Denethor II is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. In the novel, he is the 26th and last ruling Steward of Gondor.
As stated in the early chapters and the Appendices of The Return of the King, Denethor, son of Ecthelion II, was widely considered a man of great will, foresight, and strength. However, he failed to reach out to his people, who flocked instead to Thorongil, an outsider who served Denethor's father with great renown. Thorongil vanished from Gondor four years before Denethor would succeed his father as Ruling Steward. Thorongil (who was secretly Aragorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North and hence a claimant to Gondor's throne) had advised Ecthelion to put faith in the wizard Gandalf, whom Denethor distrusted.
He married Finduilas, daughter of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth. She gave birth to two sons: Boromir and Faramir, before dying young. Denethor never remarried after his wife's death, and became more grim and silent than before.
Unlike Saruman, Denethor was too strong to be corrupted by Sauron's lies. In the novel, he began secretly using a palantír to probe Sauron's strength, though he incorrectly insisted he was able to control it. The effort aged him quickly, and the knowledge of Sauron's overwhelming force depressed him greatly, mostly due to deliberately biased visions from the palantír on the part of Sauron. Boromir's death depressed Denethor further, and he became ever more grim. Nonetheless he continued to fight Sauron with every resource at his disposal until the forces of Mordor arrived at the gates of the White City, at which point he lost all hope.
Near the novel's climactic battle, Denethor ordered the warning beacons of Gondor to be lit, and forces were called in from all of Gondor's provinces. The civilian population of Minas Tirith was sent away to safety. As invasion seemed imminent, Denethor sent the Red Arrow to the Rohirrim. The Council decided that Gondor could make no stroke of its own but Denethor ordered Gondor's forces to the outer defences of Osgiliath and the great wall of the Rammas Echor. He wanted to make a stand, since the defences had been built at great expense and not yet been overrun. His son Faramir and the other commanders objected due to the Enemy's overwhelming numbers and preferred instead to defend the city itself, but Faramir nonetheless obeyed out of respect for his father and late brother. Faramir's body, apparently mortally wounded, was returned during the retreat, as the capital city was under siege by vastly superior forces.
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