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What if...Gandalf didn't fall at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum?
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CuriousG
Half-elven


Feb 15 2017, 6:43pm

Post #26 of 44 (1042 views)
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Shrewd & ruthless [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf can seem like he's hanging people out to dry with the bets he's taking. I fully agree with that.

But we've discussed before how religious LOTR is and isn't, and I think it comes into play here as I ponder this reckless gambler. I would guess that Tolkien didn't see Gandalf as gambling at all, but as someone who was trusting in The Greater Good to make things work out, so he would let go of things and expect Iluvatar to take the reins. And for the most part, his trust/faith was rewarded.

I think there's a profound difference to highlight between the books and the movies, where in the movie, Gandalf seemed prepared to die (again) with Pippin in Minas Tirith before the Dead showed up to save the day. But in the books, Gandalf the White never seems to lose his deep faith that things will work out. He got all excitable about the Nazgul flying to Isengard, and worried when Faramir said Frodo was being led by Gollum to Cirith Ungol--he would worry, but not lose faith, if I'm drawing that distinction carefully enough.

I would say that he worried about details, but not The Big Picture. He was saddened by Thingol's death and didn't foresee it, for example, but I think he fully expected to win the Battle of the Pelennor. And later at the Black Gate, again he seemed like he didn't know the details of what would happen next, but he certainly didn't despair and expect to die (again), he just waited for things to work themselves out (the Ring being destroyed, Eagles appearing). Or for yet another example, he fretted all day in the Houses of Healing over Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry, as if "waiting for a sign," then when Ioreth's conversation struck a chord, that was the sign he needed to connect the dots and go get Aragorn to play King Healer.


noWizardme
Valinor


Feb 15 2017, 6:48pm

Post #27 of 44 (1041 views)
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That's an important point: in M-e, Powers can slip in an extra card, or nudge the dice... [In reply to] Can't Post

...or whatever the right analogy is. But certainly the virtuous get some extra luck, on occasion.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


squire
Half-elven


Feb 15 2017, 7:49pm

Post #28 of 44 (1040 views)
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Take it back a notch: 'What if... Gandalf did not accompany the Fellowship from Rivendell?' [In reply to] Can't Post

As this excellent thread has uncovered, Gandalf's presence is generally too powerful to allow space for the chance events that are needed to destroy the Ring against its own nature. He simply could not have accompanied Frodo to the Fire, without making the story turn out so differently as not to be the one we know. (After all, Gandalf had the same deadening effect on The Hobbit's plot, which is why the author separated him from Bilbo and the dwarves almost as often as he needed something either dangerous or fortuitous to happen.)

And then I remembered that, at Rivendell, we are offered the heart-stopping suggestion that Gandalf might not even have started out with the Fellowship. I don't suppose we should take this too seriously - Gandalf's insouciance is presented too ironically, and I suspect the entire scene is a clever reference to The Hobbit - but the moment is there all the same, when Gandalf crashes the hobbits' post-Council debriefing, and says:
'In the meantime you should try and forget your troubles, Frodo. I do not know if I can do anything to help you; but I will whisper this in your ears. Someone said that intelligence would be needed in the party. He was right. I think I shall come with you.’
So great was Frodo’s delight at this announcement that Gandalf left the window-sill, where he had been sitting, and took off his hat and bowed. ‘I only said “I think I shall come”. Do not count on anything yet. In this matter Elrond will have much to say, and your friend the Strider.' -
LotR II.3
I have always read this with a bit of annoyance at the very idea of Gandalf not helping Frodo, after nearly getting him wraithed in previous leg of the quest! But there it is: Gandalf in some way at least considered that he would be better employed elsewhere while the Ring set off for Mordor!

Assuming that Aragorn's wisdom and Boromir's courage would have sufficed to get the company South, off the Pass alive, into and through Moria, could the company have escaped the Balrog? In other words, up to the fatal confrontation on the Bridge, are any of Gandalf's 'magic' contributions to the adventures in Book II fundamental to the success of the Ringbearer's mission? And if (oh, say) the Balrog didn't exist in Moria because there was no wizard present for it to confront, so that the passage through was just a matter of fighting off orcs and getting to the East Gate alive, wouldn't the story just pick up after that, as if Gandalf were in fact dead rather than making a new kit of party rockets back at Rivendell?

