It is interesting how much of the Council of Elrond is taken up with a single Tale.  Elrond introduces it as such:  “The tale of the Ring shall be told from the beginning even to this present.  And I will begin that tale, though others shall end it.”  And that is exactly what he does, speaking on like a history book for some time, until he is interrupted by Boromir who exclaims that “If ever such a tale was told in the South, it has long been forgotten.” 

It is interesting how many false tales there are about this Ring.  The story that Boromir has heard is a tale about the Ring being destroyed at the Battle of Dagorlad.  Saruman, meanwhile, has been spreading the tale that the Ring rolled into the ocean and will never be recovered.  Gollum spread the tale that it was his birthday present; and Bilbo spread the tale that he had won it in a riddle game.  So it seems that the greater part of the Council of Elrond is taken up with clearing away the false tales of the Ring like so many cobwebs, and finding the single clue of the true tale to lead the way through the labyrinth.

It is also interesting how self-consciously the characters refer to themselves as if they were in a tale.  When Gandalf finally comes to the point of relating his captivity in Orthanc, he begins with the remark that “It is the last chapter in the Tale of the Ring, so far as it has yet gone”; and he concludes with the remark that “the Tale is now told, from first to last.”  That it is a chapter in the Tale of the Ring is quite astonishing; Gandalf is thinking of himself in terms of the written and not the spoken word.  Bilbo is likeminded. When he offers to take the burden of the Ring back upon himself, he refers specifically to the text he has already written:

I was very comfortable here, and getting on with my book.  If you want to know, I am just writing an ending for it.  I had thought of putting: and he lived happily ever afterwards to the end of his days.  It is a good ending, and none the worse for having been used before.  Now I shall have to alter that: it does not look like coming true; and anyway there will evidently have to be several more chapters, if I live to write them.

Gandalf’s reply continues the theme of text,

Finish your book, and leave the ending unaltered!  There is still hope for it.  But get ready to write a sequel, when they come back.

Perhaps it is Tolkien’s sense of irony that prompted him to make his characters self-conscious of the fact that they lived and moved and had their being in a written text.  But perhaps he meant to gesture beyond that too.  Those who think of themselves as characters in a tale acknowledge that the text is not wholly of their own writing.  But they also acknowledge that there is a logic to their setting and their plots; that they are being moved along in an orderly fashion, chapter by chapter, to some culmination or eucatastrophe, however dimly foreshadowed.

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