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At the Council of Elrond, the idea of dropping the Ring in the Sea is raised. One of the objections is that the Sauron would expect them to do it, and that it would be impossible to get it there:

‘And that we shall not find on the roads to the Sea,’ said Galdor. ‘If the return to Iarwain be thought too dangerous, then flight to the Sea is now fraught with gravest peril. My heart tells me that Sauron will expect us to take the western way, when he learns what has befallen. He soon will. The Nine have been unhorsed indeed, but that is but a respite, ere they find new steeds and swifter. Only the waning might of Gondor stands now between him and a march in power along the coasts into the North; and if he comes, assailing the White Towers and the Havens, hereafter the Elves may have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle Earth.’

This seems to be rather implausible - the Havens aren't that far from the Shire, and Sauron has no armies or even Ringwraiths anywhere in the region. A group of High Elves and Gandalf (all of whom could arguably individually keep off the Nine even if they were around!) could ride straight along the Road long before anything Sauron had could intercept them. Once there, they just need to get on a boat, sail out a few miles, and drop it in the Sea - which shouldn't be too hard.

So why can't they get to the Havens?

I know that there are other reasons not to do it, as raised at the council (and also the one they seem to ignore, as I asked elsewhere, that without actively destroying the Ring they'll lose the war conventionally) - I want to know why this reason is treated as a good one.

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    But Rivendell is far from the Shire, and the Havens even further past that. Recall the trouble that Frodo and company had getting to Rivendell. You propose they backtrack over the same ground and more? Galdor says "Sauron will expect us to take the western way..they [the Nine] will soon find new steeds and swifter. And, if they do try that, and Sauron attacks the Havens, the Elves may lose the ability to leave Middle Earth. Regardless - Gandalf says dumping into into the sea isn't an option.
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 25, 2021 at 21:27
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    Frodo's main trouble was because they weren't mounted and taking the Road (because they had to hide from the Riders). Either way, the Riders would need to be very fast to catch up all the way from Mordor, and even then they wouldn't be a match for a group of high elves and Gandalf
    – AKA
    Oct 25, 2021 at 21:58
  • 3
    I think we should trust Gandalf and the elves as to who they think they would be a match for or not and they were all fearful and doubtful that the West was a wise course of action. Also - once they were unhorsed, it didn't take the Nine long to upgrade their rides.
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 25, 2021 at 22:01
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    SAURON: [triumphant] It has worked -- you've given everything away -- I know where the ring is. GANDALF: (fool’s courage) Then make your choice! SAURON: I will. And I choose [stops suddenly and points at something behind Gandalf] what in the world can that be? Oct 26, 2021 at 11:00
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    Did you notice that in the long term, dropping the Ring in the sea would be no more useful than giving it back to Gollum to again hide under the mountain? In terms of ultimate evil, hiding the ring for a week or ten thousand years isn't the point. Only destroying can ever really matter. Oct 27, 2021 at 21:51

6 Answers 6

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They probably could reach the Havens. In British English (I'm not sure about other variants), 'taking a road' doesn't always refer literally to travelling. It can also be a figure of speech that refers to following a particular course of action. For example, when Elrond says 'none can foretell what will come to pass, if we take this road or that', he is referring to courses of action, not actual roads. This can lead to some confusion when the Havens are discussed, because there is a literal road between there and Rivendell. However, the peril Galdor refers to isn't likely to come on the road itself. He is replying to Gandalf, who says

We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one.

Galdor says

And that we shall not find on the roads to the Sea,

Courses of action are being discussed here, not actual roads. Galdor goes on to say

Only the waning might of Gondor stands between him [Sauron] and a march in power along the coasts into the North...

Galdor does not mean that Sauron could fight his way past Gondor and Rohan, provision and organise an army to reach Lindon and get it there in less time than it would take for a few riders to reach there from Rivendell, because that would be absurd. He means that throwing the ring into the sea guarantees defeat. Sauron would simply continue chipping away at Gondor's strength, eventually overwhelm it and then march north to attack Rivendell and Lindon. By taking the wrong course of action, the Elves and their allies would be sacrificing their one chance of victory.

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  • This is far too subtle a reading: The roads to the sea were exactly the options of physically moving the Ring from Rivendell to the sea. And Sauron's march in power was just that: Great armies moving north alongt he coast and assailing the Havens.
    – Mark Olson
    Oct 27, 2021 at 0:32
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    @MarkOlson --- Too subtle for whom? Oct 27, 2021 at 8:26
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    Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.
    – WOPR
    Oct 27, 2021 at 11:54
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    I think you have the right idea (even without the accent on the "roads" metaphore) that the problem isn't the travel to the sea itself. What the elf probably fears is that if they send the ring to the sea, Sauron will send all his armies there ASAP, causing the loss of the elve's access to the sea and prevent them from fleeing Middle Earth (which they already plan to do whatever happens).
    – Echox
    Oct 28, 2021 at 14:47
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I will embark on a slight frame challenge.

