Mar 27 2009 7:13pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship II.2, “The Council of Elrond”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring And now, an attempt to discuss the enormous second chapter of Book II of Fellowship, “The Council of Elrond.” For all that this is one of my favorite chapters, I admit I rather sat on writing this post because I just didn’t know where to start; but here’s where the decision to move this project to was a good one, because on my own site I might have dithered forever, but here I felt obligated to just sit down and start writing. Let’s see what results (apparently, an appallingly long post):

What Happens

Frodo, Bilbo, and Gandalf go to the Council of Elrond; Sam follows without anyone noticing. The Council opens with Glóin telling of a messenger from Mordor to Dáin at the Lonely Mountain, seeking Bilbo and his ring.

Elrond then gives a brief history of the Ring from its forging to its passing out of knowledge in the days of Isildur. There is an interlude while Boromir describes the dream that brought him to Rivendell, Aragorn reveals the Sword that was Broken and his heritage, and the two discuss their people’s roles in defending against evil. Frodo displays the Ring; Bilbo tells the full tale of its finding. Gandalf explains how he identified it as the One Ring, through research in Gondor and the capture and questioning of Gollum. Legolas, distressed, tells the Council that Gollum has escaped the Elves of Mirkwood. Gandalf then tells of his betrayal and captivity by Saruman; his rescue by Gwaihir of the Great Eagles; his journey back to the Shire on a horse from Rohan; and his coming to Rivendell.

The Council then discusses what to do with the Ring. Sending it to Bombadil is considered and rejected as unsafe, as is bringing it to the Sea, either to send to those who dwell beyond it or to cast it into the deeps. Elrond says that they must send the Ring to the Fire in Mordor where it can be destroyed. Boromir asks why the Ring cannot be used as a weapon, and Elrond and Gandalf tell him that it would corrupt anyone capable of it and they will not do so. Glóin asks if the Three Rings of the Elves can be used, and Elrond tells him that they were not made for such work.

Bilbo volunteers to carry the Ring, but Gandalf tells him that his part in the story is over, and Bilbo agrees, but asks who is to be sent with it. After a long silence, Frodo volunteers. Elrond says that he thinks the task is appointed for Frodo, though he will not lay such a heavy burden upon him. Sam bursts out that Frodo should not be sent alone, and Elrond agrees that Sam at least shall go, since he will not leave Frodo even for a secret council.


This chapter parallels and revises the second chapter in the first book, “The Shadow of the Past”. They are both big info-dumps that result in Frodo deciding that he needs to take the Ring and go, first out of the Shire and then to Mordor. As befits the more serious happenings since and the movement out of the Shire, the Council of Elrond is attended by many people, not just Frodo and Gandalf—though Sam remains as an uninvited listener. It is held outside, not inside Bag End, though the peacefulness of nature is mentioned as a contrast to the darkness of the discussion (very much less so, however, than in “Shadow”).

As with “Shadow,” I’m going to attempt to analyze the mechanics of this chapter, how it moves and engages the reader, by listing the sections.

  1. Establishing scene of Frodo, Bilbo, Sam, and Gandalf in the beautiful outdoors.
  2. Start of the Council; introducing new characters.
  3. Glóin’s tale.
  4. The Ring’s history from forging to Isildur (partly summarized).
  5. Gondor’s valor and Boromir’s dream.
  6. The Sword that was Broken and Isildur’s Bane.
  7. Frodo displays the Ring. The merits and work of Aragorn.
  8. Bilbo and Frodo’s tales (summarized).
  9. How do they know it’s the One Ring? Where’s Saruman?
  10. How they know it’s the One Ring: Gandalf and Aragorn’s search for Gollum; Gandalf’s research in Gondor.
  11. Legolas on Gollum’s escape.
  12. Where’s Saruman: Gandalf and Radagast.
  13. Gandalf and Saruman.
  14. Gandalf on Orthanc and his rescue.
  15. Gandalf from Rohan to Bree.
  16. Gandalf from Bree to Rivendell.
  17. What to do: not Bombadil, not the Sea: the Fire.
  18. Rejecting the Ring, and any other Rings of Power, as weapon.
  19. Bilbo offers and is refused.
  20. Frodo offers.
  21. Elrond accepts. Sam speaks.

Here are some things that strike me about this:

It’s much longer and much more divided than “Shadow.” Some of the sections are very short indeed, either because they are just summaries or context (the first two, Bilbo and Frodo’s tales) or for emphasis (the last three, particularly Frodo offering to take the Ring).

It again mixes summary and quoted dialogue with a good eye toward what information is necessary and what isn’t. For instance, Gandalf passes very lightly over his time in Rohan, because we’ll be going there next volume and will hear about it then. Similarly, we don’t need to know why Númenor fell, just that it did and Elendil’s house returned to Middle-earth as a consequence.

This is also structured similarly to “Shadow,” starting with the present, here a brief context of wider happenings via Glóin. Then it heads into the past for the history of the Ring; comes back up to the present through Gandalf’s stories; and looks to the future for solutions. It ends with Sam again being caught as an uninvited listener and being sent off with Frodo.

On the other hand, it lacks the constant contrasts to the external environment. There’s the establishing opening, and a brief mention of everything going dark when Gandalf recites the Ring’s inscription, but otherwise there’s very little reference to the characters’ surroundings. I think this is because we know the danger much better by now, and so we don’t need repeated comparisons between the peace of outdoors and the tension of the conversation.

* * *

Aragorn, Boromir, and the future of Gondor:

Just as a POV note to start. Though Frodo thought of Strider once as Aragorn when he saw him with Arwen in the last chapter, he starts this chapter out again thinking of him as Strider, when he sees him sitting in a corner alone; but after Boromir recounts his dream, he’s Aragorn from then on.

Next, much of my comments on Aragorn’s behavior in this chapter are influenced by Paul Kocher’s Master of Middle-earth, but I can’t be more specific because the book went back to the library. However, it contains a lengthy chapter closely reading and analyzing Aragorn’s behavior, and I recall that it pointed out what a careful line Aragorn walks with regard to Boromir in this section. He lets Elrond announce his lineage; deliberately disclaims being Isildur come again and offers only to put his strength to the test, without pointing out that it’s been tested repeatedly since before Boromir was born; and does not lay claim to anything, merely saying,

But now the world is changing once again. A new hour comes. Isildur’s Bane is found. Battle is at hand. The Sword shall be reforged. I will come to Minas Tirith.

(Which is an interesting change in his manner of speaking, much shorter and simpler sentences.)

On the other hand, he does ask Boromir if he “wish(es) for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor,” which I wonder is maybe a bit of a hint for Boromir to think about the implications?

A few other notes: the whole chance/not thing gets a good workout throughout this chapter, particularly in that Boromir arrived literally that morning.

I like Aragorn’s rebuke to Boromir that “Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay”; I find it evocative. I am less crazy about his statement that “If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so,” because I disfavor, on principle, keeping secrets from people to protect them.

(However, Boromir knows Rohan better than Aragorn, correctly stating that they would not pay horses as tribute to Mordor.)

And there’s a reference to the prophecy that the Sword would be reforged when the Ring was found, which I’d either never noticed before or forgotten.

* * *

Glóin’s tale:

He says that a “a shadow of disquiet fell upon our people. Whence it came we did not at first perceive.” There’s no explicit statement of where it did come from; I gather we’re supposed to infer that it’s Sauron?

Also, it took them a whole year to decide to send warning to Bilbo? Gee, thanks.

* * *

When asked to show the Ring, Frodo “was shaken by a sudden shame and fear; and he felt a great reluctance to reveal the Ring, and a loathing of its touch.”

I have the urge to connect this to the reaction of an addict being asked to show the drug he carries, but I don’t know how realistic that is.

* * *

Meta-fiction: Frodo and Bilbo are full of comments about the story being incomplete, and their place in the story, and writing the story and a sequel. It’s not unique to this chapter, but it’s very noticeable here. My guess is that one’s reaction to this depends heavily on one’s opinion of the framing device. I don’t really believe in the framing device, in my gut, and so find these comments slightly jarring—which is odd, because normally I enjoy meta-fiction. Maybe it’s because this dates from before I acquired that taste.

* * *

Gandalf’s tales:

When he speaks the Ring’s inscription, I’m okay with the porch going dark, but I find the image of the Elves stopping their ears more comical then dramatic.

I get the impression that Gandalf doesn’t think much of Radagast, a “bless his heart” kind of vibe. What about you all?

(Also, he once dwelt near the borders of Mirkwood, but doesn’t any more, and isn’t a traveller; I wonder where he lives now?)

Saruman the not-White:

Gandalf “saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours. and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.” Can anyone else picture this? The iridescence of, say, mother-of-pearl or opal, doesn’t quite seem colorful enough.

And it’s unreasonable of me to be grumpy at Gandalf for not knowing that white light can be put back together again by another prism, isn’t it?

(Or for harping on Butterbur’s fatness? Neither Gandalf nor Tolkien knew of genetic predispositions towards certain body types.)

* * *

The what-to-do discussion:

I suppose it’s a good thing that there was no real option short of final destruction of the Ring, because if there were, I think there would be a genuine dilemma between the short-term solution with a higher chance of success, or the long-term one with lower.

I note that Galdor is concerned, not only for the safety of the Ring if they attempt to send it westward, but for the possibility that “the Elves may have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle-earth” if the Havens are assaulted.

Boromir says, “Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon,” which sounds proverbial, and as perhaps a result, I want to argue with it.

(And yet when Gandalf says “despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt,” I nod my head and think he’s wise. Is it only because I like Gandalf better?)

I’ve never understood why the Three should fail when the One was destroyed, since they were made entirely separately. Anyone care to explain their understanding?

Frodo’s offer to take the Ring:

A great dread fell on him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken. An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo’s side in Rivendell filled all his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice.

“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”

Oh, Frodo. This time you know what you’re assuming—well, much more of it, anyway—and you still do it anyway. No longing to follow Bilbo to counteract your fear, either.

(I don’t read the “as if some other will” literally, and I very much doubt it was intended as such. I suspect most people have had the sensation of words coming out of their mouth that seemed to bypass their brain—in a good way, I mean, not just thoughtlessness.)

Though, Elrond may say he won’t lay the task on Frodo, but his having previously said “I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will” does reduce the power of that statement a bit, hmm?

* * *


  • Elrond says at the start, “That is the doom that we must deem,” which is a rare clunker of a sentence to my ear.
  • We get told why it was cheeky of Bilbo to write verses about Eärendil in Elrond’s house: Eärendil was his father.
  • Boromir says that “Mordor has allied itself with the Easterlings and the cruel Haradrim.” I’m just noting this for future reference, because I don’t recall how much information we get about those societies later; but this suggests that they were not dominated by Mordor until recently.
  • This is the first time anyone calls the Black Riders/the Nine “Nazgûl.”
  • Words I had never actually looked up before, relying on context until now: “weregild” and “glede.” (They mean, respectively, compensatory/reparational payment for a crime, and a live coal.)
  • Isildur is apparently the first, chronologically, to call the Ring “precious,” unless you can imagine Sauron doing so. (I can’t.)

And while that may not exhaust the chapter, it exhausts me. See you next week.

« Fellowship II.1 | Index | Fellowship II.3 »

Michael Ikeda
1. mikeda
On the Three Rings losing power.

