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In The Two Towers, chapter five, soon after Gandalf has returned as Gandalf the White, he says something very peculiar to Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas in Fangorn:

‘You have not said all that you know or guess, Aragorn my friend,’ he said quietly. ‘Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.

[Emphasis added by me.]

  1. How did Boromir "escape in the end"? He was killed, and shortly before that tried to take the Ring from Frodo, even though he regretted it.

  2. Why does that make Gandalf "glad"? Is he referring to "escaping the power of the Ring"? Even if that meant his death? Still seems odd to be "glad" about that.

  3. Why was it "for Boromir's sake" that the young hobbits (Merry and Pippin) came with them (in the Fellowship)? Or, put differently, why was it positive for Boromir that they were present? Simply so he could save their lives? This is perhaps the most puzzling part to me.

  4. I also wonder what Gandalf means by Galadriel having told him that Boromir was "in peril", but I assume that Galadriel read his mind about his desire for the Ring and then told Gandalf about this somehow.

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    Boromir did succumb to temptation, but he repented and the presence of Merry and Pippin allowed him to heroically redeem himself. He died a hero.
    – Shamshiel
    May 21 at 19:19
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    Partial duplicate: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/100525/…
    – Buzz
    May 21 at 19:39
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    Boromir was in danger of becoming a Nazgûl (had he succumbed to the influence of the ring) - a fate worse than death.
    – Klaws
    May 23 at 8:22

1 Answer 1

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What Gandalf has to say probably has to be understood from Tolkien's religious point of view. The Lord of the Rings is subtly—but significantly—influenced by the author's devout Catholicism, especially on metaphysical issues like the nature and fate of the soul. Famously, the nature of the orcs (whether they could be born evil and yet possess all the mental capacities of humans and elves) was not something he ever could reach a satisfactory explanation of, which was one of the reasons that he never completed a definitive version of the Silmarillion.

When Galadriel feels that Boromir is "in peril," it is implicitly his soul that is peril. He is in danger of succumbing to the Ring's temptation. If he had taken the Ring from Frodo, he would have quickly fallen into the service of evil—either becoming completely Sauron's pawn and returning the Ring to its master's hand, or by trying (and failing) to make himself a new dark lord in Sauron's place. To have gone to the end of his life in such sin was, in the view of the devout Catholic Tolkien—and thus, in the view of the Wise within the narrative—a cause of grave sadness, and could lead to eternal damnation for Boromir's soul, had he died in such a state of sin.

Gandalf's other comments express his relief that Boromir was not able to take the Ring and then subsequently was able to redeem himself. Had Boromir seized the Ring by force, it would have corrupted him quickly, as it did Smeagol (who had murdered to get it). However, he failed to get the Ring from Frodo and so escaped that rapid descent into ignominy. Afterwards, he shows understanding that he had sinned, although he initially disguises this fact from the other members of the Company.

However, what most gratified Gandalf was that Boromir managed to recover and demonstrate the goodness of his soul, thus presumably dying in a state of grace. There is probably no act so worthy as willingly putting one's own life on the line to protect someone else. (Orthodox Catholic theology sees Jesus's crucifixion as an example of this, with him dying to save all other souls from Hell.) Boromir gives his life to defend two innocents (Merry and Pippin) from the orcs, and so, by virtue of this final act of selflessness, dies in a state of grace.

Throughout Book II of The Fellowship of the Ring, Merry and Pippin had seemed to be more hindrance than help to the Company. Gandalf's observation that their presence was fortunate for Boromir is for exactly the reason that you have inferred. Since they were there to be defended, there was an opportunity for him to redeem himself; had he instead died fighting only for his own survival, there would have been no equivalent redemption. Up to this point, it has not been clear what the two younger hobbits would contribute to the Company's mission. Although Merry and Pippin would subsequently prove their usefulness and personal valor, Gandalf does not know what is to come. He may be musing that their presence may have been one of those little-seen gifts of Iluvatar—that happenstance made them part of the Company just to give Boromir a last cause through which to win salvation.

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    To add to this excellent answer: I think that even those of us who don’t believe in souls and Catholicism can agree that there are things that are worse than dying. May 22 at 6:25
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    I think this is a great answer as-is. I would add that you don't need to specifically read it as Boromir having some immortal part that will be saved or damned; it is enough to read it as him living the good life or failing to. (Insert your own definition of "the good life"; most of them allow for being true to your principles)
    – fectin
    May 22 at 19:41
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    @Novak well, there are those who remain in Middle-Earth after death - the oathbreakers, ringwraiths, and other undead. As the "correct" fate for the dead is to be called to the Halls of Mandos, those who are not called (or are able to stay by other means) are, in a way, damned. And unless they somehow have a way to redeem themselves (like oathbreakers did) - damned eternally. May 23 at 5:55
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    @DanilaSmirnov: I think Men don't go to the Halls of Mandos, but their Doom lies outside of Arda (and Halls of Mandos should be part of Arda, shouldn't it?)
    – Klas Š.
    May 23 at 11:55
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    @KlasŠ. Ultimately - yes, but there are references in the Silmarillion to the souls of Men gathering in the Halls before leaving... elsewhere. May 23 at 12:11

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