Many fans of Tolkien’s works have noted certain similarities that exist between two heroes that inhabit the mythological realm of Middle Earth. Thorin Oakenshield, King of the Dwarves, and Boromir, future Steward of Gondor, share some characteristics, to be sure. They are both noted for their prowess on a battlefield, for their ability to garner the loyalty of their followers, for their belief in the worthiness of their own people, and for their ardent, bullheaded sense of pride. However, these two warriors differ in the most decisive way. One was esteemed by the writer for his magisterial qualities. The other, was derided for his lack of abstemiousness when it counted the most.
Thorin Oakenshield was born to rule. He was a prince descended from a long line of kings. In medieval society, monarchs were divine. They were not like everyone else. By rights, they were obeyed in all matters. By provenance, they were worthy of such veneration. Tolkien observed these ethical codes when writing all of his Middle Earth series. The Dwarf King was ordained by God to take his rightful place as commander of his people. He would naturally be imbued with the majestic qualities of strength, morality, pride, equitability and a conquering spirit.
When Thorin is faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of reclaiming his homeland, he strides onward with the imperial bearing expected of him. Not for a moment’s respite, does the warrior shrink from his destiny. He is the son of Thrain, the son of Thror, and he must redeem the line of kings. He is fighting for what is rightfully his to fight for. The treasure (particularly the Arkenstone) belongs to his house. The city of Erebor belongs to his kin. It is an ordinance of predestination. To die in the process is commendable. To succeed is prodigious.
Boromir, on the other hand, is not of the Gondorian royal house. While being of Numenorean blood, he is of the line of stewards instead. When this line was created, it was forbidden for any of royal blood to be of its ranks. The stewards were there to serve their lord as high chancellors, and in time of need, to rule in their stead. Denethor II, Boromir’s father, ruled Gondor for all of his son’s life. A haughty man who was consumed with power, he behaved more like a monarch than a loyal servant. Boromir resembled his father in many ways. He came to believe that his own line had as much merit as the sovereign house itself. He is reticent, at best, to accept the true heir, Aragorn, when he reemerges at long last. This unnatural superiority complex was something that Tolkien decried. To usurp another’s rightful place in the order of things can have far reaching and unforeseen consequences. Boromir’s arrogance is of a disdainful sort that breeds malcontent and trouble for those on the quest to destroy the One Ring of Power.
Boromir has pride in his people. He is a mighty warrior who inspires those that serve him. There is no doubt that he wants to restore the glory of his once mighty kingdom to its full splendor. However, he goes about it in all the wrong ways. The dream of the One Ring comes, not to Boromir, but to his younger brother, Faramir. Superciliously, though, Boromir seizes onto the message and makes the journey to Imladris himself. He is so full of insolence that he believes that he is the most apposite one to handle the power of this mighty relic. He is so imprudent that he is convinced that he can harness the evil that it wields for the glory of his own family. It is this mindset, which ensnares him when he finally encounters the One Ring. As Tolkien reiterates throughout the LOTR, it is only one of the purest mind and most benevolent spirit that can escape its malignant grasp. Readers know that his younger sibling, Faramir, was the one that should have made the journey to join the fellowship in Rivendell. For, that is why the ring showed itself to him in the first place. Faramir was made of stronger moral fiber than his older brother. He would not have jeopardized the mission as Boromir so wantonly did.
Thorin Oakenshield wielded power with a just and providential hand. Boromir attempted to usurp it through a misguided sense of his own self-importance. Unwittingly, the human warrior veered off of his noble path when he granted his pernicious hubris the upper hand. Members of medieval society believed that this was an inherent danger in conceding power to those of inferior bearing. Only those of a certain aristocratic deportment were equipped to handle the nuances of prodigious responsibility. Aragorn recognized and rewarded this quality in Boromir’s brother, Faramir. Though redeemed in the end, Boromir imperiled those in his safe keeping, grievously. This was something that no culpable exemplar would do.
For Tolkien, Thorin Oakenshield represented the ideal Nordic warrior king, and by extension, what we should all strive after, moralistically. He was scrupulous, righteous, staunch, immolating, and unblenching. Boromir, on the other hand, serves as a cautionary paradigm. As human beings we are all imperiled by the constant threats of self-glorification and intemperance. Only by rising above these ignoble traits, can we, as a species, truly reach our apical potential. As Boromir showed in the end, we are capable of such superlative exploits if we can command the fortitude needed to battle the rancorous thoughts that reside within us all. Thus, our two heroes serve as models of opposite character. Thorin Oakenshield emblematizes the consummate human experience. He may be haughty and cynical at turns, but he never loses sight of what is paramount to his people. Boromir of Gondor, by contrast, epitomizes the intrinsic frailties that most of us struggle with throughout our lives. By coveting the ring of power, he places his own concupiscence above the inviolability of the fellowship, and ultimately, of all of the inhabitants of Middle Earth. Some of us are able to rise above these contemptible shortcomings, whilst many more of us fall prey to our fallacious desires. Tolkien sought to provide a moral in his characterizations. To be human is to falter, but to fully embrace your humanity is to persevere conscientiously.