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The Nature of Farmir?

December 23, 2002 at 4:45 pm by Demosthenes  - 

Well, the characterisation of Faramir in The Two Towers certainly has caused some contention. But, do you really understand the nature of Faramir son of Denethor? TORn discussion board regular NZ Strider presented this interesting analysis on our boards yesterday. It’s well worth a read …

Update: Well, that prompted a flood of responses.

In an attempt to present the other side of the argument, here’s an extensive response from ElanortheEldest. [More]

NZ Strider’s originial article is, of course, below.

Some notes on the introduction of Faramir (in the book — not the movie)

When Faramir and his men capture Frodo and Sam, Faramir declares his identity to the two Hobbits with the following words: “‘I am Faramir, Captain of Gondor,’ he said. ‘But there are no travellers in this land: only the servants of the Dark Tower, or of the White.'” (A minor side-note by the way: one white use this passage for an argument that the two eponymous towers are those of Barad-dûr and Ecthelion.) Faramir’s line is ominous: he knows that Frodo and Sam are not servants of Gondor, therefore they are enemies by default. Faramir goes on to ask where Sam’s and Frodo’s companion is, whom he alleges to be a ‘spying breed of Orc.’ The implication is obvious what Faramir thinks of those that would take up with a spying breed of Orc.

Frodo begins to explain himself and his mission; and mentions Boromir. “‘Boromir son of the Lord Denethor?’ said Faramir, and a strange stern look came into his face.” Now, a ‘strange stern look’ is rarely a positive sign; and in retrospect Faramir’s distrust of the Hobbits becomes apparent through his withholding a pertinent detail, to wit that he is Boromir’s brother. Faramir will, in fact, use this against Frodo in a few moments. First, however, Frodo speaks of the riddle which both Faramir and Boromir heard in a dream — Faramir acknowledges recognising the lines — and then identifies Sam and himself as the ‘Halflings.’ Faramir shoots straight back with ‘What is Isildur’s Bane?’ Frodo answers evasively: ‘That is hidden.’ (This allows two meanings: ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I am keeping it hidden.’) It should now be said that neither side is being particularly honest with the other: both are withholding something.

Faramir must then go to the battle. Faramir has two reasons to keep Frodo and Sam alive: they know something about Boromir as well as about ‘Isildur’s Bane.’ Faramir places them under guard till his return. The man whom Faramir sets over the two Hobbits, Mablung, is under no illusion what Faramir means to do with the Hobbits:

Mablung: “When [Faramir] comes we shall depart swiftly.”
Sam: (freely) “Try not to wake me when you do.”
Mablung: “I do not think the captain will leave you here.”
(I.e.: “You’re coming with us” — the sentiment is ominous; and, as it turns out, correct.)

After the battle against the Haradrim Faramir returns for a full interrogation of Frodo:

“He had brought many men with him; indeed all the survivors of the foray were now gathered on the slope nearby, two or three hundred strong. They sat in a wide semicircle, between the arms of which Faramir was seated on the ground, while Frodo stood before him. It looked strangely like the trial of a prisoner.”

The trial of a prisoner indeed! For that is what it is; Faramir has taken Frodo prisoner and is now interrogating him in a high pressure situation: behind Frodo are three hundred armed Gondorian soldiers; before him is his interrogator.

Now we have already seen that Faramir distrusts Frodo and has withheld his relationship with Boromir. Tolkien brings Faramir’s distrust straight back to our attention through Sam’s observations:

“Faramir’s face… was now unmasked: it was stern and commanding, and a keen wit lay behind his searching glance. Doubt was in the grey eyes that gazed steadily at Frodo.” This, of course, well befits an interrogator who thinks his prisoner is lying to him. As indeed Faramir does: “Sam soon became aware that the captain was not satisfied with Frodo’s account of himself at several points: what part he had to play in the Company that set out from Rivendell; why he had left Boromir; and where he was now going. In particular he returned often to Isildur’s Bane. Plainly he saw that Frodo was concealing from him some matter of great importance.”

