duty, knowing he is needed at home.
Boromir eventually is given the opportunity while in the lands of Gondor, his home, to ask Frodo if it is best to destroy the ring or rather collect its strength in Minas Tirith. Frodo refuses him saying, ‘the ring cannot be trusted, and neither can you with it.’ Boromir is now faced with the realization that his own people may die so that the ring may be destroyed, and its destruction will not bring them back. He tries to take the ring, only for his noble purposes. But no noble purpose can be served by a wicked act. Frodo fleas Boromir, and just then the whole company is set upon by orcs that attack them during the day, something unheard of.
Boromir, being completely without hope for his whole life and now in the pit of despair, doesn’t give up. His honor and duty require him to defend the company, and so he does. He knows what is right, but struggles doing it. He is killed in the process. Lying there, without hope, and not even capable to go and save Gondor, or even die again for them, he is lost. But Aragorn comes to his aid. Boromir had not trusted Aragorn until now. Aragorn was perhaps his king by right, but of an old house, long without a kingdom. Did he care about Minas Tirith? The blood of Numenor? Was he capable? Was he more concerned with The Ring than Gondor? Was the throne just prestige to him? No. Aragorn cared about Minas Tirith, and swore he would safeguard it.
This is it. The king we’ve needed to safeguard our people! My king, of whom I have so far bucked and resisted, here to take up my cause, my burdens, attempt to heal me, and even forgive me and praise my service. I have my hope. And it found me; I didn’t find it. I failed, but I am reconciled. I fell, but I was picked up. My death is not in vain, and my king is compassionate to my suffering. All in Boromir’s death, he is given his hope.
In life, we as men, in a way I do not think women can experience, struggle against a deadly world. Many things would destroy us and our family. Where is our hope? Is there one? Or are we just dust blowing in the wind?
Boromir represent to us the man who struggles. He thinks he has failed all his life. Even his victories were minor compared to the war. We struggle every single day. And yet the hero is not the one who cowers, but faces battle anyway. He risks a blade to his gut. When he has no hope he still provides hope to others. He sacrifices himself so that others may live. He is worthy of honor and laud. Take heart, men, because you are not alone. Others struggle and suffer too. And your death is not in vain. No noble death is. Fight for your house, your family, your country, your God, but fight. You will receive honor.