"Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death. And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death." (Gandalf, "The Pyre of Denethor," The Return of the King)
Denethor. The very mention of the name is enough to cause some people to wrinkle their noses in disgust. Sure, the Jackson movies didn't do him any favors  (to put it mildly!), but there are many people who have been lifelong fans of Tolkien long before the movies came out, who also seem to hold the steward in great disdain.
And no wonder. He can be read as manipulative, powerful, and (to all appearances) emotionally cold. Tolkien didn't care for him that much either; in the Letters he says that Denethor is "tainted with mere politics" (Letters #183), and in notes on his abandoned sequel to The Lord of the Rings, JRRT says that most Gondorians became "like Denethor or worse." This wasn't a compliment; in the same paragraph, Tolkien describes Gondorian religion of this period as "Satanistic," and says that Gondorian boys played at being Orcs.
And even within the corpus of The Lord of the Rings, the charges levied against him are serious. He denied the return of the King, his critics claim. He was an incompetent military commander even abandoning his duty to lead Gondor's armies. It is said that he tried to kill his son and succeeded in killing himself, and that he wished that Faramir had died at Amon Hen. He played favorites and was possessive of his sons. He wanted to take the Ring, which is never a good sign. And maybe worst of all, if his critics are to be believed, Denethor used the palantír, which, besides being prideful, is just plain creepy if you think about it. Some old man looking over your shoulder at whatever you did? Ick.
Let me be very clear. I disagree with most of these charges and am presenting the most common accusations I have heard made against him. But even if they aren't true, there are so many—isn't it impractical to think Denethor's character will ever be rehabilitated? Wouldn't my time be better spent examining Boromir's temptation by the Ring or Faramir's treatment of Gollum at Henneth Annûn? Even if all of the charges are shown to be false, won't many people still view Denethor as a nasty old man?
Quite possibly. But, for me, it is a point of honor that we at least try to be empathetic with him. Part of being a human is understanding what drives other humans, even to madness. It's a good exercise in compassion to try to understand Denethor. Plus, Tolkien says Faramir was moved to pity rather than to scorn, unlike his father. If Denethor is truly awful, isn't it better to try to pity him, as his son would have?
And so an essay was born.
Some of what follows is conjectural, and much is open to debate. I have presented the conclusions I have drawn after studying, discussing, and writing Denethor for several years. However, the great thing about Tolkien (especially where Denethor is concerned) is that he is an interpretative and creative labyrinth in which we can easily lose ourselves. Consider the canonical passages I quote and draw your own conclusions. In any event, I hope you benefit from the journey.
Before I turn to these accusations, though, I want to examine Denethor's life in the years long before the Ring War. By understanding where he came from and who he was, we can better understand who he became.
II. DENETHOR: THE EARLY YEARS
We really don't know that much about Denethor's childhood and young adulthood before Thorongil (aka Aragorn) came on the scene, at least compared with his sons and other characters of the generation after him. However, by examining the few clues we do have, we can form a reasonable guess what Denethor's childhood would have been like.
In History of Middle-earth Vol. XII Tolkien tells us that "[Denethor II] was the second son and third child of Ecthelion," which means he was the third child in a family of at least four children. (Conceivably more, but I have always assumed there were four siblings, not all of whom necessarily survived to adulthood.) Denethor was born in 2930, and Ecthelion in 2886, meaning that Ecthelion was forty-four when Denethor was born. This may seem old, but consider that Denethor himself did not marry until he was forty-six. The Appendices describes this marriage as late, but it seems unlikely that he would be allowed to wait so long if Gondorians traditionally married much earlier. I think that if Ecthelion had married before he was thirty-five or so, this would have been mentioned. Denethor then would be the third child of four, at least three of which would have been born in fairly close proximity to each other.
This next-to-youngest position in a fairly large family is an unfortunate one, if my friends in similar situations are any indication. (If you need a literary example, consider the frustrations Ron Weasley faces in the Harry Potter books, or how Kitty Bennet was overshadowed by her older and younger sisters in Pride and Prejudice.) The youngest child is traditionally pampered by virtue of being the youngest, but the next-to-youngest child tends to be more forgotten in the shuffle. Any accomplishments this next-to-youngest child might have were probably done first by an older sibling. Of course Denethor would have been different in this regard because he was the first son and so would need to be his father's heir; and also there's a big difference between seven and four children. I do think, however, that the basic psychological situation would hold. It doesn't explain everything that happened with Denethor later on, but it's also not a great way to start off your life. Denethor probably did not grow up warm and pampered; I expect he was often overshadowed by his sisters and younger brother, and that his father was rather demanding of him.
Speaking of Ecthelion, it would be easy to overlook the effect his father's personality had on Denethor, because we never meet Ecthelion in the canon. But we are given some hints, and they suggest that Ecthelion, in order to be a good steward in those years, would have had to be a hard man.
Ecthelion was born in 2886. The Tale of Years tells us that, by 2901, most of Ithilien was deserted. (Ecthelion would have been around fifteen at the time.) As the situation in Ithilien worsened, Gondor would have faced a refugee situation, with a significant number of families uprooted from their ancestral lands. These families would needed to be provided for—probably in the way of finding them useful work to do. Henneth Annûn was built in this same year, and Cair Andros was reinforced. These military projects combined with the refugee situation would have driven home the severity of the political situation to a young Ecthelion. Ten years later, in 2911, much of Middle-earth suffered the Fell Winter. In our modern times it's easy to forget how real a threat starvation can be; even if it did not touch Gondor specifically, Ecthelion almost certainly would have known about food shortages.
These two events would have impressed on Ecthelion the need to be vigilant both against natural disasters and against military threats. He would have likely tried to teach these same lessons to his heir. It seems likely to me that Ecthelion would have been very demanding of his son and heir.
Back to Denethor. The most notable historical occurrence during Denethor's childhood was the Quest for Erebor and the Battle of the Five Armies. That occurred in 2941, when Denethor would have been eleven. He would almost certainly have heard of it, maybe even have been sent to Dale in the years afterwards to open up diplomatic relations with this new kingdom of men. But Gondorians also would have heard of the carnage of the battle itself.
I imagine this event would have an effect on an eleven-year-old boy. True, Laketown and Erebor were quite a distance from Gondor, but the events in the north had led to the foundation of a new mannish kingdom (Dale), so I imagine the events leading up to Dale's founding would have been discussed in the Citadel of Denethor's childhood. And this discussion would probably include talk of how Smaug had destroyed Laketown. A kingdom of men had been very nearly obliterated by an enemy that had not troubled them for years. Even if Denethor began to feel secure that his own country's armies could defend him from Sauron, what was to keep some strange forgotten enemy of the north from sweeping down on Minas Tirith and annihilating them all?
It may not be coincidental that Denethor was something of a lore-master. I can easily see a teenage Denethor wanting to know everything he possibly could about potential enemies.
The Quest for Erebor would have affected Gondor in other ways. Remember that while the elves, dwarves, and men fought the orcs, Gandalf and the White Council drove Sauron out of Mirkwood and back into Mordor. Gondor. So the fighting in Ithilien would get fiercer, and the situation would look bleaker still. There's your forgotten enemy from the north descending on you in the night! I'm not suggesting that Gondor knew this new enemy was Sauron to begin with, but when he declared himself openly and Orodruin erupted into flames again, I'm sure Ecthelion, Denethor, and the other PTB in Minas Tirith got the message. It didn't really matter if it was Sauron or some other new enemy; this was Bad News.
It wouldn't have been an easy way to grow up for any kid, but Denethor survived it and seems to have become a fairly competent and "normal" adult. And then Thorongil shows up.
Denethor and Thorongil
For all the difficulties Denethor would have faced growing up, his childhood and young adulthood would have been fairly stable. He was child of the Steward and so would be at least materially well-provided for. Sauron's growing strength in Mordor may have concerned him, but Denethor did live in a stone citadel, and as his father's heir (and unmarried heir at that), he probably would not have fought in dangerous areas. And if he felt overlooked in his parents' affection, at least the one who was (possibly) loved more than him was a sibling. It would have hurt, emotionally, but at least it would have been understandable in some sense.
According to the Tale of Years, Aragorn served in Rohan and Gondor as Thorongil, from 2957 until 2980. We do not know when exactly he entered Ecthelion's service, but because of his heritage as Isildur's heir it seems likely to me that Aragorn would want to serve in Gondor as soon as he could. (Serving in Rohan first allowed him to be more circumspect in Gondor about his lineage.) I think it is reasonable that Aragorn would have come to Gondor by the mid-2960s, when Denethor was in his mid-thirties.
Denethor and Aragorn are actually fairly similar characters—so much so that, if we were offering a literary critique of this book, they might be considered foils of each other. However, fanfic requires authors to interpret Denethor as more than just a literary character. Fanfic necessarily expands the scope of canon, at the very least adding details where Tolkien was silent. It can be useful to try to interpret Tolkien's characters as real historical figures who were written about in the Red Book, with character traits, life experiences, and emotions that affect the way they act in canon. This shouldn't be done to break canon; rather, it enables a writer to fill in gaps more in keeping with the spirit of canon. Otherwise, fanfic writers would be hard-pressed to write a story that was "canonical" beyond being consistent with the details Tolkien provides.
