The Lord of the Rings – Book 5, Chapter 7: “The Pyre of Denethor”

When last we left, Pippin went off in search of Gandalf so as to stop the madness of Denethor and save Faramir’s life.  This chapter cuts right to the chase with our Hobbity hero catching up to the wizard and relating his urgent tale.  Given the choice between pursuing the Nazgûl and saving the life of Faramir, Gandalf makes the only choice worth making: he chooses life.

Beregond holds the door against two of Denethor’s servants, who in turn cower before the light of Gandalf.  When Denethor throws open the door, Gandalf bats it away with a wave of his hand.  Despite Denethor’s claim that Faramir has already burned, Gandalf finds Faramir still living and carries him away with a strength that surprises Pippin.  Gandalf proclaims that Denethor does not have the authority to order his son’s death.

Laughing, Denethor produces a palantír, warning that the West is doomed and that he has seen the black ships of the Enemy.  He accuses Gandalf of bringing an upstart Ranger to replace him.  When he tries to reach Faramir, Beregond blocks his path.  Denethor grabs a torch, lights the pyre, and throws himself into the blaze with the palantír.

Faramir is carried to the Houses of Healing as the House of Stewards falls to the flames.  Outside, they hear the sound of the Witch-king’s defeat at the hands of Éowyn and Merry.  Sun breaks through the darkness.  Hope returns.

Gandalf tells Beregond and Pippin that he suspected Denethor to have possessed one of the palantír.  In using it, Denethor fell prey to the lies of Sauron, allowing the Dark Lord to whittle at the city’s defenses from within through despair.  Now, the reign of the Stewards is over.  The time has come for the return of the king.