May 29, 2009
HAS anyone actually read any Tolkien recently? It’s been years since I read Lord of the Rings, and I can’t quite remember whether or not I read it twice. However, though I still appreciate Tolkien’s ability to write such a massive book and effectively create a world inside his head, some of the stuff in that book nags me. Like the fact that the orcs are an innately evil race who just HAVE to be killed, sort of like the bad guys on 24. You don’t ask them what they’re doing; you don’t give them any quarter; you don’t even stick around long enough to double-check what those chaps in Gondor High Command told you. Those bastards are just EVIL and if you don’t kill them you’re a measly, left-wing orc sympathiser who needs to be bombed out of recognition before you can stamp any more on our lovely freedom-loving society! Yeah! Never mind the fact we’re still all ruled in feudal castes and eke out a living on turnips – them orcs’d have us all in the cookpot as soon as look at us! Yeah! Bastard orcies!
Also, in radical contrast to my earlier admiration of the wizard, I am now deeply suspicious of Gandalf. Further examination of Gandalf’s methods give away some interesting ideas. Whereas normal characterisation makes him out to be a benevolent genius, who wars tirelessly against Sauron and the forces of evil, I now believe him to be a diabolical mastermind hell bent on ruling all of Middle Earth through puppet kings and articles of power.
Think about it. All the way through, Gandalf seems to have a very big hidden agenda, which he gradually reveals through outward actions. Naturally, there will be those few naïve people who argue that this agenda ostensibly links up to the destruction of the One Ring and with it the death of Sauron, who represents a major threat to Middle-Earthian peace and prosperity. If Gandalf gave anything away too early, the spies of Sauron would suss things out and cater their plans accordingly. His secrecy is necessary, rather than evidence of wizardly malpractice on his part. But these poor, deluded saps have missed out on something rather obvious: Gandalf doesn’t just keep his plans from potential agents of Mordor, but from everyone. This can either be linked up with paranoia (and that wouldn’t surprise me in the case of an epic stoner such as Gandalf), or genuine evil. And for the reasons of inspection, I’ll assume it’s the latter.
Throughout the trilogy, Gandalf appears to be steering certain players into particular positions of power, and a lot of the associations he builds up are uniquely linked with systems of dynastic control; for example, Aragorn is descended from the Kings of Gondor, Legolas is a prince of Mirkwood, Gimli has relatives in dwarven royalty and even Bilbo is a landowner with a fair bit of clout. And to further bolster his oddly powerful social network, Gandalf has pride of place in the White Council. Although this body was originally formed with the intention of defeating Sauron, my guess is that they probably had a second plan in action, outlining how Middle Earth was to be run after Sauron was subdued. And luckily for Gandalf, the White Council’s future has an awful lot to do with him; Elrond and Galadriel, being elves, are going to vacate the territory fairly soon. Saruman, who is RIGHTLY paranoid of Gandalf’s activities and seeks to insure himself against them, comes across as a deluded whistleblower and ineffective traitor, and as such he is ousted for his apparent silliness.
Plus, consider the people who end up dead or become quietly subservient along the way, and how such things might work for a grab for power by Gandalf. The elves, as mentioned above, are leaving. Though they might otherwise be considered as viable threats to Gandalf’s inevitable rise to power, he has been dealt a lucky hand. The old guards of social hierarchy (as represented by Théoden, King of Rohan and Denethor, the Steward of Gondor) are either killed in battle or commit suicide. Though Boromir, who is a well-respected leader of men, might originally have buggered Gandalf’s plan to install Aragorn as King of Gondor, he’s killed fighting Uruks in the first book (we will assume, naturally, that Gandalf tipped them off). And while Boromir’s younger brother, Faramir, could have constituted an equal obstacle, he turns out to be something of a wet blanket.
Let’s also look at Gandalf’s potential plans for the next generation of Middle Earth’s rulers. The crew with whom he hangs during the events of the trilogy are indeed a useful bunch, but at the end of the day they’re all fighters, each of whom have had to contend with the existence of an enemy as strong as Sauron and live their lives in the according levels of fear and vigilance. Once Sauron is gone, Gandalf knows full well that his current roster of puppets will become nothing more than indentured veterans, and the people will get rid of them in order to encourage prosperity during an ensuing era of peace (consider the way Churchill was voted out of power after the war). The only possible exception to this rule is Aragorn, who has Messianic qualities enough to ensure a long-lasting association with his superstitious and ill-educated subjects. Therefore, Gandalf is not only going to need to mine some political usefulness from the current generation, but also their heirs.
However, fate seems to play out in Gandalf’s favour where this is concerned. Aragorn hitches up with Arwen, thereby uniting the otherwise disparate factions of humanity and elvenkind. Any child they have will not only inherit the throne of Gondor but also the amazing longevity of its mother and the renown of its father. Bloody handy kingdom-ruling material there as far as I can see.
The same applies to the aforementioned Faramir, and the eventual fate of the kingdom of Rohan.The fact that Faramir eventually marries Eowyn, who is directly linked to the royal line of Rohan, can also be seen as working well for old Gandalf, as this allows him to create a marriage of political convenience between the two kingdoms. If the battle-weary Eomer doesn’t have any kids of his own (and it’s safe to say he won’t, given his warlike belligerence), any child born from the marriage of Eowyn and Faramir would inherit the titles of both King of Rohan and Steward of Gondor, effectively dissolving Rohan’s sovereignty and making it a protectorate of Gondor – again working well for Gandalf, given that Aragorn, the King of Gondor, will be dancing to his tune. Already, he’s set up Gondor as the primary power, and we can be sure he’ll be running it from behind the scenes once everything else dies down.
