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Concerns of the White Council
By Ori’s Quill
This essay is an analysis of the concerns of the White Council that is featured in An Unexpected Journey. It is one of a three part trilogy that shows the evolution of the Necromancer’s rise to power, and in the future essays explains the connection between Thorin’s ancestors and the One Ring. It is also an attempt to reconcile the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien and An Unexpected Journey, but also to point out the discrepancies. There are a few small “spoilers” that will not be labeled. Some things will be revealed to fans of the movies that may not have read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and other literary works of Professor Tolkien, while fans of Tolkien may be reminded or even enlightened while reading this essay. There is a map at the end of the essay to reference if you like.
The History of the White Council of Tolkien
The White Council is formed in the year 2463 of the Third Age shortly after the Peaceful Watch ends. Lady Galadriel founds the Council after dark shadows start to grow out of Dol Guldur, and could be sensed in Lórien.
Originally Gandalf was recommended as the leader of the Council, but he sternly declines the appointment, citing his need to remain nomadic and refusal to a summons. It is agreed then that Saruman would head the Council, though he accepts begrudgingly, being a second choice to Mithrandir. Other members are Radagast the Brown, and Elrond of Rivendell. The Silmarillion mentions that others of the Eldar are also in the Council, but their names are not mentioned, nor the regions they dwelt in. The Council sought clarification on the origins of the Necromancer, some suspecting that Sauron had in fact returned. Their inquiry proves futile, as Sauron senses their approach and retreats east. The Council does not meet again for 388 years.
The Council reforms in 2851. This was the year after Gandalf enters the fortress of Dol Guldur. There he discovers Thráin in the dungeons, and learns that Sauron is in fact the Necromancer gathering the Seven Rings, and is searching for the One Ring. Thráin dies and Gandalf barely escapes with his life. Gandalf calls for action of the White Council sensing the time had come for an attack, but his recommendation to assault Dol Guldur is denied by Saruman. At the time, Saruman’s decision not to act seems surprising, but slowly he is succumbing to the Ring, and wants to buy some time so he can search the Gladden Fields in the hopes of finding the Ring himself.
In 2941, the Council meets again (This is the same year that Thorin and Company begin their quest to reclaim Erebor). Saruman agrees to an assault of Dol Guldur, but only because he suspects that Sauron is searching the Gladden Fields too. Their attack proves futile, as Sauron has moved and enters again into Mordor the following year.
Twelve years later, in the year 2953 of the Third Age, the White Council meets for the final time. The seduction of the Ring causes Saruman to lie and say that it had passed into the sea. The Council disbands, and Saruman retreats to Mount Fang in Nan Curunír, claims Orthanc as his own, and prepares for war. He dispatches spies to Bree, and the Shire, and watches Gandalf’s moves very closely.
The White Council of An Unexpected Journey:
Radagast’s Account of the Emergence of Mirkwood
Radagast the Brown, or Aiwendil in Quenya, dwells in the region of Rhosgobel, on the borders of the Anduin and the forest of Greenwood. Because of Radagast’s deep connection with all beasts living, he becomes highly sensitized to the slow decay that begins to form around the majestic forest of Greenwood.
Now Greenwood, or Greenwood the Great, is the greatest forest of Middle-earth. It encompasses a vast span over four hundred miles long and two hundred miles wide. Over two-thirds of the realm of Rhovanion, it comprises. To the west is the Great Anduin, and south-east is Mordor. It is the primary home of the Sindar, also known as Wood-elves. Their love of the mortal land of Middle-earth almost caused their extinction during the Battle of Dagorlad (3434 SA), known as the last alliance of men and elves, the epic battle in which Sauron lost his Ring by the hand of Isildur with his father’s sword, Narsil. After the battle, what was left of the Sindar return to Greenwood under the leadership of Thranduil, settling in the north-east along the Forest River. There they live in relative peace, delighting in the beauty of the forest, though a foreboding darkness seems to grow.
In Greenwood’s southern most region is the site of Dol Guldur, the Hill of Sorcery. Dol Guldur is built atop Amon Lanc. It is built in secret by evil forces under Sauron’s command in the beginning of the Third Age. The location is spitefully chosen! Amon Lanc, during the Second Age, was the home of Oropher, one of the Sindar who emigrated east after the fall of Morgoth in the First Age. Oropher was Thranduil’s father, and he was killed during the Battle of Dagorlad fighting Sauron.
