“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Later in the same conversation in Book I, Chapter 2, Gandalf again explores—though this time more dimly—the hand of fate in the world of Middle-earth. The wizard’s words are again a gentle rebuke to Frodo, who bemoans the fact that Gandalf did not kill Gollum when he had the chance, even though the wretched creature “deserves” death. Though Gandalf does not know how exactly, he does have a sense that Gollum has some further role to play in the story of the Ring. Indeed, as we see later in The Two Towers and The Return of the King, the wizard is correct. On a plot level, predictions such as Gandalf’s serve to maintain suspense and create a sense of foreboding or anticipation, foreshadowing coming events but not telling us whether they are near or distant. On a more figurative level, however, Tolkien uses these prophecies and predictions to remind us of the presence of fate, which has assigned roles to all of the characters—roles that even the wisest and most powerful among them do not yet know or understand.