My thought is that when Sauron forged the One Ring and gave it the power to dominate the other rings he also made the other rings dependent on the One. So the Three (and the Seven and Nine) are now bound to the One and their power is tied to it.

So when the One Ring is destroyed, all of the rings lose power.
Andrew Mason
2. AnotherAndrew
And it’s unreasonable of me to be grumpy at Gandalf for not knowing that white light can be put back together again by another prism, isn’t it?

No, it's not unreasonable. Humans (or elves, etc.) cannot be expected to have discovered this at this stage in history; but Gandalf is an angel. (Tolkien's very words, I think.)
Tudza White
3. tudzax1
So what's the point of saying "his hand never touched or sullied them" or whatever the proper quote is from The Shadow of the Past? The Elves saw Sauron's treachery just in time and saved The Three from becoming tools of Sauron was how I read this, so what changed?

The only thing that made sense to me was that The Three were not used until after Sauron lost The One. The Elves did not want to use them for fear of their power being used against them, but used it after the war to help build things up again.

Not being absolute masters of ring craft, those who were probably got slaughtered by Sauron, nobody is sure what happens when The One gets used again by the one who knows their workings best.
4. DBratman
Excellent summary. Shippey calls the Council a badly-chaired committee meeting, but in fact it has a logical structure and progression, and it's not just a committee meeting but also a seminar: all the information needs to be gathered and collated before action is considered.

It's essential to the functioning of the story that the word of the Wise that the Ring cannot be used, ignored, or (otherwise) destroyed be taken as fact, and I've seen very little criticism of Tolkien on this ground, or doubt that these are the sub-creationally true facts. Ties in to Farah Mendlesohn's discussion of portal-quest fantasies in "Rhetorics of Fantasy": that in books like these, narrators and infodumps are reliable.

I think what's going on in Frodo's head as he's about to say "I will take the Ring" is the realization that he's got to: nobody's forcing him to say yes, but he can't possibly do anything else, because nobody else is really in a position to do what he can do. It's the moment of dawning truth for him, akin to the one in Book IV where Sam realizes that Frodo doesn't think they'll ever survive to make the return trip.

To me the key moment in the chapter is where Elrond says he does not lay the burden on Frodo, and that Frodo's glory comes specifically from taking it freely. The moral environment in which you take actions was always vitally important to Tolkien.
5. danalynne
Thank you! Fascinating. I see another commenter already mentioned Tom Shippey, and he's actually very complimentary toward this chapter. If you haven't read "JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century" and his analysis of this chapter (and a lot of other cool stuff about LOTR) I think you would really enjoy it.

I haven't read that book you reference that has the analysis of Aragorn's role at the council; thanks for that as well.

I love LOTR so much and never tire of reading discussions of it. I loved this chapter myself -- I understand a lot of readers bog down at it, but I loved the history and the way Gandalf gets to carry the exposition. It's an amazing feat of writing, IMHO.

Thanks again.
6. Elaine T
I’ve never understood why the Three should fail when the One was destroyed, since they were made entirely separately. Anyone care to explain their understanding?

Someone on r.a.s.f.w. once compared it to software hackers leaving a backdoor, which rings (ahem) true to me. We know Celebrimbor had Sauron's help with the general idea of the Rings, although Sauron didn't work on the Three. But Celebrimbor's forging/creation accomplishment of the Three contained or was based on input from Sauron; therefore he had his own access to them and could, once the One was made, see what their users were up to and affect it. Since the One bound all the Rings, "one Ring to rule them all, one Ring in the darkness bind them...." once the binding was unravelled, the whole construction went with it. Like unravelling knitted lace.
Robert Garza
7. FunBob
Two Things:

The Elves covered their ears at the language of Mordor. Elrond's household is made up of the High Elf survivors of the First Age, who fought Morgoth and Sauron his lieutenant. Morgoth made the Orcs out of "ruined" elves, and generally committed genocide on all the High Elves. Fast forward 5 THOUSAND years and imagine all the pain and suffering these elves have endured trying to hang on to their lives in Middle Earth through major wars fought against Sauron and the Witchking of Angmar, and its not too hard to imagine the horror they feel at the language of their chief foe for the last 5 millenia.

Also, the Three Rings. Sauron taught Celebrimbor and the other Noldor of Eregion the art of ring making. What he taught them was to draw upon HIS power in their creation, which is why every single Ring of Power is tied to Sauron. When the One Ring is destroyed, all of Sauron's power is destroyed, including that in ALL of the Rings of Power. The elves were able to avoid the evil influence that the other rings held over their owners by taking them off and not using them while Sauron was still active in the Second Age (Note that the Ringwraiths were created in the Second Age before Sauron was defeated and it was only when the Necromancer (Sauron) appeared in power in the Third Age that Thror and Thrain became greedy for the riches of their past). Once Sauron was defeated and his ring taken from him, Elrond used the Ring of Air to strengthen Rivendell and to gain power over the river Loudwater. Galadriel used the Ring of Water to create the Lothlorien that the companions enter after the disaster in Moria: a land of healing and recuperation based on her memories of the Lorien of the Blessed Realm. Cirdan never used the Ring of Fire, until he gave it to Gandalf upon his arrival in Middle Earth from the Blessed Realm. Gandalf then used it to "fire" up the people he met, inspiring them to be better than they had been. The great fears of Elrond, Galadriel and the other High Elves was that Sauron would regain his ring, and thus the realms of Rivendell and Lothlorien would have been open to Sauron's influence and would have been destroyed. In contrast, they also feared that destroying Sauron would destroy their protection anyway, since his fall would still strip their Rings of their power, but at least they would be alive and Middle Earth would be free. This is why the Dominion of Men began in the Fourth Age: the Elves no longer had any "magical" resistance. The High Elves chose to depart for the Blessed Realm rather than become a hidden people afraid of the dominant species on the planet: Mankind.
8. DG Lewis
I particularly liked Gandalf's response after Saruman's long, dramatic speech: "I liked white better."
9. Matt McIrvin
Maybe the colors can't be recombined into white light with a second prism in Tolkien's universe. (Sure, this is supposed to be an alternate past of our world, but it wouldn't be the only time in his chronology that a physical law changed.)

I usually imagine Saruman's many-colored costume as opalescent, but for a more garish alternative, it might look more like glittering multicolored laser speckle, or sunlight through diamond facets.
10. sunjah chu
ElaineT@6: I love the hacker's "back door" analogy.

"Out of the Black Years come the words that the Smiths of Eregion heard, and knew that they had been betrayed: One Ring to rule them all...."

I have a mental image of Celebrimbor wearing one of the Three, and stripping it off in fear and horror as through it he suddenly perceived Sauron making this incantation in the Chambers of FIre and felt him (Sauron) enslave all the rings to his One.

Re:Radagast. It is Saruman who scorns Radagast, while Gandalf names him "a worthy wizard, of course". (Damned with faint praise, eh?) He must be something of a disappointment to Gandalf. First, G doesn't seem to get much encouragement out of seeing R apart from the message from Saruman. One gets the impression he is not much of a go-to guy. Then, he turns out to be Saruman's dupe. At first Gandalf fears Radagast has fallen, but in the end concludes that it would be useless to try to win over "the honest Radagast" to treachery. One gets the impression that G feels R is honest in a simplistic fashion that gives him no real understanding of evil. (Picture , hypothetically, Radagast trying to explain to Saruman that he is wrong to treat Gandalf so, as if Saruman were making a "mistake" instead of an open-eyed choice to act as he does.)
11. Tony Zbaraschuk
The measure of Tolkien's greatness as a writer: he can make a committee meeting fun to read. I just love this passage, for the weight of evocation of history behind it, and Frodo's sudden interruption "You were there? But I thought the fall of Gil-galad was a long age ago." I mean, he has to know this intellectually if he has any Elven-lore at all, but this seems to be where the realization of what it means hits him for the first time. It's like realizing that the guy reading the Epic of Gilgamesh to you is... Utnapishtim.

The Elves aren't sure if the One Ring has all the DLLs for RingSys, or if Celebrimbor managed to get uncorrupted ROM backups into the Three that can be used once they run OrodruinFree. (Note that while they hope the Three will retain their power, they don't seem to care much about the Nine or the Seven. That might be an interesting setup, if the lesser Rings had retained their powers when the One was unmade.... oooh, I feel the background for an RPG campaign coming on.)

As far as the Elves stopping their ears, note that they're really big into the linguistic aspects of art, so the sound of Sauron's language is more than just nasty to them. It's demon-worship and horrible memories and bad art, all in one. Imagine someone singing the Horst Wessel Lied in Yad Vashem. On Passover. Off-key.

Radagast may not have done much that's visible in the tale, besides carry Sauron's message to Gandalf, but the stuff he probably does behind the scenes is very helpful: someone sends Gwaihir the Windlord to Orthanc, and someone arranges for the Eagles to all be present at the Black Gate so Sauron won't have air superiority. And he may have done other things we just aren't told about. (Secret history fanfic writers, here's your chance.)

The use of the Ring is one area where I think the Jackson film failed, in not emphasizing enough that the Ring can be used. Boromir is quite right; it could be the weapon that wins the war for Gondor... but as Faramir will see, and Gandalf and Elrond point out, perhaps not firmly enough, what won the war wouldn't be Gondor any more.
12. UnderHill
I have always wondered what would have happened if Frodo had NOT found it in himself to volunteer, and then was unable to give up the Ring to someone else willing to take on the quest. Would they have sat on him and extracted it from him by force?

Thinking about this makes me feel almost queasy - I am being sacrilegious. It is impossible for Frodo to be anyone else but Frodo, and to accept.
Soon Lee
13. SoonLee
Re:Aragorn speaking in shorter simpler sentences.

Nice catch. That emphasizes his honesty and determination to prove himself worthy. He's not mincing words here.

DBratman @4:
A committee meeting yes, but with such notable members bringing so much of import to the table. It's one of my favourite chapters mainly due to its info-dump nature. Once again, we get a look at the rich detail of Tolkien's world.

Elaine T @6:
That's a nice analogy.

Tony Zbaraschuk @11:
I always thought Radagast came across as a birdbrain (sorry), more interested in the animals of Middle Earth. But you make a really good point. Without him, the deus ex eagles in both "The Hobbit" & LotR would probably not have happened.
14. DemetriosX
A few random thoughts:

Re Radagast, I never had the impression that Gandalf disdained him, though there certainly is a sense that he is not on the same level as Gandalf or Saruman. His simplicity is not necessarily a negative and is reflected both in his color (brown) and his close connection with birds and beasts. It might be tempting to think of him as the least of the Five, but we know absolutely nothing about the other two. (Are they ever mentioned anywhere in any of the published material?)

Frodo’s reluctance to show the Ring. I have always seen this more as the Ring’s reluctance to be shown. It is a secretive object under the best of circumstances and here it is surrounded by any number of long-time foes who are discussing its destruction. Throughout the book, it expresses a sort of will by growing heavier or tugging in a given direction. I think this is simply another of those instances.

“That is the doom that we must deem.” This is another of those language shifts. Whenever the focus is on elves and elvish matters, we get this sort of pseudo-Mallorian/Victorian-Tennysonian high falutin’, high fantasy talk. Similarly, in Rohan the language is more reflective of the Eddas and other Nordic tales and we get more of this sort of talk in Gondor, at least with Denethor.

