Having gathered most of the main characters in Chapter Five, Tolkien now disperses them again. But also winds up many lesser stories left unfinished:
“When the days of rejoicing were over at last the Companions thought of returning to their own homes. And Frodo went to the King as he was sitting with the Queen Arwen by the fountain, and she sang a song of Valinor, while the Tree grew and blossomed. They welcomed Frodo and rose to greet him.”
Monarchs only rise to great someone who’s near-equal. Frodo is that. And Arwen in particular is concerned:
“‘A gift I will give you. For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Luthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. But wear this now in memory of Elfstone and Evenstar with whom your life has been woven!’
“And she took a white gem like a star that lay upon her breast hanging upon a silver chain, and she set the chain about Frodo’s neck. ‘When the memory of the fear and the darkness troubles you,’ she said, ‘this will bring you aid.’”
Jackson makes a lot more of his version of this object, or something like it. And has it break before the end, leaving Frodo’s departure as a surprise for those who’d not read the book.
Note that Jackson was making his films for a much wider audience, and success depended on going far beyond films that fans might have liked better.
Within the book, Frodo also wants to see Bilbo. And is warned that he will now be showing his real age:
“For you know the power of that thing which is now destroyed; and all that was done by that power is now passing away. But your kinsman possessed this thing longer than you. He is ancient in years now, according to his kind; and he awaits you, for he will not again make any long journey save one.”
They will also be departing all together:
“‘In seven days we will go,’ said Aragorn. ‘For we shall ride with you far on the road, even as far as the country of Rohan. In three days now Eomer will return hither to bear Theoden back to rest in the Mark, and we shall ride with him to honour the fallen.” [A]
We then get a silly dispute between Eomer and Gimli about whether Galadriel is the fairest lady. He says he would have said this before seeing Arwen, but now disputes it. Gimli – who must have seen Arwen at Rivendell – accepts this.
He also scores a point over Legolas:
“Legolas repaid his promise to Gimli and went with him to the Glittering Caves [at Helm’s Deep]; and when they returned he was silent, and would say only that Gimli alone could find fit words to speak of them. ‘And never before has a Dwarf claimed a victory over an Elf in a contest of words,’ said he. ‘Now therefore let us go to Fangorn and set the score right!’”
They meet the Ents at Orthanc. But having been cheated by one wizard, Treebeard now shows some suspicion of Gandalf:
“Treebeard praised all their deeds, of which he seemed to have full knowledge; and at last he stopped and looked long at Gandalf.
“‘Well, come now!’ he said. ‘You have proved mightiest, and all your labours have gone well. Where now would you be going? And why do you come here?’
“‘To see how your work goes, my friend,’ said Gandalf, ‘and to thank you for your aid in all that has been achieved.’”
I’m fairly sure that it is only later he openly commits himself to departing. He has partly handed over his responsibilities to Aragorn.
As I see it, he has to balance the good he might do by staying against the possibility of being tempted to do the wrong things for initially good ends. The temptation that Saruman fell into, and perhaps also Sauron in an earlier age.
He’d also have some knowledge of events at Bree, in the Shire and around the Lonely Mountain and Bard’s kingdom. These last are only mentioned in the appendices, as a secondary but large theatre of war. Sauron’s forces there had been making slow but definite progress until his fall.
When talking to Treebeard, Gandalf would probably not know enough to be sure how much else there is to do.
Treebeard reports that the Ents did more than just lay waste Orthanc and send Huorns to destroy Orcs at Helm’s Deep.
“Those vermin of orcs; and they came over the River and down from the North and all round the wood of Laurelindorenan, which they could not get into, thanks to the Great ones who are here.’ He bowed to the Lord and Lady of Lorien.
“‘And these same foul creatures were more than surprised to meet us out on the Wold, for they had not heard of us before; though that might be said also of better folk. And not many will remember us, for not many escaped us alive, and the River had most of those. But it was well for you, for if they had not met us, then the king of the grassland would not have ridden far, and if he had there would have been no home to return to.’
Eomer thanks them, and we get a vision of the future in the new Fourth Age in which men will dominate:
“‘We know it well,’ said Aragorn, ‘and never shall it be forgotten in Minas Tirith or in Edoras.’
“‘Never is too long a word even for me,’ said Treebeard. ‘Not while your kingdoms last, you mean; but they will have to last long indeed to seem long to Ents.’
“‘The New Age begins,’ said Gandalf, ‘and in this age it may well prove that the kingdoms of Men shall outlast you, Fangorn my friend.
But there is unfinished business:
“How is Saruman? Is he not weary of Orthanc yet? For I do not suppose that he will think you have improved the view from his windows.’
“Treebeard gave Gandalf a long look, a most cunning look, Merry thought. ‘Ah!’ he said. ‘I thought you would come to that. Weary of Orthanc? Very weary at last; but not so weary of his tower as he was weary of my voice. Hoom! I gave him some long tales, or at least what might be thought long in your speech.’
“‘Then why did he stay to listen? Did you go into Orthanc?’ asked Gandalf.