I have just remarked on the ambiguity of Frodo’s evasive answer ‘it is hidden.’ Faramir caught the ambiguity and returns to it: “It is hidden, you say; but is not that because you choose to hide it?” Frodo is forced to admit that he is concealing something, but counters by revealing Aragorn’s identity as Isildur’s heir. This bowls Faramir’s men over completely, but Faramir himself remains ‘unmoved.’ But Frodo, in fact, has just bought himself some time: he’s used a simple trick; he’s changed the subject. Faramir gives him his head, however; and Faramir, as we’ll see, has no intention of letting Frodo off the hook in regard to Isildur’s Bane. Frodo, having had some success by changing the subject, speaks further of Boromir as if Boromir were alive, and now Faramir moves to catch Frodo out on this subject. He asks a trick question, “Were you a friend of Boromir?”

Frodo hesitates; “Faramir’s eyes watching him grew harder.” “At length” Frodo answers, evasively, “Yes, I was his friend, for my part.” Faramir now moves to spring the trap: “Faramir smiled grimly. ‘Then you would grieve to learn that Boromir is dead?'” Frodo realises that Faramir is trying to “trap him in words” and protests.

The interrogation now takes a nastier turn:

Faramir: “As to the manner of his death, I had hoped that his friend and companion would tell me how it was.” (Faramir next words will show that his use of “friend” is sarcastic — he suspects that Frodo contributed to Boromir’s death.)
Frodo: “[Boromir] lives still for all that I know. Though surely there are many perils in the world.”
Faramir: “Many indeed, and treachery not the least.”

At this stage the interrogation of the prisoner has reached a high point in the tension. Frodo has found himself manoeuvred back and forth: his evasion on Isildur’s Bane has been laid bare; a desperate attempt to change the subject has seen him blunder into another trap — and he now finds himself accused of complicity in Boromir’s death, of which, however, he knows less than Faramir; so how can he answer Faramir’s accusation?

Tolkien here breaks the tension by having Sam make a comic interjection — but Faramir’s response in not comic at all: “I might have slain you long ago. For I am commanded to slay all whom I find in this land without the leave of the Lord of Gondor.” In other words, Faramir holds the power of life or death over his two prisoners. The threat is palpable.

Shortly thereafter Faramir finally admits that he is Boromir’s brother. Faramir takes it easy on Frodo in the next portion of the interrogation; he lets the conversation eddy and turn from Boromir to Lórien. Frodo finally asks to be set free: “Will you not put aside your doubt of me and let me go?” That, however, Faramir will not do.

Faramir has already suggested one possible decision he might make about Frodo: obey orders and have him killed. He now considers a second: “I should now take you back to Minas Tirith to answer there to Denethor.” But he has yet to make his final decision in the matter: in the meantime, “you, Frodo and Samwise, will come with me and my guards … In the morning I will decide what is best for me to do and for you.”

Frodo doesn’t exactly have a choice in this matter. “There was nothing for Frodo to do but to fall in with this request.” He is Faramir’s prisoner; and Faramir is currently considering two options: to slay Frodo; or to send him to Minas Tirith. It does not look good for Frodo.

As they walk towards Henneth Annûn, Faramir speaks further with Frodo. We now learn that Faramir was aware that Frodo had changed the subject away from Isildur’s Bane: “we were drawing near to matters that were better not debated openly before many men. It was for that reason that I turned rather to the matter of my brother and let be Isildur’s Bane. You were not wholly frank with me, Frodo.”

Now Faramir gives out that he is returning to press that point. The interrogator’s trick he plays on Frodo is exemplary. He is turning from the matter of his brother to that of Isildur’s Bane: “‘I would hazard that Isildur’s Bane lay between you and was a cause of contention in your Company. Clearly it is a mighty heirloom of some sort, and such things do not breed peace among confederates, not if aught may be learned from ancient tales. Do I not hit near the mark?’

“‘Near,’ said Frodo, ‘but not in the gold. There was no contention in our Company, though there was doubt: doubt which way we should take from the Emyn Muil. But be that as it may, ancient tales teach us also the peril of rash words concerning such things as — heirlooms.'”

