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While interrogating Frodo, Faramir asks whether Frodo would grieve to know Boromir is dead. Frodo replies: "You have been trying to trap me in words, playing with me? Or are you now trying to snare me with a falsehood?"

Faramir then claims:

I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood.

Faramir is to me a character who speaks the author's point of view, and this is a really strange sounding statement.

I know the good guys in Tolkien's works tend to be so noble they act almost like fools. I can understand the good guys would stick to certain rules, for example, ambassadors are not to be assailed, but how can Faramir avoid "falsehood" in the war against Mordor? Would camouflage, ambush, a feint strike with his sword count as falsehood? What actually is the standard?

Or does he mean he would not while interrogating; Or he would rather not?


In case of confusion, I was expecting religious point of view, therefore the religion tag, 'cause I figure religion is essential in discussing morality in Tolkien's works (And of course it's not specifically about religion, I appreciated the answers and comments on the English language and general reading-understanding).

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    You are simply overthinking a denial made in the moment by employing a turn of phrase with what may be a degree of exaggeration and hyperbole in it.
    – Pelinore
    Mar 4 at 12:43
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    @Pelinore TBF, that's kind of what we do here.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 4 at 20:19
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    "We are men of action. Lies do not become us."
    – Mazura
    Mar 5 at 4:40
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    Ignoring irrelevant details, 'I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood' rather clearly means 'Falsehood is beneath me.' If that's not clear enough, does 'Falsehood is beneath me, whatever the consequences…' work for you? Mar 5 at 22:52
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    "I know the good guys in Tolkien's works tend to be so noble they act almost like fools." Don't take Saruman's word for it. He's not supposed to be impartial or a role model ;)
    – Luaan
    Mar 6 at 9:09

3 Answers 3

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It simply means "I would not do evil so that good could come of it", it's a Catholic/Thomistic principle that Tolkien, any Catholic reader would be well aware of being a principle that a chivalrous knight like Faramir would uphold.

The principle of lying so that good may come of it is concretely framed by St. Thomas Aquinas:

I answer that, An action that is naturally evil in respect of its genus can by no means be good and lawful, since in order for an action to be good it must be right in every respect: because good results from a complete cause, while evil results from any single defect, as Dionysius asserts . Now a lie is evil in respect of its genus, since it is an action bearing on undue matter. For as words are naturally signs of intellectual acts, it is unnatural and undue for anyone to signify by words something that is not in his mind. Hence the Philosopher says that "lying is in itself evil and to be shunned, while truthfulness is good and worthy of praise." Therefore every lie is a sin, as also Augustine declares.

https://www.newadvent.org/summa/3110.htm#article3

Other things you may describe as lies are tactical maneuvers, not intended as lies, but simply to gain the upperhand in a fight which the opposite side could similarly employ. Two people can't trap each other in the same lie, but two people can distract each other with the same move.

Lying, as Dante would have it, is the absolute worst of all the sins - everybody in the bottom two circles of Hell in his Inferno were either liars or traitors. Avoidance of these things doesn't just make one a noble fool, it makes them worthy of the glories they attain.

But there's more to it than "thou shalt not bearing false witness" deception is also just an offense against the commandments against covetousness.

I answer that, The daughters of covetousness are the vices which arise therefrom, especially in respect of the desire of an end. Now since covetousness is excessive love of possessing riches, it exceeds in two things. For in the first place it exceeds in retaining, and in this respect covetousness gives rise to "insensibility to mercy," because, to wit, a man's heart is not softened by mercy to assist the needy with his riches. On the second place it belongs to covetousness to exceed in receiving, and in this respect covetousness may be considered in two ways. First as in the thought [affectu]. On this way it gives rise to "restlessness," by hindering man with excessive anxiety and care, for "a covetous man shall not be satisfied with money" (Ecclesiastes 5:9). Secondly, it may be considered in the execution [effectu]. On this way the covetous man, in acquiring other people's goods, sometimes employs force, which pertains to "violence," sometimes deceit, and then if he has recourse to words, it is "falsehood," if it be mere words, "perjury" if he confirm his statement by oath; if he has recourse to deeds, and the deceit affects things, we have "fraud"; if persons, then we have "treachery," as in the case of Judas, who betrayed Christ through covetousness.

https://www.newadvent.org/summa/3118.htm

Now, St. Thomas also says that there's nothing that keeps vices things from being classified under two different categories. But covetousness is core to the Lord of the Rings, much more than deceit. Every problem that arises in connection with the One Ring or the dragon's gold is in relation to covetousness. Any time Faramir or the nobler knights attack orcs, it is not to enslave them or plunder from them or in any way take advantage of them. It is simply to drive them back from whence they came and free their people from their threat.

