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Gandalf afraid? Intriguing...

The Shire

Jun 28 2008, 12:33pm

Post #1 of 19 (615 views)
Gandalf afraid? Intriguing... Can't Post

Fellow Tolkien fans and avid readers Smile

for a considerable period i have wished for this important question, for me, to be answered as it has indeed puzzelled me for a great time. I have asked my friends this very question and the answer is always that of vague puzzelment. In the Hobbit, page 94 on the chapter "Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire" to be exact, Gandalf does express fear, something which does indeed startle me as Gandalf is a most capable and powerful being within Tolkien's works.

The passage goes as follows, "Now you can understand why Gandalf, listening to their growling and yelping, began to be dreadfully afraid, wizard though he was, and to feel that they were in a very bad place, and had not yet escaped at all".

Ok, maybe it would be logical for a Hobbit who has no experience of battle or any being for example to express the slightly amount of trepidation due to the fact hundreds of Wargs are enraged and wanting to claim their feed, also becuase of the iminate arrivate of countless Goblins. It just doesn't feel like Gandalf to express trepidation, perhaps it was becuase he was still among the gray ranking as a Wizard, perhaps?

Please post your many comments as they will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Forum Admin / Moderator

Jun 28 2008, 1:12pm

Post #2 of 19 (504 views)
Greetings, and welcome to TORN [In reply to] Can't Post

You have to remember that The Hobbit is written as Bilbo's own memoir of how these events occurred. My guess would be that he was afraid and just naturally assumed that Gandalf was, too - when, in fact, Gandalf might just have been a bit put out. It would hard to tell just what he was feeling under that big, bushy beard, wouldn't it? Wink

There are also some hints in the LotR novels and films that Bilbo embroidered things a bit here and there to add to the drama. This might have been one of those instances.

Those left standing will make millions writing books on the way it should have been. --Incubus

Peredhil lover

Jun 28 2008, 1:46pm

Post #3 of 19 (488 views)
And it would make Bilbo look better [In reply to] Can't Post

in the eyes of his audience - why shouldn't he be afraid when even Gandalf is afraid? Wink

Anyway, I think Bilbo didn't always tell everything just like it happened. I could imagine he did tune down some of the more fearsome details when telling the story to little hobbits, for instance.

And we know that JRRT didn't have any idea about LotR at the time he wrote the Hobbit. I doubt he knew for sure that Gandalf was a Maia back then.

Welcome, ACDC! Glad you found your way here. This is the perfect place to discuss all these little details about Tolkien's work.

I do not suffer from LotR obsession - I enjoy every minute of it.

The Shire

Jun 28 2008, 2:36pm

Post #4 of 19 (476 views)
Many thanks [In reply to] Can't Post

Many thanks to both of you, Kyriel and Peredhil Lover. I admit i failed to acknowledge the Hobbit being that of a memoir of Bilbo's experiences as stated by Kyriel. Again thanks alot for both of your responses Cool


Jun 28 2008, 2:47pm

Post #5 of 19 (473 views)
3rd-person narrative based on... [In reply to] Can't Post

...Bilbo's accounts, remember; eventhough the original Redbook did not survive, supposedly the copies made of it and accounts based on it by Frodo, Sam, Merri and others later on are reasonably accurate to the original. But yes, it would be derivative of Bilbo's recollections of events.

Anyway, while Gandalf is clearly the most compitent, intelligent, and foreseeing of anyone in the tale, even he cannot predict every eventuality. I think in this case Bilbo is giving us his interpretation of a reaction by Gandalf that he has not seen in him before. I've always interpretted it as Gandalf was very put out for allowing himeself to be caught up in this situation, and was expressing fear not so much for himeself but for the rest of the party for whom he felt he was responsible. A paternal fear, perhaps, but Bilbo interpretted it as personal(?). Or Bilbo may have understood it but did not make it plain in his accounts, and it was then misinterpretted in the later narrative. Stories change in the telling. :)

The Black Knight Always Triumphs!!

-mwirkk :)

(This post was edited by mwirkk on Jun 28 2008, 2:48pm)

Peredhil lover

Jun 28 2008, 2:51pm

Post #6 of 19 (471 views)
Tolkiens world [In reply to] Can't Post

is so rich and has so many layers that it is difficult to see all of them all by oneself. There have been so many instances here where I did read something, slapped myself and thought "Why didn't I see that before??" And it is refreshing to learn how many different POV are possible for one little detail.

I do not suffer from LotR obsession - I enjoy every minute of it.

Peredhil lover

Jun 28 2008, 2:56pm

Post #7 of 19 (466 views)
Just what I said in the other post above [In reply to] Can't Post

It is fascinating how many opinions are possible for every detail. And often all of them valid.

Now you got me thinking - how many times had Bilbo told his story already until he finally wrote it down? How much glorified was the story at this point in time already? Stories don't only change in the telling, they grow, too, sometimes Wink

I do not suffer from LotR obsession - I enjoy every minute of it.


