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We need to talk about Gandalf
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Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Jul 25, 9:17am

Post #1 of 28 (1680 views)
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We need to talk about Gandalf Can't Post

Well, we don't really I suppose, but it might be interesting to. I mean, who was he really, we know he was a Maia from Valinor, but they do come in all sizes. What was his motivation a simple desire to do good or did he have others. There did seem something almost personal about his conflict with Sauron though that is understandable.
He is someone who was about through much of the third age, though he was quite quiet for the first thousand years or at least he does not seem to be mentioned in the histories at the time. I don't know if he was doing something! Also his mission statement to unite the free peoples against Sauron basically as I understand it, though they where forbidden to do so by force, yet he was obviously allowed to use powers against Sauron and his creatures when he had to for example in the Hobbit or in Dol Guldor. Coincidentally that is another thing about Gandalf he does appear in most of the legenduim, In fact I think I am correct in saying that he is the only one who is in both the Hobbit company and the Lotr company.
Also I think that people's reaction to him is interesting. I mean today if someone had been around and alive for thousands of years people would wonder about his longevity, But I suppose that Middle-earth is different, people just accept that some are immortal. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to have a discussion about this person. I know that it has been done before here and in Tolkien guide books, but I thought a new thread might be interesting to have.


Solicitr
Rohan

Jul 25, 2:12pm

Post #2 of 28 (1590 views)
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Have [In reply to] Can't Post

you read the essay on the Istari in Unfinished Tales? It provides a lot of the background for the five angeloi, especially why they were sent and why those particular Maiar were chosen.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 25, 3:06pm

Post #3 of 28 (1586 views)
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Gandalf vs Sauron: personal vendetta or personal connection? [In reply to] Can't Post

You raise quite a few good questions--thank you.

This one in particular got me thinking (always a dangerous thing):

Quote
There did seem something almost personal about his conflict with Sauron though that is understandable.


Gandalf tells Aragorn after the war is over and they're looking for White Tree saplings:

Quote
‘The Third Age was my age. I was the Enemy of Sauron; and my work is finished. I shall go soon. The burden must lie now upon you and your kindred.’

How personal does that sound? I actually think it sounds more like a job description.

But what I find interesting especially in the chapter, The Last Debate, is how personally Gandalf talks about Sauron, as if he reads his mind. (Someone could argue this is just a narrative device--that the reader needs to know what Sauron is thinking & feeling, so the author stuffs words into Gandalf's mouth--but I am dubious that Tolkien becomes so lazy at this point.)

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‘Now Sauron knows all this, and he knows that this precious thing which he lost has been found again; but he does not yet know where it is, or so we hope.

‘He is not yet sure,’ said Gandalf, ‘and he has not built up his power by waiting until his enemies are secure, as we have done.

‘He is watching. He sees much and hears much. His Nazgûl are still abroad. They passed over this field ere the sunrise, though few of the weary and sleeping were aware of them. He studies the signs: the Sword that robbed him of his treasure re-made; the winds of fortune turning in our favour, and the defeat unlooked-for of his first assault; the fall of his great Captain.

‘His doubt will be growing, even as we speak here. His Eye is now straining towards us, blind almost to all else that is moving.


How does Gandalf know so much? The answer "because he's a wizard" is a lazy one. Maybe he has a connection to Sauron as a fellow Maia, or maybe Narya gives him some insight into the master ring maker. Or maybe Gandalf is like Galadriel, who had uncanny insight into everyone, great and small:

Quote
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!’


So in Galadriel's case it wasn't a 2-way street of perception. How much of Gandalf's mind do you think Sauron perceives? (To give the devil his due, Sauron isn't stupid.)


hanne
Lorien

Jul 25, 3:29pm

Post #4 of 28 (1581 views)
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Did Gandalf arrive fully formed or did he grow? [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf is a great character, but I agree it is hard to figure out how he fit in over thousands and thousands of years. He was such a dynamic mover and shaker in the final century of the Third Age so it is hard to square that with him not being the same in his other 19 centuries in Middle-earth. So sometimes I can imagine a long Gandalf growth process, where he arrived at the Grey Havens naive, innocent, tentative, and needing lots of lessons and growth to become the incisive exasperated leader who suffers fools not and skilfully fires up key people at key times.

I mean you can look at the events after the arrival of the Istari and wonder what they were doing. There were a lot of what look like defeats:
* Sauron regroups in Mirkwood and evilifies it
* The Witch-king founds Angmar and destroys the North Kingdom
* Gondor tears itself apart in the Kin-Strife and eventually the line of kings is broken
* There's a Great Plague
* The Dwarf kingdoms in Moria and Erebor/Dale are destroyed by a Balrog and a dragon

On the positive side of the ledger:
* The hobbits survive and found the Shire
* The Rohirrim show up and ally with Gondor


hanne
Lorien

Jul 25, 3:29pm

Post #5 of 28 (1578 views)
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Great thoughts! [In reply to] Can't Post

This part of Hamfast's post struck me too, though I didn't think of the mindreading - that is a great insight. I had only been imagining Gandalf in Aman all through the First and Second Ages hearing about Sauron second-hand through people in the Halls of Mandos. Perhaps he was hanging out with people like Finrod and was horrified by the tales of what Sauron was up to.


