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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
"But the old man would not so, but slew his son..."


Oct 15 2008, 8:06pm

Views: 453
"But the old man would not so, but slew his son..." [In reply to] Can't Post

2 [Nebu]chadnezzar considered […..]
3 His life appeared of no value to [him...]
5 And Babylonian speaks bad counsel to Evil-merodach […..]
6 Then he gave an entirely different order but [………]
7 He does not heed the word from his lips, the cour[tiers……]
11 He does not show love to son and daughter […..]
12 …family and clan do not exist [………]

-Clay tablet fragment, item no. BM 34113 (sp 213) in the British Museum.

(BTW, Evil-merodach was Nebuchadnezzar’s first-born.)

Is the pyre in the chapter title more than a literal reference to the way Denethor dies?

I think it’s one of Tolkien’s little philological jokes. It seems to be a veiled reference to “The Furnace of Nebuchadnezzar”. Nebuchadnezzar, or Nebuchadrezzar, or Nabuchodonosor, or anything within reason, is a corruption of the original Babylonian, “Nabu-kudurri-usur”, translated as "O Nebo, defend my rule", which of course would be quite appropriate for Denethor. So would Faramir be Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego?

Denethor seems to use the language of burning as his image of the way that everything in his world will end. Describing the situation to Gandalf, Pippin reports that Denethor “says we are all to burn.” Later, Denethor says, “But soon all shall be burned…. It shall all go up in a great fire, and all shall be ended.”

Why is Denethor fixated on this particular image for the end of “all”?

It does seem related to Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream, which involved a dying white tree, which Daniel prophesied as a warning about his pride, which God punished by making him mad.

Discuss the light in Denethor’s eyes.

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword:
-Revelation 1:14-16

How does it compare with the lights we see in the eyes of other characters? What is the significance of its appearing and disappearing? Why does some of this seem to be triggered by Faramir?

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
-Genesis 22:5

And Beregond tells of a “strange light” from a room in the Tower that is apparently from when Denethor was using the palantir.

Sounds like the weird light people saw when the disciples were celebrating Pentecost up on the second floor.

Why is this palantir so associated with fire? If it is due to Sauron, would other palantiri (e.g. Saruman’s) also show this kind of fire? Why does the palantir retain the final image of Denethor’s hands in the fire?

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchčd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

- Wilfred Owen, The Parable of the Old Man and the
Young (1920)

Owen’s famous poem, a parable for WWI, was later integrated into The War Requiem, the famous reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral. Interestingly, Sean Bean played in the 1988 movie version. Very highly recommended.

We know that the House of Stewards is ending, so it is perhaps not inappropriate that symbols of it are destroyed. But why do they need to burn with Denethor?

It’s almost like the burning of ballots and notes during the selection of a new pope, who is also a Steward.

And a random question: Faramir has a Steward’s staff on the day of Aragorn’s coronation. Did they have a spare sitting around, or did they make a new one in the intervening days?

Same place Gandalf gets his replacement staffs.

Tolkien personifies the fire of Denethor’s pyre. “Those outside heard the greedy roaring of the fire within,” and “the flames danced…among the ruins” of the Stewards’ tomb. Why the personification?

Almost sounds like all the consternation caused by the disciples at Pentecost.

The last sentence of the chapter contains the phrase “and all the fires sank.” What’s going on there? Is it at all significant that this occurs in a grey rain brought by the wind?

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Again we have a little philological joke here. In original Hebrew, “Rushing Mighty Wind”, is a pun on the phrase “Spirit of God”.

Anyway, everyone in town saw the lights up on the second floor and wondered what the heck the disciples were all up to. One consensus was that “These men are full of new wine.” (Acts 2:13)

The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”

Subject User Time
The Pyre of Denethor 1: Fire Menelwyn Send a private message to Menelwyn Oct 13 2008, 9:35pm
    My thoughts Elros Send a private message to Elros Oct 13 2008, 11:28pm
    Seeing the world through flame-tinted glasses Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua Oct 14 2008, 12:10am
        Interesting points- Laerasëa Send a private message to Laerasëa Oct 15 2008, 11:28pm
    So passes Denethor, ... batik Send a private message to batik Oct 14 2008, 2:05am
    Cleansing fire Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Oct 14 2008, 2:16am
    PTSD Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Oct 14 2008, 8:19pm
    "But the old man would not so, but slew his son..." Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Oct 15 2008, 8:06pm
    The power of fire squire Send a private message to squire Oct 17 2008, 1:42am
        Gandalf and goblin-fire. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Oct 20 2008, 5:59pm
    "Naur an edraith ammen!" N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Oct 20 2008, 6:05pm


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