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Gandalf vs. Witch-King

dacman

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Now I'm not too clear on this, so I'll defer to those with more experience in all things Tolkieny, but I was made aware by one of my movie watching friends that in the Return of the King Extended version, Gandalf's staff is broken by the Witch King. I responded with incredulity, but when I searched on youtube, i found this very scene! My question is, how on middle-earth could Gandalf (the White btw) be lesser in power to the Witch-King? Gandalf was a Maia, or former maia, and Witchy was a man with a weird ring.
 

Mike

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The simple answer is that in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, the Witch-King would never eclipse Gandalf in power.

In Jackson's Middle-Earth, on the other hand...
 
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chrysophalax

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He was a bit more than that. For all intents and purposes, he was Sauron's right hand man, Captain of his host and leader of the Nine.

Gandalf was not invincible, even though he was a Maia and the Witch-King wielded great power, probably granted to him by Sauron as a reward for being such a faithful servant. I suspect also that he was one of the (at least)three Black Numenoreans that came to Middle Earth looking to expand on their evil repertoire.

As was seen in the passing of Gandalf, Sauron and Saruman, for example, their physical bodies could be killed and it appears that it was up to the Valar as to whether or not their spirits got a round-trip ticket. In RotK,it says that his (the Witch King's ) voice was not heard again in that age.

Does that mean there may have been a possibilty of return at a later date?
 

Tyelkormo

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It should be noted, though, that Tolkien specified that the main weapon of the Nazgul was fear. On the other hand, he stated that the Witch-King was somewhat "pumped up" for the battle by Sauron. Personally, I'd still agree with Mike that the WK tried a bluff at the gates. Even if Sauron pumped up the Witch-King, he'd still be using Maia power second-hand. And while Sauron is a powerful Maia, he did not have the Ring, and was not precisely a combat monster anyway - contrary to what PJ shows.

On the other hand, one of the chief axes I have to grind with PJ is his diminuation of archetypical characters in LotR, and the treatment of Gandalf is in that line. Conversely, Jackson pumped up practically every opponent out there. His representation of Sauron is much more fit of Morgoth. And it is both evident why the cave troll in Moria has a temper (you'd have one too, if you kept hitting your head tearing down the doorframes) and why Harad is a desert (just think about what those Mumaks have to eat each day...)

So this scene is in my eyes more of a result of typical Jackson tropes, reducing the heroes in "size" while inflating the bad guys. All the more since at that point, the WK was facing Gandalf the White, not Gandalf the Gray.
 

Úlairi

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dacman

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Thanks a lot guys, that clears up my question a good amount.
 

Mike

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Well, just before this thread dies...

As was seen in the passing of Gandalf, Sauron and Saruman, for example, their physical bodies could be killed and it appears that it was up to the Valar as to whether or not their spirits got a round-trip ticket. In RotK,it says that his (the Witch King's ) voice was not heard again in that age.

Does that mean there may have been a possibilty of return at a later date?
Harry Turtledove certainly thought so. If you read his essay in Mediations on Middle Earth, he goes to great lengths to prove that the next "great enemy" was the resurrected Witch-King. His first novel was, in fact, based around this premise, with a legion of Roman Soldiers suddenly transported to Middle-Earth in the Fourth Age to do battle with the returned Witch-King. Once Turtledove figured out copyright law, he turned that piece of fanfiction into The Misplaced Legion, the first book in the Videssos cycle. I might add it's not a particularily good book, though probably better than the original manuscript (I'm having trouble imaging how a Roman Legionary would react to meeting an Ent or a hobbit), but hey, there you go.

As for the three examples of Maiar who "die", two were under exceptional circumstances -- the Balrog was also a Maiar, and hence more powerful than the Witch-King; a part of Sauron was destroyed with the ring. Only Saruman dies an ignoble death, stabbed to death by Wormtongue, but I highly doubt he would have died in such fashion while at the height of his power. Only after Gandalf stripped him of his staff and place in the council, Saruman lost his godly privilidges. In Saruman's pursuit of petty revenge in the Shire (for that was all he could do when stripped of his position), Tolkien's sense of moral justice dictated he should die a petty death. It's an immensensly satisfying scene, I might add.
 

ltnjmy

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And while Sauron is a powerful Maia, he did not have the Ring, and was not precisely a combat monster anyway - contrary to what PJ shows.