So let us interpret Denethor as more than just the literary type of a foil. Imagine a man who had a family like the one described above, who lived through events like the evacuation of Ithilien and the founding of Dale. Interpreted in this way, Denethor becomes more alive. And one can well imagine how Aragorn's mere presence would have created a difficult situation for Denethor. Tolkien writes of this pair,
"[Denethor] was as like to Thorongil as to one of nearest kin, and yet was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and the esteem of his father. At the time many thought that Thorongil had departed before his rival became his master, though indeed Thorongil had never himself vied with Denethor, nor held himself higher than the servant of his father." (Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings)
If Denethor had any insecurities about his parents', and particularly his father's, affection, then the arrival of Thorongil would have only made matters worse. It would be one thing for Ecthelion to overlook Denethor for his sisters or younger brother, but quite another to favor a stranger from a distant land more than he did his own son. The fact that Denethor's father loved this relative stranger like a son, presumably without any overt effort on Aragorn's part, would have made the situation that much worse. If Aragorn had manipulated events, then Denethor could be mad at him; but as it was, the rational part of Denethor would have to recognize that Thorongil was more loved by Ecthelion and by the people at large, just because he was more popular and more beloved, not because of any overt action on Aragorn's part.
Also, this hostility toward Aragorn was at least part of what drove him to first use the palantír. Tolkien writes,
"During the end of the rule of [Denethor's] father, Ecthelion II, he must have greatly desired to consult the Stone, as anxiety in Gondor increased, while his own position was weakened by the fame of "Thorongil" and the favour shown to him by his father. At least one of the motives must have been jealousy of Thorongil, and hostility to Gandalf [...]; Denethor desired to surpass these "usurpers" in knowledge and information. " ("The Palantíri," Unfinished Tales)
Denethor's use of the palantír is one of the most controversial aspects of his personality, because that strain, combined with grief over the (assumed) deaths of his sons, was one of the prime factors that drove him to madness. Tolkien has much to say on the subject of Denethor and the palantír, and I will discuss this topic further down; however, at this point it should be noted that Denethor's jealousy of Aragorn and hostility toward Gandalf, combined with his protective love of Gondor, led him to use the palantír. If Denethor was wrong to use the palantír (a point that I'm not conceding), then at least some of his motives should be understandable to anyone who has ever felt that their parent loved someone else better.
No discussion of Denethor's love-hate relationship with Aragorn would be complete without looking at the infamous "long bereft of lordship" passage. Denethor says of Aragorn,
"I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity. " ("The Pyre of Denethor," The Return of the King)
In Tolkien's books, Denethor says this just before lighting his pyre. Gandalf has encouraged him to fight on Pelennor Fields while the doctors in the Houses of Healing attempt to help Faramir. Denethor claims that Gandalf is attempting to use him to hold off Mordor until Aragorn arrives, at which point he will be replaced. He is deluded by madness, but if his delusions were accurate then his anger would not be excessive. He is not being vindictive by denying Aragorn the throne.
In the movies, this exchange is even more extreme. It takes place on Gandalf's first audience with Denethor, just after Gandalf suggests that Gondor light the beacons to summon Rohan. Denethor says,
"I know who rides with Théoden of Rohan. Oh yes, word has reached my ears of this Aragorn son of Arathorn, and I tell you now: I will not bow to this ranger from the north! Last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship." 
It makes a lot more sense for Denethor to reject Aragorn's claim outright at what he thinks is the end of the world (he is about to kill himself precisely because he thinks Gondor is about to fall to Mordor), and Gandalf is holding out the possibility of a future as a way to get Denethor to hope. But from Denethor's perspective, a future where he serves Isildur's heir is a future dependent on a rejection of his most fundamental duty as steward: to keep Gondor as whole as he can until his king returns. This point is made clearer in one of Tolkien's early outlines of this scene, where he writes:
"Berithil [Beregond] and guard had gone and stopped the burning. Gandalf reasons with Denethor. 'I have seen' says Denethor 'ships coming up Anduin: I will no more yield to an upstart—and even if his claim be true of the younger line: I am Steward for the sons of Anárion not of Isildur." ("The Pyre of Denethor," History of Middle-earth VIII)
I do not deny that Denethor hated Thorongil, nor do I deny that Denethor connected Thorongil with Aragorn. Appendix A tells us that "many believed that Denethor [...] had discovered who this stranger Thorongil in truth was." However, when Denethor describes Aragorn's house as "long bereft of lordship," this is not a personal attack against Aragorn. (At least, it need not be interpreted in this fashion.) As I read this passage, Denethor seems to be saying that the line of Isildur was "long bereft of [the] lordship" of the southern lands.
This is a reference to Arvedui's claim on the kingship of Gondor, which is discussed in Appendix A. Tolkien writes,
"On the death of Ondoher and his sons, Arvedui of the North-kingdom claimed the crown of Gondor, as the direct descendant of Isildur, and as the husband of Fíriel, only surviving child of Ondoher. The claim was rejected. In this Pelendur, the Steward of King Ondoher, played the chief part.
"The council of Gondor answered: "The crown and royalty of Gondor belongs solely to the heirs of Meneldil, son of Anárion, to whom Isildur relinquished this realm. In Gondor this heritage is reckoned through the sons only; and we have not heard that the law is otherwise in Arnor."
Tolkien then goes on to give Arvedui's answer to this decision. (The crown was given to Eärnil II, a Gondorian captain descended from the brother of a king three generations back, and Arvedui did not press his claim—though neither did he withdraw it.) This is really an interesting legal case, and tells us a lot about the Dúnedain's rules of inheritance, but to do it justice is beyond the scope of this essay.  The key point for our present consideration of Denethor is that he did have a legal leg to stand on in rejecting Aragorn's claim. He may have been wrong, but he was also giving his defense at a point when he was very stressed and not in his right mind; he can hardly be expected to interpret the finer points of law at this point. Even if he is wrong, his rejection of Aragorn is not solely based on personal dislike; he really believes he is doing his duty.
As an interesting sidebar, we might re-consider how Boromir and Faramir consider Aragorn's claim. It is commonly thought that Boromir accepted Aragorn's claim to the kingship. However, read what Tolkien actually says. In the Council of Elrond, Aragorn asks Boromir whether Gondor would like a king to return:
"[Aragorn says,] 'Now you have seen the sword that you have sought, what would you ask? Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor?'
'I was not sent to beg any boon, but to seek only the meaning of a riddle,' answered Boromir proudly. 'Yet we are hard pressed, and the Sword of Elendil would be a help beyond our hope—if such a thing could indeed return out of the shadows of the past.'" ("The Council of Elrond," The Fellowship of the Ring)
It is perhaps telling that Aragorn asks about the House of Elendil, but Boromir answers about the Sword of Elendil. A king's house, especially a long-dead king, conjures up images of heirs and succession; Aragorn is asking (to my mind) whether Gondor would like for one who has the authority of the heir of Elendil to come. Boromir does not answer this question outright, but says that they would accept the sword of Elendil—that is, the military might, but not the dynastic authority, of Elendil's elder son.
In Henneth Annûn, Frodo reports Boromir's acceptance of Aragorn's claim to Faramir:
"[Frodo said,] 'Aragorn is descended in direct lineage, father to father, from Isildur Elendil's son himself. And the sword that he bears was Elendil's sword.'
A murmur of astonishment ran through all the ring of men. Some cried aloud: 'The sword of Elendil! The sword of Elendil comes to Minas Tirith! Great tidings!' But Faramir's face was unmoved.
'Maybe,' he said. 'But so great a claim will need to be established and clear proofs will be required, should this Aragorn ever come to Minas Tirith. He had not come, nor any of your Company, when I set out six days ago.'
'Boromir was satisfied of that claim,' said Frodo. 'Indeed, if Boromir were here, he would answer all your questions.'" ("The Window on the West," The Two Towers)
So Frodo reports that Boromir accepted Aragorn's claim; but Frodo may not have understood all of the subtleties of that exchange in Rivendell. He had no particular interest in Gondor at that point of the story, and had heard so many tales that he may not have been paying attention as he should have, or have known the requisite history to fully understood the distinction between Elendil's house and Elendil's sword. Faramir tells Frodo that Aragorn will have to prove his claims if he comes to Gondor, and it is only after Faramir has seen his healing ability that he accepts him as king.
Denethor would not have known about the king's healing hands, or even that Aragorn rode with Elrond's sons. At least one of his sons (Faramir) and arguably the other (Boromir) expressed skepticism in Aragorn's claim to be heir to the throne of Gondor when presented with the same evidence that Denethor had access to, and Faramir and Boromir had the luxury of time to consider the claim. Is it so hard to believe that Denethor would reject it in a time of madness, not out of animosity toward Aragorn, but out of a genuine doubt that he was the rightful king of Gondor?
Denethor and Finduilas
Denethor's relationship with Finduilas was one of the few areas of Denethor's life that present Denethor in a softer light. Without having read the passages about her in the Appendices of LOTR, it is easy to think of Denethor as a crusty, bitter old man; but with Finduilas, the canon paints him as having loved once. This requires no special interpretation; the canon is as straightforward as Tolkien ever is. He writes in the Appendices:
"[Denethor] had married late (2976), taking as wife Finduilas, daughter of Adrahil of Dol Amroth. She was a lady of great beauty and gentle heart, but before twelve years had passed she died. Denethor loved her, in his fashion, more dearly than any other, unless it were the elder of the sons that she bore him."
