4.2. The Ring and the Two Worlds

4.2.1. The Nature of the Two Worlds

Within Tolkien's creation it is quite clear that there is a physical world and a spiritual world. This is obvious from the very early writings that formed the foundation for The Lord of the Rings. There is continually a distinction between the "Mortals" like Men and Hobbits, and the "Immortals" represented by the Elves. Mortals, who live only in the physical world, died in the absolute sense and their souls returned to the Halls of Mandos to await the End. Elves, on the other hand, if slain in the physical sense, returned to dwell in bliss in Valinor. They did not, with the exception of Glorfindel, return to the physical world. Furthermore, Elves were aware of their spiritual nature and were able to cross over at will [103].

In an early draft, Tolkien suggests that the Elves dwell in both this world and on the other side without the aid of Rings [104]. Quite clearly it was a power that was present in the Rings to allow the Bearer access to and conscious awareness of the spiritual world. This was made most clear with the Ringwraiths, who had passed over from the physical world to the spiritual side;

    "They themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys; and in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared. And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring it and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence - it troubled our hearts as we came here, and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly. Also....the Ring draws them." [105]

The Ringwraiths clearly dwell in a spiritual world, but certainly not that of Valinor. It is the spirit world of the Shadow, the opposite to Valinor's Bliss, that is their realm.

4.2.2. The Effect of the Ring and the Two Worlds

The significance of the Ring, in its power to reveal and be revealed, its operation as a bridge between two worlds and two modes of being was realised at a very early stage of the creation [106]. Indeed, the following passage from The Lord of the Rings was varied but little in its published form from when it was first written in 1938.

    "Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light." [107]

His wound with the Morgul knife draws Frodo into the spirit world [108]. He is even able to perceive the High-Elvish ability to dwell in the two realms before the confrontation at the banks of the Bruinen. When Glorfindel makes his first appearance Frodo perceives;

    "a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider as if through a thin veil." [109]

By the time Frodo reaches the Ford, he is almost within both realms [110] mainly as a result of the wound he received from the Morgul-knife. But he was in greatest peril when he wore the Ring. As Gandalf said;

    "You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself and they might have seized you. You could see them and they could see you." [111]

And by the time that he had reached the Ford, Frodo had actually become visible to them, being already on the threshold of their world. But that world is not the exclusive preserve of the Ringwraiths, for, before he slipped into unconsciousness at the Ford Frodo saw a shining figure of white light. This was Glorfindel, an Elf-lord revealed in his wrath, for;

    "(H)ere in Rivendell there live still some of his chief foes: the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against the Seen and Unseen they have great power......you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of the house of princes." [112]

The other world was an early concept within the creation. In the earliest drafts it was dealt with as follows;

    "If the Ring overcomes you, you yourself become permanently invisible - and it is a horrible cold feeling. Everything becomes very faint like grey ghost pictures against the black background in which you live; but you can smell more clearly than you can hear or see. You have no power however like a Ring of making other things invisible: you are a ringwraith. You can wear clothes.....But you are under the command of the Lord of the Rings." [113]

    "(T)heir possessors became not only invisible to all in this world, if they wished, but could see both the world under the sun and the other side in which invisible things move"

4.2.3. The Relationship of the One with the Three

The relationship of the One with the Three is most clearly understood within the context of the Ring as a bridge or a link to the world of the spirit. The Elves, as I have pointed out, were able to dwell in both worlds at once, and the One Ring was a bridge from the physical to the spiritual world. The reassumption by Sauron of the One would allow him to control the Three and dominate not only the physical reality of the Elves, but their spiritual realm as well. It is for this reason that the Elves make the following comments;


    "For in the day that Sauron first put on the One, Celebrimbor, maker of the Three, was aware of him, and from afar he heard him speak these words, and so his evil purposes were revealed."[114]

    "For in the days of Isildur the Ruling Ring passed out of all knowledge, and the Three were released from its dominion. But now in this latter day they are in peril once more, for to our sorrow then One has been found." [115]

The only way in which the Three could retain their integrity and work in secret was because Sauron had not touched them.

    "The Three were not made by Sauron, nor did he ever touch them. But of them it is not permitted to speak. So much only in this hour of doubt I may now say. They are not idle. But they were not made as weapons of war or conquest: that is not their power. Those who made them did not desire strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making and healing, to preserve all things unstained. These things the Elves of Middle-earth have in some measure gained, though with sorrow. But all that has been wrought by those who wield the Three will turn to their undoing, and their hearts and minds will become revealed to Sauron, if he regains the One. It would be better if the Three had never been. That is his purpose." [116]

Elrond goes on to suggest that the destruction of the One will diminish the Three;

    "Some hope that the Three Rings, which Sauron has never touched, would then become free, and their rulers might heal the hurts of the world that he has wrought. But maybe when the One has gone, the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten. That is my belief." [117]

The link between the One and the Three is exemplified at the Mirror of Galadriel. Frodo perceives Galadriel's ring as the light of Earendil's Star fell upon it. Galadriel explained it in this way, and echoes Elrond's view of the consequences of the destruction of the One;

    "(I)t cannot be hid from the Ring-bearer, and one who has seen the Eye. Verily it is in the land of Lorien upon the finger of Galadriel that one of the Three remains. This is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, and I am its keeper.
    He suspects, but he does not know - not yet. Do you not see now wherefore your coming is to us as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlorien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart to the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten." [118]

The significance of the Three is described by Tolkien in this way;

    "The Three Rings of the Elves, wielded by secret guardians, are operative in preserving the memory of the beauty of old, maintaining enchanted enclaves of peace where Time seems to stand still and decay is restrained, a semblance of the bliss of the True West." [119]

But all of this will be stripped away if the One returns to Sauron, for as the Ring is a bridge to the spiritual world for a mortal, so is it a bridge into the world of the spirit inhabited by the Elves. For Evil to come into that world would be the ultimate violation.

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

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