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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Lord of the Rings:
John Noble's thoughts on Denethor
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Arwen Skywalker
Lorien

May 4 2010, 4:38pm

Post #1 of 48 (634 views)
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John Noble's thoughts on Denethor Can't Post

Some quotes put up here for discussion.

On the essence of Denethor: "The main thing about Denethor is that he's a father, which is something I can relate to very strongly. The approach I took was he's a powerful father, a good man, but he's inexorably drawn to his own destruction because of his grief."

On his relationship with Boromir:
"Boromir was Denethor's favorite son. He was a mirror of Denethor, a big, strong warrior. With the loss of Boromir, it was like Denethor had been killed himself."

On whether he loves Faramir:
"Of course, but Faramir's more similar to Denethor's late wife, and I think he resents the fact she's not there anymore, and that reflects on his relationship with that son."

On his bitterness
: "Denethor is a man who is, quite literally, driven mad by grief and rage. There's a lot of King Lear about this character- the leader who throws his family and kingdom away. He's bitter becomes he never becomes King of Gondor, and Boromir inherited that bitterness. Then his grief over Boromir's death makes him both hate and alienate Faramir, his youngest son. It's an amazing descent to track as an actor."

Book-firsters: Did Tolkien's Denethor come off as a Shakespearean tragic character? Do you agree with Noble's take on Denethor?

If anyone was wondering, the first three quotes were from the official website interview. The last was scavenged from the TORN scrapbook.

Of course, any other quotes or observations are welcome.


(This post was edited by Arwen Skywalker on May 4 2010, 4:38pm)


squire
Valinor


May 4 2010, 9:39pm

Post #2 of 48 (334 views)
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"[Denethor] loved [Boromir] greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike." [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien is quite clear that Denethor is unlike Boromir, but rather more like Aragorn and Faramir:
'[Denethor] 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 runs nearly true in him; as it does in his other son, Faramir, and yet did not in Boromir whom he loved best.' (Gandalf speaking, Return of the King V.1)
The implication is that Denethor knows his own strengths and weaknesses, and admires Boromir for being a first and foremost a fighting man in a time when fighting men are what Gondor needs. Yet Denethor himself is not a fighting man but a master of policy and administration. Thus his quixotic attempt to prove his manhood by sleeping in mail and always carrying an unneeded sword. It is quite a complex portrait, and one that Tolkien barely develops.

Against all this evidence from the book, Mr. Noble seems to have simplified the scenario to "like father, like son" - not following Tolkien at all. I wonder if he got this impression from the script (which badly serves the book's Denethor), or mis-read the book himself, or simply is projecting his own preferences in characters onto this one?



squire online:
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Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
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Gene_Beane
The Shire


May 4 2010, 11:14pm

Post #3 of 48 (495 views)
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Re: "[Denethor] loved [Boromir] greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike." [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Against all this evidence from the book, Mr. Noble seems to have simplified the scenario to "like father, like son" - not following Tolkien at all. I wonder if he got this impression from the script (which badly serves the book's Denethor), or mis-read the book himself, or simply is projecting his own preferences in characters onto this one?


I always took it as John Noble explaining Denethor's character as he's presented in the film(s), and his relationship with Boromir, which apparently is a case of "Like Father like Son" and not necessarily his [mis]interpretation of Denethor's character in the books, whom Tolkien describes is not like his elder son in the least, but his opposite and a opposite he favored above his youngest.

"Stand for what you believe in. Even if it means you stand alone."



Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 5 2010, 3:47am

Post #4 of 48 (323 views)
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I tend to agree with Gene_Beane--- [In reply to] Can't Post

At least, I hope that's what Noble was doing. I assume he had to mostly pay attention to what was in the script, and when discussing his take on the acting, would be referring just to the movie. I believe Lear did occur to me at some point. Noble's performance seemed a bit "over-the-top" to me at times; but then Lear himself is over-the-top. Faramir could be a bit like Cordelia in a way ("Boromir loved me best--the way I wanted . . .").

I think the book Denethor was both a Numenorean throwback in terms of character and mental abilities (and certainly, his abilities as a ruler), and also as a tough, disciplined warrior. I think the ancient Numenoreans often embodied both--so unlike Squire, I don't really see the sleeping with the sword practice as being Quixotic. I think it was a matter of trying to hang on to himself, or how he perceived himself, when those qualities which he'd had all his life, and thought of as his identity, were fading--fear of losing his strength and self control (so, Quixotic or not, it certainly was a vain effort!).

As an aside, I know Tolkien did not like Shakespeare. Does anyone here know why?


