Saturday, 22 September 2012

Not in glory, but in humility...

''Many are the strange chances of the world,'' said Mithrandir, ''and help oft comes from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age).

One of the core leitmotifs in The Lord of the Rings is the enoblement of the simple and the triumph of the meek over the powerful, or as Elrond put it: This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Of course he had, and I expect you have, the hobbits in mind, and I may return them in another post. But here I am thinking of Gandalf. Gandalf! Dearest of counsellors, Enemy of Sauron, chief among the Wise, pick any passage in The Lord of the Rings and you are presented with many different perceptions - of his person, his character, deportment, wisdom; at once of a rather comic figure who adopts a somewhat avuncular attitude towards hobbits, drinks ale and blows smoke rings from his pipe; at some points that of a frail old man, bent with many labours, or pitted against powers too great to withstand; but most of all that of a great and noble sage, wisdom on his brow, power, albeit a power he conceals, in his hands, a man who works many wonders. And yet, he isn't ''out of place'' anywhere - in the Shire, in Bree, in Rivendell, in Gondor, etc. To the hobbits he was a curiosity, someone who turned up after many long years, made fabulous firework displays and was otherwise a damned nuissance; he was beloved of the Elves, and it's said that only to Galadriel, Elrond and Círdan did he reveal his true nature and purpose; to the Men of Gondor and the Dúnedain of the North he was a master of lore, and they perceived that he did not die, though ancient of days, and some among Men (Aragorn and probably Denethor also) guessed at his true end; in Rohan, during the days of the domination of Saruman, he was seen as a bringer of woe (Láthspell he was named in scorn by Wormtongue, ill news sent to quail men's hearts); in Mordor as a spy of the Valar.

I think he's wonderful. It was young Faramir who remarked that Mithrandir (the ''Grey Pilgrim,'' for so the Grey Elves and the Men of Gondor loved to call him, and he was content) was ''more than a lore-master,'' but ''a great mover of the deeds that are done in our time.'' For so he was. He ''proved mightiest,'' as Treebeard observed, and by his labours did much for the succour of Elves and Men at the end of the Third Age.Who, then, was ''Gandalf,'' which is but Old Norse for ''Elf of the Wand?'' Like Pippin in the halls of Denethor, do we not wonder in what far distant time and place he entered into the lives of Men, in raiment as of a traveller, yet concealing a power over the hearts of Men and wisdom beyond the lore of the Elves?

The Istari (that is, ''wizards'') belonged to the Third Age. There seem to have been five, each ranked according to their ''Valinórean stature'' in an ''order,'' the Heren Istarion. It was at the behest of the Valar and with the blessing of God that they came; the Valar who, though Valinor was removed from the world and all roads are now bent, still took counsel for the right governance of Middle-earth. The Istari were chosen from among the Maiar, angelic spirits of the order of the Valar, mighty peers of Sauron, and they were sent in forms as of Men, aged but hale, and foregoing open display of power, to contend with the overweening might of Sauron, and to unite the remnant of the Dúnedain and the Elves in the North to courage and good deeds against him, lest each singly be destroyed. It must here be stressed that they were real Men, their bodies were not feigned, as it were images constructed in the imagination of the Maia; each wizard (much like Christ) was subject to the pain, weariness and temptations of Earth, and could fall from their high purpose (as indeed afterward befell), either being enamoured of Middle-earth and seeing Valinor as a vision afar off, or being tempted to power and the domination of others. According to the Tale of Years they appeared in the West of Middle-earth in about TA year 1000, when the Great Ships came over the Sea, just as the shadow of Sauron began to take shape in Mirkwood. Curumo came first, and came alone, and was accounted the greatest among the Istari in arts and lore; he who in after days was known as Saruman among Men, for he was marvellously skilled. Next, it seems, came the Blue Wizards, whose names are remembered in no tale for they went into the East of Middle-earth with Saruman and came not back. There, I expect, they did what they would until they failed of their purpose, either starting mystery cults or being overcome by Sauron (which is more likely). Aiwendil came with the Blue Wizards, he who was of the Maiar of Yavanna, and he travelled not far but befriended all the beasts and birds of Middle-earth and settled at Rhosgobel. In later days he was known to Men in Wilderland as Radagast and his raiment was brown.

