Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 2

The Council Of Elrond
"One Ring To Rule Them All, One Ring To Find Them,
One Ring To Bring Them All And In The Darkness Bind Them."
I could probably spend a whole day going through each piece of information revealed in this chapter. Basically, Tolkien presents the entire history of the Ring: from its forging by Sauron in the Second Age and its loss by Isildur at the Gladden Fields, through the circumstances of its arrival at Rivendell. There is more information presented in this one chapter than many novels have from beginning to end. At 32 pages, it is the longest chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. That being said, I will be focusing on a limited number of plot points that I feel I can add a little something to.

But first, there is a passage at the very beginning that I think is important. It's a description of Rivendell.
"[Frodo] walked along the terraces above the loud-flowing Bruinen and watched the pale, cool sun rise above the far mountains, and shine down, slanting through the thin silver mist; the dew upon the yellow leaves was glimmering, and the woven nets of gossamer twinkled on every bush. Sam walked beside him, saying nothing, but sniffing the air, and looking every now and again with wonder in his eyes at the great heights in the East. The snow was white upon their peaks."

I love this description mainly because fall is my favorite time of year. And while it's chronologically that time of year in Middle-Earth, Rivendell's constant state at this point in history is one of autumn. And this state parallels the condition of the race of Elves, which is currently declining in its power and presence. It is in fact only because of the power of the Elven rings that the realms of Rivendell and Lothlorien are able to hold back this decline by slowing the passage of time. The Elves are gradually leaving the shores of Middle-Earth and actually have very little at stake in its future, save for their love for it. The primary burden of opposing the Enemy will fall to the other free peoples of Middle-Earth.

Elrond introduces Frodo, the Ring-bearer, followed by other representatives at the council. There is the dwarf Gloin accompanied by his son Gimli. There is Legolas, whose father Thranduil is the Elven-King of the realm of Mirkwood. And there is Boromir, man of Gondor, who is the most recently arrived. Gloin is the first to speak. He tells of a messenger of Sauron (presumably one of the Black Riders) who asked Dain for any information he had concerning hobbits. "For Sauron knows," said he, "That one of these was known to you on a time." We are not told exactly how Sauron knows this, but I think it is safe to assume that he came by this information from one or more Orcs of the Misty Mountains who may have fled from the Battle of the Five Armies. One observant reader pointed out in the comments on this post that in Chapter Five of "The Hobbit", Bilbo mentions Dwarves to Gollum:

"I am Mr Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don't know where I am and I don't want to know, if only I can get away"
Based on this, it could be argued that in addition to "Shire" and "Baggins" that Sauron's minions were able to wrench from Gollum the fact that Bilbo had an association with Dwarves.

The messenger told them that Sauron was searching for a ring, though he greatly downplayed its importance to him. Great reward was offered the Dwarves for their assistance and if they refused then things would not go so well for them. Dain told the messenger he would consider Sauron's request and shortly afterward sent Gloin to Rivendell to warn Bilbo of the danger that was seeking for him and to also seek advice from Elrond on this matter. Now we have come to the subject at hand. For it is the Ring that is the catalyst for all of them being there.

For Elrond says to them:

"That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world."

The reader is left to wonder exactly what Elrond means by this. Is he implying that by some divine intervention this meeting was "so ordered" with the exact individuals who are now meeting to discuss what action was to be taken? Perhaps as a "guiding hand", the powers of the Valar or even of Eru Iluvatar are in play - though the idea that the characters are ultimately subject to their own free will is a theme that Tolkien emphasizes in his writings.

Elrond tells of the Ring's origins. After it was cut from Sauron's hand, it was soon lost in the bed of the River Aduin after Isildur was attacked by a band of Orcs. It was assumed that it was lost forever. After the fall of Arnor in the North, Gondor also began to decline. The Witch-King of Angmar gathered the rest of the Nazgul and many Orcs to him and went to Mordor. Soon afterward, the city of Minas Ithil fell to him and was renamed Minas Morgul. The Eastern lands of Gondor, called Ithilien were occupied by the Enemy and after constant attacks the original Gondorian capital of Osgiliath, which straddles the River Anduin, fell into ruin.

Though it is not explained here, the information included in Appendix A tells of how the Witch-King issued a challenge in the year 2050 of the Third Age to the Earnur, the King of Gondor, who was then lost at Minas Morgul. In his name, Mardil his Steward ruled until such time as an heir stepped forward to claim the throne. Mardil's descendents continued to rule for almost a thousand years (Earnur was childless). Boromir's father, Denethor, was the current Ruling Steward of Gondor. Over time, the people of Gondor mixed with those of lesser men and the noble Numenorean blood was diluted. Their lifespans shortened to a length similar to other men.

