The story of the One Ring ensnaring the wills of even the mightiest and strongest warriors and filling them with lust for power is well-known. Few who encountered it could resist the treacherous nets of the Ring of Power created by Sauron. Still over the course of the narrative we see those characters who manage to escape its allure even finding themselves within the nearest proximity of the Ring. Faramir is one of such characters.

When we first meet Faramir in Ithilien he gives the impression of the person strong and noble, just and wise. He does not let Frodo and Sam walk away on their errand without learning who they are and what they are doing on the borders of the Enemy’s realm, but he also makes sure that their «captivity» is as comfortable as possible. Not being rash, Faramir does not take decisions in the heat of a moment or acts on impulse alone.

One of the key elements of the Hobbits’ meeting with Faramir and his company is the matter of the Ring. Frodo is scared and distrustful to speak of it openly, thus he hides a great deal back. Faramir guesses as much but does not press on. But as it often happens after a few drinks, the secret matter – the one of the Ring in this case – is let slip in the most unexpected manner and it is done by Sam.

«So it seems,» said Faramir, slowly and very softly, with a strange smile. «So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way – to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!» He stood up, very tall and stern, his grey eyes glinting.

(Two Towers, p. 358)

This episode can be regarded in two ways. Faramir’s words lead some readers to thinking the Captain of Gondor indeed wanted the Ring for himself and his saying that it was a chance for him to «show his quality» stands exactly for his wish to take the Ring to prove himself useful for his realm in the times of dire need. While his behaviour and words can indeed seem to be betraying his desire to possess the Ring, even though for a fleeting moment, there is also a more subtle way to interpret what he says.

When Frodo and Sam are being taken to Henneth Annûn and talking to Faramir, the Captain shows that he guesses that the Hobbits are in possession of some mighty heirloom. He says, though:

I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.

(Two Towers, p. 346)

In the days of war when every stranger is doubted these words might mean naught. But when Sam lets slip the matter of the Ring, it is a chance for Faramir to show that he is true indeed. As it is one thing to say that one would never use such a powerful object and it is absolutely another to really reject it when it is within your grasp and its power is well-known. Faramir is well aware of the devices of the Enemy and is well-read in the ancient lore. So, remembering the tale of Isildur’s fate he knows that such heirlooms are not for others, especially mortals, to use as he understands the consequences such things can bring. Moreover, Faramir, who trusts in Men’s valour, is not the one to rely on magic and tricks to gain the triumph which will then be overshadowed by the cruel means it was achieved by.

Thus Faramir’s words that by coming so close to the Ring he got a chance to «show his quality» imply that it is a chance for him to show that he is a worthy man, a man of his word and the enemy of the Dark Lord who would not use even the mightiest artifact on Earth to save his beloved realm and fight the greatest evil. He says as much after scaring the Hobbits with his reaction to the news of the Ring:

We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.

But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.

(Two Towers, pp. 358-359)

Tom Shippey also attributes Faramir’s rejecting the Ring to the Captain’s wisdom. He guesses that the Ring is addictive and he is wise and strong-willed enough to stay away from the temptation which can lead to addiction beyond any means of curing it (1). So it is no wonder Faramir is among those who pass the test of the Ring successfully.


(1)Tom Shippey – The Road to Middle-earth.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  2. Tom Shippey – The Road to Middle-earth; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; Epub Edition; 2012.


Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.


17 thoughts on “Faramir’s test of quality.

  1. Faramir’s portrayal in the films as someone who would take the hobbits to Denethor and then change his mind at the last moment didn’t do justice to the character. Yes, it added some suspense but i think it was not worth it.

    1. I totally agree. The film didn’t do him any justice at all. He’s not really different from Boromir in the film, but in the book the differences between the brothers are very clear. Among so many bad decisions by P.J. this one is among my least favourite. He turned the whole character upside down.

      1. Exactly. And it’s especially bitter since Faramir is one of my favorite characters. At least the extended edition had his scene with Eowyn so at least for that I’m grateful.

  2. So we’re all agreed – this scene makes us think of movies. Faramir, too!

    To whom is he talking, when he says “a chance … to show his quality”? I think it’s an imaginary audience in the theater. He could be apostrophizing (if that’s a word) to Tolkien’s readers, but then why would he stand up? Faramir has spent his whole life consciously trying to be a romantic hero. He stands up because he knows at that moment the camera is going to zoom in for a dramatically-lit close-up. Had the movie been made in the 1950’s, he would have been right.

    The last sentence from the last quotation is my favorite part. Faramir knows himself too well to take the hero-of-song act too far. In wartime, having a captain who wants to be a hero is usually a disaster for the men who follow him. Tolkien has him drop the façade for just an instant, to let us know that we’re dealing with a true leader, not the kind of officer who got thousands of men killed in the trenches in World War 1.

