In an analysis of the Fellowship of the Ring, one member is glaringly distinct from the others. Most of the Company is there out of concern for the common good, or for love of a friend. One, however, is there, at the least, simply to get home, or at the best, for the furtherance of his country’s interests. Boromir son of Denethor seems a curious selection for what is arguably the most important alliance of the Third Age. Later, when we meet Boromir’s thoughtful, grave brother Faramir, the latter appears to be a far better option for such a critical mission than a man driven by his emotions, a man who is not totally invested in the success of the quest.
Throughout the book are subtle hints that Faramir should have been in his brother’s place. Several characters mention that Faramir wanted to be the one to search for Imladris, but Boromir insisted on his own precedence. Politically, too, at such a dangerous time it is far wiser to send a younger son, not to mention the one who is not so renowned as a valiant warrior. Character-wise, Faramir is wise and prudent, whilst Boromir is rash. There is a clear disparity between the man who says “clear proofs will be required”1 when his soldiers only think to rejoice at a rumour of the king’s return, and the man who urges the use of the Ruling Ring without consideration of such a route’s pitfalls.
Should logic and common sense fail to convince, it is tenable that the Valar hoped for Faramir. An identical dream shared by two people must be supernatural, and both brothers dreamed of Imladris, the broken sword, and Isildur’s Bane. Neither Gandalf nor Elrond sent such a dream, as is evidenced by the fact that they did not expect Boromir at the Council. The Valar are the most promising source for the dream – perhaps specifically Ulmo, a Vala with a history of sending dreams as guidance, and the only one who still took an active interest in Middle-earth in later years. Faramir, it should be noted, saw this vision many times, and Boromir only once.2 Why the emphasis on Faramir, unless the Valar preferred the wiser, more cautious brother as player in a momentous game?
The reason for this hypothetical preference is unmistakable. With his greater moral strength, it is likely that Faramir would not fall prey to the Ring’s lure as his brother did. The way he reacts to its presence in Ithilien is most telling: three hundred men to follow his order in a heartbeat against two halflings barely armed, and he lets them go. Granted, unlike Boromir, Faramir never lays eyes on the Ring. Yet I believe we may take him at his word when he declares, “Not if I found it on the highway would I take it.”3 The statement seems preposterous considering the vulnerability of all creatures, and especially humanity, to temptation. Faramir, however, is a nobleman in every sense of the word. Númenórean blood runs true in him as it apparently does not in his brother; he reverences Elves and the Elder Days. Perhaps his assertion is mildly hyperbolic, but its general theme surely holds true to his character.
It might even be proposed that Men as a race are not overly more susceptible to temptation than anyone else. The hobbits we meet in The Lord of the Rings are extraordinarily resilient to the Ring, but even that race does not have a blanket resistance – Sméagol falls immediately. The same idea, inversed, may be true of mankind. Due to a natural fear of death and the unknown, it is unsurprising that they grasp more urgently for power; nevertheless, Aragorn refuses the Ring when it is freely offered him in Bree, and Faramir refuses even to see it before he sends it away from him. If it is true that Men overall are necessarily quicker to weaken, then it must be a personal weakness in Boromir’s character that leads him to confront Frodo – a weakness which does not exist in Faramir.
All this considered, Faramir is a clear choice over Boromir. And even so it is Boromir who goes to Rivendell. I thus conclude that whilst the Valar seem to want Faramir, a higher authority seems to want Boromir. The Valar, with their far-reaching yet limited foresight, see the immediate picture, and that picture presents Faramir, a noble young prince. Eru, the All-Father, sees the full picture, and that picture presents Boromir, a noble but flawed young prince, whose mistakes ultimately lead to a greater good.
1Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 2001), 272.
2Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring (New York: Quality Paperback Club, 2001), 259.