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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence


Nov 20 2012, 7:33pm

Views: 3130
The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence Can't Post

Mind your Ps and your Qs

- Merry Brandybuck, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony.

Well, I think that for this discussion our Ps are quite enough. For this last thread, we have two more.
As this is the last thread of this discussion, I want to thank all who have responded, or just lurked; the discussion began slowly, but it has grown and is real fun! Thank you!

* * *

But we were too late, as Elrond foresaw. Sauron had also watched us, and had long prepared against our stroke...

- Gandalf, The Council of Elrond.

This is the first instant we hear of Elrond's gift of foresight – or of his political caution? However, it seems that in the sequel, Gandalf is admitting that the dampening words of Elrond in this chapter were truer than his own prediction:

"Ere long now," Gandalf was saying, "The Forest will grow somewhat more wholesome. The North will be freed from that horror for many long years, I hope. Yet I wish he were banished from the world!"
"It would be well indeed," said Elrond; "but I fear that will not come about in this age of the world, or for many after."

This exchange rather puzzles me. Are they disagreeing? And considering what we know from The Lord of the Rings, isn't Elrond ultimately wrong?
Anyway, once The Lord of the Rings was written, wasn't Gandalf shown wrong, as well? According to The Tale of Years, it took Sauron just a decade to re-conquer Dol Guldur!
Or was Gandalf referring to a different conversation altogether – perhaps some meeting of the White Council, during which Elrond expressed his doubts of the projected attack on Dol Guldur? Did Gandalf encounter more opposition than just Saruman's delaying tactics?

I must admit that I haven't understood this – not until I read in Anderson (note 3) that Gandalf's words before the 1966 edition were actually "The North will be freed from that horror for many long ages," without the qualifier "I hope". This was revised by Tolkien, so as not to make him look too mistaken. In that context, Elrond's contradiction has some meaning.
Was it worth making this whole exchange meaningless? Or do you feel it didn't really change the meaning?

However in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (at the end of the published Silmarillion), an altogether different fortelling was mentioned, this time an actual prophecy:

Therefore naught was done at that time, though Elrond's heart misgave him, and he said to Mithrandir:
'Nonetheless I forbode that the One will yet be found, and then war will arise again, and in that war this Age will be ended. Indeed in a second darkness it will end, unless some strange chance deliver us that my eyes cannot see.'

Now this is better! Not only it makes Elrond a true seer, it also makes him a close ally of Gandalf against Saruman! Right?
On the other hand, does it fit with the conversation in The Hobbit? And why didn't it prompt Gandalf to realize that Bilbo had found the One before sixty years have passed? Would Gandalf blindly prefer Saruman's word to Elrond's?

* * *

There is only one other prophecy referred to in The Hobbit: the prophecy regarding the return of the King under the Mountain.

Err, two minor occasions might be added: Beorn's growling to himself "The day will come when they will perish and I will go back!" which Gandalf reports in Queer Lodgings; and Gandalf's ominous words when dividing the trolls' gold: "But share and share alike! You may find you have more needs than you expect".
Should these count as prophecies?

Anyway, back to the main prophecy of the book. Oddly enough, it is never mentioned before Lake-town:

Some sang too that Thror and Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business.

I note that this legend is mentioned for the first time in passing, while Bilbo and the dwarves are off-stage. What effect does this achieve? What does it say of the Lake-men? Of Thorin's homecoming – was he expecting a warm welcome?
Why did Thorin never mention that his return was prophecied about?

One answer to my last question might be, that this prophecy was specific to the North-East, and folk in the Blue Mountains haven't heard it. But Thorin seems to be well aware of it, and makes prompt use of it:

But lock nor bar may hinder the homecoming spoken of old.

Spoken by whom?
Ah, and if the homecoming was expected in the vicinity – why didn't the Elvenking guess who Thorin was? Or did he? How would this knowledge affect his reactions?

We are treated to one of the songs about the homecoming: "The King Under the Mountain". Several others are mentioned –

...but some of them were quite new and spoke confidently of the sudden death of the dragon and of cargoes of rich presents coming down the river to Lake-town.

The competing songs inspired by the Master! But why should Thorin care, if the prophecies about him are well-known?
Do the Master- inspired songs contradict the other ones? Might they not complement each other?

I suggest that they might actually do so – after all, the "river flowing with gold" might be a metaphor for the cargoes of rich presents, rather than molten bits and golden dust coming from the forges. This is also implied by Balin's and Bilbo's words near the end of the book:

"The new Master is of wiser kind," said Balin, "and very popular, for, of course, he gets most of the credit for the present prosperity. They are making songs which say that in his day the rivers run with gold."
"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.

Just as a side-note: is there a hint of resentment in Balin's words?

And here comes the real question:
What is the relationship between old songs and prophecies? Might the songs be considered as divinely inspired? Or do they inspire us, thus leading to their own fulfillment?

I used the word "us" on purpose, because this might work in this world as well. who knows? Is The Hobbit a commentary on our world, or a mere fantasy in a parallel universe?

