Gandalf's Rudeness to Theoden

I'm currently on episode 169 and trying to picture the testy exchange between Gandalf, Theoden and Wormtongue which ends with Gandalf "borrowing" Shadowfax. But I can't get out of my head the idea of Gandalf at some point saying "To think that I should live to be good-morninged by a King of Rohan."
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Gorhendad,

The part of that scene that always has me wondering is when Gandalf tells Wormtongue to be silent, then when Wormtongue speaks, flashes lightning from his staff and Wormtongue sprawls on his face. That shuts him up!

In Appendix B, it is said of the Istari, "It was afterwards said that they came out of the Far West and were messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him; but were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear."

However, here we see Gandalf dominating Wormtongue (and, to an extent Theoden) by fear.
 

Forodan

Active Member
But this is at the very last moment of his mission. he has 'died' (to the extent that a Maiar can) and returned with a renewed mandate. Also, he is not doing this to establish power for himself. He's not going to make Theoden his vassal. He's doing it to break Saruman's hold on Theoden. Specifically countermanding another Istari who has violated the original mission they were given.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
But this is at the very last moment of his mission. he has 'died' (to the extent that a Maiar can) and returned with a renewed mandate. Also, he is not doing this to establish power for himself. He's not going to make Theoden his vassal. He's doing it to break Saruman's hold on Theoden. Specifically countermanding another Istari who has violated the original mission they were given.
Quite true, but Gandalf is still wandering over the lines of the Istari mission statement.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I thought the original question was about the scene we don't see of Gandalf's first visit to Edoras, when he has just escaped from Orthanc, and Theoden tells him to take a horse and be gone ASAP. At that point, he's still Gandalf the Grey and not dead yet. And though he sees Theoden's state, he needs to get to Hobbiton probably more quickly than possible, so doesn't wait to find out more. Is he incredulous at Theoden's abruptness and refusal to believe the news about Saruman? I think so, whatever terms he uses (to himself, I assume). I think he also sees what has been happening but just doesn't have time to do anything about it. When he does come back, he's Gandalf the White, returned from death, and accompanied by Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. There still isn't much time, but the job is different.
 
I agree with Rachel's observation that Flammifer, in their first post, conflates two different instances of Gandalf visiting the Golden Hall. We have the first instance that was discussed in the podcast episode where we only have described that the king 1) would not listen to Gandalf's warnings and 2) his final decree that Gandalf take a horse and be gone, The second instance of course we will not get to for another few years being in the middle of book 3, where Gandalf the white and the 3 hunters finally reach the Golden Hall.

However to take Flammifer's observations at face value (and to get a little ahead of ourselves) I would disagree that Gandalf crosses the line here of "dominat(ing)by force and fear. I feel this interpretation is both A) takes too strict an interpretation of dominating by fear and force, and B) is actually not true when reading the following paragraphs and seeing his magical effects in context. I will deal with these one at a time.

A) I believe that 'dominating by fear and force" is too high a claim for 1) darkening the sky to prove a point and 2) knocking out the king's advisor (I'm not sure he actually does but we will deal with this later). this is a singular instance and I feel this is more in line with Gandalf's help to Bilbo in book1, ch1. In fact, the darkening of the room in Bag End is quite similar to the darkening of the windows of the Golden Hall. I believe theatricality to emphasize a point is well within the Istari's purview to use, and I think that claiming Gandalf is crossing a line here places an extreme constraint on their ability to serve the people of middle earth. I doubt Tolkien meant for the wizards to be so passive. (i will also note here that in line with other observations from Corey Olsen, the appendices were largely written to explain the text, and not the other way around.) as we can see from Saruman's example, his plans of Dominating by fear and force involved a months-long campaign of subterfuge by his ally?/subordinate? Grima and potentially later forceful coercion by his own army of Uruk-Hai and Men. Gandalf himself leads armies in the siege of Minas Tirith, but does so consensually by the armies of Gondor, and does not presume to continue directing them once rightful leadership is restored to Minas Tirith. I would even go so far as to say that I would not place the actions of Jackson's Film Gandalf, knocking out a Hysterical Denathor, and taking over the leadership of the defence of Minas Tirith beyond the bounds of the stated restrictions from Appendix B. That action (clearly not in the books) is of course far more direct in taking over the armies of Men, but I think would fall into acceptable use of force given the circumstances.