On the other hand, one of the chief axes I have to grind with PJ is his diminuation of archetypical characters in LotR, and the treatment of Gandalf is in that line.

So this scene is in my eyes more of a result of typical Jackson tropes, reducing the heroes in "size" while inflating the bad guys. All the more since at that point, the WK was facing Gandalf the White, not Gandalf the Gray.
Dear Tyelkormo,

Your posting was quite right - I did not like that part of Jackson's ROTK :mad:
 

Úlairi

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Dear Tyelkormo,

Your posting was quite right - I did not like that part of Jackson's ROTK :mad:
Whilst I respect Tyelkormo's position (especially about PJ's representation of Gandalf's inherent power) I must disagree with the portrayal of Sauron as more of a Morgoth. Tolkien himself on many occasions (most of all in The Lord of the Rings) such as Letters, Morgoth's Ring (Myths Transformed) and even in certain parts of The Silmarillion mentions often the power of Sauron; and lets not forget that Sauron was not only (as were Balrogs, Dragons and even his Orcs) just transfused with Morgoth's being (or inherent power) but also inherited the corruption of Arda. He superseded his former master after being cast out into the Void. Gandalf also mentions that he fears Sauron. I believe that Sauron was correctly displayed as a creature of malice, contempt and ultimately an embodiment of fear itself. From a literary perspective it also aggrandizes or complements the bravery and the character shown by both Frodo and Sam. Sauron was no bumbling idiot: he had five Istari sent to counter him, slew Gil-Galad and Elendil in battle and contended with the might of Elrond in Imladris and Galadriel, greatest of the Noldor in Lothlórien for centuries after being disembodied at the Downfall of Númenor and again after falling on the plains of Gorgoroth. The only potential erroneous aspect in the portrayal of Sauron in PJ's The Lord of the Rings is that Sauron wasn't terrifying enough!

Cheers,

Úlairi.
 
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chrysophalax

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Agreed. "Sauron the Fearsome Lighthouse" didn't really do it for me in the Ultimate Embodiment of Fear category.

How 'bout that, Ulairi? We actually agree on something! ;)
 

Úlairi

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Agreed. "Sauron the Fearsome Lighthouse" didn't really do it for me in the Ultimate Embodiment of Fear category.

How 'bout that, [Ú]lairi :)D)? We actually agree on something! ;)
*faints, rouses and checks pulse* *faints again* :p

Sauron the Fearsome Lighthouse,
The darkest beacon of malice,
Slowly choking out the Light,
Fear and hate glaring through the Night.

Sounds terrifying, no? ;)

Cheers,

Úlairi.
 

Tyelkormo

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Whilst I respect Tyelkormo's position (especially about PJ's representation of Gandalf's inherent power) I must disagree with the portrayal of Sauron as more of a Morgoth. Tolkien himself on many occasions (most of all in The Lord of the Rings) such as Letters, Morgoth's Ring (Myths Transformed) and even in certain parts of The Silmarillion mentions often the power of Sauron; and lets not forget that Sauron was not only (as were Balrogs, Dragons and even his Orcs) just transfused with Morgoth's being (or inherent power) but also inherited the corruption of Arda. He superseded his former master after being cast out into the Void. Gandalf also mentions that he fears Sauron. I believe that Sauron was correctly displayed as a creature of malice, contempt and ultimately an embodiment of fear itself. From a literary perspective it also aggrandizes or complements the bravery and the character shown by both Frodo and Sam. Sauron was no bumbling idiot: he had five Istari sent to counter him, slew Gil-Galad and Elendil in battle and contended with the might of Elrond in Imladris and Galadriel, greatest of the Noldor in Lothlórien for centuries after being disembodied at the Downfall of Númenor and again after falling on the plains of Gorgoroth. The only potential erroneous aspect in the portrayal of Sauron in PJ's The Lord of the Rings is that Sauron wasn't terrifying enough!
I fully agree that Sauron wasn't terrifying enough. However, I disagree with your conclusions from the quotes. While Sauron did kill Elendil and Gil-Galad, he did so at the expense of his own life. Contrary to what Jackson displays, the cutting off of the Ring was not a stroke of sheer dumb luck, but even more than a coup-de-grace, it was done after Sauron had already been "thrown down", and even "slain", as Tolkien puts it in letter 131. This diminishes the accomplishments of epic heros, which is entirely in line with the other changes Jackson made to the characters of the story.

