Boromir the Bold: Reconsidering one of Tolkien’s Most-Maligned Characters

Spoilers for The Lord of the Rings ahead!

Boromir is easy to hate on.  As the only member of the Fellowship to succumb to the Ring and attempt to take it from Frodo, he seems, at first glance, to be nothing but a villain and traitor.  His fall has made him, in my experience, one of the most despised characters in The Lord of the Rings.  And yet, if we read closely, his character is not so black.  Rather than a villain, Boromir is nothing more than a man, one who possesses qualities both good and bad.  He fails, but then he repents.  He is more like an Everyman than many readers care to admit.

Unfortunately, Peter Jackson’s films have done little to improve Boromir’s image.  Instead, they portray him as a lout, needlessly aggressive and somewhat stupid.  His introduction at the Council of Elrond shows him tactlessly shouting, “It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor!”  It is a jarring moment that suggests that Boromir does not understand the gravity of the situation, even though everyone around him seems to.  It also suggests that he is power hungry from the start.  Notably, this line occurs in Tolkien’s text only at the moment of Boromir’s fall.

In the book, Boromir does suggest at the Council, “Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say.”  This may be a warning sign that Boromir’s martial spirit and pride will be his downfall, but his proposal is not presented as any sillier than the proposals to carry the Ring over the sea, to toss it into the sea, or to give it to Bombadil.  It is rather expected that a meeting will see various ideas proposed, considered, and rejected–and Boromir quietly (if “doubtfully”) accepts Elrond’s explanation that the Ring must not be used.  He returns immediately to his main objective, to seek the answer to the riddle in his brother’s dream and to suggest that the Sword-that-was-Broken could come to Gondor.  He is proud, yes, and not particularly learned in comparison to the Elves, but he is still respectful and respected.  He is not, as in Jackson’s version, all wrong from the start.

If we return to Tolkien’s text, we can see that Boromir is a man respected by his country and their allies, by the Council, and by the Fellowship.  He is welcomed at the Council by Elrond and stands as an emissary for Gondor.  In his beginning boast to the Council, we learn of his valiant defense of Ithilien with Faramir (only four survived the battle), of his 110-day journey (alone) to Imladris, and of Gondor’s long struggle against Mordor; he is clearly a valiant man, one whom others depend upon and follow.  When Eomer hears of his death, he cries out sadly, “Great harm is this death to Minas Tirith, and to us all.  That was a worthy man!  All spoke his praise.”  His courage becomes even more evident during the journey of the Fellowship.  When the company is almost defeated upon Caradhras, it is Boromir and Aragorn who make a path back to safety and then carry the Hobbits down the mountain.  When Gandalf stands alone upon the bridge in Moria, it is Boromir and Aragorn who return to stand with him.  Boromir more than earns his place in the Fellowship.

Of course, Boromir is flawed.  It is his pride, evident from the start, that is his downfall.  He begins, as we noted, by boasting of his feats of arms to the Council.  He seems bitter that Gondor’s struggle is unacknowledged and repeatedly returns to their wars.  He is focused on returning to Minas Tirith and taking Arargorn with him, regardless of where Frodo goes.  His pride leads him to believe that the wise who reject the Ring are merely “timid” and he insists that “true-hearted men, they will not be corrupted” (and clearly means himself).  He believes so whole-heartedly in his cause that he allows his love for his city and his belief in his own superiority to lead him astray.   He ends trying to attack his own friend–an act that would hitherto have been unthinkable for a man of war, a man who knows just how much loyalty means.

This moment is not meant to illustrate Boromir as a villain.  Rather, it illustrates just how easy it is to give into temptation.  Boromir does not begin as evil; he begins with a smaller flaw that he allows to grow until it consumes him.  He is right; the wise are timid.  They are so timid, that they flee from temptation when they see it, because they know exactly how easy it is to give in during a moment of weakness.  Boromir, however, is so convinced of his goodness, so convinced he will do only the right thing, that he walks right into temptation and shakes it by the hand.  And he does so, not because he desires evil, but because he desires something good: the defense of his city.  He chooses, not evil, but what seems to him to be a greater good than marching the Ring straight into Sauron’s hands.  No one should hate or insult Boromir.  Rather, they should pity him, for Boromir  in his weakness represents us all.

Tolkien, however, offers us hope after the fall.  Immediately after springing after Frodo, Boromir cries out, “What have I said?  What have I done?”  (Quite aptly, his conversion comes after he literally picks himself up from falling over a rock.)  He calls for Frodo to return, saying, “A madness took me.”  He knows what he has done is wrong .  He seeks to repair the harm he has caused by attempting to get Frodo back to safety, and he returns to the camp “grim and sad.”  I do not think he is grim because of Frodo’s choice, but because he is weighing what he has done in his heart.  He knows he has betrayed the Fellowship and he knows that he has failed.  His sense of guilt is so great that, when questioned by Aragorn, he will at first only admit that he tried to persuade Frodo to go to Minas Tirith and that he believes Frodo put on the Ring.

Boromir, however, admits his full guilt before his death, telling Aragorn, “I tried to take the Ring from Frodo.  I am sorry….I have failed.”  In return, he receives forgiveness from his king, who replies, “No!  You have conquered….Be at peace.”  Tolkien does not allow Boromir’s one moment of failure to define him.  Rather, he reminds us, through Aragorn, of Boromir’s brave deeds and of his selflessness in defending the Hobbits unto death His memory is then preserved by Aragorn, who does not immediately tell the others of Boromir’s betrayal.  When Legolas suggests that Frodo perhaps fled from Orcs, Aragorn only answers, “He fled, certainly, but not, I think, from Orcs.”  The final word in the lament for Boromir is not of “Boromir the Faithless” but of “Boromir the Bold.”

