The Men Who Would Be Steward
The Elvish word for "steward" is Arandur, "King's servant". The name implies that the Stewards began their long career as something less than government officials. They may have been the personal servants of Gondor's early kings. At some point in Gondor's history, the Aranduri may have assumed special duties which led to their elevation in station and authority. Eventually, they succeeded to the royal authority of the kings, although they never displaced the House of Elendil in Gondor's formal government.
Some people have observed a parallel between Gondor's history and the history of early medieval France. The Major Domos of early Frankish dynasties eventually displaced the kings and assumed royal authority. Charles Martel, renowned as the Major Domo who defeated the Moors in southern France, founded a new dynasty.
But the problem with comparing the Frankish Major Domos to Tolkien's Ruling Stewards is that it their history provides a Frankish model. Tolkien was not very fond of France, or of French words. In fact, few of the important titles or names in The Lord of the Rings are derived from French words.
For example, the term Major Domo is usually translated as "Mayor of the Palace" by historians discussing the Pepinid dynasty (Charles Martel is believed by some people to have been descended from Pepin of Landen, who became the Mayor of the Palace in Metz under King Chlotar II of Neustria). The Frankish Major Domos were in some ways like Tolkien's stewards, in that they governed Frankish nations in the names of their kings, but the Major Domos eventually became kings. They were powerful men who controlled money, armies, and royal appointments. The kings who appointed the Major Domos had very little real power. It proved to be only a matter of time before the Pepinids replaced the descendants of Clovis as rulers of the Franks.
Tolkien uses nothing like "mayor of the palace" or "major domo" in Middle-earth. The Mayor of Michel Delving is about the only example of an official whose title derives from a French title. The term "Steward", on the other hand, is a good, old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon word for "sty warden", the guardian of the animal compound. How a beast-keeper should rise to become an important royal officer (and eventually King of Scotland, as in the royal Stewart/Stuart family) is an interesting bit of history.
The reason for the importance of stewards lies in the architecture used by northern Europe's early peoples. They lived in long houses (going back thousands of years) which eventually evolved into the halls of Norse and Germanic song and legend. Heorot, the golden hall of Hrothgar, King of Denmark (in the poem "Beowulf") is a typical if idealized northern hall. The hall-warden would have been the most important servant of the lord, looking after the animals and managing the lord's affairs in his absence.
The hall-warden and sty warden were virtually the same person, since animals were commonly kept in the ancient long houses. As the power of the northern chieftains grew and they became kings of early Anglo-Saxon peoples in England, their Sty Wardens assumed more important duties. Eventually, Stewards were as important to the Anglo-Saxon kings as Major Domos were to the Frankish kings. But the Anglo-Saxon kings managed to retain their power.
Walter Fitz-Alan, a Norman knight, founded the Stewart Clan which eventually assumed the throne of Scotland. He served King David I in Scotland's wars with the Vikings. Walter's great-grandson Alexander became Lord High Steward (Stewart) of Scotland. Sir John Stewart, a descendant, married Marjory, daughter and only child of Robert Bruce. Their son Robert became Robert II, King of Scotland, and the Stewart Kings of Scotland and England were descended from him.
Thus, one of the first apparent ironies stems from the fact that Tolkien's choice of title for the "temporary" rulers of Gondor, the Stewards, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon surname of an Norman-Scottish family. The Normans were responsible for destroying the ancient English nobility, along with suppressing their English literature and language with which Tolkien had fallen in love.
Despite history's examples, Tolkien clearly wanted his Stewards to keep their place. They were not destined to assume the throne of Gondor, although at least one member of the family had royal aspirations. Boromir, elder son of Denethor II, asked his father how long it would take for a Steward to become King. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," Denethor told him. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice." The comment seems to be a poke in the eye to the Pepinids, who supplanted the rightful heirs of Clovis as Kings of the Franks.
Boromir obviously chafed at the confinement tradition (and law) had placed upon him. As he grew up, he could only expect to become the faithful steward to a long-dead line of kings. He undoubtedly felt his family was wasting its time, waiting for the impossible return of a king who could not possibly exist. In contrast, the Pepinids chafed under the rule of weak Merovingian kings (Merovech was the grandfather of Clovis, and the dynasty is named after him). The Merovingians occasionally tried to curb the power of their Major Domos, and eventually the Major Domos simply got rid of them. Tolkien's Stewards thus proved to be more reliable than the Frankish Major Domos.
