Ch. 53 – Smoke

Smoke – Denethor POV – 3 of 3

In which Denethor realizes that where there is smoke, there is Fire.


Another philosophical chapter, though oblique. As usual, it is as much about Thorongil as it is about Denethor.

Warning – the last paragraphs are kind of gross. I had been viewing too many Iraq war images when I was writing.

We start to see the temptations Aragorn faced in Gondor – not by giving into evil but by loving the good, just as Denethor saw in his glimpse of the Towers. He has faith, but it is too blind as yet. He cannot win through love, nor through heroism. These are not enough. He needs to be smacked around by the Powers some more before he can figure out what path he should follow. It is not clear that Mithrandir understand this yet.

The wizard is doing a lot of shit behind the scenes. He is finally understanding that Thorongil is becoming devoted to the Warden and not just the Lady, and really doesn’t want Denethor to get any traction. The temptation of Denethor to Aragorn is the pull of the mortal view, the delight in mastery of the world and the grief of watching it fail.

Then there is Halmir, who is, as Finduilas saw, utterly lost. Everything he has known or believed is broken apart by the intervention of immortals (Elves, wizards) and he is reduced to scolding his kings and trying to keep them from being killed. He sees in Finduilas a queen, but a mortal one, a being he can understand, unlike the other-worldly perfection of Arwen, and he is hopelessly in love (in the right kind of way). He understands why Thorongil is drawn, but knows it is wrong, even as he probably wishes that there was love between them, if only to be rid of the nightmare of Arwen, the unattainable princess who will destroy the Dúnedain.

Also, finally, Denethor encounters the garden. It is to him like Tol Eressëa was to the Númenóreans – beautiful and off limits. It is the Eden into which he may not venture, as opposed to having been cast out from it. Unlike the Powers, it simply is to be loved, and he can find contentment just in the contemplation of it. As he can with Finduilas.

Unlike Aragorn, the protection of the Powers is nothing he can gain, not even by relinquishing pride – no rift through which he may pass. Frodo, after all, has no such pride, suffers hideously, and is granted a small bit of solace – but not within his own world, among his own kind. In a way, Frodo and Denethor are parallel characters. Both hang in there beyond the end of their sanity and strength, and both fail in their charge at the end. Denethor has no Sam (and for that matter, no Gollum) to save him. Laanga tries to nudge him in the one direction where some kind of solace may be found, a place of peace and forgiveness.

And Denethor has started to dream.



3 thoughts on “Ch. 53 – Smoke”

  1. Sooo I’m guessing that Denethor had already intended to mess with the formula of the Fire, or with something similar, since he already got more ingredients…uh oh.

    Aha, more of the mysteries of the Lost are uncovered.

    It’s sad he can’t or won’t enter the garden, though I understand your/his reasoning. This is a self-imposed exile? I wouldn’t think Laanga would encourage him that way if he were truly barred. It would probably do him good to walk around and simply fucking *relax*, with Finduilas or not. But yeah — even typing that out — of course he can’t ever relax. Not even sleeping in the doorway.

    It’s interesting that Laanga calls Finduilas “daughter” but Denethor “grandson”.

  2. Oh also… what do you mean that Mithrandir doesn’t want Denethor to get any traction? With Thorongil? Why not?

    (I have a cold and am finding it difficult to think clearly…)

  3. Hi Wheelrider,

    Denethor asked for more exploding stuff because he wasn’t sure what he would or could or should do, but he knows that’s the substance that will give him the weapon he needs to fight Sauron. He’s been reading stuff on alchemy (chemistry) and obscure weaponry, but has not yet come up with anything useful except Dragon Fire. So, that’s all he’s got…

    The Lost are an interesting group. Denethor can’t resist trying to figure them out. If he had his way, he’d probably head up north to take a closer look.

    The bar is in his mind, but it’s also something close to physical. To enter this place, he has to give up something. It also goes back to his self-loathing. He sees himself as something marred, tainted, unworthy. He can’t forgive himself for being fallible and mortal, unequal to the tasks before him.

    Ah, you caught that, Laanga and “grandson”. Who else called Denethor that? The one person Denethor respects without reservation – Turgon. Laanga is trying to call forward the parts of Denethor Turgon did his best to cultivate. Calling him “son” might not be received so well.

    No traction with Thorongil. Mithrandir doesn’t want the divine savior-king to get emotionally attached to the embodiment of everything the wizard most detests in humans. He fears what will happen if Aragorn starts thinking too much like Denethor. He doesn’t seem to notice that Denethor might start thinking a bit more like Thorongil. At the moment, the best oportunity for kingly retrieval of the throne seems to be when Ecthelion dies, or is nearly dead, and the moment of political transition is open. In the absence of other signs, Mithrandir is doing his best (just like Maiaberiel and Denethor, come to think about it…) to position the Captain to be the logical choice.


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