Yes, Sauron wasn't terrifying enough. That's because Jackson reduced his fearsomeness to the fear of physical destruction. Sauron was much more. Physical destruction was a means and not an end -Sauron was not lusting for destruction, not for bloodshed for its own sake, he was "a thing lusting for Complete Power" (ibid) - he wants to rule, to control, to suppress the gift of Free Will, if you wish. "But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination"... "Sauron desired to be a God-King and was held to be this by his servants". (L. 183) No, Sauron was not a bumbling fool. Sauron was a schemer, a chess player, a manipulator, a mastermind, a puppeteer. We have two incidents in which he is mentioned in some detail as entering physical combat. In both cases, it is because he is running out of options. In the first case, even his best werewolf had been sent packing. In the second case, despite his best efforts, the siege of Barad-Dur had become firmly entrenched. The only card that's left to play for him: To get directly and personally involved. Given the armies gathered outside, more an act of desperation. "But at the last the siege was so strait that Sauron himself came forth; and he wrestled with Gil-galad and Elendil, and they both were slain, and the sword of Elendil broke under him as he fell. But Sauron also was thrown down, and with the hilt-shard of Narsil Isildur cut the Ruling Ring from the hand of Sauron and took it for his own." (Of the Rings of Power...)

Both in his assault on Tol Sirion and in his later duel with Finrod there, he used witchcraft as his main tool. And in his battle with Luthien and Huan, he has the upper hand as long as he spreads fear. When he loses focus, Huan attacks him and it's all downhill from there. At the Battle of Gwathlo, Sauron's forces were routed despite his personal presence and he is said to have "narrowly escaped" - hardly credible if he is someone cutting through armies like a hot knife through butter.

When we see Sauron in physical battle, then because he has run out of options. Yes, Sauron wasn't terrifying enough - that's because Jackson does terror only by the sledgehammer method, which rather limits the scope of terror.
 

Illuin

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Originally posted by chrysophalax
"Sauron the Fearsome Lighthouse" didn't really do it for me

A misguided representation; but I still thought is was cool. I love my Danbury Mint Barad-dûr collectible; even though I put it in my aquarium :D.
 

ltnjmy

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Yes, Sauron wasn't terrifying enough. That's because Jackson reduced his fearsomeness to the fear of physical destruction. Sauron was much more. Physical destruction was a means and not an end -Sauron was not lusting for destruction, not for bloodshed for its own sake, he was "a thing lusting for Complete Power" (ibid) - he wants to rule, to control, to suppress the gift of Free Will, if you wish. "But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination"... "Sauron desired to be a God-King and was held to be this by his servants". (L. 183) No, Sauron was not a bumbling fool. Sauron was a schemer, a chess player, a manipulator, a mastermind, a puppeteer. We have two incidents in which he is mentioned in some detail as entering physical combat. In both cases, it is because he is running out of options. When we see Sauron in physical battle, then because he has run out of options. Yes, Sauron wasn't terrifying enough - that's because Jackson does terror only by the sledgehammer method, which rather limits the scope of terror.
This is a wonderful analysis. I really like the posters on this site...:):):)
 
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Now I'm not too clear on this, so I'll defer to those with more experience in all things Tolkieny, but I was made aware by one of my movie watching friends that in the Return of the King Extended version, Gandalf's staff is broken by the Witch King. I responded with incredulity, but when I searched on youtube, i found this very scene! My question is, how on middle-earth could Gandalf (the White btw) be lesser in power to the Witch-King? Gandalf was a Maia, or former maia, and Witchy was a man with a weird ring.
Tolkien said in a letter that the Witch King could have overthrown Gandalf had Sauron given the Nazgul enough power...so there you go.
 

