Man with open arms

Death of Denethor

In an almost delirious state of mind and body, Denethor pours a pitcher of oil over his face. This simple and subtle ritual comes off as a kind of absolution of sins in a way. He may be cleansing his soul of all that he had done wrong, which would, in turn, mean that he has recognized and accepted his mistakes such as they are. Alternatively, he may just be finding peace in knowing that he is about to be put to death. It must be a calming and soothing sensation.

One would not want to welcome death all agitated and scared, which would make it impossible to accept it in the first place. As he has foreseen the fall of Middle-Earth, there is not much to do but to say goodbye. Others may choose to fight a losing battle, but Denethor has chosen his own way of departing from this world. 

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Alive but ignored

As Denethor pours the oil onto himself with Faramir lying before his feet, the oil covers his face as well. The drops of oil touch Faramir’s skin and in an attempt to escape it, he moves his head to the side. His facial expression also slightly changes into irritation as it does not welcome any kind of fluid. 

Denethor does not seem to be aware of these minute movements of his son, given his conviction that he is dead. He looks down upon his son in an almost murderous stare, one with an intent of ending both their lives no matter what. 

Set a fire in our flesh!

Denethor

As he orders the guards to set them alight, he spreads his arms one to each side, reminiscent of Christ on the cross. He is determined to make his ending as theatrical as possible. The guards, however, are not sure about the order they have been given. They approach the pyre with fire torches in their hands slowly, uncertainly, almost as if they were on the brink of not executing the order.

A burst of annoyance

Stay this madness!

Gandalf

At the precise moment, the first torch should light the wood, Shadowfax bursts through the mausoleum door. Denethor looks behind him and sees Gandalf. The look he gives him is a disrespectful one, an annoyed one. Here he was trying to end his life the best way he knows how, and this wizard comes to interfere. It is not unlike Gandalf to do so, however, in this particular situation, his actions are unwelcome and disturbing to this sacred ceremony. 

A matter of choice

In Denethor’s defense, he can decide for himself how he wishes to end his life. Apart from him being a sentient human being, it does not mean he has to live if he desires not to. Everyone can choose when and how they want to end their lives. However, to involve Faramir in this burial is quite a different matter. 

On the other hand, given the manner in which Faramir returned from his last mission, this type of burial would be appropriate. Denethor’s opinion of his younger son had changed as he returned injured. Therefore, this type of ritual would be appropriate for two distinguished individuals such as themselves. 

Determined, demented

Concerned that Gandalf might impede his progress, Denethor takes matters into his own hands. He grabs a torch out of a guard’s hand. 

You may triumph in the field of battle for a day, but against the power that has risen in the east, there is no victory.

Denethor

The anger in his expression and the madness that drove him here, shine in the light of the torch. As he finishes his declaration, he tosses the torch onto the pyre. At that moment, Pippin glances behind Gandalf in fear of the fire burning the body of Faramir. As the fire quickly spreads through the pyre, Gandalf takes a spear from the guard at the door and charges at Denethor, successfully knocking him off the platform in the process.

Saved at last

Pippin quickly leaps from Shadowfax onto the pyre and with some effort rolls Faramir down off it. For all his courage and a lack of strength, when it really counts size does not pose a problem it would seem. 

Denethor rises from the mausoleum floor and in a surge of rage attacks Pippin for having rescued his son from the fire. 

No! You will not take my son from me!

Denethor

What this particular sense evokes is a very different feeling from those we have seen in Denethor so far. He does not want Faramir to be taken from his side. He does not want to lose another son. In a twisted way, him burning himself with Faramir at his side encapsulates them in unity they never had. Now that this unity might be broken through this meddling Hobbit, it infuriates him. 

Twisted reasoning

We have to look at this from another point of view, a more twisted one. Denethor growing mad and angry at the world means that every interference, every possible helping hand will be rejected. He does not want to be helped as much as he does not want anyone hindering him in his affairs. Now that his son is dead, all those that surround him are to blame for his death.

In his mind, they are seen as his enemies, all of them. So it is only natural to secure his son’s body and protect him as much as he never did in life. He has only now taken to his parental role, one of protection and love. Only now has he managed to bring the two of them closer to one another – in death. 

Denethor does not want his enemies to take his son away from him, for he wishes not to part with him. In a weird and madness-inducing way, this is his way of finally expressing love for his son. As he never learned how to express that love while Faramir lived, it is now in death that all the loving emotions he had buried deep inside him in fear of not appearing weak have risen to the surface.

This explains the surge of hate and anger he demonstrates towards Pippin. To feel so much in so short a time is to express it in the most volatile way. 

Final words

Wanting to rescue Pippin from Denethor’s grip, Gandalf moves in closer to Denethor, so that Shadowfax can knock Denethor onto the pyre. 

Faramir, still lying on the floor next to the pyre that is slowly consuming his father, opens his eyes and looks at Denethor. 

Faramir… my son.

Denethor

Father and son look into each other’s eyes, one last time. Denethor is surprised and in a sense almost relieved his son did not die as he thought he had. Now, as the cloud of grief and anger bursts, he can clearly see his son as he for him never was. 

The sentiment behind the words

On the surface, these final words don’t say much, but on a deeper level, they say more than he had ever said to Faramir. He regarded Faramir as someone who may try but will never succeed in taking his firstborn’s place. In some instances, he referred to him as merely the Captain of the Guard, one of the soldiers in his ranks. The closest Denethor ever came to acknowledging his mere presence was to lecture him on his unworthiness and weakness. 

Having Denethor claim his son in this way is to finally give him a place that he always craved, that of a son. Faramir never felt accepted by his father or loved for that matter. This way that gap between them has finally vanished. 

If Denethor even wanted to say anything more to his son, he would never ever have the time. The flames have engulfed him, and as he burns, somewhere inside him he realizes how wrong this decision of his has been. Now that his son is alive, there is a reason to live, but it all came too late. He starts to run towards the door in an effort to cool himself and extinguish the fire by the pure freshness of the air. What it brings him to is the end of the courtyard from which he falls. 

So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion.

Gandalf

However tragic Denethor’s end may be, the battle of the Pelennor fields still rages on. Follow me to my next post. 

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

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