“He is in Great Fear, Not Knowing What Mighty One May Suddenly Appear, Wielding the Ring”. Gandalf Speaks of Sauron’s Worldview.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-652

“Will you not open your mind more clearly to me?” Aragorn asks of Gandalf and so begins a situation room briefing from the one who has a better understanding of the big picture in Middle-earth than, perhaps, anyone in the story.

“The Enemy, of course, has long known that the Ring is abroad, and that it is borne by a hobbit. He knows now the number of our company that set out from Rivendell and the kind of each one of us. But he does not yet perceive our purpose clearly.”

Sauron does not perceive the purpose of his enemies at this point of the story, nor will he do so until the very end when Frodo claims the Ring within Mount Doom itself. And at that point we learn that “the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare”. But at this point it is all too late.

But why did the Dark Lord not even consider that it might be possible that his enemies would seek to destroy the Ring? Gandalf answers this question quite simply.

“He is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.”

All the depictions of Sauron are merely expressions of his power.

It is a vital insight within The Lord of the Rings that goodness can understand evil because goodness has had to face and to overcome all that evil has to offer while evil understands nothing of goodness merely regarding it as a weak form of itself. So it was that when Frodo offered the Ring to Galadriel she replies by saying, “I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands”.

In order to understand goodness truly we need to think about those years of great desire and the slow formation of a character of adamant that took place during that time. Perhaps there were times within those years when Galadriel was tempted to the very limits of her endurance, perhaps as she watched the slow decay of all things around her and the rise of darkness close by her home with the Balrog in Moria and the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. Saruman could see these things too and he also desired the power that the Ring could give in order to overcome them. But while within the heart of Galadriel the desire for power lived alongside a longing to preserve beauty, goodness and truth, no such struggle took place within the heart of Saruman. He came to see the world merely in terms of strength and weakness and assumed that either Galadriel, Gandalf and Elrond were weak or ineffective or that they were secret competitors, merely hiding their desire behind a cloak of beneficence.

And what was true about Saruman was most certainly true about Sauron. Galadriel put this in these words:

“I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But still the door is closed!”

Still the door is closed!

This is why Sauron is in great fear. He assumes that as the Ring has indeed been found that it is inevitable that that one of the mighty among his foes will take it and use it against him. He may be puzzled why it would appear that the Ring is in the hands of creatures as insignificant as hobbits but this aspect of the story does not seem to bother him greatly. When before the battle at the Black Gate the so called Mouth of Sauron shows the tokens that seem to denote that Frodo has been captured he does so with the words, “What use you find in them I cannot guess; but to send them as spies into Mordor is beyond even your accustomed folly.” Sauron simply assumes that the hobbits are being used in some way because that is what he would do with them.

Goodness understands evil because it has had to overcome the temptation to possess all that evil seems to be able to offer. True goodness has been formed by this inner struggle. Evil on the other hand understands nothing of this. It has not been formed by struggle. The character of Sauron, Saruman, and Gollum, too, for that matter, is not formed by inner struggle but by their being taken possession of by their desire for mastery.

“Their Coming Was Like The Falling of Small Stones That Starts an Avalanche in The Mountains”. Gandalf Speaks of the Awakening of the Ents.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-649

What a gift gentleness is to a world grown weary with the mere exercise of power. And so Merry and Pippin awoke a kindliness within the heart of Boromir the warrior, inflated as he was by fantasies of his own greatness, who sought to gain what he desired by abuse of his strength in the attempt to steal the Ring from Frodo. When Aragorn ordered Boromir to stay with the young hobbits and to protect them as best he could he was simply trying to find some order amidst the chaos of battle and to give himself space to do what he felt that he must do, to find the Ringbearer; but what he gave to Boromir in the giving of that order was the opportunity to find redemption for his failure in the laying down of his life.

This alone would have been sufficient reason for the contested decision to include Merry and Pippin within the Fellowship but Gandalf speaks of more.

“But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains. Even as we talk here, I hear the first rumblings. Saruman had best not be caught away from home when the dam bursts!”

The falling of small stones that starts an avalanche.

