“Now I Can Take a Night’s Rest, The First Since I Have Forgotten When”. Gandalf is Able to Rest Even While Riding The Storm.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 254-258

The words in this week’s title come in the midst of a passage that is moves at a ferocious pace. From the moment in which Saruman has Gandalf confined to the pinnacle of Orthanc to the moment in which Gandalf apologises to Frodo for failing to keep his promise Tolkien takes us upon a journey that covers most of the western lands of Middle-earth and some east of the Misty Mountains too.

The journey begins with honest Radagast, keeping his promise to gather news and to send it to Gandalf in Isengard, a promise that he keeps even as he rides towards his home in Mirkwood. The Eagles of Manwë, Lord of the Valar, fly over many lands observing “the gathering of wolves and the mustering of orcs” and the ferocious pursuit search for the Ring by the Nazgûl. Gwaihir, the Windlord, takes Gandalf from his prison and carries him to Edoras and the hall of Théoden, King of Rohan, where Gandalf takes a horse, the mighty Shadowfax, who takes him hundreds of leagues even as Frodo and his companions rest in the house of Tom Bombadil and then have their misadventure in the Barrow Downs and their night at The Prancing Pony in Bree.

Ted Nasmith depicts Gandalf’s escape from Orthanc upon Gwaihir

Gandalf arrives in Bree upon the very same day in which the hobbits had set off towards Rivendell with Aragorn and upon receiving this news from Barliman Butterbur with joy he decides to rest.

I have always enjoyed the moment in which Gandalf lays Butterbur’s beer “under an enchantment of surpassing excellence”. Apart from the obvious and enticing pleasure of excellent beer it is a moment in which we gain an insight into his character. Gandalf does not live at a great height in some remote and, to others, inaccessible place. In recent weeks we have poked fun at Saruman’s “high and lonely destiny”. Gandalf, the grey pilgrim, is as much at home in an inn at Bree, smoking his pipe and savouring the pleasure of good beer, as he is amongst the great. Not only does he enjoy simple pleasures for their own sake he also understands their importance in the wider scheme of things. Places of hospitality play a key role in the whole story of The Lord of the Rings. Without them the Ring could never have been taken to Mordor. All along the East-West road through Eriador from Rivendell to Bree to the Shire to the Grey Havens lie such places, places in which the giving of welcome is something that is prized. Such welcome is a inner disposition, an enjoyment of the stranger as well as those who are familiar. And, of course, there are the places along the road that are less known, where unexpected hospitality is given; places like Woodhall and Farmer Maggot’s farm, Crickhollow and Tom Bombadil’s cottage. It is because of the spirit of hospitality that the Quest of the Ring is ultimately successful and Gandalf has spent long years nurturing this spirit.

Places of hospitality in a cold world

Gandalf is a warmer of hearts. He is the bearer of Narya, the ring of fire but this is not external to his character but merely an intensification of it. When Cirdan gave Narya to Gandalf and not to Saruman it was because of a recognition that he was the right bearer of such power. There are other uses that fire can be put to than the warming of hearts. Gandalf saw such uses as a prisoner in Orthanc in Saruman’s “pits and forges”. Places in which creatures are merely put to temporary use, in which shelter is a necessity required to enable production. Later Merry and Pippin will enjoy the hospitality of Isengard but will do so as a spoil of war and not as a freely given gift.

Merry and Pippin enjoy the unintended hospitality of Isengard

That Gandalf does not come to a place like The Prancing Pony in Bree as a figure of terror as do the Nazgûl is because he has chosen not to do so, a choice that he has made over and over again throughout the long and hidden years. That Aragorn and the hobbits are able to enjoy Butterbur’s hospitality too is the fruit of this choice and why Gandalf is able to sleep, albeit briefly, before returning to the great struggle.

9 thoughts on ““Now I Can Take a Night’s Rest, The First Since I Have Forgotten When”. Gandalf is Able to Rest Even While Riding The Storm.

  1. Yes! I think that’s part of the attraction of Gandalf. Unlike the Elves, he’s very down-to-earth. I think, in a way, that actually shows his hidden greatness better (since he is higher than the Elves) and draws it out when he shows himself to be who he really is. Pippin didn’t even realize precisely how old he was until Minas Tirith.

    • A really good thought! I was thinking about those times when Gandalf reveals his greatness after he is sent back from death. They always take people by surprise. And then when everything is over his idea of pleasure is a good chat with Bombadil. Galadriel and Elrond could always see it though.

      • Very true. And even after he comes back as Gandalf the White, he still enjoys smoking and calling hobbits “fools”. A friend of mine noted that Pippin seemed to enjoy recounting Gandalf’s first words to him after he came back from the dead—”Tom-fool of a Took! Where’s Treebeard? I must see him at once!” It may be that by saying this, Gandalf was showing that he was the same wizard as before, though different (also, grumpy at the moment).

      • That is really good! Pippin, in particular, loves Gandalf’s grumpiness, although he fears it as well. I think that there is a particular bond between the two of them and that when Gandalf takes Pippin with him to Minas Tirith it is not just to get him away from the Palantir but because he needs his company. His description of Pippin as “a valiant man” to the first defenders that he meets on his final approach to the city is genuinely meant, I thought.

  2. Wonderful post! I have always enjoyed and been inspired by the examples of hospitality in the story. And just as there is more to Gandalf than people sometimes realise (as you note in your comment above), Gandalf often sees more in others – like when Gandalf corrects Frodo’s assumption that Butterbur is ‘stupid’. It wasn’t really relevant to the conversation they were having at the time, but Gandalf felt it was necessary to put it right all the same.

  3. Wow, Doors and Johnny Cash in one title! (“Don’t know when” is in Folsom Prison Blues.) I had trouble believing JRRT wrote this but he did. It’s in The Council of Elrond, right after he blesses Barliman’s beer.

    Hospitality and refreshment are wonderful themes. I think there might be an inspiration for Gandalf’s reviving qualities in St Augustine, “Of Christian Doctrine”, book 1, chapter 33:

    “For if we find our happiness complete in one another, we stop short upon the road, and place our hope of happiness in man or angel. Now the proud man and the proud angel arrogate this to themselves, and are glad to have the hope of others fixed upon them. But, on the contrary, the holy man and the holy angel, even when we are weary and anxious to stay with them and rest in them, set themselves to recruit our energies with the provision which they have received of God for us or for themselves; and then urge us thus refreshed to go on our way towards Him …”

    I’m not trying to tear Tolkien down here. It’s wonderful how he can show, in a story, the contrast between the “holy angel” (Gandalf) and the “proud angel” (Saruman).

    • Your quotation of Augustine leaves me in your debt, Patrick. I have often reflected upon the relationship between all the resting places of life and the ongoing journey. As a parish priest in pleasant land of Worcestershire it has often struck me that many of my parishioners have put a lot of hope in the resting places that they have found here. That hope is that they might be permanent and not temporary. Of course they never are nor can they be.
      Tolkien never gives us a final resting place in his mythology and I think that this is a part of his genius. In this he is clearly a follower of Augustine. How interesting that in the popular mind it is the Shire that is the resting place; the quintessential rural idyll, certainly of the English imagination. Its vulnerability to Saruman’s ravages and before those to the ravages of Lotho Pimple and even Ted Sandyman.

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