. Alas, not me: April 2021

17 April 2021

The Council of Elrond and the Doom of Choice (FR 2.ii.270)

'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.'

Elrond raised his eyes and looked at him, and Frodo felt his heart pierced by the sudden keenness of the glance. 'If I understand aright all that I have heard,' he said, 'I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?

'But it is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right....'

(FR 2.ii.270, italics mine)

The Council of Elrond, to which those present have been ‘called, I say, though I have not called you to me’ in order to ‘find counsel for the peril of the world’ (FR 2.ii.242), seeks to harmonize choice – the expression of the will – with Providence or ‘Eru’s plan’. It replays with a different result the debate Elrond and Círdan must have had, however briefly, with Isildur on the slopes of Mt Doom three thousand years earlier. Frodo’s ‘I will take the Ring’(FR 2.ii.270), Isildur’s ‘this I will have as weregild’(FR 2.ii.243), Elrond’s ‘I will not take the Ring to wield it’ and Gandalf’s ‘Nor [will] I’ (FR 2.ii.267) are all choices to be weighed together in the scales of this Council, as is Aragorn’s ‘it does not belong to either of us’ (FR 2.ii.246). Isildur ‘took [the Ring] for his own’ (FR 1.ii.52; 2:ii.243); Frodo takes it as ‘burden’ (FR 2.ii.270). As we have seen*, however, the line between ‘the Ring is my burden’ and ‘the Ring is mine’ cannot be maintained in the end. Yet choosing ‘freely’ to accept the Ring as a burden brings the expression of the will into sufficient harmony with Providence to ‘send the Ring to the Fire’, as Elrond puts it (FR 2.ii.267, emphasis mine), at which point Providence will see to it that it goes into the Fire. 

Elrond’s choice of preposition here seems almost prescient given Frodo's failure at Mt Doom. His remarks about Frodo's present choice, hedged about with four conditional statements in nine sentences (as italicized above) question his own understanding, the conclusion he has reached because of his understanding, the ironic paradoxes of wisdom, and the necessity of free choice to the correctness of Frodo's decision. Elrond recalls all too well how badly Isildur chose, Ring in hand. Could anyone in Middle-earth besides Bombadil make a wholly free choice while in possession of the Ring?


*Sorry, you will have to wait for my book, To Rule the Fate of Many: Truth, Lies, Pity, and the Ring of Power, to see what we have seen above. 

Éomer and Aragorn's New Mood (TT 3.ii.433)

Gimli and Legolas looked their companion in amazement, for they had not seen him in this mood before. He seemed to have grown in stature while Éomer had shrunk; and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to the eyes of Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.

Éomer stepped back and a look of awe was in his face. He cast down his proud eyes. 'These are indeed strange days,' he muttered. 'Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.

'Tell me, lord,' he said, 'what brings you here?'

In rejecting the logic of either going after the Ringbearer or continuing on to Minas Tirith, and instead choosing to pursue the orcs who have abducted Merry and Pippin, Aragorn does the right thing because it is the right thing, regardless of its seeming hopelessness. In doing so he passes the test and proves himself worthy to become king, though that, too, seems a hopeless cause. Is it any wonder that he seems so different so immediately? His unhesitating, bold declaration of his identity and purpose to Éomer stuns his comrades, 'for they had not seen him in this mood before' (one of the funniest lines in the book), but it also finds confirmation in Éomer’s response. He takes a step back, lowers his eyes, accepts what he has seen and heard, and addresses Aragorn as 'lord'. He is the first to do this.

14 April 2021

'I shall' and 'I will' at The Council of Elrond

'I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.'

These are perhaps some of the best known words said by Frodo in all of The Lord of the Rings, often quoted and commented upon. 'I shall', however, is the normal way to express the future tense in the first person singular. Before commenting upon the choice Tolkien made here in preferring 'will' to 'shall', it will be useful to examine the times character say 'I shall' and 'I will' throughout the discussion in The Council of Elrond. Let's start with 'I shall'. It is the default, and there are only three instances.