There are three occasions in which hobbits are captured by orcs in The Lord of the Rings. No other character has to suffer this indignity although Éowyn is threatened with imprisonment by the Witch King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl. The capture of Merry and Pippin in the breaking of the Fellowship is the first; the second is the capture of Frodo by Shagrat and Gorbag near Shelob’s Lair; and the third the capture of Frodo and Sam by the road to the Black Gate in Mordor. And on each occasion the capture serves only to carry the hobbits nearer to their goal. In the case of Frodo and Sam the goal is known to them. Somehow they must take the Ring to the Fire at Orodruin and they need a road to follow in order to get there. In the case of Merry and Pippin the Uruk-hai of Isengard carry them across the plains of Rohan in order to deliver them at the feet of Treebeard.

There is a delicious irony in this, of course. Gandalf speaks of this to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. “Saruman also had a mind to capture the Ring, for himself, or at least to snare some hobbits for his evil purposes. So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all.”

The orcs bring Merry and Pippin to Fangorn Inger Edelfelt’s dramatic depiction of the hobbits’hard journey.

But there is something further to say in regards to Merry and Pippin. Gandalf again speaks of this to his companions when he tells them that Sauron, as well as Saruman, had tried to capture hobbits and to take them to Barad-dûr, either to retake the Ring or to keep them as hostages. Thankfully Sauron, as well as Saruman, failed to achieve their purpose and Gandalf adds: “Let us not darken our hearts by imagining the trial of their gentle loyalty in the Dark Tower.”

It is the gentleness of the hobbits that proves essential here. On the one hand it is a quality that is entirely disregarded by both Sauron and by Saruman. To them gentleness is merely an expression of weakness. But in delivering this quality to Fangorn the orcs of Isengard awaken the hearts of Treebeard and the Ents to their own destruction. It is gentleness of the young hobbits that delights the Ents, which reawakens them and reconnects them to their essential vocation, that of being shepherds.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and in their reawakening the Ents are recalled to that duty. Sacrifice is something that the powers of darkness are incapable of doing or even imagining. By this we don’t mean that they are incapable of sacrificing others for their own ends. They do this constantly without giving it a second thought. But they have rendered themselves incapable of any action that even remotely approaches self-sacrifice and so Frodo’s choice to take the Ring to the Fire, Sam’s choice to go with him, Gandalf’s sacrifice of himself in the conflict with the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Boromir’s sacrifice for the sake of Merry and Pippin, and the sacrifice that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make in their hopeless pursuit of the orcs who captured Merry and Pippin, all of these are simply incomprehensible to the dark powers and all of are essential to the ultimate victory of good over evil.

Gandalf did not mention his own sacrifice but it is crucial to the whole story.

“It Was Not in Vain That The Young Hobbits Came With Us.” Gandalf Speaks of The Fall and Redemption of Boromir.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-648

“Tell me of yourselves,” Gandalf asked of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and so Aragorn tells the tale of the doings of the Fellowship since Gandalf fell in Moria until their meeting in Fangorn some six weeks later. He tells of their stay in Lothlórien, of the journey down river to Sarn Gebir in the hills of Emyn Muil and then of the sundering of the Fellowship and the death of Boromir.

“You have not said all that you know or guess, Aragorn my friend,” Gandalf replies to Aragorn as he thinks of Boromir. “Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.”

It was not in vain that the young hobbits came on the journey, if only for Boromir’s sake. Matthew Stewart captures the nobility of Boromir that he rediscovers at the end.

“A warrior, and a lord of men,” Gandalf says of Boromir, but not a thinker. And in this regard Boromir is different from his father, Denethor. Boromir set out upon the journey to Rivendell because it seemed a heroic enterprise. A dream came many times to Faramir his brother, as Boromir recounted to the Council of Elrond, and once it came to him. Why Faramir did not speak sooner of the dream we are not told. Perhaps he needed time for reflection. But as soon as Boromir had the dream he went straight with his brother to their father and demanded leave to go to Rivendell. Perhaps it required the man of action to put things in motion.

It was Boromir who had to do the heroic deed. Catherine Chmiel imagines the final parting of Boromir and Faramir as Boromir begins his fateful journey.

