Episode 170 Summary

Tony Meade

Active Member
SESSION 170

Words with old Gamgee:
  • There are some statements reported by Gandalf that seem to be for the sole benefit of Sam, as well as Bilbo and Frodo, as they are not entirely germane to his story, since only they know him.
  • Gandalf had spent months imagining worst case scenarios about Frodo’s fate, and had used all haste to get there, as his fear has grown as he rode north, based on reports of the Black Riders.
  • He received these reports of the division of the Riders presumably from refugees on the Road.
  • Why did the Riders divide their forces? This is only just after they have learned that they have reached the Shire, and before that they know that Frodo is on the Road heading east.
  • Those that enter the Shire seem not to include the Witch-king, and they weaken themselves by splitting up, so the reason must be to do with their lack of surety and power in the Shire.
  • As in the attack in the dell under Weathertop, the hesitation of the Nazgûl outside the circle was not a tactical decision, but because they were resisted and not all together as the Nine.
  • The fact that the Witch-king sends his lieutenant and two of the others show that they have been wrongfooted by the power they encounter in the Shire and is unsure what to do next.
  • If the others with the Witch-king were waiting to cut Frodo and the others off on the Road, they are again baffled by their trip into the Old Forest, which would be unexpected.
  • Note: To some extent, the Ringwraiths lack of power in the Shire is due to the growing of the story as Tolkien went along in writing the story, but he later retconned this in light of their greater strength near Mordor and against other enemies.
  • The mission of reclaiming one hobbit and the Ring doesn’t require all of their number, in their estimation, but there is a sense of the Witch-king has underestimated the Shire Hobbits.
  • Note: In the big picture, the Witch-king is not a frontline general, and is described by Denethor in similar terms to himself and Sauron, sending forth his minions to fight in his stead. His entry into the gates of Minas Tirith is a symbolic statement of his perceived triumph.
  • The response of the Hobbits, such as Gaffer Gamgee and Farmer Maggot, does not seem to be the terror the Riders expect. Sam’s conversation with his father reveals his befuddlement only.
  • The refugees on the Greenway do seem to suffer this terror, such that Gandalf can sense it.
  • It’s not clear if the lack of terror is a symptom or cause of the Ringwraiths’ lack of power in the Shire. The ignorance of the Hobbits may play a part in this, but also their inherent qualities.
  • Note: They may have encountered the Sackville-Bagginses at Bag End. While Lobelia would’ve resisted the Riders, the corruption of Lotho may make him more susceptible to their power.
  • The mention of Gamgee would not only entertain and reassure the Bagginses and Sam, who would’ve worried about him after learning more, it would testify to the Council about Hobbits.
  • The members of the Council who have knowledge or experience of the Nazgûl, such as Boromir, would understand that the Gaffer’s ability to shrug off an encounter with them is telling.
  • Gandalf also does Frodo a favor by allowing Sam to continue to focus on serving his master.
  • By including this encounter with the Gaffer, Gandalf also communicates his own relief at finding Hobbiton relatively normal after having the Ringwraiths pass through leaving it unscathed.
  • The anticlimax of Gamgees “few words to the point” also reveals their relative safety, for now.
Changes for the worst:
  • The Gaffer’s assertion of Lobelia as “the worst” thing that could happen not only shows his ignorance at how bad things could become but has an inherent dramatic irony.
  • Since it seems the Gaffer had much to say, it is conspicuous that Gandalf chooses this quote. The Gaffer not only gives voice to Gandalf’s fears of the Ring, but what will happen later in the story.
  • Gamgee chooses the word “worst”, not “worse”, meaning that he thinks this is the nadir now.
  • Gandalf shows patience with the Gaffer, given his anxiety, but is also in great haste and needs to find out if Frodo and/or Sam are dead, of which the Gaffer doesn’t understand the danger.
  • This compressed version of this story is inline with his promise to speed up the narrative.
  • Gandalf doesn’t explain the actual worst-case scenario, including the risk to Sam himself, though he does try to hint at the Gaffer’s lack of perspective without spreading despair or fears.
  • The Gaffer has no idea of Frodo’s business, only that Sam is going to assist him, and this keeps both his hopes and his fears small and pedestrian, as revealed in his concerns for Sam’s service.
  • Note: Sam ironically gets mixed up in the affairs of his “betters”, just as the Gaffer feared, but Sam grows in stature as a result, which everyone but the Gaffer seems to perceive. The Gaffer’s concerns are limited to the loss of his waistcoat in the barrow and Sam’s wearing of armor.
(continued below)
 

