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Old 12-01-2012, 01:10 PM   #1
urbanhiker
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Silmaril The Istari and Arnor's fall

I apologize if this topic has been addressed previously, but I am curious. The Istari arrived around TA 1000, around the time or slightly after Sauron arose in Mirkwood and settled at Dol Gulder. The Lord of the Nazgul then established Angmar around TA 1300 or 1400 and began his long and ultimately successful war on Arnor and its subsidiary realms. My question is, what were Gandalf, Saruman and any of the other wizards doing while the Witch-King slowly ruined the north kingdoms? Did Tolkien ever attempt to explain their actions or thoughts at this time? Seems like they would/should have been involved, or at least Gandalf would have been involved since he so earnestly participated in the defense of Minas Tirith during the War of the Ring. Thanks!
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Old 12-01-2012, 01:38 PM   #2
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You know, I don't recall ever considering this before.

Although we aren't told the exact arrival time of the Istari, the Tale of Years says:

Quote:
c. 1100 The Wise (the Istari and the chief Eldar) discover that an evil power has made a stronghold at Dol Guldur. It is thought to be one of the Nazgûl.
Appendix A says that the Witch-king began to afflict Arnor in the time of Malvegil of Arthedain, who died in TA 1349.

So Arnor had already fragmented into the three competing mini-kingdoms by the time the Istari had arrived and were active in Middle-earth. Maybe that was a factor in their failure to aid. Perhaps they thought that any attempts to side with one kingdom or the other would only enrage the others, and any attempts to force reconciliation would not only do the same, but would be in conflict with their instructions from the Valar.

Also, though it might seem callous, the mission of the Istari was to resist Sauron, not necessarily all his minions. They already thought that the power in Dol Guldur was a Nazgûl, so they wouldn't have had any illusions that the Lord of Angmar was Sauron.
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Old 12-01-2012, 08:12 PM   #3
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Good question, urbanhiker! *scratches head*

I'm wondering - what were the Istari doing at all during that period of time? It wasn't until 2463 that the White Council was formed. That's a millenium-and-a-half later. The Chronicle of Arda in the Enc. of Arda says no word about the Istari from year 1000 to that point. What in Middle-Earth were they doing?
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Old 12-01-2012, 08:58 PM   #4
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Speculation will provide us with all kinds of possible reasons why the actions of the Istari are unmentioned for the first 1,000 years after their arrival. Perhaps, as Inziladun has suggested, they were not contractually obligated to fight lieutenants and minions like the Witch-King but rather the Dark Lord himself, and he was as yet incognito in the world. Or maybe they were just biding their time, acclimating to Middle-Earth and meeting elves and men and adjusting to physical form. I guess I could understand that it might take hundreds of years to hike the land, meet the folk dwelling therein, form relationships with all beings of good nature, and in general gather the intimate knowledge of the world one would need to fulfill an Istari's mission.

Still, I find it remarkable that Tolkien apparently chose not to textually elaborate on their early deeds and doings, particularly those of Gandalf and Saruman, when he elaborates on almost everyone and everything else! What kinds of fascinating little journeys and struggles and experiences did they have? I've never read anything but the trilogy, the Hobbit and the Silmarillion so maybe a loremaster on this site will provide us with illumination.

Thank you for your responses! It's good to hear that I'm not the only one left wondering.

Last edited by urbanhiker; 12-01-2012 at 09:09 PM.
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Old 12-01-2012, 10:57 PM   #5
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It could be they were simply not there. My impression is that the Istari were a well-traveled lot, and they journeyed far and wide - to the furthest south and east of east. The blue wizards went east and never returned, and it seemed Radagast became enamored of flora and fauna very early on. It could well be that Gandalf and Saruman went to the furthest ends of Middle-earth, looking into men's hearts and divining the nature of different civilizations. Gandalf learned compassion and how to steel mens' wills, while Saruman learned how to rule men's hearts and minds. They were, to paraphrase Gandalf, "rolling stones".
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Old 12-01-2012, 11:57 PM   #6
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I like your idea Morthoron. The notion of Gandalf and the other wizards wandering the earth as rolling stones is something Tolkien also incorporated into Aragorn's character when he journeyed into Rhun where "the stars are strange" (I love that line).