Boromir defends the pride and dignity of Gondor (which incidentally Tolkien had named "The Land of Ond" in his earlier drafts). He reminds those present that Gondor has borne the brunt of the responsibility for keeping the forces of Mordor in check, and that their lands had been spared much of its danger because of this. He states that his reason for coming is to consult Elrond about a verse his brother had heard in a dream that told of Isildur's Bane and the importance of a halfling that shall present a token indicating that Doom is near at hand. Denethor sent Boromir to Imladris (the ancient name for Rivendell) to seek greater understanding of the possible meaning of this dream. Looking back at the idea of divine intervention, in this case it can certainly by inferred. In his literary criticism titled, The Road to Middle-Earth, Tom Shippey writes: "In Middle-Earth, one may say, Providence or the Valar sent the dream that took Boromir to Rivendell."

Now Boromir learns that Isildur's bane is, of course, the One Ring. Elrond bids Frodo to bring it forth. Immediately there is tension between Boromir and Aragorn, who is introduced by Elrond as the descendent of Isildur and in his possession are the shards of Narsil, the blade that was broken. Aragorn points out that he and the remnants of the Numenoreans in the North have just as thankless a job as Gondor does in keeping evil at bay from the unsuspecting Free Peoples. Aragorn displays a pride and assertiveness towards Boromir that was not duplicated in the film. Peter Jackson's Aragorn plays it more low-key.

The chronicle of the Ring is continued with Bilbo's story and Gandalf's investigation of Gollum's original acquisition of the Ring. Gandalf then recounts his imprisonment at the hands of Saruman and reveals his treachery, which dismays those such as Elrond who once trusted him implicitly. True to Frodo's vision in the house of Tom Bombadil, Gandalf was placed atop the pinnacle of Orthanc, the tower of Isengard, by Saruman.

It is interesting to note that while the character of Saruman is portrayed mostly through third person accounts and flashback, his presence is keenly felt - as is Sauron's - in the events that are taking place. However, I appreciated the expansion of Saruman's screen time in the films as well as the brilliant casting of Christopher Lee in the role. I plan to discuss wizards - or Istari - in greater depth later on. But this is one place in the books where a wizard other than Gandalf or Saruman is discussed.

Radagast the Brown, lives in the lands between the Misty Mountains and the forest of Mirkwood. He is preoccupied with the birds and beasts of Middle-Earth and this distinction earns him the mockery and ridicule of Saruman, who uses Radagast's honesty and trusting nature to entrap Gandalf. Saruman tells him to find Gandalf and to warn him that the Nine Nazgul are abroad. Further, he asks Radagast to tell Gandalf that he should seek Saruman's aid at once before it is too late. So Radagast unwittingly helps Saruman in his scheme to at first tempt Gandalf to join him and to imprison him when he refuses.

But it is also Radagast who proves to be the source of Gandalf's escape. Before he departed for Isengard he asked the Brown wizard to spread the word to the birds and beasts that are his friends to bring any news of evil doings to Orthanc. Radagast communicates this wish to Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, who observes the mustering of Orcs. When Gwaihir arrives at Orthanc unlooked-for, he is able to bear Gandalf away from the top of the tower. He flies Gandalf to Edoras, where he is given use of the horse, Shadowfax. Following a swift journey along the same route the Frodo takes, Gandalf actually reaches Rivendell ahead of Strider and the hobbits.

The parties gathered then discuss the fate of the Ring, and seeing that it can be unmade no other way, resolve to send it to Mordor to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. Boromir of course makes a strong appeal for the Ring to be used against Sauron. But Elrond insists that the only ones powerful enough to wield it had not the strength to avoid falling victim to its evil.

This leads to a discussion of the Three Elvish rings of power. Elrond wears Vilya the ring of air and Galadriel possesses Nenya, the ring of waters. The power of these two rings are used to maintain the beauty and magic of Rivendell and Lothlorien, respectively. Gandalf was given Narya the ring of fire upon his arrival to Middle-Earth by Cirdan the Shipwright. Only he, Cirdan, Elrond and Galadriel know this. The question is asked by Gloin what would happen to the power of the Three should the One Ring be destroyed.

"We know not for certain," answered Elrond saldly. "Some hope that the Three rings, which Sauron has never touched, would then become free, and their rulers might heal the hurts of the world that he was wrought. But maybe when the One has gone, the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten. That is my belief."

This is a significant point that many readers overlook. If the Elvish rings fail, it would hasten the certain end of the presence of the Elves in Middle-Earth and their inevitable departure over the sea to Valinor. This is a bittersweet moment for the Elves for either way their time in Middle-Earth is ending.

Now all that remained was the question of who would bear the Ring on this quest? The Elves didn't fully trust the Dwarves and the Dwarves didn't trust the Elves (this is a quarrel that goes back to the First Age). And neither trusted the will of men. Now Frodo, the hobbit, realizes that there is only one answer.

