4.1.2. As a symbol of Evil

I have observed that Evil in Tolkien's world is destructive. Throughout it is the antithesis of creativity. The fall of Morgoth began with the discords in the Music of Iluvatar and he degenerated to a vengeful, spiteful figure, consumed by envy and hatred for the beauty of the creation of Iluvatar and the Valar. He destroyed the Lamps of the Valar, and the Two Trees in Valinor. And that which he did not wish to destroy he coveted. And this is exemplified with the Silmarils.

Good is associated with the purity of creation and the preservation of the beauty that has been created. The function of the Elven Rings exemplified and symbolises this. Across the River from the beautiful and mystical Lorien is the corrupt and foreboding darkness of Mirkwood. And further to the South evil has ravaged the land. The Marshes, the borders of Mordor, indeed all of Mordor itself, is the Wasteland, deprived of beauty, freshness, purity and cleanliness that one associates with nature. Very little grows, certainly nothing of beauty, and that which does, like the thorn-bushes in Mordor, struggles to survive and is hurtful. Tolkien makes the contrast clear when Sam and Frodo enter Ithilien. There are green growing things, the fresh smells of the country-side, flowers and herbs and fresh water. Ithilien is still protected by the Men of Minas Tirith and has not fallen under the domination or destructive influences of Evil.

The creative forces of Good, exemplified by the natural realm, are set against the destructive forces of Evil, epitomised by Saruman's Isengard. Saruman thinks that he is a creator, but in fact he is a destroyer. He has ravaged the forests of Fangorn for wood for his fires. His engines are engines of destruction. To build he must first destroy, and the destruction is of the natural world, and of beauty. And what is replaced is ugly. Tolkien deplored industrialism and so often the fume and smoke of factories and the clank and grind of machines are synonymous with and evil influence. The ravaged Shire is an example, with Sandyman's Mill dominating Hobbiton.

Evil does not exist in a vacuum. It must have someone or something to work upon; someone or something to corrupt, pervert, control, dominate and, in the process destroy. These are the hallmarks of Sauron's and Morgoth's evil. And there are two important aspects of evil - evil will and evil power. Evil will is the animus, the mental ingredient that considers the act of evil. It is totally corrupt, for it is of the mind and is ever present. Evil power is the ability to realise the desires of the evil will.

The Ring is a personification of Sauron's evil will and its use will result in an evil end. This becomes clear in Elrond's comment to Boromir [63]. To use the Ring as a means to attaining an end, albeit howsoever noble, will result in a replacement of one form of evil with another. No good end can come from evil means, and in this respect an essential ingredient of the major moral imperative of Tolkien's Middle-earth is demonstrated.

Essentially the primary symbolism of the Ring is as the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies [64].

In the macrocosmic sense, the Ring has an even greater symbolism. It represents the omnipresence of evil. In Middle-earth, evil is not only the antithesis of moral thought and deed. It is personified, present and incarnate. The very presence and existence of the Ring, containing the evil will and power of its maker demonstrates this very tangible reality.

Macrocosmically and microcosmically it is a symbol of the very nature of evil. Its mere existence has a potential to corrupt. It is a source of temptation to those who have borne it (Gollum and Bilbo) those who have seen it (Boromir, Gandalf and Elrond), those who know of its existence (Denethor) and those who suspect that it still exists (Saruman). It is a circle, encompassing all and without end. Evil encompasses the world as it encompasses the finger of the bearer.

Thus, it is clear that the Ring symbolises both Evil and the power that it has. The person who uses the Ring immediately dons the garment of destructiveness and counter-creativity. Even Frodo, who used the Ring rarely, began to develop the characteristics of one who was prepared to use power. In the Taming of Smeagol, he uses the presence of the Ring to bind Gollum. Even at this stage he takes on an aspect of power that Sam has not previously observed. He later goes on to threaten dire consequences should Gollum try to harm him, culminating in his awful threat on the slopes of Mount Doom, and his appearance to Sam as a figure of white with a Circle of Fire. In his efforts to achieve a good end, by even relying on the Ring, although hidden, Frodo contributes to his fall [65]. The Ring, being evil, cannot perpetuate or be used for Good, as I have observed. This demonstrates how inapposite it is to suggest that the Ring is a symbol of the unbridled power of science or the power of the atom. Both can be beneficial for humanity. It is the use to which they are put which is important. The Ring has no such redeeming characteristic. It is altogether evil. Its use is in no way beneficial. With science one can choose the path to take. With the Ring the choice is to use it and fall or not to use it and survive.

To try to read too much into the Ring is a mistake. In my view, it is a symbol of the macrocosmic and microcosmic nature of evil, both as a concept and as a reality, and a tangible link with its very real maker. As Tolkien said;

    "You cannot press the One Ring too hard, for it is, of course, a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more or less historical terms. The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the placing of one's life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself. If I were to 'philosophise' this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalised and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one's direct control. A man who wishes to exert 'power' must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them." [66]

4.1.3. The Mind of The Ring - ability to work away from its Maker

    "But as for throwing it away that was obviously wrong. These Rings have a way of being found. In evil hands it might have done great evil. Worst of all, it might have fallen into the hands of the Enemy. Indeed it certainly would: for this is the One, and he is exerting all his power to find it or draw it to himself." [67]

The One Ring was, as I have observed, a repository of Sauron's power. It was altogether evil and had no redeeming feature to it. It is both a symbol of evil in general and the tangible evil that exists in Middle-earth. When it is destroyed, the incarnate evil (Sauron) is also disembodied.