Then is 'Gandalf the White' really necessary for the second half of the book, or could 'Gandalf the Grey' have reappeared fortuitously enough at Fangorn forest - much the way he does just in time for the Battle of Five Armies - to take Aragorn to Rohan and generally run the war in the West while Frodo staggered East on his own, inconspicuous, wizardless, and overlooked by the Enemy?



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enanito
Lorien

Feb 15 2017, 9:46pm

Post #29 of 44 (1026 views)
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What if... Gandalf died elsewhere, even prior to Moria? [In reply to] Can't Post

Squire, you've posted something exactly along the lines of one thing that came to my mind. We're conditioned by Gandalf's death in Moria against the Balrog, to think that there's something special about it happening right then, right there. But I was wondering if Gandalf's death might be just as effective had it occurred prior to Moria?

Perhaps at the Ford of Bruinen, in a heretofore unknown fatal encounter with the WiKi? (yes, ick, bad idea, but just play along if you can). Or in a duel of Maia powers with Saruman on the slopes of Cardhras?

Any thing particular about Gandalf's death being caused by the balrog, a fellow Maia? Or about him dying in Moria?

To Squire's point, I do believe that having Gandalf intimately involved with the first part of the Quest sets him up as the #1 active player combating Sauron. Elrond and Galadriel are recluses in their realms, and Aragorn is reluctant to openly declare himself (Ok, ok, I hear you Boromir, yes, you definitely are leading the fight against Sauron, yes, yes, you and Gondor, standing alone. Sheesh). Without Gandalf as the leader of the Fellowship, his later role in events wouldn't carry the same weight, I believe.


enanito
Lorien

Feb 15 2017, 10:01pm

Post #30 of 44 (1020 views)
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Transformation indeed [In reply to] Can't Post

By "key to the tale", I don't mean "the key", or even "more key than other aspects". But I do believe that just as you point out how others are transformed, this holds true for Gandalf in his role as "Enemy of Sauron". His transformation isn't necessary for the Ring to be destroyed, but it is necessary for the tale of the fight against evil to transform all involved, even heaven-sent angelic beings.

To me, there came a point when after thousands of years, Gandalf was required to make a stand. Although he remained true to his ordained mission and did not confront Sauron through direct force, there's a change in how he had always previously worked behind the scenes, through others. We see that now he personally breaks Saruman's staff and casts him out of the order, confronts the WiKi prepared to fight him mano-a-mano, and emerges as the leader of the West as they journey towards the Black Gate.

I suppose Gandalf could have remained Grey and still have done these things, yet even without an outward change of colors, to me he'd be White on the inside. But perhaps I'm missing pieces of the Gandalf puzzle, I love getting my theories poked at on the Forum, it's how I see if they really hold up or not!


CuriousG
Half-elven


Feb 16 2017, 2:55am

Post #31 of 44 (1011 views)
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OK, thanks for explaining [In reply to] Can't Post

I think your theories hold up. I just wasn't quite getting it. (I said I'm CuriousG. I never said I was SmartG. Smile)

As for transformations, it was personally important to Tolkien that Galadriel face the temptation of the Ring and become "transformed" in passing the test, and I think that's one of the most moving parts of the book--I've thought so since first read, when I didn't even understand it all, and I still think so. It's scary and dramatic and sad and a bunch of other things all at once, a roller coaster of emotions.

