Jul 9 2009 1:07pm

LotR re-read: Two Towers III.5, “The White Rider”

cover of The Two TowersBefore we get started this week, a kind correspondent points me to a first-time reader’s chapter-by-chapter posts, via the Wayback Machine: Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Reading Lord of the Rings . . . the final attempt. I’ve looked at her comments on a few of the chapters we’ve just done and it’s really interesting to see their effect on an unspoiled reader.

And now the next chapter in the Lord of the Rings re-read, “The White Rider.” The usual spoilers for all of LotR and comments after the jump.

What Happens

It’s morning and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli continue to search for Merry and Pippin. Aragorn finds a mallorn leaf, lembas-crumbs, and cut ropes, and deduces the mechanics of the hobbits’ escape. They come to the hill where Merry and Pippin met Treebeard, and see an old man, clad in grey rags and leaning on a staff, approaching. They are suspicious but supernaturally prevented from attacking—a good thing, since it turns out to be Gandalf not Saruman, even though he’s wearing white clothes under his robes.

At Gandalf’s request, they tell him what’s happened to them since Moria . He shares with them news of Saruman and the hobbits, and tells Aragorn that he must to go Théoden. Legolas and Gimli ask him how he escaped from the Balrog. He tells of falling into deep water, their long fight, and the Balrog’s flight up the Endless Stair to the peak of Zirakzigil. There they fought again on a narrow eyrie. Gandalf cast down the Balrog and then “strayed out of thought and time, and . . . wandered far” before he was “sent back.” Gwaihir the eagle found him there on the mountain and brought him to Lórien just after the Company departed. He passes on messages from Galadriel.

Gandalf summons Shadowfax, his horse, who brings with him the two horses who disappeared the night before. They ride toward Edoras, hall of Théoden. The chapter closes with Legolas seeing a great smoke, which Gandalf tells him is “battle and war.”


As DBratman mentioned previously, Legolas does indeed see a battle that hasn’t happened yet. It was on the Entmoot’s third day that the Ents started marching, and this chapter takes place only two days after the meeting. Appendix B gets the timeline right, but the text does not.

Appendix B also has some additional information about Gandalf’s experiences. First, it says that Gandalf and the Balrog were underground from January 15 to 23, when they come to the mountain peak; and he did not cast down the Balrog until January 25. The Appendix also specifically casts Gandalf’s experience as dying: he “passes away,” and “returns to life” on February 15—the same day as the Mirror of Galadriel, though it doesn’t seem likely that there’s any causal connection (though perhaps Galadriel looked in the Mirror at some other time before sending the Eagle to look for Gandalf?). Gandalf’s statements in the chapter, on the other hand, are much more ambiguous: the Appendix says he died, and so there’s authorial intent for you, but I don’t think I’d understood it as such when I first read the book, nor do I think one has to read it that way now.

But I’ve backed into taking about the important thing, which is: Gandalf’s back! Hooray!

And he’s pretty weird at first, which I don’t like to criticize considering the circumstances, but I really don’t understand his thinking. Asking Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli what they are doing in a way that strongly implies that he doesn’t know them, hiding his face as he does? Saying that they should guess his name, that they’ve heard it before—when a few pages later he seems to only now be recalling that he was called Gandalf? I guess he might be testing their level of caution, but it seems like kind of a jerk thing to do. He does get over it quick, though.

(What of Gimli’s character as revealed in his urging an attack on the old man as he approached? More suspicious, and more hasty as Treebeard might say—I couldn’t find a birth year in the Appendices, is he younger than Aragorn?)

Also, I was surprised it took so long for someone to really ask Gandalf how he escaped. I see that the chapter is structured so that having that story last leads into Galadriel’s messages and looking forward again, but even though Gandalf asks for their news first, I still think that if it were me, I would say “never mind us, what about you?!”

Going back to Gandalf’s combat with the Balrog briefly, it continues the theme of there being more things in Middle-earth than are concerned with the present struggle, the nameless creatures that gnaw the earth, and of forgotten things rediscovered, the Endless Stair. Also, I love the image of the Balrog bursting into new flame as it springs out onto the mountain ledge.

* * *

Okay, let’s go back to the start of the chapter.

