Jul 2, 2018

Let's Read Tolkien 46: The White Rider

"My very bones are chilled," said Gimli, flapping his arms and stamping his feet.

We find the Three Hunters at dawn, looking for traces of the hobbits on the battlefield. Soon enough, they find the tracks of the hobbits, and Aragorn correctly deduces how they escaped both the orcs and the riders. He also reasons that the orcs must have been commanded to capture hobbits, which is why they set off for Isengard as soon as they had Merry and Pippin: telling orcs about the Ring would have been far too dangerous.

The hobbit-trail leads into Fangorn Forest, which Gimli is loath to enter, but with at least one missing hobbit to track and no horses to go anywhere else with, there's little choice. Aragorn tracks the hobbits to Treebeard's hill, and as the Three Hunters ascend it, they spot an old man below, who they take for Saruman. Gimli tries to persuade Legolas to shoot him, but Aragorn has to make the eminently reasonable point that they can't just shoot old men on sight.

The old man climbs up the hill, and after a short riddling conversation, Gimli decides the old man is Saruman, and confronts him. Instead of Saruman, though, the old man is revealed to be Gandalf, clad all in white. He and the Three Hunters catch up, and Gandalf talks about his battle with the Balrog. He reassures the hunters that the hobbits are fine, and asks that they rather go with him to Edoras, where the King of Rohan reigns. Gandalf summons his horse, Shadowfax, who is accompanied by the horses Éomer lent Aragorn and Legolas. They ride for Edoras.


So, Gandalf is back. Earlier, I talked about the way Eärendil prefigures Christ in Tolkien's theological scheme. Here, we encounter another Christ-figure: the resurrected Gandalf, sent back from the dead to finish his mission. To me at least, the failure of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to recognize Gandalf recalls the way Jesus's disciples fail to realize his status in the Gospels. Like Eärendil, though, Gandalf is not an analogue of Christ, but rather a partial representation. Like Christ, Gandalf descends from heaven to bring hope to mankind; however, unlike Christ, he preaches no gospel, and crucially, unlike Christ, he is subject to the Fall and therefore temptation. Eärendil was human; Gandalf is divine - Christ is both. As I've said earlier, if anything, Gandalf is an angel. Both the Balrog and Saruman are fallen angels; Gandalf remains true to his mission. His resurrection prefigures Christ, but he is not a Christ-analogue in Tolkien's terms.

Apart from Gandalf's return, the function of this chapter is to direct the story firmly at the war in Rohan. The hobbits and the Ring are gone: the matter at hand is Saruman.

Next time: door-keeping and king-healing.


Leon said...

Gimli confirmed for gerontophobia.

Michael Halila said...

Well to be fair, there was that time when his dad and several other elderly gentlemen damn near started a pointless war for no reason, so maybe he has some bad experiences.