Faramir and the Temptation of the Ring: The Book and the Film

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Faramir & Boromir in the New Line Cinema trilogy (2001–2003)

One of the most hotly contested adaptational choices in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003) is the characterisation of Faramir. While his brother, Boromir, is generally seen as being somewhat deepened in Jackson’s scripts, Faramir is felt to be weakened in ways that lead to disappointment, sometimes outrage, among fans. The ‘good-captain’ who shows his quality and lets the Hobbits go from the books is turned into a much more conflicted and negative character to increase the drama. Many find this version of the character unnecessarily cruel and short-sighted, others claim he fixes a major flaw within the book itself. I, personally, find myself in the former group. I believe the changes of Faramir stem from a few things: one is the misunderstanding of the Ring’s nature and how it operates, another is the changes made to Faramir’s family dynamics, and the third is the narrative changes made in the adaptational process: by elevating the status of the assault on Helm’s Deep to the central focus and climax of the film, Jackson reshapes the narrative structure of The Two Towers and thereby attempts to dramatically alter the course of Frodo and Sam’s journey to make the Faramir section more climatic having lost the book’s ending at Shelob’s Lair.

On the Ring…

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(Image Credit: New Line Cinema)

One of the major concerns regarding the treatment of Faramir is that he is born out of Jackson’s misunderstanding of how the Ring functions. In the text, Tolkien does not over-emphasise the Ring as an all consuming thing of evil at the onset. It is warned to be one, yet it works over time to bend the will of its bearer to that purpose. The Ring of the book, in contrast to the film adaptations, does not work by essentially whispering evil intent, acting like a homing beacon for the Nazgul. Rather its presence operates more subtly and gradually. Bilbo, for example, kept the Ring for over five decades and only towards the end of his ownership was its influence beginning to manifest in unhealthy behaviour such as obsessing about it, and becoming darkly possessive. To Bilbo Baggins, the Ring was a helpful and beautiful trinket.

In the chapter ‘A Shadow of the Past’, Gandalf outlines the dangers of the Ring and how it works:

‘A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness….sooner or later — later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last — sooner or later the Dark Power will devour him’

The Ring’s corruption is inevitable. We see this in the dark, tragic journey Frodo undergoes, but how swiftly that possession occurs depends on the intentions of the person in its presence. Frodo keeps it to hide it and protect it from falling into evil hands, which Gandalf praises: ‘It will be slow to evil if you keep that purpose.’ However, later in the text, the Ring finds itself an ally in Boromir. In contrast to Frodo’s resilience towards using it for power or advantage, Boromir views it as a weapon: he considers the Ring something that can to be wielded against the forces of Mordor, and as a Captain of Gondor’s armies, he knows too well the threat of Sauron. Such a tool could change the direction of the war, he believes. In the hands of the mighty, it might conquer. For Boromir, the tempting question is whether the doughty ought to be in control of it, not the small.

Faramir’s increased desire for the Ring is defended by the claim — including from the film-makers themselves — that everyone in the story has so far been tempted by the Ring. Faramir creates an awkward situation where one character is unaffected by it. On the one hand, this is a misrepresentation. The Ring has not tempted everyone. While Gandalf and Galadriel were offered it and tempted directly, others are not. Strider, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Legolas were in the presence of the Ring for months and did not succumb to its influence. Faramir himself suggests that Boromir’s values may have made him susceptible to some weapon of the enemy, if it gave military advantage:

If it were a thing that gave advantage in battle. I can well believe that Boromir, the proud and fearless, often rash, ever anxious for the victory of Minas Tirith (and his own glory therein), might desire such a thing and be allured by it.

Boromir’s temptation arises from his desire to wield it, to harness what powers it has for the protection of Minas Tirith, as well as more self-serving and vainglorious purposes. Boromir was the weak link within the Fellowship due to his desire to see it as a tool of warfare: glory and pride were its avenues to his heart. Over the months the questions and doubts grow, until the Ring had a gateway to influence him fully.