Of what benefit(s) would dropping the One Ring in Sea bring?

Sauron was powerful without it. Powerful enough that with his Nazgul and armies, there was little hope of defeating him.

Removing the One Ring by dropping it in the Sea would have two effects.

  1. Sauron would not have his power enhanced by possessing it.
  2. The wearers of the Three could continue using their Rings.

Neither of these actually move them in a direction of defeating Sauron, but only maintain the status quo, which was an ultimately losing proposition for them.

Eventually Sauron will win.

The only hope, slim as it is, was to destroy the One Ring, which would reduce Sauron's power to near nothing.

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    Agree (see my note at the end and linked question)- but that wasn't the question here! They clearly state that it would be impossible, rather than useless - and I don't understand why it would be difficult.
    – AKA
    Oct 26, 2021 at 20:43
  • Michael is correct - the sea isn't a worthy destination anyway, so the road there can't be anything but a negative.
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 26, 2021 at 20:53
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    Yeah it should be noted that Sauron's tactic ever since the fall of Numenor has been to stall - to wait as the elves and Gondor decline in power, to conquer bit by bit of Gondor over the course of several thousand years. If they would throw the Ring in the sea it would eventually surface again, like it did after getting tossed into the Anduin. But by then there might be no elves left and Gondor could have weakened further. Basically the whole war of the Ring is forcing Sauron's hand.
    – Amarth
    Oct 27, 2021 at 18:46
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A big picture theme to the story as whole is that the One Ring is a problem of Middle-Earth and that problem has to be fixed there. But if we ignore that and were to speculate that the Ring would have been taken west, then:

  • Saruman's betrayal is now known and he has an army which he could as well march north.
  • Rohan has been disabled by Saruman/Wormtongue and will not likely send their army to help. It took a visit by Gandalf to stir them to action and even that was after Saruman's orcs had made raids in their land.
  • The ents would not come to help.
  • Gondor and Mordor is keeping each other in check. Mordor would however soon crush Gondor in open war, especially if Rohan doesn't come to their aid.
  • Help from Lórien, Mirkwood and/or the King under the Mountain isn't certain, and besides none of these countries can muster large armies like the humans and orcs can.

Basically there would be little to no opposition for Saruman's army, if he marched it north. Then eventually the armies of Mordor would follow, once Gondor and perhaps also Rohan were defeated.

The course of events that happened in the books is a pretty desperate scenario as it is, even with Rohan and Gondor eventually joining forces. Alternative scenarios would likely had turned out far worse for Frodo & co.

Out of universe, much of Tokien's purpose with the Council of Elrond is to ensure that there's only one plausible way forward and only one way to destroy the Ring.

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  • Agreed - but all that would take months at least, and all they have to do is ride to the Havens before then
    – AKA
    Oct 26, 2021 at 17:14
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    Not so: Sauron would 'march in power' up the coast and destroy the Havens and Elrond said 'And they who dwell beyond the Sea would not receive it: for good or ill it belongs to Middle-earth; it is for us who still dwell here to deal with it.'
    – Mark Olson
    Oct 27, 2021 at 0:35
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There are enemies and peril already in the North of Middle-earth that Sauron would almost certainly infuse with his will and employ with terrible purpose if he had a reason to. Moreover, the distance from Rivendell to the Havens is not small - take a look at a map, it's nearly a thousand mile journey! - and there still would have been a need to move with secrecy.

Aragorn tells us a little about them:

‘If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us. Fear would have destroyed them. But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us. What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands, or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dúnedain were asleep or were all gone into the grave? [...] “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.

(The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings)

There were trolls:

Other wanderers were rare, and of evil sort: trolls might stray down at times out of the northern valleys of the Misty Mountains.

(The Lord of the Rings)

The birds and beasts were not all friendly:

It commands a wide view all round. Indeed, there are many birds and beasts in this country that could see us, as we stand here, from that hilltop. Not all the birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are.’

Remember, still west of the Misty Mountains, the company was attacked by a huge pack of wolves:

Suddenly Aragorn leapt to his feet. ‘How the wind howls! ’ he cried. ‘It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains! ’ [...] A great host of Wargs had gathered silently and was now attacking them from every side at once. [...] ‘It is as I feared,’ said Gandalf. These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness. Let us eat quickly and go! ’

(The Lord of the Rings)

and crebain was observed, likely in service of the Enemy:

‘Regiments of black crows are flying over all the land between the Mountains and the Greyflood,’ he said, ‘and they have passed over Hollin. They are not natives here: they are crebain out of Fangorn and Dunland. I do not know what they are about; possibly there is some trouble away south from which they are fleeing; but I think they are spying out the land. I have also glimpsed many hawks flying high up in the sky. I think we ought to move again this evening. Hollin is no longer wholesome for us: it is being watched.’

