LotR Reread: Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Chapter V: The Window on the West

As the chapter opens, Sam wakes up from an accidental nap and finds Faramir questioning Frodo about their presence in Ithilien and what his business was with Boromir. Both are cagey in their responses; Frodo because he can’t reveal the nature of the Quest, and Faramir because he wants to know what Frodo had to do with Boromir. Faramir is Boromir’s little brother, and he’s had a sign that his big brother is dead.

Quick sidenote: Book Faramir and Movie Faramir are different from each other. Movie Faramir has a darker tone, and while the issues between him and his father are true to the book, his treatment of Gollum and his initial decision to take Frodo and the Ring to Minas Tirith are not. I understand why Peter Jackson made those changes, but I don’t like them. Book Faramir is nobler than Boromir. He wasn’t tempted by the Ring’s power because he did not desire power for himself. Like Aragorn, he believed that power wasn’t an end in itself, but a means to protect his people. He states this in one of my favorite quotes from the entire book: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend…” The noble blood of Numenor runs truer in Faramir than it did in Boromir. That is, it was in his nature to seek knowledge rather than glory and accept advice from those wiser than himself. In this case, Gandalf (or Mithrandir, as they call him in Gondor). This was one aspect of the conflict between Faramir and his father, but more on that later.

Faramir eventually reveals that Boromir is dead. The news shocks the hobbits. He was alive when they parted, after all. Though Faramir sees that there was some strife between Frodo and Boromir at their parting, he believes it when Frodo says they knew nothing of his death. It’s hard news, and Frodo has to assume that some or all of the rest of the company is dead. But he still does not mention the Ring.

After a while, Faramir decides that they all need to move on. Sauron’s forces are nearby, and he and his men need to take shelter for the night. They blindfold the hobbits and take them to their secret hideout.

As far as hideouts go, this one is hard to top. It’s a cavern behind a beautiful waterfall facing west and they reach it at sunset, just as the day’s last light hits the waterfall, creating an effect like stained glass. It’s beautiful, and Faramir hopes it makes up for their being blindfolded. But this place is super secret, and he could not risk Frodo or Sam being able to tell anyone of its location, in case they were caught. Frodo understands.

They eat dinner with the men, and later on Faramir takes them aside. He still wants to know the details of Frodo’s mission, and he figures that if the other men aren’t there he’ll be more likely to get the answers he’s looking for. But Frodo still won’t answer, even though Faramir has promised that he “… would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.” Faramir may not know about the Ring, but he understands the workings of Sauron and the dark temptations that such power offers.

But while Frodo is clever enough to keep the Ring secret under questioning, Sam is not so wise. Faramir fed him well, gave him wine, and has let him chatter on- in this case, about Boromir. “…it’s in my opinion that in Lórien he first saw clearly what I guessed sooner: what he wanted. From the moment he first saw it he wanted the Enemy’s Ring!”

Oops. Sam immediately realizes what he’s done and regrets his words. Frodo is upset, too, but though Faramir seems threatening for a moment, he sits down and laughs. Now he knows what happened to Boromir and he understands. The temptation for power and a weapon with which to defend Gondor was too much for his more martial and less wise brother. But Faramir is a wiser man: “…and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them… I am wise enough to know that there some perils from which a man must flee. Sit at peace! And be comforted, Samwise… For strange though it may seem, it was safe to declare this to me. It may even help the master that you love. It shall turn to his good, if it is in my power.”

The hobbits are reassured, and now Faramir is a solid ally. He’s impressed by Frodo’s fortitude and Sam’s loyalty, and thinks that the Shire must be a wonderful place where gardeners are honored. He then tells them that they should get some rest. It’s like a switch flips for Frodo; he’s suddenly weary and can’t keep his great task to himself anymore: “‘I was going to find a way into Mordor,’ he said faintly. ‘I was going to Gorgoroth. I must find th Mountain of Fire and cast the thing into the gulf of Doom. Gandalf said so. I do not think I shall ever get there.'”

He nearly faints, and Faramir carries him to a bed and bids the hobbits good night. But before he goes, Sam tells him that he has shown his quality- the very highest. This makes Faramir happy: “…the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”

Chapter VI: The Forbidden Pool

Near morning, Faramir wakes Frodo in a creepy fashion: by looming over him and looking threatening. Faramir swears it’s not weird at all. There’s something Frodo needs to see, so he agrees to go (Faramir being a man of his word so far, he seems reliable, even if he was being creepy). Sam wakes up and follows after them. They go to a point overlooking the waterfall and the pool it flows into; the moon is out and the land is beautiful, but that’s not why they’re there.