Jun 28 2008, 3:20pm

Post #8 of 19 (524 views)
Gandalf in The Hobbit is not Gandalf in LotR. [In reply to] Can't Post

Whether you attribute it to different hobbit authors or to the different style chosen by Tolkien, Gandalf is a lesser being in The Hobbit. In fact, nearly everyone in The Hobbit is a lesser version of the characters in LotR. Compare Gimli to Bilbo's companions, or Legolas to the Wood Elves who get drunk on strong wine, or Aragorn to Bard, or Frodo to Bilbo, and in each case the characters in LotR are stronger, wiser, bolder. But perhaps the most interesting comparison is Gandalf to Gandalf.

In The Hobbit, Gandalf is a Trickster, based on the Berggeist or Mountain Spirit of Switzerland who leads travelers astray and then abandons them when they are thoroughly lost. Notice how often Gandalf disappears in The Hobbit. And notice his attitude towards Bilbo at the beginning of the adventure -- he tricks Bilbo into coming on the adventure, and chuckles at his misery.

Yes, at the end of the book there's a hint that Gandalf is more than just a Trickster, or perhaps a Trickster on the scale of Odin rather than a mere mountain spirit. But the whole tone of the book changes at the end, and leads into the more serious tone of LotR.

As far as the specific scene you describe, where Gandalf is rescued from the orcs and wargs, there's a good example of how Gandalf has changed in LotR, even before he becomes Gandalf the White. Outside of Moria not just Wargs but Werewargs attack the Fellowship. Does Gandalf take refuge in the trees and wait for Eagles? Does he toss burning pine cones at the wolves? No, with a few words Gandalf burns down the whole mountainside!


`Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!' he cried.

There was a roar and a crackle, and the tree above him burst into a leaf and bloom of blinding flame. The fire leapt from tree-top to tree-top. The whole hill was crowned with dazzling light. The swords and knives of the defenders shone and flickered. The last arrow of Legolas kindled in the air as it flew, and plunged burning into the heart of a great wolf-chieftain. All the others fled.

Slowly the fire died till nothing was left but falling ash and sparks; a bitter smoke curled above the burned tree-stumps, and blew darkly from the hill, as the first light of dawn came dimly in the sky. Their enemies were routed and did not return.

`What did I tell you, Mr. Pippin? ' said Sam, sheathing his sword. `Wolves won't get him. That was an eye-opener, and no mistake! Nearly singed the hair off my head!'

(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 28 2008, 3:23pm)

Superuser / Moderator

Jun 28 2008, 4:04pm

Post #9 of 19 (459 views)
I also think Gandalf was more afraid for his companions [In reply to] Can't Post

Afraid for himself? Probably at least a little. But, I think he was more afraid that, as their leader, he'd led his little party to their deaths.

Gandalf did express fear in LOTR, but it was fear for others. He was afraid for Frodo from the time he was imprisoned on the top of Orthanc by Saruman to when Frodo finally got to Rivendell, using the words 'fear' and 'afraid' several times. There may be other instances; those are just the ones I remember.

In Tolkien's entire legendarium of Gandalf's character, I think it's also interesting to note that when the Valar first suggested sending him to Middle-earth to help defeat Sauron, he declined, saying he didn't think he was powerful enough to defeat Sauron. I'm sure this wasn't out of fear, still it's interesting that he admitted he had limitations. Of course, his realism and humility are exactly why the Valar eventually sent him!

I like that Tolkien gives us these insights into Gandalf's character. A few doubts, a few temper flare-ups, etc. all make him much easier to love as a character.

p.s. Welcome to TORn, ACDC! Great post! Smile

Koru: Maori symbol representing a fern frond as it opens. The koru reaches towards the light, striving for perfection, encouraging new, positive beginnings.

"Life can't be all work and no TORn" -- jflower

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(This post was edited by Altaira on Jun 28 2008, 4:05pm)


Jun 28 2008, 4:36pm

Post #10 of 19 (457 views)
Now there's a scene I'd have loved in the movies// [In reply to] Can't Post


The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.

Superuser / Moderator

Jun 28 2008, 11:49pm

Post #11 of 19 (452 views)
I'm glad they got Sam's line in though. [In reply to] Can't Post

It captures Sam's wide-eyed innocence so beautifully.

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

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Idril Celebrindal
Tol Eressea

Jun 29 2008, 1:27am

Post #12 of 19 (450 views)
Perhaps it's just as well [In reply to] Can't Post

Having the Fellowship be attacked by giant hyenas would have kind of spoiled the scene's effect.

We're discussing the BBC Lord of the Rings Radio Play on the Movie Discussion - LOTR board.

With caffeine, all things are possible.

The pity of Bilbo will screw up the fate of many.

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Jun 29 2008, 2:15am

Post #13 of 19 (435 views)
yeah but... [In reply to] Can't Post

...there would have been were-hyenas too! ;P

What is a werewarg anyway? Is it a wilf-rider that has to ride himeself when it's a full moon?