Saruman had a transformation of a different kind, from good to evil. We could probably go on and on with examples. So I see your point--Tolkien didn't want his characters to stay the same throughout LOTR, and Gandalf needed to transform too.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Feb 16 2017, 2:58am

Post #32 of 44 (1004 views)
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Actually, Gandalf could have died fighting the Nine at Weathertop. Just a thought. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


CuriousG
Half-elven


Feb 16 2017, 3:23am

Post #33 of 44 (999 views)
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What if...squire opened a can of worms? [In reply to] Can't Post

Just kidding. It's funny that you bring up that bit of dialogue, because it came to my memory today too. It never seemed plausible that Gandalf wouldn't join the Fellowship, but then again, we can't argue with the author, and Gandalf makes that announcement to the hobbits as if it was an issue he had seriously deliberated over, maybe just in his own mind or maybe out loud with Elrond too.

One could argue that Gandalf's later actions in Rohan and Gondor to preserve both kingdoms against the Sauron-Saruman axis of evil show what was on his mind in Rivendell. Gandalf was a chessmaster like Galadriel, only not homebound like the latter, as enanito points out, and he could have decided in Rivendell, after escaping the treachery of Isengard and as the last Wizard true to their mission, that it was his duty to set things right west of the Anduin while others took care of "that Ring thing."

But one could also argue that the Wizard didn't like to be taken for granted, and his comment to the hobbits about "maybe he'd just tag along" was all a ruse to tease them (and he teases them a lot), and he had planned to go with the Ring no matter what. It is hard to second guess a fictional character from a deceased author--we don't have many sources to consult on this issue. But maybe with the macro view of the story logic, I at least would conclude that Tolkien:
  1. Saw Gandalf as an important figure.
  2. Couldn't portray Gandalf as important if he disappeared from the action like Radagast.
  3. Saw Gandalf's fate as a Ring-bearer and member of the Istari as inseparable from the One Ring's, just as Aragorn's fate was as Isildur's Heir, so it was a foregone conclusion he'd join the quest.
But to your next point, about could the Company have escaped the Balrog, I would suggest that if Gandalf wasn't in the Company, Aragorn would never have taken the Moria route (he was firmly opposed to it), and either Tolkien would have made Caradhras passable, or Aragorn would have led them another way, maybe through the Gap of Rohan. (I realize anything could have happened then: maybe they made it safely to Helm's Deep, Edoras, and Minas Tirith, or maybe Saruman's minions waylaid them and Saruman got the One Ring, or maybe the equivalent happened of what we have in the printed LOTR: Saruman's minions grab the wrong hobbits!)

For your larger question:

Quote
Then is 'Gandalf the White' really necessary for the second half of the book, or could 'Gandalf the Grey' have reappeared fortuitously enough at Fangorn forest - much the way he does just in time for the Battle of Five Armies - to take Aragorn to Rohan and generally run the war in the West while Frodo staggered East on his own, inconspicuous, wizardless, and overlooked by the Enemy?

I think enanito has me convinced that the book's theme drove Gandalf's conversion to the White as much or more so as plot necessities, so I'd say yes, Gandalf the White was necessary for the 2nd half of the book, but more to satisfy the author's aesthetic that all his characters undergo profound change, rather than the plot requiring a Wizard on steroids to make everything work.

PS. I apologize if I confuse anyone by frequently calling LOTR "the book" when we all know it's usually 3 volumes, and they're labelled as six "books." It's just a bad habit of mine to think of LOTR as a single entity and refer to it that way.



(This post was edited by CuriousG on Feb 16 2017, 3:27am)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Feb 16 2017, 7:35am

Post #34 of 44 (990 views)
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Grey vs. White [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Squire, you've posted something exactly along the lines of one thing that came to my mind. We're conditioned by Gandalf's death in Moria against the Balrog, to think that there's something special about it happening right then, right there. But I was wondering if Gandalf's death might be just as effective had it occurred prior to Moria?

Perhaps at the Ford of Bruinen, in a heretofore unknown fatal encounter with the WiKi? (yes, ick, bad idea, but just play along if you can). Or in a duel of Maia powers with Saruman on the slopes of Cardhras?

Any thing particular about Gandalf's death being caused by the balrog, a fellow Maia? Or about him dying in Moria?.