Apparently bugs, rodents, and birds do not like lembas crumbs, for there to still be some for Aragorn to find two days later.

The conversation about the hobbits’ escape, as ed-rex pointed out previously, really is funny; I’m terrible at spotting humor in text and so appreciate the pointer.

I know Legolas is unquestionably ancient, but I don’t believe it, and so him calling Aragorn and Gimli “you children” wrecks my suspension of disbelief. Does anyone else’s mental picture of him include great age?

(Oh, and speaking of age, this is the chapter with Gandalf’s joke about talking to himself because “the old . . . choose the wisest person present to speak to: the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.” I like Aragorn’s gentle nudge in response: “I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses. Will you not open your mind more clearly to me?”)

* * *

Gandalf’s comments about Saruman and Sauron. Again we see the evil-self-destruction theme, with Saruman’s double betrayal being the direct cause of Merry and Pippin coming to Fangorn and triggering the Ents’ marching to war, and with the consequent distracting doubts to Sauron and Saruman. Gandalf also makes a clear statement of Sauron’s weakness that will eventually lead to the invasion of Mordor as a distraction, that he cannot fathom that they would not want to use the Ring and so looks outward to attack instead of guarding his borders and focusing on a search for the Ring. And like Galadriel, he asserts that he can “look into” an enemy’s mind—here Saruman—and see what he is thinking. I have no reason to doubt him, but I’m still having a hard time making this whole concept fit into my view of LotR, somewhat like Legolas as old. Maybe it’s just me?

(Similarly, I am okay with Gandalf talking to horses but not mentally summoning them from afar.)

* * *


Finally, the payoff for all the eagle sightings comes early in this chapter, as Gandalf says that he sent him ahead to watch the River.

The comment that launched a thousand theories about Tom Bombadil: Gandalf calls Treebeard “the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth.”

I am very fond of Gandalf telling Gimli, “You are best with dangers, Gimli son of Glóin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion.” I am not entirely sure why, but there you have it.

Gandalf’s hands in a “gleam of sun through fleeting clouds” are described as “seem(ing) to be filled with light as a cup is with water.” This reminds me of Gandalf himself thinking, back in II.1, that Frodo “may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can”; the two of them have had near-death or death experiences and are not longer quite as fleshly as they were.

Gandalf, in a statement that I think we have to take as authoritative, tells Aragorn that he did the right thing in following Merry and Pippin: “You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right: the choice was just, and it has been rewarded. For so we have met in time, who otherwise might have met too late.”

I don’t have anything to say about Galadriel’s messages now, as opposed to when we get to their payoff, but I welcome other people’s comments.

* * *

I’m at Readercon this weekend—if any of you are there, do say hello. (Five foot three woman of East Asian ancestry with shoulder-length hair; there aren’t going to be a lot of people to mistake for me there.) I’ll report back anything particularly relevant later on, and try to check in here when I have time.

« Two Towers III.4 | Index | Two Towers III.6 »

Susan James
1. Susan James
Love all your insights and thoughts. Makes me want to drag the books out and do my 5the reread- there is just so much to ponder in these wonderful books.
I too love Gandalf's line about he wisest in the room and also Aragorn's answer. Aragorn is just so great- so humble really and funny too in a very subtle way.

And I always crack up at Legolas' hobbit assessment.

Also, I'm actually relieved that even the detail obsessed JRRT messed up some dates- I have such trouble getting all mine in order in my own work.

As for Gandalf's weirness- I've always believed that he truly did "die" as we know it, and then was returned almost as a new person- and that in having crossed that threshold, he is a little slow to come back to earth- literally.

If you are familiar with the New Testament (and Tolkien certainly was) you may remember that Jesus acts similarily when he meets his disciples after having died and returned. I'm not saying Gandalf represents Jesus only that they had a similar experience and maybe, Tolkien used that as a model. JMHO
Susan James
2. Brian S Turner
Great point Susan!

Yeah I could imagine that the world and all of its problems would seem very far off and unimportant were you to view them from the perspective of the timeless eternal.

So yeah setting your mental process to be more "user friendly" might take some getting used too. Kind of like if you hadn't been on a bicycle for a while and went to ride it again, you wouldn't forget how, but you would seem rusty.

