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Thread: The "Wisdom" Factor

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This is another conversation that me and Virumor have had, just a few minutes ago. This actually started with respect to the current poll about the "Wisest" character. Here's the poll (For future references to this thread, when the poll will not exist):

"Wisest" character?
a) Gandalf
b) Galadriel
c) Elrond
d) Finarfin
e) Finrod Felagund
f) Melian

Here's how the conversation went:

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(06:03:05) floyd_n_milan: how would you account for one being 'wise' in Tolkien's works?
(06:04:14) Miruvor: understanding of the bigger picture behind events, and able to understand what is necessary and what is not.
(06:04:50) floyd_n_milan: so let's put it in the context of that poll
(06:05:23) floyd_n_milan: Gandalf was wise because he matches your criterion
(06:06:38) floyd_n_milan: ok Galadriel
(06:06:47) floyd_n_milan: what has she done to make her wise?
(06:07:30) Miruvor: well the Sil does not make her very wise at all, but considering the whole Doom of Mandos and unrest of the Noldor..
(06:07:35) floyd_n_milan: indeed
(06:07:46) floyd_n_milan: she'd probably be considered stupid and rash
(06:07:45) Miruvor: yet in the Third Age, she assembles the White Council
(06:07:50) floyd_n_milan: hmmm
(06:08:15) Miruvor: and her ultimate act of wisdom is rejecting the Ring, though Elrond does that without speeching and showing off.
(06:08:35) floyd_n_milan: i think that was more self control than wisdom
(06:08:40) floyd_n_milan: rather
(06:08:51) floyd_n_milan: knowing what she knew about the rings
(06:08:55) floyd_n_milan: and their powers
(06:09:10) floyd_n_milan: it's a given that she must reject the ring
(06:09:19) floyd_n_milan: i see no wise act in it
(06:09:25) floyd_n_milan: just an act of extreme self control
(06:09:38) floyd_n_milan: and it'd the stupidest thing for her to accept the ring
(06:09:54) floyd_n_milan: now
(06:10:10) floyd_n_milan: if it were someone who didn't exactly know what accepting the ring would lead to
(06:10:32) floyd_n_milan: if such a person actually thought about it and decided that it would do him bad and then rejected the ring, it'd be wise, i think
(06:10:58) floyd_n_milan: btw was Galadriel alone responsible for the White Council?
(06:11:05) floyd_n_milan: how much part did Gandalf play?
(06:11:14) floyd_n_milan: apart from being a member?
(06:11:38) Miruvor: Saruman was the Chief of the council, that's all i know
(06:11:43) Miruvor: Gandalf was prolly 2nd in rank
(06:11:48) floyd_n_milan: i think so too
(06:12:50) Miruvor: then, why would Finrod be wise?
(06:12:52) Miruvor: he was merely noble.
(06:12:57) floyd_n_milan: indeed
(06:13:00) floyd_n_milan: i wondered the same
(06:13:23) Miruvor: he was prolly the only one who didn't fall under the 'spell', 'as to speak.
(06:14:43) floyd_n_milan: what about Finarfin?
(06:15:04) Miruvor: he rejected to join the Exile.
(06:15:12) floyd_n_milan: ah yes
(06:15:34) floyd_n_milan: i don't remember what Finrod did
(06:15:46) floyd_n_milan: he was the first to meet men right?
(06:16:56) Miruvor: yeh
(06:17:12) floyd_n_milan: so i guess that was a wise thing to do, befriending men
(06:18:32) Miruvor: he did it more because he was noble, i think.
(06:19:53) floyd_n_milan:
this point could be argued upon, its not really clear what went on in his mind, is it?
(06:20:12) floyd_n_milan: Melian's wise things?
(06:20:38) floyd_n_milan: predicting the doom because of the Silmaril?
(06:21:12) floyd_n_milan: or her use of her powers for the defence of her kingdom?
(06:21:38) floyd_n_milan: again, i think, it would have been plain stupid not to use her powers that way
(06:21:45) Miruvor: she's a Maia for something
(06:21:55) Miruvor: you can't compare maiar with elves or men
(06:22:06) floyd_n_milan: exactly what i was wondering
(06:22:17) floyd_n_milan: so the only one left is Elrond
(06:23:08) Miruvor: well he did know what was going on very well..
(06:23:15) Miruvor: aka the Council of Elrond.
(06:23:19) floyd_n_milan: yup
(06:23:44) floyd_n_milan: i guess he was knowledgeable too?
(06:25:03) Miruvor: yeh, he picked up a few things along the way..
(06:25:38) floyd_n_milan: hmmm would knowledge and wisdom go hand in hand?
(06:25:48) floyd_n_milan: not always i guess
(06:25:51) Miruvor: wisdom is about interpretation of knowledge
(06:25:57) floyd_n_milan: yeah
(06:25:57) Miruvor: and what you choose to do with knowledge
(06:26:20) Miruvor: it usually comes with experience, and age
(06:26:39) floyd_n_milan: of which Elrond had both a-plenty
(06:31:43) Miruvor: Saruman was very knowledgable, but he sat brooding and studying in his tower most of the time
(06:31:51) Miruvor: that's why he lost the bigger picture.
(06:32:03) Miruvor: same with Sauron.
(06:32:33) Miruvor: both weren't wise enough to understand that one always has to expect the unexpected.
(06:32:39) floyd_n_milan: true
(06:32:44) floyd_n_milan: what about Morgoth?
(06:33:42) floyd_n_milan: he was guided too much by his feelings rather than brain
(06:33:54) floyd_n_milan: so much so that he used his brain in accordance with his feelings
(06:34:36) Miruvor: he was not wise, as he did not understand that he could change the Music in Eru's despite.
(06:34:47) Miruvor: no matter what he would do, everything would be set right.
(06:35:02) Miruvor: all his attempts were fruitless, yet he continued like a cosmic version of Don Quixote.
(06:45:33) floyd_n_milan: hmmm so in general
(06:46:06) floyd_n_milan: Elves were wiser than the others because; on their own, they generally knew what the right thing to do would be?
(06:46:13) floyd_n_milan: but that's not a global truth
(06:46:21) floyd_n_milan: especially in the Silmarillion
(06:46:55) Miruvor: because they live longer, + Elves are described as having a tad of the spirit of the Ainur in them.
(06:47:14) floyd_n_milan: that gives them an unfair advantage Tongue Smilie
(06:47:28) floyd_n_milan: i find it interesting that no human makes it into that poll
(06:48:02) Miruvor: Faramir or Aragorn could be in it.
(06:48:09) floyd_n_milan: yeah
(06:48:21) floyd_n_milan: maybe even Elendil?
(06:48:57) Miruvor: or Tar-Palantir
(06:49:25) floyd_n_milan: i get confused with the 'Tar's
(06:49:27) floyd_n_milan: which one was he?
(06:49:46) Miruvor: the one that tried to return the old values



