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The Pyre of Denethor

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The Return of the King chapters
Book V
  1. Minas Tirith
  2. The Passing of the Grey Company
  3. The Muster of Rohan
  4. The Siege of Gondor
  5. The Ride of the Rohirrim
  6. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
  7. The Pyre of Denethor
  8. The Houses of Healing
  9. The Last Debate
  10. The Black Gate Opens
Book VI
  1. The Tower of Cirith Ungol
  2. The Land of Shadow
  3. Mount Doom
  4. The Field of Cormallen
  5. The Steward and the King
  6. Many Partings
  7. Homeward Bound
  8. The Scouring of the Shire
  9. The Grey Havens

The Pyre of Denethor is the seventh chapter of the fifth book in The Return of the King.


The narrative returns to the perspective of Pippin. When the Black Captain disappears from the gate of Minas Tirith, Pippin runs to Gandalf and tells him of Denethor’s madness and the situation in the tower. Gandalf wishes to pursue the Nazgûl but knows he must save Faramir. As they race to the Citadel, Gandalf laments the Enemy’s ability to bring evil and discord to the inner circle of Minas Tirith. Reaching the door to the House of the Stewards, the two find Denethor’s servants bearing swords and torches, standing before the lone figure of Beregond, who holds the door against them. Two servants have already fallen to Beregond’s sword. The men cower at the sight of Gandalf, whose appearance is like a burst of white light.

Denethor throws open the door, drawing his sword, but Gandalf lifts his hand and the sword flies from Denethor’s grip. The wizard decries Denethor’s madness, but the Steward says that Faramir has already burned. Rushing past, Gandalf finds Faramir still alive on the funeral pyre. To Denethor’s protests and tears, Gandalf lifts Faramir and carries him away with a strength that surprises Pippin. Denethor, the wizard says, does not have the authority to order Faramir’s death.

Denethor laughs. Standing proudly, he produces from his cloak a palantír, similar to the Orthanc-stone. He warns that the West is doomed, as he has foreseen the black ships of the Enemy approaching. The Steward condemns Gandalf for bringing a young upstart Ranger to replace him as ruler. Denethor wishes that things would remain as they always have been in Minas Tirith. He springs for Faramir, but Beregond stops him. Grabbing a torch from a servant, Denethor lights the funeral pyre. He throws himself into the raging fire, clutching the palantír.

Gandalf and Beregond carry Faramir to the Houses of Healing. As they exit, the House of Stewards collapses in flames, and Denethor’s servants run out. Soon after, they hear a great cry from the battlefield—the sound of Éowyn and Merry’s defeat of the Lord of the Nazgûl. A sense of hope returns as the sun breaks through the Darkness. Gandalf discusses Denethor’s palantír with Pippin and Beregond. Gandalf says he had always suspected that the Steward possessed one of the seven seeing-stones. The wizard surmises that Denethor, in his growing distress, began to use the stone, and through it he fell prey to the lies of Sauron.