The Problem with Boromir's Argument

HowthCE

New Member
Hello!

I want to push back a little on the notion that Boromir's argument was a good one. While it may seem logical to use the enemy's weapon against him, we (and Boromir) have already been given the tools to disqualify Boromir's argument within this very council. For starters, Gandalf has already recited the spell engraved on the ring, which begins, "One ring to rule them all." Next, let's consider Saruman's more sinister argument:

"'And why not, Gandalf?"' he whispered. 'Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us ."

Now, let's look at Boromir's speech.

"Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the Enemy."

The first part of Boromir's argument is the suggestion that the ring has come to serve the free people. There's some semantic ambiguity here, as one could read into this some volition on the part of the ring. While there is already evidence for the ring's volition, I'm not sure Boromir is aware of it. So, when he says this, the most generous reading is that the phrase "has come into our hands to serve us" is meant in the abstract. Yet, given what we've already learned about The Ring, this semantic ambiguity should be startling. We should ask ourselves, "does the ring serve anybody?" Obviously, we know the ring was made to serve Sauron, but the purpose of the ring is power and/or domination. Service is not in the ring's nature, and certainly not service to those whom it was designed to dominate.

The second part of Boromir's argument echoes Saruman's "us." The "Free Lords" cannot wield it, because they are plural. As Gandalf says to Saruman, "only one hand can wield the one." It may be Boromir is hedging. It may be he realizes he needs these friends, and it would not be politic to say who he thinks should wield it (even less that HE should wield it), but if we accept that these suggestions come from the ring itself, this second ambiguity suggests a sinister motive of disunion.

I see something Miltonic in this whole council (I'm new to these discussions, so please forgive me if this has already come-up). It's not a 1:1 analogy by any means, but there are a lot of echoes here to the demonic debate in Book II of Paradise Lost. One of the most important things for the reader to do, whenever reading a demonic or luciferian speech, is remember that they will always lie. So while the arguments seem to make sense, the attentive reader should be able to see the speciousness of their arguments through the veneer of good sense. If we believe Boromir's arguments may be inspired by The Ring, we should similarly look for lies.

Anyway, this is my first post. I hope you all enjoy. Thanks!
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Welcome - I'm pretty new here myself, and remember making that first post.

While Saruman's speeches may be demonic, I don't think Boromir's are. He is not evil, not yet and not finally. I don't think people were actually saying his arguments make sense, but that the third alternative, after hiding it and destroying it, is valid logically, and perhaps it needed to be said out loud in the Council. Boromir is out of his element here. He is a leader of men, already a military leader, and expecting to be the Steward when his father dies. He is at home with strength, but not with the supernatural element here. It makes sense that he would question these conclusions - his concern is the defense of Minas Tirith and he has not long ago faced a foe he can't deal with at the bridge. It would make sense to him that a weapon with a power he cannot understand could be used against a foe he cannot understand.

His argument is wrong, but that doesn't mean it doesn't make sense, or comes from a wish to deceive, though that will enter later. He is speaking his thoughts honestly. At least, I think so.
 
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Welcome @HowthCE. Great comparison, and I don't think Paradise Lost has come up in the classes, though someone may have posted on it before I arrived. I remember reading Book 1 and 2 in school, and a few people in the class discussion thinking that Satan had a point. The lies make sense to us... just like this example.

The difficulty with deciding whether Boromir is lying, or anyone else is lying (Frodo? "Sure, I'll destroy it") is that the Ring is so insidious. The arguments and rationalizations it makes, make a lot of sense. It offers the easy way out of difficult situations. Remember the way it works on Frodo, making him want to disappear at opportune moments, and escape embarrassment or danger.

Boromir, as @Rachel has said before, is above all else Practical. His argument is a good one, if (and this is a big if) The Ring is a tool, as a sword or other weapon is a tool. Anyone can pick it up and use it for good or for ill.

His argument is a bad one if The Ring serves Sauron no matter who uses it.

So the question in my mind is which one of the following three options is happening with Boromir?
  1. Boromir is being lied to, and passing them on. The Ring is actively speaking to him and feeding him these lines.
  2. Boromir is lying/rationalizing, whether he realizes it or not. The Ring is showing him pictures of glory and victory, and letting Boromir rationalize and fill in the pieces
  3. Boromir is mistaken. The Ring is not acting on Boromir at all, and this is just Boromir's character and thought processes.
I tend to think the middle one, but I could accept the other two. (Number 1 may be dismissed by the class as we discover more about the Ring throughout the book, but even if we do, others could still read it that way.)

Part of Tolkien's genius is to create these ambiguous situations that are shaded so plausibly. I love it!
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi LyndonLeaves,

There is a fourth option:

Boromir is not mistaken. He is just exploring all the logical options during the debate about what to do with the Ring.

Is Boromir advocating using the Ring as a weapon against Sauron? No, he is exploring using the Ring as a weapon against Sauron. He is not even sure it will work as a weapon against Sauron. "Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say."

Boromir only got a hint a few minutes ago that the Ring might even possibly be a weapon against Sauron. He got it from Gandalf's report of Saruman's words, "The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the power would pass to us." There has been no mention before in the Council that the Ring would give any powers to anyone except Sauron other than the powers to extend life, and confer invisibility.

Boromir is picking up on Saruman's comment, but the comment is not very clear, and the source is not very trustworthy. Boromir is not sure that using the Ring as a weapon against Sauron is even possible. He just wants to explore the possibility.

I do not see anything sinister in Boromir's phrase, "The Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in our hour of need." He is just bouncing back Elrond's reference to the Providential nature of having the Ring in the Room. It is undoubtedly true that whatever they do with the Ring, they hope that it will serve them in their hour of need.

