Three times Gandalf the Grey skates on thin ice. How tempted, and close to corruption is he?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
In Appendix B, we are told the mission of the Istari, or Wizards: “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 they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear.”

There are at least three times that Gandalf the Grey crosses the borders of that injunction, in deed or in thought.

  • With Bilbo in Bag End, when Bilbo says, “Well, if you want my ring yourself, say so! But you won’t get it. I won’t give my precious away. I tell you.” Gandalf’s eyes flashed. “It will be my turn to get angry soon. If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.” He took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room.”
Gandalf is certainly very close to trying to dominate Bilbo by fear. (Or, indeed, doing so.)

  • Gandalf describing his de-brief of Gollum after Strider had captured him: “I endured him as long as I could, but the truth was desperately important, and in the end I had to be harsh. I put the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him, bit by bit, together with much snivelling and snarling.”
Gandalf is certainly dominating Gollum through fear (and also force, since Gollum is a captive).

  • In the first two examples, Gandalf uses fear (and force) to dominate in order to achieve what he considers to be a desperately important goal in the mission to oppose Sauron. In the third example, Gandalf contemplates domination through fear and force merely to assuage his own fear and guilt as he rides towards Bree, assuming that Frodo and the Ring have been captured by the Nasgul and thinking, “Butterbur they call him. If this delay was his fault, I will melt all the butter in him. I will roast the old fool over a slow fire.”
Gandalf the Grey is certainly not a tame Wizard.

Can anyone think of other examples? Any instances once Gandalf has become the White?

Do we see, in these examples that all the Istari, not just Saruman can fall? Can they all fall in a similar way? Focusing on attempting to succeed in their primary mission to the extent that the ends seem to justify the means? Saruman’s mission as he conceives it, seems to be to defeat Sauron. He comes to believe that the only way to do this is to wield the Ring against Sauron. Gandalf at some point seems to conceive his mission to be to deny the Ring to Sauron. (He has more estel than Saruman (perhaps than Elrond) that Sauron, if he does not re-gain his Ring, can be defeated). If the injunction against dominating others through force or fear was correctly reported, then have both broken that injunction and decided that the ends justified the means?

If both Saruman and Gandalf have fallen, and broken the injunction, what differentiates them? Why does one go on to become the White, and return to the West, while the other’s staff is broken, and the West shuns his spirit?

Is it a difference in degree of their fall? Is it repentance? Is it some form of redemption through later acts (denying the Ring when offered by Frodo? Sacrifice in battle against Balrog to save companions)?

What do Gandalf’s breaches of the injunction on the Istari, and the comparison with Saruman, tell us about temptation, sin, redemption, and salvation in TLOTR?
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
I wonder if the injunction was primarily there to prevent them raising armies against Sauron.
This is something the Saruman does, but Gandalf doesn't.
Gandalf certainly inspires the armies that are raised by their lords.

These examples are all one on one situations where the threat is never enacted, rather than something on the scale of public corporal or capital punishment.

Also as you have hinted at, 'It was afterwards said' allows for this to be the perception of third parties, rather than a true and accurate description of any injunction placed upon them.

I must say that you seem to have a talent for asking questions of which we can never definitively know the answers.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Good points Anthony,

I agree that there are many questions where we can never definitively know the answers. I am more interested in the questions of that type where I think that JRRT may have deliberately set them up, rather than those that appear more random. In this case, I imagine JRRT thinking about how to write those few sentences on the Istari in Appendix B. As he wrote them, he must have known that Gandalf used, or thought about using, fear and/or force several times to dominate others. So, why did he put that injunction in. (And yes, he did blur the injunction by his qualification, 'It was afterwards said'.)

So, I think it is quite possible that JRRT meant to invite this question? If he did; Why? What might JRRT have been getting at? It certainly seems to be an invitation to think about temptation, sin, redemption and salvation, and an invitation to compare and contrast Gandalf and Saruman (of course, a compare and contrast between Gandalf and Saruman is obvious in many other places, but, this is one of the few places where JRRT might be saying, "Consider. Gandalf the Grey is not perfect. He is more similar to Saruman in some ways than you might have thought until you reached this point.")

