12

It seems that the Ring took control over Frodo, and he used it instead of throwing it to lava.

It was destroyed by pushing Gollum, who was holding the Ring, into the lava.

Does it mean that Frodo was not capable of destroying the Ring, and he was just lucky that Gollum was there?

1

3 Answers 3

27

Sort of. There are secretly several parts to the question, each of which have a different answer.

Was Frodo incapable of destroying the Ring?

Emphatic yes. Tolkien says as much several times in his letters, but I'm going to quote Letter 191 (emphasis his):

If you re-read all the passages dealing with Frodo and the Ring, I think you will see that not only was it quite impossible for him to surrender the Ring, in act or will, especially at its point of maximum power

[...]

No, Frodo 'failed'. It is possible that once the ring was destroyed he had little recollection of the last scene. But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however 'good'

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 191: To Miss J. Bum (draft). July 1956

Was Gollum the key to destroying the Ring?

Not really. Gollum just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, at the end of the right string of circumstances. The actual key to destroying the Ring was Ilúvatar, the God of Tolkien's mythology.

The end of the story is a statement of Tolkien's moral philosophy, that salvation and the ultimate destruction of Evil is something that only God can accomplish.

Was Frodo just lucky that Gollum was there?

Again, no. Frodo himself caused Gollum to be there, by not killing him earlier in the story; as Tolkien writes in Letter 246:

Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of Providence) and had produced a situation in which the object of his quest could be achieved. His humility (with which he began) and his sufferings were justly rewarded by the highest honour; and his exercise of patience and mercy towards Gollum gained him Mercy: his failure was redressed.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 246: To Mrs. Eileen Elgar (draft). September 1963

Far from being the result of luck, Gollum's presence (and thus his being the instrument of Providence that achieved the Quest), was a direct result of Frodo's earlier mercy, and his (accidental) destruction of the Ring was part of Frodo's reward.

3
  • 9
    "Go not to Jason Baker for counsel, for he will say both No and Yes." Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 16:00
  • 3
    @DanielRoseman And he'll even throw in a “sort of” and a “not really” for good measure. (I wonder, if Gollum hadn't been there, whether the real main hero of the story, Sam, would have thrown himself on Frodo and cast them both into the fiery pits of the mountain to destroy the Ring, sacrificing them both in the process. I like to think he would have.) Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 5:56
  • 3
    I think Sam would gladly have thrown himself into the fire, but I don't know about his being able to kill Frodo. Even though he acknowledges that he thinks they will both die, he doesn't seem like he could muster the strength to deliberately throw Frodo into the fire.
    – user57282
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 6:34
12

Jason Baker's answer is mostly correct, but I will dispute something: Gollum was key to destroying the Ring, as was shown in a few places.

Gandalf tells Frodo, in The Fellowship of the Ring, The Shadow of the Past, of Gollum:

And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end

Frodo remembers this conversation when he finally meets Gollum in the Emyn Muil:

I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.

Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

Frodo is wiser than many give him credit for. He binds Gollum to the Ring with the promise, knowing better than any present what it means:

Frodo drew himself up, and again Sam was startled by his words and his stern voice. 'On the Precious? How dare you?' he said. 'Think!

One Ring to rule them all and in the Darkness bind them.

'Would you commit your promise to that, Smeagol? It will hold you. But it is more treacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!'

Then he notes the power he has over Gollum at the Black Gate:

In the last need, Smeagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Smeagol!

And at Henneth Annun, he threatens to use this power:

'Smeagol!' said Frodo desperately. 'Precious will be angry. I shall take Precious, and I shall say: make him swallow the bones and choke. Never taste fish again. Come, Precious is waiting!'

Finally, he actually uses that power just before going into the Sammath Naur:

stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.

‘Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’

And then Gollum "touched" (attacked, up to and including biting off his finger) him again.

This may have been "scripted" by Iluvatar, but Gollum was indeed crucial to the Ring's destruction, since, as Jason Baker noted, Frodo was not capable of destroying the Ring himself.

3

Gollum is indeed key. "The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many" - no doubt about that.

I have an alternate theory. It was the Ring (rather than Frodo) that threatened Gollum outside of the Sammath Naur:

Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.

"Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom."

By the inexorable logic of this curse, when Gollum touched the Ring, he was cast into the Fire - taking the Ring with him.

In this interpretation: the malign doom laid by the Ring upon Gollum led to its own destruction.

This fits with a theme laid down elsewhere by Tolkien. In the words of Theoden, ratified by Gandalf: "Oft evil will shalt evil mar."


Question: "The idea that the Ring can speak feels like a stretch. Is this hinted at anywhere else in the books?"

No, and nor should we expect it. Note that Tolkien does use elsewhere the dramatic form of an item suddenly - and at a final crisis - revealing personhood through speech.

Consider Turin Turambar speaking to his sword Gurthang, as Turin is about to slay himself:

'Hail Gurthang! No lord or loyalty dost thou know, save the hand that wieldeth thee. From no blood wilt thou shrink. Wilt thou therefore take Túrin Turambar, wilt thou slay me swiftly?'

And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer: 'Yea, I will drink thy blood gladly, that so I may forget the blood of Beleg my master, and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay thee swiftly."

Note that Gurthang speaks only once, and only at the end.

Tolkien also uses this sound dramatic technique with the Ring. The Ring speaks only once, and at the last possible moment before the Sammath Naur.

Tolkien goes further with the Ring than he does with the Gurthang example. He doesn't make it explicit that the Ring is speaking - although the voice out of the Wheel of Fire can belong to nothing else. The fact that the Ring has spoken is - for the reader - a shock and a moment of incredulous realisation.

This is just good story-telling and good dramatic technique. Less is More. If your story requires an item (or other normatively non-speaking creature like Huan) to speak, then that is the way to do it: sparingly, preferably only once (or for Huan: the fated number of three times) and only at the most dramatic moments.

Consider the alternative: the Ring talking quite often.

If it speaks once, and unexpectedly, you have drama.

If this mysterious and unknowable artefact, key to the fate of Middle-Earth, chatters away like Ioreth of the Houses of Healing then think how undramatic and immersion-breaking that would be.

An item (or a normatively-dumb animal companion) that talked incessantly like a Chatty Cathy doll would rapidly become laughable. This works for parody genres, but won't do for LOTR.

Hope this is helpful.


Questions broadly revolving around the Ring having personhood, or not.

Consider Frodo's reaction to Gollum's offer to swear on the precious:

Would you commit your promise to that, Sméagol? It will hold you. But it is more treacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!’

Consider also Gandalf's words:

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

And lastly of course: the Ring speaks before Sammath Naur. Here is an extended quote for additional context:

Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.

"Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom."

Note that Frodo is not speaking here. The Wheel of Fire is speaking. Frodo speaks many hundreds of times during the LOTR, and not once does his voice originate from his upper body. Nor is he wielding the Ring, and so plausibly directing the Ring's actions and speech.

Given that the Ring clearly has 'a mind of its own', it is no diminution of that personhood to say that the Ring got whatever will and agency it has from Sauron.

Of course this is true: everything that the Ring is or has, came from Sauron. Its power - and also its treachery, its malice, its evil. In passing: it's worth noting that treachery, malice and evil are traits that only a person can have.

Hope this is useful.

6
  • 2
    The idea that the Ring can speak feels like a stretch. Is this hinted at anywhere else in the books?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 27 at 10:59
  • This is an interesting and well-written speculation, but it is still a speculation. Can you add any more supporting evidence?
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jun 28 at 12:41
  • "Shalt" is second person singular - not a mistake Tolkien would make.
    – user888379
    Commented Jun 28 at 12:46
  • 2
    I'm not even sure Gurthang spoke. Who was present to witness it? Just the insane guy trying to justify his own suicide, but cleanse his conscience while doing it? It seems more like a literary technique than actual speech. Commented Jun 28 at 13:24
  • 2
    Tolkien explained that The Ring is Sauron's power externalized (there's an answer here relating to this, with the exact quote), a typical trope in myth. It's not a sentient object; its "will" is Sauron's. Therefore, the Ring itself cannot speak; whatever people hear or feel compelled to do must be echoes of Sauron's will poured into the Ring.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jun 28 at 13:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.