Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Gandalf the Grey: Words of wisdom

Since The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been available on VHS/DVD, I have watched it every year without fail (this isn't me trying to sound like a major fan - I know that this is a small number viewings compared to others). However, it was only during my most recent viewing in January 2013 that I came to notice the importance in some of Gandalf the Grey's earliest conversations with Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring. Not only does Gandalf give Frodo some incredibly wise, universal truths, but he also manages to almost foretell what Frodo will encounter on his quest and therefore advises him with words that prove immeasurable in their significance. Advice and warnings - Gandalf gives Frodo both even though he cannot see the future, but by trusting how he feels and listening to the wisdom he possesses. Sure enough Gandalf's words prove true and Frodo and the fate of Middle Earth are the better for it; Gandalf knew what he was talking about and it is he who is responsible for guiding Frodo correctly.

After this most recent viewing I embarked on finally reading Tolkien's books (having endeavoured when I was 11 and finding it a little too difficult). Happily I could see that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens had included much of Tolkien's words directly from the book in the film script, or sometimes with only several words changed. So to highlight my observations I will use the quotes from the book and compare them to where or how they were used in the film.

Firstly, let's focus on Gandalf's pearls of wisdom/warnings in Fellowship. Both occur in the chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', where Gandalf reveals to Frodo the history of Sauron, the possible doom ahead, and everything to do with the Ring that Bilbo has left him. Here is our first quote:
'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.  
'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'
These words are so beautifully put together. Throughout the books Tolkien shows us the natural flare/creative brilliance he had for writing but also the supreme level of skill he had accumulated through his studies and time as a professor. The sentence flows wonderfully, and each clause helps us to stop and think. The best bit about this phrase is that it can be applied to almost any crisis we encounter in life.

The importance of these words is that Gandalf is calming this frightened little hobbit down by putting things in perspective. He tells him not to look at everything at its daunting worst and not despair, but simply to act accordingly and to do what you believe to be best. These lines prove to be very fitting when Frodo, towards the end of Fellowship finally understands the great danger of the quest and what an evil force the Ring is. With the help of Galadriel and Boromir, he sees what will become of the Shire and his friends if Sauron were to possess the Ring again, and with the help of Gandalf's words, Frodo realises that the only way to destroy the Ring is to go alone and break away from Aragorn and the others. Here are Frodo's words which he speaks aloud to himself as he stands alone in Amon Hen (in the chapter, 'The Breaking of the Fellowship'):
Frodo rose to his feet. A great weariness was on him, but his will was firm and his heart lighter. He spoke aloud to himself. 'I will do now what I must,' he said. 'This at least is my plan: the evil of the Ring is already at work even in the Company, and the Ring must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone. Some I cannot trust, and those I can trust are too dear to me: poor old Sam, and Merry and Pippin. Strider, too; his heart yearns for Minas Tirith, and he will be needed there, now Boromir has fallen into evil. I will go alone. At once.'
The use of weariness juxtaposed by firm will and lighter heart show that Gandalf was right - regardless of the burden Frodo has around his neck, he is willing to destroy it with all the strength he has left, whilst knowing what has to be done has eased his worries, for there is no other choice for him to take if he wants the Ring to be gone.

Our next quote concerns Gollum and is again from 'The Shadow of the Past' in Fellowship. By telling the history of the Ring, Gandalf naturally has to tell Frodo about Bilbo's predecessor Ringbearer, Gollum, and his fall. After hearing of the devious deeds Gollum has performed in his life and of his betraying the name 'Baggins' to Sauron's servants, Frodo sees Gollum as a traitor, a creep, and his enemy. When Gandalf divulges that Bilbo had Gollum at the mercy of his sword but chose to not kill him, Frodo is angered that Bilbo had the chance to prevent the creature from betraying them:
'What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'
'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'
'I am sorry,' said Frodo. 'But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.'
'You have not seen him,' Gandalf broke in. 
'No, and I don't want to,' said Frodo. 'I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. 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. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not least. In any case we did not kill him: he is very old and very wretched. The Wood-elves have him in prison, but they treat him with such kindness as they can find in their wise hearts.'

What Gandalf tells Frodo here can be called a universal truth - it can be applied to life in general, who are we to decide who dies and who lives? He warns Frodo that Bilbo's mercy was not ill-judged because on moral terms he was right but also once Frodo sees Gollum, he may understand and even sympathise with the creature. A little later in 'The Taming of Smeagol' chapter in The Two Towers, Frodo finally meets Gollum, and he remembers Gandalf's warning. After being attacked by the wretched creature and Sam ready to kill him, Frodo finds that he cannot do what he said he would:
It seemed to Frodo then that he heard, quite plainly but far off, voices out of the past: [...] 'And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.'
Sam stared at his master, who seemed to be speaking to someone who was not there.
It's as if Frodo is speaking to his memory of Gandalf during their conversation in 'The Shadow of the Past'. He remembers his words and finds himself eating his own. The discussion about Gollum proves to be of profound importance to the fate of the Ring for Gandalf also predicts that Gollum should not be harmed because he, a Ringbearer, is sure to have some part to play in the upcoming events. Whether it aids the quest or not. If Frodo had not listened to Gandalf, then the results would have been catastrophic. Without Gollum Frodo & Sam would have been lambs to the slaughter by entering Mordor via The Black Gate. Gollum provides with safe passage into Mordor. Although it is still a deadly passage as it includes the Dead Marshes, the Morgul Vale, and Shelob's lair, it is a great deal safer than the Black Gate, because you have a chance to pass through it unnoticed. Additionally, when Frodo finally reaches the crack of doom he succumbs to the evil force of Ring and refuses to destroy it. Thankfully Gollum is around, and he bites Frodo's finger off, taking the ring for himself. During his joy of catching the Ring, he falls back into the firey chasm of Orodruin and is therefore THE destroyer of the Ring. Frodo failed at the last hurdle, and it was up to Gollum, as fate would have it, to finish the job (even if it was accidental).