How very cruel it is that Dol Guldur is being built on Amon Lanc, Oropher’s home, while Oropher’s body lay in the marshes of Dagorlad. (It is around this time that the five great Istari first appear in Middle-earth. Three of these wizards became members of the White Council: Saruman, Gandalf and Radagast. The two wizards vaguely mentioned in An Unexpected Journey are Alatar and Pallando, and were said to travel into the far east of Middle-earth beyond Rohûn.)
It is because of the building of Dol Guldur, and the growing shadow shrouding it, that Greenwood becomes Mirkwood. A foreboding comes to Rhovanion. Darkness permeates the forest due to the dense canopy. The trees became diseased, and the air stagnant and suffocating. Little water can be found, and where there is water, it is black and enchanted. A mighty and beautiful forest injected with a carcinogenic plague and its filthy byproducts.
A big concern that Radagast has is the spiders and their horrible webs. “A spawn of Ungoliant or I’m not a wizard” – An Unexpected Journey. Ungoliant was the greatest of spiders from the First Age, being created out of the Darkness when Middle-earth was taking form. Melkor used her to destroy the sacred Trees of the Valinor. Later she sought dark remote areas and mated with lesser beings to produce a great amount of offspring. Shelob, of Cirith Ungol, was one of Ungoliant’s offspring, and she in turn produced offspring of her own that migrated from Cirith Ungol into the north and south sections of Mirkwood. Their network of webs created an even darker foreboding, as they poisoned their prey and hung them in the forest canopy.
Trolls of the Ettenmoors Raiding Villages
Trolls, according to Tolkien, were first created during the First Age at the time of Great Darkness, when all the light of Valar, Illuin and Ormal was destroyed by Melkor. It is because they were created in darkness, that trolls have sensitivity to sunlight, and turn to stone as read in The Hobbit, and seen delightfully in An Unexpected Journey. Morgoth, during the end of the First Age used trolls for his invasion of Beleriand. After Morgoth’s defeat, the trolls suffered great losses, and were slow to reproduce (could it be their cooking?) Retreating to the region of the Ettenmoors, south of Angmar, trolls were no longer a concern to the kind races of Middle-earth. That is why Gandalf and Thorin are perplexed at their appearance in Journey. Thorin: “Since when do Mountain Trolls venture this far south?” Gandalf: “Ooh, not for an Age. Not since a darker power rules these lands. They could not have moved in daylight”.
The investigation of the Troll-hoard reveals actions of malfeasance. Coins, treasure, weaponry and such are revealed in the trove, in particular, Orcrist and Glamdring. It is curious that such prestigious swords end up in the hands of trolls. The swords were war booty during the First Age after the fall of Gondolin. How the swords got there is a mystery, but it proves that Bert, Bill and Tom were up to mischief and conducting raids at night.
(Later in the Two Towers and the Return of the King, Tolkien and Jackson introduce a more aggressive race of trolls known as Olog-hai. These trolls are stronger, have a harder endurance, and could tolerate daylight without being turned to stone. We first see them in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, pushing large battle towers to the walls of Minas Tirith.)
Invading Orcs from Gundabad
Gandalf’s concern about the attack of an orc pack riding Gundabad wargs is also addressed. Gundabad is a mountain region in the north at the apex of the Misty Mountains, adjacent to Angmar. In the days of the Eldar, Mount Gundabad was the resting place of Durin the Deathless, the oldest father of the Dwarves, and ancient ancestor of Thrór, Thráin and Thorin. Durin slumbered many years in Gundabad, under the enchantment of Aulë, creator of the Dwarves. “Then Aulë took the seven fathers of the Dwarves and laid them to rest in far-sundered places.” – The Silmarillion. When Durin awoke, he founded a kingdom in Gundabad, until the colony was attacked by orcs migrating from the destroyed realm of Angband during the Second Age.
By the Third Age, Gundabad became known as an orc capital, and was commanded by Azog. Gundabad remained the capital until the year 2799 when during War of the Dwarves and Orcs, the Dwarves sacked Gundabad to avenge the killing and beheading of Thror. The Dwarves also held Gundabad as a sacred place that had been spoiled by the orc takeover in the Second Age. But because Mount Gundabad was occupied with orcs for so long, it remained by reputation, an evil and sinister place.
There is a distinct difference between Gundabad wargs featured in An Unexpected Journey and the wargs of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Gundabad wargs have a more bellicose nature, appear more wolf-like, and are specifically bred in Gundabad. Little is known of them except their aggressive pugnacious behavior and servitude to the Orcs of Gundabad and their king Azog. (In the book The Hobbit, the wargs assist the goblins but are not under their servitude.)
