Gandalf Thinks About the Weather

We can forgive Gandalf for mixing not just two but three metaphors because of who he is. Perhaps he mixes them deliberately in order to leave his hearers in no doubt about the point that he is making. The hearers are the lords of the allies gathered at the gates of Minas Tirith. Denethor and Théoden are dead and Faramir is recovering from his wounds in the Houses of Healing so it is Aragorn, Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Éomer and Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond who listen to what Gandalf is saying.

“Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. 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. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

Weather is one of those elements of life over which we have no immediate control although climate is something that we have always had the capacity to influence. Climate usually changes gradually while weather can change from day to day. Those who live on the Atlantic coast of Europe know this very well as the prevailing wind blows from that ocean more often than not. In order to live successfully in such a changeable climate it is necessary to be prepared for it. And those who wish to be happy will learn to enjoy the changes.

Two of my favourite characters in C. S Lewis’s That Hideous Strength are Frank and Camilla Denniston. I know that if I ever met them I would like them. And one of the things that I like about them is their attitude to Weather.

“That’s why Camilla and I got married… We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but Weather. It’s a useful taste if one lives in England.”

And the Dennistons explain to Jane Studdock that we tend to grow up by learning to mistrust attitudes to life that once came quite naturally. Mistrust seems to be something that too many people regard as a necessary life skill. Eventually as they proceed upon this unhappy pathway they come to regard life itself as something to be guarded against. They may fear death but come to exist, and only exist, in a kind of half life. This is the existence that Théoden endured under the tutelage of Wormtongue until Gandalf delivered him and it is no accident that one of the first things that Gandalf did after setting Théoden free was to take him out into the weather, into the rain that was falling.

It has been my habit for a few years now to take my dog out for a walk in the Worcestershire countryside at about 6 in the morning. I do this in every season and whatever the weather. For part of the year I take the walk in the dark, for part of it in the light, and part too in the days when the earth moves from dark to light at that time of the day. No two days are ever quite the same and slowly this walk is teaching me a wisdom for living that is not about mustering sufficient resources to overcome the world about me but about learning to live with the world as my friend.

Next week we will think about Gandalf’s counsel to those gathered in the tents of Aragorn but this week it is this central element within his wisdom that we highlight. We cannot chose the challenges that we will have to face in our lives. We can only choose the manner in which we deal with them.

Next week we will think about how the lords of the West choose to deal with the impossible challenge that faces them.


4 thoughts on “Gandalf Thinks About the Weather

  1. Gandalf is so wise. Do what we can, where we are, when we are, so it will be easier for those who follow to do the same thing. His earlier words, which echo here, All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us, is the greatest wisdom perhaps in the whole tale and one we should all heed.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

  2. I love your phrase, “so that it will be easier for those who follow to do the same thing.” What a noble ambition for any life and certainly one that describes Gandalf’s. Thank you, once again, for your comment and God bless you.

  3. I am trying to recover a love for weather. Several things are against me. I didn’t love weather as a child, though I loved snow (and we get lots of it–often 300cm or more). Now snow is work and damage, so it feels like conquering to walk upon the snow in snowshoes. I read through Lewis’ letters and he talked about weather a lot. I’m not sure he ever knew weather, but had idealized it. The barren Northernness of Nordic landscape is for us the terror and sublimity of the tundra, vast expanses of prairie ice-bound and frozen. It is less romantic, if no less numinous, when you live in places where weather might kill you.

  4. I think that Lewis did know weather but his knowledge was limited. I remember making friends with a Canadian student (related to Roald Dahl’s wife & that is today’s name-drop!) some years back who told me of a friend being frost-bitten on the streets of Toronto. I could not imagine such a thing happening. I also remember trying to teach One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch in Zambia to African students. They could not imagine even the cold that I knew although they decided that their student dorms bore resemblance to the prison huts of the Gulag!
    Lewis clearly referred to weather as rain and that we have aplenty. The British complain about it endlessly as did I last week after writing that piece. It kept me from getting out in the garden. I felt a hypocrite!

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