The 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?

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    What about when he gave life to the dwarves? I'd say that's pretty history-changing. – trysis Sep 17 '14 at 0:30
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    @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. – Kyle Strand Sep 17 '14 at 5:08
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    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 Sep 17 '14 at 8:45
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    @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 Sep 17 '14 at 11:52
  • @Ryan Ah, right, I'd glossed over Tolkien's inclusion of the creation of elves and men. Yeah, that would definitely be pre-history too by my definition. – Kyle Strand Sep 17 '14 at 16:11

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

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    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 ;-) – Steve Jessop Sep 17 '14 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. – Mark Rogers Sep 18 '14 at 4:21
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    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 Jan 16 '15 at 3:24
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    @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 Apr 22 '15 at 19:50
  • I think Tolkien is referring there to e.g. the Soviet Union's dictatorial practices, not a more general concept of moral decay. – cometaryorbit Apr 29 '17 at 22:27

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.

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    Nice catch, but it falls short of answering the question: whose power exacts the oath? – Raphael Sep 17 '14 at 9:12
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    @Raphael Sauron's power fuels the ring and we can assume it is his power that exerts the rings influence. – Gusdor Sep 17 '14 at 11:00
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    Hmm...interesting. – Paul Draper Sep 17 '14 at 18:48
  • It's a good theory but Tolkien directly stated otherwise. It's one of those things: the imagination is immensely pleasurable and can give you so much; whether you want to follow the known truth doesn't matter if it makes you happier to use your imagination. In a fictional setting, that is. So although I wouldn't say you're correct it's a nice way of looking at it without the extra information from the letters (etc.). I think but I'm not certain that your connexion with what Frodo says is what I thought too - until I read the Letters. – Pryftan Mar 16 '18 at 1:29
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    @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 Mar 16 '18 at 6:29

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, yesI promise!’said Gollum. ‘I willserve 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 Iluvatar himself? And that absolves Gollum, somewhat, because in the end he did serve Iluvatar's purpose, a purpose which Gandalf foresaw.

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    The answer to every LOTR question is now "Ilúvatar did it" :D Simplicity, I like it. – Gusdor Sep 17 '14 at 11:03
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    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 Sep 18 '14 at 14:50
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    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 Jan 4 '15 at 15:21
  • 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 Mar 16 '18 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 Mar 16 '18 at 1:35

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.

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    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" – Jason Baker Apr 18 '15 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 Simarrils), 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 to 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 Mar 16 '18 at 1:42

Ignore this if Tolkien’s letter said otherwise. I doubt he would do such a thing, sure, he has intervened before, but only to create Arda or when it concerned the Valar. The dwarves thing was less intervention than letting someone else be unaffected by his wishes.

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    Did you not read the quote from the letter that is in the accepted answer? – Blackwood Jul 30 at 0:25

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