Denethor was trapped by Sauron while using the palantír. Denethor effectively went insane after realizing just how powerful Sauron was and that there was no hope to ever stop him. This did not happen to Aragorn who used a palantír to challenge Sauron. I think Aragorn was able to use it without being ensnared because he was a direct descendent to Elendil, to whom the palantíri were given.

So my question is this: Do the stewards of Gondor have the right to use the palantíri? Or is it only the line of Elendil and to those who they give permission?

  • 8
    As far as "those to whom they give permission": Would not the stewards of Gondor, who were legally the rightful rulers of Gondor in the absence of the Kings, count among "those to whom [the line of Elendil] give permission? Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:13
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    Remember Aragorn mentioned two factors enabling him to use the Stone of Orthanc: the right and the strength. Denethor may have had the right, but certainly did not have the strength to wrest it to his will. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:35
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    Anyone "can" use a Palantir. Pippin did, after all.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:47
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    All excellent comments here; a shame they don't count towards rep.
    – user8719
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 18:46
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    Denethor's madness was perfectly rational. He'd been personally engaging in mental battle with Sauron for years and knew for a certain fact that militarily Sauron's victory was inevitable. He then learned Gandalf had entrusted the Ring to an insane/irrational (which is precisely why it worked) quest, which he saw as making his victory even quicker. But what finished him off was the belief he'd lose both his sons. Even in the end, he didn't betray the Quest to Sauron. Sauron couldn't break him. Denethor understandably didn't have faith it was "meant" to happen this way and it'd all work out.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 0:11

4 Answers 4


This is dealt with in the palantíri essay in Unfinished Tales:

These Stones were an inalienable gift to Elendil and his heirs, to whom alone they belonged by right; but this does not mean that they could only be used rightfully by one of these "heirs." They could be used lawfully by anyone authorized by either the "Heir of Anárion" or the "Heir of Isildur," that is, a lawful King of Gondor or Arnor. Actually they must normally have been used by such deputies. Each Stone had its own warden, one of whose duties was to "survey the Stone" at regular intervals, or when commanded, or in times of need. Other persons also were appointed to visit the Stones, and ministers of the Crown concerned with "intelligence" made regular and special inspections of them, reporting the information so gained to the King and Council, or to the King privately, as the matter demanded. In Gondor latterly, as the office of Steward rose in importance and became hereditary, providing as it were a permanent "understudy" to the King, and an immediate viceroy at need, the command and use of the Stones seems mainly to have been in the hands of the Stewards...

(my emphasis throughout)

So, to answer your question: Is it only the line of Elendil and to those who they give permission?

Yes, but it should be noted that the Stewards by default did normally have this permission.

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    @TGnat: It says used lawfully not used in general. That is, unlawful use is not precluded by the above passage.
    – Reid
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 18:18
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    @TGnat - Reid has it right. Don't forget that Pippin used it (unlawfully).
    – user8719
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 18:50
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    I doubt there was any local Rohan statute violated by Pippin borrowing the Palantir and using it.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 20:13
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    @Oldcat 6 Rohan Code § 1329, "No hobbit otherwise not acting under direct command of the King shall come within 1 ell of a palantír under penalty of imprisonment not to exceed 40 days or a fine of 100 castar."
    – user11521
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 20:17
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    @TGnat: One of the reasons Aragorn (and presumably Denethor) were able to actually resist one of the Ainur is because they were using the Palantir rightfully while Sauron was not. Tolkien later contrasts this same issue with the Ring: anyone wielding the Ring confronting Sauron would be handicapped by the fact Sauron was the "rightful" wielder.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 2:57

I don't think there is any doubt that the Stewards were 'allowed' to use the palantíri. The later kings of Gondor handed off a lot of their responsibilities to their stewards as they decayed both physically, mentally and morally. It was more a case, I dare say, especially among the diligent ones, if they could not use the stones. Post-Great Plague/Wain-riders I doubt they really wanted to see much that the stones would show them! Nonetheless, despite Denethor's failings — and Peter Jackson's terrible rendition of him — he was certainly a diligent Steward and wanted nothing but the best for his land. If anything he tried too hard and it was that terrible responsibility which destroyed him.