The Ring inscription, which Boromir has heard during the Council, far from being a warning, is encouraging! One Ring to Rule them all! Great! If that worked, we could rule the Nazgul! That would answer the Dream, as the 'counsels taken' in Imladris would than certainly be 'stronger than Morgul-spells'.

Remember also, that none of the other options have appeared to Boromir to clearly be 'stronger than Morgul-spells'. Boromir wants counsels which fit his Dream! Delivering on the task in his Divine Dream is Boromir's absolute focus and number one priority from this Council. He has not got this yet!
 

HowthCE

New Member
Thanks for the discussion, everyone!

At this point, I don't think we have any reason to believe the motives of the people in the room are anything but pure. Rather, I'm working on the assumption that the ring has volition and is recommending itself to anyone who will listen. We're not yet exactly sure why, but one thing that we (the reader, not Boromir) know is that the ring wants to be used. We get a glimpse at the foot of Amon Sul, when Frodo uses the ring, revealing himself to the wraiths, but it's not explicit until Amon Hen, when we observe the ring calling to its true master (either of its own, or through the voice of Frodo).

For now, let it suffice that the ring always recommends its own use. In that context, it should not be surprising that there's someone in the room who might psychically hear that recommendation and put it forth. It might seem logical. In fact, that's what most people are suggesting at the moment: Boromir is simply refuting an apparently false dichotomy. But it's not enough to just say, "let's use Sauron's weapon against him." One must also say how that might be done - how it might even be possible. That, I think, is where Boromir's argument fails. Can it be the ring has come to serve us? No, as we've already learned from Gandalf's discussion about the ring's lore. Can the free lords wield it? No, it can only be wielded by one person at a time. Even that has shown, in the case of Isildur, to be fruitless against a random band of orcs.

As for Elrond's discussion of providence, we have to consider the purpose of that providence. Given what we've learned, Elrond concludes the purpose of the providence is to destroy the ring, not to rule men or ask the ring to serve the free people. Boromir may, in good faith, be riffing on Elrond's discussion of providence to suggest the ring came to them to serve them, but that does not give his argument strength in the face of what we've learned about the ring - that service to the people it was designed to dominate is not in its nature. If the ring is recommending itself, then it's doing so with a will that is cross-purposes to the free people in the room, and I would contend we have the tools to see through that.

Okay, I've got to go help my kids with bath time. Thanks again for all your comments!
 

Kate Neville

Active Member
I think Boromir also would love to recreate the glory of the Last Alliance. And wouldn't it be great to turn Isildur's Bane into Sauron's Bane? I think at that moment he would definitely defer to Elrond, and possibly Glorfindel, and at a stretch maybe even Aragorn, but he would certainly also modestly agree to take on the burden himself. Just as a loan of course.
 

Johannes

New Member
There is a fourth option:

Boromir is not mistaken. He is just exploring all the logical options during the debate about what to do with the Ring.

There has been no mention before in the Council that the Ring would give any powers to anyone except Sauron other than the powers to extend life, and confer invisibility.
I think I agree the most with option number four, although I think Boromir is at least intrigued by the Ring already.

However, there might be mention, in the Council, of the Rings ability to give powers. Quote from way back in chapter 2:
"You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?’ ‘No!’ cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself."

When it's Frodos time to talk in the Council this is what we are told:
"Frodo told of all his dealings with the Ring from the day that it passed into his keeping."

Based on this description of Frodos tale, do we think Gandalfs outburst about the Rings treacherous powers was mentioned? At any rate, I was a bit surprised when no one mentioned this quote from Gandalf during the session when this was discussed. I think that we as readers are definitely aware of the dangers of trying to wield the Ring.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Johnnes,

You are right that we, the readers, are aware from Gandalf's comments about dangers in trying to wield the Ring. Boromir might have heard Gandalf's comments on 'taking the Ring', during Frodo's account, or, Frodo might have summarized, we don't know.

However, If you were Boromir, and did hear these comments verbatim from Frodo, would they be very clear?

Gandalf will not take the Ring because he fears it's temptation. He fears becoming 'like the Dark Lord'. Does this mean that he would join Sauron? It is not clear that it means that he would or could successfully oppose Sauron with the Ring? It is also not clear whether the Ring would 'gain a power still greater and more deadly' over other people besides Gandalf?

Gandalf goes on to say, "Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me."

So, would that be true of people with different temperaments than Gandalf? The history of the world is replete with people who, initially motivated by 'pity for weakness' tried to build Utopian societies, with communist or socialist ideologies, and found that the road led to tyranny. (Tolkien could observe many, including Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and he does not like them. Witness the Scouring of the Shire, and Saruman's 'gatherers', and 'sharers', who end up not sharing, but lining their own pockets.) Boromir might have wondered, "Well what if one didn't have such great pity for weakness, but just wanted a weapon to defeat Sauron? Would that work?"

In short, even if Boromir did hear a verbatim account of Gandalf's comments from Frodo, it might have made him cautious about the possibilities of wielding the Ring against Sauron (and he was cautious and hesitant in his exploration of the idea), but it was not a very clear exposition of the possibilities and risks of doing so.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
So you go on. Gandalf, Elrond - all these folk have taught you to say so. For themselves they may be right. These elves and half-elves and wizards, they would come to grief perhaps. Yet often I doubt if they are wise and not merely timid. True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only the strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir?

This is what he really thinks. Under the Ring's influence? But still a truth-teller.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Rachel,

That is what Boromir thinks (or rationalizes?) at Parth Galen. But he is not there yet. At the moment, he has doubts. But does he have a fully formed opinion or point of view on the risks and benefits of using the Ring as a weapon? Not yet, I think.
 
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