Gandalf Speaks of a Time to Risk Everything

I never thought that I would ever quote Lenin in this blog but there is no doubt that he was a man who knew how to recognise and then to seize opportunity when it came. These words are ascribed to him.

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”

Lenin recognised one of those weeks a hundred years ago and was ready to seize power in the November 1917 coup that brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia. He knew that there are moments in life when everything must be risked for the biggest prize of all. Lenin might not thank me for this but Jesus makes the same point in the gospels in the story he tells, of the man who sells everything in order to buy the pearl of great price. First we must assess the value of the thing that we wish to gain. Then we must decide what we are prepared to gamble in order to gain it.

Gandalf first came to Middle-earth about two thousand years before the events that are recorded in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien tells us that the arrival of the Istari, the order of wizards, came when a shadow fell upon Greenwood and it first began to take the name of Mirkwood. A thousand years after Sauron fell at the hands of Isildur and the Ring was taken from him he was beginning to regain the strength that he lost in the great battle that ended the Second Age. For two thousand years Gandalf watched and gave encouragement to the free peoples of Middle-earth. He built friendships with the Wise and to the surprise of many and the contempt of Saruman he learned to play in the Shire delighting folk there with his fireworks and developing a taste for simple food, good ale and pipeweed. Perhaps even he did not know how important the Shire would become and how, one day, hobbits would take everyone by surprise. Perhaps it was necessary that he should not know. The greatest things that happen to us in our lives are not the result of our plans and calculations but come to us as a surprise. There is an old word for this surprise. It is called grace. Sauron is the great planner. He is prepared to spend two thousand years putting everything in place for the moment in which he will try to achieve the domination of Middle-earth and so grace becomes an impossibility for him. Gandalf is the entire opposite. He has done all that he can but recognises after the great battle of the Pelennor Fields that only grace, and a complete surrender to grace, can save them.

The great opportunity, or as Denethor put it, the “fool’s hope” has come to them in the form of the Ring of Power. In Aragorn’s challenge to Sauron in the Palantir a seed of doubt has been sown in Sauron’s mind. Does the heir of Isildur wield the Ring? Is this why the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was lost? Is this why the Lord of the Nazgûl fell? Gandalf counsels the captains of the West to encourage this doubt and so to give Frodo, the Ring bearer, a chance to take the Ring to the fires of Orodruin and so destroy it and the power of its master, for ever.

“We must push Sauron to his last throw. We must call out his hidden strength, so that he shall empty his land. We must march out to meet him at once. We must make ourselves the bait, though his jaws should close on us.”

It is Aragorn who speaks for all the captains in reply.

“We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin. To waver is to fall. Let none now reject the counsels of Gandalf, whose long labours against Sauron come at last to their test.”

So everything is to be risked on one last effort. A small force will challenge the might of Mordor. If it were not for the possibility that a captain of this force might possess the Ring Sauron would laugh at it. But they do not possess the Ring and so victory by force of arms is impossible. All the hope of the West rests now upon two exhausted hobbits and upon grace.

7 thoughts on “Gandalf Speaks of a Time to Risk Everything

  1. This model of grace vs. control dovetails with the organic and industrial oppositions in LOTR. Sauron and his forces operate on mechanized strengths, not personal dynamic connections. Gandalf and his team rely upon relationships and long-held bonds of trust between species (Elves, Ents, Hobbits). When you seek to control a relationship, you destroy it. This is why Sauron can only rule through fear and might.

    • Many thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I agree with you entirely on the distinction you make between the organic and the industrial. Barad-dur is a vast military industrial complex but not just in terms of product but also in the reduction of labour to machine here. We might note that the shift from the mechanistic to the digital has not freed most people from this form of bondage and this is confirmed by the development of robotics with the terrible prospect that a large part of the human race will be surplus to requirement in an economy that does not need them to imitate machines.
      Tolkien offered a different vision of a world shaped by relationships of covenant and loving commitments. Aragorn will follow Gandalf to the end because he trusts him and he loves him.

    • I read these words of Coleridge this morning in an essay on slavery that make the point perfectly. “A slave is a person confounded into a thing. Slavery, therefore, is not so properly a deviation from Justice, as an absolute subversion of all Morality.”

  2. I love these comments about relationships – so true. And just as Aragorn follows Gandalf out of love, Sam follows Frodo, and Frodo follows the One who chose him and the ones chosen for him to accomplish his task. Contrary to Boromir’s belief, they do simply walk into Mordor. Gotta love it. 🙂

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • You put that so beautifully. They do just walk into Mordor! It seems to be a principle of life that the outcome of all our struggle and all the complexity of our life experiences is, as T.S Eliot put it, “complete simplicity”. I think of old Simeon in the temple, after a lifetime’s yearning to see the Messiah, simply holding a baby in his arms and saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation”.
      Once again, God bless you.

  3. That’s a great write-up, Stephen!
    It seems that the more we plan, the more things go awry. Living in happiness and enjoying every moment without setting too many expectations on certain things or people is essential to our mental well-being. This seems to work like a piece of soap: the harder you try to grab it, the more readily it slips from your hand.

    • I like your image of living life as an attempt to grasp a bar of soap! Every skill is learning the right balance between holding and letting go. Painters and musicians know this very well. Gandalf is a character who has learned this balance. When we meet someone who appears to have this quality we know that they have given the 10,000 hours that it is said is necessary to truly master a particular skill!

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