When Boromir reached maturity, he became his father's servant. We know from his own testimony in Rivendell and comments made by Faramir and Denethor that Boromir was a captain of Gondor. Tolkien uses the word "captain" (a French word derived from Latin) in various ways throughout The Lord of the Rings. The only specific titles attributed to Boromir are High Warden of the White Tower and Captain-General (of all Gondor's forces). "Captain-General" is an actual royal title of the British monarchy, and denotes the station of the monarch as commander-in-chief.
Although it might seem imprudent or even hypocritical for the Stewards to assume such a title, The Peoples of Middle-earth says that "the Hurinionath were not in the direct line of descent from Elendil, [but] they were ultimately of royal origin." Boromir, therefore, was a descendant of Elendil, a fact not provided in The Lord of the Rings. Descent from Elendil may have provoked Boromir's ambitions, but it also may have served as the foundation for Denethor's jealousy of Aragorn, whom he had known in his own youth as Thorongil. In any event, since Gondor needed a commander-in-chief, the office and its title was assumed by the Stewards (and presumably conferred upon a son or nephew being groomed to take up the Stewardship later in life).
Hurin of Emyn Arnen was the Steward of Minardil, King of Gondor from 1621 to 1634. Minardil died in battle at Pelargir, fighting the Corsairs of Umbar (who were led by his cousins Angamaite and Sangahyando). Minardil was twenty generations removed from Meneldil, son of Anarion. There is no indication in any of the published texts about where Hurin of Emyn Arnen's family branched off from the royal line. He himself may have been the son of a royal princess.
One possibility for Hurin's ancestry would be the daughter of Eldacar, the half-Dunadan/half-Northman King of Gondor who was driven from the throne for ten years by Castamir the Usurper. Eldacar's elder son Ornendil was slain in the Kin-Strife, and Eldacar was eventually succeeded by his younger son Aldamir. But Aldamir was Eldacar's third child. Minardil was Aldamir's grandson, so Hurin of Emyn Arnen could have been Aldamir's grand-nephew and Minardil's second-cousin. Hurin could not have been more closely related to Minardil, and he could, perhaps, have been more distantly related.
A descent from Eldacar would prevent the Stewards from claiming a purer bloodline than that of the Kings. Bloodlines, however, are not as important to Tolkien as they are to many of his failed characters. That is, the Kin-Strife was fought between Gondorians who believed the royal house should remain pure and Gondorians who believed that mingling the royal family with other kindreds of Men would do no harm. So, it is not necessary for Tolkien to show from whom the Stewards descended. Nonetheless, Eldacar remains, in my opinion, the best candidate for their most immediate royal ancestor. At the very least, he is the only king said or implied to have a daughter (in "The Heirs of Elendil", a chapter in The Peoples of Middle-earth which provides a great deal more information about the leading houses of Gondor than The Lord of the Rings).
Boromir's perspective would have been shaped, at least in part, by his own family's historical experience. Whereas the kings had all been descended of the male line in Anarion's house, the Stewards were more liberal in their choices. At least one Steward came from a daughter's family. Denethor I (2435-77) was the son of Rian, sister of Dior (2412-35), the 9th Ruling Steward. If he didn't have to come from the male line to be Ruling Steward, then why should he not be king? Boromir seems to have felt that the Hurinionath had earned their place on the throne, and it wasn't like they weren't descended from Elendil anyway.
Denethor II's reply to his son's inquiry might seem a bit rude and short-sighted. "Shut up, son, and do as your forefathers have done." But the Stewards had effectively eliminated themselves from the succession. It was in the power of the council of Gondor to make new law, but not to undo ancient law. In the year 1944, King Ondoher and both his sons fell in battle with the Wainriders. Neither son left behind any male heirs. Gondor was in a quandry, for by this time the royal house had become a victim of its own suspicions. Pure-blooded men of the royal house either foreswore their heritage and took wives outside the Numenorean community, or if the kings became jealous of them they fled to Umbar.
