What Would Boromir Do?

One of my favourite authors is David Gemmell, and one of my favourite stories about him comes from something that seems small, yet reveals a lot about why I liked him so much.

He had a rough childhood and later became a bouncer, so he knew how to handle himself. The story goes that one time he was passing an alley and heard a woman cry out. He looked down it to see two men attacking a lone woman.

David Gemmell thought: what would Boromir do?

He went in, beat the men up and helped the woman.

Apart from the obvious, what I like about this story is that Gemmell’s role model was Boromir. As I said, it reveals much about him which is also shown in his stories. Boromir was a flawed character, weak inside, yet a strong, brave and loyal soldier who wanted to save his people. He did wrong for the right reasons and then had a redemption moment as he defended Merry and Pippin with his life.

Gemmell had a number of characters who were flawed heroes or cowards who came good or those who erred at one point only to redeem themselves later on. Perhaps he was a big believer in redemption. Considering his personal life, this could be. You get the feeling from his work that he really understood how flawed people can be while still becoming heroes. I don’t think he saw this in himself alone but in others too. He could write more straightforward heroes and villains, but for me Gemmell was at his best creating characters who blurred the lines. Noble cutthroats and honourable renegades. Rascals and rogues. He had a fondness for them I think.

I do too. I loved his versions but many others in cinema and literature. Long John Silver is a great example. He was as treacherous and ruthless as can be, but he genuinely liked and admired Jim Hawkins.

They say never meet your heroes. With Gemmell, I won’t get that chance because he sadly died some years back. But through his writing and life you can get a strong idea of who he was and what he was about. The same goes for other authors. Knowing that an author I adore thought of Boromir as his hero and inspiration just appeals to me.

Being that flawed hero, that tragic hero is a huge ask but not unreasonable. The saintly heroes are unrealistic for the most part, let’s be honest. Even Martin Luther King had affairs and his enemies hoped to silence him using that information. He refused. People should look to overcome their flaws, not hope to have none. It won’t happen.

The main heroes, the ones who live to the end, who get the girl and the crown, who ride off into the sunset. Those are the easy options. Finding inspiration from a character who tries and it costs him or her is far more admirable. You’re tasking yourself. Yes, this could hurt me for doing it, but it is right.

Boromir is one of my favourite literary heroes. Yes, he betrayed and broke the Fellowship, but he was a normal man who had his strengths and weaknesses. The great truth in the Lord of the Rings is that the Ring was the untameable tempter. Gandalf, Galadriel, Cereborn, Elrond, Aragorn – none of them could take the Ring. They each knew it. Aragorn’s strength is shown in giving it back to Frodo. In a way it shows him to be stronger to Boromir, but perhaps he is just wiser in knowing his limitations. Boromir is driven to do the right thing. He likely has some glory lust in there too, he is a warrior after all, but he is not bad. The Ring will tempt the great and the good, that’s why they can’t carry it.

What would Boromir do? I love that idea. I love that that was Gemmell’s thought. Boromir was brash and brave, strong and stern, proud and prone to weakness. He was exactly the sort of hero Gemmell would look to and was clearly inspired by in his writing. I’m glad to say I am too.

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