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No. 99: Blag End

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Blag End

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Strip by: Ian Boreham

{Eleventy-one-year-old Bilbo Baggins is in his Hobbit hole.}
Bilbo: Gandalf!

{Gandalf turns}
Gandalf: Ye-

{Gandalf bangs his head on a beam.}
SFX: Bonk!
Gandalf: OOOHHHHH!

{Gandalf holds his head.}
Gandalf: Manwë in Aman! Oh, that hurts!
Gandalf (muttering): I swear... once I've got the ring, I'm setting fire to this stupid rabbit hole!

{Bilbo has an amused childish expression on his face.}
Bilbo: Ohoho! The funny old wizard bumped his head! What a funny big troll he is!

{Gandalf is looking sternly at Bilbo, and chiding him. Bilbo still looks a bit dim.}
Gandalf: Bilbo, I did not bump my head. A wizard's head is never too high nor too low. It is precisely where he intends it to be!
Gandalf (under his breath): *cough*midget!*cough*
Gandalf: Besides, You're a fine one to talk. You'll be forgetting your own head next. You forgot your pants last Wednesday.
Bilbo: Haha! Pants!

{Gandalf puts on a more kindly, ingratiating expression.}
Gandalf: Hehehe... Anyway, let's not quarrel.
Gandalf: Remember, you're leaving me your ring - to, er, give to Frodo, naturally - and heading off on another adventure, aren't you?
Gandalf (under his breath again): In the dark, by yourself, into dangerous regions...
Gandalf: Remember? Rivendell: magical land of elves and whatnot?
Gandalf: Fetch your bags and get going. Just leave the ring in an envelope on the mantelpiece, where it'll be safe from anybody stealing it. Hehehe...

{Bilbo has his back turned to Gandalf, and is looking at his ring, with a sly smile on his face.}
Bilbo (sotto voce): You might think I've lost my marbles, wizard, but I know you're going deaf. I'll leave you a mousetrap in an envelope on the mantel, but I'm sure as Helcaraxë taking the Precious with me, as I go by myself, in the dark, into dangerous regions.

The author writes:

Now, Gandalf is a powerful wizard, so if he really wanted to steal the ring, he could do it easily, right? Or could he? Although he is a wizard, he hardly ever does any actual magic.

In The Hobbit, he kills the trolls by tricking them until they are killed by the sun. Then he makes a flash of light that he claims killed some goblins in the cave in the Misty Mountains. But he kills the Great Goblin with Glamdring, a magic sword made by elves. Later, he sets fire to some pine cones and uses them to try to fight off the wargs (in the process giving them fire to use back on Thorin's party). He is supposedly master of fire lore, but could he perhaps have just been using Narya, a magic ring, made by elves, with power over fire?

Does he use magic to help sort out the impasse between the dwarves and the humans and elves at the Lonely Mountain? No, he uses bluffing, persuasion and negotiation.

In the LotR, he isn't able to use magic to help the party cross Caradhras, and the party is forced to pass through Moria. There, he fights orcs and trolls using Glamdring. When facing off against the Balrog, he talks himself up, but it's all about secret flames and so on, which boils down to at most "I have a magic fire ring" in practical terms. He takes credit for cracking the bridge of Khazad-dûm with his staff, but there was a giant Balrog standing on it at the time, right? Then when he gets down to actually fighting the Balrog, Glamdring again.

So, what I'm getting at here is that I'm not convinced that Gandalf actually possesses any innate magical abilities. He relies on psychology and magical items - a magic ring that he acquired from a doddering old elf (Círdan) who he schmoozes when he gets off the boat from the West, and a magic sword that he found. And now that Bilbo has another magic ring, and is getting on in years, Gandalf is moving in to collect that item too.

This made me think of those unpleasant stories you hear, about people who take advantage of the elderly (especially those with dementia), stealing from them or ingratiating themselves in hope of inheriting their property when they die.

But Bilbo is wise to what Gandalf is doing, and is plotting his escape without revealing his hand. After all, you don't make it to eleventy-one without, um, you know, er...what was I saying?

Drawn in Krita using screencaps from LoTR movies.