The Seeing Stones symbolize the danger of assumption and miscommunication. The Stones, also called Palantíri, are devices which allow people within Middle-earth to send visual images to each other instantly. Though they cannot present artificial or objectively untrue images, the meaning of each dispatch depends on how its recipient interprets a given image. For instance, Aragorn is able to present himself to Sauron, one of the keepers of the Stones, through imagery that suggests the heir to Gondor’s throne has returned. While this is true, Aragorn is, at the time of his message, far from Gondor and without the support of many troops; yet, upon seeing these images, Sauron hastens his attack on Minas Tirith in fear of the new heir’s power. Like Sauron, Denethor believes himself to be a master of the Stones. When his son, Faramir, returns from the battle at Osgiliath badly wounded, Denethor retreats to ponder the Stone’s message. When the Stone shows him images of Mordor’s far-reaching and overwhelming power, Denethor descends into despair, believing what he has seen to be Gondor’s death knell. Taking images received through the Stones at face value overwhelmingly proves to be foolish at best and fatal at worst, highlighting the dangers of drawing conclusions from incomplete messages.
The Seeing Stones Quotes in The Return of the King
“[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.”