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The military picture of the Third Age

uncle Iorlas

Apr 18 2018, 6:02am

Post #1 of 16 (3306 views)
The military picture of the Third Age Can't Post

Been thinking about this lately. Gandalf's mind is always on Sauron's next move; if there is one person sitting across the chessboard from Sauron, Gandalf is he. But I don't know that Sauron sees it that way. What is Sauron thinking at any given time? Who does he think of as his adversaries?

I was looking through the appendices and noticed that Gandalf spurs Thorin into motion largely in order to block the easy route from Mordor to Angmar, and deny Sauron the potential asset of Smaug. (Incidentally, has anybody else ever had the rather terrifying thought that Smaug once came within a whisker of possessing the One?) I started trying to look over the events of Gandalf's career in that light: we understand that he is always circulating around in an effort to guide the whole political landscape against Sauron, but what are the pieces that matter?

Almost as soon as he arrives he is very suspicious about what's going on in Dol Guldur. At some point in his career, perhaps, he begins asking himself the right question: since Sauron is still out there somewhere, setting aside exactly where and in what form, what do we see if we imagine that all evil forces on the map are being coordinated somehow? The first thing to see is that Dol Guldur represents an effort to seize the middle of the board. Then Arvedui vanishes, and not so very long afterward Moria falls, and all the while the Misty Mountains become infested with orcs from end to end, and maybe around then he sees it: Sauron is dividing north from south, east from west. Once Earnur is gone, the only possible heirs have to be in the north (Sauron hasn't been sure since at least Arvedui that any heirs of Isildur survive, but he would never forget for a second that he can't be sure they're extinct either), while the only remaining throne is in the south. Sauron wants to keep it that way.

So for a long time Gandalf sees his game as poking holes in Sauron's fence. Boot him out of Mirkwood, keep trying over and over to reestablish Erebor; it is good news when the Rohirrim settle in Calenardhon though I don't know if he had anything to do with it, and he would regard Saruman's settling in Isengard as a solid defense keeping that pass open. Perhaps he does something to encourage the rise of the Beornings, to try and keep that northern pass open as well?

But I think (mostly because otherwise it's hard to believe he doesn't do some due diligence on Bilbo's ring) that he never sees, until maybe the last meeting of the White Council when somebody finally gets Saruman to tell what he knows about ring-lore, how central the rings are in Sauron's mind. That the rings are still in play on the current map, not the three only, but that Sauron is actively hanging his hopes on getting the One back.

And then, I further speculate, he realizes that Sauron doesn't know about Gladden Fields. He is probably thinking, in the absence of any other obvious theory, that the One remains in the hands of the northern heirs, as an heirloom of their house. So Sauron, if this is correct, spends most of the Third Age working from a flawed threat model: his big fear is an heir of Elendil coming out of nowhere with the One on his finger, taking power at Gondor and mustering everyone for a frontal assault on Mordor. All this time that's what he's been building defenses for, and also trying to prevent. Hence the enormous military action up in Angmar for so long, while the situation in Gondor stagnated. Remember, Tolkien likes ubermenschen, at least in tales; Sauron would likely see the specific heir of Elendil as more likely to unseat him than a whole nation of less lineage. He knows the Numenoreans have what it takes to confound him, and so "doubt ever gnaws him."

So with this in mind, Gandalf begins rather to try and maintain a fence of his own, stretching from Gondor to Erebor, mostly to guard the Dunedain from overwhelming attack (though perhaps a twinge of foresight makes him especially anxious to prevent the people of the Shire from ever appearing on Sauron's map at all, even before he puts one and One together about what Bilbo's got).

Yea or nay? This timeline is so ghastly long, decades or centuries tend to slide by between developments, and it's hard to imagine sometimes that either Gandalf or Sauron could miss so many possibilities in so many years of thinking about them, but there you have it. What possibilities am I missing?


