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4.1.4. The Mind of the Ring - ability to return to its Maker

An essential property of the Ring that is present throughout its entire history is that it seeks to be reunited with Sauron. This property in fact is responsible for the movements of the Ring from the time of its being taken by Isildur at the end of the Second Age. The matter is explained by Gandalf in the following way;

    "A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it." [73]

    "It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him" [74]

Tolkien comments on the Ring and Sauron in this way;

    "Sauron would not have feared the Ring! It was his own and under his will. Even from afar he had an effect upon it, to make it work for its return to himself. In his actual presence none but very few of equal stature could have hoped to withhold it from him. Of 'mortals' no one, not even Aragorn." [75]

However, the Ring and Sauron were not solely in control, for it is quite clear that there are other powers at work.

    "There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur's hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Deagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!
    Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ringmaker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." [76]

This must be coupled with the treacherous nature of the Ring - a necessary aspect of evil.

    "He had found out that the thing needed looking after; it did not seem always of the same size and weight; it shrank or expanded in an odd way, and it might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight." [77]

The Ring seems to be able to dictate its movements and provide itself with an opportunity to move on. Clearly this must have happened in the caves under the Misty Mountains when Gollum mislaid the Ring.

The finding of the Ring by Bilbo is an extraordinary event, for it is obvious that it was intended. The powers of Good, indeed the plan of Iluvatar, appears to have been to allow the Ring to exercise the "desire" that it has to re-unite with its Maker. The fact that the Ring is unable to work its evil way towards its Maker is because of the way in which Bilbo takes the Ring, without an evil act accompanying it. Similarly, he lets the Ring go and passes it, voluntarily, to Frodo. The possession of the Ring by all the hobbits, including Sam, is not tainted, and in this way the inherent evil within the Ring is frustrated and thwarted.

Furthermore, the way in which the hobbits deal with the Ring, and the fact that it is thwarted in its goal to reunite with Sauron demonstrates the fallibility of the evil will, which, in seeking the ultimate evil goal becomes so one-eyed that it cannot perceive another outcome. The nature of evil, and Sauron's power being what it was, the fact that anyone would take up the Ring and part with it in innocent and commendable circumstances would be inconceivable. Absolute evil has no conception of Good, other than that a good person may be corrupted. It cannot comprehend a positive outcome from any action. It sees its own destruction, or attempts at that end, as being only by way of violence, force or powers which it itself can use. The rejection of power is something beyond its wildest dreams. Thus it is demonstrated that evil carries within it the seeds of its own downfall [78].

4.1.5. The Effect upon a mortal wearer

    "But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.
    A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later - later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last - sooner or later the dark power will devour him."79

The effect of the Ring upon mortals, as described by Gandalf in the above passage, is terrible and complete. Indeed, the use of the Ring for the purposes of mere invisibility is not the only way that the wearer will come under the Eye of the Dark Lord.

The Nine Rings were given to powerful Men. They were corrupted and entered the wraith world, becoming Sauron's most powerful servants, but totally under his domination [80] Sauron could even send them out to obtain the One,

    "since they were entirely enslaved to their Nine Rings, which he now himself held; they were quite incapable of acting against his will, and if one of them, even the Witch-king their captain, had seized the One Ring, he would have brought it back to his Master." [81]

Thus, a Ring of Power could enslave the holder to the Will of Sauron, and certainly this was the case with the One, possessed, as has already been observed, with the evil power and will of its Maker.

    "Alas! Mordor draws all wicked things, and the Dark Power was bending all its will to gather them there. The Ring of the Enemy would leave its mark, too, leave him open to the summons." [82]

The way in which the evil power of the Ring to enslave could be stayed or retarded depended upon the way in which a person came to hold it. Thus in the case of Bilbo, the fact that his taking of the Ring without killing Gollum had a beneficial result in terms of the way the Ring worked upon him;

    "Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity." [83]

Yet despite this, the Ring had begun its work upon Bilbo;

    "He said that it was "growing on his mind", and he was always worrying about it; but he did not suspect that the Ring was to blame...........Though he was getting restless and uneasy. Thin and stretched he said. A sign that the Ring was getting control" [84]

But although the Ring did not have control over Bilbo, it had begun its work earlier;

    "Then I heard Bilbo's strange story of how he had "won" it, and I could not believe it. When I at last got the truth out of him, I saw at once that he had been trying to put his claim to the ring beyond doubt. Much like Gollum with his "birthday present". The lies were too much alike for my comfort. Clearly the ring had an unwholesome power that set to work on its keeper at once." [85]

The lasting effect of the Ring could be nullified, or at least postponed if the bearer did not use it.