Who is to say how long Gandalf spent in "Heaven", as time there would be different.
Susan James
3. Jon Meltzer
Gimli is 140. Aragorn is the youngest present.

What's Gandalf doing in Fangorn, anyway? What was he planning to do there before Aragorn and Co. showed up? And how did he get there ahead of the threesome's forced march, when he was presumably still in Lorien when the Fellowship broke? Not on Shadowfax - he was still in Rohan. On Gwaihir?
Hugh Arai
4. HArai

I don't have the same trouble getting the ages or powers of Gandalf or the Elves to fit that you do. I think that may be because I have a habit of tying in the Silmarillion and making it one really long story. So when I see the sort of thing you mention here, I think of Melian's Girdle or Luthien and Morgoth or Finrod and Sauron and striving will against will doesn't seem out of place. The idea of Elven age is similar for me. When I think of just how much Galadriel has seen, Legolas thinking of the other companions as children doesn't feel jarring.

On Gimli: The Encyclopedia of Arda has Gimli as 52 years older than Aragorn. Re-reading now, I like Gandalf's comment about Gimli being dangerous mostly because it highlights what I dislike about Movie!Gimli!. I've always liked his initial disappointment with no message from Galadriel and his happiness when he finds out Gandalf just forgot to mention one.
Terry Lago
5. dulac3
As to Gandalf's death: it could certainly be argued that in some sense he didn't truly "die", since he is one of the Maiar, and thus an angelic best his current body died and his spirit returned to Aman from which it was sent back and rehoused (in much the same way that Sauron has "died" several times, but keeps re-embodying himself).

I think it was a 'valid' "death experience" if you will for him, though, since I imagine he experienced all of the pain encumbent upon death when his spirit left its body and the Istari, even though Maia, were cloaked in their physical forms in a way much more restrictive than Sauron was (until he diluted his power too much by passing much of it into the ring) and so I imagine they experience death in a much more "real" way than a fully uncloaked Maia would.

Also, his strangeness upon meeting Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli is likely a consequence of this. He has only just been rehoused in mortal form and I imagine this might be a bit disorienting. He seems to need some time to recall the memories of his former life, it was a pretty big occurence for him after all. He seems to remember some things and not others, and of course there is the whole issue of having this state of mind be useful, form an authorial perspective, since it prolongs and heightens the ambiguity of whether this was Saruman or Gandalf until it is finally and completely revealed. I don't know if he's really being that much of a jerk, but you might be a bit crotchety after being revived from the dead yourself...and Gandalf always did have a bit of a sarcastic/judgmental streak when dealing with some of his friends and allies.
Susan James
6. Susan James

I so agree about Galadriel and the movie.

I hate how it turned Gimli into such a buffoon. And cut out so much of Galadriel's importance- and the running joke between Gimli and Eomer. I understand that movies can't include everything but I don't understand why they add stuff that isn't in the book instead of showing what is.

And when one thinks of all the elves have been burndened with, it makes one understand why they aren't just busting out the door to fight, again.

OK thanks for the rant.
Susan James
7. skinnyiain
@ dulac3:

I'm sure I read somewhere that Gandalf's death and 'sending back' were not just the death of his corporeal form and return from Aman. It was an act of Illuvatar's himself that returned him. I think this is in Tolkien's letters, but I'm not sure.
Terry Lago
8. dulac3
skinnyiain @7: Interesting...I guess the Istari were much more closely bound to their bodies than I thought. I wonder if this means they share in the 'gift of men' to go beyond the circles of the world?
j p
9. sps49
I take the Gandalf-return weirdness as JRRT trying (and failing) to add some suspense and mystery to a return that necessarily involves some exposition.

And how did he die, anyway? He "cast down" the Balrog, so was he just exhausted? which I can understand- or fatally wounded? or just gave up his body?

Kate- have fun in Massachusetts!
Michael Ikeda
10. mikeda
Gandalf calls Treebeard “the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth.”

Obviously Bombadil is a zombie...

Hugh Arai
11. HArai
mikeda@10: Thanks for the mindworm: "Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong... braaaaaaaainns!"
Susan James
12. Susan James
The Istari may have the gift of men, but Gandalf went with Frodo and Galadriel to the Undying Lands.

