(Continued from Sacramental or Secular: The Last Stand (Again))
Gandalf’s apparent destruction on the bridge of Khazad-Dum in The Lord of the Rings leaves a momentary hole in the balanced symbolism found in the pages prior. Few mind a good wizard and a bad wizard duking it out, but when we’re left with only the certain knowledge of a bad wizard, even the Elves start talking differently.
When Gandalf reappears as The White in the forest of Fangorn, the balance that returns comes with a twist. Saruman, the wizard in league with the Dark Lord, was already White—he had already been participating in the higher office of wizard hierarchy for some time. The duel now appears to be cut from the same white cloth. And while both exercise the magic available to their office as peril and opportunity would have it, their decisions are differently shaped.
As to what the two wizards share, the potency, danger, and wildness of a White wizard is no respecter of sides:
“‘Dangerous!’ cried Gandalf. ‘And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord.'”
As to what differs, I’ll let Gandalf explain:
“Indeed he (Sauron) is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place….For imagining war he has let loose war, believing that he has no time to waste; for he that strikes the first blow, if he strikes it hard enough, may need to strike no more. So the forces that he has long been preparing he is now setting in motion, sooner than he intended.”
Sauron, and his interlocutor Saruman, have settled on the crap shoot that feels less like a gamble because of the illusion of additional information. He has traded wisdom for statistics; erudition for war; innate power for a trust in horses. His perception is clouded by projected analysis of the situation, or at least by the fear of being unseated. Meanwhile, Gandalf enjoys the perspicuity of a thousand watching eyes, because he forgets not the world as it was, is now, and ever shall be. He forgets not the Ents nor the Hobbits. He fails not to respect the wisdom of the tree or the courage of a warrior. He fears neither the enchantment of the forest nor the exposure of the wilderness, and his every footstep toward Mordor is a firm lesson in the lineaments of all of Middle Earth.
And yet the stand-off is inevitable. The Whites will clash, and the two, equal in power, force, and glory, will become but one.
Both participate in a real world—the beginning place of their armament is either an orc or a hobbit, but the significance or meaning that they summize of Middle Earth is as different as their usage of it. Either they listen to the trees, or they burn them in Isengard.
Either the Divine presence is with us, or we should be rallying a preemptive army for the failed last stand.