Fate and Mercy

This, from the series of old lecturettes from DU courses now extinct. This is titled “Fate and Mercy” from the Hobbits and Heroes class, wherein we read all of the Hobbit and LOTR plus lots that influenced same. If prompted to join a discussion board, feel free to treat the comments here like one.   ~Jenn

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Fate and Mercy in Fellowship 

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Remember this version of Elrond?

“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.”

So says Elrond, one of the oldest and highest-ranked Elf-lords of Middle-earth.  Clearly there is more to the outcome of events that even the wisest beings can comprehend.  Magic, in Fellowship, seems to come about as a coincidence, in the “very nick of time,” time and time again.  It was chance that made Bilbo place his groping hand on the Ring, alone in the dark, many years ago.  It was chance that caused Bombadil to walk just past where the hobbits were beset by Old Man Willow, and chance that brought them to Bree at the same time Strider watched and waited there.  It was even chance that the Ring, in ancient history, slipped off the finger of Isildur in the river, and mere coincidence that Smeagol’s best friend discovered it later.  Or is it?  What is the force that governs the movements of the Ring, and brings together the Fellowship which is to be its undoing?

Gandalf is characteristically close-mouthed about such matters, divinely-origined  though he is: “…’there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker.  I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not its maker.  In which case you also were meant to have it.  And that may be an encouraging thought.’”  Why encouraging?  Is there some benevolent energy, dictating all, that only the wisest of the wise can sense and use to their advantage?

Foreshadowing Gollum

“He deserves death.”

“Deserves it? I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Pity, Gollum, and the Ring are intertwined throughout LOTR, and the beginnings of these threads are discussed at length in Fellowship, before any of the characters can fully comprehend his importance later.  His initial finding of the Ring is a ‘random’ event—it just happened to pop up on his birthday, and one wonders how much of that had to do with the desire and momentum of the Ring itself.

When Bilbo has a chance to kill Gollum, as he escapes the goblin cave in The Hobbit, he suddenly feels pity for the poor beast, even before he realizes how closely related in path they potentially are.  He opts not to kill Gollum, therefore opening up the later possibility of Gollum entering Mordor and telling Sauron all about the Ring, hobbits, and the Shire.  Bilbo’s mercy puts the hitherto unknown safety of the Shire at direst risk.

The Elves of Mirkwood also have a chance to dispatch Gollum, but out of “over-kindliness,” they only imprison him, and, worse, give him the chance (unwittingly, of course) to break free.  All of Elrond’s Council agree this is bad news, but also see that this possibly crippling blow is meant to be: Gandalf observes that “he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron have foreseen.”  This is what prompts Frodo, in later books, to spare and even in a way befriend Smeagol, when Sam would kill him outright out of mistrust.  Frodo, too, by the end, recognizes Smeagol and the Ring are by fate bound together.

Sam’s Role and the Elves’ Magic

“I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want—I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.”

Sam’s role is wrapped up in the fate of the Ring-Bearer from the very beginning, even if he himself doesn’t realize it explicitly.  Friendship is a major force on the side of good in the story: it is what allows Gollum to become an ally, not a prisoner, it is what brings the Fellowship of the Ring together, it’s even the “magic word” at the gates of Moria.  The friendship of Sam and Frodo represents the ultimate devotion, mercy, and love athat is, truly, stronger than any evil, no matter how large.  This force of friendship is what drives and what breaks the Fellowship, and perhaps it is the cause of ultimate success.

Sam, listening in on Gandalf and Frodo’s conversation in Bag End, is literally yanked by his hair into the adventure.  When the hobbits meet up with Gildor and Company (a chance meeting that of course can’t be chance because they are Elves), Sam is cautioned not to leave Frodo.  This, from Elves that “do not lightly give advice.” After Sam’s desire to see Elves is satisfied, he has the above premonition, Gandalf-style: he knows, somehow, that he is essential to Frodo’s Quest, before he even knows what exactly it is.  Later, in Elrond’s Council, he is once again unwittingly sent into danger, just because he is so attached to Frodo that he’s there even when Frodo is summoned to a secret council and he is not.  Elrond’s vision of Destiny makes him send, not just two, but four smaller-than-life hobbits on this most important journey, all because of their unbreakable, stubborn friendship.

The Elves, like Gandalf himself, appear (by chance it would seem) exactly when they are needed. Gildor in the Shire fringes, then later Glorfindel and of course Elrond himself builds the Fellowship.  Lothlorien proves an important guide and haven in time of need, even though Boromir (the Man with a treacherous desire) and Gimli (the Dwarf) are not happy about entering there.  Galadriel is a Ring-Bearer, and the fate of her and the trees she loves are directly bound up in the success of Frodo’s Quest, while each member of the Fellowship gains important wisdom (and a helpful gift) before they leave.

Racism and Desire

The Elves, being immortals of the air and the trees, directly connected to Nature, have never gotten along well with the Dwarves, immortals of the ground, minerals and metalwork (also, incidentally, directly connected to Nature).  The above-and below-ground beings are at odds, and completely untrusting of each other.  Remember the animosity between the Mirkwood Elves and Thorin’s company in The Hobbit? To bring Gimli into Lorien takes a lot out of the Elves, and in fact, they insist Gimli be blindfolded.  Again, the magic of mercy is in play here: Aragorn then insists all the Fellowship be blindfolded, if Gimli is to be.  The experience in Lothlorien is so moving to Gimli that he alone asks for no gift (when pressed, he hesitantly mentions a lock of Galadriel’s hair, which prompts much surprise among the Elves).  Gimli acts against the stereotypes of his kind (“Hear, ye Elves!…Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious!”), afterwards mourning that if he had known his main peril would be light and joy, he would have been too afraid to come.  This sentiment echoes Elrond’s earlier statement that the hobbits would not want to go on the Quest if they knew what it was they were really going to.  It is this unconscious following of Destiny that governs the cause-and effect that in turn perhaps insures the right folk go to the right places.

Boromir’s Fall has everything to do with power-desire and his absolute misunderstanding of others.  Elves he deems dangerous and wicked (to which Aragorn states prophetically that only those who bring evil with them find evil in Lorien), other Men he regards as inferior (the stronger Aragorn he views with distrust, as a possible usurper), Dwarves he underestimates (Gimli’s comeback about the hardiness of Dwarves compared to Men shuts him down), and he especially underestimates hobbits.  He thinks he can overcome Frodo with a pose of size and strength, but little does he know that size and strength don’t always win.  This is the problem with his desire to wield the Ring for good—an up-front battle with superior strength isn’t always the way to go.  He does, in fact, realize his folly, but too late:

“If any have claim to the Ring, it is the men of Numenor, and not Halflings. It is not yours save by unhappy chance. It might have been mine. It should be mine.”

Boromir is a man of action, and does not realize that the Ring should not be his, until too late.  That that “unhappy chance” which put the Ring into Bilbo’s and then Frodo’s hands is not mere coincidence, but meant to be.  That the fate of the Third Age has been put into the hands of a small, insignificant mortal and his small, insignificant friends, exactly as it should be.  Who or what governs this force of fate in Middle-earth?  Gandalf and Elrond won’t say—perhaps they don’t know.  What do you think?

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