But in that case, we might also fail to live to the promise, and the prophecies might go awry. This seems to be true in The Hobbit as well.
In On the Doorstep, the Men who rowed the dwarves up the River Running, refused to stay near them, saying "Not at any rate until the songs have come true!". In the unnerving desolation of Smaug, they flee down the river and back home, leaving the dwarves to their own devices.
Had they acted upon the songs, might events have taken a different course?

Any answer to the question above would be pure speculation; but it is noteworthy that the next time the prophecies are mentioned is when Smaug attacks Esgaroth:

...and not the most foolish doubted that the prophecies have gone rather wrong.

At the very least, if people disbelieved in Thorin – why didn't they take precautionary measures against Smaug's attack? Did they hope to help the dwarves with impunity? Or did they just half-believe in the old songs, forgetting them as soon as the first excitement has passed?
What is worse – categorical denial of the prophecies, or half-belief?

Last but not least – consider Bard's words when we first meet him, as a member of the guard:

Which king?" said another with a grim voice. "As like as not it is the marauding fire of the Dragon, the only king under the Mountain we have ever known.

Is Bard a disbeliever? Or just a pessimist – "always foreboding gloomy things!" as his comrades retort?
By the way, why were there no prophecies about the line of Girion? How was this fact connected with Bard's grimness?
Any more comments about this prophecy, or prophecies in general in The Hobbit?

* * *

On the other hand, if we believe in prophecies, it is reasonable to believe in some kind of providence, a "guiding hand" which carries the prophecies to fruition. And this is exactly what Tolkien says in the penultimate paragraph:

"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

So that is the answer to all Bilbo's hair-raising escapes, which defied plausibility!
Were you bothered about the improbability of this before? Was Bilbo?
Before, the dwarves
(in Flies and Spiders) and Thorin (Inside Information) considered Bilbo to possess good luck. Is Gandalf contradicting them? Did Bilbo think the same, when he named himself 'Luck-bearer' to Smaug?
Is this what Bilbo learned at the end of the book?

Bonus, unrelated question:
Do you believe in luck? Do you have any lucky, or unlucky, places, people, numbers or objects you care to tell about?

However, this concept of a Higher Power is not always comforting:

Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no more plainly than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.
'It is not,' said Frodo.

- The Shadow of the Past

Why isn't Frodo comforted, or even encouraged?

The talk of Frodo and Gandalf was continued in Minas Tirith – at least according to version B of The Quest of Erebor (published in full by Anderson, p. 369 – the quoted paragraph appears also in a note in UT):

Then I said: I think I understand you a little better now, Gandalf... Though I suppose that, whether meant or no, Bilbo might have refused to leave home, and so might I....

What is the relation between our own endeavors and the work of providence? What does Gandalf think of this? I note that he did acknowledge Bilbo's "hand" in bringing the prophecies about.

But perhaps this is the lesson Bilbo had to learn all along, and it is a twofold one:
  1. In the first twelve chapters, he has found his own courage, and learned to trust it – as well as his other skills, wit and judgment.
  2. But once he enters the Mountain, he needs to learn something else: he watches the unfolding drama of Thorin and Bard, terrified of the possible results, and unable to change the course of events; his one attempt to change the tide leads to nothing – neither reconciliation, nor avoidance of a fearful bloodshed (as he ruefully remarks to himself in The Clouds Burst). After becoming important, Bilbo needs to re-learn humility.

With the hindsight of The Lord of the Rings we discover that his decision to give Bard the Arkenstone, while attaining no direct object, had profound ramifications on Bilbo himself, and through that on Middle-earth:
  • Once he becomes the Ring-bearer, both his ability to renounce the Arkenstone, and his taking responsibility for his actions in returning to Bombur are absolutely critical.

But this lies in the future, and not even the author has an inkling of it. At the moment, all we know is that being in the Elvenking's camp possibly saved his life. Who knows?
So the present lesson is that Bilbo has far more in him than he ever thought or expected – but also that he must be humble, and realize that with all his being a very fine fellow, he is still a tool in the hands of providence.
Do you agree? Or do you have another take on this?

Do you find this lesson satisfying?
Because Bilbo himself apparently did:

"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand

The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for The Return Journey!

(This post was edited by sador on Nov 20 2012, 7:34pm)

Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 7:33pm
    The Necromancer Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Nov 20 2012, 11:26pm
        In The Hobbit alone, you are right. sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 3:53pm
            The name of the Necromancer FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 24 2012, 5:43pm
                But I thought sador Send a private message to sador Nov 25 2012, 9:11am
                    That's the odd thing. FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 25 2012, 10:52am
    prophecy, providence and pforesight telain Send a private message to telain Nov 22 2012, 6:22pm
        True or false viviosns? sador Send a private message to sador Nov 23 2012, 10:48am
    Both no and yes... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 24 2012, 5:13pm
        Thank you! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 25 2012, 9:52am
            Thank you for the excellent summary FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 25 2012, 3:53pm
    Gandalf had a lotta splainin' to do! squire Send a private message to squire Dec 1 2012, 8:11pm
        The Hobbit a train wreck as a prequel to Lotr????????????? Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Dec 4 2012, 12:21am
    Thanks for a wonderful post! Ardamírë Send a private message to Ardamírë Dec 3 2012, 9:15pm


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