    1. That’s a wonderful point! There’s something theatrical about the book scene and it just exaggerates the point that this standing up and looking all threatening was to show that it wasn’t Faramir’s real self.

  3. Thank you so much for this. My own conviction is that Faramir has spent a lifetime, not so much learning to be a romantic hero as the Joviator puts it but in becoming a true Númenorian, one of the Elendili, the Elf Friends. It is his father who accuses him of posturing, always checking out where the cameras are, playing the role of one of the kings of all. The evidence to the contrary is that Faramir acknowledges Aragorn as king on their first meeting. That too is the fruit of a lifetime’s practice. When I wrote my reflection on those words of Faramir that you quote, “A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality” I likened this practice to the one developed in the 16th century by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, which is a form of meditation that is a kind of good day dreaming. Both Faramir and Boromir are day dreamers. The difference is that Boromir dreams of deeds of valour in which he is the hero; while Faramir dreams of the restoration of the kingdom of the Elf Friends, of Gondor as “a Queen among other Queens”, feared for only for her wisdom.

    1. Faramir’s position in his family is so difficult. Having on the one hand to try and not fall out with his father, but on the other – to stay true to himself. Must be really tough for him. But what I really like about Faramir is that he somehow manages to stay incredibly noble, wise and good-hearted, even in such circumstances. I admire him for that.

      1. Our relationships to our parents are perhaps the toughest we have to work out. Faramir will be doing that long after his father’s death but I think he will make it. He is a man of deep compassion.

  4. There are a few things about this moment in the books (of the film character more aptly named ‘Farlessamir’ I have nothing to say) that are quite interesting.

    1) How does Faramir say ‘so that is the answer to all the riddles!’ What word receives the emphasis? I have come to think we should hear this sentence as ‘so that IS the answer to all the riddles!’ As if he had guessed as much, but dismissed the idea as improbable. Now he is astonished and humbled to discover that he was right. After all the Ring had vanished 3,000 years earlier — or to put it in our time frame, as long ago as the fall of Troy. I think with this emphasis, the humor and irony Faramir sees in the situation fits perfectly.

    2) It is interesting to note the way his behavior when he stands up and seems to menace them echoes the scene at Bree, where Strider also pretends to menace the hobbits, saying that if he wanted to take the Ring he could easily do so. (Why the Dunedain seem to find terrifying hobbits so much fun is a question for another day.)

    3) The glint in Faramir’s eye now and the glint in Boromir’s when he first sees the Ring at Rivendell, and when his remarks reveal that he had very little clue as to the meaning of the riddle, unlike Faramir.

    Now this gives me ideas. But it’s time for me to go to work, and I have another article to write first.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this scene, Olga

  5. The blood of Numenor still runs strong in Faramir. He is both wise and noble. Also is a good and favored student of Mithrandir. It ticked me off that his father could not see his true quality.

  6. Olga, thank you as always for your thoughts on Tolkien. A few things came to my mind as I read your post. The first is one I’ve pondered for a long time. It’s about how Faramir says ‘So that is the answer to all the riddles.’ Where the stress falls changes everything. As I see it, given his smile and his irony in the next few sentences, Faramir says ‘So that IS the answer to all the riddles.’ As if he had guessed it, but dismissed it as too improbable, since of course the Ring was lost 3,000 years ago, as long ago as the fall of Troy is for us.Now, finding out that he had been right all along, he is as amazed as he is amused.

    The second is ‘He stood up, very tall and stern, his grey eyes glinting.’ The glint in his eye now as he realizes the Ring is before him may be compared to the glint in Boromir’s when he sees the Ring at the Council of Elrond and he, too, is thinking of the ‘riddle’ of his and Faramir’s dream: ‘Boromir’s eyes glinted as he gazed at the golden thing.’

    The third links Faramir to Strider, all the way back in Bree. Just as Faramir at this moment stands up suddenly and momentarily seems to be a threat to the hobbits and the Ring, so, too, on that first night at the Prancing Pony, Strider seemed to threaten the hobbits: ‘If I had killed the real Strider, I could kill you. And I should have killed you already without so much talk. If I was after the Ring, I could have it — now!’

    Why the Dunedain think it’s a lark to terrorize hobbits is another question entirely. But perhaps it’s also a key. Faramir and Aragorn find humor in their situations. Faramir’s quality is at issue here, but so was Strider’s there, as the hobbits tried to assess this rascally looking stranger who seemed to know far too much for their own good. Boromir, however, finds only perplexity.

    Ooh, now you’ve got me thinking.

    1. Thanks a lot for reading, Tom!
      There are some amazing points you mention here. There does seem to be some connection between all of these reactions and the situations look particularly similar. There’s indeed a lot to think about.

  7. “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

    I always thought this to be one of the most powerful lines in the story. Tolkien can say so much with an economy of words. He captured the essence of the man in two brief sentences.

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