The Fandom LOTR wiki lists four times Eru Ilúvatar intervened in the history of Arda:

  1. creating Elves and Men
  2. removing Aman from the spherical Earth
  3. resurrecting Gandalf
  4. making Gollum trip

In a letter written by Tolkien, he stated that Eru again intervened, this time in the Third Age, causing Gollum to trip and fall into the fires of Mount Doom while still holding the One Ring, thus destroying it.

Is this correct? If so, what letter is this, and exactly what did Tolkien say?

  • 36
    What about when he gave life to the dwarves? I'd say that's pretty history-changing.
    – trysis
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 0:30
  • 8
    @trysis You mean when he "adopted" them and gave them souls? I'd say that happened "pre-history" (since the dwarves were created long before elves and men came to Arda) and therefore isn't really part of "history" any more than, say, the creation of the Ainur. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 5:08
  • 16
    While the source below answers the quesion, I always preferred the interpretation that Gollum (subconsciously) tripped on purpose. After all he was in an extreme love-hate relationship with the ring and in some way it was the perfect solution for him, being able to hold and destroy the ring at the same time. If I remember correctly there was even some mention by Tolkien that if the relationship between Frodo and Gollum had not soured, Gollum might have flung himself into the vulcano fully by his own volition...
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 8:45
  • 3
    @KyleStrand I would say, though, that the actual creation of elves and men was done at the time of the singing, and that (to use the same word Tolkien does) they simply awakened at the appropriate time later in Arda's history. That time was kept secret from the Valar, but it happened without further intervention. Once Arda was created, it was built and evolved under the guidance of the Valar independently of Eru.
    – Ryan Reich
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 11:52
  • 2
    No. Please see my answer here
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 20:46

6 Answers 6


Yes, as we can see on Letter #192, Eru certainly took over after Frodo was done with the assigned task.

Tolkien mentions that Frodo did take the Ring to a certain point (where no other being could) and then another power took over to decide the fate of the Ring.

Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others of his time, would have got so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), 'that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named' (as one critic has said).
See Vol. I p. 65. 2 A third (the only other) commentator on the point some months ago reviled Frodo as a scoundrel (who should have been hung and not honoured), and me too. It seems sad and strange that, in this evil time when daily people of good will are tortured, 'brainwashed', and broken, anyone could be so fiercely simpleminded and self righteous.

(Emphasis mine)

Exact quote is from the second link here, page 270; cannot post the direct link

  • 45
    Wow, without Tolkien's explanation-for-dummies I totally missed the moral message in that scene (that we are inadequate beings; that all our successes depend on the intervention of a higher power; but that we deserve all honour for straining our capability nonetheless). Here I thought he was just playing on an irony that Gollum should be the unwitting agent where Frodo balked despite knowing what was right. But then, I differ from Tolkien religiously ;-) Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 22:27
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    Seems a little bit of a let down frankly, because gollum's fall wasn't then the result of evil destroying itself through greed and pride, rather just the whim of an ancient (mad?) god. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 4:21
  • 5
    My guess is that Tolkien is discussing the questions raised by his novel, rather than just explaining it. Not that unusual, actually. Many artists tend to be reluctant to simply explain away the stuff they wrote/painted/did. Philip Pearlstein held that his paintings are about nothing but composition, and Mikhail Scherbakov said his poetry is "about words." It doesn't seem very interesting to have God interfere so that everything turns out ok. Tolkien is too good a storyteller for that, I think.
    – Misha R
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 3:24
  • 12
    @MarkRogers If Gollum hadn't been greedy and prideful, and instead immediately fled with his precious, then an ancient god wouldn't have been able to make him trip into the volcano. I also think "whim" would be putting Tolkien's intent lightly.
    – user31178
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 19:50
  • 6
    As interventions by God go this is not one. Tolkien's comments seem no different than people that say whenever something happens it's god's will or plan. Gandalf being resurrected is an obvious intervention. Someone tripping at the exact right moment is a different class of fortuitous event. Methinks the LOTR wiki in the question is being facetious. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 9:49

Earlier in the book, when Gollum is made to swear fealty to Frodo before the ring, Frodo warns Gollum that oaths by the ring aren't to be taken lightly.

Later on, when Sam and Frodo had almost reached the end, Gollum attacks them - to which Frodo says "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom." It seems to me that, since the ring at this point has absolute power over Gollum, and Frodo is the ring bearer, this is treated as another oath before the ring. It is therefore Gollum's own enslavement to the ring that forces him to fulfill that oath and fall into the fire after he attacks Frodo.