Apr 18 2018, 2:45pm

Post #2 of 16 (3222 views)
For the most part, I agree. [In reply to] Can't Post

One of the problems that Gandalf faces is that the Wise are mostly reactive rather than proactive. The Necromancer has occupied Dol Guldur for at least 1000 years before anyone (Gandalf) investigates and Sauron withdraws into the East to avoid discovery. This starts off the Watchful Peace, but the White Council is not formed until after Sauron returns to Mirkwood. Then it is almost another 200 years before Gandalf comes to Dol Guldur again, this time discovering the identity of the Necromancer (and happens across a dying Dwarf who turns out to be the father of Thorin Oakenshield). Saruman as head of the Council rejects Gandalf's advice to immediately act against Sauron. At least we know what was Saruman's agenda, though he was certainly telling himself that his reasons were sound and his secretly was justified. Saruman the White doesn't seem to have actively turned to evil until after the year 2941 when the White Council finally forced Sauron to withdraw back to Mordor.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


Apr 18 2018, 7:15pm

Post #3 of 16 (3199 views)
Some guesses about Smaug. [In reply to] Can't Post

Smaugs cognizance of the ring, if any, never is dealt with. Obviously as a result of the Hobbit beeing written long before the idea of the Master ring emerged, and no retcon of the Hobbit in this regard was ever attempted by Tolkien.

The movies did make a small scene from it, probably as a result of doing the Hobbit after LotR:s, but that also in the end went nowhere.

It is difficult in some ways to see how Smaug could have utilized the ring. He could not have worn it. Not unless it's powers of growing and shrinking were much larger than presented.

It is also a question perhaps why Sauron chose to make a ring of all things. Rings tend worn only by humanoids, and it may have been because most of the sentient non-animals of Middle-Earth were humanoids, and it was these that Sauron desired control over.

Certainly in any case it was the Elves who desired rings, and Sauron was happy to oblige them, and perhaps in some strange Middle-Earth logic it would take a ring to have power over another ring.

So that leads to the question would the ring have any allure to Smaug? He is sentient at least and so might have been susceptible to another beeing wielding the ring, possibly even to serve that other, though a Dragons ego might have been a tall order even for a ring lord.

He is not humanoid, and probably would not have been able to wield a ring himself, even if he could fit it. Don't know if attaching it to his underbelly like he did with the gems would have had any effect?

Also dragons as a rule does not seem to have any desire of controlling other minds, unless this is done in direct accordance with another masters will, as in the case of Glaurung. Left to themselves, the seem go more for the jealous hoarding of precious things, and otherwise mostly revel in destruction rather than order.

So my guess is that to begin with the ring didn't have the same kind of attraction to Smaug as it had to many others, and unless his attention was brought to it by external coincidence he would simply not register it, but also that if it's importance and value had been brought to his attention, then he would have coveted it fiercely, in a similar manner that Gollum does. Not to make use of or take over the world or anything like that, not even to destroy the world, but to have it in his hoard and keep jealous guard over it forever.

Or at least until Sauron would have forced it out of his possession.

uncle Iorlas

Apr 18 2018, 10:20pm

Post #4 of 16 (3181 views)
Smaug thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

This is fun. I figured it's hard to know how far the Ring can expand--we really know very little about Sauron's own physical form by this time--so one possibility is that for it to accomodate a dragon's claw is no big deal compared to what else the Ring can do, But on balance I prefer your suggestion of his "wearing" it by having it crusted onto his body.

I don't mean to suggest Smaug knew the Ring was there, and still less that he would have an involved understanding of what it did. But I would suppose that any old tie pin would have an allure for him, as long as it was gold-plated, and his abstract hoarding of gold would be plenty enough cause to kill somebody for it (indeed just showing up is cause enough). Surely he would become aware, if he held it, that it held great potency. Smaug is not human but he is wise nevertheless. And while I'm not sure what it would do for him, my general sense is that it gives power according to the wearer's stature (I mean, that's close to a quote, of course) and so probably instead of turning him invisible, but also instead of immediately affording him control of the other rings or whatever, it would just amplify his natural attributes of invulnerability, shrewdness and destructive force. And maybe his mind would be better able to resist its addictive effect that Gollum's, say, one could just as easily argue that Smaug is already deeply dependent on jewelry hoarding and the compulsive power of the Ring would easily piggyback on that and go straight to his heart.

Alas. It is a useless line of thinking but the dragon is one of my favorite characters in Tolkien.

uncle Iorlas

Apr 18 2018, 10:22pm

Post #5 of 16 (3178 views)
ps [In reply to] Can't Post

I hadn't realized the movies played on this--apparently at least one other person has thought of it! I watched Jackson's Fellowship and never felt any need to watch further.


