(Warning! This contains spoilers about events farther on in The Lord of the Rings. If you're unfamiliar with the whole story, save this to read later.)
It is no secret that Boromir is my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings. I must admit that I was initially drawn to him because he is played by Sean Bean in the movies. In fact, Sean Bean was the whole reason I let my college friends and boyfriend talk me into going to see The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). I had never read the books and knew nothing about the story. I'd read The Hobbit in high school and not cared for it, so I had no interest in Tolkien's other works. But if Sean Bean was in the movie, I'd give it a try.
By the time I'd finished that first movie, I was a firm Boromir fan. And not just because Sean Bean played him, but because he's precisely the sort of character that draws me. He's courageous, he's kind, and, let's face it, he's got really broad shoulders (thanks not just to Sean Bean's own lovely physique, but also to a very good costume). And he's got some moral ambiguity going on, which makes him a lot more interesting to me than straight-arrow Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Eomer, and so on.
But it takes more than courage and broad shoulders to make me truly love a character the way I love Boromir. I think, more than anything, what draws me to him is his humanity. He's loyal to his homeland. He doesn't trust strangers. He's conflicted, trying to do what he believes is right for Gondor as well as all of Middle Earth. Trouble is, he's also very, very proud, and he thinks that he knows what's best.
Yes, pride is Boromir's great downfall. In fact, when we first meet him at the Council of Elrond, Tolkien describes him as "proud and stern of glance" (p. 234). He's well-known throughout Middle Earth as a mighty and powerful warrior. Aragorn himself calls him "a valiant man" (p. 269). Being known far and wide for your deeds of derring-do is not exactly conducive to humility, especially when you're Gondor's Captain-General and next in line to be Steward of Gondor.
It is this pride in his own strength that proves to be Boromir's undoing. At the Council of Elrond, he says, "Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon" (p. 260). He believes he has this strength, of course. He's the mighty and valiant Boromir, winner of battles and doer of great deeds! Elrond cautions him that the ring's own strength "is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own" (p. 261). I think that Boromir believes he has great power, and thinks he can bend the ring to his will.
And so, of course, Boromir stretches out his hand to take the ring, by force if necessary. His pride in his own strength is too great for him to realize that the ring wishes only to use him for its own purposes. He tells Frodo that "true-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted" (p. 389), not realizing that he has already been corrupted by his desire for more and more power.
But he does not get the ring. And when he realizes what he has done, that his great pride has led to an even greater fall, he weeps. He cries out, "A madness took me, but it has passed" (p. 390), seeing clearly at last what a terrible thing he has tried to do. And he repents of his fall, giving up life itself to make amends for his actions. He dies defending Merry and Pippin, two of what he called "the little folk" and took such care of throughout his time with them.
Aragorn finds him "pierced with many black-feathered arrows" (p. 404), surrounded by the Orcs he has killed. And there Aragorn absolves him of his sins, telling him he has not failed, but conquered. I think here that Aragorn is speaking of more than the dead Orcs that Boromir slew. He means that Boromir has conquered his own self, for he realized that trying to take the ring was wrong and repented of it.
Some people think Boromir is a villain. But I think he may be the most realistic character in the whole trilogy -- flawed and faulty, but ultimately heroic. I think he's a closer representation of us than any of the other characters. We too trust to our own strength, take pride in our own abilities, and stumble often as a result. May we also follow Boromir's example by first recognizing when we have done wrong, repenting of it, and then working to fix whatever we may have damaged when we stumbled.