Not wholly vain


New Member
I stopped following the class somewhere along the Council of Elrond, and recently started again from the beginning.
In lesson 6 you talk about Gandalf's very minor compliment to Gil-galad and Elendil in calling their deeds 'not wholly vain'. I had a thought that Gandalf did not mean to say their deeds were mostly vain, but to say other deeds (like the White Council banishing Sauron from Dol Guldur, and maybe even the victory in the Battle of Five Armies) were, in fact, wholly vain, and all you can do is look through their clothes and look for loose coins.

Lincoln Alpern

Active Member
Huh. I'm not sure whether I buy that interpretation or not, but it certainly thought-provoking, and worth consideration. Thanks for sharing it.


Well-Known Member
Gandalf says that the efforts of Gil-galad and Elendil were "great deeds that were not wholly vain". I don't think that this was the sentiment at the time of the battle of the last Alliance. They thought that Sauron had been defeated and slain. It was only much later that it began to be suspected that Sauron could rise again.

It was about 1,000 years into the third age that the Istari appeared in Middle-earth. It is also about 1,000 years into the third age that Sauron may have re-emerged (though the Wise did not suspect this at the time).

I think that one must suspect that the Valar were aware, about 1,000 years into the Third Age, that Sauron had not been killed and was re-emerging. Thus, they sent the Istari. (But obviously did not brief them on all they knew or suspected.)

It was not until Third Age 2063 that Gandalf went to Dol Guldur, and confirmed that Sauron had arisen again.

So, when Gandalf says that the Battle of the Last Alliance was 'not wholly in vain', he is speaking from hindsight, in the knowledge that Sauron had not been destroyed, but had risen again.

No successful effort against the forces of evil would seem 'wholly in vain' to Gandalf. Neither the Battle of the Last Alliance, the Downfall of the Witch-king in Angmar, the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, or the Battle of the Five Armies. However, although useful, none of these would be decisive battles in the long war. Thus, 'not wholly in vain', but not decisive either.