The Boldness of the One Necessary Deed

For a few moments before they take what rest they can Gandalf and Pippin speak together of the debate with Denethor and Faramir. For Pippin the question that is uppermost in his mind is whether there is any hope for Frodo, any hope for any of them? Gandalf’s reply is to take Denethor’s words and to make them his own.

“There never was much hope,” he answered. “Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told.”

And even this hope, slender as it is, is shaken by news that Frodo and Sam seek to enter Mordor by way of Cirith Ungol and guided by Gollum.

But then Gandalf begins to give a little substance to his hope. The substance comprises two hobbits and their treacherous guide, a foolish hobbit gazing into the Seeing Stone of Orthanc drawn by his own curiosity, and a captain, “bold, determined, able to take his own counsel and dare great risks at need” who challenges Sauron in the very same stone. All are bold deeds, even that of Pippin’s foolish act but they amount to very little. Of themselves they will win no battles. Of themselves they cannot withstand the armies of Mordor.

But it is the boldness that exposes both Sauron’s desire and his fear. His desire we know. He desires the Ring and he desires the power that the Ring can bring him. We know that Sauron has become reduced to little more than the sum of his desire. He is no more than a bigger version of the hungry Gollum. “Eat fish every day!” When we saw that desire in Gollum we found it pathetic, even sadly laughable. Somehow when such desire is allied to power it seems to have a semblance of dignity but it is in essence the same thing, both entirely destructive and ultimately empty.

And because Sauron of his own prideful choice can see all reality only in terms of scale, “who or what is bigger or smaller than he is?”, he has a strange and fearful vulnerability. The foolish boldness of Frodo and Sam is something that does even enter his calculations. The Council of Elrond declared that at the very outset of Frodo’s mission. It is an action that is beneath even his contempt and certainly outside of his understanding. No one who possesses the Ring could possibly do so with the intention of not using it, even destroying it! This is the weakness that Frodo and Sam expose.

But there is also something that Aragorn’s boldness exposes and that is his fear. All things seek to hide from Sauron. Until now even Aragorn has done so. Now he challenges him face to face, the heir of Isildur displaying Narsil, the sword that once took the Ring from Sauron’s finger, reforged. This alone brings doubt into Sauron’s mind but it is connected to something else and that is to Pippin’s foolishness. Sauron has seen the face of a hobbit, associating it with the fall of Saruman. Does the heir of Isildur possess the Ring? And so he launches his attack just a little too soon.

What hope Gandalf can find in this remains slender. All that he can offer to Pippin at the end in response to Pippin’s anxiety about Gollum is one of those proverbs that can mean either one thing or another. You take your choice. But Gandalf takes his leave of Pippin with a firm “Good night!” and his determination is renewed.

Such boldness is what is meant by the story that Jesus told in the Gospels of the man who on finding the treasure in the field goes away and sells all that he has in order to buy the field. At that moment there remains no more place for calculation only for the deed. This does not mean that such recklessness becomes the determining principle for every action. There is a place for caution and for prudence especially when care for others is concerned but happy is the one who listens so carefully that they know that all caution must be set aside for the one necessary deed.


12 thoughts on “The Boldness of the One Necessary Deed

  1. I love Gandalf’s hope. He does not embrace it as a fool’s hope as Denethor means but the hope of the Council, that they would use folly as a cloak and simply walk into Mordor and do what to Sauron is unimaginable, to exceed even their own hopes.Gandalf is rather freaked out that the hobbits are going the way they are but then his strong faith, hope and trust that all is going the way it should reassert themselves and he takes hope rather than alarm that Gollum is guiding them to Cirith Ungol. Indeed that will prove pivotal to the success of the Quest in ways no one but Iluvatar can see. Gandalf trusts in this.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • I have been thinking a lot over the past week about a trust in a deeper and longer rhythm than the ones that tend to govern our lives now. The rhythm of the 24 hour news cycle induces a kind of hysteria that screams out, “React! React! React!” and unless we take the greatest care we get sucked into it. One of the major things that I have received from The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other works is that although the events of “the great years” demand a total response, holding nothing back, those events are just a part of something far bigger. For a moment Gandalf is thrown off balance on hearing the news that Faramir brings but then, partly and inadvertently aided by Denethor’s jibe, he recalls the hope that has guided him from the start. I think you put that well. And how much we need all serious people to reconnect to the deepest rhythms right now and to trust them. One day we will awaken to a task that will be given to us that will demand everything we have to give.
      By the way, do you have any sense that Gandalf had a preferred route into Mordor? I cannot think of one.

      • I cannot think of one either. Yes, the frantic rhythm of our current day sucks too many people into its whirlpool and only with great effort of will can one escape or not be drawn in, but how many even think of escaping?

      • You know, your use of the word, “escape” reminds me of the accusation made of Tolkien and Lewis in particular that their work was “escapist”. I think it was Lewis who commented that surely prisoners should want to escape. Lewis knew his Plato and the myth of the cave and knew how wedded we become to our prisons. It requires an act of grace to make us aware of them. How we need to pray for this.
        Once again thank you for your continued encouragement and God bless you.

      • Have you read “On Fairy Stories” by Tolkien? Quite a delightful essay. It speaks of Escape of the Prisoner too as opposed to the Flight of the Deserter. I’ve read it several times, and it is a joy to read as a fellow sub-creator. I’m sure you will love it if you don’t already. 🙂

        Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

      • I have read it but not for a long time. I must read it again. What a fine metaphor! The distinction between the escaped prisoner and the deserter. I think we both agree about what kind of escape it is when we speak of escape from the 24 hour news cycle just as we agree about what escape it is when we turn to Tolkien’s writing.

  2. Excellent connection between Sauron and Gollum! And as for Gandalf’s hope, I also see it as much more than a “fool’s hope”, for it is belief in and knowledge of something greater; it is estel rather than amdir, which Olga at Middle-earth Reflections did a nice write-up of recently:

    It all reminds me of a favorite Gandalf quote from the Last Debate — not very hopeful on the surface, but pointing to a greater hope: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Shawn. Your quote at the end is absolutely right in every sense of the word. I said in my response to Anne Marie Gazzolo’s fine comment that it is one of the things that I gain from The Lord of the Rings that among all great literature it teaches and shows that even the greatest of events are but a part of a story with rhythms that are far longer and deeper than those within the story itself. How much we need the wise who listen to them rather than the rhythms of the 24 hour news cycle or the rise and fall of market prices.
      And thank you for your reference to Olga’s work and the link that you include. I have only recently come across it and I agree that it is very good indeed.

    • What wonderful things those kind of “accidents” are! For me, one of the things that Tolkien has taught me is that the thing that I must do is to make the right commitments. What comes thereafter is not something that I can control but it is amazing how often good accidents happen!

      • I think that many across the western world have been thinking hard in recent days not just because of events in the United States but because of trends that we can see across the countries that stood against the Soviet Union and its empire. I cannot help but feel that we have squandered the gift that we were given at the end of the 1980s, and the brave resistance of many against tyranny across the eastern bloc, in lives of crude self-indulgence. It’s as if we have spent a quarter of a century on shore leave. It is time to wake up.

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