Gandalf the Slow
“Even the wise cannot see all ends”
But the wise should be able to see some ends, or at least know basic math!
Yet it seems that Gandalf cannot make simple deductions, to a level that not even a heavy consumption of pipe-weed can explain.
The character of Gandalf is one of my all time favourites, ever!
In The Hobbit he is delightfully smug, and never misses an opportunity to talk about his own brilliance. In Lord of the Rings he is the man with all the answers, I absolutely love the passages where Frodo, Pippin or some other character questions him, and then just lean back and let him enlighten their (and my) world. He is daring, almost foolish in his scheming against Sauron. Of course having read the books we know that his plans succeed, even if it can be hard to figure out if it is due to brilliance, foreknowledge or dumb luck.
A thing that could suggest that Gandalf was nothing more than a knowledgeable fool; the sort of person that would memorize all the answers to a game of Trivial Pursuit in order to appear wise. His mastery of useless knowledge, with little or no real life application, have inflated his ego, and earned him at reputation that his actual intellect could never merit.
In “The Shadow of the Past” Gandalf states to Frodo that “a shadow fell on his heart” around the time that Bilbo found the ring, and that he often “wondered how Gollum came by a great ring, as plainly it was – that at least was clear from the first.”. Of course it could be argued that any magic ring could be identified as “Great”, but Gandalf has already distinguished between the many magic made in Eregion of old (To the elven-smiths they were but trifles), and the great rings.
To my knowledge there has only ever been identified twenty great rings: “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne”.
The three elven rings were already accounted for, even though most people did not know their location or who wielded them, such information would have been available to Gandalf. The ring Nenya was in Galadriel’s possession, Vilya was first worn by Gil-galad and then passed to Elrond, Narya had also been Gil-galad’s before it passed to Cirdan, who in turn handed it over to Gandalf when he first arrived in Middle-Earth. As a wearer of one of the three, Gandalf would not only have known who wielded the others, but he would also have a rare insight in to the nature of the great rings. Of course the three elven-rings were special, since Sauron had no part in their making, and they were not created to dominate or subjugate, but rather to preserve and enhance the existing.
Even though the rings were different in nature, it seems likely that Gandalf would know if he was in the presens of one of the other great rings, and while he might not be able know if it was one of the nine, seven or the one, there could have been little doubt that it was in fact a great ring (As Gandalf himself pointed out).
The nine were given to mortal men, and it turned them into Sauron’s most feared servants: The Nazgul, or Wringwraiths. It seems quite unlikely that Bilbo’s ring could have been on of the nine, though I guess it is not inconceivable. I am not quite sure if the Nazgul actually wears the rings, or if they are in Sauron’s keeping. Nor am I aware of what would happen if a Nazgul lost his ring… It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would happen to an undead lord of destruction. Although the thought of a malevolent spirit desperately ransacking its knapsack in search of lost jewelry is an amusing one.
Also if Gandalf expected it was one of the nine, then he would be the most crappy friend on earth. In fact it is a bit of an understatement when he says (about the lesser and the Great Rings) ” – yet still to my mind dangerous to mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.”
Perilous..? You turn into a freaking ghost, completely under the command of some insane diety hiding in a tower!!! It makes you wonder what happens to mortals that use the lesser rings, do they get increased eyesight, but also a limp? Maybe you become immune to disease, but also permanently grumpy? No matter what, it seems like something you would warn your friends about.
It would have been no better had he suspected the ring to be one of the seven given to the Dwarf-lords! Those rings were of a similar nature, the only reason the dwarves did not become minions of Sauron, was due to their the nature. If their maker Aule, had made them any less hardier, they would have suffered the same fate as men. Even if Gandalf assumed that Hobbits reacted similar to Dwarves when exposed to the power of the great rings, that would mean that Bilbo would be possessed with an overwhelming greed for treasure. A fate that clearly did not befall Bilbo, but surely not something you would chance with one of your friends.
That is all speculative though, since it could not have been one of the seven. Four had been destroyed by dragon fire, and the others had been reclaimed by Sauron. People like Balin and Gloin thought the last of the dwarven-rings might still be found in Moria, but Gandalf knew that this was not the case. He him self ventured into Dol Guldur were Thrain was held prisoner, and learned that the last of the seven had been reclaimed by Sauron. This happened about 90 years prior to Bilbo finding the ring, so Gandalf should have known damn well that there was only one great ring unaccounted for…
So in the year 2850 of the Third age Gandalf learned that Sauron had acquired the last of the dwarven-rings, and therefore there is only on great ring unaccounted for: The One. In 2941 Bilbo finds a ring that Gandalf knows to be a great ring. Only at Bilbo’s farewell part in 3001 does Gandalf suspect that his ring migh be the one. In 3017 Gollum is finally captured by Aragon, at the same time Gandalf has gained access to the archives of Minas Tirith and realise the true nature of Frodo’s ring. So if Gandalf had been a little brighter they could have had a 66 years head-start, or if he hadn’t wasted time chasing Gollum: 16 years.
Maybe he was high, maybe he just had a twisted sense of humor, but he should have known… It is incredible he was allowed to refer to himself as “wise” after he said his share at The Council of Elrond.