Episode 172 Summary

Tony Meade

Active Member

Comment on the blessings and curses of Gandalf:
  • It’s possible that Gandalf did not mean physical harm to Butterbur, but would have placed a curse on the beer, which he reverses to a blessing, hearing news of Frodo being with Strider.
  • Gandalf’s description of melting the butter in Butterbur seems like after-the-fact embellishment in order to communicate his state of mind at this point in the narrative, for Frodo’s benefit.
  • Frodo’s reaction seems to be what Gandalf was hoping for, which he could then respond to.
  • Gandalf may have been projecting his frustration and fear onto Butterbur, perhaps unjustly.
  • Note: Frodo later describes Gandalf as quick to anger and to laugh, which is illustrated here.
  • Gandalf shows his skill as a storyteller in his embroidery of the story, while keeping the pace.
  • If Gandalf had put Butterbur’s beer under a curse, this would affect all the people in Bree, which might cause Butterbur to lose business, perhaps to a competitor.
Shivering and expecting the end of the world:
  • The effect on the town of Bree is striking considering what had happened comparatively in Buckland. While in Buckland they created anger and resistance, in Bree they create terror.
  • While five normal riders crashing the gate and riding through the town would disturb people on its own, this feeling of the power of fear goes far beyond the mundane charge.
  • The Riders have been in Bree and did not disturb the town at large only interacting with individuals. They seem to be putting forth their power without their prior restraint.
  • They’ve not only stopped concealing themselves, but they seem to revel in the fear they bring.
  • The fact that there are at least five of the Riders together seem to magnify their individual powers beyond the sum of the parts. They are each strengthened by gathering together.
  • By putting their power on Bree, they’re punishing the Bree-folk for sheltering the Ring-bearer.
  • This may stem from frustration and their sense of failure at dealing with the hobbits in the Shire and losing Frodo and Company in the wilds, missing them by mere hours or even minutes.
  • Gandalf’s great fear and despair was the Ringwraith’s arrival in the Shire but didn’t foresee their thwarting by the wandering Noldor and the other hobbits, before encountering even him.
  • Note: Tolkien’s recurring theme of the self-destructive nature of evil can be seen in this failure.
Foiled in Bree and Crickhollow:
  • It’s not clear if this group of Ringwraiths who had just left Buckland or the Witch-king at the others, but either way, their failure is pointed to by Gandalf as incredibly unlikely.
  • Frodo’s decision to go through the Old Forest did accomplish the objective of wrongfooting the Black Riders, so that they arrived in Bree long before the hobbits and left before they arrived.
  • It is clear that the parties of the Riders in Bree and Crickhollow on the same night, but during that time they recruited human spies and then went to meet the Witch-king.
  • This explains why the hobbits didn’t encounter the Riders when they came back to the Road, but why Gandalf also didn’t encounter them on the Road even though he was only hours behind.
  • It’s clear that Gandalf doesn’t know how the forces of Riders were divided, only that they were.
  • The foiling in Bree seems to refer to the failed kidnapping attempt by Bill Ferny and his allies.
  • There is also a good deal of speculation on Gandalf’s part as he doesn’t clearly know the facts. He may be simply speaking in generalities as to their movements in the vicinity.
Galloped to Weathertop like a gale:
  • Why does Gandalf go to Weathertop? It doesn’t seem as though all nine of the Ringwraiths are on Weathertop when he arrives and fights them, due to the logistics of the split parties.
  • Traveling across country would slow down that part of the Riders, so they couldn’t arrive before Gandalf riding Shadowfax along the Road, as seen by the hobbits’ trip through the Marshes.
  • Why does Gandalf pursue the Riders once he knows that they don’t have Frodo? Gandalf doesn’t immediately leave Bree, but he does want to draw their attention away from Frodo.
  • Gandalf also felt that he would be able to withstand all Nine at once, which also points to all of them not being at Weathertop, as he is able to repel them on his own.
  • It would be a sensible target to meet up Strider, but that is not Gandalf’s objective. He can’t stay and wait for them as that would draw the Riders to them, and potentially all of them.
