Episode 187 Summary

Tony Meade

Active Member

Only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero:
  • Gandalf’s statement about a hero’s great deeds only being a small part to play is a poignant parallel to Elrond’s statement about small hands doing great deeds because they must.
  • In a way, Gandalf’s intent is not to contradict the implication of the previous statement, but to add to it, not diminishing the courage of the small hands, but the context of the great deeds.
  • This is in response to Bilbo’s assertion that he started the whole affair, so to reassure him that he is not responsible for beginning or ending it, referencing the tale of the Ring that’s been told.
  • Note: Even in the Silmarillion stories, which are often identified by the name of a particular character, such as Turin Turambar, that main character is only playing a small part in the bigger story of The Silmarillion, and even in their own tale, despite the importance of those deeds.
  • This is also an echo of the Gandalf’s statement to Bilbo at the end of The Hobbit about being a small person in a big world, but this is a theme that had been implicit through the whole story.
  • After giving away the Arkenstone, Bilbo himself played a very small role in what came after. Even Bard, who slays the dragon, has only a small part in the larger story of The Hobbit.
  • Note: Sam will also have a realization later about this, on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, about stories.
Under jest, making a valiant offer:
  • Gandalf is quite gentle towards Bilbo in his statement, and chooses not to tease Bilbo, despite their usual relationship and the fact the Bilbo himself has been joking at his own expense.
  • Gandalf gives a significant compliment to Bilbo, classing him among the great heroes of tales. Bilbo shows that he understands the compliment by bowing to Gandalf in response.
  • With what attitude does Bilbo bow? Does he pass it off as a joke, or is he genuinely honored? It’s possible that it is a bit of both, outwardly hobbitish but with a degree of sincerity.
  • Gandalf certainly elevates the tone and shrugs off Bilbo’s joking to sincerely honoring his offer.
  • Unusually for Gandalf, he uses sentence fragments instead of making one long statement. It’s possible that he intended to go on to say that he can’t take the Ring back but interrupts himself.
  • It’s possible that Gandalf is responding to Bilbo’s expression, or that he is caught up in emotion.
  • Why does Gandalf not resort to hobbitry in this instance? This is possibly the only instance where he doesn’t respond the teasing and joking from the hobbits by acting in kind.
  • Bilbo also seems to expect a hobbitry response, but Gandalf is talking to more than just Bilbo.
  • Gandalf also understands that despite Bilbo is joking, this is not a joking matter, and what Bilbo has sincerely offered is something self-sacrificial and heroic in its nature.
It has passed on:
  • Gandalf might also see that Bilbo’s offer may be a very plausible excuse to take the Ring back.
  • Since nobody knows what will happen to a former Ring-bearer when the Ring comes back to their presence, and Gandalf doesn’t know will happen if Bilbo is denied the Ring.
  • This trepidation might also explain his hesitance and sentence structure Gandalf used before.
  • Also, if Bilbo is not tempted by the Ring now, accusing him of doing so might lead him to do it.
  • It’s notable that Gandalf never names the Ring in his statement, only referring to it obliquely.
  • Note: Faramir later does a similar thing with regards to the Ring, and for a similar reason.
Get ready to write a sequel:
  • Though he has given an authoritative refusal to Bilbo’s offer, Gandalf softens it by implying that Bilbo has no longer and need of Gandalf’s advice, having overcome the Ring once and for all.
  • By bringing up Bilbo’s book, he’s kindly elevating it as a recording of the great tale of the Ring.
  • Gandalf also acknowledges that Bilbo still has a role to play, but not the one he offered to play.
  • In making the lore of this Age, Bilbo is instrumental in preserving knowledge of the Elder Days.
  • He has already shown his propensity to do this through his education of Sam through poems.
  • Note: Bilbo’s “Translations from the Elvish” forms the basis of The Silmarillion and is the core of the remaining lore of all the Elder Days, up to and through the end of the Third Age.
  • While Gandalf is flattering Bilbo, he gives Bilbo a positive thing to focus on instead of the Ring.
