Poor Pippin! For a long and exhausting hour he has to stand between Denethor and Gandalf and to tell his story the best he can. As he does so he is aware of Gandalf “holding in check a rising wrath and impatience”.
At the last Denethor speaks: “The Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.”
Those last words should be read with a fierce irony for Denethor knows of Aragorn. Indeed he has known him for a long time because Aragorn served his father, Ecthelion, hiding his true identity and going by the name of Thorongil. Denethor resented Thorongil’s masterful nature, “the most hardy of living Men” and “elven-wise”, “worthy of honour as a king who is in exile.” This is why when Denethor speaks of the good of Gondor he speaks, as it were in the same breath, of his own dignity. For him the two have become one and the same.
So it is that when Gandalf speaks it is with a courteous ferocity:
“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”
This is a wonderful speech and is the nearest that we find to a confession of faith throughout the whole of Tolkien’s great story. Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth, not to preserve a kingdom, praiseworthy though that would be, but to preserve something deeper, something for which all earthly kingdoms exist, and that is all “that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again.” To fulfil this task given him by the Valar it would be a distraction, an unnecessary burden to rule a kingdom and yet Denethor does not believe him. Neither for that matter does Saruman and if Sauron were ever to question Gandalf he would not believe him either. Why is it that people are sure that someone of the stature of Gandalf must want to rule over others? Is it that they fear their own powerlessness, believing that only those who rule over others have any value? Eventually Denethor will abandon even his care for his people finally reaching a place where only his own grIief has any meaning. In the same way Saruman will reach this place regarding his bitterness. Nothing else will have meaning for him either.
We live in a world that suffers from those like Denethor or Saruman. Even in our democracies we seem all too ready to elect them to power. What the world really needs is more people like Gandalf; those who give their lives to be stewards of that which is good, beautiful and true. It may be that we live in a time in which the kingdoms that we love may decline and even fall but if we understand aright our calling as stewards then we will not be discouraged because we will be working and praying for the coming of a kingdom. And we do not need the power that Gandalf has in order to be stewards even as he is. All we need is to have the same love for “all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands” and to offer ourselves as we are with all our weakness. Gandalf has called many people to share his stewardship from the great like Aragorn to the weak like Pippin and each will play his part. Sadly Denethor will reject the call. Pippin will give more to Gondor than its lord. We can give more to the world as stewards than its rulers do seeking their own glory.
18 thoughts on “Gandalf Speaks of His Stewardship”
‘…unless the king should come again.’
In the BBC dramatisation this line is done beautifully: the previous paragraph is declarative and bombastic, then Denethor remembers himself, his voice changes, and he adds the line in a completely different voice, like a legal footnote added at the last minute. Beautifully done.
Well remembered! I have such warm memories of that dramatisation. I heard it first, I think if my memory is correct, in 1986 when I was a theological student training for Anglican ministry. I listened to each episode with a good friend who was later best man at my wedding. We are good friends still. I later listened to it on cassette tape with my wife when we were on honeymoon in 1992. We are together still! But I have not listened to it for a long time now and can’t remember that moment. Do you still listen to it?
Oh yes, I listen to it all the time! It (along with the Nicol Williamson reading of The Hobbit) was my wardrobe into Middle-earth. I listened to it first aged about 6 or 7, and it really made the world of difference in terms of not getting bogged down in the strange names and long descriptive sections of the books.
Sadly, you can’t seem to listen via YouTube anymore, but a couple of years ago I made a playlist of all the songs (with some nice artwork) – a very pleasant 25 minutes, if you listen end to end: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF7FB773BDF8A0DE7
Many thanks for the link! I must find a way of listening to the whole drama again. I cannot play cassettes any more.
I’ve lost track of how many times I have listened to that marvelous production. Over thirty. I have it on CD and am listening to it again.
I am going to have to buy the CDs!
She keeps telling me to buy them and I still haven’t!
Tell me what you think when you listen to them.
If I ever do, haha!
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I could go on and on what I think when I listen to the BBC version but I won’t. I will just say it’s loyal to the books and I just love it. You really get a sense of the terrible cost to Frodo of carrying his cross all the way. There are many more reasons it’s marvelous.
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
Yes, I think it was Ian Holm’s performance as Frodo that first showed me how much Frodo had to bear.
God bless you too.
“Denethor does not believe him. Neither for that matter does Saruman and if Sauron were ever to question Gandalf he would not believe him either.”
Hm… Sauron definitely would not be able to believe him. Sauron no longer has the capacity of imagination left to think anyone would choose to protect without ruling. I think Saruman, though, does believe Gandalf… and despises him for it because he thinks Gandalf’s stewardship is doomed to failure.
I am not sure about Denethor, though. He definitely thinks of Gandalf as a manipulator, not a steward. But he may stand somewhere between Sauron, who sees only a desire for power, and Saruman, who sees failure as the only possibility.
And yes, indeed, to the rest. As Lewis says, nations and kingdoms and movements are mortal. We are not, and neither is the true Kingdom.
Ruling does seem to be the problem. Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to give a radio talk in the early days of the Third Reich entitled Der Fuhrerprinzip, the Leader Principle. The plug was pulled before he finished. In it he deplored the desire for a leader who would solve all our problems. Later he would speak of the true disciple as one who stands with Christ in his suffering when all desert him. In that respect Gandalf is a true disciple while Saruman stands with the “leaders” from Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Adolf Hitler etc.
Very true. I think it was… G. K. Chesterton? Maybe in Orthodoxy, that we should absolutely never give the crown to the man who thinks he can rule, but to the man who knows, absolutely, that he cannot rule on his own strength. 🙂
With the stress being put, absolutely, on the word, absolutely!
I feel like this is a miniaturized version of City of God.