Denethor II, son of Ecthelion, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King, which is the third and final part of his novel The Lord of the Rings. In the novel, he is the 26th and final Ruling Steward of Gondor.
Denethor II was the first son and third child of Ecthelion II. As stated in the early chapters and the Appendices of The Return of the King, he was widely considered a man of great will, foresight, and strength. However, he failed to reach out to his people, who flocked instead to Thorongil, an outsider who served Denethor's father with great renown. Thorongil vanished from Gondor four years before Denethor would succeed his father as Ruling Steward. Thorongil (who was secretly Aragorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North and hence a claimant to Gondor's throne) had advised Ecthelion to put faith in the wizard Gandalf, whom Denethor distrusted.
He married Finduilas, daughter of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth. She gave birth to two sons, Boromir and Faramir, before dying when they were ten and five years old, respectively. Denethor never remarried, and became more grim and silent than before.
In a conversation with Pippin just before the first meeting with Denethor, Gandalf described Denethor as "…proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power [than Théoden of Rohan], though he is not called a king." Following that meeting, after Pippin has sworn fealty to Denethor, Gandalf further commented:
|“||He is not as other men of this time…by some chance the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in him, as it does in his other son, Faramir, and yet did not in Boromir. He has long sight. He can perceive, if he bends his will thither, much of what is passing in the minds of men, even of those that dwell far off. It is difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try.||”|
Unlike Saruman, Denethor was too strong to be corrupted by Sauron's lies. In the novel, he began secretly using a palantír to probe Sauron's strength, though he incorrectly insisted he was able to control it. The effort aged him quickly, and the knowledge of Sauron's overwhelming force depressed him greatly, mostly due to deliberately biased visions from the palantír on the part of Sauron. Boromir's death depressed Denethor further, and he became ever more grim. Nonetheless he continued to fight Sauron with every resource at his disposal until the forces of Mordor arrived at the gates of the White City, at which point he lost all hope.
In the published essay on the Palantiri, Tolkien wrote:
|“||He [Denethor] must have guessed that the Ithil-stone [Sauron's palantír] was in evil hands, and risked contact with it, trusting his strength. His trust was not entirely unjustified. Sauron failed to dominate him and could only influence him by deceits.
Saruman fell under the domination of Sauron... [while] Denethor remained steadfast in his rejection of Sauron, but was made to believe that his victory was inevitable, and so fell into despair. The reasons for this difference were no doubt that in the first place Denethor was a man of great strength of will and maintained the integrity of his personality until the final blow of the (apparently) mortal wound of his only surviving son.
Near the novel's climactic battle, Denethor ordered the warning beacons of Gondor to be lit, and forces were called in from all of Gondor's provinces. The civilian population of Minas Tirith was sent away to safety. As invasion seemed imminent, Denethor sent the Red Arrow to the Rohirrim as a call for aid. The Council decided that Gondor could make no stroke of its own, but Denethor ordered Gondor's forces to the outer defences of Osgiliath and the great wall of the Rammas Echor. He wanted to make a stand, since the defences had been built at great expense and not yet been overrun, and he assumed that no help was forthcoming from Rohan since his messenger had not returned with the Red Arrow. The messenger had in fact been killed by Orcs during the ride back to Minas Tirith. Denethor's son Faramir and the other commanders objected due to the Enemy's overwhelming numbers and preferred instead to defend the city itself, but Faramir nonetheless obeyed out of respect for his father and late brother. Faramir's body, apparently mortally wounded, was returned during the retreat, as the capital city was under siege by vastly superior forces.
This last loss finally broke Denethor's spirit. Denethor committed suicide, having ordered his men to burn him alive on a pyre prepared for himself and Faramir. He took the white rod of his office and broke it over his knee, casting the pieces into the flames. He laid himself down on the pyre and so died, clasping the palantír in his hands. He also attempted to take the grievously injured and apparently dying Faramir with him, but was thwarted in this by the timely intervention of Peregrin Took, with help from Gandalf and the guard Beregond.
Peter Jackson adaptation
In Peter Jackson's live-action movie trilogy, Denethor was played by John Noble, and was portrayed in a substantially more negative light than the novel. In the literature, Denethor is described as an exceptionally capable, committed ruler, although grim of bearing. He is shown as chiefly responsible for successfully defending Gondor for decades and gathering what strength it can muster, at great personal cost and sacrifice. According to Tolkien, he was:
|“||...a masterful man, both wise and learned beyond the measure of those days, and strong willed, confident in his own powers, and dauntless. (...) He was proud, but this was by no means personal: he loved Gondor and its people, and deemed himself appointed by destiny to lead them in this desperate time.||”|
In contrast, in the adaptation he is portrayed as a weak ruler who passively (and even actively) works against his kingdom's defence. He is also portrayed as openly favoring Boromir, to the point that he wishes Faramir had died instead; whereas in the book this is only implied.