But for 1,000 years? Or even 500?

It's frustrating that Tolkien didn't elaborate on this period in the Istari history since it was a pivotal time in the Third Age: the long offensive of Angmar and the fall of all three northern kingdoms, the rise of the Balrog in Moria and the overthrow of Khazad-Dum, war and turmoil between Gondor and the corsairs of Umbar and other southern kingdoms. Bad time to go missing.
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Old 12-02-2012, 12:20 AM   #7
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It could be they were simply not there. My impression is that the Istari were a well-traveled lot, and they journeyed far and wide - to the furthest south and east of east. The blue wizards went east and never returned, and it seemed Radagast became enamored of flora and fauna very early on. It could well be that Gandalf and Saruman went to the furthest ends of Middle-earth, looking into men's hearts and divining the nature of different civilizations. Gandalf learned compassion and how to steel mens' wills, while and Saruman learned how to rule men's hearts and minds. They were, to paraphrase Gandalf, "rolling stones".
Yet at least some of the Istari were meeting with Elves and ruminating over what might be up with Dol Guldur after being in ME scarcely 100 years.
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Old 12-02-2012, 12:28 AM   #8
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Well the Arnor kingdoms did unite against
Angmar, just not quickly and sufficiently
enough.

Plus recall the Istari were subject to a
memory block. They had to re-learn much.
Anothr reason why they traveled about
a lot.
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Old 12-02-2012, 10:09 AM   #9
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How do we know that they weren't involved in the war with Angmar? We don't have terribly much information about that time period. Moreover, if the Istari had only recently arrived, they would not yet be as widely known or respected as they later became, and their actions would thus be less likely to be recorded by chroniclers.

Nor should we assume that if they had been involved they necessarily would have been succesful in defending Arnor. They had great power but they were far from being all-powerful.

It also occurs to me that they may not have wanted to reveal themselves too clearly to Sauron at this point, which is another reason their role in the war, if they had one, might have gone unnoticed.
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Old 12-02-2012, 10:17 AM   #10
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It also occurs to me that they may not have wanted to reveal themselves too clearly to Sauron at this point, which is another reason their role in the war, if they had one, might have gone unnoticed.
I don't think Sauron was a consideration, due to the fact that they had no idea he had returned. As noted, they thought the power in Dol Guldur was one of the Nazgûl.
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Old 12-02-2012, 10:55 AM   #11
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Didn't Gandalf prefer not to deal with the Men of Gondor/Dunedain because of their pride? Maybe, their pride refused to let Gandalf help repair their fractured nation?
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Old 12-02-2012, 12:06 PM   #12
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This is a truly fantastic question urbanhiker. I can't remember it coming up before. I can't think of much to add that hasn't been brought up so far.

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How do we know that they weren't involved in the war with Angmar? We don't have terribly much information about that time period. Moreover, if the Istari had only recently arrived, they would not yet be as widely known or respected as they later became, and their actions would thus be less likely to be recorded by chroniclers.
I'm not so sure on this. Cirdan foresaw their arrival and seemed to hand his ring off to Gandalf as soon as he came from the West. Now, this was the oldest, and one of the wisest remaining Elves in Middle-earth. However, I think the image of old men arriving and tall but bent on staffs would be noticed almost immediately. Maybe the Istari had been travelling elsewhere at the time, but I would still think whenever the Middle-earth people became acquainted with them, and having a peculiar nature around them they would be chronicled. Thus the "wizard" myth was born, so to say.

