Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsThe Return Of The King Book 5 Chapter 7 Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Return of the King (Book 5, Chapter 7) : The Pyre of Denethor | Summary



While all this has been happening, Gandalf has been diverted to dealing with Denethor who is trying to burn himself and Faramir alive. When they find Denethor, he has already ordered his Men to build a funeral pyre, and Beregond is blocking them from carrying out this order. Denethor, enraged, tries to kill Beregond, but Gandalf intervenes. Gandalf then argues with Denethor, trying to get him to see reason and quit despairing. Denethor reveals he has a palantír.

Denethor then tries to kill Faramir with a knife, but Beregond stops him, so he lights the pyre and lays down on it, holding the palantír. Gandalf and the others carry Faramir out of the building as it collapses in flame. Gandalf concludes the palantír allowed Sauron to infiltrate the thoughts of Denethor, showing him things that would cause despair. After giving this explanation, Gandalf sets off for the Houses of Healing to see Faramir.


This chapter covers the same period of time as the previous chapter, so the deaths of the two kings occur at about the same time. In fact, their parallel paths highlight their differences. Théoden was deceived and despairing, but was open to Gandalf's influence and was ultimately healed, going on to a courageous death in battle against evil. In Théoden, the Christian teaching of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption is clearly demonstrated. Gandalf, as a Christ-like figure, mediates this redemption. Denethor, on the other hand, is also deceived and despairing, yet he resists Gandalf's counsel and instead tries to assert his own control over the wizard. Denethor's end, then, is neither courageous nor useful. Even when Gandalf gives him one final chance to make the right choice, he refuses. He is ultimately overcome by evil and yields to it.

The revelation that Denethor has been deceived by Sauron through the palantír shows that information, whether incomplete or taken out of context, can deceive just as easily as a lie. Like Saruman's speech and the counsel of Wormtongue, half-truths are seen to be just as destructive as lies.

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