It is a more interesting question to consider if they actually could. We know it took a strong mind and the 'right' to use the stone obviously helped. Saruman had no 'right', but was more than strong enough mentally to use it. Pippin had neither right nor strength and could not use the palantír at all. The best he could do was 'lift up the receiver' and eavesdrop on a conversation that had already been dialled. Denenthor on the other hand had the right and, thanks to a quirk of genetics, possessed an almost 'pure' expression of the Númenórean bloodline, as did Faramir. He could certainly could use it and did; what is more Sauron could not even stop him using it. The most he could do was 'exaggerate' in what he showed to Denethor; 'staging' the vision to make his armies look larger or make it seem more towns and villages had been destroyed by the Corsairs of Umbar than really had been.

So yes, I think it is certain the Stewards had the right and some of them, up to the present day of the War of the Ring, even had the strength to do so.


We do have specific guidance on the question of the palantíri, but as a general rule, the Stewards were able to do anything that the Kings could — although they were definitely not Kings, they wore no crown and sat on a humble seat at the foot the throne.

When the days of the Kings came to an end and Gondor was ruled by the Stewards descended from Húrin, the steward of King Minardil, it was held that all the rights and duties of the Kings were theres "until the Great King returns."

-- "The Tradition of Isildur" - Cirion and Eorl (Unfinished Tales)

It displeased [Boromir] that his father was not king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?" he asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," [Denethor] answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."

-- "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbits" (The Two Towers)

Although in some circumstances, like when the Steward Cirion gave the land that would become Rohan, and the title of King to Eorl these acts were made 'provisionally' and would need to be confirmed when some unknown Heir eventually reclaimed the throne.

However, as the years lengthened and no successor came forth, fewer and fewer people expected that anyone would ever claim the Throne again.

To Eorl I will give in free gift all the great land of Calenardhon from Anduin to Isen. There, if he will, he shall be king, and his heirs after him, and his people shall dwell in freedom while the authority of the Stewards endures, until the Great King returns.37

Footnote 37: This was always said in the days of the Stewards, in any solemn pronouncement, although by the time of Cirion (the twelfth Ruling Steward) it had become a formula that few believed would ever come to pass [author's note]

-- Cirion and Eorl (Unfinished Tales)

  • So really, Théoden King wasn't truly King at all—or at least, Aragorn could have chosen to null and void his kingship once he became king if he had wanted to. Interesting—never knew that. (I think you have a “not” missing in the first sentence.) Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 2:59
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    Well, @JanusBahsJacquet he could have taken back the land. I think that after 18 generations, the Rohirrim would have kept his title. Interestingly, Cirion swore his oath in Quenya, calling the Valar and Ilúvatar to witness, and the text says that such an oath hadn't been heard since Elendil swore alliance with Gil-Galad, nor would it be heard again until Aragorn renewed the Oath with Éomer after the war. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 3:17

I suspect Tolkien did not think about it as hard as most of you are. The way the palantir functions was however the plot necessitated it to.

OR perhaps when Aragorn said it was his right and strength that allowed him to use it was just his opinion, just his best guess at why he was able to use it. Maybe it was ONLY his strength of will. Maybe Denethor went nuts simply because of his cognition of how powerful sauron was, not some evil side effect of the palantir or sauron's dark magic.

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    If it were any other author, I'd agree with your first paragraph, but Tolkien was obsessive. He worked out many of these details twenty or thirty years before he ever applied them in LOTR. Even if he made up the rules of the palantiri as he was writing, he probably took two months of evenings to write up a tome on palantiri before he used the rules in the book.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 2:06

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