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Tolkien said in a letter that the Witch King could have overthrown Gandalf had Sauron given the Nazgul enough power...so there you go.
Welcome to TTF, Þráinn Þórhallsson!

I thought I was familiar with most of Tolkien’s published letters. I must have missed that one. Could you please point me to the letter in which he says that?
 
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Welcome to TTF, Þráinn Þórhallsson!

I thought I was familiar with most of Tolkien’s published letters. I must have missed that one. Could you please point me to the letter in which he says that?
Ugh, jumbled memory. Apparently it was Gandalf who said that if given enough power from Sauron the Witch King could have been able to destroy him.
 

Lych92

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Funny thing though, in the extended edition it showed Gandalf's staff broken by the Witch King. In one of the following scenes, it showed that he has his staff back in whole again. There was no "connecting flow" (IDK what you call it) that showed Gandalf having his staff repaired or given a new one. Good thing that scene was never showed in the theatrical cut though, as I thought it could have been confusing.
 

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Ugh, jumbled memory. Apparently it was Gandalf who said that if given enough power from Sauron the Witch King could have been able to destroy him.
You know, I don’t think Gandalf ever said that. If I’m wrong, I hope you’ll correct me, and if you do, I’ll offer you an apology. But I don’t think you can find that Tolkien ever put words like that into Gandalf’s mouth.

Now in Return of the King, in conference with Denethor, Gandalf describes the Lord of the Nazgûl as, “King of Angmar long ago, Sorcerer, Ringwraith, Lord of the Nazgul, a spear of terror in the hand of Sauron, shadow of despair.” To which Denethor sarcastically responds, “Then, Mithrandir, you had a foe to match you. … [C]an it be that you have withdrawn [from facing him] because you are overmatched?” Pippin thought Gandalf would become angry, but the wizard merely passed it off with, “It might be so. […] But our trial of strength is not yet come. And if words spoken of old be true, not by the hand of man shall he fall, and hidden from the Wise is the doom that awaits him.” And with that, he let Denethor’s prideful needling fall aside.

That might be the source of your statement. For myself, I do not believe the Lord of the Nazgûl to be a match for Gandalf the White. When Gandalf confronted four flying Nazgûl on the Pelennor, they immediately retreated: had they chosen to confront him, four-to-one odds are pretty good.

Tolkien wrote in Letter 210 that at the Pelennor, Sauron gave the Lord of the Nazgûl “added demonic force,” and while the Ringwraith may have believed himself a match or more than a match for Gandalf the Grey, I do not believe he was the equal of Gandalf the White, who was returned to Arda by Eru Himself to complete his mission of overthrowing Sauron; in any case, Sauron still possessed the Witch-king’s Ring of Power.

Finally, we know from Tolkien’s notes published in Reader’s Companion that the Witch-king hid from Gandalf the Grey on the way to Weathertop; that all nine Ringwraiths together were unable to overcome him on Weathertop (the lights Frodo and Aragorn observed from the Midgewater Marshes), and that the remaining five Ringwraiths fled after the Witch-king stabbed Frodo because they were afraid of “Aragorn, who seems to be a great power though apparently ‘only a Ranger’.” The Witch-king was especially afraid of Frodo, who stabbed at him with a Barrow-blade, believing Frodo was “in some way mightier than the B[arrow]-wight; and he called on Elbereth, a name of terror to the Nazgûl.”

I don’t think the Witch-king or the Mouth of Sauron knew of Gandalf’s return from the dead, and so were ignorant of his enhancement in power. They might well have assumed they were equal or nearly equal in stature and power to Gandalf as he was before, and perhaps that might even be correct, though as already mentioned, Gandalf was able to hold off all nine Nazgûl on Weathertop. But I don’t think they were any match for Gandalf the White, whom Tolkien describes as “an emissary of the Valar, and virtually their plenipotentiary in accomplishing the plan against Sauron.” (Footnote to Letter 246.)

Now what comes out of Ian McKellen’s mouth in Peter Jackson’s version of the tale is another matter altogether; but Jackson and McKellen are not telling Tolkien’s tale, they’re telling their own, using Tolkien’s characters or making up their own as they go along. The movies are not the same story: Close, but no cigar.

If you find it though, let us know! And welcome!
 
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