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Boromir88 03-07-2021 07:14 PM

The White Council
A rather basic question that stood out to me last time reading Lord of the Rings, about the formation of the White Council. It might be one of those "sorry, Boro, there's no definitive answer" but I might as well ask it anyway...

So, in the Lothlorien chapters Galadriel reveals she was the initial founder and would have preferred Gandalf to Saruman, but Saruman was chosen as the leader hence the title "White Council" and not "Grey Council."

But I find Galadriel's statement rather odd, if she was the initial engine behind it and preferred Gandalf, why wasn't it the "Grey Council" and Gandalf the leader? Was she overruled by Elrond or Celeborn? I'm not sure there is anything definitive to point to Cirdan being a member, but I mean he gave Narya to Gandalf, and not to Saruman when the Istari arrived in Middle-earth. So, I imagine he probably would have preferred Gandalf to Saruman. Then again, there's nothing I can find to suggest Cirdan would be involved, since his ring-gifting to Gandalf would suggest he's staying out of Middle-earth's affairs.

Galadriel55 03-07-2021 08:29 PM

Hmm. It's been long since I've actually read the right texts for this, so less of a textual-based and more of a feels-based answer. Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but unfortunately I don't have the resources right now to do better.

First of all, was the White Council actually named so for Saruman, as you imply in your post? I thought it was White because it opposed the Dark side and was wise and etc, not in honour of its elected leader.

In terms of leadership... If Galadriel had that much say in the council, it wouldn't have been White or Grey, but rather Golden-mallorn-leaf coloured. She might have been the initiator ("hey guys, we need to gang up to plot the fate of Middle-earth!"), but not necessarily a louder voice than the other members. And she, like Cirdan, might have recognized Gandalf's value early on - but that didn't change that early on Saruman was the leader of the Istari, and Gandalf accepted his superiority. In fact, he accepted it, thinking Saruman wiser than himself, until the very events of LOTR. And initially, there was real merit to that esteem to Saruman, not purely a mark of Gandalf's humility. Saruman as the leader of the council is natural; he is the most powerful entity there, and by personality the most natural at handling this position. Forcing Gandalf into the formal position of the leader of Middle-earth over Saruman's head would have been against the flow of their dynamic, and would likely have caused a big rift among the Council. This way, Gandalf still became the de facto leader of Middle-earth, but on the field rather than in the council room. So in summary, I see the chief opposition to Galadriel's choice of leadership to be first and foremost Gandalf himself, it just wouldn't be in character for him.

Anyways, if there is a definitive answer, I would also gladly hear it. I can only offer an "it feels right" answer, which is not very much, but might get a discussion going.

Boromir88 03-07-2021 08:51 PM

Thanks G55 :D. You might be right about the naming of it. I do seem to recall that the name "White Council" was because Saruman the White was the selected leader, but I could be misremembering. It might have been named the White Council for something completely different than the leader being Saruman.

To quote the part that I said Galadriel's statement was odd, because it sounds to me that she was the start up, the brains behind it's formation:


'I it was who first summoned the White Council. And if my designs had not gone amiss, it would have been governed by Gandalf the Grey, and then mayhap things would have gone otherwise." (The Mirror of Galadriel)
Of course I could be implying something more than what Galadriel means when she says she was the one who first summoned the council, but it would at least suggest she was the primary person behind it's formation. And therefor if she was the initial brains behind it, and said if "her designs would not have gone amiss" Gandalf would have governed it, I'm rather curious to find out how he wasn't the leader in the first place?

I think your answer about, the reason being Gandalf himself at this stage would have deferred to Saruman anyway because that's Gandalf's character is the answer that makes the most sense. It's probably all there is to it, but Galadriel's comment in Lothlorien had me wondering if there were other voices that preferred Saruman, which lead to him heading it.

Huinesoron 03-08-2021 04:18 AM

My understanding was always that Gandalf said no thank you, and that Saruman got the leadership almost by default; but like G55, I'm not sure that's based in the text.

Today I have actually learned two things! The first is that Cirdan was in the White Council, which I never knew, but:


Originally Posted by Silm: Of the Rings of Power
...and in that time was first made the Council of the Wise that is called the White Council, and therein were Elrond and Galadriel and Círdan, and other lords of the Eldar, and with them were Mithrandir and Curunír.

I don't know whether to feel bad for Cirdan that he got booted out of the White Council meetups in the Hobbit movies...

Oh, and in fact:


Originally Posted by Silm again
but Mithrandir refused the office, since he would have no ties and no allegiance, save to those who sent him, and he would abide in no place nor be subject to any summons.

So yeah, Gandalf declared himself a free spirit who wouldn't let The Man hold him back by making him The Man. That one turned out well, Mithrandir...!

The other thing I've learnt is that Elrond probably named the council, because:


Originally Posted by UT: Galadriel & Celeborn
The army that was besieging Imladris was caught between Elrond and Gil-galad, and utterly destroyed. Eriador was cleared of the enemy, but lay largely in ruins.

At this time the first Council was held*, and it was there determined that an Elvish stronghold in the east of Eriador should be maintained at Imladris rather than in Eregion. At that time also Gil-galad gave Vilya, the Blue Ring, to Elrond, and appointed him to be his vice-regent in Eriador...

*The text was emended to read "the first White Council." In the Tale of Years the formation of the White Council is given under the year 2463 of the Third Age; but it may be that the name of the Council of the Third Age deliberately echoed that of this Council held long before, the more, especially as several of the chief members of the one had been members of the other.

The ring-giving implies that Elrond was a member of the First White Council, and we know from the Council of Elrond that he's prone to a) reminiscing about previous get-togethers, and b) creating symbolism out of basically everything ("The Company of the Ring shall be Nine..."). Dude named his foster-son the future king "Hope"; he is absolutely the person who would go "Well do I remember the vast quantities of booze we consumed after the defeat of Sauron, three thousand years ago! This council is heir to that, a new White Council; and I have some of the new Dorwinion vintage to celebrate with."


Zigűr 03-08-2021 04:32 AM

Huinseron just beat me to it. Gandalf refused to lead. I also can't help but feel as if, given his humility, he might have considered such a role improper — rightly or wrongly, the Valar had put Saruman in charge, not him.

Boromir88 03-08-2021 12:42 PM

Thanks Huey and Zigur. Great to get confirmation of Cirdan!

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