Study Guide

The Return of the King Book 5, Chapter 7

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Book 5, Chapter 7

The Pyre of Denethor

  • Time to travel back in time once more. But don't worry—it's a quick jump.
  • When the Lord of the Nazgûl disappears from the gate of Minas Tirith (with the arrival of the Rohirrim in the fields of Pelennor), Gandalf speaks to Shadowfax and looks ready to ride out to the battle once more.
  • But Pippin stops him.
  • Gandalf wants to go after the Lord of the Nazgûl, but Pippin tries to explain that, if Gandalf doesn't come at once, they might burn Faramir alive.
  • Although he's afraid that others might die if he doesn't fend off the Lord of the Nazgûl, he agrees to help, telling Imrahil to take charge of the fight while he's busy dealing with daft Denethor. 
  • As Gandalf and Pippin climb into the Citadel, they see the light in the southern sky. But still, there's plenty of darkness in the city. 
  • They find the guard of the Closed Door killed, and his key taken, which Gandalf suspects is the work of Sauron. 
  • Gandalf dismounts from Shadowfax and tells him to go back to his stable. Then he and Pippin rush to the House of the Stewards. 
  • They hear fighting, which prompts Gandalf to command that everyone cut it out, right this very instant. 
  • Beregond is standing on a step blocking the door from a bunch of servants with swords and torches. Two of the servants have already died. 
  • Even as they arrive, the voice of Denethor shouts, do I have to kill this traitor myself?
  • Denethor wrenches open the door that Beregond has been holding shut and attacks him. 
  • Gandalf jumps up the stairs, lifts his hand, and Denethor's sword falls from his grasp. 
  • When Gandalf asks him what's going on, Denethor tells Gandalf that Faramir is already burning. 
  • The West has failed, and they may as well get a head start on destroying everything. Way to think positive, buddy.
  • Luckily, Gandalf totally ignores the old kook, goes inside, and finds that Faramir is not, in fact, already burning.
  • But he is surrounded by oiled wood, so that's not exactly peachy. 
  • Gandalf picks Faramir up and carries him away, which causes Faramir to stir and call for his father in some sort of strange fever dream. 
  • Denethor suddenly seems to wake from his own delusions. He weeps and asks, "Do not take my son from me! He calls for me" (5.7.28).
  • Gandalf says that Faramir is on the edge of death and needs treatment. Denethor needs to go out onto the battlefield and defend Minas Tirith, like a good Steward would.
  • But Denethor is still being a negative Nancy. He replies that there is no need: "Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer?" (5.7.30).
  • Gandalf scolds Denethor for trying to kill himself, and suddenly, Denethor laughs, whips a covering off the pillow that he had been using, and shows the palantír
  • He tells Gandalf that there is no hope left, and that he knows Gandalf wants to rule in Denethor's place. Um, false. 
  • He even thinks that Pippin is a spy for Gandalf.
  • Plus, Denethor knows that Aragorn is coming, and that Gandalf will try to replace Denethor with Aragorn. Well, he has got that part right at least. 
  • All that Denethor wants is for things to go on as they have, with Minas Tirith in peace and Denethor as Lord, with an heir to follow him. We hate to say it dude, but ain't gonna happen.
  • But if he can't have those things, then Denethor will have nothing
  • Gandalf tells him that there is honor for Stewards who faithfully give up their charges.
  • What is more, Denethor shouldn't rob Faramir of the right to choose to live.
  • But Denethor has totally lost it. He's beyond reason. He takes out his knife and walks towards Faramir.
  • That's when brave Beregond jumps in front of Faramir and stops Denethor from hurting his son.
  • Giving up the Faramir fight, Denethor says at least he will have control of his own death.
  • So he orders two of his servants to join him, grabs a torch from one of them, sets the oiled wood on fire, and jumps onto the empty table. 
  • He breaks the staff of his Stewardship and throws the pieces on the fire.
  • Then he lies down among the flames with his hands folded over the palantír and dies with a great cry. Ick.
  • Gandalf turns to Beregond and the two servants of Denethor. He tells them to put aside their anger, because Denethor's madness was the work of Sauron.
  • As Gandalf and Beregond carry Faramir out of the House of the Stewards, the surviving servants look back to see flames engulf the whole building. The roof falls in "in a flurry of fire" (5.7.48).
  • As they walk through the Closed Door, Faramir locks it behind them. 
  • Gandalf explains that Imrahil is in charge while Faramir is ill, but he is currently in the battle. 
  • So Gandalf takes responsibility, telling Beregond to hold onto the key until after the City is safe.
  • As they enter the Houses of Healing, they hear a horrible cry that freezes their blood for a moment.
  • But when it passes, all of Minas Tirith feels lighter, with "hope as they had not known since the darkness came out of the East" (5.7.52).
  • Gandalf, however, still looks grim.
  • He announces to Beregond and Pippin that it's great that the Lord of the Nazgûl has been cut down (that's what that scream was).
  • But their side still paid a bitter price (we're thinking he's referring to Théoden).
  • Gandalf guessed long ago that the Stewards of Gondor have held a palantír in secret.
  • When Denethor was sane, he would never have dreamed of using it to challenge Sauron.
  • But when Boromir left and the threat to the City grew, Gandalf suspects that Denethor looked into the Stone one too many times. 
  • Sauron, sensing the perfect opportunity, fed Denethor's despair until it destroyed his mind.
  • So Sauron's will has entered right into the heart of Minas Tirith, delaying Gandalf.
  • Gandalf tells Beregond to go to the Citadel and explain what has happened.
  • He believes that the chief of the Guard there will have no choice but to relieve Beregond of duty, which is perfect, because Gandalf wants Beregond to go to the Houses of Healing, to be on hand when Faramir wakes up.

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