The fact that Denethor is said to have (maybe) loved Boromir more than Finduilas feels a bit odd. I know that I love my parents in a very different way than I love my siblings (and assume that parents similarly love each other differently than they do their children). I wouldn't imagine there's a better comparison between love for a spouse and love for a child. So what exactly is Tolkien getting at here? The best way I can see to read this statement is that the audience of this historical document  knew that Denethor loved his older son, and that Finduilas was loved so much that the only person Denethor could even possibly love more than her was Boromir. In any event, it's clear that Denethor loved her very much.
It's also noteworthy the kind of woman that he loves. Tolkien describes Finduilas as "a lady of great beauty and gentle heart." I don't doubt that she was every inch Denethor's equal intellectually (somehow I can't see Denethor having it any other way), but she was also genteel and tender. It takes a special kind of person to be comfortable around that, to be able to love someone tender. This suggests to me that Denethor had a softer side than we see in Lord of the Rings. He was sensitive, at least when he fell in love with Finduilas.
But the story of Finduilas ends tragically. Tolkien writes,
"Before twelve years had passed she died. [...] It seemed to men that she withered in the guarded city, as a flower of the seaward vales set upon a barren rock. The shadow in the east filled her with horror, and she turned her eyes ever south to the sea that she missed." (Appendix A, LOTR)
Many people have speculated over just what caused Finduilas to die. Was it suicide, or illness? Had something happened to her in giving birth to Faramir? This speculation is, however, precisely that. Whatever the case, Finduilas's death seems to be a defining moment of his life. In the next paragraph Tolkien says,
"After her death Denethor became more grim and silent than before, and would sit long alone in his tower deep in thought, foreseeing that the assault of Mordor would come in his time." (Appendix A, LOTR)
Tolkien says in the appendices that it was around this time that Denethor began to use the palantír. (In the "Palantíri" essay in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien suggests that Denethor began earlier, in the Thorongil years, and it was only noticed by people other than Finduilas after her death.) In any case, it is unmistakable that he became "more grim" at this point. Denethor probably was always very serious, but there was a big change in him after Finduilas's death.
III. DENETHOR'S CHARACTER STRENGTHS AND FLAWS
Denethor as Lover of Lore
If we needed more proof than his love of Finduilas to show us that Denethor was not all gruffness, we should consider the fact that he was something of a lore-master. This fact is established long before we even meet Denethor. Boromir says at the Council of Elrond about the poem in his dream,
"Of these words we [Boromir and Faramir] could understand little, and we spoke to our father, Denethor, Lord of Minas Tirith, wise in the lore of Gondor. This only would he say, that Imladris was of old the name among the Elves of a far northern dale, where Elrond the Halfelven dwelt, greatest of lore-masters." ("The Council of Elrond," The Fellowship of the Ring)
The second thing Boromir tells the council about Denethor, after he identifies him as "Lord of Minas Tirith," is that he is "wise in the lore of Gondor." But it seems that Denethor's learnedness is not limited to Gondor. He knows what Imladris is, and he names Elrond as the "greatest of lore-masters." These facts are not great revelations for those of us reading the book—Rivendell has already been established as a place where the hobbits can hear the full version of old stories like the tales of Gil-galad and Beren and Lúthien—but it would probably not be common knowledge in Gondor by the time of the Ring War. Consider how long it has been since Gondorians have gone north, let alone have direct dealings with Rivendell. It's laudable that Denethor knows something about such faraway lands.
Later, in Henneth Annûn, Faramir talks about the treasures collected by his family:
"We in the house of Denethor know much ancient lore by long tradition, and there are moreover in our treasuries many things preserved: books and tablets writ on withered parchments, yea, and on stone, and on leaves of silver and gold, in divers characters. Some none can now read; and for the rest, few ever unlock them. I can read a little in them, for I have had teaching." ("The Window on the West," The Two Towers)
The first thing that jumps out at me about this passage is that it is the "house of Denethor," not the "house of Húrin" or "house of the Stewards," that is said to know much ancient lore. It is possible that Faramir is trying to simplify things for Frodo, but it seems like there are simpler ways to communicate that it's Faramir's family that keeps these treasures—for instance, "The men of my house know much ancient lore."
It seems more likely to me that Faramir is drawing a special connection between these objects of lore and Denethor himself. This is made more likely by Faramir's assertion that he has had teaching in these languages that few men can read. He is a ranger in Ithilien; it is hard to imagine when he would learn those antiquated languages if not in his childhood in Minas Tirith. The fact that Denethor would encourage his son to learn such things that did not have much obvious practical value suggests that Denethor valued learning for learning's sake.
(It should be noted that Denethor probably had greater access to artefacts and writings than he would have if he had not been the steward. Tolkien writes that much learning concerning the palantíri was "available beside the Ruling Steward only to his heir" (Part 4, "The Palantíri," Unfinished Tales), and it is not unreasonable to suppose that other writings and relics about politically sensitive topics were only available to Gondorians at the highest levels of government, just as you need certain levels of "clearance" to access controlled documents today. However, the fact that Denethor took the time to study these things and encouraged his son to do likewise still suggests that he was very interested in lore.)
We see more proof of his learnedness when Pippin pledges his sword to Denethor. Tolkien writes,
"Pippin lifted [his sword] and presented the hilt to [Denethor]. 'Whence came this?' said Denethor. 'Many, many years lie on it. Surely this is a blade wrought by our own kindred in the North in the deep past?'" ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
People will sometimes joke, when someone accuses them of some undesirable trait, that it "takes one to know one." Speaking as a self-avowed geek, I can proudly say that Denethor is behaving very geekily here. He is stopping an official state function to marvel over an ancient relic! It's impressive that he recognizes the sword as an ancient heirloom, but even more telling that he reacts to this spirit. This is just one more example of Denethor plainly enjoying himself where ancient relics are concerned—the man really is a lore-master.
Perhaps, having read the above section on Denethor as lore-master, you are wondering "so what?" In our modern culture academics (arguably the contemporary equivalent of a lore-master) can be stodgy, removed from reality, even condescending. In fantasy literature, however, lore-masters fill an archetype that we usually think of as good characters. Most stories in the genre feature an old man who helps the young hero get its start. Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and Yoda in the Star Wars movies jump to mind, and I'm sure you could supply other examples. These characters are generally wise, both in the sense that they provide good advice and they know the history of the universe (and usually kindly bring us readers up to speed).
In Ring War-era Middle-earth (i.e. the world of The Lord of the Rings, and to a lesser extent, The Hobbit), these mentor roles are filled by Gandalf and Elrond . Both of these characters could rightly be described as lore-masters, but they are not the only ones. Saruman famously has become something of a master in ring-lore, and if we look further back into Middle-earth's history Sauron also functions as a lore-master when he teaches Celebrimbor how to make rings. He even becomes a bit of an anti-mentor with Ar-Pharazôn, serving as king's counselor and starting the king on his quest to Valinor to find eternal life.
So where does Denethor fit into this continuum? When I think of lore-masters, especially of the mentor type, in literature, I generally imagine kindly old men that it is hard not to like, but Tolkien provides us with evil lore-masters as well.
Denethor does not fit the mentor archetype as obviously as Gandalf and Elrond do. He does not help the story's heroes on the way; he never meets Frodo, and as for Aragorn, their only interaction is as rivals (at least from Denethor's POV). However, Denethor does function as a mentor for Boromir in his quest for Rivendell. He is the one who gives him the necessary information about Imladris, who authorizes the quest, and on whose behalf the quest was undertaken. At the very least, it seems clear that he is not amassing knowledge for some evil purpose, like Saruman and Sauron did; Denethor's lore-mastery may just show that he is a scholar by nature, and not much more in terms of larger archetypes.
In fact, Denethor tends to break the mold when it comes to archetypes. He is not evil in the sense that Sauron or Saruman is, or even greedy like the Sackville-Bagginses and Gollum are. Yet he does not seem like a hero either, at least not in the same sense as Frodo or Aragorn. Most of his doings in the plot are to resist and hinder the characters we have been travelling with since Rivendell and before; we have learned to love Aragorn and Gandalf, and when Denethor rails against them it is easy to hate him. When kindly Théoden dies because Gandalf is saving Denethor, it may put us to the test, and when he tries to kill noble Faramir our empathy may be strained to the extreme. Yet he does not act out of evil intent. If he fits any literary "type," it is the classic Greek tragic hero : noble, but with a fatal flaw that causes his destruction.
Tolkien's remarks in the Letters are illuminating on this subject:
"Some critics seem determined to represent me as a simple-minded adolescent, inspired with, say, a With-the-flag-to-Pretoria spirit, and willfully distort what is said in my tale. I have not that spirit, and it does not appear in the story. The figure of Denethor alone is enough to show this; but I have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have been or are, or can be. Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary historical moment on 'Middle-earth'—which is our habitation." (Letter #183)
For Tolkien, Denethor is the first example that he gives of how his world is not some idealized, black-vs-white adventure story; in fact, he thinks it should be a sufficient proof, though he does give other examples. Denethor seems like the kind of character that we are not necessarily supposed to like, but neither should he be villanized.