(The Lord of the Rings)

There were also Men, allied with Sauron, scattered throughout the region: remember that the Company had just escaped, on the way to Rivendell, not only the Ringwraiths, but the Men working with them.

If these had been more than scattered forces and random attacks by enemies just happening to run into the party, instead determined attacks driven by Sauron's will, the Company would have been in real trouble. A small company of Elves against a 'host' of wolves that is no longer merely feeling them out, perhaps complete with some trolls, might be the kind of scenario they are thinking about - and in the time it took them to make the journey, the Nine would probably have time to return.

My heart tells me that Sauron will expect us to take the western way, when he learns what has befallen. He soon will. The Nine have been unhorsed indeed but that is but a respite, ere they find new steeds and swifter.

(The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings)

The implication here is that Galdor actually expects the intervention of the Nine if they take the western road, before they get to their destination - and that is probably a reasonable supposition: if Sauron's spies determined that the Ring was headed west, he probably could have dispatched the winged Nazgûl much earlier, given that it appears he was simply holding them back for strategic reasons later on.

Galdor is also afraid that Sauron might launch an attack on the Havens:

Only the waning might of Gondor stands now between him and a march in power along the coasts into the North; and if he comes, assailing the White Towers and the Havens, hereafter the Elves may have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle-earth.’

‘Long yet will that march be delayed,’ said Boromir. ‘Gondor wanes, you say. But Gondor stands, and even the end of its strength is still very strong.’

‘And yet its vigilance can no longer keep back the Nine,’ said Galdor. ‘And other roads he may find that Gondor does not guard.’

(The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings)

Given the context of this statement, it seems that Galdor is not merely commenting on the distant, future inevitable fall of the Havens, but the possibility that Sauron has already or will very soon launch an attack on the Havens. Remember that, only a few months later, Gondor would have fallen, and the Elves have no exact knowledge of the disposition of Sauron's forces; for all they know, the big assault leading to the fall of Gondor could be happening tomorrow, and they also have to worry about forces (that may already be) dispatched from Isengard up the North-South road. The other roads comment is perhaps key: how do they know that a naval force hasn't already been deployed to assault the Havens? It's pretty clear that Gondor's naval forces are utterly inferior to Sauron's, given Sauron's fleets were apparently completely unhindered by the men of Southern Gondor until Aragorn brought the Dead to bear against them.

Remember also that the Council was held very quickly, before they had obtained any intelligence beyond what the Council members already knew. They had not even ascertained for certain what happened to the Nazgûl. This happens over the course of two months after the Council is held:

‘Eight out of the Nine are accounted for at least,’ said Gandalf. ‘It is rash to be too sure, yet I think that we may hope now that the Ringwraiths were scattered, and have been obliged to return as best they could to their Master in Mordor, empty and shapeless.

‘If that is so, it will be some time before they can begin the hunt again.

(The Ring Goes South, The Lord of the Rings)

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  • Possibly - though they didn't manage to stop the Company going the other way (admittedly not clear who's sending the Wargs in the book). But why does Galdor talk about beating Gondor and marching to the Havens then?
    – AKA
    Oct 26, 2021 at 14:05
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    That's more a comment that even if they do send the Ring overseas, there's really nothing preventing the eventual defeat of Gondor and the fall of the Havens, which means the remaining Eldar would still be stuck in Middle Earth under Sauron's reign.
    – chepner
    Oct 26, 2021 at 14:35
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    @AKA: They very nearly did stop them, and that way was not watched as closely because Sauron did not expect it. Based on the comments of the characters, the Wargs were not sent necessarily with a purpose, they were just unfortunate. Were they, they probably wouldn't've let up after the initial skirmish where the leader was killed, and even then, the company only "escaped" via Moria. Consider also this: it took them from September 23rd to October 20th to get from the Shire to Rivendell. That March 15th, Gondor would have fallen. Galdor could not be sure how soon Gondor would fall,
    – Shamshiel
    Oct 26, 2021 at 16:20
  • @AKA: So not only is the flight already 'fraught with perils' like trolls, wolves, birds, and Men working for Sauron and Saruman (who has already infiltrated the Shire), as far as Galdor knows in only a few months Sauron will be overrunning the North with his armies and they will have nowhere to go after that.
    – Shamshiel
    Oct 26, 2021 at 16:24
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    Could you make your citations more precise than “(The Lord of the Rings)”, e.g. a chapter? I think we'd all assume that anything cited here is from that work! Oct 27, 2021 at 3:45
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That's an interesting question.

