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Topic: Does the reincarnation of Gandalf cheapen his death ?

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Hobbit from Hobbiton - Rank 4
Status: Offline
Posts: 217
Date: Jun 28, 2009
Does the reincarnation of Gandalf cheapen his death ?

Hi All

Ok I'm going to get stick for this.

It's my nature to push and probe and goes

Does the reincarnation of Gandalf cheapen his death and the sacrifices of others?

If he were to die again would he have been rehoused ,sent back again...and again  and so on.

I know this isn't the place to talk about the films....bu there is a scene where Gandalf is reassuring Merry prior to the Trolls bursting through the gates of Minas Tirith.

He roughly talks about a fair shore under a distant sunrise...he talks about the West........All very nice but Pippin my old boy're not going idea where you're off too. I might come back but not you . Oh but best of luck.

Back to the books.......

Aragorn takes on the role as the captain of the company after the demise of Gandalf. He does the best he can as a mere mortal. He isn't sure what he should do.....what Gandalf would have done. He does OK.

Then Gandalf comes back to save the day.
It just never really sat well with me.
I thought the story was how the weak prevailed against all odds. In doing so grow to be mighty themselves

Might as well just have flown over mount doom on a big eagle and dropped the ring in.

Or send Tulkas over instead of an old man. Give him the ring and watch him march right up and drop the ring in.

Job done.....thousands of lifes saved..everybody happy. Get back into the boat and sail west.

I always thought of as Gandalf representing the author himself.
Writers do this...just look at Stephen many of his stories has a writer or a boy who wants to be a writer within the stories.

Perhaps J.R.R. just couldn't bear killing himself off.

Love Light and Peace
Anarion, Son of Elendil - rank 8
Status: Offline
Posts: 2161
Date: Jun 29, 2009
I believe Tolkien himself said something about this:

I think the way in which Gandalf's return is presented is a defect, and one other critic, as much under the spell as yourself, curiously used the same expression: 'cheating'. That is partly due to the ever-present compulsions of narrative technique. He must return at that point, and such explanations of his survival as are explicitly set out must be given there but the narrative is urgent, and must not be held up for elaborate discussions involving the whole 'mythological' setting. It is a little impeded even so, though I have severely cut G's account of himself. I might perhaps have made more clear the later remarks in Vol. II (and Vol. III) which refer to or are made by Gandalf, but I have purposely kept all allusions to the highest matters down to mere hints, perceptible only by the most attentive, or kept them under unexplained symbolic forms. So God and the 'angelic' gods, the Lords or Powers of the West, only peep through in such places as Gandalf's conversation with Frodo: 'behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker's' ; or in Faramir's Númenórean grace at dinner.
Gandalf really 'died', and was changed: for that seems to me the only real cheating, to represent anything that can be called 'death' as making no difference. 'I am G. the White, who has returned from death'. Probably he should rather have said to Wormtongue: 'I have not passed through death (not 'fire and flood') to bandy crooked words with a serving-man'. And so on. I might say much more, but it would only be in (perhaps tedious) elucidation of the 'mythological' ideas in my mind; it would not, I fear, get rid of the fact that the return of G. is as presented in this book a 'defect', and one I was aware of, and probably did not work hard enough to mend. But G. is not, of course, a human being (Man or Hobbit).
Letter 156


Utúlie'n  aurë!  Aiya  Eldalië  ar  Atanatári,  utúlie'n  aurë! 
Auta  i  lómë! 
Aurë entuluva!

Lord Elrond of Rivendell - Rank 9
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Posts: 2960
Date: Jun 29, 2009
Filli and Glorfindel 1235,
No stick. Looking for the possibilities and being inspired is what literature is all about. And what a dull world it would be if we always agreed.
As for Gandalf and "reincarnation" I feel sure that he identified with hobbits more than wizards.

As for defining the wizard I can think no description finer than that in J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

