The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by

J. R. R. Tolkien

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Denethor Character Analysis

Denethor is the Steward of Gondor, and Faramir and the late Boromir’s father. Gandalf’s arrival at Minas Tirith is a source of frustration and insecurity for Denethor, whose priority to protect and preserve Gondor is eventually thwarted by his own despair. Instead of following Gandalf’s advice to persevere in battle, Denethor resolves to burn himself alive alongside Faramir, who has been poisoned by an enemy dart. Denethor is a proud and jealous leader, and frequently reminds Gandalf that he has the gift of foresight. Eventually, though, that gift, alongside his use of the Seeing Stone through which he learns of Mordor’s huge, seemingly overpowering strength, propels his descent into despair and leads to his choice to die on the funeral pyre.

Denethor Quotes in The Return of the King

The The Return of the King quotes below are all either spoken by Denethor or refer to Denethor. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
).
Book 5, Chapter 1  Quotes

“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

Related Characters: Gandalf (speaker), Denethor, Shadowfax, Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Frodo Baggins
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 5, Chapter 7 Quotes

“[O]ne at least of the Seven Seeing Stones was preserved. In the days of his wisdom Denethor would not presume to use it to challenge Sauron, knowing the limits of his own strength. But his wisdom failed; and I fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looked in the Stone and was deceived: far too often, I guess, since Boromir departed. He was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind.”

Related Characters: Gandalf (speaker), Denethor, Boromir, Sauron
Related Symbols: The Seeing Stones
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 5, Chapter 9 Quotes

“We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dûr be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless—as we surely shall if we sit here—and know as we die that no new age shall be.”

Related Symbols: The Ring
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:
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Denethor Character Timeline in The Return of the King

The timeline below shows where the character Denethor appears in The Return of the King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 5, Chapter 1 
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...is the same symbolic White Tree. Gandalf warns Pippin not to say too much to Denethor, who they are here to meet, and especially not to discuss Frodo’s journey or mention... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
Pippin and Gandalf enter the Great Hall. The throne is empty, and Denethor, Lord and Steward of Gondor, sits in a plain chair in front of it. Gandalf... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Denethor has been holding Boromir’s horn in his lap. He says he heard the horn being... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Denethor’s first command to Pippin is for him to tell Denethor everything he knows about Boromir.... (full context)
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
After an hour of Denethor’s questions about Boromir, Pippin is exhausted and hungry, and Gandalf is impatient. Denethor sends Gandalf... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
...angry with him. To Pippin’s surprise, Gandalf laughs merrily and tells him he did well—though Denethor learned more from Pippin’s story than Gandalf wanted him to know (particularly the clues about... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...news. He wishes he knew where Faramir is—but for now he has to go to Denethor’s council meeting. He leaves the lodging, urging Pippin to sharpen his blade and requesting that... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...arrive at the gate, including that of Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, a relative of Denethor. Once all the arriving parties have entered the city, night begins to fall, and Bergil... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 3
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...speak with Théoden. The rider, Hirgon, is carrying a red arrow: a token of war. Denethor sent him to ask for Rohan’s aid. Théoden is cowed by the arrow and asks... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 4
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Gandalf wakes Pippin and tells him to prepare to see Denethor. There’s a small meal laid out for Pippin; he’s dispirited to learn he won’t eat... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...is his charge, but there isn’t time to explain more: they are to meet with Denethor. (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
In Denethor’s chamber, Faramir eats a little before relaying his travels of the past 10 days. He... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Faramir describes his journey back to Minas Tirith. He asks Denethor whether he carried his errands out well. Angrily, Denethor replies that Faramir doesn’t care what... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Gandalf tells Denethor that Boromir would never have brought the Ring to him. Even if Boromir had lived,... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Denethor changes the subject to ask Faramir about Osgiliath’s strength. (Osgiliath was the main city of... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...the Black Riders. They worry that the Riders of Rohan will never arrive. Faramir counsels Denethor that the enemy will greatly overpower them at Osgiliath. Denethor refuses to yield Osgiliath without... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
No more news arrives at Minas Tirith until nightfall, when an errand-rider returns to tell Denethor that a host is approaching Osgiliath from Mordor. The men doubt that Osgiliath will hold... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Gandalf returns to Minas Tirith, escorting wagons of wounded soldiers. He meets Denethor in a high chamber, bringing news that Faramir has stayed behind with the rearguard but... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...by Prince Imrahil: he’s been wounded by a deadly dart. The Prince brings Faramir to Denethor. Denethor learns of Faramir’s bravery in battle, but he says nothing. He orders a bed... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
...the Citadel in a fever. Rumor reaches the rest of the city that he’s dying. Denethor sits beside Faramir, ignoring the battle. Pippin waits on Denethor, who seems aged and hopeless... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
While Pippin waited on Denethor, the battle had been building down below. Enemy forces press closer to the wall and,... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 5
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...horses. One of the men was carrying a red arrow. Théoden realizes that must mean Denethor hasn’t received any news of the Rohirrim’s approach.   (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 7
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...field, Pippin cries for Gandalf to come with him to save Faramir. He explains that Denethor has gone to the tombs and will burn himself and his son alive if he’s... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Denethor appears from the door that Beregond is guarding, holding a sword. Gandalf storms towards Denethor,... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Denethor watches Gandalf take Faramir away, but when Gandalf calls him to follow, he laughs instead.... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
Gandalf tells Denethor’s knights that their obedience would’ve led to Faramir’s death had Beregond not disobeyed his orders.... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...return to him, he tells them that it's a time for both joy and sorrow—had Denethor not put Faramir in danger, Gandalf may have prevented some of the loss. He says... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Pippin says that this explains the change in Denethor between leaving and returning to Faramir’s side. Beregond supports this theory with his description of... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 8
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...and Imrahil reach the city gate. Aragorn decides not to enter the city: he believes Denethor to be alive and wants to avoid conflict and confusion that could arise in a... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
...Dark Shadow, too, and his condition has been worsened by the despair brought on by Denethor’s cruelty. He kneels beside Faramir, calling his name more and more faintly. Bergil runs in... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 9
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...the city together to meet Aragorn, Gandalf, Elladan, and Elrohir. Gandalf urges them to consider Denethor’s final words—a prediction of defeat. The Seeing Stone showed Denethor only what Sauron wanted him... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 1
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Merry is a day away from Minas Tirith with the Rohirrim, and Pippin waits on Denethor, and all of their minds are incessantly on the whereabouts and survival of Sam and... (full context)