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Sort of a follow-up question to Why did the Council of Elrond debate hiding or sending the Ring away, if Sauron wins eventually in that scenario?

If Sauron wins eventually even without finding the Ring, then it seems the situation was already critical by the time Frodo brought the Ring to Rivendell, and would be even more critical if Frodo had not showed up. In that sense, it was a major stroke of good fortune for Frodo to show up when he did - it gives them the option to send it to Mt. Doom.

From the answer to the question above, even though many of the attendees at the Council of Elrond didn't know how bad the military situation was, Elrond/Gandalf (and maybe Aragorn) did know. Why weren't they in panic mode then? One might've expected Frodo not to have arrived at an idyllic Rivendell, but one that was preparing for war - either by preparing help for Gondor, sending envoys to warn Erebor and other potential allies & ask for help, or commission searches for the Ring, etc., before Frodo ever arrived.

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    1. They didn't have any help to offer Gondor. 2. Erebor didn't need their warnings, Mordor was already sending them messengers. 3. There was nobody in a position to help that wasn't already doing what they could. 4. They didn't want to discuss the Ring too openly. It would be a disaster if people generally were looking for the Ring; you'd have more Saruman situations.
    – Shamshiel
    Feb 3, 2023 at 11:15
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    even the Hobbits have noticed that Elves are evacuating Middle Earth in increasing numbers. But not everyone can and not all the Elves are ready to give up and leave everyone else on their own.
    – Shamshiel
    Feb 3, 2023 at 12:48
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    they also note at the Council that the way West would be impossible if Sauron's naval forces overrun the Havens, which is likely to happen
    – alexg
    Feb 3, 2023 at 14:38
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    The Elves strategy was to run away to Valinor, leaving the Men and Dwarves in an impossible situation they helped create. And they would have the protection of the Two Elven rings to help shield them while they did so, as long as the One remained lost. So they were sad, but not panicky. The Men and Dwarves were screwed.
    – RC_23
    Feb 3, 2023 at 16:39
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    In many ways, the good guys' military position is worse at the start of the Hobbit than it is at the start of LOTR, and Gandalf and Elrond encouraging the quest of Erebor is kind of a panic move. Feb 4, 2023 at 0:16

3 Answers 3

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We can start the clock even further back. It would have been sensible, after Sauron's defeat at the War of the Last Alliance, to take military measures so that his forces could not use Mordor as a base. Although the inner part of Mordor is hard to occupy for non-orcs, a system of perimeter fortresses and patrols could be established. This is actually what happened, but it failed; Gondor was led to withdraw due to other circumstances, and places like Minas Ithil fell under the enemy's control.

It might have been sensible, at this point, to counterattack. This is also what happened, but regrettably King Eärnur of Gondor did not return - the line of kings in the south was broken and Gondor was net worse off than before.

Knowing about the Ring, it might have been sensible to look for it. They actually did, and Saruman kept looking even after discouraging others.

If you are playing the long game, you might think to build up an immensely powerful military force over a period of centuries. The most obvious precursor is the mighty kingdom of Numenor, and that didn't go very well. Elrond would be skeptical, even aside from the fact that becoming the immortal shadow ruler of a warlike nation is really more of a Sauron move.

In summary, they have tried a lot of the most sensible ideas. But in the long term, the problem is that Sauron keeps coming back, and they can never sustain the military strength necessary to defeat his forces absolutely. In Elrond's lifetime, various kingdoms have risen and dwindled. As he says, "I have seen three ages in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories."

Thus, the strategic situation for the bulk of the Third Age is one where the goodies are essentially under siege, and occasionally have larger wars that are very costly but inconclusive. No war to date has stopped orcs from eventually reoccupying Gundabad, and Gondor has been in a long stalemate of trying to contain Mordor while lacking the strength to attack it properly. Rivendell may be idyllic internally, but it is still the Last Homely House, set in the midst of a wild landscape crawling with danger. The Shire is at peace, but only thanks to the continual efforts of the Rangers who hold back threats from the North.

So at the point the main narrative begins, the status quo is the assumption that the goodies are mainly trying to survive, and have never inflicted a military defeat on the enemy that lasted in the long run. Elrond is personally familiar with all of this, even if not all of his allies share the same view. For example, Galdor asks whether the Grey Havens could withstand Sauron indefinitely - it's not obvious to him that they can't. Boromir is more confident in Gondor's strength, but Elrond is bitterly aware that over enough centuries, it cannot be sustained. Given the waning strength of the Elves, and the fact that Sauron just keeps coming back, he fears that even a military victory would only mean that the next time Sauron returns, he will face less opposition, and so can grind out a win in the very long term. This is not a cause for panic, because it's a strategic question for the millennia, but it does shape Elrond's thinking.

One of the main things that Elrond and Gandalf are doing at the Council is to bring everyone else around to their point of view. The hobbits note that Gandalf, in particular, has been privately lobbying everyone else about the threat posed by Mordor. They have already been engaged in low-level warfare for centuries, but the situation has recently come to a head. Elrond and Gandalf are too experienced to panic, but they are making essentially the correct choices given the new strategic reality. The Ring has been found and Sauron knows it. They have the chance to inflict a final defeat on him. They are actively pursuing a decisive course of action, using what strength they have.

