Denethor was another character that was very difficult for me to understand when I was a child. He seemed very one-dimensional like his son Boromir, and I had a hard time understanding why anyone would want this person to be the Steward of Gondor. I did not like him at all and I considered him cruel to everyone he interacted with.
My main argument in favor of this interpretation is the way he treats his own son, Faramir. I could not believe that a father could tell his son that he should have died in the pace of his brother:
‘’Do you wish then,’ said Faramir, ‘that our places had been exchanged?’
‘Yes, I wish that indeed,’ said Denethor. ‘For Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard’s pupil. He would have remembered his father’s need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift’’ (RK, I, iv, 813).
Denethor clearly hungered for the power of the Ring, just as Boromir did. This was a clear sign of his corruption to me. I thought Denethor was selfish and unrealistic in his ambition. A small-minded man who could not cope with adversity in the stalwart manner that so many other characters in the book achieve. The only aspect of Denethor that I could identify with was his desire to restore his life to the way it used to be. He protests to Gandalf that he
‘would have things as they were in all the days of [his] life…and in the days of [his] longfathers before [him]: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave [his] chair to a son’ (RK, V, vii, 854).
Even though I was very young, I still appreciated this tendency to idolize the past and to want to revert back to a time perceived as happier for some reason or another. The remainder of his character, was ominous and mysterious to me. I did not understand his desire to build a pyre for his son and to burn himself upon it until Gandalf explained it to me (and Pippin). My reading has changed a lot over the years and my understanding of Denethor has grown much deeper.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Let’s talk about the Grey Company, then the Houses of Healing.
What Do You Think?
What was your impression of Denethor?
Has your reading of Denethor changed over the years?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!