Arvedui, prince of Arnor, had married Ondoher's daughter Firiel in 1940. He claimed the throne of Gondor in Firiel's name but the council, led by the Steward Pelendur, rejected his claim. They wanted only a prince descended in the male line from Anarion. Even Arvedui's son, Aranarth, would not be acceptable, though he was also the son of Firiel and a descendant of Anarion. By excluding Isildur's line from claiming the throne, Pelendur effectively excluded himself and his heirs from making similar claims. A thousand years later, Pelendur's descendant Boromir, son of Denethor II, would ask why he was not destined to be King of Gondor. The answer was that Pelendur had made it impossible for his family to ascend the throne.
Pelendur did actually have at least one good candidate left in the Line of Anarion. Earnil II, who had led the Southern Army of Gondor to victory against the Wainriders, claimed the throne in 1945. He was as pure-blooded as any descendant of Eldacar could be. As a victorious captain, he was popular and thus well-accepted by the people. Unfortunately, Earnil's son Earnur never took a wife. When he vanished in 2050, Gondor was left without any acceptable claimants to the throne.
The Stewards were thus left in a peculiar state. Earnur doesn't seem to have left any instructions about what should happen if he failed to return. Mardil Voronwe ruled in his name for many years, and though Gondor's council probably debated how to choose a new king, the fear of a new Kin-Strife prevented them from choosing a new monarch. Technically, there is no reason to believe that the Line of Anarion really ended with Earnur. That is, there must have been men descended of the male line whose forefathers had married women from non-Numenorean families. But their ancestors had foresworn their heritage, and the tradition-bound Gondorians would not allow those families to repudiate the choices of their fathers.
The root of such an iron-clad adherence to tradition must lie in the choices made by Elrond and Elros at the beginning of the Second Age. When Elros chose to be of mortal kind, he bound his descendants to that choice forever, even though some of them later decided they would rather be Elves. The Faithful Numenoreans who founded Arnor and Gondor longed for perpetual youth and immortality, but they accepted the choice of Elros (in fact, most of them probably weren't descended from Elros, but their leaders were). The Faithful would thus have brought with them an understanding that the choice of a father affected all his descendants. Hence, in any matter of law, a family's fate was decided by its current generation. Unborn generations were given no leeway.
And that is the truth Boromir had to face, when his father pointed out to him that he was not royal enough to be king. It wasn't that he was deemed to be less of a man, whether by virtue of blood or deeds. Rather, Boromir's ancestor had made a choice which bound all future generations of the family. Boromir may have resented that choice. In one letter, Tolkien referred to Boromir as Faramir's "bossy brother". Boromir's bossiness does reveal itself in numerous passages throughout the text. For example, when the Company of the Ring is trapped in the snow on Caradhras, it is Boromir who takes the initiative and decides that he and Aragorn will forge a path through the snow for the others. When the Hobbits despair of following that same path, Boromir decides that he and Aragorn will carry them.
He asserts himself again when the Company is outside of Moria's West-gate. When it becomes apparent that Gandalf has no clue about how to get into Moria, Boromir orders Sam not to let Bill the Pony go just yet. Aragorn is silent on both occasions. Why is that?
It would seem that Boromir had to be a very compelling man, perhaps a very charismatic man. His people loved him, including his stern father, his scholarly brother, and the brave men who served under him in war. Aragorn seems to have respected Boromir's opinion enough not to argue with him. And perhaps Aragorn was himself a bit intimidated by Boromir, who was after all the heir of the ruler of Gondor. Aragorn was the rightful King of Gondor, but his right had not been recognized by Gondor. Boromir seems a bit tyrannical at times, but it may be that he was simply being himself -- a leader of men, making decisions swiftly and reasonably (within the bounds of his experience). He did give pretty good advice, on occasion. For example, it was Boromir who suggested the Company of the Ring take bundles of wood up onto the mountain.
For his part, Aragorn was deferring to Gandalf's leadership while Gandalf traveled with the company. But he may also have been winning Boromir's trust. Boromir would have been in a position to sway the people of Gondor toward Aragorn's claim, but why should he do so? When Frodo told Faramir (in Ithilien) that Boromir was satisfied of Aragorn's claims, Faramir pointed out that Boromir and Aragorn had not yet become rivals in Gondor's wars. Aragorn needed to be Boromir's friend. He needed Boromir to trust him, at least to the point where Boromir might say nothing when Aragorn pressed his claim. Were Boromir to denounce Aragorn after reaching Minas Tirith, things would not have gone well for Aragorn.