But why did the heavenly powers send the dream in the first place? Why was it necessary to make the link between Minas Tirith and Rivendell? Perhaps the link was meant to be Faramir who, like Aragorn, had been a pupil of Gandalf and who would have understood the need to destroy the Ring and not to use it in war against Sauron. An understanding that he was later to show when he met with Frodo and Sam in Ithilien. But Faramir made the dream a matter for thought and not for action, for understanding and not for deed, a private matter and not for debate and counsel. It was Boromir who instinctively made the connection between the dream and heroic action. The dream spoke of Imladris, of Rivendell, and so a journey had to be made. And perhaps this was a right reading of the dream and of the heavenly mind that sent it. The Council of Elrond was a providential gathering of the free peoples of Middle-earth. Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Humankind were represented there and were represented when the Fellowship was chosen to go with the Ring-bearer on his journey to Mordor.

Boromir never understood the necessity of the journey. “Why do you speak ever of hiding and destroying?” he asked of the Council. “Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need?” Perhaps the use of the adjective, Great, was a clue even then of Boromir’s state of mind. Greatness, power and decisive action were all that he could envisage. To hide and to destroy seemed unmanly, even craven. And although when Elrond and Gandalf sought to make it clear to him that the Ring could not be used against Sauron because it was “altogether evil”, Boromir bowed his head and replied, “So be it” his heart never accepted this answer. As a soldier he accepted the orders as they were given by the Council but his heart was never in them. And after Gandalf’s fall when everything was thrown into disarray and into doubt, and when it seemed that Aragorn did not know what action should be taken, whether to go directly to Mordor or to Minas Tirith, Boromir began to think of taking the Ring so that it could be used in battle to do what the only thing that he thought had any importance, the defeat of Sauron.

I suspect that Boromir was ultimately taken by surprise by his own thoughts. Not the thoughts about the need of his people but the fantasies that he was nourishing about his own greatness. When Gandalf and Galadriel were offered the Ring they were able to resist the temptation at least in part because they had brought it from the shadow places within their hearts into the light of conscious thought. Boromir never did that inner work nor thought that work was even of any importance. And so when his desires burst out into the open at the moment he tried to take the Ring from Frodo they took him by surprise. I think that we can see this by his horrified reaction after Frodo escaped from him. And we see his true spirit in the way in which he gave his life for Merry and Pippin. It was because the young hobbits were there and in need that allowed him to declare to himself what he truly was. A warrior, a lord of men, and a man of truth and nobility.

It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.

“Naked I Was Sent Back- For a Brief Time, Until My Task is Done.” Gandalf Speaks of The Battle With The Balrog of Moria.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.653-657

There is much to think about in all that Gandalf speaks of after his reunion with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, but this is Eastertide and so we will think about the terrible struggle between Gandalf and the Balrog of Moria, a struggle that ends in Gandalf’s death.

But this story does not end with his death.

“I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”

Alan Lee imagines the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog

The Lord of the Rings is a story that weaves together both myth and history in a way that would have been familiar to Homer, to Snorri Sturluson or to the poet who wrote the story of Beowulf, but is quite alien to the modern mind. I have read many a commentator on Tolkien’s legendarium who has struggled to present his work as mere history, if such a thing can exist; and so they speak of the inadequacy of Tolkien’s economics for example. And from time to time I come across efforts to discover a historical King Arthur or Robin Hood. Tolkien does something far more interesting and far more exciting. He also does something that is more true than mere history. He is a writer of myth.

And so Gandalf tells of his struggle with the Balrog in a way that the hearers of Beowulf would have grasped immediately. As he tells us of the headlong fall from the Bridge of Khazad-dûm into the icy waters far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves and then of the ascent to the highest peak of the Misty Mountains we are not invited to ponder the cardiovascular systems of the two combatants even when Gandalf says that the icy waters almost froze his heart. What we are invited into is the great stories that transcend such things, of which our stories are a rich part if we will only understand them as such.

The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog ends with the deaths of them both. But Gandalf is sent back in order that he should complete his task. Tolkien never speaks of God explicitly in The Lord of the Rings, of Eru Ilúvatar as God is named in The Silmarillion. Even now Gandalf does not name the one who sent him back, the one who restored him to life but it is of Ilúvatar he speaks here just as he spoke of him when he told Frodo that both Frodo and Bilbo were meant to have the Ring.

For a time Gandalf lies upon the mountain top, this high place of the earth acting as a kind of threshold between earth and heaven, between the seen world of flesh and blood and the unseen world into which we only catch glimpses from time to time.

