Why must you always enable me
I love it never stop. So. Wow. Where to even start. I rant through my tears about how much I love Boromir every time I watch Lord of the Rings, which I do about once a year with @captainofthefallen. Every time I watch it, his death means more to me, hits me harder, and I think that’s because the older we get, the more we identify with Boromir.
Here’s the thing. In all honesty, as a kid (I first read LotR when I was eleven, first watched the films at that age as well), I wasn’t too fond of Boromir. Oh I liked him all right, he was fine I suppose, but I didn’t connect with him. I was angry when he tried to take the One Ring from Frodo, and I cried a little at his death because death is sad and I was a kid, but it didn’t devastate me.
Because as a kid? I wanted to be Aragorn. The reluctant king who rises up and does the right thing, always. The guy who gets the amazing (be still my bi heart) Arwen, the Evenstar, fairest of the elves. The guy who literally kicks ass. The man who is noble, honorable, thoughtful, good with his words, humble, knows the burdens of leadership, who stands up and says there will be a day when the courage of men fails, but this is not that day.
I wanted to be the hero.
I noticed this trend among my peers growing up. We all loved Aragorn and wanted to be him. Boromir was sort of dismissed.
But then a funny thing happened, called getting older.
I got older, and I fucked up.
I got older, and depression hit.
I got older, and the weight of societal expectations, of being an older sibling, of adult responsibilities, of legacy, of family secrets, of family history, all settled on my shoulders.
I got older, and I learned that men are not always honorable, or kind, or humble, or the leaders they should be. And I learned how hard and desperate it is to continue to believe in the strength of men.
I got older, and I learned how temptation comes for us all, in different forms, and how we hurt people without meaning to, and how sometimes for all our regret and tears and apologies, we cannot mend what we broke.
I got older, and I leaned what it is to be forced into a role I didn’t want, to feel I’d hit a dead end, to struggle against those who had different views, to feel like people could look into my heart and see the anger and fear that I tried so hard to hide.
I got older, and I realized: I’m Boromir.
We’re all Boromir.
Tolkien was very deliberate with his characters. They aren’t just characters, flawed and wonderful though they might be. They also each represent something very specific. Aragorn represents the Ideal. The hero that we all can be, the hero that we should strive to be, the vision of mankind as we are supposed to be, if only we can let ourselves shed our hubris and our doubts. Aragorn represents who we should be.
Boromir represents who we are.
Flawed, frustrated, burdened, tempted, struggling, setback, good intentioned, afraid, angry, kindhearted, noble, loyal, and painfully, beautifully human.
Boromir went to the Council of Elrond reluctantly. He shouldn’t have gone. Boromir is a war leader, as we learn after his death. He successfully fought for and defended Gondor from Mordor for years. That’s where he belongs. Faramir is the quiet one, the diplomat, the “wizard’s pupil,” the soft-spoken and patient one. Note that even in the film version, which shows a differently characterized Faramir than in the books (Tolkien heavily based Faramir on himself), Faramir only wants the One Ring in order to give it to his father and win his father’s pride and affection–he doesn’t want it for himself.
If Faramir had been at the Council and Boromir had stayed in Gondor, everything would have gone differently, and possibly for the better.
But the Steward of Fuckwits aka Boromir and Faramir’s father decides he wants Boromir to go, to represent their family, because Boromir is the son he values and is the “face” of Gondor. So Boromir sets aside what he wants, and he goes. And the whole time he feels out of place, feels like a fish out of water, feels second to Aragorn, feels lost, feels terrified his city will fall while he is gone, feels like the race of Men is being mocked and looked down on as weak.
How many of us as we grow up are stuck like that? We can’t fix our family (although we try), we can’t fix our broken country (although we try), we can’t get rid of the doubts and fears that whisper to us (although we try), and we can’t stop feeling like we’re constantly second best, constantly failing, looked down on, especially the millennial generation.
(Given what’s happening in the world right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tolkien found himself surprisingly similar in outlook and feeling to our generation. But that’s another topic.)
And of course that’s the key. Boromir–darling, frustrated, stuck, fatally flawed Boromir–is so very relatable because he tries. He tries to teach Merry and Pippin to protect themselves and then tries to save them and dies for it. He tries to convince Aragorn (who at that point is more elf than man in his outlook) that there is no reason to give up on his people, their people–and he succeeds in that, although he dies before he gets to see it. He tries to make his father proud. He tries to apologize when he fucks up. He tries and he fails, and he tries and he succeeds. And the most important things he does, the biggest seeds he plants, he never sees them flower.