Finally, is it very wrong of me that during your description of the council, I kept having flashbacks to the very raunchy Jack Black parody of this scene from the movie? I haven’t read the trilogy since I saw that, so I wonder if I could read the scene without it. It certainly came up while reading this precis. (“Hey, Frodo” Eyes up here!”)
Sharyn Blum
15. rynners
Regarding Radagast, I have to say that I never got the particular impression that Gandalf was being disparaging toward him, only expressing their fundamental differences in the way they approach the world. It's almost a little too easy to write him off as absent- or weak-minded when we hear so little about him and what we know indicates that he does not have the charisma of someone like Gandalf. The fact that it's so easy seems to me like a trap for those who don't read closely or extrapolate from hints, given the complexity of the Tolkien world (which is another way to say "good call" to Tony Zbaraschuk on the eagle-summoning point).

I've always read his character as someone whose gifts are simply more understated and whose passions are less widely understood/respected, even by his peers. Also, at the risk of blurring the lines between favorite fantasy series, he just comes off as such a Brown-minded fellow in WoT terms: easily underestimated, caught up in his own specialized pursuits, but formidable in his own way.
16. Tony Zbaraschuk
Unfinished Tales has an essay on the Istari, and there is some stuff in the Letters as well: the two Blue Wizards are named Alatar and Pallando, and they went into the east of Middle-earth. Tolkien suspected that they failed in the same way as Saruman did, starting cults of some kind that outlasted Sauron. (This would appear to be the explanation in Middle-earth for the Chinese and Indian mythologies...)

I'd like to think it's possible that they raised enough opposition in the east that Sauron couldn't devote his full power to dealing with the West, but that's supposition on my part.
17. James Reffell
(more speculation) - didn't Aragorn venture to the east and south? maybe he met up with the blue wizards?
JS Bangs
18. jaspax
This is one of my favorite chapters in the first volume, so much so that I decided to copy it shamelessly when I set out to write my first novel. Following JRRT, I decided I needed about three chapters of traveling, followed by an enormous infodump. Needless to say, this was... less successful than LoTR. Give me a break. I was 14.

Radagast: I've always liked Radagast, for all that we barely know anything about him. He is undeniably good, if minor, and I liked the idea that someone was specializing in the plants and animals of Middle Earth. I had never made the connection with the Eagles before, but I very much like the suggestion that Radagast sent them. I'll be adding it to my fanon.

The Three Rings: Unlike the Seven and the Nine, they weren't forged by Sauron, but they are still tainted by his power and fall when he does. Unlike the Nine and (probably) the Seven, they can be used for good, and do not corrupt their wearers. I'm not sure about the Seven, though--do we ever get a clear idea of what they do, other than incite greed?
19. clovis
Again, one of my favourite chapters with deep time history coming to a crisis point.
I have a few problems however. Is it just me, or is Aragorn boastful and arrogant here. The patronising remark about simple folk has already been commented on. He and Boromir get very 'my dad's bigger than your dad' yet throughout the rest of the book Tolkien portrays Aragorn as considerate and almost humble. Then there is the Boromir problem. I find him the worst drawn character in the whole story with the foreshadowing so painfully obvious he might as well have a neon sign on his head. While not a fan of the Jackson films, I did find Sean Bean's portrayal far superior to the book. Finally, I get very uncomfortable with all the talk about the bloodlines 'diminishing'. It has uncomfortable echoes of eugenics and racial purity. I remember thinking so when I first read the book as a teenager in the '70s and still think so now.
20. Elaine T.
I'm not sure about the Seven, though--do we ever get a clear idea of what they do, other than incite greed

They apparently can increase gold in some fashion that is never made clear. What they might do to non-dwarves we never find out, but there's an implication they might have been more like the Nine if humans held them.

And, IIRC, none of the Rings were made with the idea of "I'll give this batch to Dwarves, and this to Men..." It's chance that the assortment got distributed as it was.

Is it just me, or is Aragorn boastful and arrogant here. The patronising remark about simple folk has already been commented on. He and Boromir get very 'my dad's bigger than your dad'

Considering what Aragorn could have said to Boromir, no, I don't agree. He's being rather low key, while still letting Boromir know he's not a pushover. He asks Boromir if he wants the House of Elendil to return - that means Kings, not Stewards running the place. He knows Denethor, he knows his pride. But the dynastic issues are obvious and need to be dealt with. If he could get Boromir on his side, his return and claiming the kingship would be smoother. (This assuming Denethor survived the coming events. Somewhere in HoME, there's some writings about confrontations between Aragorn and Denethor, before Tolkien decided to kill off D instead.)

The Kocher book really is great on Aragorn's character.

The simple folk comment... well, Tolkien wasn't perfect, and that probably was in the air of his culture, along with the bloodlines, idea. Although, if I remember my myths and legends correctly it's also in line with them. Things - people, culture, everything - were always better in the past. Given that he spent his professional life immersed in such things, he may have gotten it more from there.
Andrew Foss
21. alfoss1540
Notes about time during the Council and in Rivendell on this day:

Starts at 8:30 - and Elrond goes on for hours.

Bilbo remarks how hungry he is (as it is drawing on noon) just as he goes into his history of the ring finding - accurate version (my thought that it was like summarizing the whole of "The Hobbit".

Gandalf talks about Saruman

The noon bell rings . . .

and they deliberate on what comes next.

I took specific note of Drawing on noon and when the noon bell rang noting the deliberate Tolkien summarizations of longer talks - and remembering how Hungry Bilbo was.

Time stands still in Rivendell.
22. hugh57
Re Radagast: I think Gandalf tends to view Radagast in a way similar to the way he views Butterbur; a simple sort, but Gandalf, unlike Saruman, does not equate simpleness with stupidity. He just accepts that Radagast is the sort to take things and people at face value, not inclined to look deeper to discover hidden agendas. Radagast is also more attuned to the birds and beasts of Middle-Earth, and may not be as capable of judging the character of the various bipedal types in Middle-Earth.

Gandalf seems to accept Radagast for what he is, and is willing to let him play what part he may in the defeat of Sauron (perhaps through communication, direct or indirect, with Gwaihir and the Eagles); Saruman sees Radagast's simplicity as a weakness that he can exploit. He sees Radagast as a fool, yes, but in many ways he thinks the same of Gandalf. Evil often thinks of Good as foolish, especially when Good gets in the way of their evil designs.

As for the Elves stopping their ears, I can relate, having recently been subjected to karaoke at a sushi bar in Columbus, OH. ;-)
23. debraji
I really like the idea of Radagast working behind the scenes to get the Eagles' help for Gandalf.

The hackers' back-door description of why the Three are vulnerable to Sauron is brilliant.

I wish someone at the Council of Elrond had asked the obvious question: why couldn't the Eagles bring Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom?

Tolkien may have had many good reasons why not, but I've never seen them spelled out.
24. DavidT
@kate and SoonLee:

Kate: "But now the world is changing once again. A new hour comes. Isildur’s Bane is found. Battle is at hand. The Sword shall be reforged. I will come to Minas Tirith."

(Which is an interesting change in his manner of speaking, much shorter and simpler sentences.)

SoonLee: Nice catch. That emphasizes his honesty and determination to prove himself worthy. He's not mincing words here.

I had a very different take on this. This is Aragorn lapsing into verse, for emphasis.

"But now the world is changing once again."
(Iambic pentameter, straight out of Shakespeare.)

"A new hour comes | Isildur's Bane is found.
Battle is at hand | The Sword shall be reforged."
(Heroic anglo-saxon style with caesura; I'm half-surprised it isn't alliterative as well.)

After that performance, when he says "I will come to Minas Tirith", he has subtly changed what "I" means to those present -- especially Boromir.
Kate Nepveu
25. katenepveu
Mass comment response, ahoy!

AnotherAndrew @ #2: yes, but are angels scientifically minded? =>

DBratman @ #4: nice to see you here, and yes, we're clearly supposed to believe that these narrators are reliable, and I have no trouble whatsoever believing it here; it's only when the book tries to push the levels of narration further out, with translations and corrections and such, that my postmodern tendencies of thinking that everyone has a bias and imperfect memory and whatnot rear their heads.

But now that you say, Frodo has to take the Ring "because nobody else is really in a position to do what he can do", I immediately start to wonder whether--Elrond's opinion aside--anyone else _could_ have. It doesn't seem likely, but then, it doesn't seem likely that Frodo could, really. Legolas, maybe?

danalynne @ #5, I haven't read _Author of the Century_ because I understood that _The Road to Middle-earth_ was more relevant to the project, and there's still other critical works I have piled up that I haven't got to yet, so I hate to focus too much on one author. But if you think it's not too repetitive of _Road_, I'll take a look.

Kocher's _Master of Middle-earth_ is a little peculiar to read now, because it was written before the publication of _The Silmarillion_ and so a lot of it is close readings to build up bigger pictures about societies and histories and whatnot, which of course now we have.

Elaine T @ #6, the software-backdoor explanation for the Three is, I think, the thing that's going to make the most sense to me. I'd forgotten that Sauron taught the Elven crafters as well as participated in actually casting the other Rings.

FunBob @ #7, you're entirely right at the significance of the Black Speech to the Elves, but I still find the mental picture incongruous. Sorry--I have a low mind sometimes.

DG Lewis @ #8, re: "I like white better"--hah! You're right, that is funny. I confess that, in addition to having a low mind, I am often humor-deaf when it comes to text--I spot jokes much better in audiobooks or when other people point them out. So thanks.

Matt McIrvin @ #9, I suppose it's possible that you can't recombine light at this point in Middle-earth's history, but it seems like a big physical change for only a rhetorical point.

sunjah chu @ #10, yeah, that's about how I read Gandalf's impression of Radagast. But maybe I'm not being charitable enough toward Gandalf.

Tony Zbaraschuk @ #11, I thought the Elves didn't care about the Nine or Seven because Sauron had helped forge them, so (a) now they can't be used and (b) they are unquestionably tied up in Sauron's power and thus will definitely fail if the One is destroyed.

It's explicit in the text that Radagast was responsible for the Eagles looking around after he met Gandalf and coming to Orthanc; I don't recall if he's mentioned in relation to the Eagles later--they may have decided on their own to keep an eye out, now that they knew what was going on--but it's a good point.

(Also, re: #16 about the wizards in the east starting cults as an explanation for Chinese & Indian mythology: eeeewwww. I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that, okay?)

UnderHill @ #12, urgh, yes, the idea of someone else taking the Ring from Frodo to go on the quest is queasy-making. That's a book by . . . I don't know, Donaldson, or someone, but not Tolkien, anyway. Urgh.

DemetriosX @ #14, even if it's the Ring being reluctant to be shown--which is entirely true--I think it's interesting that it uses _shame_ on Frodo to try and stop it.

jaspax @ #18, you were fourteen when you attempted to emulate this, but what excuse do other writers have? =>

clovis @ #19, I do think that Aragorn was a lot less arrogant than he could have been--he didn't say, for instance, "Oh, and by blood I am the rightful King of Gondor, bow to me, peasant!" But I admit that the film Boromir was more rounded than my recollection of him in the book, and yes, the literal genetic superiority of the Numenoreans is very much not to my taste--I had a comment about it in my notes for this chapter and then took it out as something we'd get to later and deal with then.

alfoss1540 @ #21, really good point about the time that passes, or doesn't, during the Council.

hugh57 @ #22, that's certainly a more charitable summation of Gandalf's attitude toward Radagast than mine.

debraji @ #23, I've heard general fannish discussion of why not take Eagle Air right to Mount Doom, but nothing from authorial intent. Can't be the Nazgul, yet, since they aren't mounted on winged beasts until later, or at least no-one knows it. However, I'm guessing that birds the size of the Eagles are conspicious regardless and that the Nazgul aren't Sauron's only air defense.

