Why Elrond’s diversion into squirrels?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
To understand Elrond’s interjection, let us start with the very perceptive comment by FrumiousBoojum, near the end of the Discord chat.

“Hey, I think we skipped a line between slides. ‘There was a silence. At last Elrond spoke again.’”

Elrond diverting after a silence, is considerably different from Elrond jumping right in with his diversion just after Gandalf poses his question, “What shall we do with it?”

What kind of silence was Elrond responding to? Was it a contemplative silence? A baffled silence? An embarrassed silence? An expectant and waiting silence?

To try to understand the silence, and thus, Elrond’s response, let us cast ourselves into the minds of those at the Council who have just heard Gandalf’s question. What do they know, at this time, about the Ring, and the possible options for its disposition?

First, let’s look at what we know the Council knows:

Gandalf’s question is no surprise. Right after Gloin’s report, Elrond said, “What shall we do with the Ring? That is the doom that we must deem.” So, this question should have been on everyone’s mind throughout the discussions. Gandalf is just reminding them.

The Council learns the history of the Ring from Elrond and Gandalf. They learn that the Enemy values the Ring and is seeking it from Gloin, Frodo, and Gandalf.

Perhaps the first clue they get in regard to the Question, is when Elrond says, “Alas, yes. Isildur took it, as should not have been. It should have been cast then into Orodruin’s fire nigh at hand where it was made.” “Perhaps that historical mistake should be corrected?” might have been a thought amongst the listeners?

We only know of three other things about the Ring that are revealed to the Council:

  • Elrond - “Fruitless did I call the victory of the Last Alliance? Not wholly so, yet it did not achieve its end. Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed. His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.” An astute listener might have thought, “Aha! Fix History! To achieve the end, Sauron should be destroyed; The Ring should be unmade; The foundations of the Dark Tower should be removed. Three step process! But not easy to see how it could be achieved?”
  • Gandalf“Let all put doubt aside that this thing is indeed what the Wise have declared: the treasure of the Enemy, fraught with all his malice; and in it lies a great part of his strength of old.” The careful listener might now think, “Aha! That is why Sauron wants the Ring so badly! If he gets it back he will recover a great part of his strength of old! He is scary enough right now! OK, priority number one must be to stop Sauron from recovering the Ring!”
  • Saruman (as reported by Gandalf) – “Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the power would pass to us.” The Councillors might now think, “Aha! If we could command the Ring, it is possible that we could use it’s power to defeat Sauron!” (Note, that Gandalf does not refute that Sauron could be defeated by wielding the Ring. His only objection reported is that Saruman would be a poor choice as ‘user’.)


That’s all that we know that the Counsellors know about the nature of the Ring, and of disposition options. All of that knowledge was revealed in very brief form, buried in much else, and may not have registered well. But, if it did, a Counsellor might have thought, “OK, don’t let Sauron get it. Three options: Hide it; Destroy it; Wield it. Was Elrond hinting that Destroy it would be the best option in his opinion?”

Now, we (as first-time readers), know more about the Ring than we know the Counsellors know. We have learned a bit more back in ‘The Shadow of the Past’. There, we learned many of the same things, in more detail, and less abbreviated form. But, we also learned that (according to Gandalf), the only way to destroy the Ring is to throw it into Mt. Doom, and that Gandalf will not take the Ring, even to keep it, let alone wield it, as, “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly. Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself.” And, we also learned that Gandalf favors destruction in Mt. Doom for the Ring. “There is only one way: to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the Fire-mountain, and cast the Ring in there, if you really wish to destroy it, to put it beyond the grasp of the Enemy for ever.”

However, the Counsellors may know more than we know they know. What we don’t know, is how much of Frodo’s conversation with Gandalf in “Shadows of the Past” did Frodo relate to the Council?

(If Frodo related all, then why does Gandalf repeat the Ring into the Fire to reveal the letters scene? Unless just because he wants the impact of uttering the Black Speech in Rivendell? If Frodo didn’t relate most, then how to explain Elrond’s later comment, “But Gandalf has revealed to us that we cannot destroy it by any craft that we here possess.”? Gandalf has not revealed that. Unless, indirectly, through Frodo’s account of their conversation in Bag End.)

