J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

I read The Lord of the Rings again. I always do around Christmas. And I always try to find a new angle, case or person to look into. This year: Gandalf’s coup.

Last year, I considered Denethor, and it seems, I’m not all finished yet. Denethor’s view of Gandalf is that he is using Denethor as a shield against Mordor, while behind his back bringing this upstart of a ranger to supplant him, and become king in his stead. The story, as seen in retrospect, of course makes Gandalf’s actions the morally right ones, at least from the reader’s view. But was Denethor really that wrong?

First argument: The stewards had ruled Gondor for 969 years (2050-3019 Third Age), and most of that time in hereditary fashion, that is, as kings, only not in the name. The until the king returns was just cermony words, and had no real meaning anymore. In European history style, in that time, a country would have been created, united with a few others, split up, and been reestablished at least twice. While the Northern branch of the Númenorian kings’ heirs never died out, I’d say it is a bit far fetched to come almost 1000 years later and claim the crown. It’s like, let’s see, a priest should come and claim that some ancestor of king Olaf II (that’s actually saint Olaf for you catholics), should gain kingship over Norway, and not these Danish upstarts that have been kings in Norway the last few years. And if that priest succeed, well, even with the good will of the people, few would call that less than a coup.

Second argument: Gandalf could have averted Denethor’s death, but didn’t. According to the text, first Gandalf reveals his strength by jumping up on the table where Denethor’s son Faramir is to be burned alive, and carries him away. But in the next moment, he is not fast enough to hinder Denethor frying himself on the same table. Not fast enough? Or did he just choose only to save Faramir, which he knew would subdue to a new king?

Third argument: Denethor is right! It is Gandalf’s project to use Gondor’s might against Mordor, and make Aragorn king. He needs Gondor’s army, under a leader that is willing, to grab Sauron’s attention, for Frodo and Sam to succeed in their suicide mission.

So, Gandalf and Aragorn’s takeover is a coup. Even willingly received by Denethors heir, and Gondor’s people.

Far fetched? Of course. And next year, I’ll not write about Denethor. I promise.

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5 Responses to “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings”

  1. Gary says:

    Very interesting. I have not read the books but only have seen the movies. However, there is one thing you might consider about Gandalf. Gandalf is a tool of destiny. He died and was brought back because he was needed as Gandalf the White. So while you can say that they acted on their own volition, you can also attribute their actions to fate. Aragorn was fated to by the King. Just as Denethor was fated to be the last steward. Maybe Gandalf and Aragorn never had any choice in the matter. Being who they were led them on their paths. Just something to think about for next year.

  2. oernii says:

    I always thought about the same.

  3. nicu says:

    your reasoning is sount (and more than that, is fun). however, i want to notice the time scale is different than ours, people live longer lives so 1000 years are the equivalent of a few hundred years in our times (but that is long too)

  4. Matěj Cepl says:

    OK, this is most intense acceleration of the Godwin’s Law, but who aside of me from people present on this post thought about the State of Israel when reading this post?

  5. mithril says:

    First argument: refuted by Farimir talking to Frodo in The Two Towers.
    “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?” he [Boromir] asked.
    “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty,” my father [Denethor] answered. “In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”
    So Denethor is reported to be a strong royalist,earlier in his life.

    Second argument: It was the middle of a battle. To enforce your will on someone else was what they were fighting against. It was why he refused to accept the one ring. He chose to protect Faramir from injustice. The madness of Denethor was revealed at the wrong time and would require a lot of time and effort to heal. The triage choice was to save the innocent and leave Denethor to his own choice.

    Third argument:Patially true. Gondor was going to fight anyway, regardless of Gandalf’s plans. The return of the king would happen somehow, because that is how Gandalf read the hints from the gods. Who knows what situation would have arisen after the Battle of Pelenor, if Aragorn and Denethor had met?

    So while I enjoy the topic, and thank you for raising it, I don’t agree with your conclusion.

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