Faramir: Tolkien in Lord of the Rings

Lately, a lot of the posts here have been centered more or less around The Silmarillion. While I absolutely love tales of the First Age, I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Thus, I will turn my attention to Lord of the Rings for a time.

In a letter to a fan, Tolkien throws in an interesting comment: “As far as any character is ‘like me’ it is Faramir” (Letters, 232). This is particularly interesting since Tolkien frequently compares himself to hobbits (Letters, 227; 288-9; 315) and Faramir himself is certainly not hobbit-like.

Before delving into potential similarities between the author and the character, it is reasonable to ask whether there is value in the inquiry. Tolkien himself certainly took (at times rather indignant) issue with literary criticism. He found it irrelevant, insignificant, irritating to the subject, and a detraction from literary pleasure (Letters, 257; 288; 367; 414). He does, however, seem to make an exception for those who are interesting in personal details for those who take an interest in others (Letters, 322). There are certainly a great many people who take an interest in Tolkien and since he was the one who drew the comparison between himself and Faramir, trying to learn exactly how he is like Faramir seems reasonable and justified.

Before delving into this subject, it must be noted that Tolkien did not intend Faramir to be a representation of himself. In fact, he didn’t seem to intend Faramir at all. “A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir…” (Letters, 79). Faramir’s similarity to Tolkien was clearly something the author noticed later.

What were those similarities that Tolkien saw? To anyone who is familiar with Tolkien’s like, one of the first parallels is the Wave dream. This is the one aspect that Tolkien did seem to consciously give to Faramir. “…I have what some might call and Atlantis complex… I mean the terrible recurrent dream (beginning with memory) of the Great Wave, towering up, and coming in ineluctably over the tress and green fields. (I bequeathed it to Faramir.)” (Letters, 213). It isn’t clear from The History of the Lord of the Rings books whether Tolkien intentionally gave this dream to Faramir or if he did it subconsciously. From Christopher Tolkien’s comments, it appears that Faramir referenced the dream in the first draft of “The Steward and the King.” There simply isn’t enough information to draw a reasonable conclusion about Tolkien’s intentionality.

One of Faramir’s more beautiful and admirable speeches is about Gondor, the country of his birth.

‘For myself,’ said Faramir, ‘I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves.  I love…the city of the Men of Númenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.’ (TTT, 656).

Tolkien has a similar love for his country, as demonstrated by his life’s work. When he first started writing about Middle-earth (before it was even called Middle-earth), he intended to dedicate the “connected legend” to England (Letters, 144).

In the same speech about Gondor, Faramir discusses the realities of war.

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory (TTT, 656).

Tolkien says something similar in a letter to his son, Christopher, who was serving in the military during World War II.

The utter stupid waste of war, not only material but moral and spiritual, is so staggering to those who have to endure it. And always was (despite the poets), and always will be (despite the propagandists)–not of course that it has not is and will be necessary to face it in an evil world (Letters, 75).

This letter was written on April 30, 1944. Interestingly, on May 6, 1944 Tolkien wrote another letter to his son stating that Faramir had just appeared on the scene and had “some very sound reflections do doubt on martial glory and true glory” (Letters, 79). Tolkien maintained that The Lord of the Rings was emphatically not an allegory or a parable about the Second World War. Any critic (even one so humble as a blogger!) must, I believe, take him at his word and not seek to draw parallels and make connections where there are none. However, it seems that Tolkien bequeathed more to Faramir than just his dream of the Wave. He also–whether consciously or unconsciously–some of his thoughts and beliefs on war into Faramir’s character.

In writing to his son, Tolkien comments that Faramir “is holding up the ‘catastrophe’ by a lot of stuff about the history of Gondor and Rohan…but if he goes on much more a lot of him will have to be removed to the appendices” (Letters, 79). To anyone who has read Tolkien’s writing, this is a rather humorous parallel. What is the most common complaint from people who dislike his writing? It’s too detailed. He rambles. There’s too much “unimportant” information. Were Tolkien in Faramir’s shoes, it’s easy to picture him going as deeply into the history of his country as Faramir did, if not more!

There have been some who say that Tolkien lets his ego talk when he claims that Faramir is most like him. After all, Tolkien did describe Faramir as “personally courageous and decisive, but also modest, fair-minded and scrupulously just, and very merciful” (Letters, 323). When he compared himself to Faramir, Tolkien actually admits that he lacks the courage that all of his characters possess (Letters, 232). Decisiveness was certainly not one of Tolkien’s virtues, as evidenced by his inability to bring The Silmarillion together in a form suitable for publishing (which had to be finished by his son Christopher). One could also argue about the other qualities Faramir is said to possess. However, there is one word that stands out in this statement: scrupulously. Scrupulous is certainly an accurate description of Tolkien, particularly in his writing.

Because Tolkien admitted that he lacked Faramir’s courage, it is doubtful that he believe he had all of Faramir’s other good qualities. Rather, Tolkien must have recognized that Faramir held a lot of the same thoughts and beliefs that Tolkien himself had. That is the kinship Tolkien saw in Faramir.

Photo Credit: Daniel Genser

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