Silverlode
Forum Admin / Moderator


May 5 2010, 8:08pm

Post #5 of 48 (294 views)
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The only comment I remember [In reply to] Can't Post

from Tolkien regarding Shakespeare was that he felt frustrated and cheated by the fulfillment of the prophecy in Macbeth about the Birnam woods coming to Dunsinane. Which is undoubtedly why, in his own writings, he made darn sure his woods actually got up and walked and came to Helm's Deep. Wink

I think it's mentioned somewhere in his Letters, which I don't have by me. No doubt someone here can provide the citation.

Silverlode

"Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.
Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else [make something new], may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. The gems all turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you."
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weaver
Half-elven

May 5 2010, 11:32pm

Post #6 of 48 (252 views)
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We got more of Theoden, less of Denethor in the films... [In reply to] Can't Post

In the books, Theoden is the lesser developed of the two characters, to me -- I confess, I never saw much in the character beyond "old king who comes back to fight one more time". Now, I know there's more to him that that -- when you read more closely, you can see him as dealing with depression, for example, and there are hints as the causes of it, but for me, a lot of those subtleties are overshadowed by the battles. In the end, I did not much care about him until Merry did, and his death was only sad to me because of the impact it has on Merry.

Denethor, on the other hand, was a character that hooked me from the start -- the whole battle of wills with Gandalf, the way he's seen by and interacts with the other characters, the political stagecraft, the relationships with his sons -- there are layers and layers to the guy that made me want to know more about him, and after meeting him as such a proud character at first, his fall is more tragic.

Film-wise, it's kind of the opposite -- we got lots of character development with Theoden, who benefits greatly from the way they used his character to explore the concept of leadership and kingship, and from teaming him, rather than Eomer, up with Aragorn. Denethor, by contrast is more the one note character -- he's already isolating himself from things when we meet him, and the battle of wills and political maneuverings are reduced to just a few lines. We get a great exploration of the end of his story, but not enough of the man he was before his fall.

I personally like John Noble's Denethor a great deal -- he's got that great scowl, and the acting chops to pull off a very operatic moment like the pyre scene; to me, he was absolutely perfect in that one -- everything leads up to that moment for him in the films, and he pulls it off with flying colors. In the book, however, the pyre scene was one I really had a hard time processing...as a parent, the whole idea behind it is pretty hard to fathom. So seeing it, especially the way they presented it in these films, really helped me to try to understand it, rather than just reject the whole concept of it, as I had just from reading it.

For me, I like Theoden much better now, after having seen Bernard Hill bring him to life for me. Likewise, movie Denethor benefits greatly from having some book knowledge of who he was before his fall. I think in both cases, we've got a good example of the films and books enhancing each other and the reader/viewer appreciation of both characters.

All IMHO, of course...and thank you for the quotes from John Noble, which were interesting to read!

Weaver

sample


Arwen's daughter
Half-elven


May 5 2010, 11:47pm

Post #7 of 48 (262 views)
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Denethor is the anti-Aragorn [In reply to] Can't Post

Just as Frodo and Gollum are two sides of the same coin, I've always seen Denethor as the other side of Aragorn. He's the cautionary tale of what would happen to Aragorn if he were just a little less noble.



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Kangi Ska
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 12:04am

Post #8 of 48 (287 views)
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Denethor is also the mirror twin of Theodin: [In reply to] Can't Post

Both rulers at the end of their lives. Both lose sons in battle. Both confronted by what they believe to be certain defeat. Compare and contrast the difference in responses.

Kangi Ska

There is no place like the Shire...There is no place like the Shire...There is no place like the Shire...

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FarFromHome
Valinor


May 6 2010, 12:38am

Post #9 of 48 (235 views)
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I don't have my Letters either [In reply to] Can't Post

but I think there's also a quote somewhere where he says in a general way that he didn't enjoy the Shakespeare he had to read in school - a fairly generic comment that practically any English schoolboy (or girl) of his day might have made, since so much of it was on the syllabus!

But, more fundamentally, I think Shakespeare also represents the first big step in England into the Renaissance and out of the Middle Ages - into the world of individual, human characters with warts and all, and out of the grand heroic age with its great, stylized heroes and villains. Shakespeare even took medieval legends (King Lear, Hamlet etc.) and turned them into his own personalized, psychological dramas. I suspect that Tolkien felt that Shakespeare's huge shadow over all English literature had pushed the medieval off the syllabus ever since, and/or had led to medieval works being misunderstood and undervalued (as he argues in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics).

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Arwen's daughter
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 2:25am

Post #10 of 48 (275 views)
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Absolutely [In reply to] Can't Post

And I don't think either of those comparisons comes across in the films. All of the nobility and depth is stripped away from Denethor and it takes away from the other characters who are meant to look even better next to the steward.