Some might cry that this wouldn’t be a fool-proof plan. There are still other types out there whom Gandalf couldn’t directly control, namely the ents, the dwarves and the hobbits. But once more, Gandalf seems to have done his homework with this one, and the attitudes of each race deserves discussion.
As seen by their reticence to engage in any kind of war against Saruman until he made a direct attack on their territory – and even then only with a great amount of prior consideration – the Ents can be ruled out as a potential protectors of Middle Earth against Gandalf’s tyranny. Despite their strength once roused, it is very difficult to get them to act on anything. Not to mention the fact that like everyone else, the Ents trust Gandalf. After their seizure of Orthanc, they even go so far as to keep Saruman in captivity until Gandalf says otherwise. Oddly enough, given that he’s belittled and taken a pretty agressive stance towards his old wizardly drinking buddy throughout the previous portions of the trilogy, Gandalf decides to let Saruman go, under the guise of mercy for a fallen friend.
(Aside: While this might ring soundly with some readers, I believe this is Gandalf’s effort to create a sustained enemy once Sauron falls. Like the Eurasia/Eastasia switching in Nineteen Eighty-Four and the belief of many conspiracy theorists that Roosevelt allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to rally the Ameircan public to war, the continued threat of Saruman will keep the people of Middle-Earth on their toes, whilst paradoxically providing Gandalf with a threat symbol who can be easily neutralised).
In the case of the dwarves, Gandalf has long since placed himself in their friendship. The events of The Hobbit were quite visibly an attempt of Gandalf’s to inure himself to dwarf leadership, helping them go on a big quest to find a massive stack of gold – not to mention dragon-slaying and ring-finding. And like Elrond remarks (with no small measure of racism), the dwarves don’t have much of a vested interest in current events, keeping to themselves and spending much of their time mining. Unlike men and elves, the dwarves don’t send any massive armies to contribute in the defeat of Sauron. So long as he keeps them happy until he can stab them in the back, the dwarves don’t represent a massive threat to Gandalf either.
Finally, we come to the hobbits. As expected, these little buggers are no more of a threat to Gandalf as the above-mentioned races. He’s had rangers keeping an eye on them for ages, he doesn’t interfere when Saruman nearly burns the Shire down in his last-ditch attempt at control, and there’s even some talk at the end of the trilogy of the Shire coming directly under Gondorian authority, what with Aragorn being such a bloody lovely king and everything.
Given his clear path to power, some might ask how Gandalf expects to execute or utilise his control once he’s advising all the rulers, carefully weaking possible enemies etc. My reckoning is that Saruman hits the nail on the head when he makes a brief speech during his incarceration in his old fortress – in a scene which was later deleted from the cinema release of The Return of the King (I bet Gandalf had some say in that, too).
“What do you want, Gandalf Greyhame? Let me guess. The key of Orthanc? Or perhaps the keys of Barad-Dur itself? Along with the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards?”
With this little tantrum, Saruman nails home the possibility that Gandalf might well be more then he seems. Luckily for the Grey Wizard, nobody believes Saruman, given that he is supposed to be the power-hungry magician who turned against his old allies. Gandalf is undoubtedly after the articles of power which make up the authorities of Middle Earth, not only for their symbolic associations but also for the actual magical powers which they carry. Much like Sauron made the Rings of Power and attempted to control them with his own One Ring, Gandalf’s plan is to obtain the artefacts of rule and rapid communication, such as the palantir seeing stones (remember how he pockets those of Saruman and Denethor once they’re gone?). But in contrast to this, Gandalf will not unite these objects with a single object of equal power, but rather with himself, giving himself far greater power and control than idiot Dark Lords like Sauron could dream of.
Of course, some (again, those lily-livered types in the pro-Gandalf camps) would argue that my entire argument is bunkum, given that by the end of the trilogy none of these things have come to pass. Gandalf allows everything to settle down naturally, and leaves Middle Earth along with the elves and a couple of the hobbits. He makes no visible grab for power and indeed expresses a belief that things have to get along without him, given that this new age is no longer his age.
I can reply to this with one simple answer: Bilbo.
Consider it thus; Bilbo spent sixty years as owner of the One Ring. Tolkien hammers home the detrimental effects which the Ring has on Bilbo, but no-one considers the kind of benefits it would provide. For one thing, much like the Ring’s previous owner Gollum, Bilbo has been given long life through his prolonged exposure to the Ring. It gave him the ability to become invisible whenever he wore it. Let’s also consider the power of the One Ring to control the remaining rings of power, one of which (Narya, the ring of fire) was secretly in Gandalf’s possession for a very long time. As such, though Bilbo might not have had willpower enough to control Gandalf, given the One Ring’s connection to the other ringbearers, Bilbo might well have been privy to the secrets which were otherwise locked away within Gandalf’s mind. Gollum would have been a similar threat had he not been killed, and Frodo would also have counted were it not for the fact he only owned the Ring for a comparatively short length of time.
Though such things might not seem important to Bilbo himself, given that he is rapidly going senile, chances are that he might spill Gandalf’s secrets to some other figure during one of his usual rambles, thereby seeding a potential uprising against Gandalf and royally buggering up everything he already has planned. As such, Gandalf plans for Bilbo to head westward with the elves, and also deigns to go along with him, making sure he keeps his mouth shut until old age finally takes him.
In the meantime, Gandalf will keep planning. And we can be assured of one thing: he’ll be back.