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The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 5) : The White Rider | Summary

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Summary

Returning to Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, the story finds them hunting for clues to the mysterious old man's identity. Aragorn searches, but is unable to find footprints. And he recalls the horses didn't make sounds as if frightened.

They do find more evidence that Pippin and Merry escaped and are somewhere in the forest, including a leaf from Lothlórien with a few crumbs of the Elves' lembas bread. Following signs of Merry and Pippin's presence, they go deeper into Fangorn. As they track the two hobbits, Aragorn also sees some puzzling footprints (which are, of course, Treebeard's).

Suddenly, Legolas sees a mysterious old man approaching. At first, the three seem to think the man may be Saruman, and are not sure if they should defend themselves. But soon, the man reveals he is Gandalf, miraculously returned from the dead. He is now wearing white robes, a change from the gray he used to wear. Gandalf shares news, reassuring them Aragorn's decisions have not caused disaster: Merry and Pippin are safe with the Ents, and the Ring-bearer is on his own path, beyond their help. He confirms Saruman is corrupt with desire for the Ring, and tells them Sauron is so occupied with preparing for war he may not notice what Frodo is doing. He also tells them what happened after he fell into the chasm in Moria, and brings prophetic messages from Galadriel.

Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas decide to present themselves to Théoden, the king of Rohan, in the city of Edoras. Gandalf summons his white horse, Shadowfax, who arrives accompanied by the two horses Éomer lent them. They mount the horses and depart.

Analysis

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are left with quite a puzzle after the visit of the mysterious man. Gimli is sure it was "an evil phantom of Saruman" but Legolas notes the horses "spoke as horses will when they meet a friend that they have long missed." When they do meet an old man, the man speaks cryptically and will not say directly his name, and the suspense intensifies. Tolkien doesn't leave readers in suspense too long, however, before he reveals the return of Gandalf—now dressed in white robes.

The resurrection imagery of Gandalf as he returns to his friends reflects Tolkien's Catholic upbringing and the deep impression stories of Christ had on his imagination. Of course, Gandalf fell into the abyss and returned, as Christ died and rose. His friends do not at first recognize him, just as Christ's disciples do not recognize him at first when he appears to them after his resurrection. His robes are such a bright white they seem to glow, as did Christ at the Transfiguration.

Gandalf offers a glimmer of hope for Aragorn, who by now is fairly discouraged. First, he tells them, "The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned." Then, he says more plainly, the enemy "does not yet perceive our purpose clearly" because as a being of great power, Sauron is looking for a great power to challenge him. Sauron, in Gandalf's view, will not even consider a tiny hobbit's taking on such a great challenge: "That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream." Saruman's focus on the powerful Men who battle him rather than on the hobbits gives Frodo his only hope of success.

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