Why the Eagles couldn't have saved them all a metric buttload of walking, on the other hand . . .

DavidT @ #24, I am really not at all good at spotting verse in prose form, but thanks, that makes sense.
26. hugh57
23. debraji:
I wish someone at the Council of Elrond had asked the obvious question: why couldn't the Eagles bring Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom?

I think that the Eagles, though perhaps able, were, for whatever reason, unwilling to bear people over long distances, particularly into a place of evil such as Mordor. When Gandalf is being rescued from Orthanc, he asks Gwaihir:
"How far can you bear me?"
"Many leagues," said he, "but not to the ends of the earth. I was sent to bear tidings, not burdens." (emphasis mine)
Gwaihir then consents to take Gandalf only as far as Edoras, "for that is not very far off."

Even at the end, the Eagles come only as far as the Black Gate, and do not enter into Mordor proper (to retrieve Frodo and Sam) until after Sauron is safely defeated.
27. sunjah
I also wanted to say that I just love the nested stories in this chapter. It reminds me just a bit of 1001 Nights, where characters in stories tell stories in which characters...not to that extreme of course.
28. Lsana
My vision of Radagast and the other two wizards has always been that they stuck to the tasks that they were given, though those tasks weren't the same that Gandalf and Sauruman were. Radagast went because Yavanna wanted him to go, and presumably she wanted him to care for the animals and plants of Middle Earth and see that they were ready for the coming battle (I wonder if he ever made contact with the Ents...). The Blue Wizards were sent by Orome, who traveled more in the East, and probably had some task for them there.

I always thought of Boromir as similar to King Saul: a good man and a brave man, but the wrong man for the job at hand. Faramir was supposed to be the one to go to Rivendell; Denethor sent the wrong son. On my re-reads, I've always felt bad for him.

@21 alfoss1540,

Bilbo is a hobbit, remember. The fact that he thinks it is "drawing on noon" and time to stop to eat doesn't necessarily mean that it is. Did he and Frodo have time for Second Breakfast before they went to the council? What about Elevenses? I think Bilbo's "time for a break to eat" comment could come as early as about 10:30 or 11.
Agnes Kormendi
29. tapsi
"I wish someone at the Council of Elrond had asked the obvious question: why couldn't the Eagles bring Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom?"

This solution seems to have occurred to many a fan...

On a more serious note 1) I'm not certain that they had the means to call the eagles to Rivendell or that the eagles would have agreed to carry them.

2) They would have had to toss secrecy out the window, as giant eagles with elves, dwarves, humans and hobbits on their backs would have made every single spy of Sauron report back to Mordor immediately.

3) I know that the winged beasts the nazgul rode didn't cross the Anduin until much later, but that doesn't mean they weren't flying above Mordor or that there were no other monstrosities that were more than match for even such great and intelligent eagles.

4) Also, had Sauron noticed that there was a clutch of eagles heading for Mount Doom, and he would most likely have noticed that, he would have used his powers to stop / capture / kill them.

The Council agreed that they only had a chance if they could approach Mordor in secret, and even making one leg of the journey on eagle-back would have ruined that.

"I have always wondered what would have happened if Frodo had NOT found it in himself to volunteer, and then was unable to give up the Ring to someone else willing to take on the quest. Would they have sat on him and extracted it from him by force?"

A tricky question, as they already know that whoever took the Ring by force would be bound to it more than Frodo or even Bilbo are / were, and would definitely fail in his task. So if Frodo, who the came to possess the Ring in the most passive and innocent way of all its Bearers, couldn't give it up to someone willing to risk his life to defeat Sauron, that would prove that the Ring is simply too strong to be destroyed, Sauron has already won the game, and the elves would best make a run for the Havens right now.

Probably if he hesitated they would have kept on emphasizing how a) that was the only way to defeat Sauron b) a world ruled by Sauron would be worse than death to everyone he loved c) he could never hope to keep the Ring and oppose Sauron. I personally think this kind of psychological pressure isn't always that much better than physical aggression, but most would find it more acceptable, and to a certain degree this is what happens at the Council anyway.
30. debraji
Oh, I agree that using the Eagles probably wouldn't have worked, for the reasons you mention and possibly others. Maybe, as messengers, they are forbidden to get involved in ring-business. Perhaps they are unreliable.

They could easily have carried a hobbit or two, though. Different parties of Eagles could act as diversions from the party with the Ring. This still, of course, presents further logistical problems.

My only point is that I wish someone at the meeting brought up the idea, so others could shoot it down. I'd like to know why Tolkien himself counted the Eagles out. (Of course I'm very happy he did--there's not much story in Deus ex Machina Airlines making the regular Mordor run.)
31. Tony Zbaraschuk
The most important reason why the Eagles aren't asked to take the Ringbearer to Mount Doom:

Gwaihir the Ringlord.

Seriously, Eagles are proud birds. They'd succumb to the Ring in about the same time it would take them to drop a Hobbit from five thousand feet onto the sharp rocks, descend to feed, and slip the Ring onto their little pointy claws.
Robert Garza
32. FunBob
Kate @ 25 - I always thought it was entirely based on how much of the background of Tolkein's world you knew that influenced how much you read into his writing. Like Alice in Wonderland, which you can find new meaning in based upon your age when you read it, I always felt that you can find new meaning in the story based upon the amount of history you have with Middle Earth. For example, the tale of Beren and Luthien that Strider told to the hobbits when they had left Bree means little if you are reading LOTR for the first time. But once you've read the Silmarillion, and can tie Beren and Luthien's struggle to love each other in the shadow of Morgoth mirrors the Free People's struggle to live free in the shadow of Sauron, and can tie Elrond as the son of Elwing, who was the daughter of Dior, who was the son of Beren and Luthien. As Bilbo sings, the Road goes ever on and on, and the story always moves forward through heartache and sorrow to the dawn of a new day.

All that to say, Kate, keep up the good work. I wasn't trying to criticize you but it probably came out that way. I'll blame it on lack of sleep and ask for forgiveness. : )
Agnes Kormendi
33. tapsi
Re: Elrond & Co. not worrying about the Seven and the Nine preserving their powers, apparently they assume that the Ringwraiths are tied to Sauron so much that they couldn't possibly survive his fall (or would lose so much of their power that Glorfindel, Aragorn, and three hobbits with burning sticks could drive them off, this time for good).

The dwarf rings are a different matter, but their existence would only be a problem if Sauron redistributed those that weren't destroyed. I doubt that, since his original attempt to possess dwarf leaders with the rings (much as he did with the Ringwraiths) mostly failed, with entire ring-barer dynasties opposing him and his creatures. While I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Sauron corrupting bands of dwarves and rallying them around one of the Seven, I don't recall seeing dwarves fighting on his side, so probably he didn't have anyone he could "trust" with such power. Which means the Seven are as good as nonexistent at the time of the Council.

Tony Zbaraschuk@31

Oh, yes, definitely right! But at least Gwaihir the Ringlord would have stopped all that foul industrialization... it's quite a challenge to try and imagine what life would be like under a giant eagle Ringlord.


Re: bloodlines "diminishing", I always felt that it wasn't only bloodlines but Powers, heroes, monsters, the scale of events diminished, too... The whole history of Arda starts with the most powerful angelic orders warring, then hosts of elves returned from the Blesed Realm fight a losing war (and are, in the end, saved by the Valar), then a handful of these mighty elves, leading their "dark" brothers and aided by their mortal descendants and lesser ranking angelic beings beat Sauron, a foe much weaker than Morgoth... diminishing bloodlines are just one aspect of moving away from the mythological towards the everyday.

(Also, a number of mythologies have this concept of a Golden Age long past and humanity / the world becoming ever worse and less magical.)
Maggie M
34. Eswana
Re: Eagles:
I think various people have summed up the reasons they couldn't use the Eagles to air-mail the Ring to Mordor. Well summarized, team!

However- wow, I never thought of the Eagles succumbing to the Ring and becoming Bad News Eagles before. Yikes. That's pretty scary. I wonder if that was part of Tolkien's reasoning, or if he would have thought them above such trivial matters?

I love the Council chapter, but maybe that's because I know a chapter like that would *never* make it in a common fantasy book of nowadays. One of the documentaries on the Fellowship extended DVD talks about how editors of today would never let characters sit still for such a long info dump. Or make so many references that the audience and main characters (hobbits, especially) don't get (re: elven history, First Age stuff, etc).

The re-read is awesome, Kate. Really, thanks so much!
35. debraji
Tony @31: Gwaihir the Ringlord. I think you've found the perfect reason.

Okay, we're sticking with hobbits.
36. Tony Zbaraschuk
The very thinking "I'm above such trivial matters" is itself a weakness for the Ring to pry at. I don't recall any place where Tolkien specifically discussed the vulnerability of the Eagles to the Ring (though he did mention in a couple of the Letters reviewing a proposed screenplay his concern that the Eagles not be over-used as a dramatic mechanism), but it seems fairly obvious that a bird described in the Hobbit as "proud" would not be as resistant to the Ring as, say, a Halfling.
37. Erunyauve
I go to a con and come back to not one but two massive posts!
I always feel bad for Boromir here. He says with a faintly wounded tone that he didn't come to ask for help in the war, much less the friggin' Heir of Isildur, but for someone to interpret his dream. Then he's whapped upside the head with the Info Dump of Doom (quite literally), given an epic quest, and told that he might have a king again. This to a guy who I always read as being still slightly sore over the fact that the Stewards aren't king (I like in the Jackson film where Sean Bean petulantly mutters, "Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king." after Legolas yells at him).
Also: Total agreement with Tony @ 31. Gwihair the Ringlord would be bad, but also totally plausible.
I find parts of the story ridiculous, especially the part where Bilbo relates his story - he retells all the jokes! I am trying to imagine this. The scene: great solemness. We must talk about the Great Doom that awaits us all. And now, a short, stout old guy who will tell jokes about fish and eggs. I mean, really. I think this is why Elrond - rather rudely, now that I reread it - cuts Bilbo off before the description of the party and the passing of the Ring to Frodo ("So then, I saw Mrs. Bracegirdle and we talked about the harvest and how lovely it was. Then the fireworks went off and the Sackville-Bagginses grumbled and Sam mooned over Rosie Cotton. Oh, but I'm forgetting the beer!"). Elrond (1) didn't want to sit through it and (2) didn't want everyone else to sit through it.
One comment that strikes me also. I am young enough that I never read - nor have I ever seen a copy of - the edition of The Hobbit where Gollum freely gives Bilbo the Ring. I would be very surprised if anyone reading the forum has. I understand why Tolkien had to change it. It completely makes sense! But Bilbo's apology to Gloin at this point (i.e. for lying to him) hasn't aged well, and people who read the newer edition of TABA, Bilbo's apology seems odd. Yes, I know Bilbo lies to the dwarves in TABA, but the way the lie is presented is very half-assed. Tolkien does not describe the lie or anything that Bilbo says, just that Bilbo lied. So it seems very odd. I suppose to someone that had read both the old and new TABA (in that order), Bilbo's lying scene - and the apology - make total sense. But they don't to me.
On a related note, I don't think Gloin reacts to Bilbo' apology. For a people has honor-bound as the dwarves, I find this striking. Did Gloin already know/suspect? Is he too distracted to notice?
38. UnderHill
Maybe this is the reason why we see so little of the Wizard Radagast: he is completely occupied off-stage with keeping the eagles from developing an interest in the Ring!
39. birgit
People like Saruman underestimate Radagast because he is not interested in politics, but that is a humanoid-centered view. Why should the beasts he cares for be less important than elves and men? Gandalf, who cares for "unimportant" peoples like the hobbits, understands that better than the other Wise.
The comparison with Brown Ajah doesn't really fit because Radagast is no Serafelle who spends her time in the library (Serafelle seems more typical of Browns than Verin). It is more likely to find Saruman or Gandalf in a library than Radagast.
Radagast is more like the Earth-Mage Eilin in Maggie Furey's Aurian series, who lives alone in her valley with her plants and animals.
Like Treebeard (and maybe Bombadil), Radagast is one of Tolkien's "ecologists".

