The Forbidden Pool
There is a general pattern for Frodo’s journey to Mordor (described in the reflection “The Book that No One Likes”) that can stir up the heart of a reader. Often times sympathizing with Samwise, one cries out “Frodo, you idiot,” or “Gollum’s going to betray you,” or “Listen to Sam’s common sense and suspicions.” Here, however, we get the exemplar of excellence of such a reaction, for here a character within the tale, Faramir of Gondor, is the source of it. As the pieces fall into place, and Faramir’s misgivings are aroused and wisdom leveraged at them, we see in near real-time the bitterness of watching the doom of another unfold.
Faramir has the hobbits’ well-being at heart, and has ever before him his vow to help them. He can see through the thin veneer of Gollum’s “helpfulness” and is deeply unnerved by the guide’s evasive answers. He knows whispers and ancient lines about the darkness of Cirith Ungol, and the dangers of the Morgul Vale. He exerts every effort to convince Frodo that he is being tricked, that Gollum will betray him, that there must be another way of proceeding. And yet Frodo is unmoved. Faramir is unable to provide an alternative that allows Frodo to fulfill his own promise and quest. Frodo is keenly aware of the growing danger: of the proximity to Mordor, of the realm of Black Riders, of the growing animosity of Smeagol following his “betrayal” by the Forbidden Pool. Frodo will proceed in the only way he knows, and Faramir is left in bitter melancholy, longing for a time of peace when his own words won’t fail him.
This motif appears frequently in Tolkien’s written work. Húrin, a man of the First Age, is captured by the Dark Lord and cursed to gaze out from the seat of a high mountain, ever watching the plight and torments of his children down below. Gandalf, captured by Saruman and held on the high pinnacle of Orthanc, watches with growing distress as the wizard’s treachery is unleashed. The great trial (soon to be revealed) of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, is his witnessing of all of Sauron’s evil from his powerless position in Minas Tirith. Tragic and great is one’s bitter realization of the doom of another.
It matters not whether Frodo would have been better or worse to have listened to Faramir’s advice. Eucatastrophe occurs when goodness unhoped for comes forth from the unescapable doom. Yet, the unexpected happy ending does not lessen the bitterness or the sorrow that Faramir must embrace in this moment. One day Frodo and he might sit “laughing at old grief.” Today, however, Faramir must live with the bitter realization that he has foreseen the great suffering of another, and been unable to virtuously intervene to stop it.
Perhaps we too, like Faramir, feel like a voice crying out in an empty wilderness. Perhaps from our perspective and place, with our experience and wisdom, due to a growing unease or a revolutionary insight, have come to perceive the coming doom. Amongst our friends or of a family member, in our politics or with our society, small and isolated or great and lasting: the characteristics are varied, but the sorrow is poignant nevertheless. It witnessing bitterly the coming doom of another, in being able to warn convincingly or dissuade persuasively, we are left then with Faramir’s example: to aid in whatever small ways we can, offer our blessing and our love, and place our hopes in that which lies beyond hope and beyond the vision of the Seeing-stone of Númenor.
It is remarkable to note that this reflection is the 100th post of “A Lent of the Lord of the Rings.” In great and humble gratitude, let me thank every reader of both book and reflection for helping this effort achieve such an accomplishment. It is truly a blessing.
2015’s Reflection: “On Faramir, Captain of Gondor”