(a) And now that part of the tale that I shall tell is drawn to its close. (FR 2.ii.245)

(b) It was hot when I first took it, hot as a glede, and my hand was scorched, so that I doubt if ever again I shall be free of the pain of it. (252, emphasis original, indicating quotation of a written document)

(c) I had thought of putting: and he lived happily ever afterwards to the end of his days. It is a good ending, and none the worse for having been used before. Now I shall have to alter that: it does not look like coming true.... (269)

The speakers here are, in order, Elrond, Isildur (as quoted by Gandalf), and Bilbo, three very different characters. Each use of 'shall' here indicates nothing more or less than the speaker's opinion of what is or is not going to happen. There is little to say or argue about here so far.

Turning to 'I will', we find nineteen instances uttered by nine speakers: Elrond, Isildur, Aragorn, Bilbo, Gandalf, Radagast, Boromir, Gwaihir, and Frodo.

(A) 'And I will begin that tale, though others shall end it.' (Elrond, 242)

(B) '"This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother," (Isildur, 243)

(C) 'And this I will say to you, Boromir, ere I end.' (Aragorn, 248)

(D) 'But now the world is changing once again. A new hour comes. Isildur's Bane is found. Battle is at hand. The Sword shall be reforged. I will come to Minas Tirith.' (Aragorn, 248)

(E) 'Very well,' said Bilbo. 'I will do as you bid. But I will now tell the true story, and if some here have heard me tell it otherwise' – he looked sidelong at Glóin – 'I ask them to forget it and forgive me.' (Bilbo, 249)

(F) 'But for my part I will risk no hurt to this thing: of all the works of Sauron the only fair. It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain. (Isildur, 253)

(G) 'And now I will answer Galdor's other questions. What of Saruman? (Gandalf, 256)

(H) '"I will go to Saruman," I said. (Gandalf, 257)

(I) '"I will do that," he said....' (Radagast, 257)

(J) "Well, the choices are, it seems, to submit to Sauron, or to yourself. I will take neither. Have you others to offer?" (Gandalf 260)

(K) '"Then I will bear you to Edoras, where the Lord of Rohan sits in his halls," he said; "for that is not very far off." (Gwaihir, 261)

(L) 'Nor is it now, I will swear,' said Boromir. 'It is a lie that comes from the Enemy.' (Boromir, 262)

(M) "If this delay was his fault, I will melt all the butter in him. I will roast the old fool over a slow fire." (Gandalf, 263)


(N) 'I fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it.'

    'Nor I,' said Gandalf. (Elrond, followed by Gandalf, 267)

(O) 'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.' (Frodo, 270)

(P) 'But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right....' (Elrond, 270)

In contrast to the three instances of 'I shall', 'I will' quite clearly communicates intent, desire, or choice (whether acceptance or refusal). Particularly interesting is that Isildur twice uses 'I will' (B, F) of what he intends to do or not do in connection with the Ring, in contrast with his use of 'I shall' (b) to denote what he expects will be the case with the pain the Ring has caused him. Mark also Elrond's explicit and Gandalf's implicit use of 'I will' to indicate their refusal of the Ring (N). Elrond makes clear (P) that his approval of Frodo's choice or intention is conditional (O). Elrond, moreover, has previously expressed an opinion about the wisdom of 'taking' the Ring:

'Isildur took it! That is tidings indeed.' [said Boromir]

    'Alas! yes,' said Elrond. 'Isildur took it, as should not have been.' (243)

On this showing, Frodo's 'I will take the Ring' occupies a much greyer area than it seems to do at first glance. His courage and his humility are still there, just as they always have been, but the ambiguity and the peril of 'I will' are also in keeping with the desire he had felt only the night before to strike Bilbo when he reached out for the Ring which Frodo was quite reluctant to show him (231).

I hope to study these uses of 'I shall' and 'I will' further in a later post, which will also explore the distinction more widely in The Lord of the Rings.