Why does the Council of Elrond become Story Time with Gandalf?

drowsnake

New Member
Hi all,
I'm a first time poster, but I've been listening for about a year and I'm coming close to catching up (although I've joined a few recent live classes anyway).

I’ve just finished Session 156: The Final Narrative and Professor Olsen's name for that session has left me wondering: why are there so many narratives? I mean the actual prose narratives that some of the council members give that read like excerpts from a book, like Gloin quoting exact dialogue between Dain and Sauron’s messenger, or Bilbo recounting every riddle between him and Gollum. But Gandalf is the worst of them all!

Who in their right mind, when delivering urgent news of the betrayal of a close and powerful ally, takes the time to include lines like this:
'"I will do that," [Radagast] said, and rode off as if the Nine were after him.'​
Who at the Council of Elrond cares how fast Radagast rode off? Or what the exact words he spoke were? I know this specific line will end up explaining how Gandalf was rescued from his imprisonment, but why does he need to mention that at all before coming to the main point of his story? Why does he not cut to the chase and simply say "Hey everyone, Saruman has betrayed us. He imprisoned me and he’s after the Ring" and then list important details as needed? Why does he feel the need to relay this information in a narrative fashion, including the building and releasing of tension, as though he were reading from a novel?

From an audience standpoint, I really enjoy these glimpses into the lives of characters outside the main narrative of the story and I understand that they convey information that's import for us to learn, but in-universe, it seems to me a very inefficient way to run a meeting deciding the fate of Middle-earth. Is it possible that the Council of Elrond really did proceed efficiently and Frodo added on to these passages after the fact? Post-Mount Doom, could he have asked Gandalf and the others to flesh out the story for the benefit of his future audience? After all, good stories deserve a little embellishment.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Before it was story time for Gandalf, it was story time for Bilbo and then for Frodo. Poor Bilbo! Lunch time must have come and gone, and perhaps dinner too by now?

Elrond obviously believes in comprehensive de-briefing and information sharing when he runs a council.

The people of Middle-earth seem to like a long and well told story (almost as much as a long poem). They have not been spoiled by modern media.

Bilbo should just be thankful that it is Elrond's council, not Treebeard's.
 
Last edited:

Rachel Port

Active Member
Who in their right mind, when delivering urgent news of the betrayal of a close and powerful ally, takes the time to include lines like this:
'"I will do that," [Radagast] said, and rode off as if the Nine were after him.'
I don't think anyone in the room has another important meeting at 11:30.

But Gandalf's purpose isn't to convey urgent news. He conveyed it to Elrond days ago, so the urgency is gone. In the Council he has another purpose. He is bringing his audience into his experience so that they can appreciate the importance of the decision they will have to make, and get a look at what the stakes are. The sentence you quote shows his trust in Radagast's good faith, and therefore also of Saruman's. It helps to explain his decision to go at once to Orthanc as well as setting up his rescue. The dialog with Saruman is probably not word-perfect, but close enough for jazz. Gandalf is not informing so much as persuading, and he knows the importance of expressing his own feelings as vividly as possible. And there is the other purpose of explaining his not keeping his word to Frodo.

For me, it gives me a chance to relish Tolkien's wonderful prose. But that is another purpose - Tolkien is informing the reader as Gandalf is informing the Council.
 

drowsnake

New Member
Gandalf is not informing so much as persuading, and he knows the importance of expressing his own feelings as vividly as possible.
That's a great point. It's easy to forget that not everyone on the Council is in complete agreement, despite all being "good guys." If he opened with "Saruman betrayed us" he might get some push back and then have to spend more time explaining himself than if he started with this persuasive narrative in the first place.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I think it also a storytelling choice and what the writer wants to convey. Tolkien is very much a writer interested in details. Fine details. He evokes stunning vistas and crafts entire imagined races with exquisite precision. And when it comes to a conversation, he makes that as real as possible. Because I think for Tolkien, he isn't so much writing a story as he is transcribing events that never happened. Compare the scene in the New Line adaptations. Sure, it's still an incredibly long sequence, but it moves at a brisk pace. It's about drama and identifying new characters, setting up conflicts and allegiances. It's about motivations. Who are the characters, what is their purpose, what will stand in their way? It moves the plot forward and is very audience friendly. That isn't a slight by the way, I personally think it's a really great example of how to adapt a scene well and keep the essence of the drama. BUT Tolkien is taking his time because Gandalf takes his time and because time in Rivendell seems to creep at another pace. And also, frankly, because Tolkien needs to do an infodump of exposition. Or rather, he chooses to follow select characters and doesn't ever really chop between characters. So he doesn't have us suddenly cut to Gandalf on Weathertop when the Hobbits see flashes in the sky. We have to maintain a Hobbit's eye view and wait until we discover the truth alongside them. It's a narrative choice that essentially results in either a.) all information being delivered at one, b.) characters withholding information for maybe dramatic reveals down the road or c.) characters withholding information permanently and the audience being lost. Tolkien plumps for option a and therefor, Gandalf tells us the most granular details of his trip
 
Last edited:

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Who at the Council of Elrond cares how fast Radagast rode off? Or what the exact words he spoke were?
I agree with Rachel that this is not by any means a modern corporation having a work meeting to make business decisions. This is a disparate group of people with little in common but a storytelling culture, so it's no wonder the council consists of a series of stories told, and told in a conventional and dramatic way. There's never been a "just the facts, ma'am" meme in Middle Earth.

Perhaps you should be glad, along with Elrond, that Bilbo had not yet cast his own story into verse!
 
Top