Of the nine members of the Fellowship, only two of them die over the course of the story. One of them comes right back, so that hardly even counts. But the other? His death isn’t just one of the most iconic scenes in the series, it’s also one of the most important.
I am of course talking about the son of Denethor and champion of Gondor: Boromir.
For most of Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir doesn’t do a whole lot. In any given scene, he’ll be doing one of the following:
- Complaining about something, most often the route
- Boasting about the strength of Gondor
- Suggesting plans that every other member of the group disagrees with
- (In the movie) Obviously lusting after the Ring
Oh, and he loves his horn. Like, a lot. To be fair, it is a pretty cool horn.
That doesn’t sound all that compelling, but it does an amazing job of fleshing out Boromir as a character. There’s a good, understandable reason for every single one, even at his most antagonistic. He’ll always suggest a different route because those are the roads he knows as safe, and he’ll only make the suggestion when the current path proves dangerous to the party. He frequently acts as the strength of the Company, physically (such as when he shoved a path in the snow on Caradhras in the book) and emotionally (such as his attempts to comfort his grieving companions in the movie), making good on his patriotic boasting. And in the movie, he’s shown to have a strong attachment to the Hobbits, particularly Merry and Pippin. Everything he does is in the hope of saving his people, be they his traveling companions or his beloved city. He can be gruff and he can complain, but he is a good man.
A fact that is further reinforced by his backstory. Before the events of the series began, Boromir lead the forces of Gondor valiantly. The men, particularly his brother, Faramir, loved him and respected him. By all accounts, he was a hero. In any other story, he probably would have been the main character. If not that, then he would have stood right alongside Aragorn as they charged the Black Gate.
Unfortunately, as mighty as Boromir was in body and spirit, even he was no match for the Ring.
Both in the book and the film, the corrupting influence of the Ring is strongly and frequently reinforced. Understandably so, given that it’s pretty much the only thing the Ring itself can actually do to affect the narrative beyond drawing danger to the characters. But one thing that is more subtle in its delivery is how strongly the Ring can pull on certain people.
The more ancient beings of the world, such as Gandalf and Galadriel, are capable of resisting the Ring due to their wisdom and power. Hobbits make for the best bearers because their desires are so simple and innocent that the Ring struggles to tempt and control them. Evil creatures, such as Orcs, are naturally drawn to it’s evil and thus are completely controlled by it.
But men? Men are the Ring’s ideal prey. Even Isildur, the man who struck Sauron down in the first place, fell to its corruption. Unlike Elves, who are universally good, and Orcs, who are universally evil, Men are a little blend of both. Some men can resist, such as Aragorn and Faramir, but even for them it is a struggle.
A struggle that defeated Boromir. Despite being one of the most righteous men, he was the one that the Ring ultimately defeated. In fact, it’s because he was the best of them that the Ring took control. It took Boromir’s strong desire to do good and twisted it, used it to turn him against Frodo and the Fellowship. It isn’t until the damage is done that Boromir returns to his right mind, and by then there was an army of Uruk-hai killing him.
The fate of Boromir is as terrifying as it is tragic. If the Ring could manipulate even a man as good as him, then what hope do the other members of the Fellowship have? What hope do Frodo and Sam have, alone with this thing that would turn anyone they meet against them? If Boromir of all people fell, whose to say that Faramir or some other person wouldn’t succumb to the Ring just as he did?
But even in the end, Boromir proves his quality. He doesn’t spend his last moments hunting down Frodo to take the Ring. Rather, he chooses to go down defending his companions. He realizes his failure and decides to spend his last moments alive trying to make up for it. While he would ultimately fail in his efforts, his death would send all the others onto the paths they need to take in order for the quest to succeed. In the end, despite the Ring’s trickery, the goodness of Boromir won out and saved Middle-earth, albeit in a roundabout sort of way.
Boromir’s characterization and role in the story were ingeniously done. In him we see all that is virtuous in the human characters of this series; we see his strength, his kindness, and his determination. But we also see his weakness, his fear and desire, become twisted. It’s a beautiful tragedy that perfectly highlights all the best and worst qualities of not just Boromir himself, but of all the heroes and villains of this story.
How a pathetic bastard like Denethor raised such a badass dude, I’ll never know.