Book III
Chapter V
The White Rider

This chapter, IMHO, starts off as one of the low points for the remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring.

The Fellowship is scattered in several areas.
  • Gandalf fell into the abyss in Moria.
  • Boromir fell to orc arrows near Parth Galen.
  • Sam and Frodo departed for Mordor in hopes of destroying the one ring.
  • Merry and Pippin have been captured by Orcs and have been carried north towards Isengard.
  • Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are continuing the search for Merry and Pippin, even though there does not appear to be much hope of finding them, dead or alive.


Summary

After four days of pursuit, they (Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli) are making a last effort search for Merry and Pippin starting from their camp near the battle site of the orcs and Rohan riders. The general plan for the day's events was stated by Aragorn:

We should begin here, near to our own camping-ground, searching carefully all about, and working up the slope towards the forest. To find the hobbits is our errand, whatever we may think of our visitor in the night. If they [the hobbits] escaped by some chance, then they must have hidden in the trees, or they would have been seen. If we find nothing between here and the eaves of the wood, then we will make a last search upon the battle-field and among the ashes. But there is little hope there: the horsemen of Rohan did their work too well.

For some time the companions looked for signs of the hobbits. Finally, their persistence is rewarded. They find clues of a hobbit. They are able to piece together parts of the riddle of how the hobbits escaped and conclude that at least one of the hobbits must have fled into Fangorn forest. They decide to enter Fangorn forest in pursuit of their friends.

After some time in the forest, the companions see definite signs of Merry and Pippin by the water bank. Feeling encouraged, they follow the signs of the hobbits further into the forest. During their search, Legolas spots an old man. Immediately the companions are cautious and draw their weapons. Gimli encourages Legolas to draw his arrow, as the old man (whom the group thinks may be Saruman) approaches.

They hold their fire, since as Aragorn states: “We may not shoot an old man so, unawares and unchallenged, whatever fear or doubt be on us. Watch and wait!”. After some tense moments and brief dialog, they recognize the old man as Gandalf. Gandalf is different than how they remember him when they last saw him in Moria.

They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say.
They exchange information. Gandalf learns of what happened to the fellowship after Moria. Gandalf tells them a little of what happened after his fall in Moria and relays messages from Galadriel to each remaining member of the fellowship. They learn that Merry and Pippin are with Treebeard and the Ents of Fangorn. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli want to go see Merry and Pippin, but Gandalf says that they need to ride to Meduseld with haste. Gandalf whistles. His horse Shadowfax arrives with the horses that Aragorn and Legolas borrowed from Eomer. They mount up and ride to Meduseld.


Although not much action happens in this chapter, there are several questions that come to the reader's attention

Questions to consider:

  1. Before they enter Fangorn, Legolas can sense that the lack of evil in the wood, the sense of watchfullness and anger in the wood and the tenseness in the wood. Gimli thinks the wood is lighter than Mirkwood, but it is musty and shabby.
    Is it a special gift of elves and dwarfs to somehow (for lack of a better word) discern the state of mind of the forest ?
  2. When Gandalf approaches the group in this chapter, he does not seem to be the same as when the fellowship saw him in Moria. He seems a liitle disoriented (ie. does not remember his name and other details that, one would think, should be easy to remember).
    Why is Gandalf in this state of mind ?
  3. Gandalf states that Aragorn, Legolas, & Gimli do not have any weapons that could hurt him.
    What does this imply and/or mean about the true nature of Gandalf ?
  4. Gandalf is, as Gimli states, all in white. Gandalf states:
    'Yes, I am white now, indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been.'
    What does he mean and why is Gandalf now dressed in white ?
  5. Gandalf states: I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten. I can see many things far off, but many things that are close at hand I cannot see.
    What does Gandalf mean with this statement ?
  6. Gandalf says he looked into Saruman's mind and saw Saruman's doubt.
    Is Gandalf able to look into everyone's mind?
    If yes, why has he not looked into other people's minds.
    Can he look into other people's mind without their knowledge ?

  7. Gandalf states: I was heavy with thought, and weary after my struggle with the Eye of Mordor;
    What kind of struggle did Gandalf have and how did he engage in this struggle ?

  8. During his description of his battle with the Balrog, Gandalf states:
    Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.
    Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done.
    Where did Gandalf go and what exactly happened to him ?
  9. Do you think that Galadriel's messages to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli came from her access to the Mirror of Galadriel to see what may be ?
  10. Hope is not victory. War is upon us and all our friends, a war in which only the use of the Ring could give us surety of victory.
    Yet in the council of Elrond it was said that they cannot use the Ruling Ring.
    Is this an indication that Gandalf was tempted to use the ring ?

  11. 'I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still'
    Gandalf acknowledges that there are forces that are stronger than he. Is there any special significance to this admission ?


Related threads:

Gandalf the White
LotR Discussion Project: The Two Towers--Book III, Chapter V: The White Rider