In contrast, Faramir spends a few days with it. The established workings of the Ring in the text suggest that it does not immediately reshape a person’s nature.The film version is rewritten to have a significantly more sudden effect on the people it is revealed to. An important contrast between these perspectives can be viewed also in the character of Gollum: the book Smeagol is already framed as a somewhat questionable figure, morally speaking, while his film counterpart is instead offered as an innocent whom the Ring’s power turned evil. When Book Smeagol murdered Deagol, it was because he had the capacity for murder already in him. In the film, the framing — including the “beating” sound effects associated with the Ring — heavily imply it is the jewellery itself that is driving him to these actions. Furthermore, the book has shown the Ring to not have too great an effect on Frodo during the early stages of the journey. He begins showing more significant weariness during The Two Towers, particularly when they enter Ithilien. Meanwhile, in the film, he has been showing signs of ‘addiction’ to it from the beginning of the journey: he is portrayed fondling it, and rolling his eyes as he touches it, as early as the Prancing Pony. The Ring is heightened in its powers in the films, and Frodo, unfortunately, weakened significantly in his resilience. This will raise an important question at the end of the second film.

Another change is the suggestion that men give in more easily to the Ring out of greed for power. “Men are weak,” the embittered film Elrond declares, castigating his former allies. The deep friendship between the Elves and Edain is missing the film, instead replaced with more typical drama of regret and blame. For dramatic purposes, in the film Galadriel speaks, “The young captain of Gondor has but to extend his hand to the ruin of all,” over shots of the Gondorians taking Frodo and Sam captive. The film drives in the weakness of men as the cause for the recurring threat of Sauron. The theme of purpose is regressed in Jackson’s text: men, it seems, are merely weaker, morally, by nature than hobbits, elves and dwarves. Aragorn, in the films, fears to be as ‘weak’ as Isildur and is given considerable self-doubt about his role as a Man.

The Character of Faramir…

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“Oliphant” by Alan Lee

Faramir, in the book, is differentiated from his brother in an important fashion: Faramir rejects the glorification of battle, Boromir embraces it. An essay by S.B Carter argues that Faramir is representative of the changing ‘heroic’ ideal of the twentieth century. In this framework, Boromir and Theoden are connected to a more ancient viewpoint, of battle as a means of glory: they are valiant men, yet misguided in their love of warfare. Faramir, he suggests, eschews much of the heroic ideal: he invokes the customs of World War I. He uses stealth in favour of ‘riding out’ for direct confrontations. Carter writes:

Faramir shows a modern sense of warfare by discarding the shining mail and other bulky garments worn by Boromir and Aragorn in favor of a streamlined uniform with colors to blend in with the environment, giving the rangers the advantage of stealth.

The medieval mode of battle was to be noticed: to wear bright colours and to stand-out. Faramir offers a different form of combat: guerrilla tactics. Faramir is further contrasted from the heroic mode — that ‘terrible theory of Northern Courage’ as Tolkien described it — as he sees battle not as a means for personal glory, but merely a necessity to protect what he cares for. He is contrasted with his brother who sees the glory in war and views salvation only in militaristic terms, as well as with Theoden and the Rohirrim, who are somewhat vainglorious, their cultural mould leading them to value death in war. For Faramir, war, by itself, is nothing celebratory. As he himself states:

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Númenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.

Here, Faramir expresses the thematic core of the book’s view on war. It is an evil, dangerous thing, but when faced with the right circumstances — ‘a destroyer who would devour all’ — it becomes a tragic necessity. Faramir separates the love of battle and vainglorious deeds from the important matter: protecting their homeland and right to live and govern themselves, not under the iron will of an oppressor. Importantly, this love for Minas Tirith, for Gondor, is founded in its history and wisdom. It is this distinction separates Faramir from those who would use the Ring to gain victory.

Film Faramir is rewritten to be substantially more insecure and hungry for approval. The conflict of the sons of Denethor is one of a morally weak and bitter father, falling into madness, and his cruel favouring of one child over another. Here, Faramir seeks the Ring to win glory and esteem and improve his standing in Denethor’s esteem. Instead of turning the Ring down after a brief encounter with it, Faramir has the single most extreme reaction we see. He kidnaps Frodo, bringing him many miles, refusing to listen to reason. More peculiarly, his mind is turned only after watching Frodo attempt to hand the Ring over to a Nazgul, followed by Sam giving a speech about what tales really matter, going on even when things seem dark. It’s an awkwardly done transition: thus far, nothing Faramir has expressed separates him from Boromir, instead he too treats the Ring as a weapon to aid Gondor, echoing his brother’s battle ethos. But it also raises another, pragmatic, question: why trust in Frodo after seeing how swayed he already is?

However, the changes to Faramir go beyond just his susceptibility to the Ring, as fundamental characteristics of his are changed to provoke more dramatic circumstances. He does not speak to Frodo, nor does he attempt to understand the ‘why’ of these strange travellers. He brutalises Gollum to procure information, an action that goes against his moral code in the books. “I wound not ensare even an Orc with a falsehood,” the book character asserts. He is, ultimately, a crueller and pettier creation during these parts of the film.