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Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 6 2010, 3:25am

Post #11 of 48 (206 views)
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That really makes a lot of sense. [In reply to] Can't Post

I've had much more minor experiences where someone else's take on things felt like they were pushing my ideas off the map. Lucky us, we can enjoy both: not only Shakespeare's world, but the Medieval, equally. Tolkien makes it accessible to me in a way that nothing else has.

Thanks for your insight!


Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 6 2010, 3:29am

Post #12 of 48 (219 views)
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I have thought of that many, many times, and given it [In reply to] Can't Post

a fair amount of rumination, even as a young teen when I first read the books.

I'm glad your outting it out there, and stating it so clearly--I'd like to see more discussion about it.Smile


FarFromHome
Valinor


May 6 2010, 3:30am

Post #13 of 48 (224 views)
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Yes and this comes across in the film [In reply to] Can't Post

on a number of levels, I find.


In Reply To
Denethor is also the mirror twin of Theodin



It's embedded on the contrasting scenes between Theoden and Eowyn ("Duty? No. I would have you smile again") on the one hand, and Denethor and Faramir ("Is there a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord's will?") on the other.

As you say, the difference in their response to certain defeat is particularly telling - Theoden's "But we will meet them in battle nonetheless", compared to Denethor's "Flee! Flee for your lives!"

And, whether or not the scene works (and I know very few people like it), Denethor's flaming fall takes place in the background of Theoden's triumph on the field - the only time the two characters are on-screen together! It's not that one held onto hope while the other despaired - they both believed they couldn't win, but Theoden fights anyway, out of a selfless sense of duty, while Denethor gives in to his personal pain and anger at the loss he is being asked to bear. Theoden is rewarded with success ("Make safe this city!") at the very moment that Denethor plunges to oblivion.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 6 2010, 3:32am

Post #14 of 48 (232 views)
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My thoughts exactly! (As an aside. . . [In reply to] Can't Post

are we supposed to use one slash or two, when they reply is subject only??)


Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 6 2010, 3:37am

Post #15 of 48 (206 views)
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That does sound familiar. [In reply to] Can't Post

I find I can enjoy both--but I confess to being deeply satisfied, especially on my first reading, when the Ents went on the move, those Huorns actually showed up! (Don't tell--I used to talk to trees in my neighborhood when I was a kid, long before Tolkien. He just gave me more of an excuse, until I grew up too much, or got more worried about the neighbors!) Blush


FarFromHome
Valinor


May 6 2010, 3:53am

Post #16 of 48 (216 views)
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Very true. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
We got more of Theoden, less of Denethor in the films...



The films focus on Theoden's rise far more than on Denethor's fall.

One reason may be because Theoden's story interweaves with Aragorn's much more, making it easier to show what kingship is all about, as Theoden relearns leadership through Aragorn, and Aragorn learns about kingship through Theoden. Denethor may be an anti-Aragorn, as Arwen's Daughter says, but he and Aragorn don't ever interact, so the possibilities in terms of the drama are limited. In the book, Denethor is probably the most complex study of what it means to be a ruler, but in the film this subject is shown through Theoden and Aragorn instead.

I have no problem with Denethor's role being so reduced in the film - he's essentially a minor character, and I think he has to come second to the storytelling which is gaining momentum and building to a climax by this time. I do sometimes wonder whether an actor with a bit more subtlety in his makeup (someone like Jeremy Irons, or Alan Rickman, for example) could have more clearly shown the suffering behind the anger that Denethor displays, especially in the eating scene.

Although people often argue that Denethor is shown as noble and in control in the book, I've always thought that Tolkien is playing with us a bit here, as he also does with Saruman. He tells us how noble and intelligent Denethor is, but he shows him being petty and dishonest, covering up his personal antagonisms under a cloak of convention. But that's really for another discussion - one we've had in the past (and will no doubt have again one day!) in the Reading Room.

Tongue

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



(This post was edited by FarFromHome on May 6 2010, 3:55am)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 3:57am

Post #17 of 48 (249 views)
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They even look alike. [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, in the book, at least.

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Kangi Ska
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 4:23am

Post #18 of 48 (206 views)
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I believe that this is unsettled: there was a long thread without resolution.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Kangi Ska

There is no place like the Shire...There is no place like the Shire...There is no place like the Shire...

At night one cannot tell if crows are black or white.


Man on Fire


FarFromHome
Valinor


May 6 2010, 4:25am

Post #19 of 48 (202 views)
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Basically, either is fine. It's not official - just a courtesy! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 6 2010, 4:26am

Post #20 of 48 (208 views)
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Wow, what a great discussion on the old boards, [In reply to] Can't Post

and a great post by Squire. He managed to say almost everything I've felt/thought about Denethor, and also a lot of stuff I'd certainly never thought of specifically in those terms--like the realism of the descriptions/characters in Gondor.

