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I'm currently listening to the Lord of the Rings on audiobook. In the Council of Elrond, they discuss a number of possible options for dealing with the Ring, including sending it to Valinor by ship, presumably with Elves who were departing. They don't seem to discuss the possibility of taking the Ring out to the Grey Havens and then along to Gondor by sea. It would then be almost at its end destination.

It seems to me that this could be simpler than trying to transport it by land. Is there some reason why this would not have been an effective strategy? Maybe a sea voyage would have been less stealthy? Maybe the enemy has some kind of naval superiority?

Given that the Ringwraiths were temporarily put out of action at the Ford of Bruinen, it seems to me that the passage from Rivendell to the Grey Havens could have been reasonably straightforward around the time the company left for the mountain pass.

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    Take twice as long, have to get by the Corsairs, just to end up at ground zero of Sauron's attack? None of that seems likely to increase the chance of success.
    – DavidW
    Aug 28, 2022 at 11:32
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    @PaulD.Waite --- Shame about the spelling. Aug 28, 2022 at 20:38
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    @Joe: The Corsairs of Umbar were corrupted Numenoreans that acted as pirates along the coast of Gondor. They're the guys that were coming to reinforce Sauron's attack on Gondor before Aragorn arrived with the Army of the Dead to steal their ships. Aug 28, 2022 at 22:45
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    @PaulD.Waite: Take it another step I think: imgflip.com/i/6rgmeh .
    – einpoklum
    Aug 28, 2022 at 22:54

3 Answers 3

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They do discuss taking the Rings to the Havens, though not in the context of taking it to Gondor.

And that we shall not find on the roads to the Sea,’ said Galdor. ‘If the return to Iarwain be thought too dangerous, then flight to the Sea is now fraught with gravest peril. My heart tells me that Sauron will expect us to take the western way, when he learns what has befallen. He soon will. The Nine have been unhorsed indeed, but that is but a respite, ere they find new steeds and swifter. Only the waning might of Gondor stands now between him and a march in power along the coasts into the North; and if he comes, assailing the White Towers and the Havens, hereafter the Elves may have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle Earth.’ (The Council of Elrond)

The Sea is a long way away from Rivendell, and the Havens even further, and they believe Sauron would expect it. For all the Council knows, Gondor will fall any day now (as it came very close to doing just months later) and Sauron's armies will be marching along the coasts - some of which, a few months later, are already under attack by Sauron. Additionally, the way itself is not safe, and Galdor clearly expects the Ringwraiths will soon be back, in time to hinder them.

A march in power is not even all it would take to seize the Ring. Galdor clearly anticipates other enemies from Mordor:

‘Long yet will that march be delayed,’ said Boromir. ‘Gondor wanes, you say. But Gondor stands, and even the end of its strength is still very strong.’

‘And yet its vigilance can no longer keep back the Nine,’ said Galdor. ‘And other roads he may find that Gondor does not guard.’ (The Council of Elrond)

Moreover, they did not determine for certain that the Ringwraiths were disposed of, just unhorsed, until two months after the Council:

‘Eight out of the Nine are accounted for at least,’ said Gandalf. ‘It is rash to be too sure, yet I think that we may hope now that the Ringwraiths were scattered, and have been obliged to return as best they could to their Master in Mordor, empty and shapeless. (The Ring Goes South)

But remember, there were plenty of enemies already West of the mountains: the bad men in Bree, for example, and spies of Saruman we see, but also:

‘Regiments of black crows are flying over all the land between the Mountains and the Greyflood,’ he said, ‘and they have passed over Hollin. They are not natives here: they are crebain out of Fangorn and Dunland. I do not know what they are about; possibly there is some trouble away south from which they are fleeing; but I think they are spying out the land. I have also glimpsed many hawks flying high up in the sky. I think we ought to move again this evening. Hollin is no longer wholesome for us: it is being watched.’ (The Lord of the Rings)

There are Wargs, which nearly destroy the fellowship, which is saved only by fleeing into Moria:

Suddenly Aragorn leapt to his feet. ‘How the wind howls! ’ he cried. ‘It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains! ’ [...] A great host of Wargs had gathered silently and was now attacking them from every side at once. [...] ‘It is as I feared,’ said Gandalf. These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness. Let us eat quickly and go! ’ (The Lord of the Rings)

There are trolls:

Other wanderers were rare, and of evil sort: trolls might stray down at times out of the northern valleys of the Misty Mountains. (The Lord of the Rings)

and things Aragorn refuses to name:

‘If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us. Fear would have destroyed them. But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us. What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands, or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dúnedain were asleep or were all gone into the grave? [...] “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. (The Lord of the Rings)

So in short, they don't go West because they believe it's what Sauron will expect, the way is watched and filled with enemies, and the situation will only get worse as time goes on - and they don't really want to take the Ring to Gondor anyway.