While I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Sauron corrupting bands of dwarves and rallying them around one of the Seven, I don't recall seeing dwarves fighting on his side, so probably he didn't have anyone he could "trust" with such power.

Aule deliberately created the Dwarves as uncorruptible by evil. That is why the only thing Sauron can do to them with their rings is make them greedy.
Agnes Kormendi
40. tapsi
"Aule deliberately created the Dwarves as uncorruptible by evil. That is why the only thing Sauron can do to them with their rings is make them greedy."

I doubt Aule could create anything incorruptible when even the Valar were created corruptible. Greed is a great evil, probably the greatest of all evils... and they're also very, very proud. These are both deadly sins for a reason. The history of the First Age and Thorin's behaviour just before the battle of the Five Armies suggests that dwarves are capable of very dark things.

Also, if dwarves had been created incorruptible, the Council wouldn't have to worry about Frodo volunteering for the task or not, they'd simply give Gimli the Ring, who, as a dwarf, couldn't be corrupted by it, and is more hardy and experienced than a hobbit could ever hope to be.

But I agree that dwarves aren't very likely to serve some dark overlord, being too proud and stubborn to be either cowed or manipulated.
Michael Ikeda
41. mikeda

It is somewhat interesting, though, that the possibility of giving the One Ring to Gimli doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone at the Council

After all, while the bearers of the Seven Rings were certainly affected by them, they were immune to the worst of the effects of bearing a Ring of Power.

(Of course immunity to the worst effects of the Seven isn't the same as immunity against the One Ring. And even if it was, that doesn't mean that Gimli would have been any more able than Frodo to actually toss the One Ring into Mt. Doom by the time he got it there.)
Kate Nepveu
42. katenepveu
Morning, all.

Love all the discussion of the Eagles, particularly the suggestion that the Ring wouldn't be safe with them--of course it would be an issue, how humanoid-centric of me not to realize!

Lsana @ #28, Erunyauve @ #37, I also feel bad for Boromir, who means so well and yet, and yet.

tapsi @ #29, good point about the ultimate futility of taking the Ring by physical force, and yes, there is definitely psychological force on Frodo being brought to bear at the Council, though I don't know if any of the characters (or the author?) would recognize it as such.

And @ #33--well, yes, diminishing bloodlines is one way of getting from the mythological to the everyday, I just wish it wasn't the way that Tolkien chose to employ.

Which reminds me that this is one of the aspects of _LotR_ that has become an unexamined trope of the fantasy genre, that things were once powerful and magical and wonderful, but the magic has been slowly diminishing in the world. Tolkien has a reason for it, this idea that Middle-earth was our actual history, but other writers often don't now, and it irks me as a standalone assumption about life.

FunBob @ #32, no worries, I didn't take it as a criticism, but thank you for the concern and the kind words.

Eswana @ #34, yeah, genre conventions have gotten away from approving of big long info-dumps, and yet when people do them _well_, then I at least don't mind. But then, you can do almost anything as long as you write well. And thanks!

Erunyauve @ #37, re: Bilbo's tale: good catch on Elrond cutting him off; that was one of the things I also noted but cut for length, though I read it as a bit smoother than you. And now that you mention it, it is rather hard to imagine Bilbo recounting the riddles . . . As for Bilbo's lie, it is mentioned in the Prologue (the "Of the Finding of the Ring" section). As for Gloin not reacting, I put that down to just the structure of the narrative, which doesn't include any reactions to the hobbits' tales at all, in that brief little few-paragraph summary of their telling.

birgit @ #39, I don't think Aule created the Dwarves uncorruptible by evil, because I don't think that such a thing is possible in Tolkien's cosmology (and also the relevant section of _The Sillmarillion_ talks about endurance and hardiness but not uncorruptibility). Really hard to, sure, but not immune.

(Or, what tapsi said.)

mikeda @ #41, yes, so exactly what *did* Elrond hear that made him think that the task was appointed for Frodo? Presumably, that he'd come this far and done so well, and yet couldn't one argue that the journey so far had tested him enough and someone else should start fresh?
43. Jon Meltzer
I think we can get an idea of what Gimli would have done with the Ring. Rings of Power increase dwarven greed, and both Thror and Thrain went off, near alone, on suicidal missions to get their treasure back - Thror to Moria, Thrain to Erebor. At least Thror had the sense to not take his ring with him.

Gimli with the Ring probably would have tried to reconquer Moria, and not let a mere Balrog stop him.
Kate Nepveu
44. katenepveu
Jon Meltzer, sound pretty plausible to me.

* * *

Topic change.

I got sidetracked by the factual error in Gandalf's comment to Saruman about white light. What about the next part: "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

This vexed my scientist husband, who saw it as a rejection of the scientific worldview.

I don't read it that broadly, more as a comment on wasteful and thoughtless destruction than scientific investigation. I don't think that particle accelerators were around when Tolkien wrote, which is the first thing that comes to my mind when breaking-for-investigation comes up; though it would be interesting to know what Tolkien thought of anatomical dissection of animals, which I believe often requires the killing of the animal before its natural death, in order to study the animal at all stages of development?

Anyway. What do you all think?
45. Richard the Mauve

Scientist (physicist) and Christian (Orthodox) here, so let me nail both my colours to the mast. I also seem to have become addicted to your re-read, Kate. :)

I see Gandalf castigating Saruman not for scientific enquiry along the lines of "I wonder what happens if I press this button", but rather for smashing something and then going "Ooooo! Shiny pretty colors!". I don't believe that Tolkien was anti-science, or even anti-progress. What did upset him deeply was what he perceived to be blind progress, which appears to be Saruman's failing (or one of them). We get an omniscient viewpoint later on, that Saruman's works are "a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery" of Sauron's works. That's not scientific enquiry, that's plagiarism.

Gandalf is also showing some frustration: both he and Saruman already know, as a result of millennia of experience both direct and indirect, that Sauron is really not a very nice guy at all; it's not as if they are just getting to grips with an unknown force. Sauron is baaaaad. And then Saruman comes along, with full knowledge of all this, and says in essence, "well, he's not really that bad, you know."

(aside to DG Lewis@8: I think that "I liked white better" is one of my favourite scenes in the story.)

I found your husband's comment, "It's perfectly possible to enjoy the plot and the world without dwelling on the misguided aspects of Middle Earth" to be very helpful. I think it is possible to see aspects of Tolkien's Roman Catholic worldview running through LotR, and even more so in his other Middle-Earth writings. Roman Catholicism, indeed much of Western Christianity, has a couple of fundamental doctrinal differences when compared with Orthodox Christianity, particularly concerning the notion of sin and especially Original Sin. This difference does sometimes sneak up on me at unawares, and drag me out of Middle-Earth.

When I am reading books, authored by Tolkien or otherwise, I really do need to take a breather sometimes and separate the writer from the written work. It's far too easy to conflate the two.
Michael Ikeda
46. mikeda

I don't think it was any one specific thing that Elrond heard. More likely the various information taken together led him to the conclusion that Frodo was "meant" to have the Ring then, and therefore was "meant" to try to bring it to Mt. Doom.

Elves do tend to be big believers in destiny.
Agnes Kormendi
47. tapsi
I think Tolkien had his qualms about science put to ill use (but in my opinion anyone who fought in WWI had some excuse for that) and he obviously didn't like the industrialisation of the English countryside, which would have been impossible without prior scientific developments. Also, he was researching and teaching about a world dead for the better part of a millennium, so his profession put him more in touch with the past than with the present or the future.

However, he always seemed to me more opposed to mindless applications of science than to science itself. I always took this sentence to refer to things like kids plucking out the legs of insects, experiments that are little more than an excuse for destruction. Breaking things before you even have a hypothesis on how to put them back together. Intervening and causing harm to obtain data that a longer, more cautious observation could uncover. Playing God.

Also, there's a nostalgia for the golden age, the lost innocence, a world where you believe the average hobbit lifestyle is possible without having industrial areas as "defiled" as the Shire under Saruman.

But of course Gandalf doesn't add all this, and
I do see how this quote is problematic in its present form.
48. Elaine T
I always feel bad for Boromir here. He says with a faintly wounded tone that he didn't come to ask for help in the war, much less the friggin' Heir of Isildur, but for someone to interpret his dream. Then he's whapped upside the head with the Info Dump of Doom (quite literally), given an epic quest, and told that he might have a king again. This to a guy who I always read as being still slightly sore over the fact that the Stewards aren't king

We know he is sore about the Stewards not being kings, that comes up in the Appendices somewhere.

But you know, what he says about the dream is that it first came on the eve of the 'sudden assualt' when the Nazgul swept Gondor's forces away, 'we are hard beset', 'still we fight on' 'in this evil hour I have come.." Yeah, then he adds "I have not come to seek allies in war" but after describing the dream OTOH "Therefore, seeing how desperate was our need..."

His speech is full of war, and foreboding and the need for help in Gondor's struggle. Elrond's might may be known to be in wisdom, but if Boromir had a brain and used it, he must have been hoping for some token - the Sword? Isildur's Bane? - that would be the key point and a way to turn the tide of the war Gondor faces. And what use is a sword except in war? He's working very hard to dodge the implications of the dream, the dream's timing, the situation of Gondor and Mordor and generally the whole state of affairs.
49. Graydon
Radagast is a servant of Yavana; of course he's going to be more concerned with birds and beasts and the green growing things than with men.

Remember all the comments about Sauron destroying and despoiling the earth? Radagast was sent because of that. It's presumably not his job to arrange for Sauron's defeat in a direct way, or at least he understands it that way.

Gandalf knows all this; he's not going to start explaining it, and without explaining it talking about Radagast to people who are not wizards is going to be rather tricky. This makes what he says about Radagast a bit stilted.

Messages to the eagles, yes, but don't forget what the Eagles of the Misty Mountains _are_; "descendants of old Thorondor, whose wings spanned thirty fathoms and who built his eyries in the Encircling Mountains when all the world was young". They're not necessarily "Eagles of the Lords of the West", Manwe's servants, in the same sense that Thorondor was, but they're certainly on that side, and perhaps still in that employ.

