Tolkien Talk: Divine Intervention in Middle-earth

I’m enjoying a vacation from work (sometimes I really love the academic calendar) and like any good Tolkienite, I’m marathoning the films once more before I go back to work on Monday. This time, as I work my way back through Middle-earth in the books and on screen, I am noticing things I never noticed before. Perhaps I should blame my graduate-level education for being unable to enjoy a book for its own sake any more, but the intricacies enrich the world and make the story so much richer for me.

Throughout my re-reading of The Lord of the Rings, it is repeatedly seen that Frodo, and other Fellowship members, have thoughts in their heads that are not their own–a narrative tactic that I wish I could duplicate in my own work. Oftentimes these characters will make exclamations in languages in which they are not fluent, usually Elvish, and have visions of things that may or may not have already happened. These foreign thoughts can be good or evil, and are influential in the actions of the main characters (particularly the hobbits), especially Frodo in his dealings with the One Ring. I mention Frodo specifically, because of the burden of his Quest. Any influences on the hobbit could make or break Middle-earth.  Could Frodo be hallucinating and delirious under the effects of the Ring, or is there a Higher Power playing in the turn of events in Middle-earth?


Sometimes, I like to answer my own questions, and so I took a look at the origins of Middle-earth (my obsession has led me to have my own Tolkien library). If you’ve never read The Silmarillion (and I think that everyone should), Middle-earth was created by Eru, or Ilúvatar with the help of the song of the Ainur, but after the creation of Eä, or the world, the Creator is conspicuously silent and absent from the cycle of events that unfold in his creation. He places select Ainur in the role of the Valar (think of them as deific beings who watch over Middle-earth, like the Norse gods and goddesses); they are the protectors of Eru’s creation. In The Silmarillion,  the reader repeatedly sees the intervention of the Valar in the course of the history of Tolkien’s secondary world, particularly in the battles against Melkor, AKA Morgoth (the first Dark Lord, and Sauron’s master). The Valar actively go to battle with Melkor, restrain him for three ages, and then later cast him out into the Void.

Fast-forward three ages and do we still see the same divinely active intervention? Perhaps the Valar no longer ride out into battle with the Elven Eldar, but this does not mean that the Valar, or even Eru, are entirely absent from Middle-earth. The most noticeable example of their continued interaction with Middle-earth is Gandalf. Gandalf, also known as Olórin in Valinor (the Undying Lands), is presumably a wizard on a mission for the Valar: he bears responsibility to all the races of Middle-earth. The reader is notified of Gandalf’s cause in The Two Towers. After he was assumed lost in Moria to the Balrog, he reappears in the forest of Fangorn to  Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, to whom he says:

“…Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads I will not tell.

“ Naked I was sent back—for a brief time, until my task is done…I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumors of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and slow everlasting groan of unburdened stone.” (Tolkien, TTT, 111)

In this selection of The Two Towers, the reader can see that A) Gandalf had died in some way when he fell into Moria, B) he was sent back until “[his] task is done” and C) when he was brought back to Middle-earth, he became connected to all the lands of Arda. The film The Two Towers also incorporates this scene into its script.

Only Ilúvatar would have the power to recreate life in Gandalf after he fell into the chasm in Moria. This resurrection proves that Eru was not absent from Arda nor ignorant of the goings-on there. He sends Gandalf back, not as the Grey Pilgrim, but as Gandalf the White—or “Saruman as he should have been” (Tolkien, TTT, 102). Gandalf’s mission, his responsibility to Middle-earth, apparently also needs the status to accompany it, so he replaces Saruman as the head of the White Council and steward of all living creatures of Middle-earth.

The timeline in which Gandalf is resurrected and becomes Gandalf the White is somewhat obscured between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. In relation to the timeline of the rest of the Fellowship, the reader has no perception of when this even occurred. In The Two Towers, as Gandalf informs the rest of the Fellowship members of his tale, he says, “Thus it was that I came to Caras Galadhon and found you but lately gone” (Tolkien, TTT, 112). This means that Gandalf’s resurrection took place before Boromir attempted to take the Ring from Frodo.


It is important to know that Gandalf was alive when Boromir attacked Frodo because of what happens after the incident when Frodo puts on the Ring:

“He heard himself crying out: Never! Never! Or was it: Verily ,verily, I come to you? He could not tell. Then as a flash from some other point of power there came to his mind another thought: Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!

“The two powers strove in him. For a moment, perfectly balanced between their piercing points, he writhed, tormented. Suddenly he was aware of himself again. Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so. He took the Ring off his finger.” (Tolkien, FotR, 451)

The Voice in this passages sounds like Gandalf. At this point in the book, Frodo believes Gandalf to have perished in Moria; the last words he heard Gandalf say in Moria are, “Fly, you fools!” (Tolkien, FotR, 371). Calling Frodo a fool as he wears the Ring on the summit of Amon Hen reminds the reader of that moment in Moria, and almost instantly associates the Voice with Gandalf. Is Gandalf’s voice in Frodo’s head a hallucination, or is Gandalf really communicating with Frodo telepathically?

If we assume that the voice in Frodo’s head was Gandalf’s voice, then we can also assume that this is somehow connected to the mission Gandalf must perform now that he has been sent back to Middle-earth. Since it was Eru who brought Gandalf  back to Middle-earth, I also assume that it was Eru who gave Gandalf his task; and therefore the voice that appears in Frodo’s head at just the nick of time is, in this light, divinely inspired and could be termed as divine intervention.


Eru and the Valar may not be as absent from Middle-earth as it may at first seem, and as Frodo journeys to Mount Doom to complete his quest, he is not as alone as it appears. This is just one example of many times in Frodo’s journey when events, which at first seem to be coincidence, later appear to be fate. Or divine intervention.

It seems there is always a light shining in the dark places for Mr. Frodo.

I think I’m gonna go off to see the Elves now. Namarie.

-The Collectress

Works Consulted

Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. The Silmarillion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. 

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.