But Boromir, for his part, had accepted Aragorn's companionship on the road. Furthermore, he recognized his obligation to let Aragorn make his case to Gondor. After Elrond introduced Aragorn to Boromir, Aragorn asked him bluntly: "Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the land of Gondor?" Boromir immediately denied any such request: "I was not sent to beg any boon," he replied, "but to seek only the meaning of a riddle." Nonetheless, he quickly added: "Yet we are hard pressed, and the Sword of Elendil would be a help beyond our hope -- if such a thing could indeed return out of the shadows of the past."
Boromir's concession is very grudging at best. He is not saying, "Yes, you are the heir of Elendil, come and make your claim to the throne." Rather, he is saying, "The throne awaits the return of a true king, as it has for a thousand years." Boromir does not yet believe that Aragorn is really Elendil's heir. He knows Elrond is an ancient lord among the Elves, but Elrond's words just cannot ring quite true to a man whose family has awaited the return of a king merely as a formality for so many centuries.
Boromir's opinion of Aragorn begins to shift ever so slightly during the rest of the council. Aragorn speaks for himself, and the details of the journey from Bree to Rivendell are discussed at length. Eventually, Boromir suggests that the Ring can be used against Sauron, but Elrond rebuffs him, and both Elrond and Gandalf flatly refuse to take up the Ring. In the face of such rebuke, Boromir is humbled. It is not that he politely bows his head when he says, "So be it. Then in Gondor we must trust to such weapons as we have." Rather, his humility allows him to confess, "though I do not ask for aid, we need it."
Boromir is honest enough to recognize his weaknesses. A good commander must be able to do so. So Faramir's words many months later, when he learns that Boromir had tried to take the Ring from Frodo, reveal an especially bitter observation: "Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!" But why was the trial too sore for Boromir, and not for Faramir? For his part, Faramir implies that his own vow has fortified him: "We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt," he reminds Frodo and Sam. "Not if I found it on the highway would I take it, I said." Boromir had made no such vow. It might have gone better with him if he had.
But, in truth, Boromir's test was not as easy as Faramir's. Faramir was indeed tempted by the Ring, once he understood it was in his presence. Faramir had a brief moment of intense reaction to that knowledge, and then he passed the test and moved on. But for Boromir the test did not pass so quickly. He expressed an immediate interest in using the Ring at Elrond's council, and though he was rebuffed, he did not renounce his desire. "So be it" is not the same as "I fear to take the Ring to hide. I will not take the Ring to wield it," which is what Elrond says. "Nor I," Gandalf chimes in, although he has already refused the Ring in Bag End.
Even Aragorn had already refused to take the Ring. "If I was after the Ring, I could have it -- NOW!" he declared in the Prancing Pony, when he was trying to persuade Frodo to accept his company. There followed a brief moment in which Aragorn stood up and scared the Hobbits with his stern and commanding nature. As when other people handle the Ring, or are tempted by it, a light gleamed in his eyes. But the moment passed and Aragorn affirmed that he was who he said he was, and he swore to save Frodo.
When Boromir says, "So be it," in reply to Elrond, he is not renouncing the Ring or any claim to it. Nor is he placing himself in direct opposition to the Ring's power and purpose. Rather, he leaves his options open, and that proves to be a fatal mistake. But it is the kind of mistake that one should expect of a master tactician. Boromir is used to thinking in terms of how to win battles, and how to persuade others to follow his will. His experience at dealing with conflicts undoubtedly includes working with his father's council. "So be it" is a safe, non-committal reply. It betrays Boromir because he does not understand what he is dealing with.
And Boromir should not be faulted for that. The Ring represents an opportunity to him, and Boromir looks at the opportunity, not at the risks. He is an optimist who doesn't allow himself to become trapped. He plans ahead and reacts swiftly to danger. Not only does Boromir advise the Company to carry extra wood up onto Caradhras, he immediately changes his mind about going to Moria when the Company of the Ring realizes that wargs are tracking them in Eregion. Boromir isn't simply an optimist, he is a pragmatist. He not only believes there is a solution to every problem, he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Whatever works, as long as it does the job, is good enough for him.