Which in part means they have the same type of restrictions on them that Gandalf does; he can act, but he is to act to inspire, teach, and (maybe) organize, not to lead or take power or ultimate responsibility. Gandalf lead the fellowship, but the fellowship existed to help Frodo; Gandalf could not have taken the Ring to the Fire himself. It's a moral universe in a fundamental way that just isn't factual for the world we actually have. (Never mind the "what happens when the Frodo who hasn't had the growth experiences involved in walking to Mordor gets to Mordor with the Ring?" take, which points out, correctly in my view, that you Can't Game the Ring. It's a moral conflict and has to be approached that way.)

I don't think Gandalf's statement about white is meant to apply literally to light; I think it's meant to apply more to the process of learning. (If you're willing to smash something to satisfy your curiosity, you're heavily into power-over territory. Smashing something to fulfill some better purpose, like making a road cut, is not the same thing.)

It's also *being said to another angel*. They both of them have access, even as fully embodied Istari, to perceptions quite beyond mortal or elvish ken; they can find out a very great deal indeed just by, effectively, thinking about something. For Sauraman to go all "many-coloured", he's succumbed to _impatience_ and _haste_ in his desire for knowledge. Which in an immortal divine being is pretty clear evidence of losing track of what's actually important. (I want to say "losing the plot", with the navigational and situational implications, not the literary ones. :)

The Numenoreans aren't _genetically_ superior. They've got the same genes everyone else does, and there are repeated indications in the text that a concern for bloodline purity is a bad thing, and damaging to the Numenoreans. (The party of Castimir the Usurper in the Kin-strife, for example, is purely in the wrong.) They were given a bunch of gifts by the Valar as rewards, these were tied to the existence of Numenor, and those have faded over the Third Age, to end with that Age's end. The persistence is very similar to the Third Age persistence of the High Elves; the story isn't over.

This doesn't come across all that well, because the language for genes and genetics wasn't there, and certainly wouldn't have been there in the frame, so we get things like "by some chance the blood of Numenor runs nearly true in him", but it's a question of extra-physical gifts or it wouldn't _fade_. (Rather like Aragorn's descent from Luthien still means something stupidly many generations later.)

Aragorn and Boromir's conversation follows a heroic boasting convention; think Beowulf and the coast-watcher. Aragorn is refusing to boast about his own accomplishments, and Boromir is boasting about his; this is a hierarchy-establishing exchange, and Boromir comes out of it half-accepting Aragorn's claim to higher status.

As a bunch of folks pointed out during the movie discussions, Frodo wrote the account of these events, and he didn't like Boromir at all. Being Frodo, he tried to be fair, but Boromir doesn't come across as well as he might have in the hands of a chronicler with less of a personal grievance.

There's also the problem that there's a huge wodge of this stuff Boromir does not get; he's not the lore-master in the family, the blood of Numenor does not run nearly true in him, and the various old stories were just that. That's why Faramir should have gone; he's *not* limited to being one the hero-children of the northern world, prone to making disastrous decisions out of pride.

The other rings, the sixteen rings that were given by Sauron to Dwarves and Men, were never particularly meant for that; they were practice pieces. (Note that when Gandalf is talking about figuring out which ring Bilbo had, he considers even the minor-ring, pre-great ring of power practice pieces dangerous.) Only the One and the three rings of the Elves are full-on intended realizations of design. Celebrimbor wanted to bind the joint power of the elves as a people into being able to heal the hurts of Middle-Earth. (The Elessar, the big green gem in the eagle broach Arwen leaves in Lorien for Aragorn, and the Silmaril of Luthien have similar effects.) Think of the Elf-rings as concentrators for a particular kind of holiness, and the other Rings of Power as just plain moral concentrators. Because the knowledge is from Sauron, it's tainted, even in the case of the Elf-rings; they work against the design of Eru. In the specific case of the Elf-rings, Celebrimbor made them without direct taint, and they're being used with great wisdom, so the net moral result is good. Mostly because their use is very limited in physical scope, and solely to areas of unquestioned proper responsibility. It would be a very different thing if Lorien wasn't there to oppose Dol Guldur or Rivendell wasn't open to dwarves and hobbits needing help and advice, too. But it does say somewhere that the right thing for the elves to have done would have been to *destroy* all the rings of power as soon as they learned that Sauron had made the One Ring, but they "found not the strength". It was a mistake to make even the Elf-rings.

The dwarf-rings create a lust for gold and the dragon-sickness because that's about the only way you can get a dwarf to go bad via external influence; Aule made them to be tough and resist domination, and they *are* tough and resist domination, so trying to concentrate their collective bad qualities has limited use. This is very much not being "immune to evil"; dwarves have served Sauron.

("On that day, every living thing was divided, save the elves only, and they fought for Gil-galad".)

The Nine Rings given to men make them go bad through a lust for power and unclean knowledge; they function as concentrators of what is bad in mankind. Since men have the gift of escaping fate, not of being particularly resistant to domination, this worked *very well*. (Hobbits are men, cosmologically; consider the Shire as a mass escape from the general fate of the Third Age...)

Keep in mind, too, that forging the One Ring took Sauron something like fifty years. Whatever goes into a Ring of Power the metal is obviously not the hard part. They're not primarily material.

Elrond, like other royal Eldar not in a state of rebellion against the Valar,
can get messages directly from Valinor. It's just possible that a little voice told him Frodo is the appropriate Ring-bearer. (Note that Gandalf's remark about the clear glass can be taken to indicate that Gandalf concluded this long before the council.)

He's also Wise, which means he has some ability to see the future, all of his own. It's possible that also extends to being able to know what's morally correct behavior.
50. worm959
Boromir is a tragic figure. Writing the Council scene Tolkien has to describe his nobility carefully--as lower than Aragorn, Elrond, or Galdalf. Boromir gets shortchanged being introduced here, he is a Prince of Gondor and one of the greatest men in Middle Earth.

And his desperation is real. He comes from Gondor under the falling hammer, a message from Hungary in the Spring of 1956 as the Russian tanks roll in. He is G'Kar making the plea that the Centauri fleet is attacking the Narn homeworld and without aid it will soon fall. Gondor fights without hope of winning, and seeks allies even though it believes all possible allies are too weak to win the fight but will only help Gondor hold out longer.
51. Tony Zbaraschuk
Actually, all the Rings of Power are a bad idea, even the Three, ultimately. (Remember that for Tolkien "power" is always a dreadful word.)

The Rings are made to hold back Time, to prevent change at all. And the ultimate result of this is Denethor in Rath Dinen: if I cannot have things as they were in the days of my fathers, I will have nothing. The Music of the Ainur must continue to unfold; Time must continue forward, and change is the appointed mode of being. Trying to stop this, though beautiful and productive of many good things, is not in itself a good, and ultimately harmful. (Consider how much more powerful Sauron could become using the One and the Nine as force multipliers.)
52. ChrisB
Has anyone pointed out what a spectacularly bad idea it was to make the One Ring at all? At the end of The Return of the King Sauron is on the verge of total victory despite not having had the use of the ring at all in the campaign, and only the ring being thrown into the fires of Doom stopped him. He was doing perfectly well at conquering Middle-Earth without anything other than an orc extruder and a talent for organisation. All he did in making the ring was create a needless vulnerability. Though I suppose you could say the same about America and the A-bomb.
53. legionseagle
ChrisB@52: The Evil Overlord List has a great deal to say which reinforces your very valid point, and as well as the more obvious examples number 61 seems peculiarly apposite:
"If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them."(not that Sauron probably had any advisors, another flaw in his planning, see point 12: "One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.")

Graydon@49: I'm not quite sure what you mean by saying that "the language for genes and genetics wasn't there, and certainly wouldn't have been there in the frame". It may be notorious that Oxford dons don't pay a great deal of attention to what's going on in that Other Place in the East but by the time LOTR was published Watson and Crick had already published "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid", and even if (as I accept) LOTR was substantially complete long before its publication date, it was being written and largely conceived during the most intense period of speculation concerning genetics and their relationship with destiny. The disturbing thing if you read a lot of early 20th century social history is that pre- and immediatey post- WWI eugenic theory wasn't considered cranky; it was pretty mainstream.

In using, therefore, the idea of "pure blood" to distinguish Aragorn from other Men (and the men of Gondor, en masse, from the men of Rohan, and the men of Dol Amroth from the other Gondorians) Tolkien must have been aware that it was a term to which some considerable baggage attached, even if perhaps he believed that on some level by using it in Middle Earth where the history that had given it that baggage had yet to occur (and might never occur because of the restoration of the King and the defeat of Sauron) he was reclaiming the term.

Incidentally, in the context of the wider debate about science, I was trying to think of whether the Elves or the Numenoreans could have developed the concept of Mendelian factors or genetic diversification for themselves, and was suddenly struck with the realisation that one of the side effects of how the Three Rings work is that they actually retard evolution.

So if anyone did any work on genetics in Middle-Earth, I imagine the most likely candidate would have been Tobold Hornblower would have been the most likely candidate, and his experimental records are probably buried in accounts of the Proceedings of the Longbottom Leaf-Growers Association .
Agnes Kormendi
54. tapsi
ChrisB @ 52

Taking out my copy of the Silmarillion it seems to me now that Sauron made the One Ring to be able to capture and enslave the Elves and their considerable power.

"Now the Elves made many rings, but secretly Sauron made One Ring to rule all the others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only so long as it too should last. And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency (...) And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by the means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them. (...) But the Elves fled from him, and three of their rings they saved, and bore them away, and hid them."

Clearly, he thought that enslaving all the Elven lords (if he got lucky, catching even his chief adversaries, Gil-galad and Elrond, with a pretty ring on their fingers) was worth the risk of putting much of his power into an object that he carried on his person.

Also, though he is about to overrun all of Middle-Earth without the Ring by the end of the Third Age, when the rings were made in the first half of the Second Age, the power balance was remarkably different. Elrond, Galadriel and Círdan weren't the only ancient Elven leaders; Gil-galad and Celebrimor were powerful kings; they were allied with the dwarves of Moria, at the height of their culture; and there was the threat of Numenor whose might he couldn't hope to defeat in open battle.

(And let's not forget that this tool is used in many tales worldwide; villains have put their power/ soul / life force in receptacles then hid and / or guarded them since the dawn of time. In the end they always fail, but they usually have many a year of gleeful mass destruction before that.)

legionseagle @ 53

The fact that Watson and Crick have published their article does not mean that it was a widely known theory accessible to everyone outside their field of expertise.

I would hazard that the better half of the major scientific discoveries of the last 20-60 years are beyond me and there's a fair chance I haven't even heard about them... and that probably means I'm overly optimistic. Yes, I know about DNA, I know about plate tectonics, chaos theory (I even know about Gödel's theory! Not very common in my line of work) but that's about all. I would be a little desperate if people told me off for not knowing the universe has the shape of an inflated octahedron and why it is so, even though that theory was published years ago :)
Andrew Mason
55. AnotherAndrew
I think Watson and Crick are a bit tangential here, actually. They didn't discover the concept of the gene - that had been around since the beginning of the 20th century, building on Mendel's work in the mid 19th century. They discovered (roughly) the physical structure which underlies the gene. As legionseagle says, eugenics was well developed long before W and C.