  • 6
    Nice catch, but it falls short of answering the question: whose power exacts the oath?
    – Raphael
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 9:12
  • 13
    @Raphael Sauron's power fuels the ring and we can assume it is his power that exerts the rings influence.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 11:00
  • 4
    @Pryftan Relying entirely on an artist's explanation is a risky business, and can often be misleading. Many artists are loathe to give by-point explanations of the elements within their work - preferring to ruminate on ideas they've had since, or to provide a more detached analysis based on things like their personal philosophical views or historical context. This goes doubly for cases when the piece contains all the necessary information - which this one very much seems to.
    – Misha R
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 6:29
  • 2
    @MishaRosnach My comment went over your head in the end then didn't it? Tolkien directly states what happened whether you want to believe it or not. But there it is: it's fiction and if your imagination wants to look at it that way you should look at it that way because that's a gift. Your imagination doesn't have to be correct; what it should do is give you joy. If it has then it's done right. (The fact he made many revisions over time might say more e.g. the published Silmarillion is only the final version; he had finished other versions: so which is correct? The final? Imo yes.)
    – Pryftan
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:42
  • 2
    "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom." It seems to me...this is treated as another oath before the ring. That's not how oaths work. Not even a flexible usage of the word. It's a promise you make about your future behavior, not something you force upon another against their will. And if you're implying that somehow Frodo imposed his will onto Gollum, using the Ring as a vector, then you're doing so without a shred of evidentiary precedent. At which point you could shoe in any baseless interpretation here and it would be equally valid.
    – arkon
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 21:08

Nicely done @Shevliaskovic, I thought I was the only person who caught that.

But there is also the fact that Gollum never actually swore to serve Frodo, he swore to serve the Master of the Precious:

‘Down! down!’ said Frodo. ‘Now speak your promise!’

‘We promises, yes I promise!’ said Gollum. ‘I will serve the master of the Precious. Good master, good Sméagol, gollum, gollum!’ Suddenly he began to weep and bite at his ankle again.

And we know from the Silmarillion that:

Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: 'Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.'

So wouldn't it be a twist of irony if, as this passage indicates, the "Master of the Precious" is not Frodo, nor Sauron even, but Ilúvatar himself? And that absolves Gollum, somewhat, because in the end he did serve Ilúvatar's purpose, a purpose which Gandalf foresaw.

  • 28
    The answer to every LOTR question is now "Ilúvatar did it" :D Simplicity, I like it.
    – Gusdor
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 11:03
  • 7
    Well, if you want to use that logic, then technically Iluvatar is the all-powerful master of everything. "I will serve the master of this hat" would also be an oath to Iluvatar. The ring then becomes arbitrary, along with everything else.
    – Misha R
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 14:50
  • 4
    Well, it may seem a bit of an overstretch... but it is nevertheless true that Illuvatar is the all-powerful master of everything in Arda. And it was also true in the mind of Tolkien, the devout christian.
    – Joel
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 15:21
  • 2
    The only master of the One Ring wasn't Eru Ilúvatar. You're right though that Gandalf foresaw - or rather sensed - that Gollum would play some part in the end. Tolkien thought Gollum should be pitied, clearly, and he did write about other ways it would have ended should - for example - Sam have understood Frodo and Sméagol's dynamic better.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 1:32
  • @Joel No. I can't say I remember where precisely but Tolkien I'm sure made it clear that there wasn't religion in Middle-earth like this. Faith in some parts yes but that's about it. It's true he had Ilúvatar intervene at times but I don't think he ever saw him as a master of everything; I want to say that it was the opposite but I'm vague on this. Anyway Tolkien being Christian has nothing to do with the power of Eru Ilúvatar.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 1:35

I agree, in a way. Eru did not actually trip Gollum, but He made certain all the right conditions were there for the grand finale:

  • He made certain that Sauron did not kill his captive, as he should have done.

    Gollum was captured in Mordor in the year 3017 and taken to Barad-dûr, and there questioned and tormented. When he had learned what he could from him, Sauron released him and sent him forth again. He did not trust Gollum, for he divined something indomitable in him, which could not be overcome, even by the Shadow of Fear, except by destroying him. [...] Ultimately indomitable he was, except by death, as Sauron did not fully comprehend, being himself consumed by lust for the Ring.

