When the Host of the West march upon the Black Gate, the Mouth of Sauron reveals 'Tokens' (including Frodo's Mithril shirt). At this point, Gandalf looks defeated. Did he think that Frodo had been killed or captured?

If he thought that the mission had failed, why did he decide to continue the assault on Mordor when there was seemingly no hope of victory? Wasn't this foolish?

Did Gandalf believe that Frodo had failed and that he had been captured/killed?


2 Answers 2



Gandalf knew Frodo was carrying the Ring. Regardless of what the Mouth of Sauron tried to bully them with, Gandalf knew that as long as this was happening, Frodo was in Mordor with the Ring and Sauron still thought it was with the host of the West. (Gandalf also would've felt the pull of the One Ring if Sauron had worn it again, kindly reminded by Ian Bush). In addition, the Mouth of Sauron reveals he has far less information than he believes:

‘So you have yet another of these imps with you!’ [...] it is plain that this brat at least has seen these tokens before, and it would be vain for you to deny them now.’
Indeed, I know them all and all their history, and despite your scorn, foul Mouth of Sauron, you cannot say as much.
Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens

Gandalf shows that he has more information and knowledge of Frodo's belonging than the Mouth of Sauron, as he is aware there is one crucial piece of Frodo's belongings missing, that which is most valuable to Sauron. Gandalf did not have anything to fear as as long as they thought Frodo was a spy, Gandalf knew he was indeed still on his errand.

Further evidence to the Mouth of Sauron’s cluelessness is shown in his lack of knowledge of Frodo’s errand:

Or else his errand was one that you did not wish to fail? It has.

This would again be clear to Gandalf that the negotiator doesn’t hold all the information, the suggestion being that Frodo’s spying has failed, unaware that Frodo’s errand is the destruction of the Ring. Again Gandalf has no need to fear any harm has come to Frodo.

With regards to the emotion described for the Host of West there are two important instances, the first:

No-one answered him, but he saw their faces grey with fear and the horror in their eyes, and he laughed again, for it seemed to him that this sport went well

The first key point here is that “it seemed to him” [The Mouth of Sauron] that he’d succeeded, but as shown above he was gravely mistaken due to a lack of information. Secondly this passage doesn’t suggest that Gandalf’s face turned “grey with fear” but describes the collective group that had ridden up with him.

A later quotation suggest Gandalf’s specific reaction of defeat, however this may just be a trick of Gandalf’s to truly get his will in the conversation and find out about Frodo’s whereabouts. Or could be an issue of unreliable witnesses as we had seen at Orthanc.

Gandalf finally, asks the Mouth to produce Frodo, after hesitation Gandalf ends the parlay knowing not only does Sauron not have the Ring, but he also doesn’t have Frodo. Throughout the conversation, Gandalf continually proves for himself that he has little to fear as Frodo has not been captured by Sauron, the Ring is still with the Free People's and in addition, the Mouth of Sauron seems to have no knowledge of the existence of Samwise the Great.

‘These we will take in memory of our friend,’ he cried. ‘But as for your terms, we reject them utterly. Get you gone, for your embassy is over and death is near to you.

  • 5
    That's all very well. ....But this answer seems a bit fragile Jul 23, 2020 at 6:11
  • 17
    "As soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger they were aware of him; and they [the Elven ring-bearers] knew him, and perceived that he would be master of them"
    – OrangeDog
    Jul 23, 2020 at 10:19
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    The quote is canon. It is the one I didn't have time to look up. Use it, after all I think JRR Tolkien is more of an authority here than I ...
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 23, 2020 at 11:17
  • 18
    I agree that Gandalf can accurately surmise that Sauron does not have the Ring, but that doesn't necessarily imply that Frodo is unharmed. Wouldn't the scene have played out pretty much the same had Frodo been killed in Cirith Ungol and Sam carried onward undetected with the Ring? Gandalf knows Sauron doesn't have the Ring and didn't know Frodo's purpose, but neither of those indicate Frodo is alive, since it may just be that Sam now has the Ring. Jul 23, 2020 at 16:34
  • 6
    He knows Sauron doesn't have the Ring, but that's it. Frodo could've fallen off a cliff to his death for all he knows (dropping the Ring in the process so they didn't find it on him, of course). He could've starved to death - mention is made of the Lembas bread running low. The Ring could've been taken by Gollum, who wanted it for himself and would have no incentive to bring it to Sauron. Or some unknown 3rd party not allied with Sauron, e.g. Shelob. There's any number of things that could've happened, the only thing he knows didn't happen is that Sauron doesn't have it yet. Jul 24, 2020 at 14:09

If [Gandalf] thought that the mission had failed, why did he decide to continue the assault on Mordor when there was seemingly no hope of victory? Wasn't this foolish?

Did Gandalf believe that Frodo had failed and that he had been captured/killed?

Gandalf observed the Mouth of Sauron had equipment enough for one Hobbit. He referred to having captured one. There were two. He had the mithril coat, and a sword but it wasn't Sting. He didn't have the Phial of Galadriel. He only had one Elven cloak. Sauron clearly did not have the One Ring -- Gandalf would detect that via Narya. One Hobbit may have been captured or killed, or perhaps not, but the other could be pressing on. The Quest had not failed. Gandalf continued with the plan to distract Sauron from his true peril.

From The Return of the King, book 5, chapter 10, The Black Gate Opens:

'I [The Mouth of Sauron] have tokens that I was bidden to show to thee [Gandalf] - to thee in especial, if thou shouldst dare to come.’ He signed to one of his guards, and he came forward bearing a bundle swathed in black cloths.

The Messenger put these aside, and there to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and last the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments.


'Now, maybe he that bore these things was a creature that you would not grieve to lose, and maybe otherwise: one dear to you, perhaps?'

The Mouth unwittingly gave away that he didn't know there were two.

In The Silmarillion Tolkien tells us Gandalf was the wisest of the Maiar.

  • 2
    I think that more to the point - if Sauron had taken the ring, then he would have come forth himself to face Gandalf and company. The fact that he sent someone else indicates that he does not have the ring.
    – JK.
    Feb 27, 2022 at 19:12
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    @JK. - That's certainly true. It's also true that Gandalf, as a wearer of a Great Ring would, just like all nineteen Elven ring wearers did initially when Sauron first asserted ring dominance -- see Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age -- have sensed Sauron's use of the One Ring immediately and directly. There would be no need for Gandalf to deduce the fact from behavior, and the question is about him specifically.
    – Lesser son
    Feb 27, 2022 at 19:22
  • @JK. Well, I think he would still coward behind like he used to when he faced the Last Alliance, until absolutely necessary. "He uses others as his weapons. So do all great lords, if they are wise" - Denethor.
    – Eugene
    Feb 28, 2022 at 9:11

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