I took it, though, that when Graydon said 'the language for genes and genetics wasn't there' he didn't mean 'in Tolkien's time' but 'in ancient Middle Earth'. I think this is right; 'the blood runs true' doesn't, in context, refer to anything that might be achieved by breeding. (And does Tolkien ever refer to pure blood? That, I would have thought, would have different and rather more definite connotations than 'true'. So far as I can see, the bloodline of the Numenoreans isn't diminishing because it is being mixed - Dunedain still tend to marry Dunedain - it's diminishing becuase we are moving further from the original giving of the gifts which make it special.)
56. DG Lewis
I was going to say something about the dwarves being made by Aule as tough and hardy, not uncorruptible, and that there is a line (I think in the Appendices or somewhere in Silmarillion) that says something to the effect that "few dwarves fought for either side" in the war of the Last Alliance, but I see that Graydon has already covered that ground.

Again, I want to say how much I enjoy all the comments that everyone brings to this discussion. Compliments to everyone!
57. Erunyauve
AnotherAndrew @ 55:
Putting on my Stem Cell Biologist hat here:
There actually is discussion of Numenorian traits being transmitted genetically: if you read the appendices where it discusses the kings of Gondor, remember the king who married a woman who wasn't of Numenorian descent? At the time, some Gondorians protested that this was a bad idea because this would mean a "diminishing" of Dunedian blood. This, of course, is eugenics and flat-out bigotry. However. The later kings had shorter life-spans. Yes, some of this is the separation (in years) from the grace of Numenor and the blessings of the Valar, but some of it can be (and is) attributed to the mingling with non-Numenorians. If long life span is something that is attributed to being Dunedian (due to the elf blood), then it does in fact make some sort of sense that there is a strict correlation between % Numenorian and life span. Of course, genetic drift happens and inbreeding (the Dunedain must be spectacularly inbred by the end of the Third Age) has a habit of affecting genetic drift.
That said.
Tolkien does condemn the perpetrators of the Kin-Strife, because they were bigots. Tolkien had very little tolerance for bigots in general (read his response to the letter sent to him by the Nazis! hilarity!) and he has Castimir et al come to a nasty end because he wants them to.
Putting on Geek hat now:
I agree that in many ways Boromir is not the right person for the job. Boromir is not a bad person - quite the contrary - but he's wasted with the Fellowship. He should be off defending Minas Tirith, where he is very much needed, and Faramir should be with the Fellowship. That said, I'm not sure how well Faramir would have done being in close proximity to the Ring. It is one thing to reject it if you are around it for an hour or so, it is another thing to reject it when you are with it for months. Faramir probably wouldn't be taken by it as quickly as Boromir was, but it is important to remember that, given long enough, every single person in the world would fall to the Ring. This says nothing about your being a "bad" person - it is simply a fact.
58. BlacksmithButNotEmo
Since we're at the section where the Rings are infodumped...I'd always wondered about the Seven Rings as well; we got very little about them, other than one was "taken from Thror in torment". If the Nine so thoroughly corrupted the powerful Kings of Men that received them, and turned them into such fearful servants...

...what then could have been created from a corrupted holder of one of the Seven? A massive Black Uber Dwarf? The possibilities...the walls of Minas Tirith would be as a child's blocks...
Kate Nepveu
59. katenepveu
Richard the Mauve @ #45: if you wouldn't mind talking about the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity that come up in _LotR_ for you, I'd be fascinated to read it.

Graydon @ #49, good point about the Eagles' heritage as messengers of Manwe.

As for both whether Gandalf is talking literally about light, and whether the narrative is talking literally about bloodlines--well, maybe, okay, that's plausible. But Gandalf and Saruman still say what they do, and Elrond still says "the blood of Numenoreans became mingled with that of lesser men," and at some point the author has to be aware of what information his readers might plausibly bring to the text. At this point, the reader cannot know Gandalf and Saruman's origins, or the story of Numenor. And what the text says, is factually-incorrect statements about light and an emphasis on purity of blood/ancestry/descent.

I also can't agree that Boromor comes off badly because Frodo wrote the book. As a preliminary matter, most of the Council of Elrond is told from a pretty exterior POV. But besides that, I have never seen _LotR_ as written by unreliable narrators--and yes, I know, this is a difference of opinion about the usefulness/thoroughness of the frame story--but that aside, bringing in an unreliable narrator for something as subtle as slanting the portrayal of Boromir would be a really big break with the entire . . . tone? . . . the deliberate portrayal of the book as a history of the War of the Ring, written from the perspective that such a thing as an authoritative history was _possible_.

So I don't buy it.

Tony Zbaraschuk @ #51, interesting comparison between the Three and Denethor. I'll have to think about that.

Erunyauve @ #57: in other words, if Faramir went with the Fellowship, would it still have broken? I am not at all sure what I think of that, but what a fun thing to ponder.
60. legionseagle

You observed that "I took it, though, that when Graydon said 'the language for genes and genetics wasn't there' he didn't mean 'in Tolkien's time' but 'in ancient Middle Earth'."

Without a wellspring of "pure" mythology to draw on, anything which exists in ancient Middle Earth was put there by Tolkien. It exists only because he put it there. And in that context it is absolutely clear that concepts of genetics do exist in Middle Earth - after all, people don't fight a peculiarly bloody civil war because their king has married a woman from another tribe and "it was a thing unheard of before that the heir of the crown, or any son of the King, should wed one of lesser or alien race" if they don't have some fairly clear-cut concepts of genetic purity, and rather nasty ones to boot. Now, while Tolkien condemns the civil war he does not say outright that the people fighting on that basis were wrong in their beliefs, simply in their actions.
61. Erunyauve
katenepveu @59:
It is distinctly possible the Fellowship would have broken if Faramir had been there. It is important to remember that just because Boromir was the soldier whose sense of Duty (with a capital D) defined him does not mean that (1) Faramir was not also a soldier (he IS!) or that (2) Faramir did not also feel great duty towards Gondor. The brothers feel their duty differently and define it differently, but they both are very loyal. The idea that there is possible to assemble 9 people - any 9 people - and not have the Fellowship eventually fall is absurd. All that would changes is when and the specific circumstances. If it wasn't Boromir that fell first, it would have been someone else (Gimli is my guess). After all:
-Sam resists the Ring because (1) the Ring's major attempt on him is heavy-handed and (2) his loyalty to Frodo is the foundation of his character and Sam knows that to keep the Ring would mean betraying Frodo. Sam will not do this.
-Frodo falls to the Ring.
-Smeagol was driven by the Ring to murder his best friend (Deagol) after seeing the Ring once, for 5 minutes.
I could go on.
62. legionseagle
Kate@59 I have to say I derived the idea of reclaiming the idea of blood running true from Tolkien's letter to his son in 1941: "I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble, northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light. Nowhere, incidentally, was it nobler than in England, nor ever more early sanctified and Christianized."

That really is one of those passages that I try to read in various different ways and find problematic no matter which way up the words fall this time. Very Oxford, of course. You'd have thought that by 1941 you'd have a few more things to criticise Hitler for than his educational disadvantages, but no.
63. Erunyauve
legionseagle @ 62:
In Tolkien's defense, in '41 (especially early '41), Hitler hadn't yet done the spectacular things that got him hated, or these things weren't public knowledge yet. Also, for an intellectual, seeing your life's work perverted is a deeply shocking thing and is horrid to see. You also must take into account the context of this letter to Christopher. I don't have the full letter (and perhaps the letters that preceded it in the correspondence) in front of me, but I would guess that preceding this statement is a general discussion of Tolkein's views of Nordic mythology and language, et cetera, then a brief reference to the War (Christopher, if I remember correctly, was in the RAF), then that statement.
Also, in '38 came that hilarious exchange with his German publishers in which he roundly mocked the Nazi views on race and anti-Semitism. Tolkien was no fan of the Nazis.
64. Richard the Mauve
kate@59: Pressure of work means that I'm not keeping up with reading the book myself (although I have been leafing through my copy of LotR with great delight, when I've been intrigued by something brought up in these discussions), but I am keeping up with these discussions, and if anything comes up where I feel that an Orthie viewpoint would be helpful, I'll be glad to chime in. Bear in mind that everything I say is unreliable.

I was going to write something about the difference between Western Christianity's "Original Sin" and Orthodox (sometimes called Eastern) Christianity's "Ancestral Sin", but it got far too long and involved. Maybe something will come up later where I can explain it at length - if I talk about it here, it will definitely bore everyone to tears.

legionseagle@62: I think that context is important. I'm sure that JRRT shared in the general disgust that most people felt for Nazism in general and Hitler in particular. However, in the letters to his son, JRRT was writing privately to someone who shared his passion for the mythology of Northern Europe - and who almost certainly shared his father's grief at the way that mythology was being used for such an evil purpose. Speaking of passions, I know that I have at least one which I blow out of all proportion to more obviously pressing matters that may surround me (or at least, that's what any sane person would think). But I do agree: it is very hard to read that particular extract without at least part of one's mind wondering if the good Professor inhabited the same world as the rest of us.
65. Tony Zbaraschuk
My guess is that if Faramir instead of Boromir shows up at the Council of Elrond, then things probably go much the same up till the Fellowship reaches Rauros. At that point, Faramir insists on going with Frodo to guide him through Ithilien, which he knows well, and that Aragorn (as Aragorn had intended) go to Minas Tirith. The Fellowship doesn't spend all that time arguing, so they maybe even divide nicely and get out of Rauros before the orcs attack. Aragorn still goes through Rohan, probably meeting Gandalf there, but he's much less heart-stricken over the fate of Frodo.

Frodo's own trip becomes much easier, since Faramir can get him as far as the Morgul Vale without the Slinker/Stinker stuff (probably via boat down the Anduin past Cair Andros). Getting into Mordor is interesting, but I'm sure Faramir can figure a way.
66. Mike Molloy
Elrond says at the start, "That is the doom that we must deem," which is a rare clunker of a sentence to my ear.

When I read this in my mind's ear I always hear Bon Scott yelling from off-stage, and they're deemed dirt cheap!.
Andrew Foss
67. alfoss1540
Remember also that Faramir sees Frodo's task as something he cannot get in the way of - despite explicit orders to stop him. It is well noted throughout the text that Faramir is of a different mind than Boromir.

At the breaking of the Fellowship, there is no one who can see a way through the Eastern side of the Anduin, especially Boromir, whose only thought was of taking the road straight South to Minas Tirith. Faramir would have always thought of the East, trusting in his knowlege of Ithilian.
68. Will Belegon
I'm glad the discussion turned to the Eagles at one point. I'm always annoyed by this idea that they could have simply gone on a dive-bombing run. But I must admit, I had not thought about their pride from that perspective before. I had thought more about the idea that they are a "people" apart and take very little interest in the doings of non-winged folk.

I also had noticed that they do not enter the "air-space" above Mordor prior to Sauron's defeat. I suspect they have good reason for that. But Tolkien never got around to telling that story.

As for Bilbo, I sometimes am amused by how easy it is to overlook the immense strength he showed. We are talking about an individual who used the Ring extensively and possessed it for more than 50 years. Yet he gave it up willingly and its hold on him is remarkably light.