This idea that Denethor is "great" and not necessarily loveable is confirmed within the text of The Lord of the Rings itself. Gandalf warns Pippin before their first meeting with Denethor,
"Be careful of your words, Master Peregrin! This is no time for hobbit pertness. Théoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king." ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
It seems plain that we are not supposed to love Denethor—he is great, and powerful, but not necessarily the easiest man to get along with. That does not make him an Orc.
The Problem of Politics
In the previous sections I've explored what I consider to be some of Denethor's best characteristics: that he was capable of love, that he was a natural scholar, and that he had the greatness to sustain Gondor through the hard pre-war years. However, Tolkien does have one major criticism of Denethor's personality: he is too political. He writes,
"Denethor was tainted with mere politics: hence his failure, and his mistrust of Faramir. It had become for him a prime motive to preserve the polity of Gondor, as it was, against another potentate, who had made himself stronger and was to be feared and opposed for that reason rather than because he was ruthless and wicked." (Letter #183)
Obviously it would have been admirable if Denethor did the right things for the right reasons here. However, this problem of being political is more a problem of wrong motives than wrong actions. It's true that Denethor might have acted wrongly (and disastrously so) if the Ring had come to Gondor; yet it didn't, and Denethor can hardly be held accountable for what might have happened. And it is also true that his belief that Gondor must survive led him to be harder on the always-noble Faramir than he might otherwise have been; but Faramir did, by his actions, endanger Gondor's survival.
In the appendices Tolkien writes of Denethor that he used the palantír, and
"Thus pride increased in Denethor together with despair, until he saw in all the deeds of that time only a single combat between the lord of the White Tower and the Lord of the Barad-dûr; and mistrusted all others who resisted Sauron, unless they served himself alone." (Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings)
It is not that hard to see why the palantír would encourage this kind of attitude in Denethor. Consider the following series of events: Denethor looks into the palantír and sees armies amassing in Mordor. Denethor realizes that he cannot hope to defeat these armies by himself. Denethor remembers that his father welcomed foreigners into Gondorian armies. Denethor sees foreign nations not in nearly as much immediate danger, with armies that could be used to fight for Gondor. Denethor wishes he had control of those armies so that he could effectively defend his own people and those other nations, who would be in real danger if Gondor fell.
History would encourage Denethor to take this view. In the War of the Last Alliance both men and elves had come to Gondor to fight against Sauron. Gondor itself had ridden to the defense of the North-kingdoms in 1974 when the Witch-king attacked the Northern Dúnedain. In that case the Gondorians arrived too late, but they had at least tried to aid them—and this after Arvedui had tried to claim the kingship, when the Gondorians might have wanted to lessen ties between the two kingdoms. Even within Denethor's own lifetime, there had been a great alliance of elvish, mannish, and dwarvish armies at the Battle of the Five Armies, to fight against the orcs and wargs. It would not seem so unreasonable to Denethor that other people would fight with him, and he would have rightly been frustrated by this lack of alliance.
At least one other person thinks that the Free Peoples of the West should ally themselves to make one final stand together:
"'Still it might be well for all,' said Glóin the Dwarf, 'if all these strengths were joined, and the powers of each were used in league.' ("The Council of Elrond," The Fellowship of the Ring)
Glóin is talking in the context of rings; he offers that Balin went to Moria in part in hopes of finding one of the dwarven-rings, and asks what the elvish-rings are doing at this time. And the debate at that point turns to the Rings; no one seems to seriously think that the different nations should ally and fight together. In fact, Elrond answered that question of whether there could be another alliance like the Last Alliance. He says,
"Many Elves and many mighty Men, and many of their friends, had perished in the war [of the Last Alliance]. Anárion was slain, and Isildur was slain; and Gil-galad and Elendil were no more. Never again shall there be any such league of Elves and Men; for Men multiply and the Firstborn decrease, and the two kindreds are estranged. And ever since that day the race of Númenor has decayed, and the span of their years has lessened."
So with the possibility of an alliance being eliminated, the question becomes, who of all the free peoples can help anyone else stay free; or is there no such hope, and everyone needs to looks to their own defense? Boromir replies to Elrond's statement above by saying,
"Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Númenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten. By our valour the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West."
Aragorn challenges him on this point, saying:
"If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us. Fear would have destroyed them.
Aragorn is of course right that Boromir doesn't understand the part played by other forces such as the Rangers and sovereign people beyond Gondor. Denethor may in fact know more; his use of the palantír and his reputation for being far-sighted suggests he would know a good bit about foreign intelligence. Yet look at how Aragorn phrases this rebuke: he says that the Dúnedain Rangers have played "another part." He isn't trying to say that Gondor's struggle isn't unique or vital, but instead that they aren't the only ones who have a part to play.
And even allowing that, the Dúnedain Rangers are a long way off from Gondor. What are the other men of southeastern Middle-earth to do if Gondor falls? This point is made clear in an exchange between Gandalf and Denethor about the Ring:
"[Gandalf said,] 'And the Lord Denethor what would he have done?'
"[Denethor replied,] 'Neither. But most surely not for any argument would he have set this thing at a hazard beyond all but a fool's hope, risking our utter ruin, if the Enemy should recover what he lost. Nay, it should have been kept, hidden, hidden dark and deep. Not used, I say, unless at the uttermost end of need, but set beyond his grasp, save by a victory so final that what then befell would not trouble us, being dead.'
'You think, as is your wont, my lord, of Gondor only,' said Gandalf. 'Yet there are other men and other lives, and time still to be. And for me, I pity even his slaves.'
'And where will other men look for help, if Gondor fails?' answered Denethor. ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
(After this, the debate turns to the Ring and whether Gandalf was right to not send the Ring to Gondor.)
Both Gandalf and Denethor have good points in this passage. Gandalf is correct that, when it comes to the Ring, thought must be taken for all times and places and not just for the current time. But Denethor is also right: if Gondor falls, the people of the kingdoms surrounding Gondor will not be able to resist the power of Mordor. When Faramir reveals that he let Frodo take the Ring into Mordor and says he might have acted differently if he had Denethor's counsel at the time, Denethor replies,
"If I had! If you had! [...] Such words and ifs are vain. It has gone into the Shadow, and only time will show what doom awaits it and us. The time will not be long. In what is left, let all who fight the Enemy in their fashion be at one, and keep hope while they may, and after hope still the hardihood to die free." ("The Siege of Gondor, The Return of the King)
This pronouncement is allowed to stand. It is made at full council, attended not just by Gondorian lords but by Dol Amroth (leader of one of the largest and most powerful principalities not part of Gondor proper ) and by Gandalf. If there was a good answer to be made I would expect Gandalf or one of the others to make it; even if Gandalf chose not to make the point in the council himself, it seems odd that he would not address the point later, either to Pippin or to Faramir when they spoke before Faramir rode out to Osgiliath. I think it most likely that Denethor was right, and that the people around Gondor (including perhaps Rohan, and even other mannish kingdoms along the Anduin like Laketown) would fall if Gondor fell.
But, as I said, Gandalf is right as well: where things like the Ring are concerned those making the decision must consider all places and all times. All this means is that Denethor is not the right person to decide issues concerning the Ring, and Gandalf was right not to trust him. He is still a good leader for Gondor in the pre-Ring War years; that people needed a bulldog of a ruler in that time period, and Denethor was just such a leader.
Denethor as a Númenórean
It feels a bit odd to lump Denethor's race in with his character, but in Tolkien's world, it seems that individuals really are characterized through their races. Faramir and Aragorn are raven-haired, grey-eyed, tall, and long-lived—and therefore Númenórean, which is to say, honorable. This isn't to say they weren't also individuals, but they are definitely characterized through their race.
Gandalf mentions Denethor's Númenórean heritage in their talk before meeting Denethor for the first time:
"He is not as other men of this time, Pippin, and whatever be his descent from father to son, by some chance the blood of Westernesse [that is, Númenor] runs nearly true in him; as it does in his other son, Faramir, and yet did not in Boromir whom he loved best." ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
This passage makes the curious point that, in Tolkien's world, to say a person is of a certain race is to comment on more than just their bloodlines. Boromir and Faramir share both of the same parents, and so they should be the same race; yet that's not the case. Tolkien makes this point even more explicitly in the Letters, where he writes:
"[The Dúnedain] recognized the fact that in spite of intermarriages, some characteristics would appear in pure form in later generations. Aragorn's own longevity was a case in point. Gandalf I think refers to the curious fact that even in the much less well preserved house of the stewards Denethor had come out as almost purely Númenórean." (Letter #230)
When Tolkien speaks of Denethor being "almost purely Númenórean," that can't be a matter of having nearly 100% Númenórean bloodlines. But that seems rather unlikely, given how rare pure Númenórean blood is in Gondor. Even if the House of Húrin was more conscious of race, they would need to marry women of less pure blood as the years progressed—or the House of Húrin would have died out. It seems much more likely that Tolkien is referring to Denethor being almost purely Númenórean in the sense that he possesses those indicative characteristics Tolkien attributes to Númenóreans.