The first part of your comment, illustrates that Saruman's and Gandalf's breaches of the injunction differ considerably in degree. Quite true. But how important is degree? Is a fall a fall, regardless of degree? Is it rated on some scale of severity? What other factors come into play?

Did JRRT set this question up deliberately? If so, Why?
 
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Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
The first part of your comment, illustrates that Saruman's and Gandalf's breaches of the injunction differ considerably in degree. Quite true. But how important is degree? Is a fall a fall, regardless of degree? Is it rated on some scale of severity? What other factors come into play?
My feeling is that JRRT's conception of a Fall was more nuanced and complex than simply the violation of an injunction. That's the classic fall, of course (and the classic injunction is one that makes no sense to the violator, at least not until the Fall is completed). Does Feanor's Oath violate any divine injunction, other than the (somewhat qualified) "do not leave Valinor at this time"? Has Feanor Fallen already when he draws sword on Fingolfin? There's no known injunction against doing so: it was not even a thinkable action, until it was actually done. I think it's more about disobeying the will of Illuvatar - and of course, nobody knows the entirety of the will of Illuvatar. An injunction of the Valar may not really qualify.

Musing on this some more: I'm just not sure about it. Gandalf may have come close-ish to falling, but it doesn't seem to me to be all that close.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Turning to the Dante Inferno class on Mythgard for some inspiration, I note that the bottom 3 circles of Hell in Dante are reserved for those who have used force or fraud against others with malice.

When Gandalf uses fear and force to dominate Gollum, he is breaking the injunction, but, not, probably with any malice towards Gollum. He is using dubious means to achieve his (in his estimation) urgent ends, but not particularly maliciously?

Does Saruman exhibit malice? I think so. "Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool!", it sounds like he enjoys using fraud against Radagast to persuade him to carry the message to Gandalf as much because it denegrates Radagast as because it accomplishes his goal. "Until it (The Ring) is found in your despite, and the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey." This threat to Gandalf is pretty pure malice, as there would be no particular other reason to punish Gandalf if Saruman acquired The Ring.

Is this the difference in degree between Saruman and Gandalf. Saruman breaks the injunction with malice; Gandalf does not?

I think the malice, more than the difference in scale of the injunction breach, is a big differentiator between Saruman and Gandalf.

Still, I think that Gandalf does break the injunction. I think in that regard he does fall. But he manages to recover. What is JRRT trying to get at here?
 

Rachel Port

New Member
Maybe the injunction is given to explain why they came to Middle Earth as old men and are to live like old men, not using any special powers to achieve their ends. It's why they become the bodies they take, and can be killed, and so on.

One of Gandalf's characteristics as an old man is a quick temper. The one time I see Gandalf really showing his power is fighting the Balrog - that is Gandalf uncloaked. We don't see him anywhere near that with Bilbo. We see him show himself as potentially dangerous, but is that really so different from the threat Sam feels when he pleads not to be turned into a toad? Would Bilbo see him any differently than that? That is the Gandalf the hobbits know - a grumpy old man whose bark is much worse than his bite. It makes Bilbo stop and come back to reality, including the reality of his relationship with Gandalf. Interestingly, what he actually does is something we see two men do later - Aragorn at Brie, pulling himself up to his full height with his hand on his sword hilt saying if he wanted to kill them he could kill them right then, and could take the Ring if he wanted it; and Faramir does the same after Sam reveals that they have the Ring. They show their strength and power, but choose not to use it because that is not who they are. I'd class Gandalf's threat to Bilbo with those two - and in all three cases it's about someone powerful choosing not to take the Ring from a hobbit or hobbits, and to help them instead.

