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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room: Aragorn's palantir gamble - why does it work?: Edit Log


Jul 6, 9:48am

Views: 2325
Aragorn's palantir gamble - why does it work?

Thanks for this CuriousG. Aragorn's palantir performance might be a good place at which to restart!

I agree - Aragorn is the only palantir user who we see get valuable information from using the palantir. What he learns (The Corsairs are coming!) saves Gondor. The others (we've argued before) get information that may be accurate technically, but it leads them astray (or, maybe, they allow it to lead them astray).

If you'd like to read my thoughts on why Aragorn does better than the others, my own personal view is that he's:,

  • the right person (in title and in character);

  • he's using it with the right intention, and;

  • he knows what he's getting himself into.

As heir to the Kingdoms, he's the rightful owner of the palantirs (which he points out both to Gandalf and Gimil, so I suppose that's impoartant). More speculatively, I think it might be important that Aragorn is using the palantir for its proper purpose: weren't they set up for the defence of the realm? That is exactly what Aragorn does with it, when he's wrested it from Sauron. Compare the others -

Saruman has a dodgy title to the palantir he's found, and as to his use of it Gandalf says "Fool! To keep it secret, for his own profit." (LOTR TT Ch 11, The Palantir).

Pippin is drawn to the palantir with no right to use it, no idea of what it is, and a strange greedy curiosity to find out. Maybe that's why it doesn't end well (though I agree it also seems that Sauron might have done something to this palantir to make it tempting).
Gandalf has the humility to admit that he might have also done badly, had he decided 'to probe the Stone myself to find its uses' (ibid).

Denethor has more right to use his palantir, and often seems to use it for what I've assumed is the 'right intention'. I notice he gets more information that Saruman, but Gandalf says "I fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looked in the Stone and was deceived: far too often, I guess, since Boromir departed." (ROTK, Ch 7 The Pyre of Denethor). So maybe Denethor is mis-judging his capabilities (grief-stricken, he's not tough enough to use the Stone). Or maybe he's mis-using it in some way (looking everywhere for Boromir's body, or some other personal distraction from the stern business of ruling). In any case, he's betraying his office. He's Steward and should loyally welcome teh rightful King. Instead what he does do is to resent Gandalf bringing up 'this Ranger of the North to supplant me... I will not bow down to such a one...'. (ibid) So a failure of humility, and self-interest over duty I think.

How this all works out mechanisticaly is anyone's guess. And I don't get the impression that Tolkien is all that interested in working out science-fiction type mechanisms for things. He's more interested (I think) in writing things that 'feel' right, and in what I've seen called 'the edges of ideas' (how a gadget works exactly isn't necessarily as interesting as what effect having it has on the characters*). I have this vague feeling that magical things - and perhaps all kinds of things - in Middle-earth have a bit of volition. Maybe (to parpahrase Gandalf on the Ring the palanrir wants to help Aragorn? But that's just how it seems to me. Clearly, Sauron is also in the picture, with sort of ability to manipulate what Denethor sees, and to compel Saruman to 'report'. But none of that is explained either.

it seems that one can almost blame the victims here, saying if they hadn't used [the palantirs], they'd still be good and sane, respectively.

I think that's an interesting point. I suppose that one could fault both Saruman and Denethor (as above). I see Saruman as being driven Shakespearean trgedy like (?) by his character flaw - he's over-confident, narcissitic and over-reliant on his charisma. Gosh - it's almost as if the video I linked to in my OP was kinda relevant to this discussion....Wink

What does this have to do about Aragorn and leadership?

...which we've been discussing at least some of the time on this thread. Certainly Aragron has that 'midas touch' (as in 'things work out for him'). At a simple level his gamble to try the palantir pays off because that's the plot Tolkien has chosen (one of Omnigeek's points earlier). But (as per CuriousG in reply to Omnigeek) the story's going to be rubbish if Tolkien just lets any old thing work - he has to come up with something that makes Aragorn's success credible. I think Tolkien succeeds (see my analysis above).

We've earlier had a discussion about whether fate, or some such similar thing, is on Aragorn's side. That would be a sort of in-world author (Eru or the Valar, perhaps) helping Aragorn out. That's possible, but that subthread ended up in a gumtree about thought experiments. So maybe Aragorn makes the right choice and is assisted - I don't see how we could tell definitively (or need to do so).

What do we think about Aragorn's confidence (one of the things suggested in the OP was that good leaders were not over-confident)? Well of course, Aragorn pulls it off, so we end up deciding that he'd judged his abilities correctly. I like the way that it's set up - when Gimli gasps that Aragorn has dared look in 'that accursed stone of wizardry' he's giving my first-time reader reaction. I suspect this is what Tolkien intended. Later, I become convinced that, far from taking an insane risk, Aragorn has correctly judged a calculated risk.

Another leadership thing comes up - Aragorn's acting for the benefit of his people, the Greater Good. He's putting them in danger (I believe that his palantir gamble is part if his effort to make himself and Gondor a diversion, so that Frodo may succeed in the Ring drop). But he's doing the right thing, rather than mis-using his tool for personal gain. He shows 'integrity rather than narcissism' He does not, for example, use the palantir to spy on Denethor, in the hope of digging up some dirt about his possible rival for the leadership of Gondor ('ends justify the means dontcha know'). Nor does he nervously snoop on his friends and supporters to check that they love him enough.

That's the sort of thing I had in mind when I started this thread, anyway.


The Edges of Ideas
The solution to the “Info-Dump” problem (how to fill in the background). The theory is that, as above, the mechanics of an interstellar drive (the center of the idea) is not important: all that matters is the impact on your characters: they can get to other planets in a few months, and, oh yeah, it gives them hallucinations about past lives. Or, more radically: the physics of TV transmission is the center of an idea; on the edges of it we find people turning into couch potatoes because they no longer have to leave home for entertainment. Or, more bluntly: we don’t need info dump at all. We just need a clear picture of how people’s lives have been affected by their background. This is also known as “carrying extrapolation into the fabric of daily life.”

The Turkey City Lexicon - a primer for SF workshops' by the SFWA


"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Jul 6, 9:50am)

Edit Log:
Post edited by noWizardme (Valinor) on Jul 6, 9:50am

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