Apr 20 2018, 5:50pm

Post #6 of 16 (3069 views)
Where Sauron thinks the One Ring is? [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
And then, I further speculate, he realizes that Sauron doesn't know about Gladden Fields. He is probably thinking, in the absence of any other obvious theory, that the One remains in the hands of the northern heirs, as an heirloom of their house. So Sauron, if this is correct, spends most of the Third Age working from a flawed threat model: his big fear is an heir of Elendil coming out of nowhere with the One on his finger, taking power at Gondor and mustering everyone for a frontal assault on Mordor.

That's an interesting point - as far as we know, Sauron does not know about the Gladden Fields (until he captures Gollum).

The only thing in the text I can think of about this is what Gandlaf reports about Saruman's speculation about what Sauron thinks:

"At the worst,” said he, “our Enemy knows that we have it not, and that it still is lost."

LOTR II, 2, Council of Elrond

For that to be correct Sauron would have to know/sense/guess that the Ring had somehow got lost - he might conclude that without knowing how it happened. Given what ownership of the One Ring does to people pretty quickly, I'd guess any of Aragorn's ancestors holding the Ring would have made themselves noticeable pretty quickly, and so the absence of a wannabe Ringlord suggests nobody has the Ring. That's what I think Saruman is assuming, in making this argument.

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


Apr 20 2018, 5:53pm

Post #7 of 16 (3070 views)
Sauron's knowledge of the Gladden Fields [In reply to] Can't Post

From the Tale of Years:

2939: Saruman discovers that Sauron’s servants are searching the Anduin near Gladden Fields, and that Sauron therefore has learned of Isildur’s end. He is alarmed, but says nothing to the Council.

(This post was edited by Eldorion on Apr 20 2018, 5:53pm)

uncle Iorlas

Apr 20 2018, 6:22pm

Post #8 of 16 (3062 views)
oh that's right [In reply to] Can't Post

So he learns of it well before he meets Gollum, anyhow.

I'd been thinking Sauron might fume to himself that Elrond must be behind the heirs' unexpected success in keeping their secret weapon secret. But I need to check the timetables on it, at best.


Apr 20 2018, 6:54pm

Post #9 of 16 (3053 views)
The Orcs that were at the Gladden would have known that a top-tier Numenoran Royal was killed there [In reply to] Can't Post

They might even have know that it was Isildur.

If they were boastful enough about it a legend might well have arisen among them, that persisted enough of the truth in it, for Sauron to piece together that Isildur was killed near the Gladden.

That in itself wouldn't tell him that Isildur had taken the ring though, and if he knew about that he must have found out in some other manner. Isildur wrote a scroll about the ring which was preserved in the vaults of Minas Tirith. Might a similar scroll have been present in Minas Ithil?

He must in any case, implicitly have understood that the ring hadn't been destroyed.


Apr 20 2018, 10:36pm

Post #10 of 16 (3019 views)
Could be [In reply to] Can't Post

That's an interesting thought regarding Orcish legends; I like it. Smile Sauron might also have pieced things together from information gathered by spies or other servants with experience living in Gondor (e.g., defectors to the Corsairs), though. According to the Gladden Fields chapter in Unfinished Tales the legend of Isildur's death was not composed in full until the Fourth Age, but "Isildur's Bane" was still spoken of in Gondor, and the general area in which Isildur died was known, although many of the details of his death were not pieced together until further evidence was uncovered after the War of the Ring.

ETA: to be fair, the simple fact that Sauron was searching for the Ring doesn't necessarily mean he was certain that it still existed prior to Gollum's capture and interrogation, just that the possibility existed in his mind.

(This post was edited by Eldorion on Apr 20 2018, 10:39pm)


Apr 21 2018, 12:38am

Post #11 of 16 (3002 views)
I think, therefore I am, therefore the Ring is [In reply to] Can't Post

As you say, the one fact Sauron was sure of was that the Ring had not been destroyed. He could not have reconstituted himself, as long as the process did take, had it been melted at Mount Doom by Isildur or any subsequent holder.

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Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Apr 21 2018, 9:37pm

Post #12 of 16 (2915 views)
He might well have believed it was at the bottom of the ocean, however. [In reply to] Can't Post

And, who knows he might have had some long-term plan of getting the device back in that case. Of course, even the Wise thought it had past out of all knowledge. According to the appendixes, Saruman saw that Sauron's servants where searching the Gladden fields and had therefore learned of Isildur's end at the end of the third age.


Apr 23 2018, 1:29am

Post #13 of 16 (2848 views)
Gandalf with a little help from his friends [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for laying out the big picture like that, Uncle I. I would add that Gandalf's equal in the chess match against Sauron was Galadriel:

"...for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.
‘I it was who first summoned the White Council."

