Mar 5, 2018

Let's Read Tolkien 42: The Departure of Boromir

Aragorn sped on up the hill.

Book 3 opens with Strider running up the Hill of Seeing, trying to find Frodo's trail. He spots it, and sees that Frodo went up the hill, and then back down again. Aragorn is indecisive, but finally opts to go up to the hilltop, where he sees nothing. However, soon enough he hears a commotion and orc-cries in the woods below, followed by the horn of Boromir. At the foot of the hill, he finds only Boromir, surrounded by over twenty dead orcs but dying from his wounds. Boromir admits he tried to take the Ring, and reports that the orcs captured "the Halflings". He dies before he can answer Aragorn's questions.

Legolas and Gimli find Aragorn weeping by Boromir's corpse. They feel they have to give Boromir some kind of burial, and decide to send his body over the falls of Rauros in a boat, with the weapons of his slain enemies at his feet. As they prepare the boat-burial, they make several discoveries. First, Aragorn finds two of the barrow-knives the hobbits carried, no doubt discarded by the orcs. Among the orcs, they find several that are larger and better armed than the others; their shields bear the device of a white hand, and their helms have white S-runes. Sauron, Aragorn notes, does not use his "right name", or permit it to be spoken; they deduce that the orcs are in the service of Saruman. Finally, when they reach the shore, they find one of the boats missing.

First things first, though: Boromir is put in a boat and launched into the river. The boat floats down the river, and Aragorn and Legolas sing a dirge for Boromir.

After the funeral boat disappears from view, Aragorn tries to interpret what happened to the missing boat. They deduce that Sam and Frodo left on their own, which means Merry and Pippin have been captured by orcs. With the Ringbearer gone, Aragorn decides to follow the orcs, hoping to rescue the hobbits. The three hunters pick up the orcs' trail and take off after them.


So, the Two Towers starts off with the final collapse of the Fellowship: Frodo and Sam go off one way, everyone else the other, and we start off following everyone else. With the identification of Saruman's orcs, both of the titular towers make an appearance.

In the History of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien notes the very different experiences of Frodo and Aragorn on Amon Hen: Frodo sees far and wide, while Aragorn sees practically nothing (The Treason of Isengard, HarperCollins 2002, p. 380-381). In an earlier draft (p. 374), J.R.R. Tolkien had specified that the Ring made it harder for Frodo to see, and it was the power of Amon Hen that gave him his vision; some of this survives in the final narrative ("the Ring was upon him"), and leaves it entirely unclear why Aragorn, without the interference of the Ring, sees nothing. Maybe he's just too distracted.

Speaking of Aragorn, his leadership of the Company of the Ring really didn't go great. He was indecisive, and when panic broke out at Parth Galen, he failed to lead and instead ran off with everyone else. At least he tried to track Frodo, but he learned nothing from his ascent of Amon Hen, and instead missed both Frodo's departure and Boromir's final battle. "All that I have done today has gone amiss," he says, and he's not wrong. In a way, the decision to chase the orcs instead of trying to find Frodo is also a bit of an abdication of duty, and the joy he takes in it reinforces this. Aragorn never wanted to lead the Fellowship, after all: he wanted to go to Gondor with Boromir, to be king. Here he leaves the Ring to Frodo and Sam, and heads for his own destiny instead.

Luckily, though, not before giving Boromir a moving and delightfully pagan funeral.

Next time: horses.


Michael Halila said...

Can you imagine Aragorn justifying his decision here if everything hadn't worked out for Frodo and Sam? "Why did you just let them leave?" "I dunno, I figured they'd be all right." Extraordinarily irresponsible!

Leon said...

A good leader knows when to lead the charge and when to delegate a task to others. But everyone has a critical fumble from time to time.