The Lord of The Rings is filled with innumerable examples of eucatastrophe. Just as Evil looks to strike the fatal blow, the fate of Middle-earth is saved by a small moment of courage, love, and kindness for friends and home, or extraordinary sacrifice from ordinary folk. The Black is truly mighty in Tolkien’s secondary creation, but even in the darkest of places there is still light to be found.
My favorite example of such a moment in all of Tolkien’s work comes at the end of Book 2 and the beginning of Book 3: The betrayal of Boromir, the fractioning of The Fellowship, and the ultimate weakness of Men. Long tormented by the temptation of the Ring, Boromir finally succumbs to the weakness of Men on that fateful eve on the banks of Anduin.
While Boromir did not physically bear the load of the Ring upon his neck as Frodo did, he long carried a great burden of his own. Since setting out with the nine from Rivendell, on his shoulders rested the fate of his struggling people, the expectations of a demanding father, and the judgment of a forgotten King in whose shadow he now stood. All of this transpired while the only hope he could imagine was seemingly right at his fingertips.
It would be a mistake to overlook how Boromir held out as they tried to make it through the Redhorn Pass beneath the slopes of Caradhras, as they descended into the depths of Moria, or as they were shepherded through the wood of Lothlórien. Indeed, Boromir resisted the temptation of the One longer than any mortal man apart for Aragorn. But in the end, when The Fellowship was surrounded by enemies and their quest truly stood petering upon the edge of a knife, Boromir tried to take the Ring from Frodo. He betrayed his halfling friend. He betrayed the quest for which he had killed and bled, and he betrayed his honor.
While the quick thinking of a small hobbit prevented the Ring from falling into Boromir’s hands that day, all was seemingly lost in that moment. For the great design of Sauron’s weapon was revealed to the reader in full. The Ring was a weapon so powerful and precious that in the end no one would truly have the strength to part with it, to go against its will when it really mattered. The Fellowship was scattered, friend had turned against friend, and in the end the Ring would never be destroyed.
But that was not the end—not for Boromir. As Gandalf casts aside his tattered grey cloak in the golden halls of Meduseld to reveal the brightness beneath, so too does the White Wizard shed light on Boromir’s final moments. As Gandalf notes, Boromir the warrior and a lord of men “escaped in the end… it was not in vain that the young hobbits came with [them], if only for Boromir’s sake.” While Boromir fell prey to the Ring, madness took him but only for a moment. Unlike Smeagol, Isildur, and others who fell victim to the Ring’s treachery, in a moment of clarity Boromir turns his back on Sauron and the One Ring. He does not pursue Frodo and the treasure he holds, but instead Boromir the Fair undertakes the final heroic act of the Fellowship.
He sacrifices his life, and with it perhaps the hope of his beloved city, against all odds for his friends and company. In this moment Boromir is saved, and so too is the hope of The Fellowship’s quest. For if a mortal man can fall to the will of the Ring and yet ultimately show the courage to return to the side of Light, perhaps then in the ultimate end of ends good, kindness, and love can defeat the mighty Black. Boromir’s betrayal and fall is perhaps the darkest moment of The Fellowship, but his ultimate ascension is perhaps its greatest triumph.
As Aragorn long keeps the last words of Boromir secret, I too choose to remember Boromir as he does. Not as a weak man who tries to take the Ring, but as a lord of men who breaks from the clutches of Darkness to come to the aid of his friends. In my own life, this reminds me that mistakes can be righted and that failures can be overcome if, like Boromir, we have the courage to shake loose from the chains of our shortcomings and return to the path of Light. In the end Boromir chose this path, and the Elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore the Son of Gondor down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars.
I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food, but detest French cooking.