By contrast the wargs of The Lord of the Rings, known as the wolves of Isengard, were used in organized attacks by Saruman. “He has taken Orcs into his service, and Wolf –riders, and evil Men.” – The Two Towers. According to Tolkien, all orcs have a disdain for sunlight, but in An Unexpected Journey and Two Towers daylight does not deter them. But orcs and wargs are to be feared regardless of day or night. “The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears. But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls.” – The Fellowship of the Ring.
Fear of Smaug’s Power to be Unleashed
Another concern of Gandalf is the idea that Smaug may be turned to aide Sauron. He presents this to the White Council, explaining that “if he should side with the enemy, a dragon could be used to terrible effect” – An Unexpected Journey. The effect he mentions is this. The north-east during this time is very weak. With the city of Dale razed, Erebor guarded by Smaug, and the Ered Mithrin’s reputation of having potentially more dragons in the region of Withered Heath, it would be very easy for an invasion with dragons into the realms of Rhovanion, Lórien and Rohan. Gandalf is convinced that Sauron has returned, and knows that this invasion is a strong possibility with virtual impunity from any organized resistance.
The use of dragons in such an invasion is a highly justifiable concern, for Middle-earth had a history of such evil tidings in the past. Dragons had long plagued Middle-earth, particularly the race of Dwarves, even before the Sack of Erebor. Dáin I, father of Thrór, was ruler in the realm of the Ered Mithrin (Grey Mountains), the location of which was Withered Heath. “But there were dragons in the wastes beyond; and after many years they became strong again and multiplied, and they made war on the Dwarves and plundered their works.” – Return of the King, Appendix A. The Dwarves abandoned the Ered Mithrin after Dain I was slain with his son, Frór, and Thrór led the remaining Dwarves back to Erebor. But the history of Dwarves and dragons goes back even further.
There was Glaurung the greatest and most feared dragon of the First Age. He was bred by Morgoth, Sauron’s leader, and was unveiled during the Battle of Sudden Flames. At Morgoth’s command was “Glaurung, the Golden, father of dragons, in his full might; and in his trains were Balrogs and behind them came the black armies of the Orcs in multitudes such as Noldor had never seen or imagined” – The Silmarillion. The Great Worm was inexperienced, though powerful, and was eventually beaten off by Fingon.
Glaurung the Fire Drake would again return two hundred years later, on command of Morgoth, during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, otherwise known as Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Glaurung had matured at this point, and proved a fierce adversary. Elves and men both perished as they fought him until at last, the Dwarves of Gabilgathol, a Dwarf-city in the Ered Luin, came to their aid. The Dwarves, it was said, wore armor more resistant to the fire of the dragon and assailed him at close range. As they surrounded him, their battle axes hit their mark. In a fit of rage, Glaurung turned on the Dwarf-king, Azaghâl and crawled over him, crushing him to death, but not before Azaghâl plunged a knife in the fire-drake’s belly. Glaurung fled, but the wound he received from Azaghâl was not a mortal wound.
Glaurung later returned, and used powerful spells and bewitched the children of Húrin in vile and incestuous ways. As he wormed his way towards the last free hold of Middle-earth, he received a mortal wound from Turambar (Túrin) wielding the Black Thorn of Brethil, a black sword of Nargothrond.
Another of the Great Worms of Middle-earth was Scatha the Worm, who also served Morgoth in the First Age. He fled to Ered Mithrin after the War of Wrath. Known to plague both men and Dwarves in the Northern Wildlands, he was slain in the year 2000 of the Third Age. (Some Trivia: One of the finds from Scatha’s hoard was the Horn of Rohan that Eowyn presents to Merry Brandybuck for his heroic deeds in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Another bit of trivia: It is speculated that Glamdring, Orcrist, and Sting also came from this hoard as Scatha took part in the razing of Gondolin).
Finally, there is Ancalagon the Black. This great dragon was the first winged dragon Middle-earth had seen. Unleashed under Morgoth’s command as a last defense, Ancalagon proved a very mighty foe. He was extremely large, with a tremendous wing span. When at last he was slain by Eärendil, with aid from the Eagles of Manwë, and fell from the sky, the impact of his carcass shattered the mountain range of Thangorodrim, near Angband.
