Denethor II (2935 – 3019 TA), son of Ecthelion, was the 26th and the last ruling Steward of Gondor, which was the most significant and powerful kingdom of Middle-earth. Denethor had two sons – Boromir, who was a member of the Fellowship of the Ring and who heroically died from the arrows of the orcs; and Faramir, who was appointed Steward of Gondor by King Elessar after the victory over Sauron.
We meet Denethor in “The Return of the King”. This is how Pippin saw the Steward: “… on a chair sat an old man gazing at his lap. In his hand was a white rod with a golden knob… Pippin saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes; and he was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn.”
Compared to Theoden, who was the King of Rohan, Denethor looked more severe. He lost his elder son and it seemed as if the grief had undermined his strengths. He considered Pippin’s account of Boromir’s death to be of more importance than Gandalf’s tidings about the War against Sauron.
Denethor asked Pippin a lot of difficult questions. Probably, the old man tried to find a catch in order to blame Gandalf for Boromir’s death. Besides, the tiding of the true heir to the throne alerted him. The Steward knew that one day a true descendant of Isildur would return and the power of the Stewards might seize. This is how Gandalf characterizes the Steward: “He is not as other men of this time, Pippin, and whatever be his descent from father to son, by some chance the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in him; as it does in his other son, Faramir, and yet did not in Boromir whom he loved best. He has long sight. He can perceive, if he bends his will thither, much of what is passing in the minds of men, even of those that dwell far off. It is difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try.”
When talking with the Steward, Pippin noticed that Denethor was well-informed about the life outside Gondor, although he himself had apparently left Minas Tirith long time ago. When talking, Denethor was hot-tempered at times and wanted to impose his will on others, including his son, Faramir. The Steward expected from Faramir complete devotion and all the time set Boromir, whom he loved dearly, as an example.
Denethor was a self-willed ruler, who did not allow others to interfere with the affairs of his kingdom and family. He was constantly thinking of Gondor’s security and safety, and considered his Kingdom above other countries of Middle-earth. Unlike Theoden, Denethor was always armed: “He stood up and cast open his long black cloak, and behold! he was clad in mail beneath, and girt with a long sword, great-hilted in a sheath of black and silver.” The Steward confessed that: “Thus have I walked, and thus now for many years have I slept.”
It was a hard blow for him when Faramir got injured. The Steward’s face turned grey, even deathly-pale. Denethor grew decrepit and his eyes filled with tears because of an inconsolable grief. However, the thing that depressed him most of all was that he had no heirs. That is why further resistance was of no importance to him. When the fire broke out in Minas Tirith, he finally surrendered and wanted to burn himself to death. He blamed Gandalf for all his misfortunes.
It should be noted that not only misfortunes undermined Denethor but also his conversations with Sauron through the Palantir. Unlike Saruman, he did not become the Enemy’s slave, for Sauron did not manage to subdue the will of the Steward. However, Denethor was allowed to see in the stone only those things, which Sauron wanted him to see. A picture of Mordor’s power which he saw in the Palantir could have been the cause of Denethor’s madness. Is it right to say that Denethor became scared and terrified? A positive answer inevitably comes to mind, for the true ruler does not leave his people to the mercy of fate but fights to the very uttermost.
Excessive suspicion ruined Denethor. He did not see in Gandalf a trustworthy and reliable helper, who was capable of finding a way out even in the most difficult situation. Denethor believed that the wizard pursued only his interests, which did not have anything to do with the prosperity of Gondor.
Summarizing the above-mentioned, one can say that the image of Denethor symbolizes despair and fear of the forces of Darkness. However, this fear was not momentous – it accumulated for a long time and resulted in his madness.