Why Boromir Was the Best Character in the Fellowship of the Ring
Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since eight-year-old me read an 1,008 page fantasy novel called The Lord of the Rings (And The Hobbit too because it’s an actual children’s book.) just so I could be allowed to watch a fantasy movie called Fellowship of the Ring on VHS. There was also the Fellowship of the Ring video game for GameBoy Advance that had characters from the book, like Tom Bombadil, but would glitch out midway through the Mines of Moria. This was a glitch that not even the Prima strategy guide or GameFAQs.com could fix.
As you can tell from this introductory paragraph, The Lord of the Rings has been a huge part of my life. Along with Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, and good ol’ Redwall, it was my first fandom and is partially why I’m interested in genre fiction and, by extension, write for this website. One thing I love about going back and re-watching The Lord of the Rings films is seeing how my relationship with the characters and themes has evolved over the years. For example, when I was younger, I hated how “slow” the scenes in The Shire were at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, and would fast forward to when Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) began their journey. Now, I understand the contrast between the idyllic, adorable life of the Hobbits with the darkness that pervades the rest of the film as Peter Jackson shifts the tone from light comedy to fantasy thriller, and how these scenes establish the intoxicating power of the Ring through its effects on Bilbo (Ian Holm), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and Frodo.
My relationship with a character that has changed the most is Boromir, who is played admirably by Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Goldeneye). He joins the Fellowship of the Ring at Rivendell and is the only main cast member to die permanently. When I was younger, I thought he was the heel to Aragorn’s babyface and preferred his kinder, younger brother, Faramir (David Wenham), who is a wonderful character and may get an article of his own when the 20th anniversary of The Two Towers and The Return of the King rolls around. However, as I’ve gotten older, I started to connect with him as a flawed, tragic figure that ends up making a big sacrifice that sets up the hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), on their own hero’s journey. While studying texts like the Song of Roland, Beowulf, and Dante’s Inferno (Boromir is totally what medieval theologians would call “a virtuous pagan”.), I started to see Boromir as a more modern version of the tragic hero archetype, who is consumed by pride and greed, but ends up redeeming himself in the end through death. He is a glowing example of the rich intertextuality of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic as well as Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens’ film adaptation, and how these works are in conversation with older myths, legends, and stories.
However, I’ve started to connect with Boromir on a personal as well as intellectual level. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to take on more responsibilities like a multi-faceted full time job, paying the bills, and relationships to name a few. So, I relate to Boromir’s struggles with balancing what his father Denethor (And, by extension, his home country, Gondor) want him to do, and what he personally wants to do with his life. Boromir’s constant mentions of Gondor and “his city” could easily be substituted with “the project”, “the numbers”, or insert office jargon here. However, you can definitely tell that Boromir cares deeply about his city as evidenced by his monologue to Aragorn in Lothlorien where he uses poetic language and describes Minas Tirith as the “The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver”. Howard Shore’s score soars during this scene, and for a second, it looks like we might get an Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir team-up to save the day. Alas, that’s not going to happen partially due to Boromir’s father Denethor’s desire for power and a weapon to defend his country.
Basically, Boromir’s whole motivation as a character in Fellowship of the Ring comes from a flashback scene in The Two Towers extended edition where he celebrates a great victory for Gondor, gives a short speech, and then breaks out the ale. However, his celebration is undercut by the appearance of his father Denethor (John Noble) aka the ultimate middle manager. Denethor isn’t the King of Gondor: his actual rank is Steward. Basically, he’s keeping the seat warm until the actual king (Aragorn, in this case) returns and is like an interim head coach if the “interim” tag never came off for hundreds of years. You can definitely see this in the way Noble plays Denethor as if he has the biggest of sticks up his ass, berates Faramir for making a strategic retreat instead of fighting while outnumbered, and doesn’t indulge in a pint of ale.
