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Let Folly be Our Cloak – Gandalf and the Wisdom of Spiritual Foolishness

During the decisive “Council of Elrond” chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf suggests a plan that is not only dangerous but absurd: to walk into Mordor and attempt to destroy the One Ring of Power. It seems foolish, which een Gandalf admits, but the folly of the endeavor is the one string tied to hope:

‘Despair or folly?’ said Gandalf. ‘It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the enemy! For he is very wise and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.’

‘At least for a while,’ said Elrond. ‘The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.’”

Because of how ridiculous the plan seems, Gandalf suggests that Sauron would never expect it. Those at the council would have not just the element of surprise, they would have a plan totally inconceivable to their enemy. Because Sauron does not just thirst for power above all other things. To him, there is no other thing. Power is all he desires. It is the lens through which he sees all things with his single great eye. So, while this eye can see to the far corners of Middle-Earth, it cannot see that the free people of its lands have other desires and loves.

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