Cunning – Denethor POV – 6 of 6
In which Denethor does inadvisable things in towers.
Denethor’s rebellious streak is on full display through this chapter, as well as his simultaneous intellectual brilliance and “Doh!” cluelessness. This is the guy who decides it is a Good Idea to stand in front of a charging Mûmak and try to hit it in the eye, after all. Thorongil isn’t the only one who wants to call him names.
This chapter owes a great deal to Julie, my indefatigable alpha reader. She kept prompting me to address a common misunderstanding in the tale – that Denethor supported Saruman over Gandalf, as opposed to not trusting either. Most of this misconception stems from Tolkien’s odd construction of the passage in the appendices. I have gone into some detail on why Denethor would not have much use for either wizard, and how this affects his interactions with Thorongil.
When did Saruman’s behavior raise suspicion & when did he start causing trouble for Rohan? By the White Council in 2851, Gandalf suspected Saruman of desiring to possess the One Ring itself, though it is unclear just how dangerous Gandalf thinks this is. We do know that Thorongil is urging Steward Ecthelion to have nothing to do with Saruman prior to 2980, and I think it reasonable that Thorongil offers this council as a combination of Gandalf’s warnings and worries and the problems Rohan began to see as Saruman cultivated support among the Dunlendings, which Thorongil would have observed in his time of service to Thengel. I also think Gandalf’s deference to Saruman was pretty thin, done more in the nature of humoring a deluded and narcissistic (but potentially dangerous) fool than out of any real respect. The above-ground changes to Isengard would have been of relatively recent vintage. Gandalf arrives at night, so does not see the devastation until after he is captured and placed atop Orthanc. Now, why the old fool didn’t notice it coming *in*, I dunno. Too much pipeweed, I guess… 😉
There are two convenient events to demonstrate why Denethor might look askance at Curunír even before Thorongil shows up:
- 2953 – HoMe XII said Steward Turgon dies in 2953.
- That is also the year of the last White Council and when Saruman fortifies himself in Isengard, not venturing out again.
Now, Denethor has no knowledge of the White Council, but he was at his grandfather’s funeral. I posit that Saruman attended the White Council, was displeased by things not going his way, then went, as would be expected, to the funeral of Turgon to pay his respects and to scope out the new Steward. Seeing a nihilistic fool, he turned his attention to becoming the new lord on the west bank of Anduin. Ecthelion would have been snowed by the snake, and Denethor would have been too young for Saruman to have bothered with. Thus, Ecthelion has a positive and uncritical opinion of the wizard, and will not listen to Denethor’s warnings. Thorongil shows up and reinforces Denethor’s critical view of Saruman, but then pushes Gandalf. Denethor would not want either wizard anywhere near power.
At the time of this chapter, Denethor thinks that the wizards seek earthly dominion – Saruman by controlling Orthanc, Gandalf by controlling the Stewards & Thorongil. I’m not sure he considers them *evil* in the way that Sauron is evil, but he sees them as dangerous, meddling rivals for control of the kingdom. Gandalf, I think, does not wish to see the worst in Saruman, hoping against hope that it is just jealous curiosity that pulls Saruman to the One Ring. Thorongil himself is probably cautioning Gandalf to watch out around the other wizard, just as he warned against entering Moria. But by the time of the Ring War, Denethor will have observed Orthanc many times and will know Saruman is a major problem. By that time, what can he do about it? Probably curse the Lost for not helping him oust the wizard sooner.