Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘The Council of Elrond’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of past conversations are revealed in barest shreds…

‘The Council of Elrond’ is a truly enormous and monumental chapter, both in actual length and sheer weight of information. It is little wonder then that the Palantir has had to turn its gaze to no less than three different meetings in order to capture the full breadth of its analysis.

Strider is a man struggling to find himself. He is drowning in a sea of names which have been given to him; each name linked with a certain aspect of his character. As a philologist, it is not surprising Tolkien utilizes naming as a lexical device by which he may covertly create a meta-narrative. In this process, he invites his readers to do the same, endeavoring to follow the shifts in language, time and place across the great lists of names for the key characters in the legendarium.

At the Council, the Dwarves describe the mission of Balin to retake Moria. What does it say about the nature of dwarves that they allow an expedition to go twenty-five years without report? Also, in the discussion, and hesitancy of the dwarves may be seen the motives and taboos with regards to their relationship with Moria.

Many elves are present at the Council. Besides Legolas and Elrond, however, the most prominent and active member is Galdor, who is rather combative in his line of questioning. How do the Three relate to the One? What is the actual threat to the Three? If the One is destroyed they may fail. If they are used and Sauron has the One, he would enslave the minds of the three bearers.

The chapter, like some many, contains many portents and dreams. The dream of Faramir is prophetic. The fact that the mirror appears to him many times before Boromir reveals the sorry state of his family and his character as opposed to Boromir in their relationships with their father. Might Ulmo have been involved in the poetic dream? He often plays a part in the previous ages. How much of the meeting of all these important figures is chance or Providence?

What were Tolkien’s thoughts on Progress, ecology, mechanization and agriculture? In general, from his Letters and his fictional writing, his outlook would seem fairly bleak. Many of the ideas from which he worked actually stem from philosophies long developing from Romanticism and even long before. Though he is the first to so clearly describe and state the theory of sub-creation, and how it applies to literature, it is actually an ancient art. Art, architecture, philosophy, myths, language and word-craft have all sought the ultimate Truth, bottom or Substance. This train of thought, though apparent tangent, led to some truly brilliant insights about the nature of heroism and the heroes of the book: those who follow through with their mission, their place in life prevail. Those who break with that purpose fall unless they turn aside from the crooked path.

The nature of the power of the Three Rings is perhaps surprising. They preserve, inspire and heal, but lack any power towards true protection or socio-political power. The Dwarf Rings only bring more gold to their bearer, making them immensely wealthy, but also fairly incorruptible. The timing of the finding of the One, coinciding with Sauron’s expulsion from Dol Guldur, may not have been mere coincidence. It should be recalled that Golumn lives on an island within a great underground lake, to which a stream flows from the outside. Ulmo, Lord of Waters, is known to have used his influence far up the streams of Middle-earth, as is seen with both Finrod Felagund and Turgon. Might he have set some of the events in motion? Even going so far as to have hidden the Ring in the Gladden Fields until Deagol should come upon it?

In this discussion of Rings and powers and dominion, it is instructive to look at Sam’s time as ring-bearer and why he is not affected by it. His earthiness, his simplicity and his Love for his master are all likely culprits. However, the Ring may never have left Frodo, as it had Isildur, Gollum or Bilbo, but was taken and taken in an act of love no less.

Saruman, in this chapter, is a study of (and warning against) scientific thought and the philosophy of substance. He has broken the White to make the many colors, thereby both symbolically and actually breaking himself. He is a turncoat, both turning his cloak’s color, but also deceived friends both old and new. He is ruled by pride and an overweening sense of justice and duty. In his quest for Order, he has taken his cues from Sauron, and even made his own ring. Tolkien very pointedly does not capitalize this ring. It should be wondered if it has any power at all, or is it merely show of Saruman’s delusion.

How might the Ring be considered a weapon in Boromir’s hands (or in the ‘ideal’ bearer’s hands)? Potentially the Ring might grant the bearer leadership over the Nazghul if they were of great enough stature, but might also allow domination of other people too to prod them to the bearer’s will. The Ring would not be a traditional weapon as such, but a sort of Rallying force for the general.

To give the Ring to Tom Bombadil for protection would be utter folly, as the council decides. He is a creature wholly of the earth. He is content simply to be caretaker and has not interest in dominance or materialism. In this sense he is like the hobbits, namely Sam, who when tempted are confronted with truly silly visions, and like the dwarves in that he himself having mastery may not be dominated. The Council explores every feasible option. Actually, readers have already heard most of the arguments in “The Shadows of the Past,” where the decision has already been made in a form of ‘proto-Council.’

Bilbo’s offer to take the Ring and complete his quest is another example of Tolkien’s brilliant humor, particularly in reference to Gandalf’s advice. Gandalf is called Stormcrow for a reason, as he typically advises in times of strife and danger; here he recommends rest and writing. The moment may also be a nod by Tolkien to the notion of a sequel to Bilbo’s story in which he would be the primary character…but the Ring has grown and he has not (to paraphrase).

The perennial question throughout The Lord of the Rings is when the Ring is influencing events. Is it Frodo’s choice to accept the burden of the Ring, the Ring’s urging, or some combination of the two? Elrond’s subsequent acknowledgement and advice is very much in fitting with the description of Elvish advice described by Frodo so long ago in Woody End: they say both yes and no and often not what you want to hear. It is the sort of acclamation that forces Frodo to indeed take up the quest, for who could back out after such praise?

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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