Wise groups

Hi all, I have some muddled thoughts about wisdom and the wise that I thought I'd jot down and maybe you could help me clarify. Be warned. This post has many more questions than answers.

Something that comes up in class time after time is that Gandalf and Elrond, especially in chapter 2 and the Council of Elrond are making educated guesses about events and effects that they can't know for sure, because there is no precedent. They are literally suggesting doing things that have never been done before. Even Bombadil makes it clear he is guessing about the movements of the Nazgul when Frodo asks him if they will follow.

Someone, and I forget who it was, so my apologies, asked how they know that Mount Doom is the only place the ring can be destroyed. Excellent question. Nobody has ever done it before... so how do they know. Even if Sauron mentioned it to a passing orc, who told his mum who was heard by Gollum who told Gandalf, how does Sauron know? Can you imagine? Gollum falls into Mount Doom and burns to a crisp, while Sauron shows up laughing, plucks the ring out of the lava and tips Frodo mistaking him for the delivery boy.

Anyway. My point is not to dispute what Gandalf and Elrond are telling us, but to suggest reasons why we should believe them.

Wise people who isolate themselves make bad decisions.
- Sauron making the Ring
- Denethor using the Palantir
- Saruman over and over again

Wise people who collaborate make better decisions.
- Gandalf working with Aragorn to find Gollum
- The Council of Elrond
- The Last Alliance

A proof point would be that the ring is always trying to isolate Frodo, so that he can make bad decisions by himself.

Is this why the Council of Elrond so readily accept Gandalf and Elrond's speculations about what cannot be known because it has never been done? Because they are being openly brought into the conversation? Because individually they are not the wise, but they are wise because they are gathered there?

There are of course dissenters and question askers... but they are individuals. There are not factions. The consensus always seems clear.
Is this why Elrond can now say that the way forward is clear? Because when they are all gathered and their combined knowledge has been shared, none of them can agree on another way?

So I'll ask another wise group, do you think this holds water? Does it give us a sense of how the wise make decisions when they have no precedent or certain knowledge?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Who were the Wise, anyway? The members of the White Council? The only members we know of are Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, and Saruman. I assume there were others - were any of them mortals? Or are they not named only because they do not come into the story? How does one become designated as Wise, as opposed to wise?

This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?

Elrond makes the distiction between Wise and wise in his summing up at the end of the Council. I can see him looking a little perplexed, running his hand through his hair. It's an interesting idea, to question the wisdom of the Wise, to admit that the knowledge of the Wise is limited, or that wisdom lies in knowing what they do not know. I also wonder if it is an admission of the coming change of Age. We see it later when Frodo and Saruman confront each other, the shrunken Wise and the mortal grown in wisdom.

“Saruman rose to his feet, and stared at Frodo. There was a strange look in his eyes of mingled wonder and respect and hatred. 'You have grown, Halfling,' he said. 'Yes, you have grown very much. You are wise, and cruel. you have robbed my revenge of sweetness ... "

None of which answers your question, really. But I think your question is partly about this issue.

About destroying the Ring - Sauron would know it could not be destroyed except in the fires of Orodruin where it was made, because that is how he made it - he is perhaps the only being who does know for sure, since it's part of the magic he wove into it and he knows the power of that fire. Although the picture of him fetching it out of the fire is pretty cool.

Gandalf has done a lot of research to reach his conclusion about destroying the Ring. Elrond was there when Sauron still had the Ring, and when it was taken from him, and has had a lot of time to analyze his memories and fit them with subsequent events. Their discussions in the days before the Council must have been interesting. It's more than guesswork. Personally, I think they have been consulting together about this since Bilbo left the Shire - Gandalf, since his suspicions about the Ring were aroused, would have kept an eye on Bilbo, and would have enlisted Elrond's aid in seeing that he was okay, especially when he left with Aragorn to search for Gollum. Maybe it was in Rivendell that Gandalf confided in Aragorn and Aragorn suggested the search.

But as you say, there are more questions than answers. And maybe that's wisdom dawning.
 
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Thanks Rachel. I had totally forgotten the conversation between Saruman and Frodo.
I suspect the wise are wise enough to recognize the Wise and the Wise are wise enough to recognize their folly.

I fully agree that Gandalf has been consulting with Elrond, Aragorn and others. (Back to the community organizer idea). He knows that Wisdom is the province of groups, not individuals.
 
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Kate Neville

Active Member
I actually like your idea of collaborative wisdom. Before Ëa! Melkor would go off into the Void by himself, seeking for the Secret Fire. His discordant addition to the Music was from the beginning his own solitary action, but one which seduced others to his side. Even then, his 'music' was ultimately monotone. Fëanor created the Silmarils by himself. Aüle began the creation of the dwarves on his own, without even telling Yavanna, but he, fortunately, repented of his pride. The truly wise know that they are wiser in community.
 