And if there is one thing the Ring of Power can do, it's give a leader of armies a winning edge in a war. Boromir has no ambition to rule the world or to conquer other lands. He just wants to find a way to defeat Sauron. The Ring seems to be a tool which can give him (or someone) that victory. It is difficult to believe that the victory would come at so great a cost that no one should want it. In fact, for Boromir, it is impossible to believe such a thing. There is nothing in his experience which allows him to accept that some victories should not be sought.
Boromir's wisdom is firmly rooted in the common wisdom of the people of Gondor. He is practical, not thoughtful. Solutions present themselves to Boromir. He does not seek them out. When Boromir shares some of the lore he has learned in Gondor, he draws upon common knowledge, not esoteric knowledge. For example, when Gandalf points out that Isildur "did not march away straight from the war in Mordor, as some have told the tale," Boromir replies with: "Some in the North, maybe. All know in Gondor that he went first to Minas Anor and dwelt a while with his nephew Meneldil, instructing him, before he committed to him the rule of the South Kingdom."
And later, when the Company of the Ring is struggling up Caradhras and the snow is coming down heavily, Boromir says out loud: "I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy. They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies." In expressing this thought to his companions, Boromir undoubtedly speaks for them all (or most). But he reveals a knowledge or familiarity with the enemy, which is the mark of a good war leader.
And yet, Boromir's wisdom has its limits. When Celeborn warns the Company to avoid Fangorn Forest, Boromir says: "Indeed we have heard of Fangorn in Minas Tirith. But what I have heard seems to me for the most part old wives' tales, such as we tell to our children." Celeborn then admonishes him: "Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know."
Boromir has no real use for old wives' tales. He needs solid, credible information upon which to base his decisions as a leader. His attitude thus strikes some people as a bit arrogant. But he is true-hearted in his own fashion, pursuing a goal which he feels is noble and worthwhile. He is the Captain-general of the one nation which stands between Sauron and the complete domination of Middle-earth (or so he believes). He is the heir of Gondor's Ruling Steward, destined to one day be Steward himself. He naturally evaluates every situation and reaches his own conclusions, and he is used to expressing his ideas and commanding others. He is, as Tolkien says, bossy, but that is because he was raised to be bossy.
Boromir's flaws are a reflection of the flaws of the Stewards. He legitimizes their values. Even Denethor is stubborn and quick to judge both others and situations he is involved with. Rather than wait for confirmation of his conclusions, for example, after he has beheld the fleet of ships sailing up the Anduin, Denethor gives in to despair and kills himself. Denethor has passed on his resolute and determined nature to his elder son. But somewhere along the way, the Stewards have lost their true wisdom. They are no longer masters of lore.
Among the Elves, the most renowned loremasters are their kings and princes. Tolkien does not say so directly, but it would seem that the Numenorean loremasters also come from their kings and princes. The Stewards are thus charged with both preserving and understanding the ancient lore they have inherited from the kings. It is not enough simply to retain control over ancient lore. One must ensure that it is not left in the care of old wives or, worse, left to rot in some library where everyone forgets about it.
As Boromir distrusts the old wives' tales, Denethor leaves scrolls unread in his library until Gandalf comes searching for them. It appears that, by the time Gandalf returns to Minas Tirith with Pippin Took, Denethor has begun piecing together all the clues which are available to him. He has given long thought to the rhyme which troubled the dreams of both his sons and eventually led to Boromir's death. He has probably deciphered the scroll of Isildur, to learn what Gandalf had sought. He has figured out that his old rival, Thorongil, was probably the Heir of Isildur, leader of the Dunedain of the North. Hence, knowledge comes to Denethor eventually, but not wisdom. And the same is true for Boromir.
Just as Denethor realizes that Aragorn intends to claim Gondor's throne, and that Gandalf has sent the One Ring to Mordor, so Boromir eventually concludes that his only chance for greatness is to accomplish something even Aragorn cannot do. As Boromir and Aragorn travel together, Boromir has as much opportunity to assess Aragorn as Aragorn has to assess Boromir. Aragorn relies upon Gandalf's judgement, and he is respected by the Elves, who must seem like creatures out of old wives' tales to Boromir. Aragorn bides his time and complies with Boromir's immediate commands, but when the true leadership of the Company is cast into momentary doubt by the loss of Gandalf, Aragorn immediately says, "I will lead you now." He leaves no opportunity for Boromir to assert himself as Gandalf's successor.