About the Galadriel comment of mine, here's exactly what I meant:

You are given a glass of some drink you love, but you know is fatal to you. The natural thing to do is to not drink it. This has more to do with self control than wisdom, I feel. Doing otherwise, however, is extremely stupid. I guess this is a kind of no-win situation, where you don't get the credit for something that you did right but get flamed for something that you did wrong. Those poor referees...

Anyway, the point of posting this, is to hear other members' views. I do hope that we get to hear some.
It was self comtrol indeed, but the reason Galadriel made it onto the poll was not because of her rejection of the Ring, but because of her "awareness of the bigger picture", which led her from being a clever but arrogant she-elf to a gentle and far-seeing Lady. As either Mir or floyd said (I can't remember which), wisdom comes with time and experience, both of which Galadriel gained abundantly.

What truly made her wise was the fact that she knew the consequences of stupidity, having tasted the bitterness of it herself. She repented in the end and helped the Fellowship, an act of wisdom which could make up for her rash deeds in the past. The motivation of her actions was now not power for herself or her kindred, but the preservation of goodness in Arda, and that would be the awareness of a "bigger picture", as Mir put it. She had gone from a rather selfish Elf to an Elf that embraced all that was good (including Dwarves!), and in the end she was wise. Well, in the end, almost everyone mentioned was wise, but Galadriel would be considerably wiser than most because she had the bitterness of her own foolishness on her lips every second of every day. That adds to her experience points.

