It’s funny how our perception of things changes as we get older. We can read the exact same book we read as a kid and come away with a completely different assessment. The characters we found delightful now seem annoying. The characters we thought were terrible now seem reasonable. As we grow up, our maturing standards provide a different lens through which to view the world.
That’s what happened with me and Gandalf. (Yes, I’m still thinking about that Hobbit/LotR movie marathon. It was a lot of hours, folks. So much walking, so many battles.) I first saw the LotR movies when I was in high school, and I viewed Gandalf the way most people probably did—a wise wizard, a sage guide.
Now, as an adult, I have a bit of a different view. As we watched the movies, I saw him being, quite frankly, remarkably unhelpful. Maybe it’s all that pipe-weed he enjoys. Maybe it’s because he’s basically ancient so the others look like toddlers to him (and who explains their plans to toddlers?).
I don’t know. I can only speculate. But it seems to adult me that Gandalf loves to make cryptic statements before vanishing. Like, “hey guys, danger will come when you least expect it. Try not to die. Gotta go. Be back later.”
Yes, I know. He has important wizard-y business to attend to, fighting evil in his own way. But a great communicator he is not.
To start with, he invites people to Bilbo’s home, without his permission, where they eat all his food. Let’s be honest, that alone would be grounds for banishment from my life. Call me Southern, but those are some seriously poor manners right there.
And at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo tries to give the ring to Gandalf. The wizard responds by practically yelling at him, telling the hobbit not to tempt him with the ring.
Like. Yo, Gandalf. You’ve literally just told Frodo about the ring. He’s brand new to all this great-evil-linked-to-a-piece-of-jewelry stuff. Maybe give it a minute before you yell at him for showing trust in you?
But the scene that fully elicited my “say what now?” face (if you know me, you’ve no doubt seen that face before) happens before a battle, when one of the comic relief hobbits (Pippin) tells Gandalf, “I didn’t think it would end like this.”
Guys. He’s a scared little Shireling. He’s facing a major battle against powerful evil. He’s looking for reassurance, for encouragement. What does Gandalf say to him? Well, it basically amounts to “don’t worry, Pippin. Death isn’t the end. It’s just another path.”
Ya’ll. That is not the encouragement anyone wants when they’re going into battle. They don’t want to hear philosophical musings about the afterlife. They want to hear, “We’ll show those foul creatures the sharp end of the blade. I’m with you. We’re in this together.” But the truth is, Gandalf isn’t with anyone. He is not a team player.
It’s not something I really noticed before. But this time, both my husband and I were less than impressed with the eccentric wizard. Yes sure, sometimes he graces us with a quotable gem, but most of the time, Gandalf is not reliable and is off free-styling while the rest of the group is struggling to survive.
I’ve always been independent. I can appreciate freedom and autonomy more than most. I adore poetic, quotable statements. But I guess in my thirties I’ve come to value kindness and consideration more than fancy words. I’ve learned to treasure people who can be relied upon, the ones you know will have your back.
Maybe it’s silly to value kindness and honesty in the midst of a desperate war against evil. After all, Gandalf fights with great power and he saves their lives many times. But even Gandalf points out, “It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” An interesting comment from someone who isn’t exactly skilled at those small acts of kindness.
All I know is, if I needed someone, if I was in trouble and could call on someone to help me or just give me a pep talk . . . yeah, it wouldn’t be Gandalf.