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Both no and yes...


Nov 24 2012, 5:13pm

Views: 1696
Both no and yes... [In reply to] Can't Post

This is the first instant we hear of Elrond's gift of foresight – or of his political caution?

Typical Tolkienian ambiguity! It could be either - or even both...

This exchange rather puzzles me. Are they disagreeing? And considering what we know from The Lord of the Rings, isn't Elrond ultimately wrong?

I think Gandalf is taking the glass-half-full view, and Elrond sees the glass half empty. The Necromancer has at least been forced to leave Mirkwood for a while, but he has not been defeated - and in fact, as we learn at the Council of Elrond, he hadn't even been much inconvenienced, since he had been planning that tactical withdrawal anyway.

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!

It seems like Gandalf was much too optimistic, for sure. "Many long years" should surely be more than ten! Of course, Sauron himself didn't return to Dol Guldur after the 10 years, he just sent a few Nazgul to occupy it, which perhaps wasn't quite as bad, from the perspective of the denizens of Mirkwood?

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?

Perhaps what that "I hope", plus Elrond's scepticism, really achieves is a sense of just how little rational thinking even the Wise were capable of when it came to the One Ring. They were always hoping for the best, or fearing the worst, but somehow unable to think clearly about it.

In Reply To
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?

To me, this part of the Silmarillion always feels like it's being told from a different perspective - the "historical" perspective of later Gondorians who emphasised the parts of the story that were most important for them. The war to end the Age, and the "strange chance" that saved the world, are the focus of this history, so the words of as great a seer as the Queen's father in this context are given great weight. But are they a literal report of what he actually said, or a historical recreation of his later thinking? In other words, is this "historical revisionism"? That's what this part of the Silmarillion always feels like to me - and a very interesting take on Tolkien's idea of the different ways in which the same tale can be told.

In Reply To
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?

Perhaps the point of introducing the legend in this way is to show just how little it affects people's thinking in the "real world". The people haven't connected the legends with their everyday reality. After all, if King Arthur did return to Britain, would anybody believe it was really him? And Christians like Tolkien were very familiar with the gospel stories of the Messiah who was not recognised by his own people. Legendary figures are hard to relate to ordinary life, I suppose. Look at Barliman Butterbur and his incredulity at finding out that the rascally Strider had turned out to be the long-awaited King!

In Reply To
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?

As ever, Tolkien doesn't provide an answer to that question. Inspiration is an incredibly powerful force, but where the inspiration comes from is left for the reader to decide for themselves. The dwarves clearly believe in some kind of destiny working on their behalf, while the Master believes in no such thing, not being inclined to "think much of old songs, giving his mind to trade and tolls, to cargoes and gold." It's inspiration versus pragmatism, and in Middle-earth there's not much doubt which one will prevail! In the real world the outcome isn't so certain, but the idea that believing strongly in something will make it happen is one that inspires many great deeds in the world.

In Reply To
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?

Maybe it's both, in that it certainly reflects our own world back to us, but does it in a more focused, less messy way than "real life". To me, Tolkien's fantasy works as a kind of "thought experiment" of the real world which, by subtracting a lot of the distractions of "reality", allows us to see the bigger picture more clearly.

What is worse – categorical denial of the prophecies, or half-belief?

It's just human nature, isn't it? People believe what they want to believe, and twist their thinking to suit what they want to do. If there's a chance of getting rich, you'll believe in the stories that tell you you will - that's what internet spammers count on, anyway! Cool

Is Bard a disbeliever? Or just a pessimist – "always foreboding gloomy things!" as his comrades retort?

He clearly isn't a simplistic believer, at least. He knows that prophecies never come true in the way that people expect them to - although in hindsight they often turn out to have been true in some unexpected way. He knows that the dragon is the real threat here, and that people are in denial about it (very much as the Wise have been in denial about the threat that the Ring will be found, you might say). This too is human nature. People have always lived in the shadow of volcanoes, somehow pushing away the thought that one day they may regret it. (I like to think of Smaug as the mythic embodiment of a volcano, as most of Tolkien's description of how he attacks seems to be inspired by descriptions of erupting volcanoes - including the "poisoned fish" that Bard is accused of predicting right after your quote.)

In Reply To
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?

It gets a bit too philosophical for me right about here, but in fact if Gandalf is indeed saying that a "guiding hand" makes the prophecies come true, he's also implying that one such guiding hand is Bilbo himself! In other words, if prophecies come true, they come true because people make them do so. Gandalf is telling Bilbo that his actions have much greater repercussions than just on his own little life - and that by working alongside others he can play a part in making much bigger things happen than he was aware of. You can put that down to faith, and perhaps in his own life Tolkien did, although I think he always deliberately leaves the ambiguity in the story.

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?

Luck is, as Google puts it, about "feeling lucky", you might say - if you think you can do it, you can. Or indeed, in hindsight, if you did do it, you "were lucky". Bilbo's luck held out - if it hadn't, he wouldn't have had the chance to write his memoirs, would he? Tongue

I think what Bilbo learned was the responsibility each person has for things that go well beyond what they can see with their own eyes.

In Reply To
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?

No, I don't agree about "tool". He learns he's a "small fellow in a wide world" - that although he has responsibilities in the world, and has played a part in a very big event, it was after all just a small part. The events didn't really centre on him,
weren't really "for [his] sole benefit", even if it seemed like it to him at the time.

In Reply To
Do you find this lesson satisfying?
Because Bilbo himself apparently did

Yes, it's a nice way to end a children's tale - children having a natural tendency towards seeing themselves as the centre of the universe (as we all do more than we would like to admit, I think!).

This is also the lesson that Frodo was unable to learn, and that made it necessary to go over Sea where he could learn his own place "in littleness and greatness" (not sure I got that quote, from somewhere in the Letters, quite right). He was haunted by his failure to make everything come right, by his personal inability to overcome the temptation of the Ring. Frodo needs to learn the wisdom that Bilbo accepts here at the end of The Hobbit - that he's not responsible for more than what he himself is able to do. And that, at least, is an encouraging thought!

Thanks for a fun week of discussions, sador. I haven't been around as much as I'd have liked for the Hobbit discussion, but I'm glad I turned up in time for the end!

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings

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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