Two last quotes, and then I'll let this one go.
"Pippin saw [Denethor's] carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes; and he was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn." ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
"Indeed [Denethor] was as like to Thorongil [aka Aragorn] as to one of nearest kin, and yet was ever placed second to the stranger in the hearts of men and the esteem of his father." (Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings)
In both of these quotes, Tolkien makes the point that Denethor is similar to Aragorn. And if there was ever a character who should represent the Númenórean ideal, it would be Elendil's heir. Indeed Aragorn, and by extension Denethor, is directly compared by Tolkien to Elendil:
He was Aragorn son of Arathorn, the nine and thirtieth heir in the right line from Isildur, and yet more like to Elendil than any before him. ("Of the Rings of Power," The Silmarillion)
So it seems that Denethor has many of the positive characteristics Tolkien associates with the Númenóreans. Yes, he said and did some loathsome things, and yes, Tolkien wrote unflattering things in the "secondary" sources of Middle-earth (the descriptions of Denethor's character, like the Appendices or the Letters, rather than the depiction of his actions). But despite it all, he is a Númenórean—and in Middle-earth, that counts for quite a bit.
Having established Denethor's character, let's now turn to how he acted in the Ring War. As I said, he did some loathsome things; verbal abuse and murder/suicide lead the list of accusations. His actions need to be examined carefully, so that we can see how much of his actions in these last days represented the man he really was, and how much can be attributed to other factors.
IV. DENETHOR DURING THE WAR OF THE RING
Denethor and the Palantír
As early as the "Minas Tirith" chapter of The Return of the King, some of Denethor's faults are attributed to his use of the palantír. Beregond tells Pippin,
"The Lord Denethor is unlike other men: he sees far. Some say that as he sits alone in his high chamber in the Tower at night, and bends his thought this way and that, he can read somewhat of the future; and that he will at times search even the mind of the Enemy, wrestling with him. And so it is that he is old, worn before his time."
Beregond obviously never mentions the palantír, because not many Gondorians knew about that relic. But even he thinks that Denethor has been warring with Sauron mentally, and that this has worn him down. Gandalf speaks even more plainly on the subject:
"In the days of his wisdom Denethor would not presume to use [the palantír], nor to challenge Sauron, knowing the limits of his own strength. But his wisdom failed: and I fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looked in the Stone and was deceived. [...] The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind." ("The Pyre of Denethor," The Return of the King)
Gandalf speaks this quote to Beregond and the other guardsmen after Denethor kills himself in Rath Dínen. The wizard attributes Denethor's madness to a "despair of his heart," which the knowledge Denethor gained through the palantír contributed to. The question remained, however, whether Denethor should have foreseen the effect that the palantír knowledge would have on him.
If Denethor should have known that the palantír could drive him to madness, then perhaps we should view the pyre as akin to drunk driving. Imagine someone goes out drinking in a bar with his friends and takes no precautious to keep himself from driving home. He drives to the bar, doesn't give his keys to a sober friend, nothing like that. Then he drives home, and on the way home he gets into an accident and kills someone. This drunk driver could not control what he did while drunk, but he is responsible for placing himself in a situation where he would lose control, and not taking reasonable precautions (like giving his keys to a friend and taking a cab home). If the analogy holds for Denethor, then Denethor was not responsible for what he did in his madness, but he would be responsible for choosing to use the palantír and driving himself to madness.
But that's a big "if." It's true that none of the stewards used the palantír. Tolkien writes,
"It was afterwards believed that needing knowledge, but being proud, and trusting in his own strength of will, he dared to look in the palantír of the White Tower. None of the Stewards had dared to do this, nor even the kings Eärnil and Eärnur, after the fall of Minas Ithil when the palantír of Isildur came into the hands of the Enemy." (Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings)
HOWEVER! In the Unfinished Tales essay "The Palantíri," Tolkien also makes the point that Tolkien never intended to confront Sauron. He writes,
"The breaking strain of Denethor's confrontation of Sauron must be distinguished from the general strain of using the Stone. The latter Denethor thought that he could endure (and not without reason); confrontation with Sauron almost certainly did not occur for many years, and was probably never originally contemplated by Denethor."
Later in the same essay Tolkien writes:
"The Stones were far more amenable to legitimate users: most of all to true 'Heirs of Elendil' (as Aragorn), but also to one with inherited authority (as Denethor), as compared to Saruman, or Sauron. It may be noted that the effects were different. Saruman fell under the domination of Sauron and desired his victory, or no longer opposed it. Denethor remained steadfast in his rejection Sauron, but was made to believe that his victory was inevitable, and so fell into despair."
So the palantíri were meant to be used by the heirs of Elendil (i.e. Aragorn), but could also legitimately be used by Denethor. Tolkien writes
"These stones were an inalienable gift to Elendil and his heirs, to whom alone they belonged by right; but this does not mean that they could only be used rightfully by one of these 'heirs.' They could be used lawfully by anyone authorized by either the 'Heir of Anárion' or the 'Heir of Isildur,' that is, a lawful King of Gondor or Arnor. Actually they must normally have been used by such deputies [as the stewards]." ("The Palantíri," Unfinished Tales)
Denethor was not only governing Gondor in the name of Elendil's heirs, but also had inherited his power rather than seizing it. He had the right to use the palantír if he decided to do so, and he surely never intended to encounter Sauron.
Considering the case of the one other man we know met with Sauron via the palantír – the one from Orthanc. The first time Aragorn appears after that meeting Tolkien writes,
"Merry had eyes only for Aragorn, so startling was the change that he saw in him, as if in one night many years had fallen on his head. Grim was his face, grey-hued and weary." ("The Passing of the Grey Company," The Return of the King)
Afterwards, Aragorn defends his use of the stone to Gimli, Legolas, and Halbarad by saying:
"I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough—barely." ("The Passing of the Grey Company," The Return of the King)
To compare: Aragorn purposefully used the palantír to contact Sauron, had one meeting, and was so changed by the encounter that Merry noticed the difference immediately. Denethor had many encounters with Sauron via the palantír, not always when he was expecting to meet Sauron. And Aragorn was Elendil's heir, so he should have had even more protection from Sauron than did Denethor. It is not surprising that the palantír contributed to Denethor's madness.
In case there is any doubt of Denethor's authority to use the palantír, Tolkien gives us an unequivocal statement that he was within his rights to use it:
"Since the Stewardship had become hereditary from 1988 onwards, so the authority to use, or again to depute the use, of the Stones, was lawfully transmitted in their line, and belonged therefore fully to Denethor." ("The Palantíri," Unfinished Tales)
So Denethor did not intend to confront Sauron through the palantír, like Aragorn did. Going back to our drunk driving analogy, it seems like there's an element missing: Denethor did not foresee that what he was doing (using the palantír) would lead to a loss of control. We condemn the drunk driver because he was reckless; he knew he would become inebriated and out of control, and did nothing to limit his liability to others. Denethor was not reckless in the same way. If anything, his situation is more similar to someone who has an overreaction to a new brand of cold medication, and gets into an accident because the medicine made him groggy. There's always a risk of that with a new medication, and it's a good idea to not have to drive the first time you use a new brand of medication; but we don't blame a person in this situation in the same way we would a drunk driver.
Now, perhaps Denethor was foolish to use the palantír. (Gandalf certainly thought so, given that no one knew what had become of the Minas Ithil palantír.) Denethor seems to have been motivated at least in part by desire to get knowledge to help protect Gondor. As Tolkien says in Unfinished Tales (quoted above, in the section on Denethor and Thorongil), Denethor was also motivated by a desire both to appear more knowledgeable than Aragorn and to know where Aragorn went after he left Gondor. Denethor's desire to protect Gondor is noble, though he probably should have found other ways to pursue that knowledge. The latter reason is more petty, but given his rivalry with Aragorn, it's pretty understandable that he would act in the way he did—right or wrong. If he was foolish, his foolishness was understandable and he paid a very heavy price for it.
Denethor and Boromir
Denethor's love for his eldest son Boromir is well-known. As I already discussed above ("Denethor and Finduilas"), when the writer of the appendices tells us that Denethor loved Finduilas, he implies that he loves Boromir more. And even before we meet Denethor, Tolkien has Gandalf say to Pippin,
"[Denethor] will speak most to you, and question you much, since you can tell him of his son Boromir. He loved him greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike." ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
This description points out a very important point: a big part of the reason Denethor loves Boromir is because they are unlike. I'm sure everyone has seen conflict between two rather strong-willed people, and Denethor and Faramir definitely qualify as "strong-willed"; look at the way they interact throughout the council scenes. These two men are not afraid to take each other on. While we do not see Denethor and Boromir interacting much in canon, it seems reasonable based on what we are told about the two men that Denethor would have found it much easier to love Boromir. Faramir would have challenged him a lot more, and so their relationship may have been more strained than Denethor's and Boromir's was. This might have led Gondorians who only knew the family from a distance to assume that Denethor loved Boromir more than Faramir – not necessarily correctly.