    –J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, "The Hunt for the Ring”

    What was that which made such a weak-willed person so strong against the greatest evil on the face of Arda? The destiny which Eru had in place for him. Sauron told himself that he would use Gollum as a bloodhound, however the creature was notoriously sneaky and elusive and he already had the Nazgul, for which the One worked as a beacon in the night. Gollum was a liability for Sauron, not any kind of help.

  • Gollum, when he finally managed to grasp his Precious again, had been separated from it for almost 60 years, a lifetime in human terms. I know some find the parallel between a junkie and Gollum disturbing or foreign to the context of high fantasy, but it is quite accurate: Gollum is hopelessly addicted to the One to the point of obsession, while at the same time it is the thing which utterly and completely ruined his life, twisting his body and soul. And much like a drug addict suffering from extreme withdrawal, once he gets his hands on the object of his desire he ODs. In this case he lost all sense of where he was, and in his absolute bliss he merrily dances himself (and the One) to his demise.

    Tolkien had explained to those who thought that Frodo was a failure that there was no one alive on Middle-earth at the time who would have managed to get even that far. It was simply impossible for anyone to willingly destroy the Ring. Therefore, Gollum had this critical role to play at the end. Ironically, the very power of the Ring, to possess the mind of its bearer and strip them of rational thought, making itself the most precious thing in the world for the bearer, was ultimately the very cause of its destruction. That, and of course the mercy shown to Gollum by both Bilbo and Frodo.

One very interesting side question is who was it that spoke to Gollum in Sam's vision of Frodo as a white-robed figure with a wheel of fire, on the slopes of Mount Doom? Given the above and Tolkien's own quote about Eru taking over, I would say that it was Eru himself, speaking as Frodo and giving fair warning to Gollum about his impending doom. If we accept all the above to be true, then Eru would have been manipulating poor Smeagol for most of his wretched life. That would not sit at all well with a devout Catholic, such as Tolkien. Therefore He would have to offer Gollum a warning and a chance at redemption, even if Eru knew precisely what would happen in the end.


I recently read a Greek play- Iphigenia among the Tauriens, and at the end the protagonists are trying to escape on a ship, but the winds turn against them, and are going to force them back to shore to be killed. Athena then intervenes and turns the winds back to blow them to Greece. The play is a tragedy, but some people say that it isn't because of the happy ending. In my class I'm taking where we discussed this, we learned that this makes the play MORE tragic, because it shows that even if you do everything right, you still might fail because you are at the mercy of higher powers. I think this is what Tolkien is doing, and has Iluvatar trip Gollum to show that we are all at the mercy of God, nature, dumb luck, etc.

  • 2
    A fair reading, but Tolkien himself was more interested in the idea that mortal (in his own words, "incarnate") creatures are inherently imperfect. He says in one Letter (paraphrasing) "Evil cannot be driven from the world without the intervention of the Divine" Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 15:03

I think, in Gollum taking the Ring and falling, Tolkien is saying a few things...that unprincipled lust without restraint will lead to one's ultimate downfall (the tale is not so different from the oath of the Silmarils), that (in Frodo's circumstance), great courage in the face of hardship (he was "meant" to have the ring) allows fate to intervene better than cowardice would, and also, that there is a higher power, because, as I recall (let's forget the movie and think about the book, and I don't have chapter and verse in front of me to cite), when Gollum swears his oath to Frodo, he swears "on the precious". When Frodo overhears Gollum plotting, he reminds him of his oath, and says something along the lines of "if you break your oath, I will see you cast into the very death that is the destiny of the ring" (excuse my paraphrasing, I have guests sleeping in my library). I think this is a bigger scene in the book than most people realize - and that Tolkien is setting up the ultimate irony. Gollum's lust for the ring is similar to a junkie sticking a needle in his arm - it's irresistible, empowering, but he knows it will ultimately kill him... he has lost the ability of free will. I do not make a religious statement, so much as explore the amazingly complex literary devise that even Shakespeare would envy.

  • Except that there was a certain curse placed upon the Kinslayers; there was no curse placed on Gollum. It could easily be interpreted that Frodo cursed him but it doesn't go very far - how does he have that power? He is just a mortal. A brave mortal but a mortal with no magical power whatever. And your comparison of drug addicts is ... well I'm not even sure what to say on that. I have this vague memory that Tolkien stated he wasn't close to Shakespeare but maybe that's my imagination. But as for literary devices he surely understood applicability a great deal and he made plenty of points yes.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 1:42

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