“‘Hoom, no, not into Orthanc!’ said Treebeard. ‘But he came to his window and listened, because he could not get news in any other way, and though he hated the news, he was greedy to have it; and I saw that he heard it all. But I added a great many things to the news that it was good for him to think of. He grew very weary. He always was hasty. That was his ruin.’”
None of this is in the third film of Jackson’s trilogy. All of them are very long for feature films just with what they do show.
Jackson has Saruman die just after the Orthanc-stone is thrown, but only the Extended Edition shows this.
Here, we learn that Saruman has been set free:
“He is gone seven days. I let him go. There was little left of him when he crawled out, and as for that worm-creature of his, he was like a pale shadow. Now do not tell me, Gandalf, that I promised to keep him safe; for I know it. But things have changed since then. And I kept him until he was safe, safe from doing any more harm. You should know that above all I hate the caging of live things, and I will not keep even such creatures as these caged beyond great need. A snake without fangs may crawl where he will.’
“‘You may be right,’ said Gandalf; ‘but this snake had still one tooth left, I think. He had the poison of his voice, and I guess that he persuaded you, even you Treebeard, knowing the soft spot in your heart. Well, he is gone, and there is no more to be said.”
We are set up for the Scouring of the Shire, which is also excluded by Jackson.
Treebeard’s mercy is understandable. Earlier, back in Book Four, he had shown sympathy for Saruman in his defeat:
“Still, if I were overcome and all my trees destroyed, I would not come while I had one dark hole left to hide in.’”
Gandalf sees it otherwise, better aware of what Saruman should have been:
‘No,’ said Gandalf. ‘But you have not plotted to cover all the world with your trees and choke all other living things. But there it is, Saruman remains to nurse his hatred and weave again such webs as he can.”
But has now gone.
Aragorn is given the key to Orthanc, which Saruman had surrendered when he left. For the time, the Ents may have the surrounding countryside.
“May your forest grow again in peace. When this valley is filled there is room and to spare west of the mountains, where once you walked long ago.’
“Treebeard’s face became sad. ‘Forests may grow,’ he said. ‘Woods may spread. But not Ents. There are no Entings.’
“‘Yet maybe there is now more hope in your search,’ said Aragorn. ‘Lands will lie open to you eastward that have long been closed.’
“But Treebeard shook his head and said: ‘It is far to go. And there are too many Men there in these days.”
He has perhaps lost hope of the world he remembers ever coming back.
Gimli too has a bleak outlook:
“‘We will send word when we may, and some of us may yet meet at times; but I fear that we shall not all be gathered together ever again.’”
Frodo and Gandalf will sail west. Sam is not mentioned as ever going south again. Or even leaving the Shire, apart from his departure from the Grey Havens after his wife’s death, the last Ringbearer to leave Middle-Earth.
Treebeard at this parting has a much stronger sense that many things are ending.
“Treebeard said farewell to each of them in turn, and he bowed three times slowly and with great reverence to Celeborn and Galadriel. ‘It is long, long since we met by stock or by stone … he said. ‘It is sad that we should meet only thus at the ending. For the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air. I do not think we shall meet again.’”
These words are given to Galadriel at the opening of the first of the Jackson films. But here, we have her seeing a vision of the future as Tolkien’s mythology will have it:
“‘Not in Middle-earth, nor until the lands that lie under the wave are lifted up again. Then in the willow-meads of Tasarinan we may meet in the Spring. Farewell!’”
As a Roman Catholic, Tolkien saw the current world as flawed and as something that would end and be replaced by a new and better world. And in Leaf by Niggle he expresses the hope that things that an artist imagines might be taken up and made real by God.
Unlike some writers, he does not suppose that the Secondary World created by a writers has any reality as such.
And if you think about it, the implications would be appalling. If real people had to suffer the misfortunes an author invents to get a gripping story, would they have any right to do this?
But I’ve always seen the idea as silly. And shown in detail what a misunderstanding it is in a long essay called The Muon and the Green Great Dragon, or alternatively In a Hole In a Hole Dwelt a Nothingness.[B] As you could guess, it also has a lot about Tolkien.
The old world is ending, but Aragorn is leading what will be a rally and restoration in what Tolkien sees as a long decline. And ready to remind everyone of his authority.
“‘The Palantír of Orthanc the King will keep, to see what is passing in his realm, and what his servants are doing. For do not forget, Peregrin Took, that you are a knight of Gondor, and I do not release you from your service. You are going now on leave, but I may recall you. And remember, dear friends of the Shire, that my realm lies also in the North, and I shall come there one day.’”
I dislike the sentiment. But I’d suppose Tolkien thought it proper. And there is a nice image at their parting:
“They saw the King of the West sitting upon his horse with his knights about him; and the falling Sun shone upon them and made all their harness to gleam like red gold, and the white mantle of Aragorn was turned to a flame. Then Aragorn took the green stone and held it up, and there came a green fire from his hand.”
But I’m also offended at the way they see a pair of wandering beggars as ordinary. Or do until Gandalf, the hobbits and Galadriel see who these are:
“As they came out again into the open country at sundown they overtook an old man leaning on a staff, and he was clothed in rags of grey or dirty white, and at his heels went another beggar, slouching and whining.