The Mystery of the Morgul Blade
The appearance of the Morgul Blade completely baffles and terrifies members of the White Council. While Saruman dismisses its appearance as simply a “dagger from a bygone age” and is not proven to be a Morgul Blade, Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf see darker implications. They are perplexed, as the sword was buried with the Witch-king of Angmar, in the “High Fells of Rhudaur. Deep within the rock they buried him…in a tomb so dark…it would never come to light” – Galadriel, An Unexpected Journey. Elrond goes on to explain the impossibility of those tombs being opened, and are protected by a powerful spell.
The resurrection of the Morgul Blade was of great concern for both Galadriel and Elrond, for they both suffered personally from its effects. The power of the Morgul Blade is not to kill, but to force its victims to succumb to the will of Sauron. Galadriel’s daughter, Celebrian was the wife of Elrond, and bore him two sons, Elladan and Elrohir as well as a daughter, Arwen Undómiel (future wife of Aragorn). As she journeyed to Lórien, her party was assaulted by Orcs at Caradhras (Barazinbar to the Dwarves, Redhorn Pass in the Common Speech) and she was taken prisoner. Elladan and Elrohir rescued her, but not before she suffered a wound from a Morgul blade.
She was brought back to Rivendell and Elrond healed the wound. But Celebrían “suffered torment… (and) lost all delight in Middle-earth, and the next year went to the Havens and passed over the sea” – The Return of the King, Appendix A. This effect of the Morgul blade sounds familiar, as Frodo suffered the same torment and pain, many years after being stabbed at Weathertop at the ruined tower of Amon Sûl. He also suffered torment, and pain, and had to sail to the Undying Lands to seek relief.
Now Rhudaur, the name given by the Dúnedain, is a region south of the Ettenmoors and west of Rivendell and the Misty Mountains, and is the location of the tombs of the High Fells. Known as a rugged, hostile area, with low soil fertility, and little resources, the men of Rhudaur together with Angmar waged war against neighboring Arthedain and Cardolan in 1409 of the Third Age. At Amon Sûl, the Cardolan Dúnedain took a last stand and were besieged by the men subjected to the command of Angmar. The great Watch Tower was burned, and Dúnedain lost their lives, but not before the people of Arthedain were able to escape with one of the remaining Palantír. The Arthedain were the last Line of Isildur, and after the fall of Amon Sûl, they lead a nomadic life, becoming what were known to be the Rangers of the North.
The Tombs of the High Fells do not exist in any Tolkien works, but for the movie The Desolation of Smaug, Gandalf and Radagast travel to the High Fells of Rhudaur to investigate the tombs. After a vertigo inducing hike, they discover that the tombs in fact have been opened. Radagast, more sensitive to the effects of dark magic, feels that dark spells haunt the tombs. The heavy stone lid sarcophagus is broken, and Gandalf comments how the tombs themselves were opened from the inside out. The rise of the Nazgûl and the mystery of the Morgul Blade have been solved. There is in fact a Sorcerer who can summon the dead.
Saruman is the chief of the Order of Istari, the five great wizards that come in the Third Age. The primary purpose of their existence in Middle-earth is to combat the power of Sauron and bring balance and peace. Curunír, as he is known to the Elves, was a vested scholar in Ring lore, spending much time studying the history, myths and legends. This was his undoing. He somehow acquires a lost Palantír. This Seeing Eye-Stone, combined with his obsession with Ring lore, began to turn Saruman. He was seduced, just as Gollum was. But being the Head of the Order and the Head of the White Council makes him very dangerous.
When the White Council meets in the year 2851, Saruman already knows that Sauron has returned as the Necromancer. He becomes concerned that the White Council will learn that not only Sauron seeks the One Ring, but that Saruman himself is also seeking it. This explains why he intentionally dissuades the Council from any attack on Dol Guldur. Saruman then begins searching the Gladden Fields, the marshy area where Isildur was betrayed by the Ring and murdered. Isildur fell into the river, and the Ring passed out of all knowledge.
The Council meets again in 2941; Saruman discredits Gandalf’s debate, as seen in An Unexpected Journey. From a small orc pack that “dared to cross the Bruinen (Actually this may be a blooper! If the orc pack is to cross any river from Gundabad, it would be the Hoarwell. The Bruinen or Loudwater is too far south depending on how far south they came from the Misty Mountains), to an old dagger found, to a mortal-man dabbling in dark witchcraft, Saruman counters every argument that there is trouble brewing. Even poor Radagast is discredited. Saruman explains that he cannot be taken seriously because of his “excessive consumption of mushrooms. They’ve addled his brain and yellowed his teeth.” (And Saruman might benefit from a little attention to his own dental hygiene.) Saruman attempts to persuade the White Council to intervene in the Quest to reclaim Erebor. He is secretly concerned that should the dwarves succeed, a stronger defensive guard would be placed in the North.