    "As long as you never used it, I did not think that the Ring would have any lasting effect on you, not for evil, not at any rate for a very long time." [86]

However, the method of acquisition was all-important.

Both Bilbo and Gollum had rationalised their acquisition of the Ring. And having acquired it, it could not be relinquished.

    "A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to some one else's care - but that at an early stage, when it first begins to grip" [87]

In fact it is Bilbo who is the first to voluntarily give up the Ring, and to do that he requires Gandalf's help [88].

The Ring gives power according to stature. It has great strength, and only those who have great power of their own can wield it [89]. Those who are small, mean and petty derive enhancement of that power. The secretive and sly Gollum;

    "(W)as very pleased with his discovery and he concealed it; and he used it to find out secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses. He became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was hurtful. The ring had given him power according to his stature." [90]

That the great among men could not use or overcome the Ring has already been demonstrated by the fact that one as magnificent and powerful as Isildur found it impossible to wield. Only the Wise would have any hope of overthrowing Sauron, and then, having done so, would become another Dark Lord [91].

How is it, then, that Men and other mortals may fall under the power of the Ring, and become wraiths, subservient to the will of Sauron, and the Wise would not? The answer lies in the nature of the Two Worlds, which I shall shortly discuss in detail. The existence of mortals is on the physical plane. They cannot dwell within the realms of the flesh and the spirit. At some stage they must "pass over". Elves and Maia dwell in both realms. It was said of Sauron that he;

    "(W)as indeed caught in the wreck of Numenor, so that the bodily form in which he had long walked perished; but he fled back to Middle-earth, a spirit of hatred borne upon a dark wind. He was unable ever again to assume a form that seemed fair to men, but became black and hideous, and his power thereafter was through terror alone." [92]

It is this duality of nature that allows the Elves and the Maia (the Wise) to take up and use the Ring. But it is mortality that allows mortals to be subverted by the Power of the Ring, to become wraiths.

Common to both mortals and the Wise is the lust for the Ring. Once it has been possessed, it cannot be given up, except as I have already observed. Indeed, to try and destroy it would damage the psyche.

    "When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But he found now that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away - but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.
    Gandalf laughed grimly. 'You see? Already you too, Frodo, cannot easily let it go, nor will to damage it. And I could not "make" you - except by force, which would break your mind." [93]

Coupled with this is the lure of the Ring. The very thought of it is a continued temptation both to mortals and the Wise. Boromir's fall is as a result of his perception of the Ring as a weapon which could be used to undo the threat of Sauron to Minas Tirith. Yet as a mortal he could neither wield it nor resist it; for he too would become a wraith and pass from the physical world to the world of the spirit, tormented by the Dark Lord.

Gollum's possession of the One Ring was coloured by the fact that he murdered to acquire it. But he had an extraordinary strength, derived from his hobbitish background. Given the length of time that he held and used the Ring, he should have entered the wraith world, but he proved tougher than even the Wise guessed, and Gandalf suggested that this might be from his hobbitish background. He never faded and became thin and tough. He hated the Ring, yet he also loved it, and would never have given it up willingly. Once the Ring had been taken by Bilbo, Gollum remained in the mountains for a year or two. He was bound by the desire of the Ring, but the Ring itself no longer devoured him [94]. There can be no doubt that the desire for the Ring persisted until the end, but such was Gollum's toughness of spirit that he could suppress it, and from time to time a light of goodness would burn [95].

