Episode 169 Summary

Tony Meade

Active Member

Evil already at work in Rohan:
  • Why does Gandalf choose this moment as the place to abbreviate his story? He has built expectation based on the earlier portions, but he signals that that is not appropriate in this case.
  • Politically, this is relevant, but not as relevant as the other portions of his story in answering the two primary questions about his absence and the state of affairs with Saruman.
  • This is relevant to some people, like Aragorn and Boromir, but not to all who are present, and also falls into the categories of tales of trouble that were skipped over in the narrative.
  • Note: Tolkien had not created any of the specific characters in Rohan yet, as he had only just invented Rohan itself in this scene. He would only create and name those characters later.
  • There is no representative from Rohan at the meeting, as Elrond didn’t summon anyone himself.
  • Note: Tolkien answered the criticism that the book was too short by explaining that time he spent revising was overlong, and he knew where to add new information in older scenes. The Council chapter is already the longest in the book, and adding new information wasn’t relevant.
  • Centralizing “the lies of Saruman” adds evidence that the rumors of Rohan selling horses to Mordor as coming from Saruman himself, though here Gandalf is referring to his lies in general.
  • Note: The role of Grima Wormtongue as the mechanism for spreading the lies is revealed later.
The best horse in his land:
  • While it is rude for him to simply be told to take a horse and be taken as rude, it is not as rude as if he had been rejected, but Gandalf shows his cheek by taking the best horse in the kingdom.
  • Gandalf has already stated his great need for haste, and therefore a swift steed, to Gwaihir.
  • Note: The taking of a king’s offer of a gift more literally than expected, when the king makes a rash offer, is a trope in Norse and Anglo-Saxon stories, and puts the king in the awkward position of either losing something that belongs to them alone, or going back on their word. This is famously shown in the rash promises made by King Arthur, though it doesn’t excuse the rudeness and inappropriateness of those who take advantage of these kinds of offers. Tolkien plays on this in The Hobbit also is more supporting evidence that he is drawing on these stories.
  • While no one has ridden Shadowfax yet, the king can claim exclusive rights over the Mearas going back to the time of Eorl the Young and Felaróf.
  • There is also an element of predestination and providence in the meeting of Gandalf and Shadowfax, especially at this time of Gandalf’s great need.
  • Note: Snowmane is almost certainly also one of Mearas, as they have always been the king’s horse. Shadowfax is the greatest of the Mearas, but he is not unique, and this is the tradition.
  • Note: The relationship between the Mearas and the elf-horses like Asfaloth is unclear, nor what the source of Asfaloth is, whether one of the horses of Oromë from Valinor or one of their descendants. Horses can also be changed by their encounters with Faerie, shown by Fatty Lumpkin, and what Sam suspected would also happen to Bill had they stayed in Rivendell.
More than many tidings that might seem worse:
  • Boromir is credited by his defense of the Rohirrim, while he also associates them with Gondor.
  • Aragorn does not really believe this rumor any more than Boromir, though his information on them is much older than Boromir’s, though he may be more willing to listen to Gwaihir.
  • Aragorn seems to take the rumor differently from Boromir and focuses on the grievousness of this kind of tribute, while Boromir focuses on the idea of the possible betrayal of Gondor.
  • Aragorn focuses on what Sauron has done to the Rohirrim, not what the Rohirrim have done. He depicts them as the victims, being surrounded and beset and under great pressure.
  • Boromir thinks of the Rohirrim as the neighbors and allies of Gondor, and that neither would betray or abandon the other, but Aragorn would pity them if they were forced to do so.
  • Boromir emphasizes that any betrayal by Rohan would not include the selling the horses, and therefore the rumors must be false, considering their relationships with their horses.
  • Aragorn is not blind to this kinship between the horses and the Rohirrim and may be more aware of what the significance is and asserts that this is more tragic than bad political news.
  • To the Rohirrim, this would be like selling their family members into slavery under force, but this has happened before, and exactly the kind of cruel thing that Sauron would do to hurt them.
  • It has also been months since Boromir has passed through Rohan, and since then, Saruman has been revealed as an enemy, so it is conceivable that they’ve since fallen to invasion and plunder.
  • Note: This situation has played out in places like Dor-lömin in Beleriand, as well as the Numenoreans during their colonial periods, in which they took slaves from Middle-earth. The Dunlendings may also be under a forced tribute, such as for the armies or breeding Uruk-hai.
  • Aragorn would never believe that Rohan would do this willingly, but only by force or theft.
  • While Gandalf reports on his conversation with Théoden, and therefore Rohan had not been conquered at that time, it has been a couple of weeks since he outed Saruman as a traitor.
  • Rohan is also a large country, so it is possible that only a part of the Eastfold has been invaded, and started exacting this tribute, and news had not reached Meduseld yet.
  • Gandalf would not have been able to spare the time to deal with the situation in Rohan, as the Ring must take priority, and he has been trapped in Isengard with the Nine at large for months.
Descended from the free days of old:
  • While much of what Gandalf describes of Shadowfax might be said of many swift horses, he adds a layer of otherworldliness that shows that he is more than a mere horse.
  • Note: The idea that the greatest horse of all might come from the beginning of the world is in line with an older conception of the world as being in consistent decline, which Tolkien adds into his works. This contrasts with modern worldviews of ever-increasing progress and improvement.
  • The description of Shadowfax’s coat could possibly be explained by natural means, but in the context of being associated with the great horses of antiquity gives him an air of magic.
  • The fact that no man had mounted him could mean that Shadowfax is young and unbroken, but in this association with the past and magic points to something qualitatively different.
  • Note: This creates an air of fairy tales and myths, such as stories of unicorns or winged horses.
  • What magic is associated with Shadowfax, it is specifically horse magic, as opposed to elf magic.
  • Note: There is a recollection of the kind of language associated with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, which were also associated with the very beginnings of the World.
  • Gandalf seems to stop to emphasize the special significance Shadowfax as a mount, not because of Shadowfax himself, but to emphasize the providential nature of their meeting.
  • It’s important that Gandalf uses the word “tamed” instead of “broken”. While this might downplay Shadowfax’s role in allowing himself to be ridden, Gandalf doesn’t.
  • Shadowfax’s agency seems to be won over by Gandalf’s status and need, though Gandalf is in this story foregrounding his actions in approaching and obtaining permission to ride him.
  • Note: While it’s possible that Shadowfax’s agency grew during the writing, but Tolkien had the opportunity to revise this wording later and chose not to, unlike with the character of Faramir.
  • The use of “taming” shows that this was a process and not a one-time event between them.
  • Note: In Appendix B, Tolkien says that it took two more days after their first meeting for Gandalf to convince Shadowfax to allow him to ride him. This expands rather than contradicts the taming and allows Tolkien to keep the language that he would have found poetic.
  • The many instances of alliteration in Gandalf’s description shows that he has allowing himself to wax lyrical over Shadowfax, emphasizing the effect of his relationship with the horse.
  • The fact that Shadowfax was running wild on the fields when Gandalf chose him shows that he has perceived his appearance as providential, as he could have taken any horse in the stables.
  • There was almost certainly a conversation in which Gandalf was informed that it was not permitted for him to take one of the Mearas, and he defied this as he saw the horse as a sign.
  • Gandalf would have a double-claim to Shadowfax in spite of the usual laws, since he was told to take any horse by Théoden and the fact that he was the only one who could ride Shadowfax.