In this wonderful scene, Boromir tells his father that he wants to stay in Gondor instead of traveling to Rivendell to take an object that was responsible for the death of one of the greatest leaders of Men. (Isildur aka Aragorn’s ancestor from over 3,000 years ago.) His brother Faramir, ever being the empathetic one and trying to earn his father’s favor, says he’ll go to Rivendell, but Denethor doesn’t think he’ll toe the party line and forces Boromir to go and get the One Ring for Gondor so they can defeat Sauron and Mordor. This is in spite of the fact that the One Ring has brought nothing but suffering and death and should be destroyed. In a more modern setting, Boromir would be a top employee sent by a manager to do something unethical to get an edge on a competitor, but it ends up hurting the company and the employee. It’s very much a lose/lose situation.
With the information gained from this extended scene, Boromir’s behavior in the Fellowship of the Ring makes sense from the way he contemptuously throws down Isildur’s blade Narsil, which cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger, in Rivendell to his firsthand knowledge of Mordor because it borders Gondor. I love how Sean Bean talks with his hands while delivering dialogue about how “one does not simply walk into Mordor”. On a more positive note, the way he treats the hobbits, especially Merry and Pippin, mirrors the way he treats his younger brother, Faramir. There’s a hilarious scene where he spars with them and then ends up being tackled by them and wrestling like a big brother and his younger brothers or nephews. In Moria, he helps them jump across a chasm in a tense chase sequence. These scenes add humanity to Boromir and show that beyond the company line of “bring the Ring to Gondor”, he cares about fostering close relationships with other people, and there’s a reason why his men were raucously cheering in the flashback scene. It shows that Boromir is more than just the mission his father sent him just like we’re more than our job titles and professions.
These moments counterbalance the scenes where Boromir acts condescendingly to Frodo (I hate how he ruffles his hair like the hobbit is a puppy.) and especially the pivotal sequence where he tries to take the Ring from him, tells him that he’ll fail in his mission, and that the Ring belongs to him. In this moment, the corrupt influence of the power of the Ring plus Denethor’s mission consumes him, and he acts like a total asshole leading Frodo to put the Ring on (Never a good idea.) to evade him. Boromir’s treatment of Frodo at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring has parallels to someone having a bad day and taking it out on a co-worker or even a totally innocent customer service professional for an unrelated reason.
However, Boromir still has some good qualities and apologizes to Frodo (Even though Frodo is off in the netherworld of the Ring and can’t hear.) with Bean’s voice breaking as he comes to his senses. Fittingly, he ends up taking his little bros, Merry and Pippin, under his wing and protects them from the attacking Uruk-Hai whose only instructions are to capture Hobbits and kill everyone else. His protection of Merry and Pippin ends up being his redemption and inspires the hobbits to become soldiers in the armies of Rohan and Gondor respectively with Pippin mentioning Boromir’s sacrifice specifically when he swears his service to Denethor. Also, Pippin being in Minas Tirith ends up saving Faramir’s life as Denethor goes totally crazy and tries to burn his son to death because he has totally lost hope. It’s like he saved his brother beyond the grave, and in my head canon, he’s smiling somewhere as Faramir finds love with another kind, heroic character, who is underappreciated by her people aka Eowyn.
Boromir doesn’t have the traditional hero arc of Aragorn, who goes from pipe smoking, weather-beaten Ranger to well-groomed King of Gondor and atones for Isildur’s mistakes as he distracts the armies of Mordor at the Black Gate so Frodo and Sam can destroy the Ring. However, Boromir’s storyline is more relatable to me as a human and worker in a late capitalist hellscape because his passions and values are subsumed to a never ending for a bureaucrat (Denethor) desperately trying to hold onto power in a world where he has become quite irrelevant.
In the end, Boromir doesn’t save the world or achieve some great destiny just like so many of us won’t be remembered in history books as great leaders or figures. However, he did have one great moment where he got to be himself and protect his surrogate brothers, Merry and Pippin. Boromir gives them hope that they’ll survive the next two films as well as returning to the Shire as sword-wielding, armor-wearing heroes. In a world where the wealth gap is increasing, the climate is rapidly changing, and a pandemic ravages the lands, I feel this one great moment where I know I made a difference is all I can hope for in life.
But, hopefully, it doesn’t involve me being shot through with some seriously gnarly arrows…