A Strange Chance, If Chance it Was – Gandalf Begins

Boromir had voiced the biggest question of them all at the Council of Elrond. How could they know for sure that Frodo’s ring was the Ring. But he wasn’t the only one who had doubts. Galdor, an Elf sent by Cirdan the Shipwright from the Grey Havens to the Council, had a few questions of his own.

“The Wise may have good reason to believe that the halfling’s trove is indeed the Great Ring of long debate, unlikely though that may seem to those who know less. But may we not hear the proofs? And I would ask this also. What of Saruman? He is learned in the lore of the Rings, yet he is not among us. What is his counsel – if he knows the things that we have heard?”

Those are some pretty fine questions, and it’s now Gandalf’s turn to drop some knowledge. He first does this through logic, telling Galdor that if the other rings are accounted for, and Sauron wants this one so badly, it must be the Ring.

More or less answering Galdor’s first question, Gandalf moved to the second, which wasn’t so simple. Saruman, as we learned in “The Shadow of the Past” chapter, was “the chief of my order and the head of the [White] Council.” Galdor’s question as to why he wasn’t there made sense. Saruman had been at these types of gatherings since his arrival.

To Frodo, Gandalf continued saying that Saruman’s “knowledge is deep, but his pride has grown with it, and he takes ill any meddling.” The White Council had debated about the Ring before, but he seemed reluctant to tell the rest of the Council all he knew.

At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf goes into much greater detail. Not only did Saruman seem a bit dodgy about the Ring, he even “dissuaded us from open deeds against him [Sauron], and for long we watched him only.”

But as Sauron’s power grew, the Council finally acted and drove him out of Mirkwood. This happened during the events of The Hobbit, meaning that Sauron was in retreat at the same time that Bilbo found the Ring – “a strange chance, if chance it was.”

Gandalf soon learned that Sauron’s retreat from Mirkwood wasn’t a retreat at all – he “soon after came to the Dark Tower and openly declared himself.”

To set this in perspective, let’s draw up a time line. The White Council formed at the end of the Second Age, but didn’t really start meeting until about 2,500 years later. It consisted of Gandalf, Elrond, Cirdan, Galadriel, and Saruman (plus various other high-level Elves). The years given are all Third Age. In the story, it is now 3018.

2060 – Things begin to happen in Dol Guldor and the Wise believe that it might just be Sauron taking shape again.

2063 – Gandalf visits Dol Guldor, but Sauron retreats. Gandalf does not know it’s actually Sauron.

2460 – Sauron returns to Dol Guldor, taking up residence in Dol Guldor, Mirkwood.

2463 – The Council meets and decides that Gandalf should lead them. Gandalf, however, refuses and Saruman fills the role. Not much seems to have been accomplished here apart from the idea of keeping an eye upon Sauron. Incidentally, this was about the same year that Smeagol found the Ring.

2845 – King Thrain II, the Dwarf, is taken prisoner in Dol Guldor. Sauron takes his ring.

2850 – Gandalf visits Dol Guldor again, finding Thrain. He also figures out that it is indeed Sauron who was there. It was now clear to Gandalf that Sauron was after the One Ring

2851 – This was when Gandalf called for the attack on Sauron at Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. But Saruman, who was himself seeking the Ring, convinced them that it wasn’t yet time. He also makes fun of Gandalf’s smoking. It’s also the year that Saruman begins his search of the Gladden Fields, where Isildur was killed.

2885 – Sauron launches his attacked upon Gondor, which Boromir talked about at the Council.

2939 – Saruman learns that Sauron is also searching the Gladden Fields for the Ring. He keeps this bit of knowledge to himself.

2941 – The White Council meet for a third time and finally agree to attack Dol Guldor. Bilbo takes the Ring and Sauron “retreats” from Dol Guldor.

2951 – Sauron shows himself and sends three Nazgul to occupy Dol Guldor (apparently his summer home – he really seems to like this place).

2953 – The White Council meets again in (slow) reaction to Sauron’s declaration of power. Saruman lies to them, telling the Council that the Ring was lost in the Anduin, but was taken to the sea and lost forever. Saruman takes Isengard as his own and pretty much stays there full time.

