Chapter X- The Breaking of the Fellowship
In the shadow of Tol Brandir, above the falls of Rauros, the company must decide if they are going to turn toward the south and head for Gondor and Minas Tirith with Boromir, or if they will turn towards the east and go to Mordor. Aragorn has put off this decision ever since Gandalf fell in Moria because he is completely torn. His plan had been to go to Gondor with Boromir and defend the lands he is heir to, but as de facto leader of the fellowship, he can’t abandon Frodo. But they can’t debate the question for long, as enemy orcs could be closer than they think. What does Aragorn decide to do? He sort of hands the decision off to Frodo. It’s perhaps not Aragorn’s shiniest moment, but in the end, the choice really is Frodo’s. Will he risk taking the Ring to Minas Tirith and wait behind its walls to see if the last strength of Men and Elves can defeat Sauron in a pitched, but likely hopeless battle? Or will he try to slip into Mordor unseen and hope that he will not be caught by Sauron’s forces before he reaches Mt. Doom? Neither choice offers much hope of success, but it’s on Frodo to decide. He is the Ringbearer, after all.
He pleads for a little time and space, and Aragorn grants it. It’s easier to make these weighty decisions when you don’t have eight other people staring at you, after all.
So Frodo heads into the woods and thinks about his choices for a while, then sits down and thinks back over everything that’s happened since Bilbo left the Shire all those years ago. Suddenly, he feels like he’s being watched: “… a strange feeling came to him that something was behind him, that unfriendly eyes were upon him. He sprang up and turned; but all that he saw to his surprise was Boromir, and his face was smiling and kind.”
Notice that Frodo felt unfriendly eyes at first. Thanks to the Ring, his senses are sharpened and he can detect layers of subterfuge that others cannot. Boromir might be smiling, but his purpose here is not altogether friendly. He claims that he was looking out for Frodo and offers to help him make this great decision.
Frodo isn’t fooled. He’s noticed that Boromir has been agitated of late, and he’s pretty sure that the Ring is on Boromir’s mind. He refuses Boromir’s counsel, saying, “I think I know already what counsel you would give, Boromir… and it would seem like wisdom but for the warning of my heart.”
Boromir seems confused by this. I’ve never been sure if he’s genuinely confused by Frodo’s answer, or if he’s putting on an act. It can be read either way. But the base thing is this: Boromir wants the Ring. He wants the power to defend his people. It’s an honorable thing to desire and completely in character. Boromir was raised to be a warrior who would defend Gondor from the forces of Mordor. But the Ring has a will of its own, and it can exert influence on the people around it– especially those who desire power. Sure, Boromir doesn’t necessarily desire power for its own sake, but it’s a slippery slope. Desiring the strength to defend one’s country can quickly slip into desiring power in general, and that is what the Ring has quietly been offering Boromir. He doesn’t even have to see it or touch it to be tempted by it, either. Simply knowing that it’s there, on a chain around a little hobbit’s neck is enough to turn his mind and he wonders if great folk like Elrond or Gandalf weren’t just a bit timid about the Ring’s power. Surely good people won’t be corrupted, right? “True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause.” What Boromir fails to understand is that a good heart simply isn’t enough to overcome the Ring’s corruption. And soon enough, he isn’t even talking about defending Gondor. He’s talking about the strength he would have if he had the Ring: “Almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; and he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise.”
As Galadriel and Gandalf both said when Frodo offered them the Ring, it would begin with a good heart, but it would not end there. Boromir needs only a few minutes of thinking about the Ring being in his grasp to imagine the power he would wield with it– power for himself, to rule over the lands and cast down his enemies. Minutes. That’s all it takes for Boromir to fall. And he’s only thinking about the Ring. What would happen to him if he actually took it for himself?
For starters, he would either seriously injure or kill Frodo, and in so doing would begin his ownership with an act of jealous rage. If Bilbo managed to keep himself safe from the Ring’s power by beginning his ownership with an act of mercy, what would happen to Boromir if he started by harming a defenseless person he’d sworn to protect?
Frodo can picture it all too clearly. He knows better what the Ring does to people. Boromir’s actions have helped him make up his mind. “…I am glad to have heard you speak so fully. My mind is clearer now.”
Boromir misinterprets this, thinking that he has decided to come to Gondor. His hopes are quickly dashed, though, and when he realizes Frodo will never take the ring there, Boromir pleads with him, trying a few different, seemingly benign tactics which Frodo again refuses. And then he threatens Frodo: “‘You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you, halfling,’ he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.”
Frodo manages to dodge him. He puts on the Ring and flees.
In the meantime, Boromir curses him and all the hobbits. It’s a moment of madness, and in his unseeing rage, he falls face first into the ground. He lays there for a while, stunned, and then realizes what he’s done. He weeps at his own words and actions, but it’s too late. Frodo is gone.
Frodo has run away almost blindly but ends up on the hill of Amon Hen, the Seeing Hill the Men of Numenor once used to look out over the lands. In his Ring-enhanced vision, he sees wide expanses of the lands around him– mountains and rivers and rolling hills all around. But then he sees how orcs and other foul creatures are spilling out of their mountain strongholds, and that the fair lands are beset by foes and coming under attack. He can see Men riding to battle against them, but then he sees that the forces of Mordor are too strong for them. Then his vision shows his the great fortress of Barad-dur, and all hope leaves him. And then the Eye of Sauron is revealed to him. It is searching for him, can sense him, and though part of him is denying Sauron, another part of him seems to say, “Verily I come, I come to you”. He’s poised on the brink, frozen and unable to move even as Sauron is about to find him, when a third voice breaks the spell saying, “Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!”
And with that, he’s able to move again. He takes the Ring off his finger, and the shadow passes over him, missing him by moments. And that settles it for him. The Ring will tempt anyone who knows of it and draw enemies to him. The only way he can protect both them and himself is to leave the fellowship and go to Mordor. Alone.
In the meantime, the rest of the fellowship has been hanging out and trying to make some sort of decision when they realize that Boromir isn’t there, and it’s been an awfully long time since they saw Frodo. Aragorn decides to go and look for Frodo when Boromir shows up again. He admits to having seen Frodo recently and admits that he got angry and spoke harshly to him, but he won’t say what exactly he said. This is bad news since it’s been a long time since Frodo left, and now they have no idea where he is. They all go to search for him. Merry and Pippin have panicked and go running off without thinking things over. Aragorn sends Boromir to look after them, “Go after those two young hobbits, and guard them at the least, even if you cannot find Frodo.” In other words, ‘try to make up for whatever stupid thing you just did’.
Aragorn heads off in another direction with Sam in his wake, but Sam can’t keep up. He’s too short. So he stops and thinks things over and tries to predict what Frodo will do. Sam may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he can see clearly when he needs to, and he’s figured out that Frodo will try to head out by himself. He runs back to the boats, and sure enough, one boat is making its way toward the water. Frodo at first resists Sam’s coming along with him, but can’t overcome Sam’s stubbornness in the end.
“‘It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam’ said Frodo, ‘and I could not have borne that.’
‘Not as certain as being left behind,’ said Sam
‘But I am going to Mordor.’
‘I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.’
Faithful Sam. Frodo should have known better. Sam will not be denied and Frodo relents, realizing how relieved he is that Sam is insisting on going. And so they gather their supplies and slip off across the river toward the grey hills of Emyn Muil and beyond that, the land of Mordor.
Next Week: Where did everyone go? Will Aragorn finally decide where to go from here? Will he make the right choice? The Two Towers, Chapters I and II: ‘The Departure of Boromir’ and ‘The Riders of Rohan’