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Tony Meade

Active Member
(continued)

Finding Buckland in uproar:
  • There is an irony that the cause of the cloak which causes Gandalf to despair is because of Fatty Bolger’s ruse to pose as Frodo to fool the Ringwraiths, which also fools Gandalf.
  • This seems to be Gandalf’s lowest point in terms of his despair and fear for Frodo and the Ring.
  • Buckland is the one place where the Hobbit public has been disturbed by the Black Riders, but rather than terror, the hobbits are angry and trying to restore order, which includes Gandalf.
  • Note: There is a parallel between the cloak left in Crickhollow and the mithril shirt at the Black Gate, in that both seem to be evidence that Frodo has been taken and that all hope it lost.
  • Gandalf doesn’t seem to stop to gather testimony from the hobbits, but rather rides on east.
  • Since any horseman coming through Buckland in the hours after there were injuries on the bridge, there’s no doubt that the hobbits were aware of Gandalf being there.
  • Fatty seems to have been subjected to more of the power of the Nazgûl, being completely alone in the dark, though he does show his seed of courage despite being a stay-at-home hobbit.
  • It’s possible that the hobbits just allowed Gandalf to pass because they recognized him, but also because Gandalf simply refused to stop and ignored the hobbits if they hailed him.
  • It’s notable that Gandalf even uses the word “despair” as this is the opposite of his nature. His despair is not that Frodo has been killed, but that he has been captured, so he must catch them.
  • Only Fatty knows what truly happened, and Gandalf doesn’t spare the time to speak with him.
  • Note: In the original drafts, Gandalf had an actual confrontation with the Nazgûl in Buckland, in which he attacked them with what Tolkien describes “sheaves of lightning”. This seems to be preserved in his confrontation with them on Weathertop, but this attack happens offstage.
On the trail of the Riders:
  • While Gandalf is probably able to sense the spiritual evidence of the passing of the Riders, but he is put at a loss because of their splitting their forces.
  • Gandalf’s despair for Frodo, and the end of the world from his loss, is evident to Butterbur.
  • While Butterbur is responsible for not sending the letter, Gandalf must also feel some responsibility for trusting him with it in the first place, recalling Saruman’s criticisms.
  • Gandalf must feel as foolish for his trust as Saruman accused him of being, in retrospect.
  • While Gandalf knows that the Riders have split up, he would not know why, nor which one might have Frodo and what course they would take back to Mordor, given their ignorance.
  • Gandalf may be misinterpreting their scattering as them attempting to throw off pursuit, rather than their attempting to reacquire and pursue Frodo outside of the Shire.
  • His only hope now is to attempt to rescue Frodo from the Ringwraiths, but he may be hampered by the fact that if he is able to perceive them spiritually, they are able to similarly perceive him.
  • Note: Based on the evidence of the behavior of the Witch-king, and the Mouth of Sauron at the Black Gate, it seems that Gandalf is well-known to the Enemy and his servants.
Words that might be said to the innkeeper:
  • Gandalf shows his skill as a narrator by not making the story about himself, while conveying much information based on his own observations and experiences, despite the stress on him.
  • This may be one of the peak days of fear and danger in Gandalf’s whole career in Middle-earth.
  • Gandalf seems to confess his own feelings going into the conversation with Butterbur, without allowing himself to indulge in these violent ideations during the actual conversation.
  • This builds the tension for the confrontation, but this sets up his great relief when he learns of the eucatastrophic intervention of Aragorn leading Frodo and his friends into the wilds.
  • Did Gandalf actually display his power to Butterbur, such as putting the fear of fire on him? It doesn’t seem to happen, though Butterbur clearly seems to understand the possible threat.
  • Note: While it’s not clear how serious Gandalf was in his contemplations, this reveals something of the danger of the Ring to Gandalf given his nature, which Gandalf understands about himself. Also, while Gandalf is a Maia, he is fully incarnated, and so his relationship with his life in Middle-earth is more like that of Men and Elves, than others who take on form, like Melian. The status differences between the Istari and the Elf-lords are of kind, not degree, as the wizards’ power is veiled in their forms, and the Elf-lords are elevated in power by their time in Valinor. This difference in kind will be more obvious when Gandalf returns as the White.
  • The fact that Gandalf makes puns about the butter in Butterbur is a good sign of his self-control.
END OF SESSION
 

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