We don't know what he does with Gollum, which is a bit more troubling. He has just learned that Frodo has the One Ring, and now needs to learn whether Sauron knows that fact before he tells Frodo. What would it take to put the fear of fire into Gollum? A couple of lightening bolts, maybe setting fire to a bush? Not much more than that - Gollum may boast about his powerful friends, but he's not brave - he's just miserable.

And I don't think the rules apply any more after he returns from death.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
One would hope that older people are more often characterized by a certain amount of wisdom and tolerance, rather than by quick temper. It is the young, rather than the old, who are most notable for quick temper. Indeed, I suggest that almost all statistical evidence would support that. Most violent crime is committed by young men. Most of the prison population is young men. Etc. etc.

Now, it is true that Gandalf is said (by others) to have a quick temper at times. However, I doubt that this is a characteristic of his embodied age.

I agree, that Aragorn and Faramir both show that they could dominate the Hobbits by fear or force (though they don't), but they are in different circumstances to Gandalf. For one thing, they are both expecting to be in (or have been in) circumstances where it may be their job (as rulers) to dominate others by fear or force. Aragorn, operating as 'Thorongil', raided Umbar, burnt many of their ships, and himself overthrew the Captain of the Haven in battle upon the quays. He is certainly attempting to dominate the Corsairs by fear and force. Rulers may have to do that from time to time to protect their own people. The other difference is that neither Aragorn nor Faramir were direct recipients of the injunction forbidding the attempt to dominate Elves or Men by fear or force. Gandalf (as reported by JRRT) was.

Finally, whatever Gandalf may have done to 'put the fear of fire' into Gollum, it was undoubtedly an instance of dominating him through fear. Also, indirectly, through force (as Gollum was a prisoner at the time, and could neither flee nor defend himself against such a threat). Gandalf dominated Gollum enough to get the information he wanted from him, and he did it through fear and force. He pretty much admits that Gollum would not otherwise have coughed up the intelligence he did.
 

Rachel Port

New Member
Flammifer, Gandalf carries a sword and goes into battle ready to use the same kind of force as any ruler, and even leads troops in battle.

I'm 72, so I'd like to think we are more characterized by wisdom as we age than grumpiness. But what I see is that character traits get calcified as you get older, and body changes, aches and pains and hormones can cause us to lose patience. Also a part of wisdom is realizing that what other people think matters a lot less than you used to think it did, so you are less careful and more likely to say what you really think. If anything, Gandalf uses more tact and care in that scene with Bilbo than we see him use almost anywhere else. I'm looking at his behavior with hobbits generally, and seeing it not so different when he tells Bilbo to be careful or he will really get angry.

However, I do realize my arguments may be a calcification of my character trait of trying to understand context and reasons for behavior more than judging it. :)
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
I think the malice, more than the difference in scale of the injunction breach, is a big differentiator between Saruman and Gandalf.
I agree that malice is a big differentiator between solidly breaking an injunction, and gray-area skirting the edges of it. Another would be motivation: in the examples with Gandalf, his motivation is always to do good, as he sees it. This is especially mitigating when he is attempting to do something for the good of the one he is threatening (Frodo, Bilbo). Even with Gollum (perhaps the most dubious of his actions), he still has Gollum's recovery in mind, though it doesn't seem to be at the top of his agenda at that specific time...

A judgement that doesn't take these factors (and probably many others) into account would be much less than a divine judgement.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Rachel,

Gandalf does carry a sword, and does occasionally wield it. However, I think we only see him use it against orcs and wargs and the Balrog? In fact, as far as I can recall, we only see Gandalf use the sword twice. Once, when he cuts the Great Goblin in two with it in 'The Hobbit'. He uses fire as a weapon against orcs and wargs several times in 'The Hobbit'. He uses fire when the company is attacked by fell wolves near the West Gate of Moria, but his great blaze there scared off the wolves, rather than killed them. The other time Gandalf draws Glamdring is against the Balrog in Moria. Glamdring shatters the Balrog's red sword. Fighting the Balrog in the depths of Moria, Gandalf reports that he 'hewed' the Balrog (presumably with Glamdring) but final defeat of the Balrog on the mountain top came from throwing the Balrog off the mountain, not from Glamdring. Somehow, Gandalf retains Glamdring after he becomes The White, as we see him hand it over to Hama, the door-ward of Edoras. However, we see no mention of it thereafter.