The key to understanding Boromir's relationship to Denethor, I think, is in the appendix's description of Boromir:
"He was a man after the sort of King Eärnur of old, taking no wife and delighting chiefly in arms; fearless and strong, but caring little for lore, save the tales of old battles." (Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings)
I mention this quote because it gives Boromir many of the same characteristics Faramir gives the Rohirrim:
"Of our lore and manners they have learned what they would, and their lords speak our speech at need; yet for the most part they hold by the ways of their own fathers and to their own memories, and they speak among themselves their own North tongue. And we love them: tall men and fair women, valiant both alike, golden-haired, bright-eyed, and strong; they remind us of the youth of Men, as they were in the Elder Days." ("The Window on the West," The Two Towers)
Obviously the physical attributes don't hold because Boromir is Gondorian, but the character traits are pretty consistent. Like the Rohirrim (whom Faramir describes as "valiant"), Boromir delights in battle and contests of arms. And he is stubborn in refusing to accept what his people expect of him as the forty-year-old heir of the steward (namely, a wife and heir, and preferably a spare or two). I can see the description "bright-eyed, and strong" fitting Boromir remarkably well.
I am not suggesting that Boromir is unsophisticated, but to a man as subtle as Denethor he might have seemed a bit of a "noble savage"—valiant and stalwart, to be sure, but not as subtle and complicated as Faramir or Denethor himself was. It would have been easier to love him more whole-heartedly than Denethor loved Faramir, not because he was a better man, but because he challenged Denethor less.
For all of that love, Denethor is not as crushed by Boromir's death as he might be. I cut off Gandalf's speech to Denethor abruptly above; here is the full comment:
"[Denethor] will speak most to you, and question you much, since you can tell him of his son Boromir. He loved him greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike. But under cover of this love he will think it easier to learn what he wishes from you rather than from me. Do not tell him more than you need, and leave quiet the matter of Frodo's errand." ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
After Denethor has questioned Pippin about Boromir's death, he tells the servants to take Gandalf and Pippin to their lodgings, and says he will soon hold a captains' council. At this point he says:
"'And you, my Lord Mithrandir, shall come too, as and when you will. None shall hinder your coming to me at any time, save only in my brief hours of sleep. Let your wrath at an old man's folly run off and then return to my comfort!'
'Folly?' said Gandalf. 'Nay, my lord, when you are a dotard you will die. You can use even your grief as a cloak. Do you think that I do not understand your purpose in questioning for an hour one who knows the least, while I sit by?'" ("Minas Tirith," The Return of the King)
I don't doubt that Denethor loved Boromir deeply and bitterly mourned his death. And by the time we meet him at the beginning of The Return of the King, Denethor has had a little time in which to get over his initial shock over Boromir's death. (Time filled with too many tasks and too little sleep as Gondor prepares for war, but he has had that time.) Still, he seems to be surviving his grief for Boromir fairly well. He is even able to use his grief "as a cloak," as Gandalf puts it. The death of Faramir seems to have a much more profound effect on him.
Denethor and Faramir
As was previously mentioned, Tolkien writes in the appendices that the only person Denethor loved more than Finduilas was Boromir. What, then, of his younger son Faramir?
First, it must be reiterated: When Denethor received words of Boromir's death, he clearly was grieving, but he was still able to use that grief "as a cloak," to use Gandalf's expression. When Faramir is injured, however, he is crushed, and he never recovers. Anyone who would claim that Denethor did not care for Faramir, was even hostile towards him, must explain this strange fact.
But does Denethor express that love? He's not emotive in the touchy-feely sense we often expect of modern dads. (There is no evidence that he is this way with Boromir, either, for the record.) He's not emotive. Being steward in a time of perpetual war, he may not have even spent much time with Faramir, even before Faramir went to Ithilien. However, there are subtle clues for the discerning reader. For instance, Tolkien writes of one of the captains' councils,
"When Faramir had taken white bread and drunk a draught of wine, he sat upon a low chair at his father's left hand. Removed a little upon the other side sat Gandalf in a chair of carven wood." ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
The importance of seating is something that is often lost on modern readers; however in a society based on the medieval feudal system, seating could be very important. The fact that Faramir sat so close to Denethor suggests affection; as a thirty-five-year-old captain from Ithilien, he probably wasn't the highest-ranked captain there, even if he was the steward's son.
Denethor shows concern for Faramir's well-being when he agrees to postpone questioning Faramir until he has had a chance to rest. Tolkien writes,
"'You are weary I see,' said Denethor. 'You have ridden fast and far, and under shadows of evil in the air, I am told.'
"'Let us not speak of that!' said Faramir.
"'Then we will not,' said Denethor. 'Go now and rest as you may. Tomorrow's need will be sterner.' ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
Gandalf's words to Faramir as he rides out to Osgiliath provide further confirmation of this affection:
"Gandalf it was that last spoke to Faramir ere he rode east. "Do not throw your life away rashly or in bitterness," he said. "You will be needed here, for other things than war. Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end. Farewell!" ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
This is presented differently in the movies. I mention it here not to lambaste movie!Faramir or movie!Denethor , but to draw attention to a subtlety that movie audiences may have missed. The movie scene corresponding to this passage goes as follows:
Gandalf: Faramir! Faramir! Your father's will has turned to madness! Do not throw away your life so rashly!
Faramir: Where does my allegiance lie, if not here?
Gandalf: Your father loves you, Faramir! He will remember it before the end.
The difference between these two passages may seem subtle, but it is there. In the movie scene, Faramir interprets Gandalf's exclamations as suggesting that he should remain in Minas Tirith rather than riding to Osgiliath, and that changes the whole timbre of the conversation. In the books, Gandalf is urging him not to take needless risks because he thinks he isn't needed in Minas Tirith; he will be.
This exchange should also not be taken to mean that Faramir needs to be convinced that Denethor loves him. Rather, he may need to be reminded. The poor man has just lost his brother and is facing the fall of his kingdom, which his father has accused him of causing; even the son of the most emotive of fathers would need to be reminded that he had something to live for.
Interestingly, originally it was Faramir, not Denethor, who wanted to defend Osgiliath. Tolkien wrote:
"'The Lord drives his son too hard, and now he must do duty for the one that is dead as well.' [Added in ink: But in truth Faramir went at his own will, and he it was that most swayed the council of the captains.] The council of the Lord had decided that with the threat in the South their force was too weak to make any stroke of war on their own part. They must man the defences and wait. Yet ever Faramir had urged that their outer defences must not be abandoned, and the River was the one that the Enemy should buy most dearly." (from a draft of "The Siege of Gondor," History of Middle-earth Vol. VIII)
However, to see how this issue of who pushed for the defense of Osgiliath changes the nature of Faramir's and Denethor's exchanges in "The Siege of Gondor," it is necessary to look at the captains' councils in more detail.
The Council Meetings in "The Siege of Gondor"
"The Siege of Gondor" chapter from The Return of the King is the one chapter where Faramir and Denethor interact at great length before Faramir is nearly dead and Denethor is taken by madness. It also shows Denethor interacting with other Gondorians in a manner we rarely see elsewhere, at least before the pyre scene, which can hardly be taken as normal behavior for him. This chapter, therefore, contains lots of clues as to how his character could be interpreted.
To understand these council meetings, it is important to realize that (unlike in Jackson's movies) there are two scenes between Denethor and Faramir. The first includes primarily Denethor, Gandalf, and Faramir; Pippin is present but it is in his capacity as Denethor's esquire, not as a participant in the conversation. It is a bit misleading to call this exchange a council meeting since only two Gondorians are present; it reads more like a debriefing. But the scene is political; it is important to emphasize that this is not a father-son greeting between Faramir and Denethor.
At this meeting, Faramir tells Denethor and Gandalf about Frodo and about the Ring. This is an important exchange, because it tells us a good bit about Faramir's and Denethor's relationship, at the most normal as it is ever presented in canon.
"[Faramir said,] 'As the dark drew on I knew that haste was needed, so I rode thence with three others that could also be horsed. The rest of my company I sent south to strengthen the garrison at the fords of Osgiliath. I hope that I have not done ill?' He looked at his father.
"'Ill?' cried Denethor, and his eyes flashed suddenly. 'Why do you ask? The men were under your command. Or do you ask for my judgement on all your deeds? Your bearing is lowly in my presence, yet it is long now since you turned from your own way at my counsel. See, you have spoken skilfully, as ever; but I, have I not seen your eye fixed on Mithrandir, seeking whether you said well or too much? He has long had your heart in his keeping.
"'My son, your father is old but not yet dotard. I can see and hear, as was my wont; and little of what you have half said or left unsaid is now hidden from me. I know the answer to many riddles. Alas, alas for Boromir!'
"'If what I have done displeases you, my father,' said Faramir quietly, 'I wish I had known your counsel before the burden of so weighty a judgement was thrust on me.'
