Boromir: Breaker of the Fellowship?
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Breaker of the Fellowship?

“I tried to take the Ring from Frodo … I am sorry. I have paid.” With these words, a dying Boromir expresses both his wrongdoing and his repentance (TT, III, i, 16). He has assaulted Frodo, seen the Fellowship break into smaller groups in panic, followed Merry and Pippin to protect them, and died defending them from Orcs. This sequence of events, in conjunction with Boromir’s dying words, has led to a widespread belief among critics that Boromir brings about the breaking of the Fellowship of the Ring as a result of his misdeeds. His attempt to take the Ring from Frodo is universally condemned, though scholars draw differing conclusions about the implications of his effect on the breaking of the Fellowship. Some read it as a solely bad outcome, with Merry and Pippin being captured by Orcs and Frodo forced to go to Mordor with only Sam for company. Others read the breaking and the assault that led to it as a felix culpa, a necessary fork in the road to get the Ring to Mount Doom while still allowing Merry and Pippin to inspire the Ents into action and allowing Aragorn to travel the Paths of the Dead. Some readers emphasize the role played by a dream in sending Boromir to Rivendell. The fact that this dream came several times to Faramir, who would not have assaulted Frodo, leads some to read him as a more obvious and preferable choice over his brother, who received the dream only once and pursued the quest to Rivendell out of a desire for glory.

Regardless of differences, the one aspect on which all accounts that I am aware of are agreed is that Boromir is responsible for the breaking of the Fellowship. His responsibility is asserted simply, as an obvious fact that can be taken for granted, not a conclusion that needs to be argued for. Without question, the sequence of events is that Boromir assaults Frodo, Frodo runs away, and the Fellowship is broken. From this ordering of events, the conclusion that Boromir’s assault on Frodo is responsible for the breakup of the Fellowship has been drawn by several scholars without elaboration. Boromir’s entry in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia states that “Boromir’s arrogance not only mars his heroism, it foreshadows his role as breaker of the Fellowship” (Davis 75). How Boromir breaks the Fellowship is never explained in this terse encyclopedic entry; the reader is expected to make the connection between his later attempt to take the Ring from Frodo and the [End Page 123] breaking of the Fellowship. Jane Chance more explicitly links the two events in a causal relationship: “because of his verbal assault and attack on Frodo near the top of the Hill of Sight (chapter 10), the Fellowship is broken” (56). Nowhere in the surrounding text does Chance argue for the causal relationship, but merely takes it for granted.

Boromir’s role in breaking the Fellowship is also unquestioned by scholars who explore the role of the dream that came to him and Faramir. In Flieger’s words in A Question of Time, “this pivotal dream is directly responsible for Boromir’s inclusion in the Company and thus leads directly to his crucial role in the breaking of the Fellowship at the Falls of Rauros” (179). Like the author of Boromir’s encyclopedia entry, Flieger takes it for granted that the reader will understand what Boromir’s crucial role in the breaking of the Fellowship was. The focus of her argument here is not Boromir but the impact that dreams and supernatural visions can have in Tolkien’s work. From the fact that Boromir and Faramir both received a dream that led to Boromir’s inclusion in the Fellowship, and the fact that Boromir’s actions led to the breaking of the Fellowship, some readers have naturally wondered what would have happened had Faramir instead of Boromir followed the dream to Imladris. Shippey, for instance, writes, “Providence, or the Valar, sent the dream that took Boromir to Rivendell (340). But they sent it first and most often to Faramir, who would no doubt...