We`ve just passed into the realm of Gondor.Gandalf
Gandalf and Pippin approach the sun-bathed White City of Gondor. It is a majestic sight for their tired eyes. Its magnificence and unique structural appearance give a sense of nobility and agelessness. It is also the last kingdom of Men still standing free amidst raging wars. The last hope for Mankind.
The White Tree
Pippin: “It’s the tree. Gandalf. “
Gandalf: “Yes. The White Tree of Gondor. The tree of the king.”
A seemingly dead white tree in the stone courtyard. Although sunshine helps to capture its intriguing color, the tree itself appears eerie. Only a handful of its roots are covered in water, while others seem to have grown out of stone.
Lord Denethor, however is not the king. He is a steward only, a caretaker of the throne. Now listen carefully. Lord Denethor is Boromir`s father. To give him news of his beloved son`s death would be most unwise. And do not mention Frodo or the Ring. And say nothing of Aragorn either. In fact, it`s better if you don`t speak at all, Peregrin Took.Gandalf
Just a couple of precautions before they enter the Towel Hall. Gandalf needs Pippin to keep to himself, in order to make himself and the information he brings as objective and as concise as he can. Without Pippin`s interruption, he means to advise lord Denethor and move him into action. The only way to do this is to avoid any ill news about his son or about his former companion.
A solemn welcome
Hail Denethor, son of Ecthelion, lord and steward of Gondor. I come with tidings in this dark hour, and with counsel.Gandalf
As they approach the throne of the steward, they find him with his head bowed towards his hands holding the horn of Gondor, the very one Boromir sounded for help as the Uruk-hai moved towards him. Now, however, that horn is cloven in two.
Denethor: “Perhaps you come to explain this. Perhaps you come to tell me why my son is dead.”
Pippin: “Boromir died to save us, my kinsmen and me. He fell defending us from many foes.”
Denethor raises his head to Gandalf`s voice, not in any interest of his counsel, but rather of his own thoughts and feelings of grief. He had been dwelling on his son`s passing, and now that there is the hope of an explanation of Boromir`s death, all other tidings become insignificant, for the grief is too strong to let in any other thought or emotion.
Pippin provides the needed answer to Denethor`s inquiry and one that presents Boromir in the noblest light possible. To make his death significant, and simultaneously avoid any other information about Boromir`s behavior, Pippin gives Denethor an image of the mighty man of Gondor, the same one Denethor himself has been harboring for his son for all his life.
Guilt and redemption
Pippin: “I offer you my service, such as it is in payment of this debt.”
To see a parent grieve over a child is heartbreaking. It is especially painful when you were the witness to death. The fact that this brave man died saving this person standing in front of his grieving father, alive and well, makes Denethor`s question understandable.
Boromir achieved his goal of protecting the Halflings, albeit in a self-sacrificial way. This, however, brings the feelings of guilt and debt in those he saved. Therefore, to redeem himself in his own eyes, and to ease Denethor’s pain, Pippin offers his service. It is a meaningless gesture in comparison to what Denethor lost, but it is also the only way Pippin could satisfy his own need for redemption.
Gandalf tries to stop him, but Pippin is determined. Gandalf knows this offering of service comes from a good place and is a noble gesture. However, this was certainly not his idea of the conversation he thought he would be leading with Denethor.
Denethor: “This is my first command to you. How did you escape and my son did not so mighty a man as he was?”
Pippin: “The mightiest man may be slain by one arrow and Boromir was pierced by many.”
This is the best possible explanation Pippin could have given Denethor, for it was the truth. It must be a gruesome image that flashed before Denethor`s eyes as he heard how his son died. It cannot help him heal, it will only make him grieve even deeper.
Our curiosity and need for information are what drives our knowledge and ideas forward. However, when it comes to emotions, that is not necessarily the case. To learn details about an act that causes us pain is to prolong the pain. The deeper we dig, the more painful it becomes. We have a need to know, but that need turns into anger and resentment for the person giving the information or the action that caused us pain in the first place.
When we grieve, for any reason, we may think that a wholesome explanation to fill the missing pieces of the puzzle will somehow relieve our suffering, give it meaning. It rarely does. In most cases it drives our grief even deeper, drowning us into depression.
We may regret even asking for any information in the first place, thinking we could have spared ourselves this much pain, but our need to know would still gnaw at us. So, there is no right way to go about grief. It is our right to know as much as possible about the negative event that has impacted our lives. It is also our right to grieve for those we lost and for ourselves.
Grieving is a process and it takes its time before we are ready to accept and move on. This will prove an impossibility for lord Denethor.
Get up. My lord, there will be a time to grieve for Boromir, but it is not now. War is coming. The enemy is on your doorstep. As steward, you are charged with the defense of this city. Where are Gondor`s armies? You still have friends. You are not alone in this fight. Send word to Théoden of Rohan. Light the beacons.Gandalf
To ask a grieving parent to postpone his grief is similar to asking the sun not to shine. We have already seen what grief has done to Théoden when it went ignored, it influenced his decisions. Denethor, however, will prove to have a different coping mechanism.
If Théoden does not want to listen to reason and ride to aid Gondor, then Gandalf`s only option is to rouse lord Denethor into action. Although it is the only logical possibility to give Mankind a fighting chance against the enemy, in its essence it is childish.
Both Théoden and Denethor are acting like children refusing to play with each other with Gandalf representing the kindergarten teacher who is trying to reason with them separately. In order to avoid any conflicts by getting the two together in one sandbox, Gandalf plays it cautiously.
If Théoden won`t make the first move towards a peaceful playdate, then Gandalf’s only choice is to ask Denethor to be the bigger person. Sadly, this does not bring any consolation either.
Read what happens in my next post.
Feature photo by Bharat Patil on Unsplash.