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How to explain Gandalf’s “it may have been better so”

The Shire

Jul 13 2021, 9:57am

Post #1 of 4 (1197 views)
How to explain Gandalf’s “it may have been better so” Can't Post

Remember the exchange between Gandalf and Frodo, after Frodo regained consciousness in Rivendell:

‘We needed you. I did not know what to do without you.’
‘I was delayed,’ said Gandalf, ‘and that nearly proved our ruin. And yet I am not sure: it may have been better so.’

How to explain this last statement “it may have been better so”? I found 3 entirely different explanations!

1.- Frodo’s growth in character:

From “A Reader's Companion” (Hammond & Scull):

Because Gandalf was delayed, the hobbits set out later than planned and were menaced by Black Riders. But because of this, Frodo has endured trials which help him to grow in character and ultimately to undertake his journey to Mount Doom, while Merry has obtained the knife from the barrow with which he will help to defeat the Witch-king.

This last argument is not clear to me, because at that point Gandalf could not guess the later relevance of that knife.

2.- a possibly worse situation had he arrived earlier

From “The Treason of Isengard” (C. Tolkien):

There is an earlier version of this text, which explains the thought in greater detail. It makes much more sense, and as it was left out later, the subject quote might have become an unexplained “left-over”:

'I was delayed,' said Gandalf; 'and that nearly proved our ruin. And yet I am not sure: it may have been better so. Knowing the peril I should not have dared to take such risks, and we might either have been trapped in the Shire, or if I had tried some long way round we might have been hunted down in some wild place far from all help. As it is we have escaped the pursuit - for the moment.'

3. A possibly wrong choice

I cannot remember when or where I came across this and so this comes without any reference, but in earlier versions there was a thought to perhaps let the Ring fly west to the Grey Havens, after which it would have been impossible to return eastbound. But maybe I remember this wrong.

I’ll be glad with additional thoughts on this!


Jul 13 2021, 6:02pm

Post #2 of 4 (1168 views)
Maybe it's just a part of Gandalfs characterization. [In reply to] Can't Post

Perhaps Gandalf is merely reflecting that he now know things turned out well as they did, while one can't know how they would have turned out had he not been delayed?
Doesn't he at some point speak about fate and higher powers, and how Frodo was meant to get the ring. (Or is that in the movies?) Lord of the Rings has a couple of reflections on such things. Gandalfs thoughts in Rivendell could have run on the same lines, without being expressed so.
On a more basic level, Gandalf getting separated from Frodo and the other allowed him to draw away at least four Black riders from them. Perhaps he could have done this even if he was with them, though he might not have been inclined to leave Frodo and the ring outside his watch.


Jul 13 2021, 7:02pm

Post #3 of 4 (1167 views)
all of them at once? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think several of these could be right, and more besides:

1. Frodo has grown in character, and has learned something about the treacherous nature of the Ring. I agree with you that there's no need to think Gandalf foresees exactly how the barrow blade will come in handy, but perhaps he doesn't need to know the future with clarity. I suppose it is possible that he knows that these blades could be useful, and so it is a good thing that the hobbits have them. And in any case, Frodo's growth in character might be all that was meant by Gandalf's remark. Elsewhere in this exchange, Gandalf seems to regard the barrow as a crucial moment, perhaps the most important of Frodo's adventures.

2. Yes, a number of things could have gone wrong had Gandalf not been captured. A further one would presumably be Gandalf getting Saruman's message via Radagast, and deciding to return immediately to Bag End to rush Frodo straight to Saruman for help.

3. I'm less sure about #3. In Council of Elrond they do say that it is now too late to get the Ring to the Sea (notwithstanding this being the wrong thing to do anyway). That might not be the same as saying it was impossible at midsummer when Gandalf rode off to Isengard, or in September.
Of course what would have happened given such an alternative plot line can only be speculation or fan-fiction rather than critical analysis. But I note something that if I recall Hammond & Scull cover in their Reader's Companion: provided characters keep on doing the right action for the right reason, the Universe seems to keep on offering them a way forward*. So my choice of speculation/fan fiction (for what tit is worth, if anything) is to imagine that Frodo flying to the Grey Havens would have resulted in a Council of Cirdan, and perhaps a route to Mount Doom that started with a boat journey.

"You were exceedingly clever once, but unfortunately none of your friends noticed as they were too busy being attacked by an octopus."
-from How To Tell If You Are In A J.R.R. Tolkien Book, by Austin Gilkeson, in 'The Toast', 2016 https://the-toast.net/...-a-jrr-tolkien-book/


Jul 13 2021, 10:17pm

Post #4 of 4 (1166 views)
4 and 5 [In reply to] Can't Post

4. Aragorn was drawn more fully into the quest, thing, and the Hobbits learned to trust and rely on him.

5. Saruman was ‘unmasked.’

Oh, and 6. The Black Riders were gathered and unhorsed in one fell swoop.


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