By pretending to ask about Isildur’s Bane, Faramir just got Frodo to reveal something about Boromir: “Ah, then it is as I thought: your trouble was with Boromir alone.”

These things are typical of Faramir as interrogator: he is good at ostensibly asking one thing while aiming at another. Frodo is being whipsawed from one subject to the next; surrounded by armed men he has to answer — and Faramir keeps tricking things out of him. Faramir has laid bare his evasions about Boromir and Isildur’s Bane; though he has not yet got out of Frodo the full truth concerning the latter. Now he piously begs forgiveness for having “pressed Frodo hard” — and draws off to something else, letting Frodo relax again. Perfect interrogator’s style.

He finds a mutal topic of interest (Gandalf), on which he and Frodo can be friends. He assures Frodo that he means no harm with regard to Isildur’s Bane (and doesn’t press Frodo anymore on the subject): “What in truth this Thing is I cannot yet guess; but some heirloom of power and peril it must be. A fell weapon, perchance, devised by the Dark Lord… But fear no more! 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.”

The conversation thenceforward is friendly, inviting of confidence. It’s another interrogator’s trick, of course: put the prisoner at his ease; be friends with him; reassure him. (It’s the “good cop” part of the “bad cop/good cop” routine.) “So fear me not! I do not ask you to tell me more. I do not even ask you to tell me whether I now speak nearer the mark. But if you will trust me, it may be that I can advise you in your present quest, whatever that be — yes, and even aid you.”

Yet Frodo, though sorely tempted, figures this trick out: “Frodo made no answer. Almost he yielded to the desire for help and counsel, to tell this grave young man, whose words seemed so wise and fair, all that was in his mind… Better mistrust undeserved than rash words. And the memory of Boromir… was very present to his mind, when he looked at Faramir and listened to his voice.” Faramir may do the same thing which Boromir tried. Boromir wanted the Ring; Faramir, his brother, may attempt to take it also.

If Frodo sees through this trick, Sam doesn’t. Faramir lets Frodo be. As they approach Henneth Annûn he has his prisoners blindfolded (but takes as much care to let them know that this is just a precaution, etc.). Once in Henneth Annûn Faramir plays the gracious host (trying to keep the Hobbits at their ease), but his words to Anborn reveal that he doesn’t yet trust the Hobbits.

Sam overhears enough of the conversation to make it clear that Faramir has not forgotten Gollum. Faramir concludes: “‘We do not want the escapes of Mirkwood in Ithilien.’ Sam fancied that he gave a swift glance towards the hobbits as he spoke.” Faramir is clearly still deeply suspicious of the Hobbits — the issue of Gollum is still a complicating factor; Frodo is still withholding something about Isildur’s Bane (even if he didn’t help to kill Boromir); and Faramir has, at any rate, yet to decide what to do with Frodo: kill him or send him to Minas Tirith. No other possibility has been mentioned. And Frodo, for his part, is reminded too much of Boromir to trust Faramir.

At any rate, Faramir returns to the interrogation — as the good cop: “On your journey from Rivendell there must have been many things to tell. And you, too, would perhaps wish to learn something of us and the lands where you now are. Tell me of Boromir my brother, and of old Mithrandir, and of the fair people of Lothlórien.”

Frodo is canny enough to understand: “Frodo no longer felt sleepy and he was willing to talk. But though the food and wine had put him at his ease, he had not lost all his caution.”

We, as readers, by this point should also have seen through Faramir. Faramir is not going to let the matter rest until he finds out about Isildur’s Ring. He is patiently using every interrogator’s trick in the book to worm information out of his captives. He’s tried trick questions; traps, set up by withholding information; intimidation (three hundred armed men); implied threats (“I might have slain you”); reverse psychology (“I do not ask you to tell me more. I do not even ask you to tell me whether…”); the whole good-cop routine; now we’re at “have some more wine, and let’s tell each other about ourselves.”

