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Rómenna Meeting Report - March 23, 1986
March 23, 1986
The "Window on the West" chapter begins with Faramir's questioning of Frodo as witnessed by Sam. We noted that neither Frodo nor Faramir is quite ready to trust the other. Faramir, besides being on a dangerous mission to start with (harrying the Haradrim), is a discerning man and senses that Frodo is not telling him the whole truth. On his part, Frodo knows that the Gondoreans are the good guys, but that doesn't mean he's going to tell them about the Ring, especially after what happened with Boromir.
We further noted that Faramir has to tell Frodo that Boromir is dead, rather than the other way around. Since the reader has known about Boromir's death since the beginning of Book 3, this may come as a surprise until you think back and remember that Frodo left the Fellowship before the orc attack. Frodo innocently suggests that, since Boromir was headed for Minas Tirith last he knew, Faramir should ask him about the Company's mission. Faramir says, "Oh, really?" and asks some rather pointed questions about Frodo's relationship with Boromir, implying in the process that Boromir is dead and that he suspects that Frodo might have had something to do with it. As Sam points out a few paragraphs later, it would be slightly ridiculous for Faramir to believe that Frodo had actually killed Boromir (even with Sam's help), but that would not rule out the possibility of their having betrayed him to his death.
Sam speaks up at this point, coming to his master's defense. The scene has certain comic overtones (which are not lost on Faramir's men), but it also points up certain characteristics of Sam and his relationship to Frodo. Sam gets straight to the point, with no beating about the bush. He has a kind of instinctual, earth wisdom. Eileen pointed out that the British habitually attribute this kind of wisdom to country people: "people who live in the country know something we don't." We also noted that though Sam is Frodo's servant, he is not servile. He feels that it's his job to protect and take care of Frodo. We compared their relationship to that of Bunter and Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers' mysteries. Certain of the group felt that Sam was a parody of the English country type, but others contended that the character is not a parody but a portrait.
Faramir does not get angry at Sam, but in effect tells him to "cool it." He then reveals that he is Boromir's brother and relates the evidences of Boromir's death. We noted that Faramir's vision of Boromir's funeral boat has a certain Arthurian flavor. The subject of the Fellowship's visit to Lórien also comes up at this point. Faramir turns out to be sharper than Frodo in guessing that the elvish boat might have ridden the falls of Rauros without foundering. He also makes some very shrewd guesses as to what happened to Boromir in Lórien, which he correctly suspects that Frodo could confirm if he wanted to. On his part, Frodo is dismayed to learn of Boromir's death, and afraid that all the Company may have been killed. Faramir points out that if that were true, then there wouldn't have been anyone to prepare Boromir's funeral boat, but evidently Frodo's obvious distress is enough to allay his suspicions of the halfling.
Nevertheless he cannot just let the hobbits go; not only would it be against his orders, but it would be too dangerous for them at this point, right after the raid. S.O.P. for Faramir would be to take the hobbits to Gondor for judgment; for the moment, he settles for taking them to his band's secret hideout. On the way, he has some more conversation with Frodo and apologizes for leaning on Frodo earlier. We noted that both Faramir and Frodo allude to The Silmarillion here, Faramir with his comments about "heirlooms," to which Frodo responds with the warning about "rash words" concerning said "heirlooms": most probably a reference to the Silmarils and the Oath of Fëanor.
By his conversation Faramir shows that he knew his brother well. Boromir, it turns out, always chafed at the fact that his father was not a king, despite the fact that the Stewards had ruled Gondor in the king's name for centuries. Denethor's reply suggests that despite his own pride, the Steward himself understood why: the steward does not have the sacred power of the King, though he may wield the same temporal power. The concept of the sacred kingship will be borne out later with "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer": a sacred/divine attribute.
Faramir reveals a good bit about himself in the course of this conversation. We learn that he studied under Gandalf while the wizard was researching in Minas Tirith. We wondered if Faramir had read Isildur's scroll. He also makes the declaration at this point that he "would not take it [Isildur's Bane] if it lay in the highway." His subsequent speech about his dream of seeing Minas Tirith become Minas Anor again shows that here is a very different man from Boromir. Still, Frodo can not quite bring himself to trust Faramir with the knowledge of the Ring.
The hobbits arrive at Henneth Annûn (having been blindfolded for the last leg of the journey, for which Faramir apologizes--Frodo replies that they've been through it once before in Lórien). Faramir's scouts are trickling in with their reports. We found it amusing that they couldn't find or account for the oliphaunt, since it would seem that something that large would be hard to miss. It was suggested that perhaps it put on green sneakers and hid in the grass. Anborn also reports seeing a strange creature whisking up a tree; Sam (and the reader) can guess that the "black squirrel" was Gollum, but he keeps his mouth shut.
We noted that Tolkien can always be counted on to pay attention to the homely details of food, beds, dishes, and so forth. The evening meal at Henneth Annûn is described. Sam astonishes the server by sticking his head in the wash water (to keep himself awake). The "Standing Silence" observed by the Gondoreans before eating is the only actual ritual described in the books.