Wisdom and knowledge have also an interesting connection, and I think you two summed it up very correctly. What you do with knowledge decides whether you are wise or not. And it can be argued that in this sense, even a simpleton may be wiser than an intelligent person. For example, some of you may say that Sauron was more intelligent than Samwise, but Samwise was wiser than Sauron.

But back to Galadriel. She had the knowledge of more than three long ages of the world, and though she may not have used her knowledge well in the start, she certainly knew what to do with her brain at the end. If wisdom is knowledge put to good use (as you both say), then I don't see anything against Galadriel being on the poll. True, it would've been a foolish thing for her to accept the Ring, but that issue was more a test of strength than a test of wisdom, so it has no direct relation to our topic here.
In general I agree with Mir (what a shock) who has put his finger on the distinction: generally speaking the difference between wisdom and intelligence is experience (interpretation as well, but one could argue this is a function of experience.) Which is why I think Finarfin is getting a raw deal and have been voting for him every day; he's not wiser than Finrod, but he's still alive at the end of the Elder Days because he had the wit not to follow Feanor all the way down the road to ruin? Sorry, but I can't buy that (though an argument could also be made here that Finrod perhaps recognized the inevitablility of the Exile and his necessary role in it; Finarfin is laregely "the other son of Indis" in the Silmarillion and without Finrod to bring down the walls of Minas Tirith in succor of Beren, no Silmaril to win Earendils passage to Valinor.) In terms of whom I actually think is wisest, again, I agree with Miruvor: you can't compare Eldar to Maiar, as the latter took part in the Ainulindale and therefore automatically have a deeper understanding of how the world works. I opted for Melian initially simply because, while it's hard to say if she's wiser than Gandalf, all the movie fanboys and girls ensure Ganalfs victory. Note that the top three currently are movie characters (though it's notable Melian is, atm, one vote behind Elrond, but Elrond didn't do much in the movies and Melian IS an Aini.)

As far as Int vs. Wis generally, the best illustration I've found is Joel Rosenbergs from The Sleeping Dragon: Edith Bunker, not that smart, but wise as all get out, or the counter example: Richard Nixon. That, and the fact you don't need a high Int to be a paladin. ;-p
What a good idea for a thread, Floyd. Well done - it is nice to see discussion as to why people voted in the polls. Maybe we should have a new thread for each poll? Not seen you in chat for ages.

It is a difficult thing, this wisdom thing. I agree it is tied up with experience, and in particular what one learns from ones experiences. I love the reference to Sam. Being a Hobbit he had little experience of the 'wider picture' yet he showed great wisdom which I suppose is why Gandalf chose him to go with Frodo which also shows that Gandalf was wise which is no great surprise since he was a Maia. But then so was Saruman and in the end he wasn't what I would call 'wise'. When did he stop being wise?

I would expect more people to vote for the first three not because they are movie characters but because they are characters in the LOTR which is a more widely read book than the Silmarillion.

And the Poll doesn't decide who is the wisest, it just shows who the voters think is the wisest. This thread is a good way of discussing that.
I do not regard Sam as a simpleton. For instance, he had observed Boromir from the very moment the journey of the Fellowship started, and his assertion about Boromir in the Henneth Annûn was spot on.

Of course, he accidentally spoke the name of the Ring, but that was merely a slip of the tongue :
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`Yes sir, begging your pardon, and a fine man as your brother was if I may say so. But you've been warm on the scent all along. Now I watched Boromir and listened to him, from Rivendell all down the road – looking after my master, as you'll understand, and not meaning any harm to Boromir – and it's my opinion that in Lórien he first saw clearly what I guessed sooner: what he wanted. From the moment he first saw it he wanted the Enemy's Ring! '

And is this description the work of a simpleton? I think not.
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Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as di'monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain, and as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime. But that's a lot o' nonsense, and all wide of my mark.'

I am not sure why I am defending Sam, as I usually find him an irritating bugger, but what the hey.

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She had gone from a rather selfish Elf to an Elf that embraced all that was good (including Dwarves!), and in the end she was wise.

Depends on the version of the story of Galadriel one wishes to follow.

In the version where at the end of the First Age she refused herself to accept the Pardon and return to Valinor, she definitely doesn't look very wise. In the version where she is refused to return, she's left looking like a sad puppy.