Kate Neville

Active Member
Hi all, I have some muddled thoughts about wisdom and the wise that I thought I'd jot down and maybe you could help me clarify. Be warned. This post has many more questions than answers.

Something that comes up in class time after time is that Gandalf and Elrond, especially in chapter 2 and the Council of Elrond are making educated guesses about events and effects that they can't know for sure, because there is no precedent. They are literally suggesting doing things that have never been done before. Even Bombadil makes it clear he is guessing about the movements of the Nazgul when Frodo asks him if they will follow.

Someone, and I forget who it was, so my apologies, asked how they know that Mount Doom is the only place the ring can be destroyed. Excellent question. Nobody has ever done it before... so how do they know. Even if Sauron mentioned it to a passing orc, who told his mum who was heard by Gollum who told Gandalf, how does Sauron know? Can you imagine? Gollum falls into Mount Doom and burns to a crisp, while Sauron shows up laughing, plucks the ring out of the lava and tips Frodo mistaking him for the delivery boy.

Anyway. My point is not to dispute what Gandalf and Elrond are telling us, but to suggest reasons why we should believe them.

Wise people who isolate themselves make bad decisions.
- Sauron making the Ring
- Denethor using the Palantir
- Saruman over and over again

Wise people who collaborate make better decisions.
- Gandalf working with Aragorn to find Gollum
- The Council of Elrond
- The Last Alliance

A proof point would be that the ring is always trying to isolate Frodo, so that he can make bad decisions by himself.

Is this why the Council of Elrond so readily accept Gandalf and Elrond's speculations about what cannot be known because it has never been done? Because they are being openly brought into the conversation? Because individually they are not the wise, but they are wise because they are gathered there?

There are of course dissenters and question askers... but they are individuals. There are not factions. The consensus always seems clear.
Is this why Elrond can now say that the way forward is clear? Because when they are all gathered and their combined knowledge has been shared, none of them can agree on another way?

So I'll ask another wise group, do you think this holds water? Does it give us a sense of how the wise make decisions when they have no precedent or certain knowledge?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
Hey! I just read this essay and immediately thought of your question. I can well imagine that the ideas offered by Owen Barfield were well discussed amongst the Inklings in general over the years. Barfield was especially Lewis' friend, but Tolkien also thought well of him.

https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-commonwealth-spirit-bradley-birzer.html?
 
Thanks Kate. Very interesting reading. Applying that collectivism to LOTR it seems that on the surface the Shire embodies this idea that Barfield suggests of a mix of individualism and layered collectivism.

Is Gondor in danger of over-collectivism? The Elves?
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
The irony, of course, is that artistic creation is a solitary act. Tolkien may have asked advice from his friends, and Christopher, and his publisher - but ultimately he created his world alone, wandering there until he discovered the way it really was. All you need to see is Christopher's description of the mess his father's notes and outlines were to know that such creation is a solitary thing.
 

E5C4P3

New Member
Coming in late, great thoughts about individual vs collectivism wisdom. Going back to an earlier point though, my thoughts on the "how do Elrond and Gandalf know?".

Something both great and frustrating about Lord of the Rings is that we never get the "all is explained" scene. Gandalf when asked only reveals what he deems the questioner really needs to know. He says straight to Frodo, "But I am not going to give an account of all my doings to you." Even Aragorn and co. are side stepped a little in Fangorn when they reunite with Gandalf, though he relents to at least reveal the Balrog story. So, unlike Harry Potter where at the end of the book Dumbledore answers all the questions; Gandalf asks you to just trust that he's done his research and knows what he's talking about. So we get great discussions like this one in the forums, though sometimes never any concrete answers (the frustrating part).

So the actual heart of the response, we are asked to accept that Elrond and Gandalf are wise (Wise?) and we know that they don't reveal every single thought or piece of information they have. I've always read it as they know more than they say and that they know the technical argument for why the Ring can only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom and are sparing us the long technical discussion. Sauron having made the Ring, probably knows how to destroy it as well (though I seriously doubt he would ever have revealed this to anyone). Considering the trouble Middle-Earth is in now, they might refrain from giving the detailed explanation as Saruman has already fallen, no need to tempt anyone else with the details.