Given this, is it any wonder he is respected enough to be allowed a bit of rambling in his old age?
69. legionseagle
Kate: picking up both on your initial disquiet (which I share) about "“If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so" and your comment further down about things which Tolkien wove into Middle Earth being subsequently picked up as unexamined tropes of the fantasy genre, I suspect part of the issue is that Tolkien doesn't trumpet the contradictions to expressed views of hero characters in a way that is all that easy to pick up on, but they are there, nonetheless. For example, even when Aragorn is explaining why simple people need to be keep out of harm's way for their own good, there's Sam under the table (or wherever) flapping his ears like mad. And Gandalf, if Bilbo's reminiscences about his parents and grandparents days in the Shire are accurate, has spent a good deal of time making sure that hobbits, male or female, with a taste for adventure get to indulge it - and Bilbo is again living proof of the value of that strategy. But it isn't highlighted so gets lost.
Terry Lago
70. dulac3
ChrisB @52: Certainly Sauron put all his eggs in one basket when he created the Ring, an artifact that housed a significant portion of his power and thus opened himself to a mighty fall...but it also, I believe, had the effect of magnifying his power when he wore the Ring. As has also been mentioned, it additionally had the advantage of giving him access to the minds of his greatest and most powerful foes, the Elven lords. A Maia like Sauron, the lieutenant of Morgoth and likely the single most powerful being remaining this side of Aman, wasn't likely to think that anyone would be able to take the Ring from him, so I imagine he thought the risk well worth it. Turns out he was wrong...pride ever goeth before a fall.

As to Tolkien's criticisms of Hitler's misuse of the Nordic legend: this certainly wasn't simply a case of Tolkien despising Hitler's "educational disadvantages"...he was dismayed to see the core of what he had devoted his professional life to being misused by Hitler to promote evil doctrines and tarnish what he felt to be an ultimately good expression of human myth and poetry in the eyes of the world. Certainly Hitler did much worse, but is it surprising to see Tolkien so dismayed over the corruption of something he held so dear?

As to the implied racism in Tolkien: I can't say it's not there, but I don't think it's as cut and dried as some people (I'm looking in your corner Mieville and Moorcock) would have us believe. Race in Tolkien's mythology seems to have a strangely ambiguous place. For every reference to the "pure bloodline of Numenor" we have examples of those people who posses such blood doing horrible things and suffering the consequences for it...they are never painted as supermen whose every action is justified by their blood. They are rather people who ought to know better because of the advantages of their status, but who all too often fail to live up to this and end up falling while those of "lesser stature" prove their worth by weathering the storm. For every Aragorn who exemplifies the best of the Numenorians (due in large part to his humility) you have a Denethor whose native gifts are subverted by his own pride. More often than not those in Tolkien's world who have the greatest natural gifts (the Noldor, the Numenorians, even many of the Maiar) end up proving themselves the worst individuals. We may feel squeegy by some of his comments about bloodlines and such, but when you actually look at the specific examples he provides (Feanor, Ar-Pharazon, the Black Numenoreans, Denethor) you see that simply "having the right blood" isn't enough to justify you, it simply makes your fall all the worse if you don't live up to your potential.
71. JWezy
Regarding the failure of the three - Sauron advised the Elves on the creation of the rings, even though he did not participate in their creation. Since he did not pariticipate in their creation, he could not use the One to dominate them directly, but he was able to put in the equivalent of a "trap door", providing some linkage between the One and the Three.

There is some discussion of the fact that the bearers of the Three were aware of the fact when the One was forged, and were forced to take some action as a result, but I don't recall any specific commentary on whether this placed any limitations on the use of the Three in the interim.

I wonder if Sauron was likewise aware of the Three and what was done with them while he wore the One?
Soon Lee
72. SoonLee
My reading of it is that yes, Sauron would have been aware of the Three when wearing the One Ring. It was created to rule them all & to bind them after all. In "The Mirror of Galadriel", she says to Frodo, ""For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy". Later, Frodo asks why he cannot see & hear the thoughts of other ringwearers when he wears the One Ring, Galadriel responds that the powers the ring confers depends on the wearer's own strength.

If you accept "The Silmarillion" to be canonical, it states explicitly, "And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them." So the One Ring is basically a piece keylogging trojan uber-malware, which is why I like the hacker analogy.

Re:"...the literal genetic superiority of the Numenoreans..."
For me, it just makes explicit the implied superiority of royal blood & nobility. If I couldn't get past that, then I wouldn't be able to read all sorts of stories in a feudal/ medieval setting.

Obligatory Python: "Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how'd you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society."
Peter Schmidt
73. PHSchmidt
dulac3 @70

Thank you for your comments on living up to one's potential, hereditary or otherwise.

I had been wanting to make a similar point about the elves - their own greed, blasphemous oaths, strife and betrayals stained all elves in Middle Earth to a greater or lesser degree. I have come to think that a part of the reason they didn't mingle eagerly with other peoples was their own shame at their shortcomings. How keenly they must have felt them, with thousands of years to reflect. Wise and proud, yet flawed and kin-slayers themselves.

Not something that they would care to try to explain to Men. Men whose gift was to be able to die and so be relieved and forgiven of whatever shortcomings had been theirs in life. The Elves just had to go on and on in the face of their regrets.

I wonder how often Elrond wished he'd just thrown Isildur into the fires of Mt. Doom when he had the chance - or at least tried to. Living forever in the accumulated weight of hundreds of human lifetimes of failures might not be such a picnic. Maybe the Elves that remained diminished because the only way they could stand it was to stop thinking about it, and to turn from wisdom(thinking) towards a fey hedonism (unthinking)?
Kate Nepveu
74. katenepveu
PHSchmidt, I'd never thought of the diminishing in that light. There is a certain nasty plausibility to it.

More generally, how do very long-lived species in Tolkien manage the weight of years and memories? IIRC in Daniel Keys Moran's _The Last Dancer_ a very-long-lived character keeps from going insane by forgetting most of his history (though still being able to retrieve the memories with an effort). I'm sure there are other strategies in other books.

Time doesn't pass the same way for Elves as humans, but that's still a lot of time no matter how you experience it. What about the Ents? The Wizards? Heck, the Nazgul? =>
75. Confusador
Re: Breaking light.
Whatever it may imply about Gandalf's opinion of the scientific method, I wouldn't give him any flack about not being precise. The sentence is in the middle of a strongly rhetorical discourse, not a discussion of the properties of light. He's not saying that it can't be done in a controlled experiment, he's saying that "what you did can't be undone." Which is true. I'd be hard pressed to blend the light coming off of Saruman's robes (not that it won't happen naturally, but still).
Jill Hayhurst
76. pericat
During the Saruman/Gandalf conflict, Saruman's got a ring on, and titles himself 'Ringmaker'. I don't recall much mention of it afterward.
Kate Nepveu
77. katenepveu
pericat, I don't either, but I'll look when we next see him.
Geoffrey Dow
78. ed-rex

I know you've asked that we not bore you with thanks, but I can't resist mentioning that I've spent the past several hours (when I should have been working, no less) reading your journey through Middle Earth and look forward to many more.

You said, "I have the urge to connect this to the reaction of an addict being asked to show the drug he carries, but I don’t know how realistic that is."

As a smoker who has tried and failed to quit any number of times, and who has friends who have dealt (or not) with other addictions, this interpretations rings very true to me and is one I've noted myself.

Like the inadvertent racism discussed earlier, I don't think Tolkien intended the power of the Ring to be analogous to a dangerous drug, but it can certainly be read that way.

Mind you, I think DemetriosX @ 14 has probably caught Tolkien's actual intentions: "I never had the impression that Gandalf disdained him, though there certainly is a sense that he is not on the same level as Gandalf or Saruman..."

On Radagast, I'm with others who think Gandalf respects him, but as someone with different strengths and interests than himself. Yes, Radagast was Saruman's dupe, but Gandalf himself walked right into Saruman's trap.

And speaking of the inadvertent racism,

Boromir says that “Mordor has allied itself with the Easterlings and the cruel Haradrim.” I’m just noting this for future reference, because I don’t recall how much information we get about those societies later; but this suggests that they were not dominated by Mordor until recently.

As others have noted above, Tolkien's views on race (and class) sometimes make me cringe a little, but I think it's made explicit in RotK that the Easterlings and Haradrim were lied to by Sauron and so are not evil in the sense that the Orcs are.

Finally, Graydon @49: The Numenoreans are genetically superior, at least insofar as life-span is concerned. And at the age of 44 I certainly would consider looking forward to another 100 years rather than another 40 a significant improvement over my own genetic constitution.
Kate Nepveu
79. katenepveu
ed-rex, it's not that I find being thanked _boring_! Rather, so many people have contributed that I feel awkward about it. =>

Anyway, you're welcome.

And thanks for the comments. I'll definitely be looking for more about the eastern societies when we get there.
80. Tritium
I haven't read a definitive argument, anywhere, as to why the Eagles do not carry Frodo directly to Mount Doom.

However, I have come up with my own theory, which I think is reasonable, and is self-consistent within Tolkien's narrative/mythos. The great Eagles need to be viewed in light of the fact that they are emissaries of Manwe, and are spirits incarnate, in the shape
of eagles. In that light, one can argue that they operated under the same "rules of engagement" as that of the Maiar, and specifically the
Istari (Wizards) in Middle-Earth. They were forbidden from direct interference or intercession in the struggles of Middle-Earth between the forces of Good (the free peoples) and Evil (Sauron and his minions). The Great Ring, for good or ill, was Middle-Earth's problem to resolve, and thus the Eagles could not facilitate Frodo in his task to destroy the Ring. That burden could only be borne by the assigned Ringbearer, despite the seeming impossible odds, and terrible peril.
Frodo and Sam's struggle on an individual level, and the War of the Ring on the large level, might even be seen as expiation for the crimes / atrocities / sins that were committed by all peoples (Elves, Men, Dwarves) after the forging of the Great Rings of Power.

However, once the Ring reached Mount Doom, the Eagles were given release (presumably by Manwe) to undertake a "rescue" mission, in order to save Frodo and Sam from an almost certain death, due to the eruption of Mount Doom. This rescue, although indirectly an "intervention", was allowable because the Ring had already been destroyed, and the Ringbearer's mission accomplished.
Kate Nepveu
81. katenepveu
Tritium @ #80, welcome. We did talk about the Eagles some as messengers of Manwe in this massive comment thread, but it is very long and it would certainly be easy to overlook.

And do you know, this is the first time I can remember really feeling like Frodo is a Christ figure, thinking about the extent of his damage in light of your suggestion about expiation? How peculiar. You can tell I'm not a Christian.
82. tritium
Hi Katenepveu,

I thought I read most of the replys, but I must have missed the one(s) that provided a coherent explanation as to why the Eagles did not assist Frodo and Sam in their quest to the Cracks of Doom. Which kind of sucks, as I thought (perhaps), I actually had an original theory to serve as an explanation. Oh Well. It's all good. Thanks for your reply.

And in the interests of full disclosure, I am a practicing Roman Catholic, and very much appreciate the rich, but oh so subtle Christian symbolism that Prof. Tolkein applied to the LOTR. By the way, I am no way a dogmatic, fundamentalist (even if there were such a thing within the Catholic Church). I actually am a scientist (Molecular Biology, Cosmology and Astrophysics), and I find that the physical/mathematical Universe helps affirm my Faith, and in no way detracts from it.

However, putting matters of Faith aside, I definitely see Christ-like attributes in both Gandalf and Frodo. Furthermore, I very much appreciate the subtlety with which Tolkein explored these themes, as opposed to being hit over the head with them, e.g.C.S. Lewis.

John S
Kate Nepveu
83. katenepveu
tritium @ #82, it's easier to see in Gandalf, but I'm sure I've seen Frodo discussed in this light before, I just don't know why it hadn't resonated until now.

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