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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Gandalf's observation "it may have been better so"

The Shire

Sep 15, 4:30pm

Post #1 of 4 (1017 views)
Gandalf's observation "it may have been better so" Can't Post

This thread refers to what Gandalf said to Frodo as he regained consciousness in Rivendell:

'I was delayed,’ said Gandalf, ‘and that nearly proved our ruin. And yet I am not sure: it may have been better so'.

The events of the previous book would convince any reader that Frodo and his companions would instead have been much better off, had Gandalf arrived in time to protect them on their journey.

I would like to know your opinions about the following explanation.

It is well known that JRRT developed a number of versions before his writings were made final. In one version before the final text here (perhaps the last preceding one?), this text was far more complete. I found it in "The Treason of Isengard" (HoME 7) and it reads as follows:

'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.'

IMHO the disappeared text explains the reasons of Gandalf's surprising reflection and therefore it looks irrational to have the last part removed. I therefore suspect that this removal was involuntary (an error of some sort) and that it was never corrected afterwards.

Any opinions are very welcome.


Sep 15, 8:53pm

Post #2 of 4 (992 views)
I would guess the shortening of the text was not a mistake. [In reply to] Can't Post

The published text is cryptic, to be sure, especially in comparison to Gandalf's fuller explanation in the drafts.

But Tolkien liked cryptic, at times - especially in the context of the Quest of Mt. Doom. The theme is developed at about this point in the book that there is no safe direct route to the Fire, and that the Company is going to have to wing it in order to avoid detection or (worse) Sauron's figuring out what their plan is.

So for Gandalf to speculate mysteriously that Frodo's "unexpected journey" was actually a better result than being escorted from start to finish by Gandalf, asks the reader to consider what he means. I acknowledge the rather mundane explanation that Gandalf gives in the draft you found. But as a reader I always imagined he meant that the hobbits had somewhat accidentally received a very valuable "education" in how to conduct the quest without so much help and guidance. The "it may have been better so" result, I figured, was that the four hobbits are empowered to go on their later adventures on their own, without any guardian wise Man or Wizard: Frodo and Sam attempting Mordor alone; Merry and Pippin contributing to the victories in the West by their own independent actions.

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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Sep 16, 2:18pm

Post #3 of 4 (934 views)
I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

I started to write a post, realized that I was basically saying the same thing that you had said (but not as well as you said it), so I'll just leave it at that.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 16, 11:09pm

Post #4 of 4 (922 views)
one possibility [In reply to] Can't Post

Would have been that had Gandalf travelled with Frodo, Gandalf might well have been slain in the chase and Gandalf was needed in the later battles with Mordor.


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