I think yea, exhausted, burned, didn't he fall for days? and didn't he somehow see or know he would die in Moria before he went in?

Bombadil a zombie- that explains a lot!
Vivian U
13. Viviannn
(I have an account now!)

I'm probably a wee bit cynical, but I have tended to think that Gandalf behaved in that weird way in order to make for a more suspenseful scene. Pure authorial device, in other words, and not really true to the character. Although I suppose one should give him (Gandalf) the benefit of the doubt after what he went through.

Tom Bombadil as a zombie--lol. He makes my teeth hurt. I don't think it would hurt the novel at all if he was removed.
Susan James
14. Jon Meltzer
Gandalf is a Maia. He himself is older than Treebeard.

So Gandalf has to define "living thing" as `"embodied creation of Iluvatar", I guess. Whatever Bombadil is, he doesn't count as that.

Treebeard is older than Cirdan, though ...
Soon Lee
15. SoonLee
I hadn't noticed the somewhat contrived nature of this chapter (on account of being distracted by Gandalf's return) until comments by Kate & others.

Jon Meltzer @3:
I always assumed it was Gwaihir that dropped him off so that he could meet up with the other three. More contrivance.

I was not surprised by Gandalf's initial strange behaviour. My sense was that the Wizards were Maiar that took on mortal form, and in the process lost some of their higher level functions. Gandalf regained that which was lost when he died, lost it again on his return so there's a mental re-adjustment that he's undergoing, a non-trivial, non-instant process.
Susan James
16. clovis
'Treebeard' and 'The White Chapter' are the point at which the story turns on its axis. Up to now it has been all about reacting and escaping, now it is about acting and forcing the pace. I assume that is why Tolkien brings Gandalf back at this point and reassures Aragon that his decision was correct.

Susan James @1, I think you've hit the nail firmly comparing Gandalf's behaviour with Jesus'. I would say it was a deliberate reference. I always liked this sequence. On first reading I very much wanted the old man to be Gandalf but didn't want to get my hopes up and so was alarmed by his vague and sinister behaviour then delighted by his return to form. It occurs to me this second that Gandalf here and for the rest of the story is more like the Gandalf of 'The Hobbit', more omniscient and humourouos. Just a sudden thought so not sure if it stands up.
Susan James
17. clovis
'Treebeard' and 'The White Chapter' are the point at which the story turns on its axis. Up to now it has been all about reacting and escaping, now it is about acting and forcing the pace. I assume that is why Tolkien brings Gandalf back at this point and reassures Aragon that his decision was correct.

Susan James @1, I think you've hit the nail firmly comparing Gandalf's behaviour with Jesus'. I would say it was a deliberate reference. I always liked this sequence. On first reading I very much wanted the old man to be Gandalf but didn't want to get my hopes up and so was alarmed by his vague and sinister behaviour then delighted by his return to form. It occurs to me this second that Gandalf here and for the rest of the story is more like the Gandalf of 'The Hobbit', more omniscient and humourouos. Just a sudden thought so not sure if it stands up.
Susan James
18. MKUhlig
clovis@17 - That's an interesting idea that these chapters mark a turning point in the story from reacting to acting. I am not sure I can see it those terms, since I think the act of destroying the ring was not merely reacting (and if it was, then that is still what everyone is focused around supporting). Maybe for me I could see it more as a change from a tight knit and small group (first the hobbit group and then the Fellowship) into an opening up to where we start seeing all the different peoples involvement in the greater conflict. After this we get the Ents and their battle with Saruman, we get the Rohirrim and their past problems with both Saruman and the Mordor orc raids leading into their battles, and culminating with the various battles occuring in the lands of Gonder and points south. From this point onward we are immersed in a world at war.
JS Bangs
19. jaspax
Susan@1 said much of what I was going to say, and I see that several others have chimed in with the thought that if you had spent ten days battling a fire demon, died, and come back to life, you might be a little loopy, too. I also think that the relation to Jesus' resurrection is very prominent, and probably provides the inspiration for some of the details (i.e. not being recognized).

