‘Gandalf. Some Explanations.’ – Tolkien’s Early Rivendell Drafts

When Tolkien first jotted down his notes for what would eventually become the three Rivendell chapters, he had only the vaguest of ideas what they would be about.

“Gandalf. Some explanations.” was really all it said, apart from a few items that probably made sense only to him. As far as the Council of Elrond was concerned, all that existed then was “Consultation of hobbits with Elrond and Gandalf,” which is true in only the most basic sense. But then, the rest of the book was described as: “The Quest of the Fiery Mountain.”

When he got around to actually writing the first draft of the chapter that would become “Many Meetings,” he allowed his ideas to flow more freely, and much of the text remained true through the published version. As in that version, Bingo (proto-Frodo) awoke, he noticed the ceiling and heard a waterfall. He asked where he was and it was Gandalf who answered, calling the many things the hobbit had done “absurd.” As in the final version, Bingo “felt too peaceful and comfortable to argue.”

There are some noticeable differences with Gandalf’s retelling of the fight at the Ford, however. In the jotted down notes, it was Gandalf who caused the flood “with Elrond’s permission.” And in the first draft, it was Gandalf entirely (in the published version, it’s Elrond with a bit of a stylistic assist from Gandalf).

As far as Glorfindel was concerned, word did not come into Rivendell alerting Elrond of Frodo’s distress. It was Gandalf who send Glorfindel, “-or rather, I asked Elrond to lend him to me. He is a wise and noble elf. Bilbo is – was – very fond of him. I also sent Rimbedir (as they call him here) – that Trotter fellow.” Trotter, of course, became Strider, but at this point, he was still a hobbit who wore wooden shoes.

One notion that was cut from the final draft was Bingo’s suspicion of Trotter. “I keep on feeling that I have seen him somewhere before.” Gandalf tried to play it off by saying that all hobbits look “extraordinarily alike.” Bingo obviously didn’t buy that, but let the matter rest for the time.

Most of the remaining passage was retained to the final draft, and so it’s more interesting to look at what was added later than what was there from the start. The published version is nearly five times as long, so there’s quite a bit added.

Missing from the first draft (in order of how they appear in the published version) was a much more detailed accounting of the story thus far. Bingo did not ask for Sam, since Sam, as a character did not yet exist. Gandalf makes no mention of Bingo talking in his sleep, telling about his time in the Barrow.

No mention is made by Gandalf that he was delayed or that he was captive. There’s no lengthy description of the Ringwraiths coming onto the scene. The idea that the a sliver of the Morgul-blade broke off in Bingo’s shoulder was not yet thought of, the Black Riders only “grazed” his shoulder.

Tolkien had not yet connected Trotter to Aragorn and thence to the Numenoreans – nothing of the sort was mentioned at all. There wasn’t even anything about the Rangers. Bingo did not ask if Rivendell was safe.

Gandalf did not go into any great detail about the fight at the Ford. Though he gave a basic outline, it was merely a mention compared to the published version. After the talk about the Black Riders’ horses and how “Not all his servants and chattels are wraiths,” Bingo goes back to sleep.

After finishing the Rivendell draft (which ended during what would later become the council of Elrond), Tolkien rethought a few things, taking notes along the way. This would be as far as he was going before starting the story all over from the beginning.

It was here that he decided that Bilbo from The Hobbit had to be in Rivendell, and Bingo had to see him. It was also here that he toyed with the idea of renaming Bingo to Frodo, but decided against it. These notes also saw the first usage of “Sam Gamgee,” though it was just in a margin and all alone but for another scrible which said “Bingo originally intended to go alone … with Sam”.

The second draft of the Rivendell chapters mirrored the first, though a few things were added and Tolkien finally decided to rename Bingo to Frodo. Here, we see the introduction of Gandalf’s “I was delayed” reasoning. Gandalf actually goes into more detail about why he was delayed than he does in the published version, but I’ll save this incredibly fun story for when I cover this (hopefully next weekish). That information was drastically different and incredibly fun.

Gandalf tells Frodo about the coming Council, which was now something real – it wasn’t merely a discussion between Elrond and the Hobbits as before.

He also mentioned the Ring, going into more detail about it than in the first draft . When explaining what would have happened to him if the Ringwraiths would have captured him: “You would have become a wraith, and under the dominion of the Dark Lord, but you would have had no ring of your own, as the Nine have; for your Ring is the Ruling Ring, and the Necromancer would have taken that, and would have tormented you for trying to keep it – if any torment great than being robbed of it was possible.”

In this second draft (as in the published version), Frodo asks whether or not Rivendell was safe. Gandalf’s reply was a bit different: “Yes, I hope so. He has less power over Elves than over any other creature: they have suffered too much in the past to be deceived or cowed by him now. And the Elves of Rivendell are descendants of his chief foes: the Gnomes, the Elvenwise, that came out of the West; and the Queen Elbereth Gilthoniel, Lady of the Stars, still protects them.” Tolkien had not yet come up with the name “Noldar,” and used “Gnomes” since his earliest Lost Tales writings.

There was also a sort of mystery hobbit named Odo who was (in this version of things) traveling with Gandalf. Somehow Odo was captured when Gandalf was attacked on Weathertop and somehow he was rescued or reappeared. Gandalf, in this draft, dodges the question and makes it seem like there’s quite a story to tell, but Tolkien abandoned this idea before he could tell it.

And while many things were obviously retained from the second draft to the published version, it was in the third (and final) draft that Aragorn appeared. Gandalf says:

“There are few left in Middle-earth like Aragorn son of Kelegorn. The race of the Kings from over the Sea is nearly at an end.”

Frodo asks: “Do you really mean that Trotter is of the race of Numenor?” Again, Frodo thought that he was only a Ranger.

Gandalf replies: “Only a Ranger! Many of the Rangers are of the same race, and the followers of Aragorn: all that he has left of the realm of his fathers.”

And so while Aragorn was still named Trotter, he was no longer a hobbit, but a leader of some kind of what was left of the race of Numenoreans.

A Few Notes

  • From the earliest draft, Tolkien decided that it would be nice to quote from The Hobbit when describing that Bingo/Frodo was safe in Rivendell.
  • Look, Jeff! I talked about Numenor! I didn’t even mean to!
Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 | Film: Fuji FP-3000B

Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 | Film: Fuji FP-3000B

About the Photo
Rivendell has a waterfall, and this is Seattle’s. It’s Snoqualmie Falls, the same waterfall that was shown in the opening credits of Twin Peaks.


  • Day 101
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 500
  • 420 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,278 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Still marching along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains, south of Rivendell. (map)

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7 thoughts on “‘Gandalf. Some Explanations.’ – Tolkien’s Early Rivendell Drafts

    • Thank you so much! Spring is back in Seattle and I’m really itching to dust off the cameras and get out and blow through a few rolls. Hopefully, they’ll show up here in the next few weeks.

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