Boromir’s story is important because it reminds us that a person is not defined by a single action or a single failure.  Boromir, it is true, was proud, and that lead him into error.  But still he possessed valuable qualities and performed many deeds that saved lives–ultimately at the cost of his own.  He also ensured the ultimate success of Frodo’s quest by his actions on Caradhras and in Moria.  Far from being a villain, Boromir is a multi-faceted character, one who could have risen to greatness if he had had time to learn humility.  In his capacity for great good and great harm, Boromir is extraordinarily ordinary.

27 thoughts on “Boromir the Bold: Reconsidering one of Tolkien’s Most-Maligned Characters

  1. karathehuman says:

    I LOVE that you posted about this!!! Boromir and Faramir are actually two of my favorite characters from the series, and no one ever gets it when I express my love for Boromir! You put it so beautifully and so perfectly. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Boromir does not get nearly enough love! I realize that his good qualities, as described by others, mainly amount to “he is brave,” but I think bravery in battle could be linked to so many other good qualities–selflessness, loyalty, obedience, etc. Boromir just needed to find a way to make those other qualities shine instead of using his bravery merely to accrue personal accolades.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Samantha B says:

    Boromir is my favorite character of the series! One of the main reason is, as you said, he is so human, so much like all of us. As humans, we can be so prideful and stubborn. We think we know what is best for ourselves and yet we make so many mistakes. I think most readers think they would not have fallen in the presence of the ring, but most of us would actually have. The ring represents all the temptation we can face in this world and way to often we fall. We only realize that what seemed so right at first just made the situation worst. But these mistakes do not define us for we are greater. That’s what makes us human!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      He’s my favorite, too, along with Sam (of course)! I think you’re right. People seem to judge Boromir because they think they can resist the Ring. But…that is exactly what Boromir thinks and his pride is what makes him fall!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Vera says:

    Boromir is such a complex character. I find it quite fitting that he was representing us, humans at the council. I thought that he was a little bit simplified in the movie but that could be just me. 😊 He is one of my favourite LOTR characters.
    A really great summary of his character, I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you. 😊

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think the movie oversimplifies him, too. My theory is that, because the films made Faramir less noble, they had to make Boromir less noble as well to keep the contrast in character.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Oh is it weird that I didn’t realise Boromir was hated? I mean, I always saw him as you described- as a man with faults. I absolutely love his story arc- there’s nothing better for me than a good redemption arc. And it’s not like he’s irredeemably terrible, he just gives way to weakness. Anyway, I absolutely love this post! Especially because it’s reminding me how much I love this aspect of the story. If all the characters were faultless, then it would be impossible to root for them- it’s because they are so complex and fallible that I love them 😀

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  5. speculatingsite says:

    Boromir is definitely one of the most interesting characters in the books and the movies. I like that you mentioned the movie scene where he trains with the Hobbits, and I seem to recall that he also asks Aragorn to give the fellowship ‘a moment’ after Gandalf falls in Moria. (I can’t remember if this is actually in the books or not.) There is also a pretty good flashback scene between Boromir, Faramir and Denethor in the second movie that was cut from the theatrical edition for some bizarre reason. It can be found in the extended version, I think.

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    • Krysta says:

      I can’t remember if that moment is in the book, either, and I just reread it not too long ago! I don’t remember the flashback scene, but I admit I don’t like the extended editions of the films. 😉

      Like

  6. Sammie says:

    This is a wonderful analysis! Boromir was always my favorite, for a lot of the reasons you touched on. To me, he was extremely human in all his choices and vulnerabilities. A lot of what he does isn’t simply for honor or greed but a genuine warmth and caring for his people and his city and wanting what is best for them (which, in my opinion, is how the ring would so easily be able to warp his concern to greed and a lust for power because, for better or worse, I imagine he would have had the thought that he’d do anything to save his city — and that’s a sentiment that’s easy to corrupt.) I thought he had a fantastic arc, and his death was tragic and fitting and I wept like a baby because ugh.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I agree that he allowed his love for his city to warp his judgment. It seemed like sense to him to take the Ring to protect it–it was a less “foolish” chance than walking the Ring straight into Mordor. But, then, I think we’re supposed to see Boromir as understanding everything in a military light. The wisdom of a move that flouted military logic would be lost on him!

      Like

  7. Greg Hill says:

    Well said. I loved Sean Bean as Boromir but yes the writing of his character didn’t do him any favors in the movie. I like your point too about how Eomer was distraught at news of his passing, and how he was respected. Very good points! His journey to Imladris too, through the wilds of southern Arnor, has always fascinated me too.

    Also, the point about doing what he did for a good reason- obviously we don’t like what he did, but you’re right, it wasn’t with EVIL intent. And I think for the men of Gondor it might be hard for them to understand the danger, the temptation, of the Ring, the way the Wise did. No doubt Boromir sincerely believed he could withstand any such temptation. After all was he not a man of Gondor? 🙂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I always wish we could know more about Boromir’s journey to Imladris! Leaving was pretty exciting, so I can’t imagine what it took for Boromir to get there–and alone!

      I find the extended films even more obnoxious in regards to Boromir. The scene where he picks up the shards of Narsil, then drops them and leaves them on the floor makes me cringe. Boromir isn’t an oaf and he’s not completely ignorant of history. I think he would actually respect an honored heirloom of Gondor, even if the city is currently more concerned with warfare than learning.

      True! Boromir thinks highly of his city and the courage and honor of its men. Surely, if anyone could resist the Ring, he would think it would have to be a Gondorian!

      Liked by 1 person

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