As for Gandalf getting there before the others... I always had the impression that Gandalf was not entirely on the physical plane after returning, what with the glowing hands and the strange language. He was much more "angelic" and less constrained by physical limitations, and under those conditions it never struck me as peculiar that he could outpace the others. His meeting with Aragorn & co. is the end of his return to physicality.
Susan James
20. DBratman
Like others, I see Gandalf's vagueness on his return as due to having died and been reincarnated. That'd be enough to leave anybody a bit fogged. Gandalf is also an inveterate cryptic, as Aragorn notes here and Pippin does later on.

An important point about Gandalf's return: Far too often I see fantasy stories in which the return of a dead character is the payoff. (The film The Dark Crystal is the locus classicus of this gimmick.) It becomes a deus ex machina because the authorial hand gives you the happy ending.

But Tolkien brings Gandalf back only when there's still a tremendous amount of work to be done, and only because of it. (That's the Valar's intent on sending him. If the war had been successfully finished, why bother?) So instead of undercutting the rationale for the happy ending, Gandalf's return underlines the difficulty of achieving it, because of the implicit lesson: even with Gandalf returned, they barely managed it. Without him, it would have been impossible. (Frodo might still have gotten to the Fire even without Sauron being distracted, but if Sauron and/or Saruman had won in the meantime, even the destruction of the Ring would have been in vain.)

I may have mentioned this before, but there's a particularly wonderful line in this chapter exemplifying a key element of Tolkien's method, the underlying sense that there is a lot more going on in this world than the visible parts of the story. That is Gandalf's line about the depths of Moria: "Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he."

Now the "older than Sauron" line may be hyperbole, as the bit about Treebeard as eldest may also be. But the lesson is that not everything going on in Middle-earth fits into a neat box: there are whole categories of things going on that aren't part of the war, that don't fit into the system we know.

In some Tolkienian circles, all such things outside of our ken are referred to, in honor of this passage, as NGTs, which stands for Nameless Gnawing Things.
Kate Nepveu
21. katenepveu
Hi, all.

Susan James @ #1 and everyone else: I am not particularly familiar with the New Testament (read Revelations years ago for a paper on H.D.'s _Trilogy_, know the general outline of the rest), so that would explain a lot. Is there a particular book that you would recommend on this particular point?

Jon Meltzer @ #3, Gandalf says "by strange roads I came." It wasn't by eagle, he'd sent him ahead for news.

HArai @ #4, I came to _The Silmarillion_ well after _LotR_, so that may account for it.

sps49 @ #9, I figured Gandalf died of his wounds.

mikeda @ #10, if someone writes _The Lord of the Rings and Zombies_ now, I blame you . . .

clovis @ #16, I definitely agree that this is a turning point, though I'm not sure if it's just what MKUhlgi @ #18 says about opening up or what you also suggest--have to think about it.

jaspax @ #19, I like Gandalf being not fully returned to physicality as an explanation. Thanks.

DBratman @ #20, "nameless gnawing things" would also be a great name for a band, though a bit of a tongue-twister . . .
JS Bangs
22. jaspax
Karen@21, probably the place to start with a compare-and-contrast on Jesus' and Gandalf's resurrection would be Luke 24. It's pretty short.

UPDATE: Changed link to point to NIV instead of Message.
Susan James
23. DemetriosX
katenepveu @21: Gandalf says "by strange roads I came." It wasn't by eagle, he'd sent him ahead for news.

I always understood that as referring more to the period between his "death" and return to Middle Earth, rather than how he came to meet Aragorn and company. We know from Gandalf's own statement that Gwaihir picked him up from the mountaintop and carried him somewhere else (it escapes me at the moment. Lothlorien?). Getting from there to the edges of Fangorn to meet the travelers would seem to be fairly straightforward.
Susan James
24. MKUhlig
I don’t know that I feel that the early part of the story has been a story of reaction to events and now the characters are prepared to take action. This may apply to Aragorn, but the decision made in Rivendell of how to deal with the ring does not change at this point. I fell that it has always been an action taken. Many of the peoples in the book (the Ents, the Rohirrim) could be said to be at the point where they are to start taking action rather than reacting, but since the book has not been following them it does not feel to me that the book changes from reaction to action here.

