The Departure of Boromir
by Michael Lessman
Boromir is a failure. Temptation triumphs as Boromir is overcome by the tempest wrought by his desire for the Ring. At the key moment the Ring drives him mad, when Saruman’s magic misleads Aragorn and his Uruk-hai kidnap the hobbits. But the union of the Two Towers, embodied in the Ring and the Uruk-hai, have not the final word. But it is not clear, at first, why they do not.
One reason is that the Ring does not cause Boromir’s death, nor does the Ring possess him when he makes his good confession to Aragorn, “I tried to take the Ring from Frodo. I am sorry. I have paid.” His death is undergone, instead, by choice, and by a logic unknown by the enemy. Boromir, in his dying moments, decides to relinquish his desire for the Ring – and for him hope of victory – and instead go to the help of the so far insignificant friends of Frodo, Pippin and Merry. This choice would have been unintelligible to both Saruman and the Witch-king, and could not have originated from them.
Another reason is that Boromir’s departure forces Aragorn to forestall his return to Gondor in order to hunt down the kidnappers. Boromir’s choice to depart therefore fittingly begins the Two Towers, instead of ending the Fellowship. Indeed, Boromir’s death takes Aragorn to Rohan; a moment wherein the plot of Lord of the Rings, and the schemes of the Two Towers, moves in an unexpected direction. It will prove, perhaps, that the union of Orthanc and Minas Morgul are undone by the first evil they effect together, the slaying of Boromir. It shall prove that Boromir’s departure opens the window to move the Three Hunters to the steppe of Rohan, where they are actually needed. The Two Towers fail in destroying Boromir, though they affect his death. And, as I think will be seen, in this act this unholy alliance will actually collapse, for they bring the remnant of the Fellowship to Rohan.
However, Boromir’s departure is significant not only for it marking a turnabout in events; it is also thematically important. His Arthur-like departure suggests that evil, in its undoing of good, in fact becomes the instrument of good – and sorrow – unlooked for. Boromir also stood alone against a sea of enemies, like Roland, and in doing so is drawn out of the logic of the enemy, whose calculations follow the laws of the master and slave. By standing alone rather than, for example, giving chase to Frodo (as he could have done) Boromir renounces victory when it becomes clear to him, all too late, that it can only be accomplished by becoming the evil he hopes to vanquish. But this understanding comes extrinsic to temptation; it is Boromir’s repentance. He dies penitent. As Aragorn notes, “No! You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!” and Boromir smiles.
Where Boromir pays no heed to the Grand Strategy, his virtue and chivalry shines forth most clearly though there is no finite power to witness it, neither Tolkien’s characters nor his readers. But we do hear his last words, “Farewell Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.” It is of note that it is his people that needs saving in his mind, now, and not an empire to be won and lands conquered. Boromir’s hidden repentance and standing forth alone thus lies at the heart of his spiritual triumph, or rather are his turning away from his desire for glory. This is why Tolkien’s does not clearly describe Boromir’s last-stand; it’s hidden-ness is its point.
Christ told us that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Lent, I think, is our chance to confront alone the tempest of our desires, and by doing so receive a divine assistance to win out. Just as Boromir found his redemption through dying in defense of the small, leaning on nothing but the moment’s call for a hero’s chivalry, so too we might take Lent in its small moments and fight the countless unseen battles, in the hope that we too might be borne into a world beyond and become a portent and sign for those who follow in our footsteps. As Boromir’s unwitnessed defense of the hobbits echoes into the wars between Gondor and Mordor, and Gondor’s defense of the weak, so our Lenten battles, one may dare even to suspect, echo into another world. For through our manifest failures our lives become shadows that echo that Archetype unto which our souls are steadily molded – again, by walking unwitnessed through the tempest of our misplaced desires.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
2015’s Reflection: “On the Good and Tragic Death of Boromir, Captain of Gondor”