So, yes, we see Gandalf go into battle, and wield his sword. We only see this however, against orcs, wargs and the Balrog. The injunction is against using force or fear to dominate Men and Elves. Orcs and wargs don't count.
 
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Rachel Port

New Member
He rides with the Gondorians, bringing Faramir's company safely back, and he rides with the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep, doesn't he? Of course, that's after his return, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't keep Glamdring in its sheath. The other factor in the first two instances is that at the time they were written, Gandalf was presumably human and not bound by any injunction.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Rachel,

I'm pretty sure that Gandalf was never really human. "They came therefore in the shape of Men, though they were never young and aged only slowly." They had the shape of Men, but it is pretty clear that they were not. "They came out of the Far West". The only ones who live in 'The Far West' as far as the first-time reader knows are Elves and Valar. As we have not heard that Elves can take the shape of Men, the most logical supposition is that they are Vala (Maiar are an unknown concept in TLOTR).

The injunction was pretty clearly meant to be binding from the inception of the mission of the Istari to Middle-earth through the conclusion. They were sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite those who would oppose him, BUT forbidden to match power with power or to seek to dominate Elves and Men through fear or force.

As to Gandalf hanging around with various armies, in various battles. Yes he does. At the Battle of the Five Armies as well as the ones you mention. However, you will note that there is never any mention of Gandalf fighting in any of these battles, or even of drawing his sword. Now, at the battle of the Five Armies, it wouldn't have broken the injunction, as the only enemies were orcs, wargs and bats. However, Men were among the enemies at the battles you mentioned. Now, in the Battle of the Hornburg, although Gandalf did not fight, "The terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him." So that sounds a lot like dominating Men through fear (though this might have been the effect on the 'wild men' of seeing Gandalf, and not his intent.) (It is suspiciously similar to the effect the Nazgul had on the armies of Gondor during the attack on Osgiliath). Which might be (if intentional) a breach of the injunction. Also, that would be a breach of the injunction by Gandalf the White, not Gandalf the Grey. I think there is another breach, when Gandalf flashes lightening from his staff in Edoras, causing Wormtongue (who has been resisting him) to sprawl on his face (presumably out of fear, and certainly dominated).

The real question here is not is Gandalf breaking the injunction (which he clearly did several times). It is why did JRRT write in the injunction, knowing that Gandalf had broken it?

The first-time reader comes to Appendix B, all happy and innocent. Then, Wham! JRRT hits them with the news that the Istari were forbidden to seek to dominate Elves or Men through fear or force. 'Wait a minute!' Didn't Gandalf do that several times? So did Saruman! So do the Nazgul! What makes them different?'

What is JRRT trying to get his readers to think about when he drops that little bombshell on them?
 
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I never interpreted Gandalf beginning to unveil himself to Bilbo as a show of force.

Corey summed it up nicely I think in his episode on the Istari. In talking about the colours of wizards, he talks about the difference between Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White. He points out that Gandalf after his second incarnation, shows himself unveil far more.But he mentions a few occasions, such as upon the Bridge of Khazad Dum, were he does reveal himself, if only in a glimpse.

In Bag End, even without legendarium knowledge of the Istari, it always struck me that Gandalf was trying to show Bilbo that he couldn’t begin to understand what he was. He doesn’t say ‘don’t underestimate my power’ but rather ‘don’t take me for a conqueror of cheap tricks.’ I think it’s a subtle difference. He is trying to show Bilbo that, good friends though they are, Bilbo does understand even a fragment of who Gandalf is. He understands only a fragment of the world. To be flippant I’d a risk. ‘Even I am more than you imagine. You’re not in the Shire anymore, Bilbo.’

