Chronology and Gandalf decoy plan

First, regarding the discrepancy between the main body of the text and Appendix B, Gandalf says Frodo bore the splinter for 17 days, while the journey from Weathertop seems to have taken one day less than that. Could it be possible that his treatment lasted long enough to cross a date boundary? If so, a similar circumstance could explain the discrepancy in the length of Gandalf's journey. Perhaps he arrived "only two days before the Ring" because he arrived at 12:01 AM on Ring Day -2.

Now, on to the thornier issue of Gandalf's ill-conceived decoy plan. I say ill-conceived not merely because it (mostly) failed, but because it seems likely that Gandalf, fleeing for his life from all 9 Nazgul, might have made a dumb decision in his haste. That's not to say that the only reason he makes that decision is fear of facing the Nazgul again, as was suggested in class. I agree with Corey's assessment there, but he still had to make a decision quickly and he was certainly stressed out (even if more for Frodo and the ring than for himself). Now, with the preliminaries out of the way, what could his thought process have been? The most plausible answer, to me, is that he wanted to draw the Nazgul off, but knew that they would not enter the valley. Given that, it would be reasonable to suspect that, if they followed him down the road, but halted at the ford, they would probably set up shop just in front of the ford to wait for Frodo to show up, and Gandalf must know that Aragorn would eventually lead the hobbits to the ford. Thus, if he, Gandalf, lead the Nazgul to the ford by way of the road, he would only be leading them to the perfect spot from which to bushwhack Frodo and company when they showed up. One potential counterargument is that he could have sent a force out from Rivendell to drive the Nazgul back from the river. I think this may be overestimating the power of Rivendell, however. After all, if they had enough armed might to reliably drive back the Nine, why didn't they send out a force to guard the ford until Frodo showed up (the inverse of the Nazgul plan listed above)? Instead they waited until the Nazgul stepped onto Elrond's territory to retaliate, and the Nazgul were only desperate enough to do that because Frodo was right in front of them. We know that the powers of the Three are very geographically limited. I don't think Elrond could extend sufficient power to drive the Nazgul from the general area anymore than Galadriel can keep orcs out of the wilderness between Moria and Lorien.

Therefore, if Gandalf wants to be a useful decoy, he has to lead the Nazgul away from the road, but on a path that he knows Aragorn is unlikely to choose, lest he accidentally lead them closer to the Ring. The northern path fits these criteria. Plus, while the Witch King knows the general location of Rivendell, he might not know it precisely enough to be sure that it isn't somewhere in or past the Ettinmoors. Finally, even if the Witch King does know that, and even though Gandalf must expect that the Nazgul would be loath to leave their horses, The Witch King, and Gandalf, both know that the hobbits are on foot. While Gandalf probably knows Aragorn well enough to guess that he still wouldn't take the northern route, the Witch King might suspect, and Gandalf might suspect that he would suspect, that Frodo & Company might deliberately choose a route which is impassable to horses in order to rob the Nazgul of their primary advantage.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
I have one related question, not particularly about Gandalf. Why in all this speculation and discussion is the Last Bridge left out of everybody's calculations? They all have to cross the Hoarwell first. The first obvious place for the Riders to stage an ambush would be the bridge, and indeed, they would have if Glorfindel had not interfered. Strider expects an ambush there, and is surprised not to find one. The Ford was the Riders' secondary plan if the first failed. So why do all our thoughts about Gandalf's motivations for the northern route focus on the Ford? If the Riders had held the Bridge, the hobbits and Strider might not have gotten to the Ford.
 
I have one related question, not particularly about Gandalf. Why in all this speculation and discussion is the Last Bridge left out of everybody's calculations? They all have to cross the Hoarwell first. The first obvious place for the Riders to stage an ambush would be the bridge, and indeed, they would have if Glorfindel had not interfered. Strider expects an ambush there, and is surprised not to find one. The Ford was the Riders' secondary plan if the first failed. So why do all our thoughts about Gandalf's motivations for the northern route focus on the Ford? If the Riders had held the Bridge, the hobbits and Strider might not have gotten to the Ford.
I think part of the reason is that Gandalf himself minimizes it. Perhaps when he mentions drawing off four of the Nazgul, that included drawing them off of the Last Bridge, although why he wouldn't emphasize that, I don't know.
 
I have one related question, not particularly about Gandalf. Why in all this speculation and discussion is the Last Bridge left out of everybody's calculations? They all have to cross the Hoarwell first. The first obvious place for the Riders to stage an ambush would be the bridge, and indeed, they would have if Glorfindel had not interfered. Strider expects an ambush there, and is surprised not to find one. The Ford was the Riders' secondary plan if the first failed. So why do all our thoughts about Gandalf's motivations for the northern route focus on the Ford? If the Riders had held the Bridge, the hobbits and Strider might not have gotten to the Ford.
After some serious thought I would say that my answer is essentially the same as to the Ford question: what do you expect Gandalf to do about the Last Bridge? I see the same problems with him simply camping out there, as I do with him either camping in front of the Ford or sending some elves to do the same. In ffact, Glorfindel has the opportunity to do just that, but chooses to pursue the fleeing Riders instead. In light of this problem, I think that the Bridge did enter Gandalf's calculations, and that it was one of the many reasons why he settled on the decoy through the Ettinmoors plan as the only viable way of keeping the riders from ambushing Frodo at a spot where everyone knew he would have to go.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Thanks for your thoughts. I don't really expect Gandalf to have done anything about the bridge, except consider it in his plans. I agree, by the way, with those who think the northern route was to get some of the Riders to follow him away from Frodo's probable route. The Ford is nearer to Rivendell, so if his first thought was to get help from there, it would be faster to guard the Ford. The problem with that is that if an ambush at the Last Bridge succeeds, guarding the Ford would be useless. He also assumes that the Riders following him will make for the Ford rather than the Bridge, and I'm not sure about that either. In either case, Gandalf by himself can do nothing. But he should expect that the first attempted attack would be at Weathertop; the second would be the Bridge; and the last, the Ford - and the Ford is already defended by Elrond's command of the river.