  • This is also extremely optimistic considering the dark times and the unlikeliness of the success of the quest. Bilbo himself would be a target of Sauron for revenge if he recovers the Ring.
  • Gandalf is still expounding hope, not only for Bilbo’s happiness and survival, but of their success.
  • This is a hope for a there and back again story, which was not foreboded by Frodo in Bag End.
Bilbo’s last laugh:
  • The fact that Bilbo maintains his level of hobbitry shows a high point in his character growth.
  • While it’s possible that Bilbo wasn’t feeling any longing for the Ring after all, it’s more likely that he felt that longing and has now overcome it and is now able to joke about Gandalf’s advice.
  • Under jest again, Bilbo may be reassuring Gandalf that he is not going to react as he did before.
  • This reference to the reversal of Gandalf’s advice reflects the reversal within himself to the Ring.
  • Bilbo’s reference to luck is a reminder of what happened in The Hobbit, which he doesn’t believe has run out, but that his part as the protagonist has ended with his advanced age.
  • Bilbo’s reference to the growth of the Ring could be a reference to its power as Sauron has returned, but me more likely means that he agrees with Gandalf that the Ring has passed on.
  • For Bilbo, it’s not just that the story of the Ring has moved on without him, but that the story and the Ring itself has changed in a way that makes it very different from when he was part of it.
  • Does Bilbo feel sheepish at how he treated the Ring so frivolously, given what he knows now?
  • Note: For Tolkien himself, this a bit of fourth wall breaking, revealing the way in which the Ring has grown in his writing of this new story, and now that takes Bilbo out of the main character role, as he is not suited to be the protagonist of this new kind of story, which will keep growing.
  • It is ironic that in stating that he hasn’t grown in relation to the power of the Ring, Bilbo shows that he has grown immensely in character, by embracing his humility and thinking of others.
  • This is the end of the growth that had started in the Hall of Fire when he saw the Ring again.
The messengers who are sent with the Ring:
  • Bilbo now plays a similar role to Erestor and cues up Gandalf to start talking about the quest.
  • The use of the word “messengers” to describe those going on the quest is an unusual choice.
  • It’s possible that this is used in the same sense as “courier”, carrying a thing to a destination.
  • Note: The word “messengers” is used in Tolkien’s essay on the Istari, which is used in a more biblical sense of angels as messengers to the world, and the Wizards being a similar thing. However, Tolkien did not simply equate the Valar and Maiar with angels, as he might have done.
  • Gandalf deliberately avoids a sense of possession among those going on the quest with the Ring.
  • What message would they bear, and to whom? They are not being sent to Sauron, for instance.
  • They are also not being sent to other Free Peoples, as they are supposed to maintain secrecy.
  • It’s possible that the “messengers” is used in the sense of a herald at the start of a siege or war.
  • Note: In this sense, the message is one of hope and victory and delivery from bondage, which was the message of the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, which Sam references still being a part of.
  • Gandalf may mean this metaphorically; in that they are going forth like one sends a messenger.
  • Note: There is also a British usage of the word “messenger” which means “errand-runner”.
  • Bilbo dissolves back into hobbitry at the expense of the Elves and Dwarves, showing a little impatience with the Council’s indecision, but also hinting at the urgency of this decision.
  • He also provides them with a handy excuse for an adjournment if that will help in deciding.
  • Bilbo’s joke towards the Elves and Dwarves starts out sounding poetic but ends very prosy.
  • This is not only directed at Elrond, but at the room at large, challenging them to see that the way forward is clear and that they now need to get on with making decisions and taking actions.
  • Having just volunteered, Bilbo now pushes the rest of the Council to do the same thing now.
  • What id Bilbo thinking about Frodo right now? He may still be trying to deflect this task from Frodo, but it’s also time that they make it clear whether or not Frodo will be the Ring-bearer.
  • Bilbo might also want to give Frodo a chance to volunteer, rather than being compelled later.