I do agree that these chapters feel like a turning point, but I am not exactly sure why. After thinking about it what I come up with is, that prior to these chapters events seemed to be from the hobbit’s view all about them (because they are travelling with the ring bearer). The Nazgul are trying to get at them, the birds were spying on them, the Moria orcs and the Balrog tried to stop them, and the Uruk-hai attacked them and carried them off. We continued this for a couple of chapters where we were still fixated on the Uruk-hai.

With these chapters we shift the focus to where the hobbits see that the world has been fighting this battle in many ways that do not relate to their association with the ring quest. While the quest is the important thing, there are other concerns that will involve them that do not relate to their relation to the ring and the ring bearer.
Kate Nepveu
25. katenepveu
The quotes are, in order:

‘The eagle!’ said Legolas. ‘I have seen an eagle high and far off: the last time was four days ago, above the Emyn Muil.’

‘Yes,’ said Gandalf, ‘that was Gwaihir the Windlord, who rescued me from Orthanc. I sent him before me to watch the River and gather tidings.’


‘ . . . And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away.

‘ . . . “Bear me to Lothlórien!”

‘ “That indeed is the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you,” he answered.

‘Thus it was that I came to Caras Galadhon and found you but lately gone. I tarried there in the ageless time of that land where days bring healing not decay. Healing I found, and I was clothed in white. Counsel I gave and counsel took. Thence by strange roads I came, and messages I bring to some of you.’

To me that rules out getting to Fangorn on eagle-back.
Kate Nepveu
26. katenepveu
jaspax, thanks. What edition is that? The language is very peculiar.
JS Bangs
27. jaspax
The translation I gave was The Message, which is an attempt at rendering the Greek in casual, contemporary English. I don't think it's entirely successful in that regard, since as you noticed the language feels contemporary, but not really natural. You can select a different translation from a drop-down at the top of the page. The New International Version is probably the safest bet. I changed the link in the original comment to point to NIV.
Susan James
28. EmmaPease
However I think Gandalf has spoken to Gwaihir in the 4 days since Legolas saw him (somehow he got the tidings).

Now when did Treebeard see Gandalf?

BTW how did Galadriel know to give only three messages?
Michael Ikeda
29. mikeda

Possibly those were the only three for which she had a specific message to send. Or perhaps she learned by some magical means that those were the three Gandalf was likely to meet. For that matter, there could even have been more messages, but only three of the recipients were there so only those were the only messages we heard.
Susan James
30. Jon Meltzer
Okay, since I started the eagle wars:

Hammond and Scull's "Lord of the Rings Companion" cites a manuscript chronology of Tolkien giving Gandalf's movements.

February 17: Gwaihir finds Gandalf and takes him to Lorien.
February 20: Gandalf leaves Lorien and flies south, borne by Gwaihir.
February 25: Gandalf reaches Fangorn, sends Gwaihir to spy out lands for news.
February 26: On a hill in Fangorn wrestles in thought with the Eye of Mordor and saves Frodo from yielding.
Susan James
31. birgit
Gandalf’s hands in a “gleam of sun through fleeting clouds” are described as “seem(ing) to be filled with light as a cup is with water.”

Maybe it is Gandalf's ring. Is he using it?

BTW how did Galadriel know to give only three messages?

She could have seen the meeting in her Mirror.
Susan James
32. DemetriosX
Who says Galadriel only gave Gandalf three messages? He has encountered these three and so passes on her messages to them. We do not see his first meeting with Merry and Pippin, so we don't know if had messages for them or not. Their description of that meeting has him being rather abrupt and gruff, but that doesn't mean he didn't have anything for them. By the time he gets to talk to Frodo and Sam, oracular messages from Galadriel are rather beside the point.
Susan James
33. Jon Meltzer
Galadriel's message to Pippin: "DON'T LOOK IN IT!!"
Susan James
34. Jon Meltzer
Aragorn's "I am no longer young" comment has an added meaning. The day is March 1st, his birthday.
Susan James
35. Jon Meltzer
Aragorn's "I am no longer young" comment has an added meaning. The day is March 1st, Aragorn's birthday.
Susan James
36. Jon Meltzer
Sorry about the dupe. Delete, please?
Andrew Foss
37. alfoss1540
As for Dopey Gandalf - I call it all JRRT artistic license. He had the wherewithall to get to Lorien, order Gwaihir to scout the river, council with Galadriel (we just saw what fun that can be), remember three complicated elven messages for the ones he was to meet and travel to Fangorn by strange routes. Mentally, by the time they met, he was there. It all had to be games. Pointless, but fun to read.