I could be mistaken, but didn't Men first believe Gandalf was an elf? Since, he seemed at first to associate mostly with the Elves in Middle-earth?
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Old 12-02-2012, 04:24 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Inziladun
I don't think Sauron was a consideration, due to the fact that they had no idea he had returned. As noted, they thought the power in Dol Guldur was one of the Nazgûl.
They thought the power in Dol Guldur was a Nazgul, but is it certain that the Istari thought Sauron was gone for good? I honestly can't recall. In any case, my speculation that they might have preferred to keep a low profile at first is equally plausible, whether it was Sauron or the Nazgul to whom they were wary of revealing themselves.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Boromir88
I'm not so sure on this. Cirdan foresaw their arrival and seemed to hand his ring off to Gandalf as soon as he came from the West. Now, this was the oldest, and one of the wisest remaining Elves in Middle-earth. However, I think the image of old men arriving and tall but bent on staffs would be noticed almost immediately. Maybe the Istari had been travelling elsewhere at the time, but I would still think whenever the Middle-earth people became acquainted with them, and having a peculiar nature around them they would be chronicled. Thus the "wizard" myth was born, so to say.
My impression is that even at the end of the Third Age, knowledge about the Istari was fairly limited. Their true nature seems to have been known only among the wise. Even many of those who had dealings with them thought they were only very learned Men who had studied magic. I believe Tolkien speculated in the Istari notes in UT that when Saruman mentioned that the number of wizards was five he was letting slip a fact not known outside of the order. So it seems to me altogether likely that if they had taken part in the war against Angmar, they might have been thought of just as strange wandering sages and magicians who helped out when they could. I don't see that their presence would have been thought of as vital historical information by the chroniclers.

So I still don't see any convincing evidence that the Istari played no part at all in the war with Angmar.
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Old 12-02-2012, 08:04 PM   #14
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My impression is that even at the end of the Third Age, knowledge about the Istari was fairly limited. Their true nature seems to have been known only among the wise. Even many of those who had dealings with them thought they were only very learned Men who had studied magic. I believe Tolkien speculated in the Istari notes in UT that when Saruman mentioned that the number of wizards was five he was letting slip a fact not known outside of the order. So it seems to me altogether likely that if they had taken part in the war against Angmar, they might have been thought of just as strange wandering sages and magicians who helped out when they could. I don't see that their presence would have been thought of as vital historical information by the chroniclers.
So you're saying that even if they did participate in the war, no one would really have known, unlike the War of the Ring where Gandalf (and Saruman) acted very openly. People would have thought it's just some magician who can support you but not really help you in battle.
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Old 12-03-2012, 09:02 AM   #15
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As to what Gandalf was doing in these years, we can say a couple things, though they are rather general indeed...

1. Gandalf never wanders east. In his list of names ("Mithrandir to the Elves, Tharkûn to the Dwarves, etc.), Gandalf says, and I paraphrase, "to the I east I go not." In "The Istari" in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien tries to decide where the name "Incanus" comes from--Gandalf's name in "the South" in that same list. Tolkien gives a possible Haradric derivation, but seems somewhat doubtful that Gandalf ever travelled far enough south to earn an enduring name there, and offers the suggestion that Incanus was his name in Gondor--a name that fell into disuse when he stopped visiting there, after which Mithrandir became current.

(Speculation: Mithrandir, we know, is Gandalf's name among the Elves. Since we know that Gondor in the era of the Stewards did not have contact with Elves on any sort of frequent basis, could it be that they came to use the Elvish name for the wizard as a result of Eärnur's expedition to Eriador, when he joined with Elves from the Grey Havens and Rivendell to destroy the Witch-king. This was the last recorded contact between the South Kingdom and the Elves of Eriador. If Gandalf had been involved in any way, it stands to reason that he would have been known by his name among the Elves (and the Northern Elf-friends): Mithrandir.

This would coincide with Tolkien's speculation on the name Incanus as one that Gandalf had in Gondor early in his time in Middle-earth [say 700-900 years before Eärnur's time] that fell into disuse later.)

