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

Flammifer

Well-Known 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.
Interesting thought, Rachel, That Gandalf might be reporting putting the fear of fire on Gollum, when perhaps he actually does no such thing. However, I don't think this is the way that Gandalf operates. I have opined in several past posts that Gandalf induces inferences that are contradicted by the presented evidence. However, he does not outright lie. So I don't think he would have reported threatening Gollum with fire, if it did not happen. Furthermore, I can see no reason for him to report this to the Council if it did not happen.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Oh, I'm sure something happened. But we see over and over again how Gandalf talks when he's angry, or reporting on his anger - melting the butter out of Butterbur, telling Pippin he'd have done better to throw himself into the well in Moria - and here he is describing an interaction with Gollum with a similar phrase. (When Aragorn uses the same tone with Gimli when Gimli asks what he told Him in the palantir, I always think of Gandalf.) Elrond, Aragorn, the hobbits, Gloin, the elves at the Council know Gandalf and his quick tongue when he is annoyed or angry. I think he is describing his frustration with Gollum. We later see Gollum questioned briefly by Faramir - he is suspicious and nasty and sullen, and tells as little as possible. Gandalf certainly did something to get the truth from him, but I think the phrase is a description for his audience of what the interview felt like.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
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.
Ah, Gandalf as an unreliable narrator: interesting! We have already agreed that Gandalf and Elrond conspired to conceal Bilbo's presence from Frodo. They probably put it over on the Hobbits as a joke - "let's not tell him and let him run into Bilbo 'by accident', ok? It'll be a blast!", but their secret agenda was to make the meeting fruitful - mainly for the healing of Bilbo. And it nearly went wrong and turned into a fight, too, but in the end, Bilbo realized that the Ring had moved on and accepted that.

The Mumak-in-the-room agenda, however, was to get Frodo to volunteer to take the Ring to the Fire. How would Gandalf's assertion that he "put the fear of fire" into Gollum serve that agenda? Great question. I'll have to muse on it some more. And perhaps his words were as much for others at the Council as well - Boromir comes to mind, specifically. Hmm.......
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
I don't think we ever really see Gandalf break the injunction. As a reminder, the words are, "but they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear." I notice three things which may be of relevance.

First of all, both "Elves" and "Men" are capitalized. Combined with the first part about matching power with power, this seems to make the injunction clearly about groups of people rather than individuals. Second, I think the word "dominate" in this context carries the idea of governing or ruling over people, not merely intimidating an individual (unless it was done in the sense of making that individual a slave or thrall). Third, the phrase used is, "to dominate...by force and fear," rather than, "to dominate...by force or fear." I don't read this as meaning that domination by one or the other is ok, as long as both aren't used. Rather, this sounds to me like a particular phrase with a specific meaning in mind. Putting these all together, I think it's rather clear that the injunction is primarily meant to be against conquering and ruling peoples with the justification of needing armies to oppose Sauron.

Even if we take it to be talking about individuals though, I think it still doesn't apply. Looking at the first two examples given, Gandalf is not seeking to rule over or govern either Bilbo or Gollum. In the former case, he's trying to get Bilbo to do what Bilbo already decided to do, and actually seems to be trying to snap Bilbo out of the control of the Ring rather than trying to impose his own will. In the latter, he's interrogating a prisoner for a piece of information. Unpleasant and perhaps even dubious, but hardly domination. Finally, in the case of Butterbur, Gandalf is considering punishing someone for possibly dooming the entire world to darkness. I don't see that he's even trying to get Butterbur to do anything, so I'm not really sure how domination even could apply.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi JJ48,

I like your thought that the capitalization of 'Elves' and 'Men', might indicate that they refer to collectives of Elves and Men rather than individuals. However, it seems to me that when JRRT capitalizes these words he is usually referring to categories rather than collectives.

I think it is more likely that the injunction is forbidding the use of fear and force to dominate anyone in the category of 'Elves' or 'Men' rather than applying to collectives but not to individuals.

The clearest example of Gandalf using fear and force to dominate is 'putting the fear of fire' on Gollum to dominate him enough to get the information he sought. When in Edoras, Gandalf causes 'a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face.', he is using fear and force (indirect force, in the form a lightning-like flash) to dominate Wormtongue and cause him to shut up.

Of course, Sauron, the Nazgul, Saruman, use fear and force all the time to attempt to dominate Elves and Men. But I think Gandalf does too, occasionally.
 
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