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I opted for Melian initially simply because, while it's hard to say if she's wiser than Gandalf, all the movie fanboys and girls ensure Ganalfs victory.

The Maia Olórin is described as the wisest Maia in the Sil :
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Wisest of the Maiar was Olórin. He too dwelt in Lórien, but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience.

Yet, there is a difference between the Maia and the Wizard; the Wizard had been given the burden of the flesh (although there's a big difference between the White and the Grey here), hence emotions, pain and suffering were able to cloud his judgement. Nonetheless, he never strayed off his path unlike some of his brethren.
That "Enemy's Ring" slip of Sam's may have been subconscieusly a wise move, for it got the book Faramir on their side and food for part of their journey, as well as providing a messenger to let Gandalf know later how they were planning to enter Mordor. Even though that last bit caused Gandalf to 'have a cow'. Elf With a Big Grin Smilie
Typical of M. Mir to tie up all the loose ends in my post. By simpleton I didn't really mean simpleton. I just meant that in the books (and the movies), the hobbits were more of the innocent kind than the others. They're like little children living in bliss who are suddenly thrust out into a stormy night with no protection and no warmth but the blazing cruelty of reality.

And I know why you were defending Sam even if you don't know it (which I'm sure was a lie).
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Wisest of the Maiar was Olórin. He too dwelt in Lórien, but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience.


It is for that reason that I voted for Gandalf. In the Silmarillion it says he is the wisest. I think having flesh would increase his wisdom rather than decrease it, for by having flesh he would better understand its limitations.
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but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience.

Hmm, this sentence could in fact be interpreted in very different ways... maybe an idea for another journal entry.
About the flesh problem with Maiar

In case we all forget, I'll just point out that Melian had flesh too when she was living in Doriath. How else would she have been able to bear a child to Thingol?

But I do agree that flesh would increase wisdom. It is an experience, after all.
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In case we all forget, I'll just point out that Melian had flesh too when she was living in Doriath. How else would she have been able to bear a child to Thingol?

She had already flesh when Elwë fell for her in Nan Elmoth. Hard to fall for an invisible spirit, otherwise.

And Sauron, Ungoliant, the Great Eagles, the Dragons & perhaps some Balrogs had flesh too. No big deal.
Except in Gandalf's case it was more limiting as he was sent to ME with the constraints of a mortal being. He was unable to use Maia Power and (IIRC) his memory was also a bit hazy.
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I do agree that flesh would increase wisdom. It is an experience, after all.


This comment, and the ones preceeding it at the start about the difference between intelligence and wisdom resting in experience leaves out, I think, the idea that wisdom is a quality that shows itself in the way someone responds to experiences. I wouldn't call someone a fool (here meaning the opposite of a wise person) if they merely did a foolish thing without the benefit of experience (or the benefit of knowing the experience of others) to warn them of the consequences. I would call a person a fool who continued to do foolish things in the light of evidence for an action's foolishness (whether their own or in the form of watching others).

E.g., Saruman is, in the end, proved one of the greatest fools because he allows his greed for power and his pride to make him disregard quite a bit of evidence that shows his traitorous actions are foolish. I think one of the greatest instances of a lost chance to choose wisely is when Gandalf offers Saruman a choice:
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But listen, for the last time! Will you not come down?


As Maiar, he also (possibly) has some memory of the song, wherein there's quite a bit of evidence that anything coming out of Melkor's music is ultimately wrapped up in Illuvitar's master plan, countered, used not for the ends of it's singers but for Illuvitar's ends. Don't the choices of Saruman and the end he comes to showcase this? Everything he does ultimately ends up being traitorous to himself and serves the side of those who are fighting Sauron.

Now I think in this sense, even if a person has little experience, they may exhibit that quality of watchfulness and attentiveness which seeks to understand the ultimate outcome of any choice.
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Except in Gandalf's case it was more limiting as he was sent to ME with the constraints of a mortal being. He was unable to use Maia Power and (IIRC) his memory was also a bit hazy.

Yes, it would've been more exciting for the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, had Gandalf been given the form of Polgara the Sorceress. Although that form would perhaps have been too distracting.