B) however returning to the incident in the Golden Hall, I don't think he is dominating by fear, certainly not Theoden, and probably not Grima. Gandalf darkens the room, sunlight is blotted from the windows and the fire fades, while Gandalf shines in the room, then when Wormtoungue hisses about Gandalf's staff: "There was a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtoungue sprawled on his face." It is unclear to me what exactly happens to Grima here, did Gandalf literally knock him out with magic that looked like lightning, did he actually make lightning and Grima faints or cowers on the ground (like Bilbo thinking about dragons in the hobbit)? I'm not quite clear on that. however what I am quite clear on is that following this demonstration Gandalf asks Theoden to listen to him, releases his darkening spell in one window to show the light from the sky and tells Theoden that all is not dark, and he has counsels to give him if he will listen and not despair. In fact, he does not give him command or council until Theoden himself walks out of his Hall and into the daylight, where he counsels him on breathing the free air, and to stand tall, and only when Theoden asks "what is to be done?" does Gandalf give any advice or counsel on matters of State and War. In this I see Gandalf exercising quite a lot of restraint in dealing with Theoden, after finally shocking him to his senses Gandalf uses no coercion or force to make Theoden do anything, and gives the king his space to make his own decision. As for Grima, well, Gandalf is definitely using either force or fear to silence him (in some capacity) but one man does not constitute "dominating Elves and Men" (at least in the sense of races or nations). And even later once Gandalf has accused him of being Saruman's puppet, even he advises to let Grima be given a horse to go where he will. I think we can see here Gandalf's tendency to nurture and help people make their own decisions (like Bilbo giving up the ring, and Frodo choosing to take the ring in the council) even if momentary force is needed to loosen the claws of shadow that grips those he helps and counsels.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I agree that Gandalf does not use force or fear to dominate. I think the lightning is rather like the flash he used to mask Bilbo's disappearance at the party. and is very possibly the way he put the fear of fire into Gollum - and I think we need to differentiate between Gandalf's actions, which we see directly with Bilbo and Theoden and Grima, and Gandalf's rhetorical style when he describes his anger. I tend to put his description of his scene with Gollum more in a class with his mutterings about melting all the butter out of Butterbur - it's a figure of speech. Gandalf's power is fire, and his staff assists him in using it. It's very possible that Gollum responded the way Wormtongue does.

Sorry about the digression, but his tale of his interviews with Gollum was the other instance where Gandalf's possible violation of the proscription against using fear or force to dominate others came up. Those criticisms always seem extreme to me. He is not forbidden to use his power, and he is not forbidden to use it at all.

What is forbidden to the Istari is to do what Saruman has been doing for at least the past century or two.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I think there is no doubt that Gandalf uses either force or fear to dominate Wormtongue and shut him up.

It could be that degree is important, and dominating a Man by force or fear is OK, whereas dominating Elves or Men is not.

Though this is not an arguement generally favored by either moral or religeous philosophers.

So, I do think that Gandalf is skirting dangerously close to the borders of the Istari mission statement.
 
Alright, I will concede that Gandalf does use fear with Gollum, and definitely fear or force with wormtongue. I'm still unsure if it qualifies as "domination" as I'm not sure where the line is drawn between influence- coersion -domination specifically lies. I will admit the capitalisation of Men and Elves also confused me as I took that to mean the races as a whole or at least nations, which made me want to differentiate individuals from large groups... I think I am wrong there since Tolkien regularly capitilises those words.

But leaving aside the question of Gandalf use of fear/force constituting domination, for the moment, I do have a question about the mandate and how binding it is. Is the mandate a " they're more vwhat you'd call guidelines than actual rules" mandate? Or are they a Star Trek "prime directive" in that the mandate can be broken quite regularly, but is enforced only on large scale infractions. Or perhaps is it heavily enforced so that when Agent Mithrandir returns to Valinor HQ, he has to hand in his report to mister of foreign affairs Eonwe, be served a court appearance in Nando's by internal affairs and get sentenced to be suspended from active duty, wherein Minister Eonwe, telling Gandalf he did a great job, sends him on forced vacation to elven home for a couple of Millenia until it all blows over? Like what is the enforcement level?
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I think there is no doubt that Gandalf uses either force or fear to dominate Wormtongue and shut him up.

It could be that degree is important, and dominating a Man by force or fear is OK, whereas dominating Elves or Men is not.

Though this is not an arguement generally favored by either moral or religeous philosophers.