The Black Knight Always Triumphs!!

-mwirkk :)


Jun 29 2008, 2:21am

Post #14 of 19 (438 views)
That is perhaps the best explanation. [In reply to] Can't Post

The Hobbit should be seen in conext of an independent work. We all have a tendency to cast a revisionist lens upon it and explain it in context of later works.

Both are legitimate, in their way. But it is important that we know the questions as well as we thing we know the answers!

Thanks Curious. You win today's Smartest Person in the Room Award! :)

The Black Knight Always Triumphs!!

-mwirkk :)

(This post was edited by mwirkk on Jun 29 2008, 2:23am)


Jun 29 2008, 11:43am

Post #15 of 19 (462 views)
I guess he was just afraid about... [In reply to] Can't Post

... the queste, rather than their lives.

You know, almost getting eaten by Trolls in your first days of a big adventure can be murder to ones motivation ;-) Gandalf obviously wanted Thorin and company to succeed, and not turn back once the going got tough. Or loose members of their company before the Misty Mountains. If anything.


Jun 30 2008, 11:26pm

Post #16 of 19 (394 views)
Complex Gandalf [In reply to] Can't Post

I have always felt that Gandalf was afraid, and that "The Hobbit" version of all of the characters was every bit as valid as in those in "The Lord of the Rings." "The Hobbit" simply emphasized the homelier, smaller aspects of the characters. We all have our mundane sides and our heroic sides. In fact, Tolkien's main point in telling us about hobbits, whether stuffy burghers like Bilbo or rustic laborers like Sam, is to show the heroic side in the smallest, fattest, and least exciting of us all. So, in "The Hobbit". we get a glimpse of Gandalf's more vulnerable, trickier, or less noble side--but that makes him all the more admirable in the long run.

He did fear. He did not want to incarnate in the first place for one thing, and might never have been altogether comfortable in a body. Nor did he have any guarantee that he would be sent back into another body, although I doubt that it was the fear of death per se that gave him pause. (In fact, I believe that finding himself back on top of Caradhras after the Balrog fight took him utterly by surprise, as much as it did anybody else in Middle Earth!) I agree that he saved by far his greatest fear for those folks in his charge; he cared about them with a depth that mortals can barely even imagine. But he also had a fear of failure, of dying before accomplishing his tasks. What honorable person on a mission wouldn't? And, not least, to one who spent most of millenia without a body, the prospect of being torn limb from limb by ravening wolfish-jaws, or burning to death, either one, might actually seem even more painful than to you or me, we who remember nothing but physicality.

One of the prices that the Istari had to pay for incarnation was that they would physically feel everything that mortals feel, though aging much more slowly. Adrenaline is a physical reaction. His mind might have known perfectly well that he had the skills to get himself out of this bind, but his body might not believe it. The hormones of fear, in turn, would cloud the functioning of the mind. Hence his not coming up with much of a solution under stress, the first time that wargs treed him.

He was also continually learning as he went. The fact that he could come up with a better solution fifty years later, outside the Gates of Moria, might simply be the result of fifty years of hindsight, thinking, "Dang! Why didn't I think of that then, when it could have done me some good?"

It is precisely these vulnerable points, these frailties, that make Gandalf so dear to my heart. Before him I could not much picture an angel with an actual personality; it would just be "good", and there would be an end to it--no temptation, no struggle, no weary shoving one foot in front of another, just beaming sweetness and light. No need for courage, and hence no earning of my admiration.

But Gandalf! He struggled for every step, side by side with the mortals that he loved. And that love became real, as real as the love parents have for the child that they stay up all night with to get her earache taken care of, and then go, uncomplaining, to work in the morning, without rest, so that the child may eat. Gandalf was the first time I ever thought of an angel capable of sacrifice. Without suffering, and without the fear of suffering, there can be no sacrifice.

My website http://www.dreamdeer.grailmedia.com offers fanfic, and message-boards regarding intentional community or faerie exploration.


Jul 1 2008, 1:29pm

Post #17 of 19 (390 views)
good talk [In reply to] Can't Post

(in reponse to the other posters/TS)Maia or not, why couldn't he fear for himself(let alone his friends and mission)? As a wizard was he not in bodily form(able to feel physical and mental pain) and also did not know the future? All things to feel afraid for, surly.

Love, Truth, Honor, Adventure


Jul 1 2008, 1:47pm

Post #18 of 19 (386 views)
Yep. [In reply to] Can't Post

"For they must be mighty, peers of Sauron, but must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men. But this would imperil them, dimming their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and weariness coming from the flesh."
-JRR Tolkien, "Unfinished Tales".

The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Jul 1 2008, 1:48pm)


Jul 2 2008, 6:52am

Post #19 of 19 (368 views)
I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf did express fear in LOTR. I never considered fear a weakness, but how you react to it. Fear, in a sense, may build character... it will either make you or break you.


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