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In the chapter 'King of the Golden Hall' (LotR, The Two Towers) I found the following passage:

Quickly now Gandalf spoke. His voice was low and secret, and none save the king heard what he said. But ever as he spoke the light shone brighter in Theoden's eye, and at the last he rose from his seat to his full height, and Gandalf beside him, and together they looked out from the high place towards the east.

'Verily,' said Gandalf, now in a loud voice, keen and clear,'that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while.'

It sounds like Gandalf told Theoden about the plan to destroy the Ring. Is there other evidence to back up or refute this assumption?

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Maybe, but I would argue probably not. Not long after the quoted conversation, Gandalf says to Théoden (emphasis mine):

If Éomer had not defied Wormtongue's voice speaking with your mouth, those Orcs would have reached Isengard by now, bearing a great prize. Not indeed that prize which Saruman desires above all else, but at the least two members of my Company, sharers of a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly.

Two Towers Book III Chapter 6: "The King of the Golden Hall"

The "secret hope" shared by Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf can only mean the plan to destroy the One Ring.

That does leave the business of what, exactly, Gandalf did tell Théoden. Unfortunately I'm not aware of a canon answer, but I've seen much speculation:

  1. Gandalf did tell Théoden about the Plan. This theory holds that my quote above is addressed more at the court than at Théoden; that is, he told Théoden some things in private, and then publicly said "Now don't spread it around."

    I think this is probably unlikely, though, because the destruction of the Ring is a foolhardy plan at best; knowing that the Ring is being carried into Mordor, practically gift-wrapped, will probably not set Théoden's mind at ease.

  2. Gandalf just said something about the Ring. It's not clear what that he might have said, but this seems more plausible than the above. Simply knowing that the Ring is in safe hands is likely to make Théoden feel a bit better about things

  3. Gandalf told him some other secret about Sauron. Obviously Gandalf has a lot of knowledge about Sauron, so he could have given Théoden any number of pieces of intelligence; anything that indicates Sauron isn't as strong as he appears

For what it's worth, an earlier draft of the chapter gives us more insight into what Gandalf said:

[Gandalf's] voice was low and secret, and yet to those beside him keen and clear. Of Sauron he told, and the lady Galadriel, and of Elrond in Rivendell far away, of the Council and the setting forth of the Company of Nine, and all the perils of their road. 'Four only have come thus far,' he said. 'One is lost, Boromir prince of Gondor. Two were captured but are free. And two have gone upon a dark Quest. Look eastward, Théoden! Into the heart of menace they have gone: two small folk, such as you in Rohan deem but the matter of children's tales. Yet doom hangs upon them. Our hope is with them - hope, if we can but stand meanwhile!

History of Middle-earth VII The Treason of Isengard Chapter 26: "The King of the Golden Hall"

Based on that version, it appears as though he told Théoden something about the Quest. However, I still find it unlikely that he revealed the specifics of the plan, for the reason I gave above: it's not a very reassuring plan.

  • Thanks for the quick answer. Any idea of what other thing Gandalf was talking about to Theoden in that passage? – quirmel Oct 29 '15 at 4:48
  • @quirmel I'm editing my answer. I don't know, unfortunately; it seems to have been left somewhat ambiguous – Jason Baker Oct 29 '15 at 4:48
  • I always thought the "that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear" line weighed heavily towards (1). – Matt Gutting Oct 29 '15 at 11:18
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Great question - this always bothered me a little too. I don't think there's any other way to read it: Gandalf must've told Théoden the plan to destroy the ring. Although shortly after their private talk Gandalf declares he "cannot yet speak openly" about it I reconcile this by realizing the word "openly" is the key to Gandalf's statement. To me he's saying "although I just shared the plan with you in private I can't talk about it in front of everyone here."

It's hard (I'd say impossible) to see any other reason why he and Gandalf look east while Gandalf says,"'that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while.'" Unless Théoden is now privy to the plan what other purpose could their eastward gaze serve?

I love the point Jason makes about how this plan was likely received by Théoden, i.e. "are you insane??" lol. Then again Théoden is a wise old king, not at all driven by lust, power or acquisition. It's not too much of a stretch to believe Théoden immediately sees the sense of this plan, how it's ultimately the correct disposition of the Great Ring, and how any other response would either simply postpone Sauron's final victory or replace Sauron with a new dark lord.

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