The spiritual destruction that is suffered by Gollum is more on an individual level, and demonstrates how evil works within the mind. He has not become a wraith, and indeed he has resisted the Dark Lord, having, it would seem, misled him even under torture [96]. But in essence, Gollum is destroyed as effectively as if he had become a wraith. His guiding passion is to possess 'the Precious' and it is this which leads to his ultimate doom.

4.1.6. Is the Ring "magic"?

What is meant by "magic". Reference is made by Gandalf to "magic rings" and this concept was particularly clear the early drafts of The Lord of the Rings. However, in The Lord of the Rings the focus has shifted to describing the Ring as a Ring of Power. Perhaps this is because "magic" is associated with parlour-games, sleight of hand and illusion.

The definition of "magic" contained in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is as follows:

    "1. The pretended art of influencing the course of events by compelling the agency of spiritual beings, or by bringing into operation some occult, controlling principle of nature; sorcery, witchcraft. Also the practice of this art.
    b. A magical procedure or rite; also concr. a charm, fetish - 1814
    2. fig. A secret and overmastering influence, resembling magic in its effects 1611.
    3. transf. The art of producing (by legedermain, optical illusion, etc) surprising phenomena resembling the results of 'magic'; conjuring 1831."

A practitioner of magic was known, among other things, as a Mage. A definition of such a person includes attributes of wisdom and learning, and derives from a time when knowledge and learning were restricted to a few, and were seen as immensely valuable. Knowledge was a very real power in times of mass ignorance.

In the primitive or anthropological sense, magic was seen as deriving from a strong belief in a spirit world, communication or invocation of which could result in changes to established natural patterns [97]. Rituals involving imitation or contact, and the use of talismans or charms were important or essential in achieving the appropriate result.

Frankly, I dislike the use of the term "magic" applied to Middle-earth. With very few exceptions, the major characters do not practise magic as I have defined it. Gandalf uses his knowledge to develop truly glorious fireworks, and is able to control fire [98], and declares himself as the servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor to the Balrog [99]. The Elves also have powers that are greater than those of mortals. The answer to the problem, I think, lies in an understanding of the issue of power and the levels of power that there are within Middle-earth. This takes us, once again, to the issue of the Two Worlds, and the ability of Elves and Maia to pass between and be aware of the physical and spiritual realms as separate but co-existing realities.

If one is to look for a word other than "magic" to describe the mystical or "magic-like" attributes of items in Middle-earth, the word "virtue" is most apt. I do not mean virtue as valour, worth, merit or moral perfection. I mean it as the embodiment of power or operative influence in a supernatural [100] or divine being, or as a particular quality that things may have [101].

Thus we no longer have magic swords - we have swords possessed of great virtue and repute, wielded by men of great virtue, and the classic example is Anduril. As Boromir said,

    "Mayhap the Sword-that-was-Broken may still stem the tide - if the hand that wields it has inherited not an heirloom only, but the sinews of the Kings of Men." [102]

The scabbard given by Galadriel to Aragorn is possessed of a virtue that prevents the blade drawn from it not to be stained or broken even in defeat, thus counteracting the evil that occurred to the sword as Narsil. Indeed the virtue of Galadriel as a superior being, one of the Noldor or High Elves is demonstrated in all her gifts, especially Sam's box of earth and the Star-glass given to Frodo.

The apparent "magic" present in Lorien derives from the virtue of the Elven Ring held by Galadriel, in that it is preserved with timelessness, for time is a destroyer. Only by nullifying the effect of time and wear, can Lorien remain an echo of the Lands of the West.

Thus, the Ring, possessed of the supernatural power of its maker has the virtue of which Sauron was possessed. Its power to make the wearer invisible seems "magical" but is just one of the powers that it has. The essence of virtue lies in the power associated with it, irrespective of the Good or Evil of that power. And it will be recalled that the Rings are more often referred to as Rings of Power than they are "magic" rings. Although it may seem that there is magic in Middle-earth, there are degrees of virtue and power vested in characters and beings that allow them to achieve certain goals that are not within the natural order of things. Magic may be a convenient word, but it is, in my view, too loose, and carries incorrect and unfortunate connotations.

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

Hypertextual System by FMI Publishing, 1995

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