Tolkien first wrote about Boromir when he penned the original draft of the Counsel of Elrond. From the start, this member of the Fellowship asked a bit too much about the Ring. But that shouldn’t lead us to suspect that Tolkien had his last for the Ring and ultimate betrayal in mind from the start.
The original draft of the conversation about the Ring, in this regard, was basically the same outline as it was when finally published. In trying to trace just when Tolkien came up with the idea that Boromir was to betray Frodo and the Fellowship, no clue can be found here in this draft.
These were simply useful questions about the Ring. Even in the published version, there’s little to make the reader suspect Boromir’s fate. In the published tale, Boromir suggested that the Ring be used by the Men of Gondor, and when told that it couldn’t be used like that, he basically dropped it. This was the basic story from the very first draft. So just how did Tolkien arrive at Boromir’s slide into lust for the Ring, and when did his treachery become set in stone?
In August of 1939, Tolkien finished the first draft of the Council of Elrond chapter. Almost immediately, he began making notes for what might come next. During this period of writing, Tolkien was still trying to figure out the geography as well as history of Boromir’s people. The land he was from, which we now know as Gondor, was then named Ond by Tolkien. They had to pass through the Land of Ond to get to the Fiery Mountain to destroy the Ring.
Originally, Tolkien wrote that Boromir’s land was “besieged by wild men out of the East,” and sent to Balin in Moria for help (an idea with so much alternate universe fun that I can’t get enough of it). As he drafted, this idea changed until, at the end of the first draft, Boromir had come to Rivendell with “tidings,” but we’re never told what they were. Through this, the people of Ond (and then of Gondor) were still and ever faithful.
Though Boromir was originally selected to be part of the Fellowship, Tolkien played with the idea during the notes, rearranging the band with and without certain members, Boromir included and excluded. For a long time, Tolkien settled upon an outline, deciding that “Frodo must get separated from the rest.” It’s curious to note that he insisted that “if this plot is used it will be better to have no Boromir in party.” He suggested swapping in Gimli, son of Gloin, “who was killed in Moria.”
Obviously, Tolkien had much to rearrange and consider. But still he kept going on, writing the drafts through the Moria chapter, and including Boromir in the telling. When finished, he took the opportunity to heavily revise the book up to this point. As yet, there was not even the slightest indication that Boromir would lust after the Ring. His questions at the Council seemed just a way for Tolkien to work out a bit of how the Ring worked.
When Tolkien finally returned to the Council of Elrond drafts, rewriting much as he went, he further used the Boromir/Ring conversation to work out still more details about the Elvish Rings. In fact, it wasn’t until the notes he took after finished the Moria chapter when he devised Boromir’s fate:
Boromir takes Frodo apart and talks to him. Begs to see Ring again. Evil enters into his heart and he tries to daunt Frodo and then to take it by force. Frodo is obliged to slip it on to escape him.”
Tolkien then went on to to pen a basic outline for Frodo through the end of the book. This was even before he had come up with the idea of Lothlórien and Galadriel. Neither had existed until after these notes were made. While we, like Sam to Faramir, might be able to “blame” Galadriel for changing something in Boromir to make him lust after the Ring as he did, Tolkien had no such device at this point in the writing. Evil simply entered Boromir’s heart.
But then came Galadriel and Lothlórien, and it all fell into place. Much of the Lothlórien chapters were true from the beginning concerning Boromir, and as in the published version, Boromir’s treacherous thoughts are only vaguely hinted upon.
It’s not until he wrote a note on “The Scattering of the Company,” that Tolkien had Boromir creeping up the side of the hill to get to Frodo. Even the bits of dialog inserted to flesh out the notes, match evenly enough with the published story. Even in the first iterations, Boromir immediately felt regret and tried to make amends with Frodo. When it came time to actually write the drafts of the “Breaking of the Fellowship” chapter, all Tolkien had to do was lift it from the notes word for word, which he did.
And so it seems as if Tolkien came up with the idea of Boromir’s betrayal almost as we readers can assume by following the hints and clues dropped along the way – the same hints and clues Tolkien left for himself and eventually followed.
Tolkien first wrote of Boromir’s questions at the Council of Elrond in order to explain the Rings. But looking back upon that and adding the idea of Frodo being split from the Fellowship, he built a clever story of lust and treachery out of the most boring of devices – exposition. His frequent stops along the way to rework previously written ideas and develop the future of the story led him to the conclusion as we know it today in the published version.
- It’s through an extended conversation with Boromir at the Counsel of Elrond that Tolkien worked out the Elvish as well as Dwarvish Rings.
About the Photo
Well, finally I get to use a waterfall picture! This is what’s known as a tri-chrome photograph. It’s actually each made from three black & white photos. Basically, you take three photographs of the exact same thing, each one with either a red, green or blue filter. Then, after you develop them, you place that same color filter over the image. Traditionally, you’d then project all three onto the same surface and it “magically” makes a color image. In this case, I did the work digitally (though the actual photos were taken with on black & white film using red/green/blue filters).
- Miles today: 10
- Miles thus far: 1274 (380 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
- 9 miles to the Falls of Rauros
- 479 miles to Mt. Doom
Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 25, 3019 TA. (map)