The story expands its scope as we embark upon The Two Towers.
With Frodo (and Sam) safely on his way to Mordor, Book III gets to dig into the other members of the Company a bit more naturally, which is honestly a welcome change of pace. Tolkien just isn’t very good at fleshing out characters in large groups, and that was basically all there was in Book II – despite doubling the number of characters, we still only got Frodo’s POV. Now, the pace picks up considerably as we switch to Aragorn’s POV.
‘The horn of Boromir!’ he cried. ‘He is in need!’ He sprang down the steps and away, leaping down the path. ‘Alas! An ill fate is on me this day, and all that I do goes amiss.’
Basically, Aragorn’s still trying to keep the Fellowship together even though we (the readers) already know it’s irreversibly broken. It’s a little repetitive having to watch him piece together the events of the last chapter, but at least it makes sense for his character. And then he discovers Boromir, having apparently taken multiple arrows fighting a party of Orcs all by himself.
Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. ‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,’ he said. ‘I am sorry. I have paid.’ His glance strayed to his fallen enemies; twenty at least lay there. ‘They have gone: the Haflings: the Orcs have taken them. I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them.’ He paused and his eyes closed wearily. After a moment he spoke again.
‘Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.’
‘No!’ said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. ‘You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!’
It definitely makes sense for the filmmakers to place this chapter at the end of the first movie, not only because it takes place more or less concurrently with the last chapter, but because it makes way more sense to have Boromir’s entire arc contained in one movie. Speaking of which, Boromir’s death in general was way more moving in the movie, and not just because we got to see his last stand – his relationship with Aragorn (and Merry and Pippin) is so much more compelling. This is just one area where the film was better-suited to the narrative.
But in the meantime, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli need to decide their course of action in the wake of that attack.
‘There is evil afoot in Isengard, and the West is no longer safe. It is as Gandalf feared: by some means the traitor Saruman has had news of our journey. It is likely too that he knows of Gandalf’s fall. Pursuers from Moria may have escaped the vigilance of Lórien, or they may have avoided that land and come to Isengard by other paths. Orcs travel fast. But Saruman has many ways of learning news. Do you remember the birds?’
‘Well, we have no time to ponder riddles,’ said Gimli. ‘Let us bear Boromir away!’
‘But after that we must guess the riddles, if we are to choose our course rightly,’ answered Aragorn.
‘Maybe there is no right choice,’ said Gimli.
This is one of those themes that I kind of wish Tolkien would’ve explored more in-depth: What if they did make a “wrong” choice? What if they lacked some crucial piece of information, causing them to go wrong? I suppose there is something like that in Book IV, but all of Aragorn’s deductions in this chapter line up perfectly with what the reader knows.
Anyhow, they decide to “bury” Boromir by placing him in one of the boats and sending him over the waterfall.
Sorrowfully they cast loose the funeral boat: there Boromir lay, restful, peaceful, gliding upon the bosom of the flowing water. The stream took him while they held their own boat back with their paddles. He floated by them, and slowly his boat departed, waning to a dark spot against the golden light; and then suddenly it vanished. Rauros roared on unchanging. The River had taken Boromir son of Denethor, and he was not seen again in Minas Tirith, standing as he used to stand upon the White Tower in the morning. But in Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars.
Somehow, that’s more poetic than the actual poetry Tolkien cooked up for the occasion.
After that, Aragorn gets a chance to investigate their camp, and (rightly) deduces that Frodo and Sam made for the Eastern shore to head off for Mordor, while Merry and Pippin were captured by the Orcs.
‘Let me think!’ said Aragorn. ‘And now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!’ He stood silent for a moment. ‘I will follow the Orcs,’ he said at last. ‘I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now.’
‘[…] With hope or without hope we will follow the trail of our enemies. And woe to them, if we prove the swifter! We will make such a chase as shall be counted a marvel among the Three Kindreds: Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Forth the Three Hunters!’
Like a deer he sprang away. Through the trees he sped. On and on he led them, tireless and swift, now that his mind was at last made up.
Aragorn is awesome in both book and film. That is all.
Until next time…