2. Gandalf tells Frodo in "The Shadow of the Past"--and, again, I paraphrase--"that about their origins, at least, I know more than Hobbits do." Gandalf says this in the context of telling Frodo that Gollum was basically a Hobbit. The implication is that Gandalf is familiar with the fact that the Hobbits had come west over the Misty Mountains, having lived in Anduin's valley where Gollum seemed to hail from.

Even if Gandalf did not develop his deep love and interest in Hobbits until after they had settled in the Shire, it would not be surprising at all for him to have had at least some contemporary knowledge of them when they lived in Anduin's vale or were found in communities on both sides of the Misty Mountains. After all, we know that the Hobbits started moving west because Greenwood had started turning to Mirkwood--an event contemporary with and seemingly linked to the arrival of the Istari at the Grey Havens. While the wizards may not have found anything to link the growing darkness in Dol Guldur to Sauron at that time, it seems greatly unlikely that they would not have been snooping around that neighbourhood looking, and the proto-Hobbits were definitely in that neighbourhood.
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Old 12-03-2012, 09:17 AM   #16
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Still, I find it remarkable that Tolkien apparently chose not to textually elaborate on their early deeds and doings, particularly those of Gandalf and Saruman, when he elaborates on almost everyone and everything else! What kinds of fascinating little journeys and struggles and experiences did they have? I've never read anything but the trilogy, the Hobbit and the Silmarillion so maybe a loremaster on this site will provide us with illumination.
The essay The Istari from Unfinished Tales is one of the best sources of information about them. Regarding Gandalf specifically, it says:

Quote:
But [Gandalf] is seldom mentioned in any annals or records during the second millennium of the Third Age. Probably he wandered long (in various guises), engaged not in deeds and events but in exploring the hearts of Elves and Men who had been and might still be expected to be opposed to Sauron.
That is consistent with the Tale of Years, which states that it was only in the year 2063 (in the third millennium) of the Third Age that Gandalf made a visit to Dol Guldur to investigate whether Sauron was there. It simply appears that Sauron was the main focus of the Istari, and of the side matters that did not directly involve the resistance to him, they did not concern themselves. As an example, it was only the potential of Smaug the Dragon being used by Sauron to cause mayhem and destruction in the North that moved Gandalf to help with the recovery of Erebor.
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Old 12-03-2012, 11:46 AM   #17
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That is a very clear reference, thank you Inziladun. I guess in my mind, I am struggling to reconcile a mission to neutralize Smaug being worthy of Gandalf's direct involvement when the long fall of the northern kingdoms at the hand of the Witch-king was not. Wasn't he being used by Sauron to create mayhem in Eriador?

But I take the point of many commenters so far: we don't know that Gandalf wasn't involved in some subtle way. Maybe the resistance that kingdoms like Arthedain attempted was in part due to the quiet urgings of an incognito Gandalf. Maybe the involvement of Rivendell towards the end was in part due to Gandalf's ability to form coalitions between estranged groups. Or, maybe not.

I need to pick up a copy of Unfinished Tales.
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Old 12-19-2012, 04:18 PM   #18
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I think we need to ask ourselves if the Angmar could have defeated Arnor had they not split up into separate kingdoms and fought amongst themselves. The answer is probably not. The next problem is to what extent did Cardolan and Rhudaur support Angmar. Gandalf was faithful to his mission and would only step in when it was absolutely needed. The Northern Kingdom could have stopped Angmar themselves, if they had heeded his council. If they had reunited under the rightful heir.

Gandalf himself had little success with the proud kings of Gondor. I doubt he would have much success with the rulers of Cardolan and Rhudaur.

As for Elrond I don't think he wanted to get into a family dispute. All three kingdoms at least initially were ruled by his kin. Only when the situation became very clear, t it was men against the evil of Sauron would he then send an army. In the end he did help as did Gondor, but by then it was too late.
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