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