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I have not read the book but have seen the movie.

The ring almost tries to possess everyone like Boromir, Sam, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, etc. But why does it never affect Gandalf and Aragorn. Was it weak in front of them, or was their willpower very strong?

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I see it this way, The One Ring can be seem has an addiction, like drugs. Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel and Faramir (in the book) had enough willpower to avoid start using the ring, although temptation was there, they just know better. But all hints that if any would take the ring they would sooner or later fall prey to the "power addiction" inherent to the ring, making the ring more powerful then any willpower. –  Nuno Freitas Jul 17 at 9:29

6 Answers 6

up vote 21 down vote accepted

The way Tolkien describes the Ring it's clear that its effects are addictive. There is an initial temptation to use it, but to have the Ring fully take control of a user, the user must be in possession of it and have continued to use it for an extended period for it to have the full effect.

I'll refer you to Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth for a more complete discussion of this observation.

The Ring actually does offer some temptation to Gandalf in the books (I can't recall if the same happens in the movies), as is described in Shadow of the Past:

'But I have so little of any of these things! You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?'
'No!' cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. 'With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.' His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. 'Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself...'

The reason why Boromir succumbed so easily is that he saw the Ring as a means of gaining power to defend Gondor; as Tolkien describes in Letter 246:

It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power.

This same letter also provides an explanation of why others in the story also rejected the temptation of the Ring:

But this the Great had well considered and had rejected, as is seen in Elrond's words at the Council. Galadriel's rejection of the temptation was founded upon previous thought and resolve.

I'm not aware of any concrete explanation of why Aragorn rejected it; perhaps his friendship with Gandalf had given him the necessary knowledge of what to do, or perhaps it was the case that his main desire was for Arwen. Likewise I'm not aware of an explanation for Faramir's rejection (which is quite different in the books to what's presented in the movies).

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According to my (very vague) knowledge about The Ring, then it chooses someone who will be likely to want more, like Boromir. That's also the reason why Hobbits are less affected by The Ring, they are happy as they are - Could it be that Aragon is happy with his life and simply is not a character who "wants more" than what he already has? –  Esben Boye-Jacobsen Jul 16 at 13:43
@EsbenBoye-Jacobsen - that sounds like a viable theory. –  Darth Satan Jul 16 at 13:45
From how I am interpreting the movie, I think Aragorn may have not seen himself worthy of ruling over anybody. Therefore seeing himself unworthy of rule may have made the ring useless. But I'm interpreting that Aragorn has low self-esteem. I need to read the book –  Mallow Jul 16 at 16:38
@Mallow: The presentation of Aragorn's motives is very different in the movies and the books. In the books, Aragorn is 100% on board with I want to be king, no question about it. The movie interpretation makes Aragorn a "reluctant hero" who rejects his destiny and has to be talked into embracing it. This is yet another one of those choices which I understand why the movie makers made -- it it gives the character more of a dramatic arc -- but which is unfortunately very out of step with the character in the books. –  Eric Lippert Jul 16 at 16:43
It's important not to reject the idea of 'inherent integirity' - i.e. that some people are simply more honest, noble and self-sacrificing than others. Tolkien would not have rejected it, and there are hints that some people - Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel - reject the Ring because of who they are, rather than because they have other agendas. Faramir and Boromir have very similar aims, and Faramir even more incentive to use any means to defend his homeland, yet Boromir falls to temptation and Faramir does not. Gandalf and Saruman have the same goals - only one succumbs. –  DJClayworth Jul 16 at 18:10

First, as has been noted, the ring did tempt Gandalf (it's even mentioned in the beginning of the LOTR trilogy in the books).

Since Gandalf thought that the Ring would master him, I think it's safe to say that the Ring was stronger than his will.

What about Aragorn? Remember, when Aragorn struggled against Sauron using the palantir, he managed to wrest control of the Stone from the Dark Lord. However, Gandalf did not think that the Ring could be sent with Aragorn either.

Instead of being stronger than the Ring, those who resisted (Faramir (read the trilogy for about him; the movie ruined it), Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn, etc.) were wise enough to know that if they claimed and tried to use the Ring, it would master them. Thus, they chose to reject taking or using the Ring, reducing its chances to control them.

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They both had very strong will powers, but if either of them had actually put the ring on, I believe that it would have overpowered them. As Galadriel says "with the ring I would become the all powerful queen and everyone would love and fear her." Both Gandalf and Aragorn were able to resist the outside temptation. In the end though the Ring's power would overpower anyone.