I am more interested in why he is travelling like a beggar in rags. A nice cammo elven cloak from Lorien would have done better - even if only to hide his nice bright Whites.

My lament about the Balrog fight is about the stranger things down in the depths - meaning that the Mines of Moria will never be sealed and safe for reinhabitation by the dwarves. The unfinished tale I still want to see is 4th Age Return to Moria! Truesilver returns!

Elven Age - I also read Silmarillian long ago - and played too much D&D in the 80's. How do you play a 1500 year old elf, travelling with a bunch of 20-40 year olds. Why the hell would they do it?

My bigger problem was understanding how they could live out these lives in Rivendell, Mirkwood, Lorien, or where ever - Merry Making and staying out of the lives of men and others around them. I love a good party, but 3000 years of it might get a little old - especially with Middle Earth's tendency toward non existent love relationships. Where is Legolas' wife? That many years and still a bachelor?

Thanks for the Birthday quip. That is classic!
Susan James
38. Elaine T
My lament about the Balrog fight is about the stranger things down in the depths - meaning that the Mines of Moria will never be sealed and safe for reinhabitation by the dwarves. The unfinished tale I still want to see is 4th Age Return to Moria! Truesilver returns!

Dennis McKiernan's first work was supposedly about that. I'm afraid I couldn't get past the 'wee ones' appelation (or something similar in yuckiness) he stuck in to rename the hobbits after the estate said he couldn't publish it as a sequel to LOTR. This is all hearsay - apply salt.

However, somewhere in the Christopher Tolkien 'papers from Dad's desk' publications we find out that the Dwarves do retake Moria in the 4th age, under the latest incarnation of Durin.

Segueying to Gandalf's behavior... Yeah, he had interated with Galadriel and Gwahir and all. I still think he was still coming back, having to make an effort to remember who he had been and how he'd behaved towards these people before his death. That 'I was Gandalf' rings true. I could see Galadriel spotting him as Olorion at this point and treating him more like a Maia than the wizard she'd known.

Susan James
39. TheMarchChase

Gandalf's confusion in Fangorn is remarkably similar to The Doctor's after his regenerations.

Gandalf, renegade Time Lord?

(Oh, have been reading the re-read from the beginning, and it's quite enjoyable. I love Kate's thought on the books, and everyone's thoughtful comments. What happened to Greydon?)
Kate Nepveu
40. katenepveu
jaspax @ #27, contemporary, but not really natural is a good way of putting the effect of _The Message_'s translation. It seems to slew wildly between different levels of formality.

EmmaPease @ #28, Treebeard saw Gandalf four days ago. And good point that Gandalf must've been in touch with Gwaihir somehow to get the tidings. I suppose that "thence" could be broader in scope.

birgit @ #31, since Gandalf's ring is the one of fire and thus red-stoned, that hadn't come to mind.

Jon Meltzer @ #34, I didn't realize it was Aragorn's birthday! Lovely, thank you.

TheMarchChase @ #39, I'm sure *someone*'s written that crossover!

I'm not in touch with Graydon but, if I recall correctly, he hasn't been here for all of the posts, so perhaps we'll see him again in time.
Susan James
41. UnderHill
I see another line of similarity between the return of Jesus and the return of Gandalf in the passage from Luke provided by Jaspax @ 22: How Gandalf-like that Jesus calls the women fools! 'He said to them, "How foolish you are..."'
Susan James
42. JLund
Gandalf's behavior reminds me of Buffy's after she is brought back from the dead, and I think the explanation in BtVS is similar to many suggested here.
Susan James
43. Valdaquende
I make this comment long after this thread is, to all intents and purposes, dead. It may or may not, I realize, be read by anyone at all.

Nonetheless, I wanted to point out that Gandalf's behaviour would not be inexplicable to anyone who has ever actually returned from death. I once had a near-death experience and found, upon my return that for over a week almost everything I saw, felt or thought was extraordinarily sharp and vivid. Places where a lot was happening were difficult to deal with and many actions and thought that had been familiar to me were difficult or required mental preparation to deal with.