"A great dread fell upon him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken. An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo's side in Rivendell filled his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his voice.

'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.'"

This is a huge moment for Frodo that reveals his strength of character. His decision will require a tremendous sacrifice. For though he does not fully understand it, even if he succeeds and returns his life will be forever changed. In the film, Galadriel says of Frodo, "The quest will claim his life" - if not literally, it will certainly claim the life that he once knew. Even though Frodo wonders if "some other will" speaks with his voice, it is really his will - one that he did not know he possessed - that surfaces to take this responsibility upon his shoulders.

Next: The Ring Goes South

[Chronology: October 25th 3018 T.A.]

(revised 8/30/06)


At 2:45 AM, Blogger Lord Floppington said...

At that time of one of the Nazgul coming to Dain, had Sauron already captured Gollum? Hadn't he learned about the involvement of a hobbit that way? Or I guess if I read more carefully, was it that the Nazgul/Sauron already knew a hobbit was involved, and were asking instead, with hobbits in mind, if the dwarves knew any. I don't recall if Gollum knew Bilbo had been traveling with dwarves, or how long after Bilbo made off with the ring Gollum managed to leave his caves to search for it.

Also, the info from Elrond, involving the Witch-king defeating Arnor, gathering the other Nazgul, taking them south to Mordor, capturing those cities and killing the king of Gondor in that challenge, was all of that stuff in the chapter and I missed it, or is that information from other materials that you're using to help us fill in the blanks with a little more detail?

Continued thanks for your work on this project!

At 6:38 AM, Blogger Gary said...

In Book 1, Chapter 2 (The Shadow of the Past) Gandalf recounts his encounter with Gollum and how he sweated out of him as much as he could concerning his finding of the Ring. He doesn't say how long Gollum waited before looking for the it after Bilbo "acquired" it. But remember it is a period of seventeen years between Chapters 1 and 2. It seems Gollum searched far and wide but was ultimately drawn to Mordor where - under duress - he revealed his encounter with a "Baggins". Sauron now knew for sure that the Ring has been found and somehow learned the Baggins was a hobbit - a race which he was not yet at all familiar. Gollum did not know of Bilbo's association with the dwarves, but Sauron likely puts Gollum's info together with other bits and pieces that he learns from Orcs, perhaps. Then he sends out a Ringwraith to make some inquiries.

Elrond briefly discusses the fall of Arnor and Gondor at the council but not in as much detail as I did. This is stuff from Appendix A (and other resources). I wanted newer readers to fathom why the line of kings in Gondor ended and why it was ruled by Stewards, as this isn't sufficiently explained in the main text.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Gary said...

As to the timeline, I consulted The Tale of Years (Appendix B):
- all dates Third Age -

2941 - Bilbo meets Gollum, leaves Misty Mountains with Ring
2944 - Gollum leaves the Misty Mountains to search for "Baggins", the "thief"
(so he held out for three years)
2951 - Gollum turns toward Mordor
2980 - Gollum reaches the outskirts of Mordor, becomes acquainted with Shelob
3001 - Bilbo's farewell party
3009 - Gollum actually enters Mordor
3017 - Gollum is released from Mordor
3017 - 3018 - At some point not specified, a messenger from Sauron contacts Dain and the Dwarves
October 25, 3018 - Council of Elrond

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous BWS said...

I thought I remembered something about Golumn tracing Bilbo's path through Mirkwood to Lonely Mountain and back, where he was captured by the Elves of Mirkwood. Wasn't that Legolas' reason for coming, to report that Golumn had escaped?

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Yes, that was one of those plot points that I chose not to comment on (I'd still be writing this post if I tried to do them all).

When Gandalf captured Gollum, he was taken for safe-keeping to Mirkwood where he was imprisoned by the Elves. Unfortunately, one time when they took him outside to get some air, something unexpected happened. After he had climbed a tall tree, a band of Orcs caught them off guard. By the time the Elves drove them off, Gollum had escaped. He slipped away and his whereabouts become unknown until he later finds the Fellowship in Moria and begins to follow them.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger P.A. Breault said...

In Chapter 5 of The Hobbit, Bilbo mentions the dwarves and Gandalf (though not by name) when he first encounters Gollum:

'What iss he, my precious?' whispered Gollum...

'I am Mister Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don't know where I am; and I don't want to know, if only I can get away.'

[Sorry about the previous deletion. Typed in the wrong chapter...]

At 10:09 PM, Blogger Gary said...

ah, point taken. forgot that line (though you'd think I would have remembered having just read it aloud to my son)

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Eddie Huxtable said...

Thanks so very much for taking your time to create this very useful and informative blog.


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