“‘Well Saruman!’ said Gandalf. ‘Where are you going?’
“‘What is that to you?’ he answered. ‘Will you still order my goings, and are you not content with my ruin?’
“‘You know the answers,’ said Gandalf: ‘no and no. But in any case the time of my labours now draws to an end. The King has taken on the burden. If you had waited at Orthanc, you would have seen him, and he would have shown you wisdom and mercy.’
“‘Then all the more reason to have left sooner,’ said Saruman; ‘for I desire neither of him. Indeed if you wish for an answer to your first question, I am seeking a way out of his realm.’
“‘Then once more you are going the wrong way,’ said Gandalf, ‘and I see no hope in your journey. But will you scorn our help? For we offer it to you.’
“‘To me?’ said Saruman. ‘Nay, pray do not smile at me! I prefer your frowns. And as for the Lady here, I do not trust her: she always hated me, and schemed for your part. I do not doubt that she has brought you this way to have the pleasure of gloating over my poverty. Had I been warned of your pursuit, I would have denied you the pleasure.’
“‘Saruman,’ said Galadriel, ‘we have other errands and other cares that seem to us more urgent than hunting for you. Say rather that you are overtaken by good fortune; for now you have a last chance.’
“‘If it be truly the last, I am glad,’ said Saruman; ‘for I shall be spared the trouble of refusing it again. All my hopes are ruined, but I would not share yours. If you have any.’
“For a moment his eyes kindled. ‘Go!’ he said. ‘I did not spend long study on these matters for naught. You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine. And now, what ship will bear you back across so wide a sea?’ he mocked. ‘It will be a grey ship, and full of ghosts.’ He laughed, but his voice was cracked and hideous.”
With the One Ring destroyed, the power of the three Elven rings is fading, as Elrond had feared it would. But Saruman will not recognise that they knew the sacrifice and accepted it as the right thing to do. Back in Book Two, Galadriel told Frodo:
“Your coming is to us as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.’”
But she gets pardoned. Earlier, saying goodbye to Aragorn when leaving Gondor, Celeborn had said:
“‘May your doom be other than mine, and your treasure remain with you to the end!’”
Their story shifts, as Christopher Tolkien details in Unfinished Tales. But it seems Celeborn then was imagined as one of the Avari, the elves who refused the summons to Valinor. Who are now forever barred from it. And while Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and Gimli can be let in as exceptions, Celeborn is not. It seems unfair, even allowing for him being immortal whereas Tolkien says that the hobbits, at least, would eventually die and follow the ‘doom of men’.
To get back to Saruman, Gandalf offers mercy to Grima. But he is somehow tied to Saruman and will not leave him.
Saruman then confronts the hobbits:
“‘So you have come to gloat too, have you, my urchins?’ he said. ‘You don’t care what a beggar lacks, do you? For you have all you want, food and fine clothes, and the best weed for your pipes. Oh yes, I know! I know where it comes from. You would not give a pipeful to a beggar, would you?’”
Merry actually gives him what he has left. But is alarmed that Saruman has been buying it from the Southfarthing. It is another foreshadowing – and oddities in the south of the hobbit realm was mentioned back in Book One.
Gandalf has some notion that trouble can be expected:
“‘But alas for Saruman! I fear nothing more can be made of him. He has withered altogether. All the same, I am not sure that Treebeard is right: I fancy he could do some mischief still in a small mean way.’”
I’d see this as Gandalf deciding that Saruman is not still so dangerous as to need his attention. A view he will stick to in the next chapter.
They part from Galadriel and Celeborn. Get to Rivendell, and do indeed find Bilbo very aged, and handing over everything – including Sting and his mithril coat, forgetting he had given them already. And hands over his writings – assumed to match The Hobbit and what became The Silmarillion, within the framework of the story.
And not entirely free of the One Ring’s lure:
“Which reminds me: what’s become of my ring, Frodo, that you took away?’
“‘I have lost it, Bilbo dear,’ said Frodo. ‘I got rid of it, you know.’
“‘What a pity!’ said Bilbo. ‘I should have liked to see it again. But no, how silly of me! That’s what you went for, wasn’t it: to get rid of it? But it is all so confusing, for such a lot of other things seem to have got mixed up with it: Aragorn’s affairs, and the White Council and Gondor, and the Horsemen, and Southrons, and oliphaunts – did you really see one, Sam? – and caves and towers and golden trees, and goodness knows what besides.
They leave, but Frodo hopes to return:
“It won’t be dangerous any more. There is a real king now and he will soon put the roads in order.’”
But Elrond tells him that this may not happen:
“‘I think, Frodo, that maybe you will not need to come back, unless you come very soon. For about this time of the year, when the leaves are gold before they fall, look for Bilbo in the woods of the Shire. I shall be with him.’
“These words no one else heard, and Frodo kept them to himself.”
He may be thinking that he too should depart. Arwen had already suggested this.
[A] It should be Éomer and Théoden. But I do not use accents or other diacritical marks. In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.
As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/