It is not that Boromir hesitates at the crucial moment. Rather, it is simply not his moment. Boromir's concern is not with leading the company, but with returning to his people. Boromir often looks ahead, but he overlooks the immediate tasks which lie before him. He is so troubled by the dream both he and Faramir have had that he sets aside his duties in Gondor and undertakes a heroic journey to seek the meaning of the riddle. Boromir admits to the council that Gondor's situation is desperate. He has already been defeated in battle. He has no plan for defeating the enemy when the final assault comes.
Yet Gondor likes victorious captains. Maybe the people will rally around a leader who can only say, "We have done the best we can, and we will fight bravely until the end." But if someone else arrives who speaks of hope and defeating Sauron, Boromir's career will be over. Especially if that someone claims to be the rightful King of Gondor. Such concerns, though far away from Rivendell, should be clear to Boromir. During the months which follow the Council of Elrond, Boromir's thoughts must be in conflict. On the one hand, he has a duty to his people. On the other hand, the Council has decided to overthrow Sauron once and for all. If their plan succeeds, all of Middle-earth will be saved. But Gondor may be called upon to make a tremendous sacrifice. And what will Aragorn do? He has a more legitimate claim to the throne than the House of Hurin.
Were Boromir to use the One Ring against Sauron, he would deprive Aragorn of the chance to win popular acclaim. The decision regarding the return of the House of Elendil would be deferred indefinitely. While in his heart Boromir undoubtedly is not pursuing such a plan, the Ring seems to be offering exactly that to him. Boromir's resolve is weakening in Lothlorien, the night before the Company of the Ring bids farewell to the Elves. Boromir suggests it would be folly to throw the Ring away. He also becomes more adamant about persuading the Company to go to Minas Tirith with him, even though everyone knows Minas Tirith lies outside the path the Ring must take.
It is an unrealistic ambition, and a faux hope. Nonetheless, the torment of knowing that his people are doomed if the Ringbearer's quest fails, or if it takes too long, must frustrate Boromir. As it becomes more evident with each passing day that no one is really powerful enough to face Sauron directly, despair gnaws at Boromir's mind each day. Despair eventually leads his father to conclude that all is lost, and that there is no further point in living. Despair leads Boromir to believe that he can take the Ring and use it. Only after he fails both the test and to take the Ring is Boromir freed from the torment at last, and he understands what he has done.
In fact, Boromir inherits the burden of a thousand years spent waiting for a future no one thought would ever come. The Stewards have become complacent about their situation. They no longer expect a claimant to the throne to turn up. Gondor is theirs, in their eyes, but not theirs to claim. Generations of sons of Stewards must have asked the same question, time and again: "Why are we not the kings, if we rule the land?" The ancient oath of office, whereby the Steward takes up rule of the land "until the king returns", suddenly rings true in Boromir's ears. He has a duty to examine Aragorn's claim, and to present it to Gondor, if it seems to be legitimate. In the end, that duty falls to his brother Faramir, who succeeds Denethor as the last Ruling Steward of Gondor.
Faramir needs time to reconcile himself to Aragorn's claim. When he first learns of that claim from Sam and Frodo, he is doubtful. "So great a claim will need to be established, and clear proofs will be required," he points out, before Gondor considers Aragorn's petition. From that time forward, until he is awakened from his illness by Aragorn, Faramir has no opportunity to meet and appraise the man who would be king. And yet, Faramir recognizes Aragorn immediately upon awakening. He has certainly had plenty of time to consider Frodo's story. In fact, Faramir knows Gondor's history better than Boromir. Whereas Boromir casually relays what the common people know or believe about the past for his companions, Faramir gives Sam and Frodo a concise lecture on Gondor's history. It may be that Faramir has had time to think about Thorongil, the mysterious Dunadan warrior who served his grandfather, Ecthelion, for a few years.