I think my conclusion is just that we cannot know Gandalf's thought process, unless he (or Tolkien) simply forgot the Bridge in their calculations.
 
But he should expect that the first attempted attack would be at Weathertop; the second would be the Bridge; and the last, the Ford - and the Ford is already defended by Elrond's command of the river.
Forgive my ignorance of the map, which may make this a ridiculous point, but is it possible that, by the time he knows that the Riders have given up chasing him, they're already so far into the Ettinmoors that the Ford is simply closer than the Bridge? That's the only way I see his assumption that they made for the Ford when they left him making any sense. Unless his entire reconstruction of their movements was post facto (i.e. he didn't notice that they'd stopped following him at the time, and only infers that they must have done so fairly early due to the number of them that showed up at the Ford later). I agree with those who have pointed out that it seems slightly cavalier of Gandalf to ust assume that he's being followed without checking, but, on the other hand, if he rides back and tries to take the straight road to the Ford (or the Bridge) after the Riders have ditched him, wouldn't he be opening himself to an ambush? After all he would necessarily be riding on their trail for at least part of the way. In light of this problem, I think the Ettinmoors plan was a desperate and irrevocable gambit, which, once committed too, abnegated the need to check behind him as he could not have changed his route by that point anyway.
 

MattfromWI

New Member
Forgive me for jumping into the discussion--I'm about 10 episodes behind but eager to catch up. I don't know everything that was discussed during the classes but I think the text makes pretty clear Gandalf's thought process:
  • Gandalf narrates that at Weathertop, "I was hard put to it indeed" while facing all Nine at night. The implication is pretty clear that in some circumstances Gandalf is truly threatened by the Nine Ringwraiths and that opposing them directly is not a certain victory. As Corey might say, "there is a non-zero chance that Gandalf might be killed" in a confrontation with the Ringwraiths--and that would leave Frodo more vulnerable. After all, the Nine have to account for the threat of Gandalf while he's alive, but not if he's dead.
  • Gandalf also comments, "It was impossible to find you, Frodo, in the wilderness, and it would have been folly to try with all the Nine at my heels." After narrowly escaping with his life on Weathertop, Gandalf can't protect Frodo's passage of the road for certain, not against all Nine, and he certainly doesn't want to linger anywhere that Frodo might be (i.e. the road and/or Weathertop) in case that puts the Ringwraiths in closer proximity to their prey.
In light of these two considerations, Gandalf has few options;
  1. He can risk dying bravely to kill some Ringwraiths, but it's hard to see how only eight or seven wraiths would be less effective than nine, especially in light of what later happens to Frodo on Weathertop.
  2. He can try to find Frodo, but that has a very low probability of success given hobbit-skill in hiding and the sheer scale of Eriador. There is a potential advantage to Gandalf joining with Aragorn--together they would be quite effective opposing even all Nine Ringwraiths, one supposes--but there is the HUGE disadvantage that if Gandalf finds Frodo, so then do the Nine and that's a major risk. I'm not sure that the Ringwraiths can't sense Gandalf than they can Aragorn or the Hobbits, due to Gandalf's greater 'spiritual presence' (think Glorfindel as almost-wraith-Frodo sees him).
  3. He can try to disrupt the Ringwraiths. At Weathertop, Gandalf has the Ringwraiths engaged. He knows he's a threat to them. They potentially know he's also interested in the Ring. They are paying attention to Gandalf for good reasons! I agree with the poster Alice that north is the best direction: (a) its away from the Road, which Aragorn needs in order to use the last bridge and the Ford; and (b) it's a wilderness so Gandalf can break contact more easily and re-engage.
I think Gandalf made the best decision both practically and morally. Practically, he's the most use as a decoy because he can't singlehandedly defeat the Nine and he can't help Frodo/Aragorn without simply drawing the Nine directly to the Ring. Morally, he realizes that he must prevent the Nine from converging on the Ring at all costs and risks his life to do so--he faces the Nine at night and barely holds on (he says, "at sunrise I escaped and fled" -- he was defeated by the Nine), trusting that Aragorn can bring them through. And his estel was rewarded, for as he said his decoy plan "helped a little, for there were only five, not nine, when [the] camp was attacked."

I'm sure somebody will ask why Gandalf returns to Rivendell after escaping the Riders, but that's pretty clear. Rivendell was anti-Nazgul headquarters. Eriador is HUGE and had Gandalf returned to the road, he would have had to guess at where Frodo and the Riders were. Did they pass him? Did they pass the Ford? Were they still in the Wilderness? Would he have to defend against the Nine again? The fastest way back into the fight, clearly, was a check in at HQ and a quick powwow with Glorfindel or the other few looking for Frodo with "the power to ride openly against the Nine." By returning to Imladris, Gandalf can learn where everyone is and then re-engage usefully. He could even potentially team up with Glorfindel and anyone else who can fight, and really drive off the Nazgul. As it happened, of course, he only got back in time to spiritually enhance the flood--but returning there was clearly his best option after shaking off his pursuers from Weathertop.

I'm not sure if this was helpful but I can't wait to hear the discussion around Gandalf's action when I get caught up to you guys!
 

Odola

Active Member
I do think we have to consider that Ettenmoors was formerly a main part of Angmar, and that the Witchking might still have some powers/resources stored/stationed there. Maybe Gandalf wanted to check what was the current state there, to avoid future surprises.
 
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