And yes, I always kept what Pippin said about the resemblance of Denethor to Aragorn (or vice versa) in mind, and tried to imagine just what that would look like. Character changes a face, quite a bit, though. I wonder if Denethor looked more like the "mean" aunt in a family--looks like your dad or mom, but you almost grudge it because "she's" so different on the inside (I didn't ever have a mean aunt, by the way).Smile


Magpie
Immortal


May 6 2010, 4:26am

Post #21 of 48 (215 views)
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there is room [In reply to] Can't Post

for individual expression. Either works. So does: {NT}


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SirDennisC
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 4:37am

Post #22 of 48 (239 views)
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OT not quite. / [In reply to] Can't Post

 


sador
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 9:58am

Post #23 of 48 (207 views)
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I'm not sure I agree. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Although people often argue that Denethor is shown as noble and in control in the book, I've always thought that Tolkien is playing with us a bit here, as he also does with Saruman. He tells us how noble and intelligent Denethor is, but he shows him being petty and dishonest, covering up his personal antagonisms under a cloak of convention.



Although as we've noted already in the RR, Tolkien does a similar thing with Boromir - but (which I'm not sure was pointed out before) opposite!
Book-Boromir seems to be a malcontent, and a jerk. Only in TTT we start getting a real appreciation of him - by Aragorn, Eomer, Gandalf, Theoden, Faramir and finally Denethor. In fact, has anybody noticed that the final remark on him is depreciating - that of Beregond, comparing him unfavourably to Faramir? But by then he is firmly entrenched in our minds as a hero, that we forget what we actually saw of him in FOTR.

On the other hand, Denethor is spoken of as great from the beginning, up to Gandalf's words to Pippin before meeting him! And while I've argued before that the Denethor which is shown is truly great, and a worthy adversary of Gandalf - the fact that both you and squire found him otherwise (I think I've explained before why I disagree with his take on the mail and sword; we've probably argued it when NEB led 'The Siege of Gondor' last time), testifies to the fact that against the expectations built, he seems a it underwhelming, petty and pathetic. And once again, the last words regarding him (Gandalf's) mention his greatness in not succumbing to the palantir (whatever you may think of Tom Shippey's suggestion that he saw Frodo being captured - it is still clear that the Enemy learned nothing from him regarding Frodo) as opposed to Saruman.
And once again, we hardly notice that, or having read Unfinished Tales, chalk it down to the mere 'right' he had to use the stone; but Saruman was also a Gondor-appointed warden of Orthanc! Believe me, a lesser man (even an Imrahil or an Eomer) would have been way less successful in witholding crucial information from Sauron; although they would have probably been wise enough to avoid using it in the first place.

I am sure that Denethor's story in truly the fall of the a great man, similar to (but more powerful than) those tremendous personalities, Michael_Henchard and Gunhild_Borkman (Draupne noddes sagely).

A fair warning: I am a nitpicker by taste, talents and profession.

"...Still, undespairing, do we sometimes slowly file
Discursive threads regardless of our doom..."
- squire.



sador
Half-elven


May 6 2010, 10:13am

Post #24 of 48 (210 views)
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If you check the dates [In reply to] Can't Post

(from memory) - Denethor married Finduilas in 2976, Boromir was born in 2978, he succeeded his father as Steward in 2980, Faramir was born in 2983 and Finduilas died at 2984.
The year between Faramir's birth and his mother's death could have been anything from three to twenty months. In fact, Faramir grew up with no mother - perhaps a few busts or portraits.

Tolkien attributes Finduilas' premature death to her wilting in the stone City; but did she just wilt, so soon after giving birth? Or is it more that she had never properly recovered, and the physical and/or the mental sense?
I think Denethor felt some resentment, and perhaps subconciously blamed Faramir for the loss of his mother. As well as for the loss of his brother, seeing that Boromir took over Faramir's quest. Or perhaps he blamed himself for Finduilas (as he did for Boromir, in his 'bitterness in my cup' speech to Faramir in the Council of the Captains), and needed Faramir to share the load of guilt.


In Reply To
On whether he loves Faramir: "Of course, but Faramir's more similar to Denethor's late wife, and I think he resents the fact she's not there anymore, and that reflects on his relationship with that son."



A fair warning: I am a nitpicker by taste, talents and profession.

"...Still, undespairing, do we sometimes slowly file
Discursive threads regardless of our doom..."
- squire.



Ethel Duath
Valinor


May 6 2010, 1:57pm

Post #25 of 48 (240 views)
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Thanks Kangi and Magpie! Sorry for the OT/ [In reply to] Can't Post

 

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