VeArkenstone
Lorien

Jul 25, 8:23pm

Post #6 of 28 (1549 views)
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Gandalf [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that Gandalf and the other Wizards would have arrived fully formed, but had an unconscious mission statement to fulfill, and possibly they came in with memories themselves as being younger, but possibly those memories did not really exist. I know Gandalf traveled around and worked with the Elves on strategies to defeat Sauron. I think he may have had unconscious memory of Sauron as part of his unconscious mission statement. I am not sure about this though.

Please, call me Ve.


squire
Half-elven


Jul 25, 9:36pm

Post #7 of 28 (1547 views)
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The Wizard of Ozford, I mean Oxford [In reply to] Can't Post

I have always been fond of Paul Kocher's insightful commentaries on Tolkien's books in his Master of Middle-earth (Houghton-Mifflin, 1972). Writing before the Silmarillion and all the other posthumous publications were available, Kocher read and thought deeply about The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, the shorter works like Farmer Giles and Smith, and the ephemeral poems and essays in Adventures of Tom B., "Leaf by Niggle", etc.

In his chapter on The Hobbit, he argues for its literary and thematic independence from the later LotR: "to confuse them is to do a disservice to both tales." A little later he extends the independence to the characters who recur in the second book:
"Tolkien's abrupt leap from a children's tale to an epic of heroic struggle requires a radical elevation of stature for all of them. As the Necromancer of The Hobbit is not yet Sauron, Gandalf is not yet Gandalf. The wizard of the child's story who 'never minded explaining his cleverness more than once,' who is 'dreadfully afraid' of the wargs, who tricks Beorn into accepting thirteen unwanted dwarves into his house, and the like, needs nothing short of a total literary resurrection to become the messenger sent by the Valar to rally the West against Sauron." Kocher, P. (1972), [bold by squire]
I've always liked this because Kocher feels no need whatever to try to elide or ignore the problems of fit between the two books - and extends that outlook to the problem of fit between the two Gandalfs.

The wizard is a fabulous character (quite literally), but he is not necessarily consistent, nor is his presence or absence in other tales in the legendarium something to be inspected too closely or demandingly. His famous status as a 'Maia' was invented after the second book was completed, when the term was invented and he was added to its list in a revision of the Silmarillion made necessary by the writing of The Lord of the Rings (Galadriel and the Ents were added to the Silm in the same revision).

What I like about Gandalf is the air of Oxford about him, in some of his language and mannerisms. He does in fact often speak for the author, almost as often as the hobbits do; so when Tolkien modestly said that he saw himself as a hobbit, he was shyly disavowing his other self-incarnation as a heroic philologist Don/wizard in the book!



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sevilodorf
Grey Havens


Jul 27, 12:47pm

Post #8 of 28 (1361 views)
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Connection through the Ring [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf is a ring bearer as well and though Sauron never touched those rings they appear to give the wearers special insights. Also when Gandalf is speaking about understanding Sauron is a time after he had fallen and returned. The change from Grey to White was a major power or focus changer.

Just quick reaction thoughts here.

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CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 29, 3:52pm

Post #9 of 28 (1084 views)
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That is a lot of defeats [In reply to] Can't Post

I like your idea of personal growth, which I think underlies just about every character in the legendarium, even people who grow badly, like Melkor. Gandalf had to learn the considerable limitations upon his powers and basically sell himself to political leaders of the world. Why should they trust him? Didn't Annatar show up out of the blue too? (Arriving from the West would certainly polish the resume, though.)

He also had to learn how to work with the other Istari. And he had to learn what non-Valinorean Elves were like, as well as all the other races. Probably had to figure out how Narya worked too. So, big learning curve. There is that feeling that it all comes together for him in the end, which was the payoff for playing the student for so long.


hanne
Lorien

Jul 30, 4:08pm

Post #10 of 28 (950 views)
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You are right [In reply to] Can't Post

Even if things like technology remain static through the ages, or immortals take 500 years to make things happen, on a personal level growth is where it is at, and that's one of the reason why Tolkien is so wonderful. Even minor characters like Lobelia make strides. So totally, it makes for a feeling of a wonderful payoff! Nicely put!
Do we know how Narya worked, by the way? There's sort of a feeling that Galadriel's Ring put things in a kind of dreamy suspended animation, or maybe enhanced her own powers to do that but I'm far less clear about how the other two worked. Maybe it made people around it more lively and inclined to action? Could its presence have helped Bilbo give up the Ring?