Last and seeming the least, for he was not tall and was more aged than the others, came Olórin, clad in raiment grey as ash. He was welcomed at the Grey Havens by Círdan the Shipwright, who divined in him, by a sense other than sight, the greatest power and wisdom, and with reverence said unto him: ''Take now this Ring, for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.'' And the Grey Pilgrim took the Ring, and kept it ever secret; but Curumo the White, ever skilled to uncover secrets, learned of this gift and begrudged it. It was a curious gift, and of manifold significance to the Grey Messenger, arising at once from the nature of the Great Rings (not, of course, the One), which were bethought them of old in Eregion under tutelage of Celebrimbor the Gnome, having as their primary end the preservation of art, slowing of decay, which under the Sun of this world is doom for all things, and the desire to make ever present the regal Tradition of the West in the waking memory of all men of good will (wherein is seen at once their supreme beauty and folly); and the nature of the Grey Messenger himself, who came of the Maiar of Manwë, the Elder King, an archetype of Archangel Michael in the defence against the evil of the Diabolos Melkor; and Varda, the bringer of Light; light to illumine the Great Lands and herald the arising of the Children of God, and light to dispel the Shadow of Death, vis-à-vis Sam's supplication unto her in Cirith Ungol pass:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-díriel,
le nallon sí di'-nguruthos!
A tíro nin, Fanuilos!

O Queen of the Stars, Star-kindler, from heaven gazing afar, to thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death, O look towards me, Everwhite! Almost it could be a prayer to St Mary, and it has a rather child-like quality about it, does it not? Again exemplifying the triumph of innocence and humility over pride.


wielder of the flame of Anor - the light of the unsullied Sun before the coming of Melkor, a light to shine in dark places, the stabbing of a sudden white light into a dark place

...significance of Narya for Gandalf, servant of the Secret Fire, fire that kindles and warms opposed to the fire that lays waste, servant of the Holy Ghost, servant of Creation against servant of Morgoth, servant of chaos.

The mission of the Istari had no clear means; they were not commanded to act together at any given time, nor I think would this have been possible. Of the Blue Wizards we know nothing. They went ''into the blue,'' as it were, and came never back, and whatever they did in the Enemy-occupied lands to which they went is remembered by none in the West. Saruman went with them, but returned into the West of Middle-earth, settling at Isengard in TA year 2759 and devoting himself to the study of the devices of Sauron and the lore of the Great Rings. Radagast achieved nothing, but was received well by the Beornings and the other inhabitants of Wilderland. Gandalf travelled far and wide over Middle-earth, though is remembered in no chronicles or annals for much of the Third Age, for he went in many guises and had no abiding place, nor did he gather followers unto himself. I expect the purpose of these early wanderings was simply to get to know Middle-earth and its peoples, building trust, and being sent in the bodies of Men the Wizards had to learn much from slow experience. Even in the Elder Days the Maiar were seen seldom in Middle-earth. But Gandalf...





History of Gandalf's wanderings, dealings with Elves, Men (and hobbits)

curious name Olorin, memory, dreams, visions, Tradition. Preservation of Tradition.



Merry - destruction of the Witch-king
Pippin - salvation of the line of the Stewards.

Sauron was worshipped by the Men of Darkness, for he surrounded his abode with fire

Of the fate of Radagast, no tale tells. His house at Rhosgobel was empty at the time of the War of the Ring

the more I think of it, the more I believe the work to be truly catholic because of the presence of Gandalf.

By his labours he brought about the destruction of Smaug, who might otherwise have wrought

power, machine, domination as opposed to ''the fire that kindles,'' inspiration to courage
Elvish ''power'' in art, healing rather than display of power

could anything be more Christian than this?

this is the great paradox of the Christian Faith, that which ends life has brought life more abundantly, that Christ, humiliated, hideously tortured, naked on the Cross, actually reigns therefrom

include something about Gandalf's counsel to Elrond during the formation of the Fellowship, about trusting to the friendship of the hobbits rather than to the lords of Elrond's house...

And when at last Gandalf the White returned into the West. It is significant in the light of Saruman's fate, that he looked to the West and was blown away

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