The Return of the King
How we cite our quotes:
"What then would you have," said Gandalf, "if your will could have its way?"
"I would have things as they were in all the days of my life," answered Denethor, "as in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard's pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated." (5.7.38-9)
Way to be strong, Denny. While everyone's out fighting for Good, he's busy bemoaning what's dead and gone. As we read these words, we can't help but be reminded of what Gandalf tells Frodo, way back at the beginning of all this mess: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" (The Fellowship of the Ring 1.2.80). In other words, yes, this whole situation is the pits, and it's perfectly understandable to wish it would all just go away. But we still have a moral responsibility to accept the truth, even if it is awful. And then we have to get on with things. Therein lies Denethor's problem. He refuses to accept what fate has dished out for him, and can't get on with things. So of course, he is going to come to evil.
"I wish Merry was here," [Pippin] heard himself saying, and quick thoughts raced through his mind, even as he watched the enemy come charging to the assault. "Well, well, now at any rate I understand poor Denethor a little better. We might die together, Merry and I, and since die we must, why not? Well, as he is not here, I hope he'll find an easier end. But now I must do my best." (5.10.55)
There is a kind of steely perseverance that creeps in after despair. Once Pippin has resigned himself to his fate, he has no choice but to keep going. That's simply all there is left to do. Yet, even though he understands Denethor's choice to hurry the process along with the help of a flame or two, Pippin chooses to keep fighting instead. SO we have to ask: why is Pippin's despair different from Denethor's? What is it about Pippin that enables him to keep chugging, while Denethor gives up entirely?
He wondered what the time was. Somewhere between one day and the next, [Sam] supposed; but even of the days he had quite lost count. He was in a land of darkness where the days of the world seemed forgotten, and where all who entered were forgotten too.
"I wonder if they think of us at all," he said, "and what is happening to them all away there." He waved his hand vaguely in the air before him; but he was in fact now facing southwards, as he came back to Shelob's tunnel, not west. Out westward in the world it was drawing to noon upon the fourteenth day of March in the Shire-reckoning, and even now Aragorn was leading the black fleet from Pelargir, and Merry was riding with the Rohirrim down the Stonewain Valley, while in Minas Tirith flames were rising and Pippin watched the madness growing in the eyes of Denethor. Yet amid all their cares and fear the thoughts of their friends turned constantly to Frodo and Sam. They were not forgotten. But they were far beyond aid, and no thought could yet bring any help to Samwise Hamfast's son; he was utterly alone. (6.1.3-4)
First of all, we can't help but think that if Frodo and Sam had a cell phone, they could probably chat it up with Aragorn and Co. every once in a while, which just might have given them the needed burst of good cheer to keep on trucking. But alas, Middle-earth is tech-free. All Frodo and Sam can do is wonder if their friends are even thinking of them. To which we say, of course they are (but they're just a bit busy at the moment thank you). And second, we have to give a shout out to the hobbits' obsession with time. When Frodo wakes up in Rivendell, his first question is, "Where am I, and what is the time?" (The Fellowship of the Ring 2.1.2). When Merry awakens in the Houses of Healing, he says, "I am hungry. What is the time?" (5.8.100). And now here is Sam, alone in Mordor, sitting in front of the orc fortress at Cirith Ungol, and he wonders what time it is. While this all seems downright nitpicky, it also draws our attention to the fact that no matter what, time can't be stopped. All the characters can try to do is keep up with events as they change.