  • Gandalf may even be picking this fight on Weathertop because it is defensible, but he also knows that this could be a sacrifice play to distract them away from the hobbits.
  • Note: Since the “war beacons of old” were put there because of the threat of Angmar, this reminds us that the Witch-king has history with Weathertop, and why he might make for it. Later in Minas Tirith, the Witch-king will also act in a symbolic way to oppose the tides of fate which seem to be turning against him and to rectify unexpected resistance, as before.
Besieged in the old ring of Amon Sûl:
  • It’s possible that the Ringwraiths battle Gandalf not because they think they can defeat him, but to prevent him and Shadowfax from being able to assist Frodo when he arrives.
  • The Riders sent across country would be searching just in case they can find Frodo in the wild, but meet at Weathertop if not, as all roads lead that way, as well as scout out the Road ahead.
  • Had the hobbits not had assistance from Gandalf and Strider, this plan likely would’ve worked.
  • This unlikely assistance was compounded by Glorfindel’s arrival from the east along the Road.
  • The Witch-king seems to send the other Riders with him to pursue Gandalf, and then stays to join the rest of the Riders who are seen by Strider and the hobbits approaching from the west.
  • This pursuit would also prevent powerful allies like Gandalf and Glorfindel from joining forces.
  • While this works, the Witch-king, having finally cornered Frodo on Weathertop, is unexpectedly thwarted again in the dell in ways he could not have foreseen, and again by Glorfindel.
  • In spite of all these unforeseen circumstances, the Witch-king still manages to keep control over the Ringwraiths in order to ambush Frodo near the Fords, which nearly succeeds.
  • However, having set their ambush for a party on foot, Asfaloth throws that plan into doubt, until he crosses the Ford, and the Witch-king is able to stop Frodo, who is almost in his power.
  • When the Witch-king is fully confident that all these attempts to thwart him have failed at last, it is at that moment they are caught in the river, which requires some effort on his part.
  • Note: There are many traditions regarding the difficulty with which malicious spirits have with crossing water, from fairy tales to Dracula, so this would require an act of defiance by them.
  • It’s clear that the Witch-king understands the significance of the River of Rivendell, beyond the physical barrier, but he would not have expected the flood to come.
  • It’s also likely that the Witch-king remembers Glorfindel as the speaker of his prophecy.
  • Another reason to attack Gandalf is that there remains a possibility that Frodo is with him.
  • Note: In the early drafts, this is precisely what did happen, as Gandalf uses one of the hobbits, who was given many names, as a decoy with him to draw the Ringwraiths away from Frodo. In the films, this was what Arwen actually did.
  • They may even believe that Strider has taken the other hobbits with him as part of the ruse.
  • This doesn’t seem to be a fight to the death, but rather fight to a draw and then allow Gandalf to escape and be chased off once they know that Frodo isn’t with him.
  • While they may not understand, the Nazgûl would be aware that Gandalf did not take the Ring.
  • They might also be surprised to see Gandalf as they thought he had been at Isengard.
  • Note: There are more than one version of the chronology in Unfinished Tales. In one version, Gandalf was still held captive when the Nazgûl arrived, and in another, he had just escaped. Tolkien had to reconcile the changes to the chronology to fit the narrative and vice versa, though some in the appendices could not be reconciled once the first volume was already out. This creates a tension between the timelines and the text, but Tolkien was familiar with such discrepancies in dealing with real historical texts, and therefore could allow for the tension, within the frame of the manuscript histories given in the prologue.
  • Note: Tolkien’s difficulties with the appendices stemmed from the resistance from the publishers which caused a delay in the final volume coming out. He had intended to publish The Silmarillion along with all of The Lord of the Rings as one story, with fuller appendices, and possibly with Harper-Collins, though this fell through, and he decided to only publish the novel.