34

During the siege of Gondor:

Faramir is gravely injured by a southron (Haradrim) dart while trying to hold Osgiliath.

When he is brought back to Gondor, there is this passage:

The Prince Imrahil brought Faramir to the White Tower, and he said: 'Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds,' and he told all that he had seen. But Denethor rose and looked on the face of his son and was silent. Then he bade them make a bed in the chamber and lay Faramir upon it and depart. But he himself went up alone into the secret room under the summit of the Tower; and many who looked up thither at that time saw a pale light that gleamed and flickered from the narrow windows for a while, and then flashed and went out. And when Denethor descended again he went to Faramir and sat beside him without speaking, but the face of the Lord as grey, more deathlike than his son's.
The Lord of the Rings Book 5 Chapter 4: The Siege of Gondor

I've emphasized the portion relating to my question: what did Denethor go up there for? Did he do anything special in the secret room? What was the secret room for, anyway? It seems a bit strange that in a time of such great grief he'd decide to visit some random secret room, so I'm guessing there was something particularly special about it that he needed.

3
  • 6
    What was the secret room for? Two words: Elf Pinups.
    – Omegacron
    Apr 3, 2015 at 16:10
  • 8
    He was polishing his Palantir.
    – Valorum
    Nov 22, 2016 at 20:47
  • 6
    Deleting his palantir history. Nov 22, 2016 at 23:59

4 Answers 4

79

I just discovered canon support for DVK's answer that Denethor was looking into his Palantir.

Starting with the words of Gandalf:

"Though the Stewards deemed that it was a secret kept only by themselves, long ago I guessed that here in the White Tower, one 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."

"Now I understand what seemed to strange to me!" said Pippin, shuddering at his memories as he spoke. "The Lord went away from the room where Faramir lay; and it was only when he returned that I first thought he was changed, old and broken."

"It was in the very hour that Faramir was brought to the Tower that many of us saw a strange light in the topmost chamber," said Beregron. "But we have seen that light before, and it has long been rumoured in the City that the Lord would at times wrestle in thought with his Enemy."

"Alas! then I have guessed rightly," said Gandalf.
The Lord of the Rings Book 5 Chapter 7: The Pyre of Denethor

And so has DVK; when Denethor withdrew to the secret room under the Tower, he was looking into the Palantir, and in it he saw primarily the forces of Sauron amassing (as well as the ships that had been captured by Aragorn, though Denethor thought they belonged to the Enemy still).

0
55

I don't have canon proof, but most likely, he was looking in the Palantír of Anárion.

The fact that he came back all dispirited and suppressed, as the quote above notes, seems to confirm the guess, for that was precisely the effect the Palantir (which showed him the bad things Sauron wished to show) on Denethor.

4

Looking the Palantir, without doubt.

4

Denethor went up to consult his palantír.

This is a plot twist that Tolkien spends some time setting up. Denethor implies that he knows more than anyone else, people talk about him "wrestling" in thought with Sauron, and he mysteriously vanishes to a room with a flickering light at important times:

‘Yea,’ he said; ‘for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them. But sit now!’
The Lord of the Rings - Book V Chapter 1 - "Minas Tirith"

...the Lord Denethor is unlike other men: he sees far. Some say that as he sits alone in his high chamber in the Tower at night, and bends his thought this way and that, he can read somewhat of the future; and that he will at times search even the mind of the Enemy, wrestling with him. And so it is that he is old, worn before his time. But however that may be, my lord Faramir is abroad, beyond the River on some perilous errand, and he may have sent tidings.
The Lord of the Rings - Book V Chapter 1 - "Minas Tirith"

But he himself went up alone into the secret room under the summit of the Tower; and many who looked up thither at that time saw a pale light that gleamed and flickered from the narrow windows for a while, and then flashed and went out. And when Denethor descended again he went to Faramir and sat beside him without speaking, but the face of the Lord was grey, more deathlike than his son’s. The Lord of the Rings - Book V Chapter 4 - "The Siege of Gondor"

Then right before Denethor's death comes the big reveal, Denethor had a palantír the whole time.

Then suddenly Denethor laughed. He stood up tall and proud again, and stepping swiftly back to the table he lifted from it the pillow on which his head had lain. Then coming to the doorway he drew aside the covering, and lo! he had between his hands a palantír. And as he held it up, it seemed to those that looked on that the globe began to glow with an inner flame, so that the lean face of the Lord was lit as with a red fire, and it seemed cut out of hard stone, sharp with black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible. His eyes glittered.
‘Pride and despair!’ he cried. ‘Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.’
The Lord of the Rings - Book V Chapter 7 - "The Pyre of Denethor"

After Denethor dies, Gandalf, Pippin, and Beregond explain everything to the reader.

‘Though the Stewards deemed that it was a secret kept only by themselves, long ago I guessed that here in the White Tower, one at least of the Seven Seeing Stones was preserved. In the days of his wisdom Denethor did not presume to use it, nor 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.’
‘Now I understand what seemed so strange to me!’ said Pippin shuddering at his memories as he spoke. ‘The Lord went away from the room where Faramir lay; and it was only when he returned that I first thought he was changed, old and broken.’
‘It was in the very hour that Faramir was brought to the Tower that many of us saw a strange light in the topmost chamber,’ said Beregond. ‘But we have seen that light before, and it has long been rumoured in the City, that the Lord would at times wrestle in thought with his Enemy.’
The Lord of the Rings - Book V Chapter 7 - "The Pyre of Denethor"

In an essay on the palantíri published in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien adds further that Gandalf had suspected that Denethor had a palantír, and that this was in fact the main reason he was in such a rush to get to Minis Tirith.

But Gandalf's mind was at the same time earnestly busy with the Stones, considering the bearings of the revelation at Dol Baran upon many things that he had observed and pondered: such as the wide knowledge of events far away possessed by Denethor, and his appearance of premature old age, first observable when he was not much above sixty years old, although he belonged to a race and family that still normally had longer lives than other men. Undoubtedly Gandalf's haste to reach Minas Tirith, in addition to the urgency of the time and the imminence of war, was quickened by his sudden fear that Denethor also had made use of a palantír, the Anor-stone, and his desire to judge what effect this had had on him: whether in the crucial test of desperate war it would not prove that he (like Saruman) was no longer to be trusted and might surrender to Mordor. Gandalf's dealings with Denethor on arrival in Minas Tirith, and in the following days, and all things that they are reported to have said to one another, must be viewed in the light of this doubt in Gandalf's mind.
Unfinished Tales - "The Palantíri"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.