4. The Meaning of the Ring

In this section of the essay I shall examine the Nature of the Ring in terms of an evil object and as a symbol. I shall discuss the way in which the Ring works and its effect upon mortal users. I shall then consider the nature of Tolkien's "two worlds" upon which I have touched already, and how the Ring is a bridge between those worlds. Following upon that I shall consider the issue of the Ring and Temptation, which is a dominant theme throughout The Lord of the Rings. I shall then deal with the way in which the Ring affects some of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings and then pass to the destruction of the Ring and the question of whether this was an inevitability or mere chance. Finally, I shall offer some conclusions on the Ring.

4.1. The Nature of the Ring

4.1.1. As a repository of Sauron's Power

Sauron made the One Ring himself. Celebrimbor had no part in it. The One Ring was forged in Sammath Naur in Orodruin, the Cracks of Doom in Sauron's fastness of Mordor. It was conceived secretly, made secretly in an evil place and created for an evil purpose [45] by an evil creator. There is no redeeming feature in the way in which the Ring was made. It was forged in darkness, and not even under a clear sky. The words that were inscribed upon it, although written in Elvish script but the language was that of Mordor.

Into the Ring Sauron let pass a great part of his own former power. The purpose for that was so that he could rule the other rings of power.

    "If he recovers it, then he will command them all again, wherever they be, even the Three, and all that has been wrought with them will be laid bare, and he will be stronger than ever." [46]

Sauron's realm was based upon his evil power, and whilst that power remained in its fullness, his realm would survive. Even although the Dark Tower was broken after the Last Alliance, its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remained, they would endure. [47] Only if Sauron's power were diminished by the destruction of the Ring into which he had let so much of it flow, could his works, including Barad-dur, be destroyed utterly.

Gandalf described the Ring as;

    "the treasure of the Enemy, fraught with his malice: and in it lies a great part of his strength of old. Out of the Black Years come the words that the Smiths of Eregion heard, and knew that they had been betrayed:

    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them" [48]

It was that Power which entranced Saruman, for he perceived Sauron as the new Power arising, against whom the Elves and the Men of Numenor would avail nothing. He suggested first joining with that Power, but later suggested that with the Ruling Ring, that power would pass to himself.

Sauron's power was immense. But there are only hints of it. Terror and torment are ingredients of his dominion. Control, the deprivation of will, the stripping of the soul bare are all suggested, and it is through Gollum that the true terror of Sauron is reflected. The Power to defy Sauron, as Galdor observed, would have to come from the earth itself and

    "yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills" [49]

and the Elves did not have the strength to withstand Sauron and keep the Ring from him. So tainted was it with Sauron's evil and malevolence that it could not be sent to the Valar beyond the Sea.

To complicate the matter, the Ring could not even be used against Sauron. When Boromir suggested that it should be used as a weapon, Elrond replied;

    "We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him and is altogether evil. Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. Consider Saruman. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would set himself on Sauron's throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear. And that is another reason why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so." [50]

Yet Sauron desired power, and the only basis upon which he could make an assessment of his enemies was to consider that they would be motivated by the same desire. It could never occur to him that anyone would not want power, or a source of power, nor that they would want to destroy it. But the power of the Ring is only available to a Ring bearer according to his measure. This is clear from Elrond's comment that to use it a person must have great power of their own. And even so, the evil inherent within the Ring will ultimately take over.

Throughout the "Lord of the Rings", the evil nature of the Ring works primarily upon Frodo and Gollum, and the conflict between these two characters, and their struggle with each other, and Frodo's continuing struggle with the Ring assumes significance. It is at the Last Debate after the siege of Minas Tirith, that the essence and nature of the Ring is again mentioned.

    "For into the midst of all these policies comes the Ring of Power, the foundation of Barad-dur, and the hope of Sauron.
    Concerning this thing, my lords, you now all know enough for the understanding of our plight, and of Sauron's. If he regains it, your valour is vain, and his victory will be swift or complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while this world lasts. If it is destroyed, then he will fall: and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of his strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.
    Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary." [51]

It is therefore abundantly clear that the primary significance of the Ring is as a source of power. It is a power beyond the imaginings of the mortals in the story; it is power that corrupts utterly; it is power that is founded upon and is totally evil. Associated with that power, the Ring can make the wearer invisible, and can enhance certain senses and dull others. Furthermore, because Sauron is a Maia and dwells in the two realms, the Ring has that aspect of his power as a property, and provides a bridge between the two worlds.

We are never told of the totality of Sauron's power, but it is vast. Sauron can shape-shift, as he did in the tale of Beren and Luthien. But the real essence and purpose of his power is to control in the same way that his master did.