Regardless of Gollum saving the quest, Sam is too consumed with hate of the creature, particularly when he sees how he massacred his master's hand. But Frodo is aware of his inability to finish the quest, and Gandalf's words come back to haunt him:
'Your poor hand!' he said. 'And I have nothing to bind it with, or comfort it. I would have spared him a whole hand of mine rather. But he's gone now beyond recall, gone for ever.' 
'Yes,' said Frodo. 'But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.'
Very bravely, Frodo knows that Gollum saved it all in the end and forgives him. Frodo didn't fail the task - he was not weak at all - but the Ring was too strong at the very end. In fact, one wonders if the greatest power of the Ring is the fact that even at the very end, nobody is able to destroy it. Luckily, through Gollum's greed and corrupted nature (because of the Ring), his trying to stop the destruction of his precious resulted in him achieving the opposite.

Throughout the story Gandalf's wisdom and advice proves immeasurable in its importance to the quest succeeding. He teaches Frodo well. Everybody had a part to play, and the quest would not have been achieved without Gandalf's help, Sam's assistance and bravery, Frodo's resilience and strength, nor Gollum's devotion to his precious. Every character in LOTR contributed something, big or small, that enabled the achievement of the quest and the defeat of Sauron.

I really adore how Peter Jackson uses Gandalf's phrases in the films. The setting isn't in Bag End before the quest begins but still where Jackson puts them makes them even more important, powerful, and most importantly when concerning film - cinematic. Whilst Gandalf waits to remember which path to take in the Mines of Moria, Frodo notices Gollum following them, therefore starting up a conversation about the creature. It is here that Gandalf furrows his brow at Frodo and warns him of the moral nature of killing and of his feeling that Gollum has a part to play in the quest. He understands that Frodo is naiive and therefore teaches him with words which resound loudly with Frodo later on. To this Frodo reacts with the despairing comment of wishing the Ring had never come to him. Gandalf then replies with his now famous phrase. What's beautiful about this scene is that both characters are in the dark, waiting, and it is the last time before Gandalf's "death" that he has one last talk with Frodo alone. It turns out that this last talk will serve Frodo the best, for soon Frodo will have no guidance bar his own heart and what he has learnt from the wise. Here is the scene:

What Jackson manages to do so brilliantly with this scene is he brings it up at the end of Fellowship when Frodo is stood on the banks of Amon Hen, plucking up the courage to set out on the quest alone. We hear Frodo thinking 'I wish the Ring had never come to me,' with tears in his eyes, but his face changes as he begins to hear the warm, gravelly voice of Gandalf, and those wise words he spoke to him back in Moria:

As the words are spoken, the camera fades to a clip of Gandalf as Frodo would have seen him in Moria, speaking TO him. Those calm words give Frodo the push to do what he knows must be done, what is right. As the clips fades back to Frodo we see more tears running down his cheeks. The memory of Gandalf is strong and sad - and he listens to him. The look in his eyes is different now though, there is a determined stare in them.

What makes this scene so powerful - and arguably one of the most powerful in the trilogy - is the universal truth that Gandalf speaks of. The words can be applied to any crisis, in any era, in any country. It doesn't matter that Middle Earth doesn't exist in real life, or that Orcs and Nazgul are fantasy creatures - the themes of the story are real and we ought to listen to them as readers.

The performances add to power of the scenes massively. Sir Ian McKellen with his kind eyes and beautiful voice carry those words in Moria and at Amon Hen with gravitas so that they are thought-provoking, profound, yet wonderfully calming. Elijah Wood has one of those rare qualities where an actor can speak solely with his eyes. The sadness, despair, and loneliness in his glistening, tearful eyes as he thinks of the doom that lies ahead transform into determination after he remembers what Gandalf told him. The addition of Howard Shore's piece, 'The Breaking of the Fellowship' being played in the background adds to the emotion of the scene, and gives it a sound of destiny, fate, and human strength - mirroring what Frodo has on his shoulders. It is actually one of my favourite pieces from the motion picture soundtrack.

Apologies for this rambly post. I tried to explain as best I can. But in all honesty by just reading Tolkien's quotes from the book and watching the clips from the films - you don't need any analysis or explanations. They are either so well written, constructed, or performed, that they speak volumes anyway; transcending the realms of literature and film by connecting directly with the human soul.