Frodo once suggests hammering it or melting it back at Bag End and Gandalf reveals that it can't be done that way and even gives more ideas on how to destroy it and that they wouldn't work (Dwarf forge and dragon-fire). Gandalf has clearly considered the question of how to destroy it, and already come to a conclusion. He spent a long time traveling about doing research on the One, he and Elrond would have probably considered the next step if Frodo's ring is really Sauron's Ring. It's possible too, that a more detailed explanation was given at the Council, but the "writer" omits it as we've already been told by Gandalf how to destroy the Ring (and, as it turns out, Gandalf is right); the Council is just deciding should they attempt it. If they were really unsure on how to unmake the ring, they probably wouldn't be pushing that as their preferred choice and would have been arguing for a different course of action. Maybe letting Elven smiths experiment a little to see what they could do to the ring.

(Fun Speculation) Where does this technical expertise come from? Saruman may have revealed it to the Wise at some point. We know Gandalf isn't above a little hardcore archive surfing, there are probably some ancient texts in Elrond's library (no tankards allowed), where they are pulling more solid evidence from. Gandalf made an attempt to seek out Saruman's sources, along the way he might have learned how to destroy rings. Maybe Gandalf audited an Aule class where he talked about making enchanted objects and so he's got an idea. Maybe Celebrimbor once offhand said something to Elrond, and Elrond retained it. Do the Elven Rings come with some kind of instruction manual? An age warning: For ages 500 and up? Tips on how to care for your ring?

(P.S. I guess only the last paragraph directly addresses the initial question, but I wanted to give the thought process).
 
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I hear you E5C4P3! I've been chewing this over for a week.

The only parallel to the One Ring that I can think of off hand are the other rings.
Of these, the Wise would only have access to the Three Elven Rings, although maybe they tried to destroy a Dwarven Ring in the past?
Perhaps there is some similar characteristic about the Three and the One regarding their potential for destruction?
Perhaps the Three could only be destroyed at the place where they were made also, and perhaps Celebrimbor would die a little inside.
This could be an inherent characteristic which would allow the Wise to theorize intelligently about the destruction of the One.

Or perhaps, they being wise, can think of something we haven't, and like Frodo we have to trust them. I guess like in real life, you never know if someone is wise, or just lucky! (a lot).

All I know is, Gandalf and Elrond are willing to stake their lives on their assertions, and I for one would not want to vote against them. :)
 
The irony, of course, is that artistic creation is a solitary act. Tolkien may have asked advice from his friends, and Christopher, and his publisher - but ultimately he created his world alone, wandering there until he discovered the way it really was. All you need to see is Christopher's description of the mess his father's notes and outlines were to know that such creation is a solitary thing.
Although he told the stories to his children, and didn't his wife type them up?

Here's a meta-thought. With Domination so associated with evil in LOTR, I find it interesting that Tolkien doesn't tell us what to think about these things, but gives us freedom to choose. Is JK Rowling a little bit evil because she tells us all the answers? ;)
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Although he told the stories to his children, and didn't his wife type them up?
Yes; he told the stories to his children after the stories existed, and then revised and reworked and edited. And his wife typed manuscripts that he had struggled over through notes and outlines and drafts. Neither listening to the stories nor typing them up is the act of creation. His wife had a role in creating the finished product, but so did the typesetter and proofreader and bookbinder. But not of the content of those things. Emily Bronte was angry when Charlotte found and read her poems, and fought against their publication. For her, the purpose was the creation itself. But Tolkien intended his work for publication, so those steps intermediate steps were necessary. But they were not the actual act of creation.
 
I can't and won't argue with that Rachel. It's a great point. And I didn't know that about the Brontes. Fascinating.

Back to Wise Groups, I wonder if Gandalf's rejection of Saruman's offer made Saruman even more angry, because in his heart he had hoped that Gandalf would agree, and he could be certain that his 'wisdom' was actually wisdom, but Gandalf's rejection shook his confidence... and pride hates being challenged.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Something both great and frustrating about Lord of the Rings is that we never get the "all is explained" scene.
"All is explained" is a good scene to have in a murder mystery, but in fantasy (and in all but the hardest of hard science fiction) it never, ever satisfies. Instead, the explanation often just ruins it, turning mystery to tedium and majesty into the mundane.

Would it be a better story if the wicked witch sobbed out the story about how she was traumatized as a child and built the gingerbread house and ate all the children who wandered by in order to get back at her mother for preferring her prettier sister? No way! Shove her in the oven and be done with it!