Sauron is an emissary of Morgoth. He was;

    "only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void." [52]

Sauron, the angelic Maia, was corrupted by Morgoth. He became the greatest of Morgoth's servants. Without going through the development of Morgoth's fall and the embracing of evil [53] suffice it to say that Morgoth commenced as a note of discord within the Music of the Ainur and was humiliated with the recognition that discord or Evil could not subdue the Great Plan [54]. Humiliation became hatred and Morgoth started upon his path. He wished to "order all things for the good of the children of Iluvatar, controlling the turmoils of the heat and the cold that had come to pass through him." [55] But self-deception is part of the nature of evil. Morgoth really wanted to rule and to have servants and subjects and be called Lord. He could not be Iluvatar, but he could challenge him. He could not change the final outcome, but he could corrupt those who trod the path. His spirit was not benevolent or kindly. He did not have the Love that accompanies the creation of a thing of purity. Thus, whatever he touched would be tainted. His desire was for control and subjugation - to rule with terror and the deprivation of free will. His subjects would obey him because they had to, not because they wanted to. He would compel obedience - it would not result from a free and unfettered choice.

The weapons by which evil gained control were many. Lies and deception play a large part, as we have seen with the corruption of the Gwaith-i-Mirdain and the deception of Celebrimbor. Fear and terror were particularly effective against the mortal races of Middle-earth, especially the fear of death and the unknown after death. Ambition became perverted by the evil will to become a force that would stop at nothing to attain its end and use any means, including the other weapons from the armoury of evil, to get there. Then finally there was naked, destructive force, using corrupted armies and foul perversions such as Orcs, vampires, werewolves, dragons and Balrogs, and, in Sauron's case, the Nine corrupted Men, the Nazgul. And the Nine Mortal Men were lured by a further weapon unique to Sauron - The Rings of Power.

Evil is a destructive force, for, in the same way that both Morgoth and Sauron were not evil in the beginning, they became evil and were destroyed by it. Evil, if allowed to do so, destroys Good. It takes something pure, and taints, corrupts, perverts, twists and destroys it. The corruption of the Golden Civilisation of Numenor is a classic example. Sauron played upon the fear of death, the Gift of Iluvatar to Men, so that the Gift became a curse. The Numenoreans (with the exception of the Faithful) were reduced to a barbarism of mind and spirit to the point where the prohibitions of the Valar were totally ignored, and the Ban was broken.

And the purpose and function of all these weapons is to control and subjugate. This may not seem to be quite as awful as one might think. But it results in a total deprivation of free will, and without free will, Man is nothing. A body may be enslaved, but that is as nothing if the mind is free. But the deprivation of free will is essentially the death of the soul and the extinguishing of the spirit. Furthermore, in attaining this most destructive of ends, evil will use whatever means it can to achieve it. It may control through lies and deception and corrupt before it destroys. It may control through terror or it may use brute force to impose its will. Thus, the totality of the process is without any moral foundation whatsoever, and is devoid of any positive aspect.

Tolkien describes Sauron as:

    " as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.....Sauron desired to be a God-King and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world." [56]

I have dealt with the issue of the nature of evil to illustrate the depth of the Power that Sauron had let pass into the Ring. To merely say that he had let a substantial part of his power pass into the Ring would be meaningless unless the nature of his power, and the way in, and the purposes for which it was used were understood. But power is an ominous and sinister concept [57] within the fabric of Tolkien's world, except in the hands of the Valar or Iluvatar, at which time it is used sparingly.

Tolkien explains the question of the power vested in the Rings in this way;

    "The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention of slowing of decay (i.e. change viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance - this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor - thus approaching 'magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron ('the Necromancer': so he is called as he casts a fleeting shadow and presage on the pages of The Hobbit): such as rendering invisible the material body, and making of the invisible world visible." [58]

The One Ring was linked to all the others and contained all their powers. It controlled them and the wearer of the One could see the thoughts of all those who used the lesser Rings, could govern all that they did and in the end enslave them [59]. The Elves avoided this domination by the One by hiding their Three and not using them openly. This they could only do because Sauron had not "touched" them [60].

Tolkien explains the way in which the One dominated the others in this way;

    "(H)e had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place. This was the essential weakness he had introduced into his situation in his effort (largely unsuccessful) to enslave the Elves, and in his desire to establish control over the minds and wills of his servants. There was another weakness: if the One Ring was actually unmade, annihilated, then its power would be dissolved, Sauron's own being would be diminished to vanishing point, and he would be reduced to a shadow, a mere memory of malicious will. But that he never contemplated nor feared. The Ring was unbreakable by any smithcraft less than his own. It was indissoluble in any fire, save the undying subterranean fire where it was made - and that was unapproachable in Mordor. Also, so great was the Ring's power of lust, that anyone who used it became mastered by it; it was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure it, cast it away, or neglect it. So he thought." [61]

Tolkien in developing the concept of the Ruling Ring, addressed the issue of why the Dark Lord desired its return, why it was so important, and what was so special about the Ring. It was power and with that power he could see where the other Rings were and be master of their masters [62]. Total domination was the goal. Total, mindless obedience would be the result. A world enslaved would be his kingdom. And ruin, destruction and the putrefaction of all beauteous and living things would be the fate of Middle-earth.

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The Tolkien Encyclopedia
The Art of Tolkien
One Ring to Rule Them All by David Harvey

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