"Gandalf was one of the five Wizards or Istari specifically mentioned as having come to Middle-earth about the year 1000 of the Third Age. (The others were Saruman, Radagast, and the two so-called Blue Wizards, who apparently disappeared into the East and were never heard from again) Gandalf was one of the Maiar, the servants and helpers of the Valar, and was once known as Olorin "in my youth in the West that is forgotten," as he rather poignantly told Faramir. When the Valar at last decided to help the peoples of Middle-earth against the evil of Sauron by indirect rather than direct means, they sent the Istari to provide counsel and guidance. Of the five, Gandalf alone remained true to that task." (Stanton, M.N. author "Gandalf" J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. , Michael Drout editor, Scholarship & Critical Assessment ed. 2007.)
Gandalf is more than just a "wizard." He is a figure that carries the constructs of redemption, resurrection, and divine intervention. The elements were fundamental to the worlds Tolkien created.
"The Redemption - the redeeming of humanity from the slavery of original sin through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ - was central and axiomatic to Tolkien's very understanding of the nature of reality. It is, therefore, not suprising that the Redemption serves as an omnipresent, if largely concealed, ingredient in Tolkien's legendarium." (Pearce, J. author "Redemption." J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. , Michael Drout editor, Scholarship & Critical Assessment ed. 2007.)
The corruption of Saruman and loss of a "white" wizard leaves a place in the plot for a redemption of Saruman or a replacement. Gandalf's fall in Moria is more than just his death. It is the "death" of a minion of Melkor, a greater feat (or perhaps equal to) combat with Sauron. It is a "fall" into an abyss of darkness, into a deadly combat with the bane of Dwarves and Elves. It is a supernatural conflict with one of the primeval powers of the darkness. It is biblical in its scope.
"Gandalf destroyed the Balrog and then, as he says, "passed out of time and thought" and, naked, "was sent back." In his second manifestation, as Gandalf the White, or the White Rider ("Saruman as he should have been"), Gandalf exerted great moral authority." (Stanton, M.N. author "Gandalf" J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. , Michael Drout editor, Scholarship & Critical Assessment ed. 2007.)
We see that Saruman is beyond redemption. The will be no return of Saruman the White. Yet he was sent to Middle-Earth as such. And his task has been left undone. As a matter of fact we see later that rather than preparing the world of men for the ultimate contest with Sauron he has seduced Rohan's King Theoden through Grima Wormtongue to the point of becoming an incompetent dotard.
And that he would have no redemption if not for Gandalf the White. Gandalf has to return or the Valar's ambitions for Middle-Earth fail.
I think the reincarnation of Gandalf (and I would argue that is not the correct term) is rather not reincarnation but manifestation, purification and reformation. The Istari are vehicles of the will of Eru not simple Elves or Men. Not natural, but supernatural.
"Ultimately, Tolkien shows the effect of redeeming grace through the development of his characters. Those who cooperate with the grace grow in virtue, becoming Christ-like; those who refuse to cooperate with grace wither into pathetic parodies of the people they were meant to be. Gandalf the Grey lays down his life for his friends and is resurrected and transfigured as Gandalf the White. Strider passes the self-sacrificial tests of kingship and ascends the throne as Aragorn. Such is the reward of those who accept the gift of redemption and who respond heroically to the sacrifices demanded of them. On the other hand, those who deny the gift and defy the call to heroic self-sacrifice diminish into grotesque shadows of their former selves. Saruman withers into Sharkey; Grima slithers into Wormtongue; and, perhaps most tragically of all, Smeagol fades into Gollum."
(Pearce, J. author "Redemption." J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. , Michael Drout editor, Scholarship & Critical Assessment ed. 2007.)
Redemption does not necessarily include "re-incarnation".
"Tolkien wrestled with the concept of...resurrection and reincarnation during the writing of his entire legendarium. When a Catholic friend and publisher accused Tolkien of overstepping his theological bounds in 1954 by inserting the idea of Elvish reincarnation, Tolkien at first rejected the necessity of being theologically consistent for the legendarium is merely "a tale, a piece of literature, intended to have literary effect, and not real history." Further he responded,
"Reincarnation" may be bad theology (that surely, rather than metaphysics) as applied to Humanity; and my legendarium, especially the "Downfall of Numenor" which lies immediately behind The Lord of the Rings, is based on my view; that Men are essentially mortal and must not try to become "immortal" in the flesh. But I do not see how even in the Primary World any theologian or philosopher, unless very much better informed about the relation of the spirit and body than I believe anyone to be, could deny the possibility of re-incarnation as a mode of existence, prescribed for certain kinds of rational incarnate creatures.(Letters, 189)"
(Birzer, B.J. author "Resurrection." J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. , Michael Drout editor, Scholarship & Critical Assessment ed. 2007.)
I think that in the returning of Gandalf to Middle-Earth he is consistent with his own ethos and literary vision.
It is not the "defect" he claims in his letter. (Letter 156)
Tolkien is too hard on himself.
Does the reincarnation of Gandalf cheapen his death ?
No! Undisputedly No!

-- Edited by Bear on Monday 29th of June 2009 05:03:44 PM


Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit
Called or uncalled, God is present

Soldier of Beleriand - Rank 3
Status: Offline
Posts: 129
Date: Jul 28, 2009
Well, I can see what you're getting at, but I don't necessarily agree at all.

I believe Gandalf's death and rebirth represented a necessary metamorphosis for his character. When Gandalf arrived in Middle Earth from the West, he was second in power and prestige to Saruman, the leader of the White Council, and always had to humble himself to Saruman in all matters. Saruman eventually became corrupt and broken, and Gandalf superseded him in wisdom as well as in faithfulness and commitment to the task that the Valar had given the Istari.  I will give you this much though - I have always thought that the Eagles seemed to be a very feeble plot device that Tolkien tended to overuse when he could have solved a problem another way.

It is often alluded to that Gandalf came to Middle Earth in the role of an elderly Man who was aware of the power that he had but not completely cognizant of his divinity as a Maiar in Valinor. He had to experience life as a mortal and not as a divine being. I suppose that is debatable and I'm too tired to pull up quotes to prove it, but I still feel that Gandalf's death and rebirth as Gandalf the White constituted far more than a hokey plot device used to save the day. Gandalf himself did not save Middle Earth, the people of Middle Earth did it themselves. It was Gandalf's purpose to unite and inspire them. When Gandalf returned, he was at his full strength, cognizance, and commitment to his purpose of helping Middle Earth rid itself of Sauron. He also had gained the prestige that he deserved by taking over Saruman's role as the White.

As for the quote from the movie you reference about Gandalf describing Valinor to Pippin....this never occurred in the book, so I can't make a meaningful factual argument about it . I watched the Appendices that came with the movies and one of the film's writers (Philippa Boyens) said that she loved the description of what sailing West was like, and wanted to include it in the film. Even so, you can't state conclusively that Men or Hobbits do not experience this as well.  They may get a fleeting glimpse of the white shores of Valinor before being whisked off to wherever their spirits go.  No one knows for sure what happens to Men when they die. It is commonly thought that they leave Arda and depart into the Void beyond the world.

However, there have also been allusions to the idea that at the End of Days, all races will again be united and experience another form of life. Pippin may experience what Gandalf did when he passed West, and he may not. This is another thing that it is not really possible to debate meaningfully since it only happens in the movie and not the book - the movie writers had nothing to back this up, they just filmed Gandalf saying it to Pippin because it sounded good.  This is not to say I didn't enjoy the scene - I found it very moving and comforting.

-- Edited by The Secret Fire on Tuesday 28th of July 2009 02:37:21 AM

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