Frodo keeps his guard up; but Sam doesn’t. The dramatic tension, however, remains: will Frodo let his guard slip at last? Will Isildur’s Bane be revealed? And, if so, will Faramir react as did Boromir. Frodo suspects that he will — and so must we. This is, of course, the most threatening aspect of the whole scene: will Faramir lunge for the Ring (as did his brother) if Frodo reveals it? The whole interrogation has seen Faramir come closer and closer to finding out about the Ring; his friendliness (as evinced by his remembering Gollum and his sharp glance towards Frodo) is clearly directed to a purpose: finding out what Isildur’s Bane is. The dramatic tension for us is, “will Frodo slip in his caution?” We are waiting for the moment; the threat which Faramir poses is perfectly clear; they are Faramir’s captives; he’s already shown himself a wily interrogator — how long can Frodo hold out? And will Faramir then succumb as did his brother?

Finally, Sam gives away his interest in Elves. Faramir is happy to oblige Sam by talking about Elves and Lórien. Sam’s tongue is loosed:

“‘It strikes me that folk takes their peril with them into Lórien, and finds it there because they’ve brought it. But perhaps you could call her perilous, because she’s so strong in herself. You, you could dash yourself to pieces on her, like a ship on a rock; or drowned yourself, like a hobbit in a river. But neither rock nor river would be to blame. Now Boro — ‘ He stopped and went red in the face.
“‘Yes? Now Boromir you would say?’ said Faramir. ‘What would you say? He took his peril with him?’
“‘Yes sir, begging your pardon, and a fine man as your brother was if I may say so. But you’ve been warm on the scent all along. Now I watched Boromir and listened to him, from Rivendell all down the road — looking after my master, as you’ll understand, and not meaning any harm to Boromir — and it’s my opinion that in Lórien he first saw clearly what I guessed sooner: what he wanted. From the moment he first saw it he wanted the Enemy’s Ring!'”

Tolkien has brought everything to the climax: Faramir has doggedly pursued this piece of information throughout the entire interrogation with every possible trick. We’ve been wondering how long Frodo could keep his guard up; and now Sam’s blabbed: and now Sam understands the trick Faramir was using: “You’ve spoken very handsome all along, put me off my guard, talking of Elves and all!”

The next step is to find out whether Faramir will commit Boromir’s sin and try to seize the Ring. Tolkien moves us straight to that:

“‘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.

“Frodo and Sam sprang from their stools and set themselves side by side with their backs to the wall, fumbling for their sword-hilts.”

Now we’re at the real threat: will Faramir take the Ring?

I’d like to capitulate several points:

1.) Faramir distrusts Frodo because he realises that Frodo is hiding a great deal from him;

2.) He takes Frodo prisoner;

3.) Faramir interrogates Frodo (both in a high pressure situation in public with lots of intimidation and in private in an attempt to put Frodo off his guard);

4.) Faramir is an extremely tricky interrogator determined to get to the bottom of the matter;

5.) Frodo fears that Faramir will take the Ring because of what his brother did;

6.) Tolkien purposefully builds Faramir’s continued interrogations up as a very real threat — will Faramir find out what Isildur’s Bane is; and will he then attempt to seize it?

Now, my fig-leaf for posting this on “Moviediscussion” instead of in the “Readingroom”: How does one do all this in a movie?

Most of the complaints about the presentation of Faramir in the movie have centred on these points:

1.) He was a good guy who never threatened the Hobbits

2.) He did NOT kidnap the Hobbits

3.) He did NOT want the Ring

4.) He was different from Boromir

As far as I can see, Tolkien’s presentation on Faramir has him threatening the Hobbits and kidnapping the Hobbits; Tolkien keeps suggesting that Faramir too may try for the Ring in the same way as Boromir already had.

Now, some positive points:

1.) Faramir is a wily interrogator in the book: the movie could not possibly give us the book’s lengthy triple-interrogation scene, with all its twists and turns. But it certainly gave us Faramir as hard-nosed interrogator.

2.) The movie shows us Faramir as threatening to the Hobbits; it makes us think that he will try to take the Ring as did his brother.

3.) The movie then plays with another option: Faramir will send Frodo (and the Ring) to Minas Tirith (present in the book as well).

Posted in Old Special Reports on December 23, 2002 by

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles

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