I'm not sure that I can explain this well, but I think that it is narratively important that Mithrandir remains Gandalf the Grey at the beginning of the quest. His apparent death is intended to throw the Fellowship into shock and despair, while his return as Gandalf the White brings unexpected hope. In retrospect, it's hard to see how his death could take place anywhere else except at Moria at the hands of the Balrog.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


FarFromHome
Valinor


Feb 16 2017, 9:03am

Post #35 of 44 (986 views)
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"Undergoing profound change" [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
... the author's aesthetic that all his characters undergo profound change ...

Great way of putting it! I'd like to add that the loss of Gandalf also causes profound changes in other characters, notably Aragorn when he is left to take up Gandalf's mantle as leader of the Quest. He hesitates at first, culminating in his fruitless search for enlightenment at the Seat of Seeing, and only truly finds his leadership qualities once he makes that fateful decision to let go of his own personal ambition, and go after Merry and Pippin instead of heading for Minas Tirith.

I'm sure all the complex changes that happen at the Breaking of the Fellowship could have been achieved (in storytelling terms) some other way, but the loss of Gandalf destabilizes and exposes the characters very compellingly, and allows them to grow.



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



FarFromHome
Valinor


Feb 16 2017, 10:21am

Post #36 of 44 (985 views)
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That Rivendell scene... [In reply to] Can't Post

Don't forget the context, though. When Gandalf says, '...Someone said that intelligence would be needed in the party. He was right. I think I shall come with you’, this is actually the first time anyone even mentions that there's going to be a Fellowship. As far as the hobbits know so far, only Frodo and Sam have signed up for the journey. Merry and Pippin (the self-styled "someone with intelligence" of course!) are arguing that they should be allowed to go, but no-one else has yet been mentioned. So although Gandalf as usual is holding his cards close to his chest, he's actually suggesting himself as the first real addition to the party - not wanting to promise too much yet (Elrond and Aragorn have to have their say too) but certainly, in this context, being pretty positive about it, I'd say.

But that's just a quibble I guess! Nothing need have prevented the author from finding some reason for keeping Gandalf otherwise employed if he wanted to, so it definitely makes an interesting what-if.


In Reply To
Assuming that Aragorn's wisdom and Boromir's courage would have sufficed to get the company South, off the Pass alive, into and through Moria, could the company have escaped the Balrog? In other words, up to the fatal confrontation on the Bridge, are any of Gandalf's 'magic' contributions to the adventures in Book II fundamental to the success of the Ringbearer's mission?

The problem here is that they couldn't have got through Moria at all as things stand, if Gandalf wasn't there. Aragorn was dead set against it, and he didn't know the way (we'll assume that they would have come up with a replacement for the glowing staff!). So either Aragorn is given Gandalf-level knowledge and wisdom (which messes with his own story of growth), or things have to change in other ways - perhaps they get over the Redhorn Gate safely, and arrive at Lothlórien as planned. That too would have been different if the Elves hadn't been expecting Gandalf, I think. Aragorn is a welcome guest there (Galadriel after all made the match that set Aragorn's quest in motion), and if Gandalf was safely off doing other things there wouldn't have been the great sense of grief and tension acting on everyone, and that's what heightens everything.

So although it's probably fair to say that none of Gandalf's 'magic' was crucial to the story, his wisdom and knowledge were. And his loss, in and of itself, changes things, both in Lothlórien and at Parth Galen, where Aragorn's indecisiveness after the loss of his mentor leads to the breaking of the Fellowship and the splitting of the story into all its different threads. Which was necessary, of course, but hard to envisage if Gandalf had still been with them. As we know from The Hobbit, and from earlier in LotR, Gandalf always seems to disappear when the other characters need to show their own initiative, and his comings and goings make the events quite different from if he wasn't ever there at all - the fact that the characters were relying on him makes their sudden need to fend for themselves all the more intense and chaotic, and takes the story in new directions.


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



(This post was edited by FarFromHome on Feb 16 2017, 10:22am)


noWizardme
Valinor


Feb 16 2017, 11:57am

Post #37 of 44 (982 views)
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'the loss of Gandalf also causes profound changes in other characters' - Boromir too [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that Boromir sees, and is disappointed by Aragorn's hesitation. He thinks that Aragorn will reluctantly go with Frodo to Mordor, causing Boromir's great mission to end in complete failure, because he will return to Minas Tirith with neither Sword-that-was-broken nor then heir of Isldur, nor Isildur's Bane.