Gandalf Upon the Mountain Top

“I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of over-burdened stone.”

Once again there might be some who recognise in Gandalf’s telling of his story a certain similarity to the effects of hallucinogenics. They might be tempted to reduce Gandalf’s tale to just such an experience. But mystics know that it is not necessary to use such substances in order to see something of what Gandalf sees upon the mountain top. Gandalf lives in both myth and history and as he returns to the history of his time and the mighty struggle against Sauron that lies ahead, the task that he has been sent back to complete, he brings with him the mythic world in which he has dwelt entirely for a brief moment and for “a life-age of the earth”. He returns as Gandalf the White, more perilous than any upon earth except, perhaps, the Dark Lord Sauron, with whom he must now do battle.

Gandalf the White

“I Am Saruman, One Might Say, Saruman as He Ought to Have Been.” We Meet Gandalf The White.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 644, 645

We can be sure that if the mysterious old man who climbed up the hill upon which Merry and Pippin first met Treebeard was indeed Saruman we would now be subjected to a very long speech. It would be a speech about his greatness, one intended to fill his hearers with awe, but all Gandalf says about himself and his transformation is to say:

“Yes, I am white now,” said Gandalf. “Indeed I am Saruman, one,might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves!”

Gandalf the White.

When Gandalf was imprisoned by Saruman in Isengard he was subjected to such a speech. “We must have power,” Saruman said, “power to order things as we will, for that good that only the Wise can see.” Saruman was anxious, not only to subject Gandalf to his will but to convince him that he had the right to be the Lord of the Rings and thus Lord of Middle-earth.

From the beginning of the mission of the Istari, the wizards, to Middle-earth, Saruman was anxious that he should be its leader. And when with Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond he formed the White Council, a council of the Wise to oppose Sauron, he insisted that he should be its leader even though Galadriel argued that the leader ought to be Gandalf.

Although Gandalf never sought power for himself Saruman was always jealous of him and looked for ways to undermine the one who he believed to be his rival. So he made fun of Gandalf’s affection for hobbits and the Shire while beginning to forge links between the Shire and Isengard; and he mocked Gandalf’s enjoyment of pipe-smoking and of pipeweed, while secretly learning the art himself and purchasing the best of Longbottom leaf from Lotho Sackville-Baggins who became his agent in the Shire.

But most importantly of all Saruman believed that Gandalf was his rival in seeking to find and to take possession of the Ring. Like Sauron he was convinced that if anyone of sufficient strength were to find the Ring they would claim it for themselves and use it to become the ruler of all. And he became convinced that Gandalf was trying to find the Ring just as he was so that he should become lord of all and that when he began to suspect that the Ring was hidden in the Shire that the same hobbits who he had despised were being used for some obscure purpose in Gandalf’s plot.

All Saruman’s suspicions were, in his mind, confirmed when he and Gandalf met once again in Isengard after the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Gandalf demands that Saruman surrender the Key of Orthanc to him and his staff as pledges of Saruman’s good conduct and to be returned later to him if he should once again merit them. Saruman responded to Gandalf’s demand with undisguised rage.

“Later!” he cried, and his voice rose to a scream. “Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dûr itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards.”

Saruman was utterly convinced that Gandalf desired what he himself did, that Gandalf was his rival and therefore his enemy. And perhaps he feared that he was his enemy’s inferior, that Gandalf possessed a power that he himself lacked, and that he needed to surround himself with a fortress, an army and all the trappings of power in order to be what Gandalf was, in himself, alone, vulnerable and homeless in the world. And so he became unsatisfied with his white robes and made a coat of many colours for himself. There is a sense in which he gave up his white robes quite voluntarily having become unsatisfied with what they represented, that is that he was an emissary of the Valar in Middle-earth. That these robes should be given to Gandalf, the very one that he feared and hated most, only confirmed what he always believed, that Gandalf desired to rule just as he did.

Saruman of many colours by Harold Jig.

What he had forgotten, indeed despised, was that his power and status did not belong to him but had been given to him in order that he might be an emissary of the Valar in Middle-earth. His task was to do the bidding of his masters and so when he proved unfaithful in doing that task his masters stripped him of his robes and gave them to one who would do their bidding. Gandalf is now the White, Saruman as he should have been.