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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
I think we are meant to be uncertain of the outcome

squire
Valinor


Aug 18 2013, 6:43pm


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I think we are meant to be uncertain of the outcome [In reply to] Can't Post

It's not Tolkien's way to foreshadow anything in his story as being inevitable. Obviously, such writing eliminates suspense and drama. For a reader to think that Gandalf is inevitably doomed in his confrontation with the Witch King would be as fatal to the story as the opposite impression that he can defeat any antagonist.

We can see that in the way Tolkien revised his initial idea (as seen in my previous post). At first, Gandalf actually says
'So far I have saved myself from him only by flight.... But now he is grown more fell than ever.' (HoME IX, p. 326)
But that kind of suggests Gandalf has about zero chance of stopping the "Wizard King". No drama there. By the time Tolkien found his balance in this scene, we read:
[Denethor:] 'Or can it be that you have withdrawn because you are overmatched?’ Pippin trembled, fearing that Gandalf would be stung to sudden wrath, but his fear was needless. ‘It might be so,’ Gandalf answered softly. ‘But our trial of strength is not yet come.' (LotR V.4)
This leaves us with a real sense of tension: is Gandalf 'overmatched' by the Witch King, or not? Why does he sit, unmoving, on Shadowfax when the wraith raises his flaming sword? What will happen in the next second - just as the horns of Rohan break the unbelievable tension of a scene the book has not predicted the end of?

I agree with you that we can see a steady trail of Tolkien's fixed intent throughout the sequence of revisions I cited. But I would suggest that that trail is about the mysterious prophecy regarding the Witch King's doom. From the beginning Tolkien imagined a story whereby not Gandalf, but some unknown party, would destroy the head wraith. Who? That's what changes. Here's his first stab at an idea:
Yet it was foretold that he should be overthrown, in the end, by one young and gallant. (HoME IX, p. 326)
This becomes:
'...if words spoken of old come true, he is not doomed to fall before warrior or wise [>men of war or wisdom]; but in the hour of his victory to be overthrown by one who has never slain a man [>by one who has slain no living thing].' (HoME IX, p. 335)
which is finally resolved into the classic riddle we all remember from the book:
'...if words spoken of old be true, not by the hand of man shall he fall.' (LotR V.4)
Of the three, the first is a mere boring cliche from fairy tales, and the third cleverly echoes the riddling prophecies we find in Greek myth, like the story of Oedipus. But look at the second idea. I was most intrigued by the concept of a "virgin" warrior: one who has never killed anything, but who will prove able to kill the demon. In some ways this somewhat impractical idea must have suggested to Tolkien his move to the classic "not a man" commission that only a woman can seemingly fulfill; it's even possible we can think that perhaps Eowyn had, indeed, never before killed anything, although there's no hint of that in the story. (Her maiden status as a virgin does seem to have been an effective source of power against the shadow of the Witch King, as we see what the athelas reveals about her in the Houses of Healing: "...a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before been breathed by any living thing and came new-made...")

But I was reminded too of another point in the story, where Tolkien may have (as he so often did) recycled a story idea that he liked but could not use where he had originally intended to. During the Scouring of the Shire, remember, Frodo declares that
'No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire...' (LotR VI.8).
This gives substance to Frodo's new status as a prophet and a saint among the hobbits, at the end of his long agony. But doesn't this also, we now can see, point back to the scene on the Pelennor Fields, when the prophecy against the Witch King is fulfilled, surprisingly, not just by a woman who is "No man", but also by a hobbit, Merry, who is not a Man and who comes of a race that, it is later revealed, has never committed murder?



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Subject User Time
Is Gandalf (or any of the Maiar, for that matter) aware that he is a Maia? WingShield210 Send a private message to WingShield210 Aug 17 2013, 6:22am
    Interesting question Arandir Send a private message to Arandir Aug 17 2013, 7:59am
    His words on the bridge of Khazad-dum Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Aug 17 2013, 1:30pm
        Agree! arithmancer Send a private message to arithmancer Aug 17 2013, 2:19pm
            Specifically a Maia? WingShield210 Send a private message to WingShield210 Aug 17 2013, 5:58pm
    They knew some things. Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 17 2013, 6:19pm
    The term 'Maiar' postdates the writing of The Lord of the Rings squire Send a private message to squire Aug 17 2013, 9:29pm
        Great reply, and an excerpt from The Unfinished Tales WingShield210 Send a private message to WingShield210 Aug 17 2013, 9:58pm
            The perfect reply... Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 17 2013, 10:31pm
    Of course Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Aug 17 2013, 9:44pm
    Well (part I) sador Send a private message to sador Aug 18 2013, 5:31am
        I must have missed something Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Aug 18 2013, 12:47pm
            "Die now and curse in vain! For... I am no Maia!" squire Send a private message to squire Aug 18 2013, 2:57pm
                Classification vs. Meaning arithmancer Send a private message to arithmancer Aug 18 2013, 4:41pm
                    Another inquiry Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Aug 18 2013, 5:54pm
                        Nope, I also thought that. arithmancer Send a private message to arithmancer Aug 18 2013, 6:31pm
                        Tolkien thought so, too. sador Send a private message to sador Aug 19 2013, 9:07am
                            That's a really interesting point Sador elaen32 Send a private message to elaen32 Aug 19 2013, 9:23pm
                    I think we are meant to be uncertain of the outcome squire Send a private message to squire Aug 18 2013, 6:43pm
    Well, (part II) sador Send a private message to sador Aug 19 2013, 8:07am
        Another thought Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Aug 19 2013, 11:16am
            Ah, Reverend's classic sador Send a private message to sador Aug 20 2013, 5:35am
        The "Final" version Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Aug 19 2013, 5:41pm
            'Final' version? Elthir Send a private message to Elthir Aug 21 2013, 2:11pm
            by the way Elizabeth... Elthir Send a private message to Elthir Aug 21 2013, 2:41pm
                Tolkien wrote in one of his letters... rangerfromthenorth Send a private message to rangerfromthenorth Aug 22 2013, 10:47pm
    Elizabeth has a good point. The fact that Dis15 Send a private message to Dis15 Aug 19 2013, 6:45pm
    Yes of course they do! rangerfromthenorth Send a private message to rangerfromthenorth Aug 22 2013, 10:52pm
    Thoughts from a lightweight Dame Ioreth Send a private message to Dame Ioreth Sep 7 2013, 12:31am
    That is an interesting question RosieBaggins Send a private message to RosieBaggins Sep 24 2013, 4:59pm

 
 
 

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