A few days ago we posted Teri’s letter which was a spirited defense of the way Faramir was portrayed in the movies. Though I received a great many emails that agreed enthusiastically with her point of view, it’s well worth posting some of the many rebuttals we also received.
With Faramir we have an example of a theme in the books that the filmmakers decided to change, namely the contrast between Faramir’s incorruptibility and strong will, and his brother Boromir’s fatal flaw. I think the most important point people offered was this: Tolkien wanted to make it clear that a strong will and pure heart COULD resist the Ring. PJ’s team decided to elaborate a different strand: That Mankind is particularly susceptible to the Ring for, as it says in the prologue to FOTR it is Men ‘who above all things, desire Power.’ Not everyone thinks this change serves the story well, and I’m posting some of their points below; I hope the writers will forgive me that I’ve edited them a bit.
Felgund writes, “Okay, for me the whole Faramir issue comes down to one thing: the action he takes regarding the Ring. I’m not concerned with the “color” of his character/actions, because that can be a matter of perception — whose eyes we are viewing him through. Every action Faramir takes BEFORE gaining knowledge of the Ring can, in my opinion, be “tweaked” with no serious damage to his character. Osgiliath (with the intent to take Frodo & Sam to Minas Tirith) could have easily replace Henneth Annun as a destination — as long as he didn’t know about the Ring before hand. As soon as knowledge of the Ring is revealed to him, his entire character is shaped by his response to that knowledge.
“The point is (to rebut Teri) that Faramir *doesn’t* do what you or I, or Boromir, or “anyone” might have done. Even Boromir had underlying noble intentions for wanting the Ring — to save his city. Faramir’s character is made manifest by the fact that (in the book) he is not even tempted to take the Ring. He does not need to be shown the right path (as with the ridiculous face-off between Frodo & the Nazgul in the movie) — he *knows* what the right thing to do is and he does it. No questions asked. It is no more in his nature to take the Ring than it is in mine to torture children & small animals (which , I assure you, it isn’t!) He is able to see the Bigger Picture.”
Robert in Colorado writes, “Peter Jackson has done a lot of damage to the Tolkien philosphy and message in the book when he sought to reinterpret the character of Faramir. Some try to defend this misinterpretation based on the length of the movie. However. he could easily have cut out the parts where Strider falls over the cliff (which is nowhere in the book) in order to get the “time” to interpret Faramir correctly.
“…One of the major themes in LOTR is the ability of the good characters to realize the consequences of their actions, and it is this realization that gives them the strength to resist the temptation. The Jackson interpretation of Faramir does not allow any such foresight on the part of the character. In the movie one does not even know why Faramir lets Frodo go. Faramir simply watches an encounter between Frodo and a Ringwraith, and because of this, he lets them go. The question is Why? Jackson does not give us any answers consistent with Tolkien philosophy.
“Finally, the characters Faramir/Boromir in the book gives us two different psychological profiles that complement each other. With Boromir one can find hope that even though one can “fall” into the temptation of the Ring he can “redeem” himself if he does not fall too far. With Faramir one can find the hope that when temptation comes one can successfully resist it.”
Tiel argued that the theme of faith and trust was very important to Tolkien, and didn’t deserve to be excised from the movie: “People have been arguing that Faramir’s behavior in the movie is what you would _logically_ expect from a war captain who comes across two suspicious characters in enemy territory, while his behavior in the book is unrealistic. I agree this is probably true. But Tolkien would have known that; he was a soldier after all.
“One of the themes that continually runs through LOTR, particularly in the later sections, is the contrast between decisions based on logic and decisions based on faith. From an objective (“logical”) point of view, the quest of the Ring really is pretty hopeless– Boromir is right when he refers to the plan as absurd. Similarly, Denethor’s despair in RotK is perfectly logical: Gondor could not possibly survive against Mordor by force of arms. “Despair” is a key word here, because to a Catholic like Tolkien, despair is a profound sin.
“If logic leads to despair, what are the grounds for hope? Elrond and Gandalf both tell Frodo that he was meant to be the Ring-bearer, and that this is a hopeful thing. Why? Because it means that _someone_ up there (Iluvatar himself, or one of the Valar– it comes to the same thing in the end) is guiding events, and it’s not the will of this being that Sauron should succeed. So we’re not in this alone, and we’ve received pretty clear indications that supporting Frodo in his quest– no matter how illogical it may seem– is the right thing to do. This is an awfully big leap of faith. Boromir is not willing to take it. Denethor in his turn rejects it. But Faramir accepts it, even though logic would tell him that letting the hobbits take the Ring towards Mordor is the height of folly.