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    (as it came very close to doing about a year later) <-- Not even a year later, at most about five months (Oct–Mar) Aug 28, 2022 at 22:37
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    @einpoklum - I think at that point they didn't know what to do with it yet, so they went to Elrond for a "council of the wise" to decide on the best course of action.
    – Vilx-
    Aug 29, 2022 at 8:36
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    This answer was interesting. I think the Corsairs of Umbar are another good reason, as explained in comments on the question
    – Jojo
    Aug 29, 2022 at 10:31
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    @einpoklum: It wasn’t really for Gandalf to decide all on his own, but also remember that Gandalf was gone when they left, captured by Saruman. If Gandalf had made it back to the Shire in time, maybe he would have advised differently, though I don’t think so
    – Shamshiel
    Aug 29, 2022 at 16:27
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    @Shamshiel: Good point. And so many LoTR characters can have "timing is everything in business" chiseled onto their gravestones... Sauron, Saruman, many of the Nazgul (which is black speech for "almost made it there on time")...
    – einpoklum
    Aug 29, 2022 at 18:08
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Secrecy. The quest relies on secrecy; Elrond says precisely this in The Ring Goes South. In the Council of Elrond, it is noted that Sauron knows the Ring is in Rivendell, and that the road to Mithlond will be watched. Moreover, an elvish ship turning up at the Harlond is certain to be noticed. If it appeared a few weeks after a party was noticed travelling from Rivendell to Mithlond, Sauron would easily guess what it carried. So, even if the Corsairs didn't stop the ship, and Denethor let the quest go ahead (unlikely) the result is likely to be a disaster.

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    Wouldn't be terribly difficult, however, to send a dozen ships in various directions to at least cast some doubt about which one carried the ring. Aug 29, 2022 at 18:59
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    @JerryCoffin Assuming they had a dozen spare ships lying around. My image of the elvish havens is a place where every now and then on elvish timescales a ship departs carrying another group of elves away to the west. Not a major port of a great navy that can just have a dozen ships with crew ready on a few weeks' notice.
    – Ben
    Aug 30, 2022 at 6:18
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    @Ben: Tolkein's annotations to Pauline Baynes' map of middle earth suggest: "9 weatherbeaten galleons" in one place, and "vessels of varying sizes from 3 masted to single" in another, as well as "Elven ships, small white or grey". tolkiensociety.org/app/uploads/2015/11/transcribed-map.jpg It's not entirely clear all these are meant to be related to the grey havens, but at least the "Elven ships" almost certainly would be. Aug 30, 2022 at 7:48
  • @JerryCoffin --- Assuming one ship goes to Gondor, where do you envisage sending the other 11? Aug 30, 2022 at 12:48
  • One thought: they could have done this also, to create a diversion. Have a second party of elves move to the sea in a "suspicious" way to then board a ship heading down the coast, and thus draw the enemy's attention away from the real quest. However, this would have been a suicide mission. Worse, if the party is captured Sauron would surely learn from them more of the Fellowship's true mission. Aug 30, 2022 at 14:04
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Although they might not say so out loud, neither Elrond nor Gandalf would want the Ring to linger in Gondor for any length of time.

Aragorn, at least, seems to be well aware that if he chooses to bring the Sword that was Broken to Gondor, he will no longer be able to travel with the Ringbearer. That implies that he knows that Gandalf will not allow the Ring to travel there.

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  • I wasn't suggesting for it to stay in Gondor, that's just where there are allied ports on the way to Mordor
    – Jojo
    Aug 28, 2022 at 21:52
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    @Joe: What happen in, or rather upon, Gondor, stays in Gondor. Denethor or Boromor would probably be too tempted to take it.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 28, 2022 at 22:56

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