The physical path was very plausible. There seems to have been a steady stream of Elves moving to the Havens. In fact, these were the first Elves that Sam saw. It appears that these Elves were mostly unmolested, presumably as it was in Sauron's best interests if they departed Middle-earth.

It seems entirely possible for one of them to slip the ring into their pocket and get it safely to the Havens, especially with the Ringwraiths temporarily disabled.

The problem with throwing it into the sea has been discussed already. However, an alternative option would have been to take it into the West. While it can't easily be destroyed in Middle-earth, one of the Ainur (Aulë perhaps) should have the means to take care of it without too much trouble.
While the ring was a "problem of Middle-earth", it seems possible that the Ainu would have helped, especially with something that's fairly easy to do.

We'll never know for sure but the most likely explanation is "Artistic Freedom". While Tolkien could have taken the story that way, he didn't, as that was not the story he wanted to write.

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    Elrond says "they who dwell beyond the Sea woud not receive it". Oct 27, 2021 at 10:29
  • @IanThompson Of course, he doesn't know that for sure. However, it is very likely that he's right (judging by in-universe Elvish history for him a.k.a. the Silmarillion for us). The Valar have had to learn the hard way how dangerous it is to keep evil close to yourself (first Melkor in Valinor, then Sauron in Númenor). Accepting yet another source of temptation like the Ring would be just asking for another Fall.
    – Annatar
    Oct 27, 2021 at 12:01
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    Getting to Valinor is a mystical trip; it requires sailing in a straight line (i.e. treating the world as if it were flat instead of a ball) which only elves can do. Mortal races would just go around the ball and end up on the other side of the world. It's unclear whether Gandalf meant the elves in Valinor would refuse to accept the ring or if he meant the Ring would never get there -- the Ring is tied to Middle Earth, so it's entirely possible that having the Ring aboard would actually prevent an elf-ship from taking the Straight Way and they'd end up going around the world instead. Oct 27, 2021 at 13:54
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    Or the ring would stay in Middle Earth, falling into the sea, when the straight path traveled by the ship carrying it diverged from the mundane great circle route.
    – Ethan
    Oct 27, 2021 at 18:14
  • The Elves near the Shire say: And I warn you that peril is now both before you and behind you, and upon either side.’, and Galdor is quite clear that the road to the west is fraught with danger: ‘And that we shall not find on the roads to the Sea,’ said Galdor. ‘If the return to Iarwain be thought too dangerous, then flight to the Sea is now fraught with gravest peril. My heart tells me that Sauron will expect us to take the western way, when he learns what has befallen
    – Shamshiel
    Oct 31, 2021 at 12:17
3

One might also consider whether it makes sense to carry the Ring to the Havens, and then take ship south towards Mordor, on the theory that sea travel might be faster or safer than going over land. Against this idea:

  • From Rivendell to the Havens is about as far as to the Gap of Rohan. The territory to the west of Rivendell is already being patrolled by Sauron's forces, so it would be difficult to move the Ring stealthily. Even if he is not able to seize the Ring at this point, he would know where it was headed.
  • The route would pass through or near the Shire, putting it in danger from a direct assault by Sauron's northern forces in order to intercept the Ring.
  • Once at sea, an Elven ship would have to make its way to the Bay of Belfalas and up the Anduin. (If they make landfall earlier then there is no time saved compared to the book route.) Sauron's naval forces out of Umbar, to the south of the bay, would know the ship was coming and be well-prepared to seek it out. Even if Círdan's craft is fast and stealthy, it's not guaranteed to be able to slip past the large corsair fleet.
  • If we've made it this far, the Ring is in southern Gondor. Compared to the book situation, things are more difficult. Sauron's main army is ready to fall on Gondor, as in the book, but the Ring is now in the wrong place. It's arrived under the hot pursuit of the enemy, and in any case it's very much harder to slip into Mordor from the southwest. The northern route, taking a detour through the Dead Marshes, is easier than braving the gauntlet of the Emyn Arnen directly - so we must pass through Minas Tirith.
  • Meanwhile, Rohan has fallen to Saruman, and he may have moved on to attacking Lothlórien, or bringing his own forces against Minas Tirith from the north. By taking the sea route, we have lost the chance to deal with Saruman, and so the assault on Gondor is stronger.
  • As the Ring is now in the city, Denethor would be in a position to seize it for his own use. This is actually what Sauron thinks is happening in Return of the King - that under the pressure of war, with the Ring in Minas Tirith, the enemy commanders will fight over it and he will be able to swoop in and reclaim it. In this timeline, he may well be right.
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    The question asked why it'd be difficult to get the One Ring to the Grey Havens. This feels like an answer to a slightly different question. Oct 28, 2021 at 10:34

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