Steal – Finduilas POV – 1 of 1
In which the most precious thing stolen is hope.
Denethor knows it is abomination. He also knows he, too, would have used Fire.
One thing that has always struck me about Umbar is that while it is described as a great battle, it is an assault upon fellow Dunedain (no matter how fallen) and upon a city of non-combatants, just the kind of attack they had feared from Umbar. The link to Alqualondë is very deliberate, as it is the only other explicit harbor burning of “kin” in the Ardaverse. Denethor has to reach that far back to find something sufficiently horrible to compare this to. It also grabs the fact that these are the (distant) descendants of those same people – a crime that has sunk into the blood much as Dragon Fire has done to Denethor.
The other thing that strikes me about Umbar is how (seemingly) casually the captain walked off, abandoning his sworn duty to serve Gondor, with just a mealy-mouthed far-thee-well to the Steward. WTF? Thorongil’s departure is problematic, no matter how you slice it. The standard fandom explanation, and the rumor in the Appendices, is that Denethor was such an awful person, Thorongil/Aragorn left for his own safety. Only if you make it such an exaggerated situation that Denethor is nothing but an evil caricature of a power-mad dictator and Thorongil is 100% noble and virtuous would there be no significant repercussions. And that wouldn’t be much of a story. Thus, there had to be something about the “victory” that would be so destabilizing that he had no alternative but to flee.
In this telling, Thorongil’s departure is right because he is the legitimate king, and he is threatening to pull his people down into darkness. He was warned by the gods not to go to Umbar, and finally heeded them not to return after the “victory” was won. Denethor knows that he would have done the same thing in Umbar, that he and Thorongil have been on the same page for several years now. And, suddenly, everything Denethor thought he was supposed to do has been rejected.
The Powers themselves are conflicted. Thorongil has ignored the Powers (via Gandalf) and is now very, very sorry that he did. He’s back to being the Good Son. Denethor is doing what he thinks is right, and he’s inclined to give the Powers the finger as he thinks what they do is arbitrary, but he is not so stubborn that he can’t recognize that he is playing in their world, and they have goals they will pursue (what is “right”) without regard to his wishes. What has him staggering is that if Thorongil is right (i.e., is doing what the Powers want), then Denethor and everything he loves is screwed. Not so much that he wants the wrong thing as that what he loves is slated for destruction in the divine plan.
And, no, there was nothing they could have done except use Fire, or trust in the grace of the Powers. This is not a mistake, and is part of the Powers’ own confusion over what they want. The mariner is a nasty bastard, is all I can say. He wanted Thorongil to go to Umbar; nothing less than that would have made the White Tree leave.