"'Would that have availed to change your judgement?' said Denethor. 'You would still have done just so, I deem. I know you well.'" ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
Faramir's statements, however, stand in contrast to what he said to Frodo at Henneth Annûn. He says,
"'Whatever befell on the North March, you, Frodo, I doubt no longer. If hard days have made me any judge of Men's words and faces, then I may make a guess at Halflings! [...] I should now take you back to Minas Tirith to answer there to Denethor, and my life will justly be forfeit, if I now choose a course that proves ill for my city. So I will not decide in haste what is to be done.'" ("The Window on the West," The Two Towers)
As is well known, Faramir decides to let Frodo and Sam go on their way to Mordor. Whether he judged correctly in this situation isn't the point; he knew that he was acting on his own authority, in fact disobeying the clear law of the land that required that strangers not be allowed to wander through Ithilien. Faramir presents himself as one wanting the steward's judgement, but Denethor is correct; Faramir would not have changed his actions if he knew Denethor's wishes. Faramir's princely attitude is dangerous; Denethor reasonably believes that Gondor cannot afford such luxuries at this time.
This exchange leads up to one of the most controversial Faramir-Denethor moments in canon. Tolkien writes,
"'Do you wish then,' said Faramir, 'that our places had been exchanged?'
'Yes, I wish that indeed,' said Denethor. 'For Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard's pupil. He would have remembered his father's need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift.'" ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
Many people interpret this quote to imply that Denethor wants Faramir dead. But it is important to read the context carefully. When Denethor is asked whether he wishes both sons' positions had been exchanged, he speaks of Boromir bringing him a "mighty gift." He also refers to Boromir not being a "wizard's pupil," pointing to the fact that Denethor sees Faramir as caring too much for what Gandalf thinks. However, this "wizard's pupil" jab also points to Denethor's earlier debate with Gandalf over whether the Ring should have been brought to Gondor (which I did not quote because it has to do with Denethor's relationship with Gandalf rather than with Faramir). Connected with the comment that Boromir wouldhave brought the Ring to Gondor, it seems clear that Denethor is speaking of the Ring, not of Boromir's death.
Compare this to the movie version of this conversation:
Denethor: Much must be risked in war. Is there a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord's will?
Faramir: You wish now that our places have been exchanged. That I had died and Boromir had lived.
Denethor: Yes, I wish that.
Faramir: Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will do what I can in his stead.
This movie!verse scene makes the explicit point that Denethor wishes Faramir had died and Boromir had lived; this is simply not the way that Tolkien wrote the scene. And even if Tolkien's Denethor had preferred that, it would have been a far cry from wanting Faramir dead. Denethor is a politician, and a good leader, and he has been conditioned by years of experience to evaluate situations methodically. He recognizes that his sons may die, for they are soldiers in a war; and just because he would choose one over the other, that does not mean that he wishes one of his sons was dead.
Tolkien makes his intent clearer in an earlier draft of this scene:
"'Yes, I wish that indeed,' said Denethor. 'Or no.' And then he shook his head, and rising swiftly he laid his hand upon his son's bowed head. 'Do not judge me harshly, my son,' he said quietly, 'or believe me more harsh than I am. I knew your brother well also. Love is not blind. I could wish that Boromir had been at Henneth Annûn when this thing came there, only if I were sure of one thing.'
'Sure of what, my father?'
'That he was as strong in heart and selfless as you, my son. That taking this thing he would have brought it here and surrendered it, and not fallen swiftly under its thraldom. For, Faramir—and you too, Mithrandir, amid all your wide webs and policies—there is a third way, that is neither the folly of wizards nor the lust of warriors....'" (from a draft of "The Siege of Gondor," History of Middle-earth Vol. VIII)
Tolkien corrects his thinking in a note about this draft, writing,
"The early conversation of Faramir and his father and motives must be altered. Denethor must be harsh. He must say he did wish Boromir had been at Henneth Annûn—for he would have been loyal to his father and brought him the Ring. (Gandalf may correct this.) Faramir grieved but patient. Then Denethor must be all for holding Osgiliath 'like Boromir did', while Faramir (and Gandalf?) are against it, using the arguments previously given to Denethor. At length in submission, but proudly, to please his father and show him that not only Boromir was brave [he] accepts the command at Osgiliath. Men in the City do not like it.
"This will not only be truer to previous situation, but will explain Denethor's breaking up when Faramir is brought back dying, as it seems." (note on "The Siege of Gondor," History of Middle-earth Vol. VIII)
Reading both the original draft and Tolkien's explanation of why he changed the conversation the way he did, it seems clear that he did not make these changes because he felt it truer to the two men's characters, but because it is truer to the "situation" (with the bonus that it justifies Denethor being even more regretful later on). As a writer, I know that I often have original characters that I want to make do one thing, but a situation requires another type of reaction. I can see Tolkien struggling with a similar situation here with his characters; he wants to give Faramir and Denethor that father-son moment, but recognizes that in this particular situation it would not "fit."
At the very least, it is clear that the switch Denethor wishes for is with regard to which brother would be at Henneth Annûn, not at Amôn Hen.
One other thing that is often misunderstood about the council scenes is the motive behind defending Osgiliath. As was mentioned above, this wasn't always Denethor's idea. It certainly wasn't fought by Faramir out of some sort of misplaced loyalty to his brother's memories. Tolkien writes in an early outline of this chapter,
Denethor only willing to hold his walls. Knowing war drawing near he has long sent out summons to allies. They are coming in. But the messengers to Theoden, his chief ally, have not returned yet. Gandalf tells of Theoden's war. Gandalf and Pippin on battlements. See shadow as Nazgul sweep over river. Faramir comes on night of Feb. [7 >)8. At same time [> Next day) comes news of war at Osgiliath. Orcs led by Nazgul have crossed the river. Fleet from Umbar is approaching mouths of Anduin. Faramir supports Gandalf's policy of attack by sortie on the plain." ("Sketches of Book V," History of Middle-earth Vol. VIII, emphasis added)
From this passage it seems clear that Denethor wants to defend Minas Tirith and wait for his allies to arrive; while Faramir is the one that supports a more offensive war beyond Minas Tirith's walls. His reasoning becomes clearer in one of Tolkien's actual drafts of "The Siege of Gondor":
"Yet ever Faramir had urged that their outer defences must not be abandoned, and the River was the one that the Enemy should buy most dearly. It could not be crossed by a great host north of Men Falros [Cair Andros] because of the marshes, and away south of Lebennin it became too broad without many boats. So now he was gone again, taking such few men as Denethor would spare to strengthen the force that held the western ruins of Osgiliath. [Added in ink: 'But hold not too long so far afield,' said Denethor as he went out. 'Though you slay ten times your number at the crossing, the Enemy has more to spare.'] ("The Siege of Gondor,"The Return of the King)
Faramir encourages the defense of the various passings of the River, but not for personal reasons. The defense seems to make good tactical sense to him. And as captain of Ithilien, he would know that the passage of the River was deadly. This is a tactical disagreement between captain and lord, not a father sending his unloved son to his death or a son trying to earn his father's love.
Faramir's Injury and the Pyre of Denethor
If "The Siege of Gondor" required examination to avoid misunderstanding, that is a small matter compared to "The Pyre of Denethor." Here is where Denethor loses hope entirely and where he does his worst deeds. He tries to kill his son and succeeds in killing himself, in a most dishonorable way; and through these acts he keeps Gandalf from being able to fight the Witch-king, resulting in the death of Théoden.
These are hard issues to grapple with. For those readers that pity Denethor rather than despise him at this point in the story, Denethor's final speeches and actions can be heartbreakingly beautiful and tragic; to other readers less disposed to the Steward, they can be simply infuriating.
To understand what happens in the Pyre, we must first look at what Denethor does after Faramir returns from the defense of Osgiliath. Tolkien writes,
"The Prince Imrahil brought Faramir to the White Tower, and he said: 'Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds,' and he told all that he had seen. But Denethor rose and looked on the face of his son and was silent." ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
This silence on Denethor's part is heart-rending in its own way. Denethor has had an answer for every question or challenge put to him since we met him. He uses his grief over Boromir to find out more information about the Fellowship, but when confronted by the possibility that Faramir has died, he is speechless. And he takes immediate action to do what he can to save Faramir:
"He bade them make a bed in the chamber and lay Faramir upon it and depart. But he himself went up alone into the secret room under the summit of the Tower; and many who looked up thither at that time saw a pale light that gleamed and flickered from the narrow windows for a while, and then flashed and went out." ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
There are (at least!) two ways to read this passage. It's possible that Denethor is so unaffected by Faramir's injury that he goes on to carry on business as usual. But that doesn't fit with Denethor's earlier shock. I think it more likely that Denethor is doing battle on behalf of his son. It's clear from later passages that he is using the palantír, which we know gives him long sight. Denethor's strength is built on having information. Perhaps Denethor hopes to find out what has happened to Faramir so that he can be treated and saved. Perhaps he even wants to know what purpose Sauron has in this attack, and so wants to confront Sauron directly. In any event, the confrontation breaks Denethor:
"When Denethor descended again he went to Faramir and sat beside him without speaking, but the face of the Lord was grey, more deathlike than his son's." ("Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
Tolkien later writes of Denethor's vigil,
"No hours so dark had Pippin known, not even in the clutches of the Uruk-hai. It was his duty to wait upon the Lord, and wait he did, forgotten it seemed, standing by the door of the unlit chamber, mastering his own fears as best he could. And as he watched, it seemed to him that Denethor grew old before his eyes, as if something had snapped in his proud will, and his stern mind was overthrown. Grief maybe had wrought it, and remorse. He saw tears on that once tearless face, more unbearable than wrath." ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
It has often been said that, if Denethor was mad during the pyre episode, it was madness brought on by the palantír—and so madness of his own making. And that was certainly part of it. But the madness began with grief and remorse for a decision made in a hard situation. This is the payoff of the change Tolkien made in the council chamber, having Faramir ride to defend Osgiliath on Denethor's order rather than his own choosing. Denethor now thinks that he has sent his son to his death.