The issue with these changes to Faramir is that they undermine his rejection of the Ring. Gentleness is a key attribute of the book character: something of a counterpoint to the brave warriors who we have encountered thus far in the realms of men. Boromir, in both mediums, was driven to his brutality against Frodo after months of exposure to the evil will of the Ring. Whereas film Faramir uses brutality to find truth — he has Gollum beaten to procure information about the Ring. A further complication in the temptation of the Ring is that Faramir’s staunch rejection of it:

‘I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.’

Comes before he is fully aware of the Ring, before it has been revealed to him, and after he has been informed of how it led to his stronghearted brother’s demise. Indeed, the text does not show anyone — not Gimli or Legolas or Aragorn — tempted by the Ring when it is not offered to them, or revealed to them. And those characters have spent greater time in its company than Faramir has.

For dramatic purposes, I do not think having Faramir tempted by the Ring is inappropriate, though I find Jackson’s handling clunky and ill-considered. Faramir has the strongest reaction to any with the Ring — even more than Boromir who spent months in it presence — and his ‘reclamation’ of his quality is staged in a peculiar, defeating fashion. It no longer seems a noble choice to let Frodo go with the Ring, but rather a foolish one. Framed as being moved by Sam’s speech, the essence feels less affecting having just watched Frodo willingly offer the Ring to a Nazgul, and almost kill Samwise in a hypnotic state. The increase of drama does not feel particularly considered, from the view of character psychology, but instead chosen to hit certain plot developments.

Restructuring the Story…

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Helm’s Deep in the New Line Cinema trilogy

Perhaps the primary reason for these changes stem from the restructuring of the narrative to make Helm’s Deep — a single chapter in the book — into the central conflict of the film and the main event of the climax of the film. Significant space is given, causing a mass reshuffling of material as well as the addition of several scenes, to develop this from an episode within the story to the major event of the film. Due to this, much of Frodo’s material is pushed back into the third part, including his narrative climax at Shelob’s Lair, and the rather dark cliffhanger the second instalment ends with. Depriving Frodo of his original climax leaves his story without much of an end, and the reshaping of the middle half of the film to centralize the attack on the Hornburg leaves no time to properly set-up and execute the Shelob sequence. In order to increase the dramatic conflict in that story, a choice was inevitably made to pressure Faramir into more dramatic ‘action’ — which fundamentally shifts his character away from his nobler choices in the book, to more fraught choices in the adaptation.

The desire to ‘add’ drama to the story is a recurring philosophy in the film trilogy and one that often leads to some of the weaker material in the films, Faramir’s characterization certainly suffers in this regard, especially when the temptation of the Ring is exaggerated beyond a test of character and instead a substantially more destructive series of choices. There’s a subtlety with the Ring in Tolkien’s treatment, how it operates and how power tempts, where one’s values influence how that temptation will manifest: all, of course, are susceptible in time; Gandalf fears his desire to use it for good will turn him self-righteous and eventually Sauron-esque.

Ultimately, the changes in narrative opened up problems regarding how to merge the three stories together towards an end point. One of the significant shifts here is holding up Frodo’s narrative to focus on Helm’s Deep as the primary narrative event of the film. Faramir change’s, especially his kidnapping of Frodo, seem designed to create a more simple climax for the hobbits’ journey that does not add too much additional time and distract, overly, from the battle. In consequence, the changes create a Faramir who is crueller, short-sighted, and pettier. Rather than deepening the established character, as with Boromir’s doubts, The Two Towers adaptation instead seems to change the nature of Faramir in general, the character instead servicing the shifts in plot rather than theme.

The temptation of Faramir is handled differently between mediums, and reflects the changes made to the material regarding the structuring of the narrative, the depiction of how the Ring itself corrupts, and the differing tastes between author and film-maker in the treatment of drama, theme, and purpose. The changes undertaken have made a noticeable shift in the approach made to the Ring and how its temptations operate: in the film adaptation, the Ring corrupts through a siren-esque song style bringing the person to evil, rather than using their nature to its own ends. Through these choices we see a noticeably different characterisation for Faramir, one whose dramatic ‘turn’ to good is rather undercut by the questionable writing choices made to get him there.

My passions include cinema, literature, fantasy, psychology, music/guitar, photography and ancient/medieval history.

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