By the time Aragorn arrives at Minas Tirith, it seems everyone but Denethor himself is ready and willing to acknowledge Aragorn's claim. Prince Imrahil, whose fief lies beyond the authority of the Stewards, declares for Aragorn openly. And Faramir does so as well. Eomer, King of Rohan, also supports Aragorn's claim, though the Rohirrim have no power or authority to intervene in Gondor's affairs. Their recognition nonetheless swells Aragorn's reputation. But the only clear proof Aragorn provides of who he is can be his sword, which is the sword Elendil had borne and which broke beneath him. All other heirlooms have either been lost, withheld, or given away.
It requires a Steward's recognition for Aragorn to become King of Gondor. A Steward must judge him and proclaim his worthiness to the people of Gondor. That would have been Boromir's task, and Boromir knew Aragorn far better than Faramir. But what would Boromir have done? The question is unanswerable. Boromir was conflicted, and he only found peace through sacrificing his life for others. He was guided by his ambition, and to some extent his forefathers were guided by similar ambitions. When Gandalf asked Denethor how he would order things, if he could have his own way, Denethor replied: "I would have things as they were in all the days of my life, and in the days of my longfathers before me: to be Lord of this City in peace, and to leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard's pupil."
The Stewards did not view themselves as caretakers. They were lords and princes. Even Faramir felt this way, when he met Frodo and Sam in Ithilien. When Frodo said that Aragorn alone would be able to claim Isildur's Bane for himself, if any had the right to do so, Faramir asked: "Why so, and not Boromir, prince of the City that the sons of Elendil founded?" Soon afterward, when Sam angrily confronts Faramir over the way he questions Frodo, Faramir points out: "I am commanded to slay all whom I find in this land without the leave of the Lord of Gondor."
For a thousand years, the Stewards have been the lords of Gondor. To suddenly learn that a claimant to the throne is on the way is a bit unnerving. And perhaps there have been false claimants to the throne in the past. Their way of life must be utterly and irrevocably changed when a new king sits upon the throne. And what will be left for the Stewards in the aftermath of such an event? When Faramir greets Aragorn in formal procession before the city of Minas Tirith, he lays aside his office as Steward. Technically, there is no law requiring Aragorn to restore that office to Faramir. In fact, there is no law requiring Faramir to acknowledge Aragorn as king. Just as Aragorn subtly alters his claim, naming himself Elendil's Heir rather than Isildur's Heir (as the Isildurian claim had already been rejected), so Faramir avoids naming Aragorn as Isildur's Heir. He names Isildur in Aragorn's lineage, but leaves Elendil's name for last.
Faramir could easily have said, "Well, the Line of Isildur has already been considered and rejected. Gondor will not revisit that issue." Instead, he accepted the assertion that only an heir of Elendil would be acceptable to Gondor. By implication, Aragorn's claim was reuniting Gondor with Arnor. Faramir's decision thus ensured that Gondor's power would be extended far to the north.
If the Stewards were indeed descended from Anarion, then Faramir's recognition of Aragorn was the final action by the family of Anarion. Aragorn was indeed descended from Anarion through Arvedui's wife Firiel, but the last vestiges of the Line of Anarion ceased to exist under the law. All claims were laid aside in favor of the House of Elendil. In effect, Faramir laid to rest ancient conflicts which, like the Dead Men of Dunharrow, had to wait through the centuries for an Heir of Isildur to give them release. He brought closure to the ancient question of succession, and in doing so discharged the final obligations of his office. The Stewards' peculiar role in Gondor's history ended on a much more graceful note than that on which it had begun.
Had Tolkien truly modelled his Stewards on the historical Pepinids, Faramir would have rejected Aragorn's claim, and he would have taken the throne for himself. But eventually Gondor would have been divided among his descendants, and the ancient realm his family had been entrusted with would have ceased to exist. That, of course, was what actually happened in Arnor. The High Kingship was set aside and the northern realm divided into three lesser realms. Denethor's remark to his son about "other places of less royalty" was thus a subtle rebuke to the northern kings who set aside their heritage. But it also emphasized the fact that, despite all its tribulations, Gondor had survived. It had proven itself worthy of the rightful king, should he return to claim the throne. And it had done so under the rule of the Stewards. They had proudly remained humble, curbing their ambitions. And they did so because they were Stewards, not men who would be kings.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.
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