As if that is not enough heartache to break Denethor, there is the sight he sees after leaving the White Tower for Rath Dínen. Tolkien writes,
"Out from the White Tower they walked, as if to a funeral, out into the darkness, where the overhanging cloud was lit beneath with flickers of dull red. Softly they paced the great courtyard, and at a word from Denethor halted beside the Withered Tree.
"All was silent, save for the rumour of war in the City down below, and they heard the water dripping sadly from the dead branches into the dark pool." ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
Those of you who have grappled with grief, have you ever looked out at a dreary rain or fog and felt like the world was weeping with you? It's a powerful feeling because it seems like the whole world amplifies your grief and despair. I can easily imagine Denethor feeling just that way at this moment. The feeling of being surrounded by fire, combined with the symbolism of the withered tree, must have made him feel like his whole world was crumbling around him. If he was already in a mood where he was tempted to kill himself, such a depressing scene could really convince him that he was doing the right thing.
Once the group reaches Rath Dínen, Tolkien gives this description:
"[Dimly] to be seen were many rows of tables, carved of marble; and upon each table lay a sleeping form, hands folded, head pillowed upon stone. But one table near at hand stood broad and bare. Upon it at a sign from Denethor they laid Faramir and his father side by side, and covered them with one covering, and stood then with bowed heads as mourners beside a bed of death." ("The Siege of Gondor," The Return of the King)
There is love, of a sort, in the way Denethor has Faramir laid with him. It is clearly a very twisted love, but at this point in time Denethor is very twisted from the man he once was, by a hard life, high expectations, decades of palantír use, mano-a-mano conflict with Sauron, and finally the deaths of his sons, particularly Faramir. And it is in a sense a narcissistic love, certainly it has a possessiveness around it.
If Denethor's only goal was to prevent Faramir from being taken by orcs, and to die himself so that he would not become a slave, he could have had his servants kill them both separately. I certainly feel for Faramir, and am horrified by what it is Denethor is trying to do—yet I also understand that the impulse is born out of love and grief, and appreciate the connection between Faramir and Denethor that this choice shows.
I have referred several times to the madness of Denethor, and not (I hope) without reason. When Pippin brings Gandalf to Rath Dínen, Denethor and Gandalf have the following exchange:
"'Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee?' said Denethor. 'Or may I not command my own servants?'
'You may,' said Gandalf. 'But others may contest your will, when it is turned to madness and evil.'" ("The Pyre of Denethor," The Return of the King)
This quote clearly states that Gandalf thinks Denethor's actions are attributable to madness—but also to evil? This seems to undercut my point that Denethor's actions were the response of a man undone by grief and long wear. But is the evil Denethor's? After Denethor's death, he says to the guards:
"And so pass also the days of Gondor that you have known; for good or evil they are ended. Ill deeds have been done here; but let now all enmity that lies beyond you be put away, for it was contrived by the Enemy and works his will. You have been caught in a net of warring duties that you did not weave." ("The Pyre of Denethor," The Return of the King)
This passage might be interpreted as applying only to the fighting between Beregond and the guards faithful to Denethor, but another later passage extends the point to Denethor:
"Shall we weep or be glad? Beyond hope the Captain of our foes has been destroyed, and you have heard the echo of his last despair. But he has not gone without woe and bitter loss. And that I might have averted but for the madness of Denethor. So long has the reach of our Enemy become! Alas! but now I perceive how his will was able to enter into the very heart of the City." ("The Pyre of Denethor," The Return of the King)
Gandalf then goes on to describe the palantír. This passage seems to say that not only was the Pyre events caused by Denethor's madness but also by the Enemy's (in other words: Sauron's) effect on Denethor through the palantír. Which, as I have already argued, was an affect that Denethor did not foresee when he began using the palantír.
V. CONCLUSION: IMRAHIL'S FINAL WORD
It is easy to hate Denethor for the many things he did and almost did. I have not tried to explain everything that Denethor did, especially at the height of his madness. Particularly troubling is the fact that, when Gandalf tried to save Faramir from the pyre, Denethor tried to kill him with a knife.  I also have not tried to explain Denethor's suicide itself. I haven't explained these things because I can't explain them. I can only beg mitigation because Denethor had been pushed until he broke, both by grief and the effect of Sauron through the palantír.
After all, it has never been my intention to qualify Denethor for sainthood. God knows the man had his faults—but those faults should not completely overshadow the rest of his life. In the end, I agree with Imrahil's reaction to the news of Denethor's death.
"And Gandalf answered: '[...]The Lord Faramir was wounded by an evil dart, as you have heard, and he is now Steward; for Denethor has departed, and his house is in ashes.' And they were filled with grief and wonder at the tale he told.
"But Imrahil said: 'So victory is shorn of gladness, and it is bitter bought, if both Gondor and Rohan are in one day bereft of their lords.'" ("The Houses of Healing," The Lord of the Ring)
When he is told the full tale of Denethor's death, Imrahil is not filled with loathing or disgust for Denethor. Even after all of that, Denethor is still the lord of Gondor—and that is enough to convince me that we ought to be moved more quickly to understanding and pity than to condemnation where Ecthelion's son is concerned.
Chapter 2: Notes
 Cadiliniel has a nice essay looking at some of the problems with film!Denethor: "In Defense of Denethor: A Closer Look at Peter Jackson's Misrepresentation. Trust me when I say that you do not want me to talk too much about the issues of movie!Denethor; we'd be here a while.
 This movie quote and all subsequent quotes are from the transcripts available at The Seat of Kings. Used without explicit permission, though they do seem available for general use.
 For a legal analysis of Pelendur's decision, I highly recommend Roh-wyn's essay, Arvedui v. Pelendur.
 By Tolkien's own conceit, The Lord of the Ring is a translation of the Red Book, a hobbit historical memoir compiled by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and Sam Gamgee.
 I'm not saying that these are the only characters who could be considered mentors or lore-masters, but they seem the most obvious examples to me. And this list is enough to illustrate my present point.
 The standard example of a Greek tragic hero is Oedipus, a king of Thebes who killed his father and married his mother, and whose two sons started a civil war that let Creon gain the rule of Thebes. The pertinent features of the Greek hero is that he has a position of power (usually a king) but loses it through some fatal flaw, usually pride. For more on the Greek tragic hero, see this treatment of hamartia.
 Some may say that Dol Amroth is a province of Gondor rather than an independent kingdom, because the prince of Dol Amroth is said to have gotten his title from Elendil (see note 39, "Appendix: Númenorean Line Measures," "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields," Unfinished Tales). However, it seems to me that Dol Amroth functions much more independently than other Gondorian fiefdoms. The Swan Knights are described as fighting under Dol Amroth's flag, and Finduilas is regularly described as "Finduilas of Dol Amroth" (and other Gondorians, say from Lebennin, are not given this regional descriptor). Perhaps most decisively, HoME XII says that "after the ending of the kings [the Dol Amroth princes] became virtually independent princes." So even if they are subjects of Denethor, it seems like the Dol Amrothians operate as a fairly independent people.
 Which they deserve, but that is beside my point.
 In a private email exchange, Altariel compared Denethor's attempt to cut Faramir with a knife to Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac. I found this comparison apt because it illustrates how Denethor is trying to sacrifice Faramir, not just to save him from Sauron, but out of allegiance to some personal highest good—not the Valar, but some code of honor. At the least, it shows that Denethor's love of Faramir was rather possessive, at least at the height of his madness. Not his most endearing trait, I admit!
As with many things in life, it really does take a village to write an essay. At least about a character as complex as Denethor. Many people deserve thanks for their help. Thanks to Annmarwalk for her beta assistance and for providing the necessary prodding for me to finally write this thing (via comments in her Far-sighted drabble). And thanks to agape4rivendell for her discussion about Tolkien's charge that Denethor was too "political". That was most helpful. Lyllyn also helped me straighten out why I felt so compelled to defend Denethor, so I could untangle good interpretation from my own psychological idiosyncrasies.
I also thoroughly blame Tanaqui and Gwynnyd for getting me thinking about political implications, and to Tanaqui in particular for our many discussions of Denethor. I have not involved them directly in the writing of this essay, but I would not think about Denethor at the level I do without their assistance. Tanaqui has affected much of how I view Denethor's relationship with Faramir in particular; Gwynnyd has always encouraged me to appreciate the political side of things, and I highly suspect my thoughts on Thorongil somehow trace back to her as well. And I am sure I have absorbed other peoples' opinions as well along the line. This essay has been percolating in the back of my mind for some time.
Finally, much thanks to the HASA Research Library volunteers. Your chronologies were wonderfully helpful in identifying events that might have affected Denethor and Ecthelion, which made that part of the essay much easier to research.