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The way I see it, there is a difference between "willpower to resist temptation" and "willpower to resist corruption". The first one is perfectly possible, the second one is a lot harder, downright impossible for most.

Compare it to an ordinary drug almost everybody has tried; coffee. It promises something very simple, you will be able to stay awake better and focus better. For many people this is a reason to start drinking coffee. However, in the long run you will start performing worse without coffee, you will "need" that coffee in the morning to function properly. Somebody who is aware of this fact may decide not to use coffee, despite the fact that it might offer a (temporary) solution to his problem (staying awake.)

Now consider that the ring isn't something only mildly addictive like coffee, but something with its own, sinister will. Once you have used it, doing something without using it would seem silly. Why do things the hard way when the power of the ring makes everything so easy? Its addictive and corrupting powers are extreme, even if Gandalf were to use the ring for good, it would eventually twist him because the ring only serves one master.

So why do Aragorn and Gandalf have the ability to resist picking up and using the ring, but Boromir does not? Simple; they have a better understanding of what they are dealing with. When you haven't put on the ring yet, you are not yet addicted. The ring can promise you power, a solution to all your problems, but you are under no compulsion to act on these promises.

Somebody who overestimates themselves and believes "they can handle it" (Boromir) will try using the ring for good, not realizing that in the long run, they are going to get addicted and corrupted. Somebody with a better understanding of history / their own limits (Aragorn / Faramir / Galadriel / etc.) will understand that no matter how good their intentions or how noble their soul, they will eventually become corrupted by the ring and start the circle anew.

That is why they needed somebody who could part with the ring after having used it, and that is where the hobbits come in. They are naturally resistant against its effect, possibly because the desire for power does not seem to be something that comes naturally to hobbits. While it is clear that they will eventually succumb to the corruption (see Gollum), it takes a far longer time and the harm they can do with the ring is fairly limited compared to Gandalf or Elrond having the ring, making Frodo the perfect guy to bring the ring to Mordor.

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" While it is clear that they will eventually succumb to the corruption (see Gollum)" - Frodo and Bilbo both started to succumb as well. –  Jack Jul 17 at 19:50
True, but they only started to succumb. Look at Bilbo, he was still able to give the ring away after possessing it for such a long time, something an ordinary human would not have been able to do. (In fact, the ring has survived primarily because even after having it for only a few minutes, the bearers refuse to get rid of it. –  Theik Jul 18 at 7:38
The only bearer that could/would have destroyed it in a few minutes after receiving it was Isildur. –  Jack Jul 18 at 12:55

It seems to me that which is "more powerful" often depends on the circumstances, and not only a single contest of will is involved. Gandalf and Aragorn both apprehend that they would be overpowered IF they wore the ring. However they also have the knowledge and wisdom to choose not to do that, which avoids that situation.

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Gandalf and Aragorn both had way more than enough will power for the ring. It wouldn't have been a problem for either of them. Their main goal was to get Frodo to throw it into the volcano tower though, so that's how that all happened. I haven't seen the movie in a long time but it was pretty clear. I didn't find that aspect confusing at all.

Also note that a ring can't try to do anything. It's an inanimate object. Just a quibble about your wording.

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Clearly you have not read any Tolkien. The ring has a will. And no, not even Gandalf had enough will power to master the ring without being drawn towards evil. Nothing could be further from the truth than this answer. –  Johannes Pille Jul 16 at 19:45
Basically what Johannes said. 1) They could not control the Ring (certainly not Gandalf). 2) The ring is NOT an inaminate object. It changes shape and attempts to escape. –  Jack Jul 17 at 12:30
@JohannesPille I've read the Hobbit. Couldn't get into the LOTR crap though. It was like plodding through boring muck. Movies were okay though, hence why I referenced the movies. And an inanimate object can't have a will. It's not like a pen wants to write crap. How could a ring even have a will? It doesn't even have a rudimentary nervous system. That's preposterous. –  user973810 Jul 17 at 14:16
You clearly do not understand fantasy, then. The ring contains Sauron's spirit. It wants to be found so it can be reunited with it's master. If you haven't read the books, refrain from making such firm conclusions. And to be honest, even if you had paid attention to the movies, you would have known that the ring has it's own will. You try to explain it biologically, but, it's fantasy, so...magic. –  Stefan Urziceanu Jul 23 at 10:36

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