The hobbits feel much more at ease after a good meal, and Frodo begins telling stories. However, he still steers away from "dangerous" matters; instead, he says good things about Boromir. He also gets Faramir talking about the history of Gondor. During this conversation the mention of "black arts" comes up, and we wondered what "black arts" means in a Middle-earth context. We decided that it meant dealing with Sauron or Morgoth, both of whom were worshiped as gods by certain groups of people. Faramir states that there was none of that in Gondor, but that they did fall prey to the Númenórean obsession with death and death-cults (a possible parallel to the Egyptians in our world). He goes on to give what we described as "the history of Gondor and Rohan in five easy paragraphs," and comments that Boromir was similar in nature to the Rohirrim. It becomes evident as he speaks of him that Faramir loved his brother despite the fact that he knew him very well.
Sam pipes up about elves at this point, and in response to Faramir's reply goes off on a lyric flight about Galadriel. In the ensuing conversation about the perils of dealing with elvenkind, Sam finally puts his foot in his mouth and lets slip the mention of the Ring. Everything falls into place for Faramir at last. It is, as he says, his chance to "show his quality," and he does, in a manner not unlike Aragorn: an assertion of his own power to take the Ring if he desired to, and then an explicit denial of that desire. His ensuing words about Boromir are, we noted, almost exactly the same as Gandalf's on the same subject. Sam points out the similarity between the two at the end of the chapter. Like teacher, like pupil--and Gandalf also refused the Ring.
Frodo's last revelation is that he is going to Mordor to destroy the Ring, which shocks the hell out of Faramir despite all he has learned in the meantime.
The next chapter brings back Gollum. Frodo is rousted out of bed to come identify the creature, and Sam follows. Faramir and Anborn think he's spying on their hideout, but Frodo says that he's fishing (and there is also the lure of the Ring). (A digression here on a Tolkien artist who attempted to depict Gollum as close to Tolkien's description of him as possible, but whose employer kept insisting "Gollum is a frog!") We commented that Anborn seems rather trigger-happy (bowstring-happy?): "Can I shoot him now, Cap'n, can I, huh, can I?" As it turns out, Frodo is able to get Gollum to come to him so that he can be captured rather than killed.
Despite the seriousness of this chapter, we noted a continuing thread of humor connected to Gollum and the fish. First he insists that he "must finish fish" before he'll come with Frodo. (It was suggested that he is reverting to the purely animal appetites at this point. We also recalled that Gollum's earlier fantasies about what he would do with the power of the Ring included eating fish "three times a day, fresh from the Sea.") He hangs on to his fish all during the process of being captured and hauled before Faramir for questioning. Then when Faramir mentions that "the fish of this pool are dearly bought," he immediately drops it with the assertion "Don't want fish," and starts playing "sour grapes": "nasty bony little fishes." However, when he finally leaves, Faramir makes him take the fish with him. We amused ourselves by imagining Gollum going crazy in the Fulton Fish Market.
Faramir ends by formally signing over Gollum to Frodo, after making a final judgment on Frodo himself: he declares him free of the realm of Gondor for a year and a day, to be confirmed and made permanent if Frodo should come to Minas Tirith. It was suggested that by making this decision to aid Frodo in his mission, Faramir implicitly recognizes the authority of the Council of Elrond. Frodo takes Gollum under his protection, which doesn't particularly please Sam, but Frodo feels both obligation to Gollum for guiding them this far, and empathy and pity for him in connection with their shared experience of the Ring.
The matter of Frodo's destination comes up and the name of Cirith Ungol is finally mentioned. Faramir knows it's a bad place and doesn't want Frodo to go there, though still no one seems to be able to figure out why. It was suggested that Frodo's knowledge of Sindarin is limited and "Ungol" (spider) might not be a word he knows, but the same would probably not apply to Faramir since the Men of Gondor use a form of Sindarin as a daily speech. But neither of them seem to make the connection between "Ungol" and the "nameless horror" "that supposedly lurks in the pass. In any case, Frodo points out that he hasn't any other choice but to go there if he wants to get into Mordor. He asks Faramir if he would rather that Frodo brought the Ring to Gondor: "What spell would it work in Minas Tirith?" You can bet that Faramir is thinking of Denethor when he says no.
We ended with a short discussion of the chapter "Journey to the Crossroads." Frodo and Sam take their leave of Faramir, and Frodo accepts being blindfolded again for Gollum's sake. Faramir gives them supplies and the lebethron walking sticks. The three of them set off once more and we get another geographical tour. We noted that this chapter serves more to create a mood than to advance the action. Throughout the chapter the atmosphere gets darker and stuffier, thick, thundery and oppressive; there's "Mordor in the air." At the Cross-roads themselves there is a final gleam of inspiration and hope with the sight of the king's head crowned with flowers, and the assertion "They cannot conquer forever," before the chapter ends.
Next time we will be finishing off The Two Towers with the final three chapters of Book IV.