Boromir: What REALLY Makes Him Great

Out of nowhere, I’d like to present to you something I stumbled upon last night.  Occasionally, I see these things, and they have a way of bringing out my inner Tolkien scholar, nerdrage, and a desire to set things right.  Below, I present Exhibit A: what is presumably a Tumbler post that comes close, and yet so, so far in its attempted defense of Boromir’s character.  And Exhibit B: my original Facebook rant against it (where I discovered it)–somewhat cleaned up and trying to be a little more diplomatic for the blog.  There was also a second (albeit abridged) rant, and bits and pieces of that have been incorporated as well.  So if we happen to be Facebook friends and you are experiencing some combination of confusion or Déjà vu, well, then now you know why.


This is not entirely correct.  I could nitpick the nuances from beginning to end, but I’m going to go after the one thing that really grinds my gears here: “When Boromir tries to take The Ring, it isn’t because he’s greedy/corrupted…”

Gorrammit, Tumblr.

Most everything else here, I’d probably just say, “Myeah, okay,” but this right here is blatantly wrong.  Boromir WAS, in fact, corrupted with an unhealthy desire to possess the Ring and use its power.  And while, yes, he saw in it, the salvation of his homeland, the Ring PLAYED on that in its temptation.  That’s the point of the Ring.  That’s the point of the whole book (and film).  It’s power is inescapable.  The Ring promises you the power that is beyond your reach, then enslaves you, because even the mightiest have not the will to master it.  Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel of all people, for Eru’s sake, were terrified of it for this very reason, and they have to constantly remind Boromir of this, who, throughout the story, is very boastful of the might of Gondor, singlehandly holding the forces of evil at bay from the rest of the world!–completely ignorant of the sacrifices of others around him who also hold evil at bay (the Dunedain in the North, the Elves of Rivendell, Lorien, Mirkwood, the Dwarves of Erebor and the Iron Hills, Rohan, etc.).  Boromir nearly failed in the end because of his firm belief that Power and military might were the only salvation for the world.  And the Ring, like Isildur, and Deagol, and Smeagol before him, played Boromir like a fiddle.  Now, that’s not to say that Boromir doesn’t care about his home or his people, or his family; he does, but he also lust for the Ring, and the power it “promises” to give him in achieving his goal, (and so much more).  He makes all these grand delusional plans in front of Frodo and all these justifications, very much how anyone does when temptation to do the questionable and wrong is on the doorstep.  He even fakes humility. “Oh, Aragorn, the heir, is clearly entitled to the Ring of course…. but if he doesn’t want it, why not Boromir??  How I would drive the hosts of the Enemy from me, until I were at the dark tower, face to face with Sauron himself!”

Boromir is the classical hero from Greek Tragedy: a Man of incredible virtue that is undone by a single, tragic, flaw.  He is a valorous captain of Men who has endured in spite of loss and sacrifice for a home he loves above all else… AND he is one of the proudest SOBs of all time, believing all that matters is physical power.  The Lord of the Rings, in its entirety, is against this idea–the quest to destroy the Ring, being the obvious overarching example.  The forces of Good are too weak to oppose evil, militarily, and evil has seemingly unlimited resources that it uses to foul ends, with a Ring that promises this power, but only turns you into another cog in its vast machine, because it is Sauron’s infinite will to enslave Incarnate.  And it plays on Boromir’s weakness, like all evil and temptation.  This is in the films too.  It’s not as in-depth, but it is still there.  Sir PJ was adamant in conveying the theme of, “No one escapes temptation from this Damn Jewelry of Doom™.”

The beauty of Boromir is not this false-noble idea, but that he escaped this very falsehood and was redeemed at the end of it all.  He succumbed to temptation and THAT was the nail in his own coffin, BUT he escaped in the end by sacrificing himself, trying to save Merry and Pippin.  From Boromir’s perspective, however, of physical might and salvation, he screwed this up because he didn’t save the hobbits!  “They were captured!  And he’s dying!  How could he be a bigger screw up??  He failed to resist the Ring, he drove Frodo away (most likely to certain death), he failed to make it up to anyone to save his dear hobbit friends, and now he’s DYING.  How could failure get any worse??  Who or what will save his home now???

Except… that’s not what Aragorn tells him.  Aragorn tells him, “No.  You have not failed.  You have conquered.  You have won.  Few have ever gained such a victory.”  What in the world is he talking about?  He’s clearly not talking about the captured hobbits, and he’s most certainly not talking about the 30-something dead orcs surrounding him, which (while impressive) means nothing in the scheme of things*.  No, Aragorn is talking about how Boromir ESCAPED temptation in the end, and not only did he escape temptation, he gave his life protecting the weak, he gave his life trying to undo the wrong he made.

Boromir is leaving the world a better person, and he does leave it in hope, as the author of the above states.  That is the beauty of his character and his arc.

Even Gandalf makes a big deal about this when he learns of Boromir’s death, saying, “He escaped in the end (meaning, ‘escaping evil and the temptation of the Ring’), I am glad.”  And declaring that it wasn’t mere chance that Merry and Pippin came on the quest, if only because for Boromir’s sake in the grand orderings of the cosmos.  This theme of redemption is extremely important throughout the LotR, and was so important to Tolkien that he actually said in one of his letters that the greatest tragedy in ALL of LotR was that Gollum had no such salvation by the end, despite his important role in the fulfillment of the quest.

(There’s actually a really good book about all of this (and more) called Following Gandalf by Matthew Dickerson.  Y’all should read it.)

Boromir succumbed, was corrupted, escaped, and he is great because of it.  We can love Boromir for all his virtue, for all his desire to save his home and friends, for fighting until the nigh bitter end, but we should not romanticize him so as to think “he was above corruption”.  THAT misses the point of the character AND the story, in both book and film. That, dare I say, is another justification of the Ring so as to disguise its evil.

I would avoid Tumblr for Tolkien analyses.  However so good the intent of standing up for what is a great character, this post is actually the perfect example of how the Ring justified its evil to Boromir.  It (hopefully unintentionally) justifies Boromir trying to murder Frodo and pushes the evil of the Ring under the rug.  Such justifications are how the Ring made its slaves and villains.

PS: and since WHEN did Boromir hate his dad?  That’s not a thing–I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing.  In any case, Boromir’s antics had nothing to do with it.  It was all the Ring playing on his weaknesses.  To say nothing of the film overplaying Denethor’s jackassery…

*(unlike that cold comfort BS Movie-Aragorn gives Boromir.  “Oh Boromir, at least you fought bravely!”  What crap.  Dangit, Jackson, you were doing so well until you missed the point of that ONE LINE from the book.  “No yeah, at least you killed 30 orcs out of 20 billion.  That’s sure to have Sauron quaking in his boots…”)

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