The One Ring and Loving, Caring Lies

“Gandalf as Ring-lord would have been far worse than Sauron.”

— JRR Tolkien

I believe it.

Never mind the scary image: Gandalf with the Ring would have an aura of the most loving and kindly grandfather figure you could imagine.

And in his heart of hearts?

Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained ‘righteous’, but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

-Tolkien, Letter #246

The ring gives “power according to statue”, as well as a slick and indirect but ferocious drive to dominate the will of the ring-bearer.

Sauron was intensely evil, but also intensely self-destructive. Gandalf would insist that he stood for what was right, and would be able to prove it to the wise and knowledgeable. Sauron wanted a rigid order, Gandalf could work in fluid situations as well as rigid, predictable ones. Sauron preferred lies and cunning, Gandalf could use humane and gentle truth and wisdom to reach his goals.

(Not even “truths from a certain point of view.” Actual true truths… with a few critical omissions, to keep hidden things we just are not ready for in his eyes.1)

Sauron knew himself as a servant of Melkon, the major evil spirit in Tolkien’s fictional universe. Gandalf would call himself a servant of the Free Peoples; but as he is self-righteous rather than objectively righteous, he would increasingly serve himself, while claiming to serve the Free Peoples.

There would come a time when it becomes obvious to the very wise (mainly the elves, maybe a few men and dwarves) that Gandalf is not as righteous as he claims. But the elves would already be moving out, and are unlikely to stand and fight another war for a world that will never be theirs… and will still be uncertain if Gandalf is actually evil, or just a flawed man with good intentions. And it would be easy for Gandalf to discredit those with vague suspicions and no solid proof against him.

The subtle and comprehensive tyranny would be very long, and exceedingly difficult to rebel against, perhaps impossible for mortal men to do so. Without an intervention from on high, the warm, pleasant, comforting, and peaceful death of all men would be a certainty…. with only Gandalf remaining alive, truly confident that he made all the right choices, and certain in the end that he was the rightful choice to inherit the world.


Without the distraction of flawed and feeble men to hinder him from his exalted, transcendent, and righteous goals.

“I did my best. But in the end, the natural weakness of mortal men brought them down. All I could do was delay the inevitable.”

He’d probably believe it, too.

It’s the difference between righteousness for my own sake, and righteousness for God and for other men.

I’d point out that God – “Eru” – is never actually mentioned in the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf would be sure to keep it that way, so all eye would look to himself as the definition of all that is good and right.

There would be no dark figures or glowing red eyes, or pillage or theft, rape or murder. No unpunished theft, no unspeakable injustice.

No nasty lies or viciousness or cruelty.

Just a firm detachment from God.

An unvoiced but total claim of autonomy and self-sufficiency.

And a snug and cozy tomb, without pain or bother.

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

1How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Many, many men have died due to ignorance. Even a deliberate ignorance, “for their own good.”


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