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    This is not a cause for panic, because it's a strategic question for the millennia... I think this gets to the heart of it. Even the events of The Hobbit and the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring take place over the course of decades. For all anyone at the Council of Elrond knows, Sauron may continue his buildup for another 20 or 50 years before making his move. Dread doesn't always look like panic.
    – tbrookside
    Feb 3, 2023 at 12:45
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    @tbrookside exactly. The films muddle this, but we must remember that iirc Frodo gets the Ring from Bilbo 20 years(!) before leaving the shire.
    – Martin
    Feb 3, 2023 at 17:18
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    It's also worth remembering that the big power shift that really kicks off the "okay this is a real war now" part of the story is Saruman's betrayal, which nobody knew about until Gandalf escaped from the tower-top. They were thinking "this is bad, Sauron is gathering power" but that's been going on for centuries. Saruman is the "first strike" action that really disrupts the balance. Feb 3, 2023 at 19:26
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    This is one of the best answers I've ever read on this website. Thank you.
    – brain56
    Feb 3, 2023 at 23:47
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    Yeah, Earnur did not make the greatest decision. "I'm going to do a Fingolfin, btw I didn't read to the end of the story but I'm assuming it all went super well for him." But I think the temptation was to reverse the W-K's victory and undo his insult, by defeating him. If he is gone then he's no longer occupying Minas Ithil ("if").
    – alexg
    Feb 5, 2023 at 9:43
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@alexg's analysis is excellent and I have upvoted it. I'd like to add one point:

People -- and Elves, too -- are really, really bad at sustaining an emergency over centuries. Gondor (or maybe possibly all of humanity on Middle Earth) can sustain a high alert against Sauron for a few months or even, maybe possibly, a few years, but not longer.

Sauron is a threat, but a very, very distant one. I live in Massachusetts, and let's say that I know that Quebec is a volcanic wasteland and was taught in history class that three thousand years ago (about the time Homer wrote the Iliad) we fought a war with the Dark Power of Quebec and defeated him, but did not destroy him. Would we still be maintaining a huge army just in case? Or would we shrug and sweep the occasional ash from Mt. Le Doom off our walkways? (Consider how people on our own Earth responded to various actual aggressors. "Herr Hitler? Mr. Putin? They're all talk. We can work with them." )

Or consider how people living in a much more unmistakable threat -- all those Neapolitans living on the slopes of Vesuvius, for example or the Californians living on the San Andreas -- handle the very real risk of geological destruction. They shrug. Maybe they take a few precautions. But they go right on living their lives there.

It must have been very, very frustrating to be Gandalf or Elrond trying to persuade generation after generation of Men that preparing for an eventual return of Sauron was more important that dealing with their clear and present troubles.

Added: Note, BTW, that Tolkien had direct, personal experience of this right when he was writing LotR in an England at war with Germany which had largely ignored Sir Gandalf Churchill's repeated warnings.

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    I think that "Sir Gandalf Churchill" is the best thing I have read in a while. Followed very closely by "Mt. Le Doom".
    – Daishozen
    Feb 3, 2023 at 18:25
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    Sound the alarm! 90% of the Canadian populace is massing on the border. Wake up sheeple! Feb 3, 2023 at 19:56
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    @MichaelRichardson it's ok, they won't be able to enter the US, they're not used to sunlight up where they come from. Unless of course some madman has made a cross-breed of Canadians and Americans that would march on even under the sun they hate, but... eek. That's too absurd a thought, right? Feb 3, 2023 at 23:17
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    @PeterCordes summer heat in Mt Le Doom? I laughed when Buffalonians complained about 80F / 40%RH being soooo hot on an August afternoon.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 4, 2023 at 5:28
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    @Allure but I am not sure if there are people who thought peace with Sauron was possible ... there are - those people, always, in every era and in every setting possible. There is no limit for the scale of self-delusion a person can spin.
    – user213769
    Feb 5, 2023 at 17:40
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Further to existing answers, while the long-term prospects were indeed grim, over the few decades before the Council, the free peoples had actually had a long string of local victories - the storming of Dol Guldur, the death of Smaug, the Battle of Five Armies, the Thorongil campaigns in the South, the re-establishment of a Gondorian garrison in east-bank Osgiliath, the Rangers increasingly securing the Bree-land. That winning streak only really came to an end with Sauron's counter-attack on Osgiliath, which happened after Gandalf had conclusively identified the ring.

Contrast with the rather worse situation at the start of The Hobbit, when Gandalf was concerned about the possibility of an imminent attack on Rivendell by an army from Rhûn, given cover for the crossing of Rhovanion by Smaug. One could interpret Gandalf and Elrond's encouragement of the quest of Erebor in that circumstance as a sign of panic.

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    But Gandalf and the more prominent Elves know that's just a blip; they understand that in the broader timescale Sauron hasn't seriously been checked. This might explain why Men weren't bothered, but that's not the point of the question.
    – DavidW
    Feb 4, 2023 at 16:43

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