So, I do think that Gandalf is skirting dangerously close to the borders of the Istari mission statement.
I think Gandalf is allowed to fight an enemy even if he is a Man. He does not force Wormtongue to abandon Saruman or join the forces against Sauron. He just fights him squarely. As he is incarnate he is an active agent entitled to act.
 
Last edited:

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I agree with Odola - the mandate cannot mean that they are forbidden to fight evil people to stop their evil actions. Gandalf has to break the connection between Theoden and Grima in order to cure Theoden. The Istari could not have been sent to Middle-earth with their purpose, without the means to carry out that task.
 

Forodan

Active Member
We don't have the 'literal wording' of the Istari mandate. We have an account of it. The spirit of it seems to be that they were not allowed to build up their own realms, like Sauron was doing. Saruman had clearly violated that. So Gandalf would be perfectly justified to act against that, even if it might look superficially like a similar sort of grasping for power.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I think the key word is 'dominate'. What exactly does it mean to 'dominate' Elves or Men through force or fear?

It is hard to see how Gandalf is not 'dominating' Wormtongue through fear when he gets him to fall on the floor via a display of lightning?

I don't think that he is necessarily 'dominating' Theoden. One might think he is just dramatically getting him to pay attention.

I think the best possible apologist arguement for Gandalf here would be to suggest that he only intended a dramatic and emphatic call for attention and no interruptions, and did not realize that it would excite fear in Grima Wormtongue?

Another possible apologist explanation would be that Wormtongue sprawled on his face through surprise, or some other cause besides force or fear?

Both of those seem weak.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I think the key word is 'dominate'. What exactly does it mean to 'dominate' Elves or Men through force or fear?

It is hard to see how Gandalf is not 'dominating' Wormtongue through fear when he gets him to fall on the floor via a display of lightning?

I don't think that he is necessarily 'dominating' Theoden. One might think he is just dramatically getting him to pay attention.

I think the best possible apologist arguement for Gandalf here would be to suggest that he only intended a dramatic and emphatic call for attention and no interruptions, and did not realize that it would excite fear in Grima Wormtongue?

Another possible apologist explanation would be that Wormtongue sprawled on his face through surprise, or some other cause besides force or fear?

Both of those seem weak.
Gandalf does not establish his own dominion over Wormtongue. He just confronts him and fights off Wormtongue's and Saruman's dominion over Theoden. Does not think the mandate applies here.
 
Last edited:

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
So is Gandalf forbidden to frighten anyone? Frightening Wormtongue (or Gollum or Butterbur) does nothing to dominate their will, or to get them to do his will. (Well, maybe Gollum a little, getting him to talk.) He turns Wormtongue over to Theoden and recommends sending him away freely. I'm still with Odola on this one.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
So, you think that the definition of 'dominate' in the mission statement means 'establish dominion over permanently', and that, 'cause Men or Elves to do what they don't want to do through force or fear, as a one off', does not count?

Butterbur is not a breach of the mission statement. Gandalf may make Barliman afraid, but he does not cause him to do anything he does not want to do. He does not 'dominate' him.

He does 'dominate' Gollum through fear. Does he get off on the technicality that Gollum is neither a Man nor Elf?

Wormtongue does not want to shut up. He wants to keep talking. Gandalf causes him to shut up and fall on his face through fear.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
So, you think that the definition of 'dominate' in the mission statement means 'establish dominion over permanently', and that, 'cause Men or Elves to do what they don't want to do through force or fear, as a one off', does not count?

Butterbur is not a breach of the mission statement. Gandalf may make Barliman afraid, but he does not cause him to do anything he does not want to do. He does not 'dominate' him.

He does 'dominate' Gollum through fear. Does he get off on the technicality that Gollum is neither a Man nor Elf?

Wormtongue does not want to shut up. He wants to keep talking. Gandalf causes him to shut up and fall on his face through fear.
Yeah, winning in a discussion or in a shouting match or performing an interrogation is not establishing dominion imho.
 

Beech27

Active Member
I think it's also worth asking whether, even if we think that Gandalf is 'guilty' of breaching his assigned boundaries, we can also believe that he was ultimately right in doing so. If we conclude, for instance, that his Ring-interest was genuinely stepping on Saruman the White's toes, we need not additionally conclude that he was mistaken to have stepped thus. I'm not suggesting Gandalf has gone full pulp renegade cop, but it does seem that there are rules and rules, and there is right and right.
 
Top