The Appearance of the Necromancer
The White Council’s chief concern is the appearance of this new sorcerer. It is a new (or old) power that seems to bring the dark shadows that Galadriel feels in Lórien, causing her to form the White Council. That a sorcerer has taken up in Dol Guldur is alarming, but is it dangerous?
What is a Necromancer? The term itself deserves discussion. In “Laws and Customs Among the Eldar” taken from Morgoth’s Ring, Christopher Tolkien compiled his fathers’ notes and research and deciphered the following: When an Elf dies, the Elvish spirit (or Fea) is attracted to a living host and will attempt to penetrate the living body and vanquish the living hosts Fea from its rightful owner. J.R.R.Tolkien wrote “It is said that Sauron did these things…”
Most of us take for granted that the Necromancer is Sauron. Years of Lord of the Rings media, either in literature, or movies, enlightened us to Sauron’s powers and abilities. But remember as a child reading The Hobbit? Gandalf leaving Thorin and Company to fight this foe seemed a small and not so dangerous task. We underestimate what the Necromancer really could be. Initially, Tolkien felt the same way. Anderson writes that the Necromancer simply serves as a reason for Gandalf to leave the Company. But as early as the fall of 1937, around the same time as the first publication of The Hobbit, a dawning grew on Tolkien as the Necromancer’s shadow grew on Middle-earth. But that is the second part of this paper to be continued in the future.
What We May See In The Desolation of Smaug
I strongly suspect three very important things will be seen in The Desolation of Smaug.
-That Gandalf will take it upon himself to attack Dol Guldur despite the White Council’s decision not to attack. He never follows any advice when it conflicts with a path that he is on. Such examples would the recruitment of Bilbo Baggins to join the Quest of Erebor. From thirteen Dwarves to Galadriel, no one understands this decision of Gandalf’s, not even himself. Another example is the aversion of entering Moria in The Fellowship but he knows entering will cost him his own life. He leads the Fellowship anyway. Another is his fear the Helm’s Deep will suffer a great defeat in Two Towers, and seeks out Éomer. Yet another is his knowledge that Denethor had a Palantír, and its use drove him mad (This explains his madness in Return of the King movie if you have never read the books). Gandalf knows, without reason or explanation. That is why I feel confident in saying he will attack Dol Guldur on his own accord.
- That Galadriel will come to Gandalf’s aid in the attack of Dol Guldur. In Unexpected Journey, there is a tender moment between the two. She gently gives him courage saying “Do not be afraid, Mithrandir. You are not alone. If you should ever need my help…I will come”. That certainly was no love scene. She senses he will need her aid, and I bet we will see that in Desolation.
- And finally we will see Thráin, son of Thrór, father of Thorin Oakenshield, in a flashback scene in the dungeons of Dol Guldur. He will be in possession of the map and key of Erebor, and he will reveal something to Gandalf that sets this whole fantastic story in motion, from the Quest of Erebor to the Return of the King. That will be discussed in a part III of the series. I leave you to ponder this quote of Saruman (from this behind-the-scenes footage) for it reveals much:
“Without the ruling ring of power, the seven are of no value to the enemy“.
Map of Middle-earth
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien:
The Lord of the Rings. New York: Houghton Mifflin 1994.
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Douglas A. Anderson:
The Annotated Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien editor:
The Children of Húrin. New York: Houghton Mifflin 2007.
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. New York: Random House, 1980.
The Silmarillion. New York: Houghton Mifflin 2001.
Tyler, J.E.A. The Complete Tolkien Companion. New York: Thomas Dunne Books 1976.
lordoftheringswiki.com, thrainsbook.net, thorinoakenshield.net
Jackson, P. (Director). (2001). The Fellowship of the Ring. United States: New Line Cinema
(2002) The Two Towers. United States: New Line Cinema
(2003) The Return of the King. United States: New Line Cinema
(2012) An Unexpected Journey. United States: New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers
deviantart.com, lotrwiki.com, thalion.ovh.org, thorinoakenshield.net, tumblr.com
Falconer, Daniel. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004
Map taken from: J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings. New York: Houghton Mifflin 1994.
Photoshop assistance: Kelly Ramage
Additional Research: Dark Jackal at thorinoakenshield.net