Like my God, the man’s last words are I failed. I failed you, I failed Frodo, I tried to take the Ring. I’m sorry, I failed. That hits me so goddamn hard in my mid20s and it’ll hit me even harder when I’m older, I’m sure. How many times have we said that to people? “I tried to help him.” “I tried to reach out.” “I tried to apologize.” “I tried to stop them.” “I tried so hard.” I tried, I tried, I tried. For the job, for the friend, for everything, I tried.
And I failed.
I have a laundry list of things I tried and failed at, and God, do they hurt. Sometimes it was something out of my control, sometimes it was my own behavior. And that scene with Boromir, the flawed man, staring up at Aragorn, the ideal hero, and begging him, begging him, “save them, they took the little ones, find Frodo,” begging him for forgiveness, apologizing for his failures?
Talk about a fucking metaphor.
We make our ideals in literature so that we have something to look up to and strive for, for others to strive for. Boromir falls prey to the ring, but Aragorn does not. You did what I could not. Of course Aragorn did. He’s the ideal. And we beg our ideals to be better so they can show us the way and hopefully, maybe, someday, we can be like them.
I had so many heroes growing up, real and literary. Sara from A Little Princess. Aragorn. Lucy from Narnia. Nancy Drew. Harry Potter. And so many times I would look at myself in the mirror and cry because I knew, I knew if I stood in front of them they would be disappointed in me. I knew I wasn’t being the person I could be. I tried, I failed, I tried, I failed, but my God I swear, I tried.
As a kid or even a teenager, we still see mainly who we want to be. Our ideal. And I hope that we never lose sight of that. I love Aragorn and my God am I going to keep trying to be like him, and like all of my other literary heroes. We need those heroes, we need them so badly, and the darker the world gets the brighter we have to make them shine.
As an adult, though–as an adult, we start to see not only who we want to be, but who we are, and who we could’ve been, and how we failed to be, and the paths not taken and the paths that were lost. And that’s important too. Because Boromir died convinced he was a failure. Convinced he was, truly, the weakness we find in men.
And he was… but he wasn’t.
Without Boromir, Aragorn wouldn’t know what happened to Merry and Pippin or where they went. Without Boromir, Aragorn would’ve had no hope in the race of men. Without Boromir, who would have carried the hobbits up the cold mountain, or taught them how to fight, or said give them a moment, for pity’s sake! Who would have defended Gondor for so long, or loved his brother with a ferocity that Denethor’s abuse couldn’t knock loose, and inspired that brother to keep fighting even as the light faded and the night grew cold and long?
Aragorn carries Boromir’s bracers throughout the rest of the trilogy, right up to his coronation, where he is still wearing them as he is made King. Because Boromir might not have seen it–we might not see it–but we tried and we failed but we didn’t fail at everything. Lives are made brighter for our presence. The world is better for our gifts and our convictions. And no fight, even a fight lost, is done in vain.
The remains of the Fellowship ride to Gondor not just because it’s the Right Thing to Do, but because it is the city of their fallen brother, it’s Boromir’s home, the home that above all he gave everything to defend. Boromir doesn’t want the Ring for power, he wants it so his home will be safe, his family will be safe, and God who can’t relate to that, as we grow older and we see our families and friends attacked and scarred, as we have children and want them out of harm’s way. Who wouldn’t be tempted to seize the chance to keep them safe?
I see so much of myself in Boromir. And I take hope. I take inspiration. I cheer through my tears as he is hit again and again with arrows and each time he gets back up on his feet and grits his teeth and you can see him thinking not today. As a child I thought Boromir was selfish but as an adult I hear him use his last breath to apologize to Aragorn and call him his brother and his king and I see he’s more selfless than he ever gave himself credit for being. Boromir sees only his faults, but we can see what he doesn’t, we see his positive impact and we see his virtues, too.
Because as an adult I’ve failed, and I want to believe that like Boromir, I’ve also succeeded, I’ve also been more than just my faults–even if I can’t see that yet.
Aragorn is who we should be. But Boromir is who we are.
And my God, we should be proud of that. Because Boromir is a damn good person to be.
This is perfect.