Siege of Gondor
He first appears in a deleted scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but does not have a major role until the next movie. In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the DVD commentary describes Denethor as a sort of Shakespearean tragic character. He refuses to light the beacons of Gondor to call for the aid of Rohan (Gandalf has to send Pippin to light the city's beacon), while in the novel, he has already lit the beacons before Gandalf even entered Gondor. He sends his remaining son Faramir and all of his cavalry on a suicidal mission to enemy-captured Osgiliath. In the novel, Denethor's carefully timed cavalry charge is targeted against the advancing Enemy in the open terrain near Minas Tirith, and actually rescues Faramir and his forces that were defending the Pelennor fields outside the city (Faramir was struck down by a "Southron chieftain" and was about to be finished off when the cavalry arrived). Apparently shocked by the size of Sauron's army (which in the novel he has already seen in his Palantír), he calls for the city's defenders to flee; whereas in the novel, he states it is senseless to run from the enemy as there is no hope of escape.
In the movie, Gandalf incapacitates Denethor before taking command of the defence. This does not occur in the book, and Gandalf is generally far more respectful of Denethor, indeed it is not likely Gandalf in the novel would be willing or able (allowed) to physically attack and throw down the ruler with impunity in his own citadel, in full sight of his guard and soldiery. In the book Gandalf, though critical, is depicted as more compassionate towards Denethor when the latter goes insane (rather than being disgusted and angry as in the movie), understanding that the source of the madness is Sauron and the Palantír Denethor was using at great risk and difficulty to facilitate Gondor's efforts against the Enemy. Rather than being in opposition to Gandalf's command of the defence, in the book Denethor is indifferent, and tells his men to follow whom they will "even the grey fool" (Gandalf). In the movie Denethor is also shown as self-indulgent, eating and drinking gluttonously while listening to Pippin's songs as the besiegers approach the city, whereas in the book he is sternly ascetic in his habits, wearing armour and a sword day and night, and never actually has Pippin sing for him.
Pippin's relationship with Denethor is also altered significantly. In the movie, Pippin's oath of service to Denethor is comical to Gandalf, who openly disapproves. In the novel, Gandalf does not suggest Pippin join Denethor's service, but praises him for such an honourable course of action and treats his oath with dignity. Pippin himself is proud to be in Denethor's service, and is deeply worried about his new master. When Denethor suggests Pippin might sing a song, the latter does not consider himself or Shire songs worthy of the lord, and in the end is not forced to sing. When confronting Gandalf on his pyre, Denethor reveals that he considered Pippin a spy sent by Gandalf, and this suspicion is apparently vindicated when Pippin is the one who brings Gandalf to the citadel before Denethor's pyre is lit. He also reveals that he kept Pippin in his service, in spite of considering him a spy, for the purpose of extracting information out of him in turn (ostensibly about Aragorn).
In the movie, Denethor's death is significantly altered. After going insane, Denethor attempts to burn himself and his son Faramir to death in the domed Stewards' tomb in the city's graveyards. Gandalf then arrives on his horse Shadowfax, and Denethor in defiance lights the pyre. Gandalf then knocks Denethor off the quickly igniting pyre with a staff procured from a nearby guard, while Pippin throws Faramir down off the pyre. As Pippin is trying to put out the hem of Faramir's tunic, he is attacked by the insane Denethor. At that moment, Gandalf in anger rears Shadowfax on his hind legs, and (either purposely or not) knocks Denethor into the burning funeral pyre. Denethor then, in a final glance among the flames, realizes his son may not be dying. Completely ignited due to being covered in oil, Denethor then runs from the houses of the dead all the way to the tip of the promontory of Minas Tirith and casts himself from it (a subversion of the castle's described layout, as mention in the Director's Commentary, for dramatic purposes). Gandalf meanwhile, even though his own actions caused the Steward to catch fire, comments "So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion".
In the novel, however, Denethor stands by while Gandalf (without his horse) carries Faramir off the unlit pyre. Seeing that Pippin brought him there, Denethor reveals his suspicion that Gandalf has purposely brought Pippin to Minas Tirith in order to spy on him, but that he accepted his service in order to gain information from Pippin in turn (in the book, Gandalf is openly supportive of Pippin entering Denethor's service). Denethor then displays his Palantír that he hid in his pyre, as the source of his vast knowledge of world events. Denethor then chastises Gandalf for attempting to control his actions as a free ruler, and for conspiring to supplant his rule with an "upstart from the North" (Aragorn), disputing the legitimacy of his claim ("even were it proven to him") – on the grounds that the kings of Gondor are of the House of Anárion and not Isildur. In an act of defiance, refusing to be the "dotard chamberlain of an upstart", Denethor then ends his life by igniting the pyre "ere Gandalf could prevent him" from doing so. Denethor then burns to death on the spot.
In the extended edition of the film, after Denethor's death, Aragorn is seen using a palantír next to his throne. It is unclear if this is meant to be Denethor's palantír or, more likely, the palantír of Orthanc. The film only hints at Denethor's use of the palantír which drives him mad, information revealed in the Pyre scene, which is more violent than the book. Jackson also has Denethor jump off the Citadel in addition to burning himself on the Pyre, one of the earliest changes.
- Tolkien, J.R.R.; Christopher Tolkien (ed.) (1996). The Peoples of Middle-earth, "The Heirs of Elendil". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. pp. 206–7. ISBN 0-395-82760-4.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, "Minas Tirith"
- Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (2012). Tolkien, Christopher, ed. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 526–527. ISBN 054795199X.
- Sibley, Brian (2006). Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey. London: HarperCollins. p. 345. ISBN 0-00-717558-2.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), ISBN 0-395-08256-0
|Stewards of Gondor||Succeeded by