Then Frodo sees it: a dark little figure in the pool. It’s not a squirrel or a bird. The men are inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, but Faramir doesn’t like to kill things without reason. Upon their first meeting, he had asked about the third member of Frodo’s little party, but Frodo wouldn’t answer, and he let the matter drop. He can’t let it go any longer, though, since that little creature is swimming right below their secret refuge, and Faramir’s orders are to kill anyone who’s there without permission. These are dangerous times. The Men of Gondor mean business. But Faramir is wise enough to know when death is called for and when it isn’t. Rather than kill the creature outright, he wants Frodo’s take on the matter.

The pathetic creature in the water is Gollum, of course. The Ring’s presence drew him there. He knows little of the ways of Men, and so knows nothing of his peril. He’s hungry. He just wants some fish.

Faramir asks if they should shoot the little creature and Frodo begs them not to. The truth of their connection comes out at last, and Frodo reveals that the sly little creature in the pool once bore the Ring. Gollum is their guide, and Frodo feels an obligation to him. He asks Faramir to let him go down to the pool to call Gollum to him. In doing so, the Men will be able to capture him, and therefore won’t be violating their laws. As a prisoner, Gollum is there by their leave, and they won’t be obligated to kill him.

And so Frodo carefully goes down to the water’s edge. As he approaches he hears Gollum talking to himself, going on and on about the ‘tricksy hobbitses’ who abandoned him and how he’ll throttle them if he finds them again. For a moment, Frodo thinks of having the ranger Anborn shoot Gollum and be rid of the miserable creature forever, but he doesn’t. He has an obligation, as a master to a servant, to protect him. And besides. He and Sam would never have made it through the Dead Marshes without Gollum. And so he keeps going and calls to Gollum. Once again, mercy and the sense of some greater purpose keeps Frodo from acting on impulse.

Gollum is rightfully suspicious. Frodo has a trick up his sleeve, after all, even if it’s meant to save his life. But could Gollum ever understand that? It doesn’t seem like it at first, when Anborn and the Rangers capture Gollum, bind his hands, and bring him to Faramir. Frodo keeps insisting that he won’t be hurt and that this is for the best, but Gollum is a champion grudge-holder. He also gets in some cutting remarks about the justice of a death sentence for the sake of a couple of fish. Faramir isn’t upset by this, though he doesn’t like Gollum at all. But he allows Frodo to cut the ropes binding Gollum’s hands. Once Faramir is satisfied that he doesn’t know what this place is called and won’t bring anyone else there, he turns him over to Frodo.

What is Faramir going to do with Frodo now? By law, he’s not supposed to let just anyone wander around in Ithilien, but he’s not about to kill Frodo or get in the way of his quest, so he declares Frodo and those under his service free to move about in Gondor, so long as they come to Minas Tirith within a year and a day and present themselves to the Steward of the to confirm Faramir’s faith in them. It’s the same kind of promise that Aragorn made to
Éomer back in Rohan, which allowed each group to go about their business without breaking laws.

Then Faramir asks where they are planning to go next, and Frodo tells them– up to a hidden path near Minas Ithil. Because he knows the geography and history of the lands surrounding Mordor, Faramir knows exactly where they’re going, and he gets Gollum to confirm it: they’re heading for Minas Morgul via the pass of Cirith Ungol. He tells Anborn to take Gollum out of the room and then advises Frodo to leave Gollum behind and find a different road.

Frodo refuses. “He would follow after me as he long has done. And I have promised many times to take him under my protection and to go where he led. You would not ask me to break faith with him?”

“‘No’, said Faramir. ‘But my heart would. For it seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself, especially if one sees a friend bound unwitting to his own harm.'” That is, Faramir thinks this is the worst idea imaginable, but he’s not about to tell Frodo to break a promise. And though Faramir doesn’t want to see Frodo walk into death or torment, and though he thinks Gandalf would not have counseled him to take this path, he knows of no safer road to Mordor. And so Frodo, with no time to spare, must take the paths he can find.

And so Faramir, knowing that any argument he might make is pointless, gives Frodo provisions for his journey and his blessing though he doubts he will ever see the hobbits again.

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

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Next Week: Frodo and Sam go for yet another walk, and then tackle the worst set of stairs in the history of ever in ‘The Journey to the Cross-Roads’ and ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’.

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