Why Have Frodo Dream about Gandalf At All?

‘I saw you!’ cried Frodo. ‘You were walking backwards and forwards. The moon shone in your hair.’

Gandalf paused astonished and looked at him. ‘It was only a dream,’ said Frodo, ‘but it suddenly came back to me. I had quite forgotten it. It came some time ago; after I left the Shire, I think.’

Tolkien’s use of dreams, especially when it comes to Frodo, is a bit strange. Typically, dreams might be used to convey a hidden meaning or as prophecy. But in the case of our lead hobbit, that just isn’t so.

Thus far in the story, Frodo has had two dreams. The first involved Gandalf, and the second, Goldberry. While both seem somewhat mystical, neither seem all that important to the story. The latter is mostly a gauzy look into the world of Bombadil with Goldberry singing. It might not even have been a dream at all.

But the one he had the night before that was of Gandalf:

“Then he saw the young moon rising; under its thin light there loomed before a black wall of rock, pierced by a dark arch like a great gate. It seemed to Frodo that he was lifted up, and passing over he saw that the rock-wall was a circle of hills, and that within it was a plain, and in the midst of the plain stood a pinnacle of stone, like a vast tower but not made by hands.”

This is a truly impressionistic view of Orthanc, which was actually made by hands, as was the wall surrounding it. But its arched gate gives it away – it’s indeed Isengard, as Frodo could tell by Gandalf’s description, as given during the Council of Elrond.

“On its top stood the figure of a man. The moon as it rose seemed to hang for a moment above his head and glistened in this white hair as the wind stirred it. Up from the dark plain below came the crying of fell voices, and the howling of many wolves.”

We’ve already learned that Saruman had gathered an army: “Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet.”

“Suddenly a shadow, like the shape of great wings, passed across the moon. The figure lifted his arms and a light flashed from the staff that he wielded. A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away. The voices wailed and the wolves yammered. There was a noise like a strong wind blowing, and on it was borne the sound of hoofs, galloping, galloping, galloping from the East. ‘Black Riders!’ thought Frodo as he wakened, with the sound of the hoofs still echoing in his mind.”

The eagle was, of course, Gwaihir, as Gandalf explains. He had been sent by Radagast, who was asked by Gandalf to tell the birds and beasts to bring messages to Isengard. This was Saruman’s undoing. He knew he would never be able to turn Radagast against Gandalf, and so used his honesty against him. Radagast had no idea that his messages to the Eagles would have such a result.

When Gandalf was rescued, he learned that the Eagles heard the orcs and wolves and of the Nine Riders. This fits perfectly into Frodo’s dream. With the blowing of wind came the galloping of the Nazgul, just as the wind from the Eagle’s wings brought the news of the Nine to Gandalf.

And though all of this seemed prophetic, it was not. As I wrote about in this post, Gandalf was rescued by Gwaihir on September 18th. Frodo had his dream on the night of September 26th. By that time, Gandalf had already tamed Shadowfax and was riding for the Shire. All Gandalf has to say about the dream’s untimely arrival was: “Then it was late in coming.” It’s as if he’s saying that it simply didn’t matter. Because it didn’t.

So that brings us to the obvious question – why the hell have Frodo dream this at all? To that question, I have only wild speculation. Maybe it was to show that something mystical was going on, but that Frodo was still on his own. He couldn’t simply rely upon Fortune to make this all work out for him. Though he might be helped by forces outside of his control, it was still his will that was most important.

A Few Notes

  • When Frodo dreams of the “young moon rising” at night,it is an impossibility. A waxing moon rises during the daytime. In Gandalf’s account, the moon was full, though in the early drafts it was waxing, just as in Frodo’s dream. More than likely, Tolkien forgot to go back and change Frodo’s account. This happened fairly often.
  • I’m really glad that I got the chance to go back and compare Gandalf’s account to Frodo’s dream.
  • My post detailing Gandalf’s timeline for escape was written over 120 days ago. Time flies.
  • More on this later – but I’ll be out of commission for a couple of weeks starting June 20th. This means no exercising. Hopefully it won’t mean no posting. I can’t continue on in the Frodo’s Journey part of the narrative, but I can still write about other things concerning Middle-earth. Any suggestions? I’ll probably post about this on Sunday to let everyone know what’s going on.
Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Film: Konica Pro 160 (expired)

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye
Film: Konica Pro 160 (expired)

About the Photo
This is a shot from the Palisades in central Oregon. It didn’t really strike me so much as Isengard (the rocks weren’t really all that iron-based), but after again reading Frodo’s dream, maybe it should have brought Isengard to mind.


  • Day 154
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 761 (307 from Rivendell)
  • 33 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 130 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,018 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Moving south along the foothills of Caradhras. 20th day out of Rivendell. January 12, 3019 TA. (map)

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