She's been trying to outmaneuver Sauron & Morgoth since the First Age. And for some reason, though the Istari were sent to unite people against Sauron, it took Galadriel to actually do that uniting through the White Council.

On a more specific level, I think it was in Unfinished Tales where Lorien is collapsing due to the departure/death of King Amroth, and Galadriel sees it as a key geopolitical counter to Sauron's moves on the central chessboard, and it's right across the river from Dol Guldur. To be fair to Elrond & Cirdan, I think they were of like mind and supportive team players, but we don't see either of them uprooting their realms to move across the street from Sauron so they can throw rocks through his windows.

There's also her declaration:

'I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But still the door is closed!’

Not even Gandalf makes that claim, though maybe he's just more modest, since Gandalf seems confident on several occasions about what Sauron thinks and how he feels:

In Hobbiton:

‘To tell you the truth,’ replied Gandalf, ‘I believe that hitherto – hitherto, mark you – he [Sauron] has entirely overlooked the existence of hobbits. You should be thankful. But your safety has passed. He does not need you – he has many more useful servants – but he won’t forget you again. And hobbits as miserable slaves would please him far more than hobbits happy and free. There is such a thing as malice and revenge.’

In Rivendell:

'Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.’

In the Last Debate at Minas Tirith:

‘But how is this?’ asked Éomer. ‘All is vain, you say, if he has the Ring. Why should he think it not vain to assail us, if we have it?’
‘He is not yet sure,’ said Gandalf,

Tongue One might almost say that Gandalf knows what's on Sauron's just a little too accurately, as if he's talking to him through back channels and maybe looking to make a deal of his own like Saruman. (jk!)


Apr 23 2018, 2:28pm

Post #14 of 16 (2827 views)
Generalissima Galdriel has the machisma [In reply to] Can't Post

(...if those would be the feminine forms of 'generalissimo' and machismo, which is just a gringo's guess :) )

Insofar as there is any geopolitical mastermind supervising resistance to Sauron, I'd agree, it's Lady G. as much as it's Gandalf.

But my impression is that kings and other rulers are mostly minding their own local concerns and that it's either difficult to set up any large-scale alliances (the equivalent to NATO, for example) or that nobody has tried. The White Council is the nearest thing, but we don't have a delegate list (as far as I remember, which is not far these days). I don't think we know, for example, whether the White Council is exclusively an elves and wizards club, or whether Dwarves and Men are represented. Personally I imagine the former.

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


Apr 23 2018, 3:04pm

Post #15 of 16 (2825 views)
The Councils of the Wise [In reply to] Can't Post

The Council of the Wise goes back to the Second Age and the founding of Imladris by Elrond. As far as I know the first Council consisted entirely of Eldar: Elrond; Círdan; Galadriel; and others among the Eldar. Additional members might have included Celeborn, Glorfindel, Amroth, Oropher (father of Thranduil) and others.

We have only a very limited list of confirmed members of the White Council, though we know that there were more. Galadriel brought the White Council together, inviting the Istari into their ranks. The 'Blue Wizards' were already gone into the East and so never took part in the Council. Radagast the Brown was probably a member, but is said to have seldom (if ever) taken an active role. Confirmed members of the White Council include: Saruman the White (as head of the Council); Gandalf the Grey; Círdan; Galadriel; and Elrond. There were other members among the Eldar that might have included: Glorfindel; Celebrían; Erestor; Gildor Inglorion; Elladan; Elrohir; Celeborn; and others among the Wise. Thranduil might have been invited to be part of the White Council, but there is no indication that he accepted such an invitation.

I agree that there were probably no Men nor Dwarves on either the White Council or the Council of the Wise of the Second Age.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 23 2018, 3:04pm)

uncle Iorlas

Apr 24 2018, 1:30am

Post #16 of 16 (2804 views)
excellent case for Galadriel [In reply to] Can't Post

and a reminder that I need to go over her chapters in trying to piece together this picture. Many thanks, CuriousG. Particularly the excellent point that she herself moved to hold the center; that happens around the time I was imagining Gandalf to be just beginning to imagine the landscape as one big board.

In the Tale of Years a parenthetical note clarifies "the wise" as "the Istari and the chief Eldar," so I always imagined the White Council to be basically the same people--even though the White Council per se isn't formed for another thousand years. It's always left a little vague, just how many Eldar were involved.


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