It’s a profound, and rare, revelation to a dear friend wandering into danger. Not a threat.

Yes, it tells Bilbo he shouldn’t triffle with Gandalf. But it’s not menacing. It’s honest. Protective.

I believe that’s Gandalf’s intent. Whether it was Tolkien’s we cannot know

As for Butterbur...I think Gandalf has more than a tad of the grumpy old man about him.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Gandalf was not dominating Bilbo by force, but by fear.

You might be right that Gandalf did not mean to dominate Bilbo through fear. I think, however, that fear was the effect. "'Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked'. He took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing, his shadow filled the little room."

Who was the narrator (and author) of this part of the Red Book? Well, it almost certainly was Bilbo (he and Gandalf were the only ones there). If Bilbo reports that Gandalf seemed tall and menacing, I think we can safely assume that he felt menaced.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
He rides with the Gondorians, bringing Faramir's company safely back, and he rides with the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep, doesn't he? Of course, that's after his return, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't keep Glamdring in its sheath.
I've always been pretty sure that he does keep Glamdring in its sheath. It was a real shocker to me, at the end of the Bakshi movie, when Gandalf whaled about with his sword at Helm's Deep, spraying blood all over the place. "That's just wrong" was my thought. The first comment of the friends I'd gone to see it with was "what the HELL was that?", not "they ended the movie halfway through!".

Of course, he does kill the Great Goblin the The Hobbit, but that's not really quite the same Gandalf as we have in tLotR.
 
Gandalf was not dominating Bilbo by force, but by fear.

You might be right that Gandalf did not mean to dominate Bilbo through fear. I think, however, that fear was the effect. "'Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked'. He took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing, his shadow filled the little room."

Who was the narrator (and author) of this part of the Red Book? Well, it almost certainly was Bilbo (he and Gandalf were the only ones there). If Bilbo reports that Gandalf seemed tall and menacing, I think we can safely assume that he felt menaced.
I think if we go along with the concept that Bilbo is the author then we have also accept a level of unreliability and personal perceptions. The Lord of the Rings is told from a Hobbit's eye view.

That in mind, is someone seeming menacing the same as them menacing? If you are afraid of something, does that mean the thing intended to frighten you? Could it just be that you saw an aspect that is innately frightening due to its power?

If you are a quiet Englishmen who has maybe travelled a little and think you know a bit of the world, how would you report when faced with a person you know seemingly revealing themselves to be angelic. 'Terror laced with glory.'

For me I have always taken that as atmospheric rather than motivational. It is established early on that this wizard going on this journey is not simply an old man. It foreshadows the potential he has to be an awesome (in the literal sense of filling one with awe) force that we later see.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
You might be right Rob, though I think it likely that Gandalf is dominating Bilbo at least a little bit through fear. Of course, it is not the most egregious example, which, I think is 'putting the fear of fire' into Gollum.
 
It is interesting that line.

I think a lot of it comes down to an author changing over time.

It’s certainly hard to mesh it all together.

I personally feel like the various texts imply that the Wizards’ purview is fairly broad and within that directive, they each have their own guidelines they adhere to. And Gandalf is many things to many people. He is grey
 

Rachel Port

New Member
The scene with Bilbo takes place in the first chapter, which is definitely The Hobbit, The Sequel. Though it's only in later reworkings that Gandalf threatens Bilbo to get him to leave the Ring behind, as the power of the Ring is developed in Tolkien's mind. And the Gandalf of the long-expected party is still a man who is a wizard by profession. He hasn't changed yet, really. The Istari Gandalf hasn't emerged yet, even though the nature of the Ring is becoming clearer. By Rivendell, of course, that has changed.

The thing about putting the fear of fire into Gollum is that those are Gandalf's words when he tells about his meetings with Gollum; we don't see it happen. We don't even see Gollum later show fear or anger at the mention of Gandalf's name the way he does with Aragorn's. What was Gandalf's intention, not with Gollum, but in telling the story to the Council? That's the only act we actually see.
 
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