Did Gandalf Plan to Rescue Frodo and Sam From Mount Doom?

Thanks to some challenging questions from my readers recently I have been thinking a lot about the question of strategy and planning in The Lord of the Rings. And because this blog is in essence an extended reflection on the relationship between spirituality and life with the aid of J.R.R Tolkien I have been thinking about the relationship between the way in which we act in a time of crisis. What is the connection between our plans and our actions at such a time? Do our plans have any meaning when we have gambled all that we have on one slender possibility?

At the climax of the battle before the Black Gate, as the armies of the West make their last stand, Gwaihir, Lord of Eagles of the North, arrives with all of his vassals. Their first intention is to engage the Nazgûl but even as the Eagles arrive the Nazgûl flee from the battle answering the desperate call of their master as the Ring stands upon the brink of destruction. Soon the Ring has gone to the Fire, the realm of Sauron is at an end and Gandalf meets with Gwaihir.

” ‘Twice you have borne me, Gwaihir my friend,” said Gandalf. “Thrice shall pay for all, if you are willing. You will not find me a burden much greater than when you bore me from Zirakzigil, where my old like burned away.’

‘I would bear you,’ answered Gwaihir, ‘whither you will, even were you made of stone.'”

And so Gandalf and the Eagles fly to the rescue of Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom.

But what plans for Frodo and Sam had Gandalf made before the battle? The answer that I would like to make was that he had made no plans whatsoever. Of course, as soon as the eagles have come and the battle is won, he does all that he can to save them but if there had been no eagles there would have been no rescue. The eagles may have been hoped for but never planned for.

Does this reveal Gandalf’s essential heartlessness? Is he a general so fixed upon his goal that he is prepared to spend the lives of any of his men in order to achieve it? Again I would argue, no.

It was at the Black Gate some days before that Frodo had given much thought to the question of Gandalf’s intentions. Gollum had just made his suggestion that they try to enter Mordor by his “secret way”. As Frodo pondered this Gandalf was standing upon the steps of Orthanc, speaking with Saruman and yet thinking too of Frodo and Sam. Maybe Frodo felt this, even though he believed that Gandalf was gone for ever, but as he sat in silent thought he tried to recall all that Gandalf had said about the plans for the journey and the way he should enter Mordor.

“For this choice he could recall no counsel. Indeed Gandalf’s guidance had been taken from them too soon, too soon, while the Dark Land was still very far away. How they should enter it at the last Gandalf had not said. Perhaps he could not say.”

And Frodo concludes his reflections with a remembering of his decision “in his own sitting-room in the far off spring of another year” to take the Ring. This is critical. We are not talking about plans but about choices, decisions and commitments. Gandalf had made no plans for the entry into Mordor or any other part of the journey. The whole quest was a stepping forth into the complete unknown in which all plans were meaningless but all choices and commitments critical. The whole thing is a crazy gamble, a “Fool’s Hope”, as Denethor rightly described it. Frodo called it an “evil choice” and he is right too.

There are no plans, only a desperate gamble “costing not less than everything”, as T.S Eliot puts it in his Four Quartets.

Is Gandalf lucky that the Eagles turn up at the right moment? Of course he is. But it is the kind of luck that can only come to those who are prepared to risk everything for the best good.


8 thoughts on “Did Gandalf Plan to Rescue Frodo and Sam From Mount Doom?

  1. I agree. Gandalf trusted to ‘luck’, AKA grace. He may not have planned this fortunate arrival, but Manwe did, whose servants the Eagles are. I love how much the Valar are involved in helping the Quest succeed.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • Many thanks, Anne Marie. What moves me deeply is that this is a story of a willingness to lay down their lives for the good, the beautiful and the true. There are no guarantees or certainties. What they know is that if they try to keep the Ring from Sauron it is inevitable that all will be lost but they do not know if they seek to destroy the Ring whether any of them will survive. What a contrast to that great planner, Sauron!
      I am sure that Manwe does send the eagles but not even this guarantees success. Even the Valar must trust a grace that is greater than they are.
      God bless you 😊

    • And if you have something to share at the end of it all please do!
      I have been writing these reflections for five years now. I began on a website that I created for my work and hardly anyone ever found it. One who did was Brenton Dickieson and he encouraged me to find a good blogging site. I now know that over the years Tolkien’s work and thought has been going deeper into me and I have travelled a long way with his characters. Part of it has come from the questions and comments from readers like yourself. What a privilege.

  2. There’s not only hope, but also trust. The Fellowship of the Ring is a task force, a team. Each one has a role to fulfill. One that no other can. Each one commits to it and is expected to accomplish it. Gandalf trusted Frodo. Even if he knew the task was hard for a Hobbit, he trusted that Frodo would accomplish it. In the end, there’s also the fact that the fate of the Middle Earth was more important than any of their lives: run you fools, whispers Gandalf. Don’t wait here, I’m not that important. Complete the task, I trust you will. Save the Middle Earth. Of course, when the others finished their tasks, like any good team, they quickly go to assist the other team mates. Without them asking. Because they care about each other. They deeply trust each other and they deeply care about each other.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. It is really good to hear from you.
      I think that your point about the roles played by each member of the Fellowship brings us back to the whole question about plans and planning in The Lord of the Rings. As you will remember only one member of the Fellowship is actually assigned a task and, even then, only because he volunteers for it. Elrond says that nobody could have demanded or ordered Frodo to take the Ring to the Fire. The other members of the Fellowship are to go simply to aid Frodo in whatever way they can. The number is chosen for its symbolic significance (9 in the Fellowship against 9 Riders) and not for the roles that they will undertake. Who in their right mind would ever send Merry and Pippin? After a while Merry and Pippin think it is a mistake to have come. Has anyone ever offered the selection of the Fellowship at the Council of Elrond as a paradigm for team selection at a business school or military academy? You could only do so on the basis of hindsight not on the basis of what each member is expected to achieve.
      I definitely agree with you, however, that the Fellowship know that the Quest is bigger than any one of them although that makes the choice of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to follow Merry and Pippin and not Frodo and Sam even more remarkable.

  3. When Pippin protests that he and Merry want to go with Frodo, Elrond says:

    ‘That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead,’ said Elrond.

    ‘Neither does Frodo,’ said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin. ‘Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom. Even if you chose for us an elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the
    power that is in him.’

    Gandalf trusts neither in strength nor wisdom, but in friendship. That is his plan.

    • Thank you so much for reminding me of this moment in the story. I agree with you entirely about its import and it is central to Tolkien’s story that friendship is more important than strength or a certain kind of wisdom. In fact it could be argued that we are talking about the relationship between competing wisdoms here as much as competing plans and that the wisdom of friendship is greater than the wisdom of strength.

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