And probably the conviction by 'the wise' that thte Ring must be sent to Mordor seems less good to Boromir now that one of the key members of the wise has been unwise enough to get himself killed by a balrog. Boromir probably remembers that he was the last one left arguing against going through Moria, and only went because he would otherwise have to desert the others.

Perhaps Boromir would have tried to take the Ring anyway, but I think Gandalf's fall helps him along the way to that point.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Feb 16 2017, 12:07pm

Post #38 of 44 (980 views)
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Gandalf's contribution to Book II is important, but not what a first -time reader is led to expect [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf' leadership give the impression that, after the scrapes and escapes of Book I the mission is now in the best professional hands. That's a bubble that Tolkien pops for the reader, of course, but also it's important that the other characters of the Fellowship are happy to trust to Gandalf, and not make detailed long-term plans.

The only Fellow who seems less happy with Gandalf's leadership is Boromir (significantly).

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Feb 16 2017, 12:39pm

Post #39 of 44 (977 views)
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Gandalf's role (and the problems it causes Tolkien) flow from Book I Chapter 2, I think [In reply to] Can't Post

In 'The Shadow of the Past' Tolkien uses Gandalf for the first time as the Expositor in chief. Among the things that we learn are:
=>What Frodo's Ring is, and what he must do with it
=>Who Sauron is, and how destruction of the Ring is the only real counter to Sauron, desperate though the idea may seem.
=>That Gandalf is one of Sauron's chief enemies, and that the destruction of the Ring is therefore of great concern to him.

From that point it's clear that the stakes are so high, and the mission is of such importance to Gandalf, and Gandalf is seen to be so powerful that Tolkien has given himself a problem. Why doesn't Gandalf stick to Frodo like glue? I can put it no better than squire just did:


In Reply To
Gandalf's presence is generally too powerful to allow space for the chance events that are needed to destroy the Ring against its own nature. He simply could not have accompanied Frodo to the Fire, without making the story turn out so differently as not to be the one we know. (After all, Gandalf had the same deadening effect on The Hobbit's plot, which is why the author separated him from Bilbo and the dwarves almost as often as he needed something either dangerous or fortuitous to happen.)


So I think that Tolkien has either to tear Gandalf away from Frodo (as he does do), or he has to change 'The Shadow of the Past'. Another author might pretty much delete Ch 2, and have Frodo forced to set off from the Shire without understanding why. For example, these terrible Black Riders suddenly started chasing him and his friends during what started out as a routine hiking expedition across the Shire. Book I's existing Gandalf-proxies (Gildor, Bombadill and Aragorn) could help the hobbits along pretty much as they already do, and they, Frodo and the Reader could slowly piece together why Frodo is being pursued. But among the problems with that is that it gets Frodo sucked into an adventure he hasn't agreed to, rather than having him bravely volunteer to take the Ring, already aware of the dangers.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Feb 17 2017, 6:23pm

Post #40 of 44 (947 views)
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I am always a bit funny about this entire plotline [In reply to] Can't Post

There is something odd about it. I mean if Tolkien wanted to get rid of Gandalf for a while, been too powerful etc, fair enough, but did did he have to kill the Wizard of to do it? Especially if Gandalf just comes back a few chapters later. Couldn't Gandalf have just disappeared for another reason, maybe decided to go after he Balrog, wondered why there was an army of Goblins in Moria etc? Apart from the fact that Gandalf gets promoted when he gets back to a White, I don't see the need!


Darkstone
Immortal


Feb 17 2017, 7:17pm

Post #41 of 44 (947 views)
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One wonders... [In reply to] Can't Post

...if like with Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes ("The Adventure of The Final Problem") or Ian Fleming and James Bond (From Russia With Love), Tolkien fully intended to kill off his major character at the time, but then later relented.