Because the Ring is itself evil, it has the ability to work evil. This does not mean that the Ring is capable to conceiving an evil situation. But it is able to take advantage of a situation to turn such situation to its own ends - and those ends are evil ends. A classic example is in the Prancing Pony Inn, when Frodo vanishes after singing the extended version of "Hey-Diddle-Diddle"

    "Frodo leaned back against the wall and took off the Ring. How it came to be on his finger he could not tell. He could only suppose that he had been handling it in his pocket while he sang, and that somehow it had slipped on when he stuck out his hand with a jerk to save his fall. For a moment he wondered if the Ring itself had not played him a trick: perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room." [68]

The Ring, a source of evil, was aware of the presence of evil in the room, in the guise of the "swarthy Southerner" who left after Frodo stammered out his excuses. That being so, it took the situation to work to its advantage and to attract the attention of evil minds present.

Thus it is clear that the Ring is reactive to a situation that has an evil potential. This is best observed on the occasions when Frodo is tempted to or does put on and use the Ring.

The presence of the Black Riders as the hobbits travel in the Shire provides Frodo with his first temptations to put on the Ring. It is the presence of evil and other Ring bearers that attracts the Ring. It plays upon Frodo's fear of the Riders and the terror that accompanies them, tempting him to use the Ring to hide. Of course, such a use of the Ring would do precisely the opposite, and amply demonstrates the deceptive quality of evil. Frodo's use of the Ring in Bombadil's house, although as a response to a temptation, does not have an evil end, and is clearly not an action motivated by the evil nature and animus of the Ring.

The Ring nearly destroys Frodo on Weathertop. Again evil is present in the form of the Nazgul, led by the Witch-king, the most potent of the Nine. In such a situation, with such great evil present, the Ring succeeds in turning Frodo to the path of using it, the clear result intended being the death of Frodo and the capture of the Ring by the Nazgul.

One would have expected the Ring to have been used in Moria with the presence of looming evil culminating in the appearance of the Balrog, but it is not. I can only conclude that the presence of Good and goodwill in the form of Gandalf and the other members of the Company has the effect of turning Frodo away from the use of the Ring. The Ring also works its power in the Morgul vale when Frodo, Sam and Gollum see the army of Sauron led by the Witch-king march from Minas Morgul. The presence of the chief Ringwraith in such an evil location is almost overpowering. It is only the presence of Galadriel's phial [69] that diverts him from the evil will of the Ring.

The Ring does not only work on the Ring bearer, using opportunities to turn him to the evil path. It impels him to use the Ring to try to turn others. Frodo offers the Ring to Gandalf [70] and to Galadriel [71], both beings of immense inherent power, Ring bearers themselves and potential wielders of the One. Such temptation and such perversion of the Ring bearer is truly insidious. Not only does the Ring seek beings of power. It also seeks to destroy both those beings and all their good works. It is to be remembered that Gandalf and Galadriel hold Elven rings with all of their positive power. In one blow the Ring would attain control of a powerful wielder and the Elven rings, and would also destroy and corrupt all the good works that have been achieved. In the final analysis the Ring would return to Sauron, for I believe that although Gandalf or Galadriel could resist Sauron, as long as the Ring was extant, Sauron would exist, and the Ring would seek a way of returning to the ultimate source of evil in Middle-earth. I shall examine this aspect of the nature of the Ring in the next section.

The Ring exerts its power over others in an effort to corrupt and pervert. Boromir is driven mad by the thought of it, and the opportunity to wrest it from Frodo presents itself at Amon Hen. Here once again the Ring is working its power of deception and divisiveness. If Boromir had taken the Ring, there is no doubt that he would have used it and revealed himself to Sauron. To make matters worse, he would have come by the Ring in evil circumstances and by using evil means, force. But it is within the miasma of evil intent on the part of Boromir that Frodo dons the Ring to escape. The duplicitous nature of evil again is at work, for clearly Frodo could reveal himself, and at the seat of Amon Hen feels the searching eye. But another force [72] wrestles with evil and diverts the Eye, at the same time willing Frodo to take off the Ring.

At the final point the Ring succeeds in turning Frodo, and in a final battle for its own survival and for the perpetuation of the reality of evil in the symbolic and in the incarnate sense, the Ring tempts Frodo who takes it for his own. The Ring succeeds in the evil land of Mordor in the place of its own creation where the power of evil is at its strongest. At the same time the Ring, having been taken by Frodo in Mordor so close to Sauron, is calling out to its Master in circumstances that, were it not for the intervention of Gollum, the Ring would be recovered by its maker.

Thus we can see that the Ring has the animus of evil, demonstrating both the subtle and brutal ways in which evil can work. It clearly points out to us that evil is always present and can work at a time when we least expect it. But the enduring aspect of truly evil nature of the Ring was its desire to re-unite with the source of its power, and it is this aspect that I shall now turn.

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

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