His hazy memory is merely due to the fact that Gandalf had been given the form of an old man, plus his perennial consumation of pipeweed contributed to that too.
Now, now, the Foreword to the Fellowship is QUITE clear about what was grown in the South Farthing, and it was tobacco; if it could be argued otherwise I long since would have saved you the trouble

As to Melian flesh vs. Gandalf flesh, it's true Melian had on her "flesh raiment" when she encounterd Elwe (interesting in itself, as the Ainur donned the appearance of the Children of Iluvatar only for the benefit of those naturally bearing those same forms; perhaps Melian ENJOYED flesh for its own sake?) But virtually all the Ainur did that at one time or another; bearing children requires a very different thing. Can't pass on genes that don't exist, right?

On the subject of inexperienced wisdom, it's certainly wise to use caution in those circumstances, and to seek the advice of those with experience one lacks, but if we can't call the inexperienced fools (though those familiar with Tarot can tell you that IS one of the meanings for the first trump) we can't really call them wise either.

Last but not least, I can break the 14-14 tie between Finarfin and Finrod in the poll, as the Silmarillion not only names Olorin wisest of the Maiar, but Finarfin wisest of the Noldor; in fact, he's introduced to us that way. So maybe breaking poll questions down by race won't provide the rich vein of questions I thought. Oh, well, back to the drawing board....
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But virtually all the Ainur did that at one time or another; bearing children requires a very different thing. Can't pass on genes that don't exist, right?

One can wonder why Melian was allowed to multiply, anyway. Did Mandos sent her on a mission to seduce Elwë ("From Eresseä with love"), as Lúthien was one of the key figures in the history of Arda, or was it something that Melian herself remembered from the Music ?

I think with Melian, we have not an Ainu taking on a human/Elvish form but building herself a fleshy body, which JRRT described was very difficult to do - so difficult that Sauron didn't even have one yet at the time of WOTR.

Or maybe Melian's spirit just "possessed" a hapless, innocent she-elf accidentally wandering around Nan Elmoth?
I repeat: you have cheerful thoughts. Was Idril just playing a role, too? Or Luthien? Or Arwen? (Yes, the blonde comes first; I have no way of knowing who had the best legs, so it goes to the blonde.) What's wrong with true Love? ;-p
Exactly. Mir sometimes thinks a bit too much about pschology and people that he starts to scorn love itself. And don't deny it, Mir, I know you face love with a flippant attitude. Each of the characters had a part to play, that is undeniable, but their fates were to some extent determined by themselves. Who they would fall in love with is something they'd determine themselves, and I know that the Eldar don't marry unless they're in LOVE, so it's quite safe saying it was true love.
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Who they would fall in love with is something they'd determine themselves

You think ppl have a say in who they're falling for? Now that is a flippant attitude. It is love, not calculus.

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Was Idril just playing a role, too? Or Luthien? Or Arwen?

None of those is an Ainu.

Why would Melian build herself a fleshy body and go wander about Beleriand? It must be because of something she remembered from the Music of the Ainur. Something about starting the most important line in the whole history of Arda, regardless of any love involved.

Anyone of the Eldar would fall for an Ainu, after all. Don't you think Elwë would have been enthralled/enchanted if Varda herself would have showed up in Nan Elmoth?
Maybe that's what Feanor needed to take his mind off those precious gems of his.
Dunno, it starts to get back into that free will vs. predestitination thing. I mean, if Melian knew so much about her future and Doriaths, why was Thingol alone in his palace forges with those Dwerrows, and how did one manage to make it all the way back to their ancestral home? Why aren't there Eldar with bows packed a half dozen to a tree throughout her realm instead of Beren going out to hunt Carcharoth with a spear and Huan? It is a good thing she decided to go for a stroll as a woman rather than a man though....
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I mean, if Melian knew so much about her future and Doriaths, why was Thingol alone in his palace forges with those Dwerrows, and how did one manage to make it all the way back to their ancestral home? Why aren't there Eldar with bows packed a half dozen to a tree throughout her realm instead of Beren going out to hunt Carcharoth with a spear and Huan?

Because for Melian, too, the flesh was weak. Maybe she was too busy with keeping away the lines from her face, looking in fashion catalogues and trying to keep a slim figure through various Eldar diet plans than looking in the future?