Faramir is a free man because he does not covet. He does not need to be bound by even lies he tells to orcs because he is a free man.


“But even now there is hope left. I will not give you counsel, saying do this or do that. for not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part what shall be. But this I will say to you: your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hop remains while all the Company is true.”

Galadriel

any straying, such as going off the path in Mirkwood in the Hobbit, is straying a little - which will cause the Quest to fail.

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    The ninth circle of Hell was reserved for traitors: treason can involve lying, but really only requires doing injury to those whom, in Dante's opinion, one owes allegiance. Most liars were in the eight circle, for fraud.
    – Adamant
    Mar 4 at 21:36
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    @Adamant that's a find thing to distinguish, but both are offenses against the 7th commandment "thou shalt not bear false witness" Mar 4 at 21:42
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    Treason is not about bearing false witness, certainly not to Dante. Satan is at the bottom of the ninth circle, as the ultimate traitor—while he is indeed the Father of Lies, he did not conceal his rebellion against God. Other examples include Tydeus and Count Ugolino. Simply turning against one's family, country, or lord was enough for Dantex regardless of how honest one was about it.
    – Adamant
    Mar 4 at 21:53
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    @Adamant Peter has at least one leg to stand on. One cannot be guilty of treason unless one has previously lied about their allegiance --- or at the very least, decided not to formally renounce it.
    – jpaugh
    Mar 5 at 6:22
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    To continue on the Thomistic approach, St Thomas answers that ambushes and deceptions are permitted in war but lies are not. From ST Secunda Secundae Q40 Article 3: I answer that, The object of laying ambushes is in order to deceive the enemy. Now a man may be deceived by another's word or deed in two ways. First, through being told something false, or through the breaking of a promise, and this is always unlawful. No one ought to deceive the enemy in this way, for there are certain "rights of war and covenants, which ought to be observed even among enemies," as Ambrose states (De Officiis i). Mar 6 at 22:37
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Just as a point of English usage, a falsehood specifically means a lie — it doesn’t usually include other kinds of trickery or deception such as ambushes or camouflage. (Wiktionary confirms this.)

So on a purely literal reading, Faramir is saying “I would not try to trick someone by lying, not even an orc.” This seems entirely consistent with Faramir’s sense of honour — more generally, with the real-world medieval notions of honour that LoTR draws on, in which lying was a very serious transgression — and not at all incompatible with his military activity against Mordor.

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    This. That "falsehood" should be, and reasonably is, interpreted as a specific type of deception (lying) is the direct answer to the question posed. The word indeed does not apply to any of the military tactics mentioned in the question. Mar 6 at 20:38
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It seems to me Faramir is simply denying that he would ever use the specific trick that Frodo is suggesting he might be using: that interrogators can lie to trap the person being questioned.

It's a common trope in police procedurals:

Interrogator: "And then you followed him into the alley, and you shot him."

Person being questioned: "I stabbed him, not shot him!" dawning realisation

Faramir is saying he wouldn't do that. After all, part of the whole "so noble they act almost like fools" thing is that wordplay and sophistry (e.g., Saruman) are bad approaches, but hitting people with swords is juuuust fine...

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  • It never occurred to me that Faramir might not be serious here. If it's a merry guy like Legolas in the books in his place, I wouldn't think too hard. But that's only my reading of course.
    – Eugene
    Mar 5 at 5:44
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    @Eugene I agree with Lexible, and I also think Faramir is completely serious. He's just not generalizing the statement as much as you have.
    – jpaugh
    Mar 5 at 6:18
  • @lexible I'm not sure what punctuation style e.g, is, but I don't like it :)
    – AakashM
    Mar 5 at 9:36
  • @jpaugh Yeah, probably. If you mean he's not generalizing it to tactics. It's still hard to draw the line. 'Cause an ambush is not far from a lie. A literal "snare" trap isn't far from a lie.
    – Eugene
    Mar 5 at 9:51
  • @AakashM Whoops! Corrected. :)
    – Lexible
    Mar 5 at 16:35

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