Personal anecdote: initially I just hated the end of Smila's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. Mysteries abound in that novel. There are levels and levels deeper of which you get only tiny glimpses and hints. Smila wants to know what's really going on, and so does the reader. And the very last sentence is "There would be no resolution." Aaaarrrggghhh! But in retrospect, that was a perfect ending to the novel. I still think about it and wonder; had everything been explained in the end, I would have long ago forgotten all about it.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
I heard a lecture about Jane Austen, which looked at how she re-created the novel form by creating her world with characters who are named but never seen, who become the collected "everybody," and people who have nieces and parents and toothaches but never are part of the story. That doesn't seem so different from Tolkien's mysteries. To be complete, a world has to include people and things we don't really know or understand, each of whom has a back-story which at best we can only know a part of. And people we never see

Would it be a better story if the wicked witch sobbed out the story about how she was traumatized as a child and built the gingerbread house and ate all the children who wandered by in order to get back at her mother for preferring her prettier sister? No way! Shove her in the oven and be done with it!
But keep that story to make a musical comedy.
 

Forodan

Member
To be complete, a world has to include people and things we don't really know or understand, each of whom has a back-story which at best we can only know a part of. And people we never see
Yes! Now send that to the managers of LOTRO to encourage them to add more interesting details to the world that are not directly part of 'content' in neat little 'quest packages'...
 

E5C4P3

New Member
"All is explained" is a good scene to have in a murder mystery, but in fantasy (and in all but the hardest of hard science fiction) it never, ever satisfies. Instead, the explanation often just ruins it, turning mystery to tedium and majesty into the mundane.

Would it be a better story if the wicked witch sobbed out the story about how she was traumatized as a child and built the gingerbread house and ate all the children who wandered by in order to get back at her mother for preferring her prettier sister? No way! Shove her in the oven and be done with it!

Personal anecdote: initially I just hated the end of Smila's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. Mysteries abound in that novel. There are levels and levels deeper of which you get only tiny glimpses and hints. Smila wants to know what's really going on, and so does the reader. And the very last sentence is "There would be no resolution." Aaaarrrggghhh! But in retrospect, that was a perfect ending to the novel. I still think about it and wonder; had everything been explained in the end, I would have long ago forgotten all about it.
Jim's response pretty much sums up how I feel about it. I say frustrating because of course you want to know, it provides the impetus for us to even ask the questions in the first place. But that is what makes it great; because the mystery is always kept alive and arguably makes the story worth coming back to again and again.

The personal anecdote that first comes to mind for me is Harry Potter. I've read the full series through a couple of times, and at some point I just hit a wall where I know how everything ends and I just don't feel like reading it again. Compare this to Lord of the Rings where we've all signed on to spend the next 20 years working our way through the story.
 
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Rachel Port

Active Member
I don't understand how fanstasy fiction (not a genre I read, as a rule) can exist without readers having to use their imaginations. What's the point of fantasy if you don't get to fantasize?
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
I don't understand how fanstasy fiction (not a genre I read, as a rule) can exist without readers having to use their imaginations. What's the point of fantasy if you don't get to fantasize?
Ah, yes. Trying to think of examples other than Harry Potter. . . Dune is one, for me, though there are actually people who actually like all the sequels, hard as that is for me to believe. I still never understood "dust" in Pullman's trilogy, so I guess that doesn't really count. I was warned that the sequels to Hyperion would disappoint, so I never read them. A TV series from 90's, "Strange Luck" is a good one: the solution to the mystery was not only unsatisfying, it completely failed to fit the known facts. I think there are lots more examples but I've just put them out of my head: why remember stuff you didn't even like? I got totally lost in tvtropes.org trying to figure out what I really want to say. As one does.

Maybe what I'm groping towards is the proper use of the Deus ex machina. It can be used to save the day, but never, ever, to explain the mystery!

Lois McMaster Bujold's "Five Gods" trilogy is a good positive example; in each novel, an Actual God intervenes to fix things, but the divine mysteries remain mysterious, impenetrable and ineluctable.
 

Beech27

Active Member
This is digressing a little, but I think it's related: So-called 'hard magic systems' are incredibly popular in the genre at the moment. Brandon Sanderson is probably the most prominent example. The reasons given for why readers like them are that magic can, in such cases, function something like a fair-play mystery mechanic: You know the problem the protagonist faces, you know the rules that bind magic, and so you can figure out (right as they do, ideally) how magic can be creatively used to solve the problem. Proponents/fans of this approach often say they have a harder time investing when they feel a new power, spell, etc., could arbitrarily be unveiled at the moment plot demands it.

This is expanded to other aspects of the worldbuilding, also.

(Obviously, I have my preferences, and I'm on this forum for a reason. But I also spend a fair amount of time on various fantasy/Tolkien subreddits, and see the reasons people might prefer a different flavor.)
 
Would it be a better story if the wicked witch sobbed out the story about how she was traumatized as a child and built the gingerbread house and ate all the children who wandered by in order to get back at her mother for preferring her prettier sister? No way! Shove her in the oven and be done with it!
I submit the book "Wicked" as counter evidence. :)
 
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