******************************************
“Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!"
"Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye."
"Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"
"But no living man am I! I am Eowyn, daughter of Theodwyn!”
"Er, really? My mother's name was Theodwyn, too!"
"No way!"
"Way!"
"Wow! Let's stop fighting and be best friends!"
"Cool!!"

-Zack Snyder's The Return of the King


Bracegirdle
Valinor


Feb 17 2017, 11:19pm

Post #42 of 44 (931 views)
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Scenariooo's [In reply to] Can't Post

Tons of great thoughts on this subject!


In Reply To
What if...Gandalf didn't fall at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum?
Instead assume he won the battle at the bridge

Assuming Gandalf went to Mordor
I don't see any Isengard destruction.


I'm not sure if I'm off-topic here as confusion reigns (in my mind as is my wont) - but ... considering we have no Gandalf the White if he didn't fall at Khazad-dum, and then considering that the capture of Merry and Pippin took place anyway, what would we have? Still - the destruction of Isengard (why not?).

And now if Gandalf went to Mordor (which seems a push as a great warrior (especially a wizard/Maia) would certainly attract the attention of Sauron?). Sooo - 'what-if' there were no Gandalf the 'White'? Thoughts straying perhaps a little much--- I have always thought that Gandalf's part in the Battle of Helm's Deep was simply almost an unecessary clean-up duty as Aragorn and Theoden sat for several minutes on Helm's Dike as the orcs (and men) lay helplessly, covering their ears, on the battle-field, and the huorns (and ents) were taking care of the many remnants.

But now I'll take the opposing view and say that Gandalf the still 'Grey' was unable to muster Erkenbrand and his lot and Helm's Deep was lost without the help of Gandalf the White as he was still Grey. Theoden and Aragorn are killed after their desperate forray into the battlefield. Alas! No Ride of the Rohrrim, and no help from the Dead Men of Dunharrow. The Battle of the Pelennor is lost. There is no Army of the West to draw the mustering of orcs (and men) to the Morannon. Gorgoroth is alive with orcs. Frodo and Sam are thus captured with the Ring.

Sauron wins!! Saruman is inconsequential as Sauron now overuns Isengard - etc.
Thank God for the death of Gandalf the Grey!!

‘. . . the rule of no realm is mine . . .
But all worthy things that are in peril . . . those are my care.
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?'

Gandalf to Denethor




InTheChair
Lorien

Feb 19 2017, 7:36pm

Post #43 of 44 (904 views)
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Tricky what-ifs. [In reply to] Can't Post

I would have made for so different a story that we could no longer have recognized it.
Even trying to view it in the light of later events, such as we try to do now produces far to many questions. To bring up just one thing, if Gandalf hadn't fallen/leaped then also the Balrog would not have died. Would it, having once been so near the ring, have stayed hidden in the depths of Moria?
Gandalf says he revealed himself to the Balrog in Moria. If he had gotten out, having thus broken his tryst with the Ainur of Aman, what would have been the consequenses on a metaphysical level?
Thing would have gone very different. So different perhaps it is not meaningful to try and find anwers?


dreamflower
Lorien

Feb 20 2017, 8:47pm

Post #44 of 44 (887 views)
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Someone has already gone there [In reply to] Can't Post

There is a really well-done fanfiction called "A Bit of Rope" by Aiwendiel which explores this situation. It used to be at the now lost HASA archive, but now can be found here:

http://efiction.esteliel.de/viewstory.php?sid=414

Don't be put off by the formatting, which appears to have gotten messed up in the transfer. Aiwendiel explores many of the questions that are asked in this thread. Her conclusions are that some things are better and some much worse!

Some people die that might have lived, while others live that would have died. Things go pretty horrifically for Gandalf at one point. (It's been a while since I read it, but he knew he could not go through Mordor with Frodo--he ends up allowing himself to be captured at the border in order to make sure that Frodo and Sam get through.)

There's a lot more sadness in this than the original story even though Sauron is defeated; I think part of the author's point is that changes are not all for the better.

Some people call it fanfiction. I call it story-internal literary criticism.

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