Still, even assuming that Frodo’s account was comprehensive, and that the Counsellors know all that we (the first-time readers) know about the nature of the Ring and possible dispositions, the only additional data they have is that Orodruin is the only way to destroy the Ring, that Gandalf seems to favor this course, and that Gandalf will not wield the Ring, and considers that if he did so, he would become a new Dark Lord.

So, the Counsellors don’t know much about the nature of the Ring or disposition options. What they have learned has been delivered in fragments buried amongst a mountain of other information.

What is the nature of the silence, which Elrond eventually breaks?

I think the silence is partly contemplative – “this seems very important. Let me consider all the things I have just heard”; partly bafflement – “wait a minute. I don’t know enough to even begin to offer a suggestion”; partly embarrassment – “It seems a good response might be to say, ‘OK, lets see if we can list all the options we can think of for disposition of the Ring, and then go through the benefits and concerns around each’, but, surely that suggestion should come from the Chair or Facilitator of this Council, and not from me. There have been too many interjections already.”

If that is the nature of the Silence, then Elrond’s ‘diversion’ becomes much more understandable.

Elrond could have set up a process – “Let’s list all the possible options for Ring disposition.” But, he chooses a more subtle and indirect facilitation method. “Let me go back over what we have heard. Hint - There is enough information in what we have all heard today to come up with answers to Gandalf’s question (and mine -as posed back at the start of this Council)."

Elrond knows his audience, and his indirect method works. As he ruminates about Tom Bombadil, and whether he should have attended the Council, Erestor jumps in, “Could we not still send messages to him and obtain his help?”

Erestor starts the ball rolling, and soon the Council is asking sensible questions and suggesting possible dispositions for the Ring.

Far from being a diversion, Elrond’s intervention after the long silence turns out to be a gentle, but effective, way to give the Counsellors direction, and move them forward to discussing the question which Gandalf has posed.
 
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Rachel Port

Active Member
Yes, when we read the whole thing, it does flow into the others asking questions and making suggestions. I have some other thoughts about Elrond's memories as well. I'm still working on them.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Rachel,

I think the key to the whole question about why did Elrond divert into talking about the past extent of the Old Forest, and the fact that it could be traversed by squirrels, makes much more sense, once we take account of FrumiousBoojum's observation that we missed a line in the text between slides, and that the line was, "There was a silence. At last, Elrond spoke again."

Once we understand that Elrond was not responding to Gandalf's question, but to the silence, the whole diversion, which baffled us for an entire class, makes much more sense.

Elrond's response to the Silence is subtle. But, it works.

A Silence, which lasts until "At last" requires some sort of response to break it. Elrond's choice of method to break the silence illustrates that 'subtle are the ways of wizards (and probably half-elven lore masters)'. He could have been more directive. But he chose to be indirect, and it proved effective.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Yes, as facilitator of the Council. But Elrond's response to Frodo's story fits with something else I've been thinking about. The Fellowship of the Ring is a journey through a faerie world filled with mythic beings, and humans (including hobbits) are visitors, which can be dangerous. The other two books in the trilogy take place in the world of men, and elves and hobbits and dwarfs and such are visitors. The people of the Shire and of Brie are provincial and keep ignorant of the world beyond their borders. Think of Eomer's wonderment when he meets Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, coming out of old legends. So Elrond sees shadows of the way things used to be in his younger days, and I think also sees the passing even of what's left. He knows the Third Age is going to end with this quest, one way or the other. He understands this moment perhaps more than anyone else.

Even though part of me just wants to say that's how old people talk
 

Eliza

Member
Flammifer, I like your commentary on Elrond's speech as a gentle way to open up and and begin to guide the discussion. I think you captured how I'm inclined to hear the tone of the comment: not as a non-sequitur from someone who doesn't know how to handle a meeting, but as the kind of nudge an experienced facilitator might use to get a stalled conversation back on track.

There's something rather teacher-like about Elrond's maneuver here. I can think of lots of professors I've had who, faced with blank (or confused/hesitant/anxious/etc.) stares in response to a blunt question, will sort of back off and do a bit of an icebreaker: tell a little story or reflect on the question in an indirect way. The hope, I think, is always that breaking the silence will be enough to kick-start at least a couple students, who can then carry on. And, as you pointed out, that's exactly what happens: Erestor picks up the ball, and then Glorfindel and Galdor chime in, and things get rolling.
 
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