In light of this experience, I can well believe that one might have trouble recalling names and relationships until he had been reminded of them by word or by circumstance, Maia though he be.

Tolkien's experiences in the Battle of the Somme might well have provided him, either personally or through the experiences of others, with an awareness of the extraordinary mental state of those who have been dead or close to death.

Susan James
44. formerly Underhill
Hello Valdaquende! I read it and I agree.
Kate Nepveu
45. katenepveu
Valdaquende, I'm glad you're alive and I appreciate your telling us about your experience.
Soon Lee
46. SoonLee

Glad you're still around. And I agree, near death experiences have a way of making one re-examine everything in a new light; literally a life-changing experience.
Susan James
47. Judith Proctor
Although Gandalf was 'sent back naked', I assume that his tattered robes remained where he 'died'. I assume these are the robes he was wearing when Aragorn and co met him.

The white robes underneath were probably provided by Galadriel.

It would make sense for him to remain low-key until he was ready to move - and that wasn't going to happen until he'd finished reconnecting with reality.

@Elaine T - it makes sense that Galadriel would react to the reborn Gandalf as maia rather than wizard, plus, I suspect communication between two ring-bearers may be on a different kind of level.

(I'm really glad Tor have kept this discussion avaialable, I'm really enjoying it as I read LOTR again)
Arthur Harrow
48. Dr_Thanatos

Very glad to be able to continue the discussion.

I had always interpreted being sent back naked as meaning without the mortal form he had born so long; being the Maia who could assume any appearance he chose. Perhaps, given that we never saw him take off his white robes (for which I am profoundly grateful) the white shining robes were a manifestation of his new more spiritual being, rather than manufacured garb.
Susan James
49. pilgrimsoul
Hi Dr. T.!
The movie version implied that Gandalf was physically nude, and as much as I admire Sir Ian I'm glad it was no more than implication.
JRRT said we should take unclothed literally as naked and not disembodied.
Susan James
50. Dr. Thanatos

Long time no see!

JRRT also said that there was no hidden meaning except that which the reader put there...

I seem to recall several references to spirits being naked: Didn't Witchie said something along these lines about Eowyn's soul being sent naked to the Houses of Lamentation to be oogled by the big S for eternity---as well as by anyone who got the uncut version of film 3)? And was there a reference to Sauron being nekkid after the fall of his tower to Luthien in the Silmarillion?And the Maia that ran the Sun went "naked" and was a pure flame...

I don't think there's any question that Gandalf returned at a higher level---Gimli said that his head was now sacred, and someone else said that no blade could now touch him. So I think he's transformed in some way and perhaps one of the cool benefits is that he generates glowing white clothing. He's too noble to try to sneak up on Sauron in the dark anyway...
Kate Nepveu
51. katenepveu
Perhaps it's related to the way Frodo, when using Wraith-o-vision, sees Glorfindel glowing?
Soon Lee
52. SoonLee
Dr. T,

Somewhere in the text(?) there is a reference to Elves having power over the Seen & Unseen. The Ringwraiths IIRC were portrayed as disembodied. To me, it was more of a threat that Eowyn be stripped of her physical form & her soul sent to be tormented by Sauron.

In Tolkien's universe, the loss of physical form is seriously bad: Sauron at the Fall of Numenor & at the end of the Secod Age. Not to mention the Ringwraiths.

Frodo seeing Glorfindel in Wraith-o-vision is (I guess) due to the One Ring conferring the ability to Frodo to see the Unseen.

*waves to the commenters*
Susan James
53. Doctor Thanatos

I was getting at naked as being unfleshed just as you say; I'm sure that none of us would ever picture Eowyn naked in a literal sense...

It was in Many Meetings: Gandalf says that "those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm dwell at once in both worlds, and against seen and unseen have great power" ...Gandalf explicitly says that Frodo saw Glorfindel as he was in the wraith realm---a great prince.

Kate---I think that's a great observation; New Gandalf, incorporating both worlds as he does, brings his Spirit robes with him into this world. Probably repels dirt and grass-stains too...

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