It may be 13 years since Peter Jackson’s flawless adaptation of The Lord of the Rings concluded with the majestic third chapter, The Return of the King. The epic fantasy adventure was hailed as a masterpiece, garnering critical acclaim and scooping no fewer than 11 Oscars, equalling the all-time record.

However, we continue to appreciate the little details that make up part of a shimmering jewel in modern cinema. Jackson’s trilogy, when you watch it in its purest, extended form, comfortably stretches beyond the 11-hour mark, so there are countless subtle details, easter eggs and red herrings to notice.

One Redditor happened to be particularly struck by the gruesome scene that sees Denethor, Steward of Gondor, chowing down on a banquet in front of hungry Hobbit Pippin. HipHopAnonymous23 (great name by the way – surely a reference to Rob Schneider’s delivery man trying to pronounce hippopotamus in Big Daddy) drew attention to the fact that Denethor was dining off pewter plates. Why is that significant? Let him explain:

First, a brief history lesson. The tomato was introduced to Europe in the early 1500’s when the Spanish conquistadors brought it back from Mesoamerica. Because tomatoes are so acidic, when they were placed upon European pewter plates or cooked in pewter pots, the acidity would cause a greater amount of the lead in the pewter to leach into the food. The resulting increase of lead poisoning lead to the tomato being blamed for causing sickness and death.

In The Return of the King, as Pippin sings for Denethor as he feasts, he is explicitly shown eating tomatoes from a pewter platter. He is also shown drinking from a pewter cup.

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings

I believe this was very intentional by Peter Jackson to subtly imply that lead poisoning was contributing to Denethor’s unbalanced mental state. Obviously, if you didn’t know about the history of tomatoes and pewter, nothing is lost in the scene (which is one of my favourites in the trilogy) – but I feel like that extra bit of knowledge adds a lot. This may be known, but I’ve personally haven’t seen it mentioned on Reddit before, so I just wanted to bring attention to it in case people weren’t aware.

In the book, J.R.R. Tolkien described Denethor as a strong and passionate leader: “A masterful man, both wise and learned beyond the measure of those days, and strong willed, confident in his own powers, and dauntless. (…) He was proud, but this was by no means personal: he loved Gondor and its people, and deemed himself appointed by destiny to lead them in this desperate time.” 

Lord of the Rings

However, Jackson’s version of the character sheds him in a much more negative and villainous light. In the books, Tolkien writes that Denethor eventually succumb to the power and madness of the dark lord Sauron after using the Palantir of Minas Tirith. Jackson may well have been hinting that Denethor’s madness, namely trying to burn himself and Faramir on a pyre, was partially down to constantly gorging on food and drink off lead-poisoned plates and cups.

While some ardent Lord of the Rings fans might debunk this immediately, it’s just an alternative theory. We had never heard of this particular detail, assuming – perhaps incorrectly now in light of this information – that the manner in which Jackson shot Denethor eating was symbolic of his greed, in wanting to take the throne of Gondor for himself.

Anyway, here is the scene in question so you can be put off eating for the next week.