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 30, 4:41pm

Post #11 of 28 (943 views)
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I guess the thing about Narya is [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien tells us via Cirdan what its power is:

Quote
‘Take this ring, Master,’ he said, ‘for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.


So one could conjecture that the reason Gandalf is the only Istari who stayed true to his mission is not because of his personal character, but by virtue of Narya. I actually don't think that's how Tolkien thought--I think he'd give all the credit to Gandalf's own inner virtue. But still, the possibility exists.

What's harder to see is how Narya kindled the hearts of others. Did it help Denethor? No. Did it offset in Boromir's heart the lure of the One Ring? No. (But then again, he got much worse after Gandalf was gone, so maybe.)

Did Narya help the wizard make cool fireworks and fight off the Wargs in Hollin? Probably. Did Gandalf use Narya to reverse the premature aging spell on Theoden? Quite possibly. But was it any good in dispelling the Black Breath on Eowyn, Merry, and Faramir? No, epic fail. It took Aragorn + some herbs to make that all better.

It's hard to see Narya strengthening The Resistance on a wide, long-term scale. Wasn't Gondor continuing to crumble over time? Weren't the Elves more likely to leave Middle-earth than stick around and "fight the long defeat"? And now that I think about it, why didn't Narya have any good effect on Saruman and Radagast?

Overall, I'm having trouble thinking of Gandalf being the reliable life of the party thanks to his ring. But, maybe the batteries needed periodic replacing.

RE: Vilya and Nenya. I agree that Nenya seemed to make Lorien a dreamy version of Valinor, amplifying Galadriel's early life there. It seems that Vilya did something similar for Elrond, re-creating the enchantment of Beleriand in Rivendell to make it feel like a special haven of Elvishness.


hanne
Lorien

Jul 30, 5:59pm

Post #12 of 28 (930 views)
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batteries :) [In reply to] Can't Post

Hee hee :)

Thank you. I am beginning to think perhaps Narya is best seen as a symbolic badge of Gandalf's inherent powers than something with much power of itself, for as you say, that kind of thinking seems to have some plotholes. Taking Cirdan's words as reminding Gandalf of his function - not to dominate anyone but to inspire. You mention it not having any effect on Saruman, and another plothole there is why Saruman with all his Ringlore did not know Gandalf had it and did not take it (or try to) when he had Gandalf prisoner.

Or, perhaps the key is that dichotomy between kindling hearts but truly letting them make their own choices, not being puppets. It had no effect on Saruman or Radagast because they didn't choose to listen to whatever Narya showed their consciences?


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Jul 31, 9:15am

Post #13 of 28 (837 views)
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That quote about Gandalf been the enemy of Sauron [In reply to] Can't Post

And it been his work, was what I was thinking of. That does sound a bit personal to me as well!


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Jul 31, 9:20am

Post #14 of 28 (837 views)
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If there was a connection through the Rings [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf would have to be very careful, grey or white wouldn't he? As people that had connections via devices like these with Sauron such as Saruman and Denethor had a tendency to fall foul!
Also it is interesting about the change Gandalf had from grey to white. I was thinking of saying, but was he actually the same person?


squire
Half-elven


Jul 31, 11:53am

Post #15 of 28 (824 views)
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Without the One, Sauron cannot perceive the bearers of the Three [In reply to] Can't Post

Both Elrond and Galadriel explain this at various points in the story. As they put it, only if Sauron gets the Ring will he be able to destroy them, and the realms and legacies they have built with their Rings' own powers. Presumably Gandalf would lose some of his influence as a leader and inspirer, as well. But if the One is destroyed, Rivendell and Lorien will also fade (rather than being destroyed) due to the underlying links between the Three and the One!

But your note about 'devices' is certainly true: Sauron did have a palantir, and that was how he brought down Saruman and Denethor.



squire online:
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CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 31, 1:44pm

Post #16 of 28 (815 views)
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I think Gandalf the White settles comfortably into the same personality as The Grey [In reply to] Can't Post

though I know others disagree. There was that very awkward reintroduction to Aragorn/G/L in Fangorn when he didn't seem to know his own name and acted peculiar, but that passed quickly. Sure, he was more powerful than before, but I think he was the same person.

But it raises a good point about whether he had increased telepathy as The White to read Sauron's thoughts. Maybe, but early in the trilogy, both speaking to Frodo at Bag End and at The Council of Elrond, he seems to know a lot of what's on Sauron's mind and how he views things.

In particular this quote sticks with me as showing how intuitive he is when it comes to Sauron: [speaking to Frodo at Bag End]:

Quote
‘To tell you the truth,’ replied Gandalf, ‘I believe that hitherto – hitherto, mark you – he 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.’



CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 31, 1:50pm

Post #17 of 28 (813 views)
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Good point about free will [In reply to] Can't Post

and Tolkien is all about free will, including allowing someone to choose the wrong path, as Gandalf did with Saruman after Helm's Deep.

But the more I think about it, the more I see Narya as working as fire symbol (as in flames and such) than inspiring people's hearts to fight Sauron. Maybe that was wishful thinking on Cirdan's part.


Eruonen
Valinor


Aug 3, 3:15am

Post #18 of 28 (539 views)
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We should also consider who will play Gandalf [In reply to] Can't Post

My guess is that they will go for a younger actor but it has to be someone who still has that commanding personality and can be quite similar to the Gandalf of Ian McKellen that we know.

I have no idea who that could be.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 3, 1:00pm

Post #19 of 28 (530 views)
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Don't expect to see Gandalf in Amazon's series. [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf/Mithrandir is not sent to Middle-earth as one of the Istari until around the year 1000 of the Third Age. The show is probably not going to reach that point.

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." - DRWolf (after John C. Maxwell)


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Aug 6, 6:56am

Post #20 of 28 (482 views)
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Gandalf does the same with Saruman [In reply to] Can't Post

In the run-up to Helm's deep. He says lots of things like, 'Saruman is apt to forget his bargains. I would go quick to remind him,' to Wormtongue for example. How was Gandalf so sure about this and that Saruman had suddenly become the worse of bad guys. After all it was only a few months ago he had counted Saruman as a friend and did not even realize the Lord of isengard's full intentions.


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Aug 6, 7:02am

Post #21 of 28 (483 views)
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Maybe [In reply to] Can't Post

But I wouldn't put it past Sauron to give it a good try. He was the master of perceiving thoughts!


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Aug 6, 7:30am

Post #22 of 28 (483 views)
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More thoughts on Gandalf [In reply to] Can't Post

One is the issue of the White Council. Galadriel did suggest that had Gandalf been the head of the Council as she had suggested that things might well have been different. I wonder how so? Yes, I suppose that there would have been better decisions taken at a globel level so to speak, but would Gandalf wonderings and discovering things at the ground level been missed? I can't see someone like Saruman doing that!
Elrond said that if it where not for Gandalf the shadow might well already have conquered. I wonder what deeds that Gandalf might have done which would have stopped this even before the events which we read about in the books.
And his relationship with the Shire is interesting. If you think about it, he did spend hundreds of years in the Shire with the Hobbits. On and off. It was quite a long relationship and I speculate about how many of the great the good and the ordinary folk of the Shire he knew on those years.


Solicitr
Rohan

Aug 7, 1:46pm

Post #23 of 28 (326 views)
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Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

Having been held prisoner for weeks after Saruman gave him the full Villain Monologue might have been a clue......


CuriousG
Half-elven


Aug 8, 3:55pm

Post #24 of 28 (255 views)
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Gandalf and the White Council [In reply to] Can't Post

Great questions and musings, Hamfast. My thoughts:

1. I think since the White Council met so seldom, Gandalf could have kept up his lifestyle as Grey Pilgrim. I think what's implied is that if he'd been head of the Council, they would have acted more aggressively against Sauron when he was weaker, as Gandalf urged but was overruled by Saruman. Though in the scheme of things, it seems to me that Sauron was always destined to grow great after every defeat, and periodically driving him out of Dol Guldur wasn't the final solution for him.

2. Gandalf's deeds: the way his deeds are casually mentioned, such as going in disguise to Dol Guldur (disguised how? magically, or with a good tailor?) or visiting Moria on his own, it conjures in this reader's mind that there's probably a whole closet full of Gandalf's adventures, and we're only told the ones we need to know about. Which just feeds the imagination more.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 8, 4:24pm

Post #25 of 28 (253 views)
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Gandalf's Deeds [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
2. Gandalf's deeds: the way his deeds are casually mentioned, such as going in disguise to Dol Guldur (disguised how? magically, or with a good tailor?) or visiting Moria on his own, it conjures in this reader's mind that there's probably a whole closet full of Gandalf's adventures, and we're only told the ones we need to know about. Which just feeds the imagination more.


We also know that Gandalf aided the hobbits of the Shire (and the Bree-folk?) during the Long Winter of T.A. 2758-59, and he acted as an instructor of sorts to at least some of the young Lords of Gondor. He was known well-enough by the dwarves for them to give him the name of Tharkûn. Gandalf had probably been a teacher and/or advisor to King Thengel of Rohan, at least during the time when the latter was a prince dwelling in Gondor.

With the exception of the formation (re-formation?) of the White Council in 2463, we know very little about Gandalf's activities in his first 1500 years or so in Middle-earth after Círdan had gifted Narya, the Ring of Fire, to him.

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." - DRWolf (after John C. Maxwell)

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Aug 8, 4:31pm)

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