An Unexpected Disclaimer
For some time now I have had fun imagining various possibilities for Gandalf’s power, or experiences in the world of Middle Earth, and I thought I would finally get them down. I want to be clear though – these are not theories I’m proposing as real possibilities. Unlike some theories put forth regarding various books or movies that could fit based on all the information at hand, the following ideas break down when compared to the lore. This is all just for fun – an alternate look if you will.
With that said…
Imagine the story of Lord of the Rings as simply a telling of the last (and finally successful) attempt to destroy the One Ring after countless previous attempts by Gandalf. Imagine Gandalf, upon failing the quest, finding himself once again arriving in the Shire to attend Bilbo’s party… every time… after every failed attempt.
He remembers his previous attempt, and it’s outcome. He remembers all of them in fact, but each time he comes back he is forced to try something different in an attempt to get the desired outcome we see/read in the Lord of the Rings. Each time, his arrival splits out a new timeline from that point perhaps.
The desired outcome in this case is simply the destruction of the ring of course. How it is done or by whom is less of a concern, but Gandalf would be making decisions based on what he felt would result in the highest likelihood of success.
With this in mind, you can imagine some really cool possibilities.
Gandalf’s Many Timelines
For example, he may have once pushed for Boromir to go ahead and take the ring at the forming of the fellowship, to use as a weapon of Gondor.
When that failed, and he found himself once again in the Shire, he may have taken the ring from Bilbo for himself after the party, “from a desire to do good”. I like this timeline because I can imagine Gandalf wielding “a power too great and terrible to imagine”, wreaking havoc on Middle Earth, and then returning to the Shire to try again, though now forever haunted by the things he has done. When he tells Frodo he dare not take the ring, it’s because he has LIVED that timeline – he experienced the destruction he visited on the world, and it’s peoples, and the memories are still very fresh to him.
Or imagine at the forming of the fellowship, Frodo’s offer to bring the ring to Mordor had happened a thousand times before and every time previously, Gandalf had dismissed it. In the story we know, it could be that him allowing Frodo to take on this burden demonstrated his complete lack of any new idea at that point – it was him thinking, “well, I’ve tried everything else, I’ll just say nothing here and we’ll see how this goes”.
Gimli later wants to pass through the Mines of Moria, but Gandalf has taken that route a few times in previous timelines – it’s why (in this case) he doesn’t want to go there – he’s been there already. One of those times, the Balrog killed half of the party, including Frodo, and the ring was lost… once again, Gandalf had suddenly found himself back in the Shire.
This time, when he gives Frodo the chance to determine their path by saying, “Let the ringbearer decide”, Gandalf would be attempting to remove himself from a decision… another attempt to go for a different outcome. Maybe if Frodo decides to go to Moria rather than Gandalf, things will change. You can start to imagine that at some point after many attempts, Gandalf began testing theories.
Gandalf the Manipulator
Of course this leads us to another timeline attempt where Gandalf insists “I have seen this all before!”. Perhaps he would have attempted to share this knowledge with, for example, Elrond. Maybe this abruptly ended the timeline and rebooted his attempt. Due to this, he uses the knowledge he has from those previous timelines, but he attempts to be subtle about it – to make others feel it was their decisions in some cases. He manipulates now, rather than making demands.
You can imagine entire timelines dedicated to specific areas of research. Gandalf sets Frodo on his way, but then dedicates all of his time to research the One Ring, for example. One time he tries to discover what is happening to him. Other times he simply visits different parts of the world, seeking clues that might help. Every time he does so, the ring is eventually found, Frodo is killed, and the timeline begins again, but each time he comes away with more knowledge.
Countless Outcomes and Stories
What I really enjoy when it comes to thinking about this is that there are so many cool stories to be imagined. It’s really a game of alternate histories, or “what if’s”, but instead of just thinking of one and running with it, you can imagine that all of them have happened.
It’s fun to watch the movies considering something like this. All of a sudden, Gandalf’s almost prophetic knowledge of situations seemingly beyond perception can mean that he knows these things because he has been everywhere, at all points in time.
Thanks for taking the time to check out my random thoughts on this!
I long ago disabled comments, but if you would like to chat about Gandalf traveling through time, or Gandalf timeline ideas of your own, feel free to contact me on Twitter @theweem, or by Gmail via mikeweem@ (you know the rest).
Some Expected Disclaimers
Once again, I just want to reiterate that this is not meant to be presented as a plausible theory for what is actually happening in the story. There are elements in the story that would contradict this and, as I also mentioned, the lore covers enough to illustrate this would not fit. I’ve just been imagining a different take on things, just for fun.
I am not a lore guy. My knowledge of the story from the telling found in the books is mostly gone, and rather I am relying on the basics here as a way of stimulating food for thought, again, for fun.
Additionally, I am not claiming these ideas to be original. The idea of Gandalf repeating the quest to desctroy the One Ring over and over again until he succeeds are certainly original to me, but they could be out there in some form already for all I know. The point is that the exercise of thinking about the possibilities is fun itself.