“I believe Tolkien meant to contrast Boromir and Faramir, and later Denethor and Faramir, in terms of Faramir’s willingness to be guided by faith. I think this has gotten lost in the movie. (Let me pause here and note that I’m not myself religious: however Tolkien was, and I think that should be taken into account whenever we think about what he may have intended. Overall I think that Peter Jackson and his team have shied away from this aspect of Tolkien.) I believe that humility is what allows Faramir to be so guided, rather than an arrogant trust in his own reason– for an example of his humility, compare his reaction to Aragorn with Denethor’s and Boromir’s (Boromir in the book never really comes around to accepting Aragorn’s claim to kingship, and we can only speculate how events would have gone if Aragorn had arrived at Minas Tirith while B. and D. were both still alive).
“Finally, I’d like to take issue with Teri’s claim that Faramir knows nothing about the Ring. Faramir was Gandalf’s pupil while Gandalf was in Minas Tirith researching the history of the Ring: he inferred that Isildur took it from Sauron’s hand at the battle of the Last Alliance, and he seems to have known a great deal about its properties– enough to make the “not if I found it by the highway” statement before he even knows where it is. And once Sam reveals the presence of the Ring, Faramir realizes the implications immediately. Unlike Boromir, he doesn’t have to be told that it’s not possible to wield the Ring without turning to evil.”
Natasha mourns the loss of another of Tolkien’s themes: “There are many themes that run through the book, and I suppose every reader would have some that he’d place more emphasis on than others. For me, I have to say that the words of Galadriel (I think) that the travellers would find friends in unexpected places, represents a big theme. There will always be those who oppose evil, and wherever we/they may go we/they may encounter such allies unexpectedly. To me, in the book, the whole Faramir episode,(coming right after the whole desolation in front of the Morranon bit, and with the growing weight of the ring and the evil of the environs of Mordor becoming ever more palpable to both Frodo and the reader) offers a respite from all the perils that the hobbits face and from the heaviness of their burden. As is Ithilien, so is this whole episode a relief from the evil of Mordor, and a break well needed in order to make it possible for the hobbits – and me as I read – to continue. To therefore have it cruelly turned into yet another trial for Frodo and Sam, is my chief objection to this change, great cinematography though it may be.”
ElanortheEldest replies to Teri’s points one by one; here are some:
Teri: Faramir in the movie was a little more stern and moody in his attitude, and took the hobbits with him to Gondor. What’s the big deal? Why is everyone freaking out about it? The changes are very minor and don’t really take away from the story, so why is everyone getting all bent out of shape over it?
ElanortheEldest: “These changes affect both Faramir’s character _and_ the story. Faramir of the book was never interested in the Ring, no matter what the reason. Having him march the hobbits to Osgiliath would never have entered his mind – not to mention marching them roughly along & not even bothering to answer their pleas. If, as you say, he were only interested in saving Gondor, and no evil thought occurred to him, then why could he not explain this to Frodo & Sam?
“This change affects the story in another way: it was essential to the success of the quest that the whereabouts of the Ring be kept secret. Now that we have Frodo just about putting on the Ring in front of the Nazgul (another drastic change, I might add) we are left with two equally dissatisfying alternatives:
1 – Sauron now knows where the Ring is, which will mean a mucking up of more events in RotK
2 – The Nazgul didn’t even see the Ring, which would make him much less evil than he really is.”
Teri: Number one, in Tolkien’s original portrayal of Faramir in the book, he was kind and gentle to the hobbits…” and “He was never too suspicious to begin with, and befriended them immediately.”
EtheE: “Here is the first area where I’m not sure you looked closely at the book. Consider:
“… make haste to declare yourselves and your errand,’ said Faramir. ‘We have work to do, and this is no time or place for riddling or parleying. Come! Where is the third of your company?… the skulking fellow that we saw with his nose in the ool down younder. He had an ill-favoured loko. Some sying breed of Orc, I guess.’
Or – “… a strange stern look came into his face.”
“Later he questions Frodo hard about his mission. All this does not denote softness, but a fair-minded attitude that we don’t get in the movie (apart from the fact the Ring was evil, it would _never_ have been his to use).”
Teri: “He was not evil and did absolutely nothing wrong in the movie. People act as though he tortured Frodo and Sam and treated them like dirt, but that’s not the case! ”
EtheE: “Excuse me – he did much wrong in the movie. No matter how much I try, I can not get the image of his holding Frodo at sword point in the caves out of my mind. That was cruel & un-necessary. He had the hobbits where they could do him no harm, and he still just played around with his sword?
“This scene also, btw, directly contradicts something he says in the book: he does not love the sword because of its sharpness, or the arrow for its swiftness – he uses them because he love that which he defends. How is he defending anything when he plays with the Ring on his sword point with Frodo?”
Brian also saw a cruel streak in the film’s Faramir: “The mood in TTT (the movie) was that Faramir had a cruel streak in him (the strange smile on his face when Gollum was captured was rather unsettling, among other instances), and shared much the same weakness as his brother. This is contrasted by Tolkien’s description of Faramir as the “fair” brother who listened to Gandalf, and showed a hint of the glory of Numenor, not its weakness.”