The White Rider
It seems strange that Gandalf should withhold his identity from Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli for so long during their encounter in Fangorn Forest. Has he truly forgotten his friendship with them until Aragorn speaks his name again? Yet he speaks of having wrestled with Sauron to help protect Frodo and of having discussed deeply matters with Galadriel. Is Mithrandir testing them? There seems to be no gain from it. Aragorn claims that a “veil was over my sights” – was such an opacity Gandalf’s intention, or beyond his control?
Jesus makes it clear in the Gospels that darkness has no division, proclaiming the line later made secularly famous by Abraham Lincoln about house divided not being able to stand. Yet, the chaotic nature of evil is full of betrayal, treason, disunion, and discord: Orc against Orc, Saruman against Sauron. The Enemy cannot trust its minions and its “allies.” The Enemy suspects those who seek or possess the Ring to attempt to become a new Dark Lord. Ultimately, does darkness pulse with division or not?
Strangely enough, it is Alexis de Tocqueville who offers some insight here, in one of the final appendices of his incredible volume Democracy in America:
“Men think that the greatness of the idea of unity lies in means. God sees it in the end. It is for that reason that the idea of greatness leads to a thousand mean actions. To force all men to march in step toward the same goal – that is a human idea. To encourage endless variety of action but to bring them about so that in a thousand different ways all tend toward the fulfillment of one great design – that is a God-given idea.”
The ultimate source of both good and evil, light and darkness, is unified: Ilúvatar and his music, Sauron and his shadow. Both good and evil encounter variety of purpose, intention, and action. This cause division in darkness, for evil seeks to control every aspect of its movement, to conform every being to its will. Sauron seeks to unify the means to his power, hence then having concern for the independent power of Saruman or being unable to imagine that the Fellowship would seek to destroy the Ring. Good, on the other hand, moves not against the grain of variety but along it, embracing and encouraging the diversity of means by which the great plan is unfolded. Gandalf cannot force the peoples of Middle-earth to choose to stand against Sauron, nor is he to dominate them with his power. He nudges and prods and exemplifies, but ultimately it is the multiplicity of the Fellowship – Merry and Pippin to Fangorn, the Three Hunters to Rohan, Frodo and Sam to Mordor – that brings about Sauron’s defeat.
Gandalf, then, cannot reveal himself immediately in his “transfigured” form: elf, dwarf, and man must choose to let him speak and choose to defy his “power” of persuasion so that they may be free to follow him. Gandalf is Saruman, as Saruman should have been, and if Gandalf had approached them in all his overwhelming radiance he would have been no better than the fallen Saruman. Gandalf uses darkness’s own division to foster his own design: the union of all free people in the expression of their distinctiveness.
2015’s Reflection: “On the Turning of the Tide”