At our December meeting, I was sick. I got sick in October and have been in and out of doctors’ offices since then. At the time of writing this (February) I am preparing for a surgery which should cap off a nearly five-month ordeal. In fact, I was too sick in November to even host the Hobbit Club.
In December we discussed “Book Two” of The Fellowship of the Ring as well as the first few chapters of The Two Towers. It was a really lively discussion with most of our attention centering on Boromir.
Many of the men in the room found Boromir to be the most relatable character in all of Middle Earth. They thought he was most closely drawn from real manly experience, and that perhaps Tolkien was writing himself into Boromir. Despite his fall from grace, the men assembled loved Boromir because they thought he ultimately died as he had lived. Those men who have read these books before admit to loving Faramir too, but something about Boromir was more authentic for them.
Interestingly, the men did not find Aragorn as impressive as the women did. (And no, the ladies do not think Aragorn is impressive just because the movie version of Aragorn is attractive.) Our conversation revealed that while the men understand Aragorn’s role and appreciate his kingship, they find him too perfect to relate to or even really contemplate. In fact, they are unconvinced that Aragorn works as a character – too much nobility, not enough humanness. The women are more quick to assume that Aragorn’s seemingly supernatural virtue comes as a result of being raised by elves. Reflecting on the saints of our tradition who had encounters with Jesus, His mother, or the angels, the women saw Aragorn as being fundamentally changed by his experience living among the graced. We wondered how he could be anything less than virtuous since his appetites and habits had been trained by more highly ordered creatures towards a higher purpose from such a young age.
That was a debate or discussion that I never saw coming. It was fascinating. On that note, my friend Nate shared with us this blog post that he wrote a few years ago about how he believes that Boromir is sounding a warning to fathers about what their purpose is really all about. It too is fascinating. You can read “Fatherhood: Lessons Learned from Lord of the Rings’ Boromir” here.
Before we finished our discussion of Boromir, we talked about Joseph Pearce’s theory in Frodo’s Journey that Aragorn fulfills the priest archetype during Boromir’s death. We all passionately agreed that this is one of very few places where the movie almost does it better than Tolkien. The sacramental nature of what is going on is obvious in the text, but it is even more so in the movie.
All Catholics desire to die in a state of grace. In order to achieve that state of grace, we seek “last rites” whenever we are gravely ill and or are in danger of dying. (For example, I will be seeking this sacrament before my surgery at the end of the month.) Before the Catholic can receive the anointing of the sick and the viaticum, we are encouraged to make a good confession with a priest who is acting in persona Christi. We believe that the priest is a descendent of the Apostle Peter,and as such, stands on this earth in the person of Christ during the sacraments. This is the role we saw Aragorn perform for Boromir.
For my non-Catholic readers, the sacrament of confession requires three acts by the penitent: sorrow for the sin(s), confession to a priest, and satisfaction of penance. Then, the priest prays the words of Christ’s absolution. Pearce was very astute in picking up on this in the text. We think the movie illustrates it brilliantly.
In this clip, we talked about how Boromir dies valiantly trying to protect the innocent hobbits. It is obvious that he knows that it was his folly (sin) which summoned the Orcs (by forcing Frodo to put the ring on), so he is attempting to atone for the sin he repents of. When he falls, he falls in a kneeling posture. Aragorn arrives in time to save Boromir from a death blow from the demonic Uruk Hai and then battles the demon in much the same way that a priest helps us to battle our demons in the confessional. Note, it was Boromir’s act of will and his persistence in fighting while dying that solicits the spiritual support of Aragorn. You can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqjfq5gsfYk
In this clip, we see the “confessional” scene that Pearce highlights. Boromir tells Aragorn what he did, that he was sorry for it, and that his death is his payment for it. He confesses, he indicates genuine sorrow, and he accepts satisfaction in his penance.
After Boromir laments his failure, Aragorn takes his hand, kisses his brow and responds with words of comfort and absolution: ‘No! You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!’
As Boromir hears Aragorn’s words, he smiles. It is his last act before he dies.
Clearly, the conquest and victory Aragorn speaks of must be the spiritual victory over sin because, in a purely worldly sense, Boromir has indeed failed… In Christian terms, however, having made such a contrite confession of sin and having paid by laying down his life for his friends, he has indeed conquered and won a great victory (though it requires the grace of God represented symbolically by the presence of Aragorn in persona Christi, serving as a figure of Christ whose absolution ‘Be at peace!’ confirms the conquest of evil and the victory Boromir has won). – Joseph, Pearce – Frodo’s Journey
Here is the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9skYkQfAwus
In addition to this being a Boromir night, we also talked about the power of symbols. Specifically, we talked about why so many fans of Middle Earth adorn themselves with Ring logo wear. We do not object to Middle Earth themed clothing (I was wearing my Minas Tirith White Ale t-shirt that night). But why do so many wear things with the ring on it? Isn’t the ring a symbol of power, greed, and evil? Our only answer is that the ring is so much easier to identify than anything else, that it “works” from a marketing point of view. But that caused us to reflect on how much harder it is to “market” truth, goodness, and beauty than it is to market things that glitter and are gold.
In the middle of our discussion about the spiritual warfare going on with Boromir, all of the power in my house went out. The room went completely black (we couldn’t even see a street light from the window). It came back on within a minute, but it was eerie. Someone suggested that when we finish the Lord of the Rings this spring, we should do some murder mysteries. I think that they might be right!