Lots of stuff happens between 2953 and 3018, of course, but we’ll get to that soon enough. What’s most interesting about this time line is how much the White Council knew and for how long. Nearly 1,000 had passed between the Council’s first suspicions that Sauron was coming back and the Council of Elrond. That’s an incredibly long time to do basically nothing about it.

To give Gandalf a bit more credit, he first learned for certain that the Necromancer in Dol Guldor was Sauron in 2850. And though it took him 790 years to come to this conclusion, it only took him 91 years to convince the Council to attack.

Gandalf doesn’t explain everything in this time line (and parts of it were definitely written by Tolkien long after Lord of the Rings was published), but he covers the gist of it up to Saruman saying that the Ring was carried to the sea.

He also admits fault for the sluggishness. He apparently believed Saruman’s Ring to the Sea story in 2953. “I should have sought for the truth sooner, and our peril would now be less.”

Gandalf was finally convinced that Bilbo’s ring was the Ring in 3001. Three years later, he visited Frodo in 3004 to confirm it (by heating it in the fire to reveal the lettering). But this was nearly fifty years after the last White Council meeting. Things clearly don’t move with any sort of swiftness in Middle-earth. It’s basically the DMV – there’s tons of waiting and when it’s finally finished, you feel sort of dirty and touched by Evil.

A Few Notes

  • Tolkien recycled the name Galdor three times. First it was used as the name of the Lord of the People of the Trees in Gondolin. Then it was used here. And after that, Tolkien named Hurin’s father Galdor, and it appeared in the Silmarillion.
  • Also, a heads up – because of the (US) holiday, I’ll be taking a break from the blog until Wednesday (maybe Thursday). I’ve been pretty stressed out with doing three daily blogs and am really in need of a break. We’ll be doing a bit of traveling in Oregon, and you can follow me on Instagram – please do, actually. See you next week!
Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (c.1950) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 200 (expired in 09/1994 -- xpro as C-41)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (c.1950) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 200 (expired in 09/1994 — xpro as C-41)

About the Photo
While it’s known that the White Council met at Rivendell at least once, it’s pretty obvious that the other meetings were held at Eat. Also, that truck is totally Cirdan’s. Totally.


  • Day 140
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 691 (237 from Rivendell)
  • 103 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 230 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,088 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Marching south along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 16th night out from Rivendell. January 8-9, 3019 TA. (map)

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17 thoughts on “A Strange Chance, If Chance it Was – Gandalf Begins

  1. apparently his summer home *giggle*

    I always wondered at how slow everything happened in Middle Earth, too. I guess when you’re immortal, nothing’s ever that urgent?

    Have a great blogging break!

    • Yeah, so unless you’re a Man, it’s all just whatever, I guess. I mean, seriously, DO something about this, guys! There’s really no excuse here.

      I bet I’ll enjoy the break, and there will be scads of photos to prove it!

      • It’s quite possible, I suppose. And Elrond might ticket Cirdan, if Cirdan was seriously annoying him. (Honestly? With that FACE?! And that HAIR?! I wouldn’t put it past him. X-P)

          • Yes, he probably does. 😛 Still, I don’t think Elrond would let THAT stop him. 😛
            Hey, do you think that Legolas and Glorfindel were much in the habit of pranking people? Wait… Glorfindel… probably not. I mean, he’s an Elf-lord and killed a BALROG. On the other hand, I’m sure there are lots of annoying peeps in Imladris from time to time. And Legolas… well, his dad can be REALLY irritating/dense/just plain obnoxious. I refer to the incident with the dwarves. ;-P

            • The fine would be that Cirdan had to listen to Elrond drone on and on about the Elder Days.

              Glorfindel, maybe. He’s on his second life, so all bets are off. Gandalf smiled more after his death, so it stands to reason.

              I want to see Elrond and Thranduil in a pissy scowl-off. Who would win?

            • I’m not sure, not having seen “The Hobbit” yet. 😛 But I’ll bet that Legolas would be there, snapping pictures with Irene Adler’s camera phone, and sending them to John Watson because he’s the blogging guru and Elves don’t do inane things like Facebook. 😛
              Now… have I had too much chocolate and sugar, or is this just my default state? Ho hum, not even David Foster Wallace can depress me in this mood. 😛

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