22

Near the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, as Frodo learns the true nature of Bilbo's ring from Gandalf, Gandalf challenges Frodo to throw the ring into his hearth. Though Frodo has been able to set aside the ring previously, and though the fire can do no harm to the ring (which had in fact been in this fire only shortly before and not even gotten warm), Frodo finds himself incapable of putting the ring in the fire.

Why? Why does the ring prevent this symbolic act that can not possibly hurt it?

  • 1
    I always assumed it was because the ring didn't want to be found out as the One Ring. Once it's in the fire, that super secret message becomes clear on the band. Maybe the ring didn't want anyone to know it was the One Ring, bar Sauron. But for this to be true, the ring would need some form of sentience, or maybe a spell which stops people from throwing it into fires? It actually sounds pretty stupid to me now tbh... – Daft Feb 2 '15 at 13:56
  • @Daft But the ring had been in that very fire only shortly before, and had already been positively identified as the One Ring by the words that appeared on it thereafter. Perhaps the ring "fears" fire but lacks memory? – Michael Stern Feb 2 '15 at 17:45
35

In the novel, the sequence of events was somewhat different. Frodo wasn't keen to hand over the ring and attempted to grab it out of the fire but he didn't refuse to throw it into the fire until slightly later:

'Give me the ring for a moment.' [Said Gandalf] Frodo took it from his breeches-pocket, where it was clasped to a chain that hung from his belt. He unfastened it and handed it slowly to the wizard. It felt suddenly very heavy, as if either it or Frodo himself was in some way reluctant for Gandalf to touch it.

Gandalf held it up. It looked to be made of pure and solid gold. 'Can you see any markings on it?' he asked.

'No,' said Frodo. 'There are none. It is quite plain, and it never shows a scratch or sign of wear.'

'Well then, look!' To Frodo's astonishment and distress the wizard threw it suddenly into the middle of a glowing corner of the fire. Frodo gave a cry and groped for the tongs; but Gandalf held him back.

later

'Would you? How would you do that? Have you ever tried?' 'No. But I suppose one could hammer it or melt it.' 'Try!' said Gandalf. Try now!'

Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its colour, how perfect was its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious. When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But he found now that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away - but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.

Gandalf laughed grimly. 'You see? Already you too, Frodo, cannot easily let it go, nor will to damage it. And I could not "make" you - except by force, which would break your mind. But as for breaking the Ring, force is useless. Even if you took it and struck it with a heavy sledge-hammer, it would make no dint in it. It cannot be unmade by your hands, or by mine.

Obviously the film is attempting to show this reluctance, bordering on addiction without having to resort to having the characters offer expository dialogue about their feelings.

The key point is that isn't the ring that's reluctant to be thrown on the fire, it's Frodo that's reluctant to part with the ring, let alone place it in (what he perceives to be) danger.

  • 1
    Your response presumes that I am asking about the film, and provides a long quotation from the book as an alternative. However, I am asking specifically about the novel. Frodo finds himself maneuvered out of throwing the ring in the fire, evidently by the ring itself, even though the fire was no threat whatsoever to the ring. Frodo's attachment to the ring does not arise from his character, he has no natural love for jewelry; it's entirely the action of the ring itself upon him. But in this case, why does the ring even care? – Michael Stern Feb 1 '15 at 4:11
  • 16
    @MichaelStern - I think you're ascribing the One Ring far more agency and sentience than it actually possesses. There's no special indication that it's actually able to express wants and desires (and fears) in an intelligent way. Also, the quote makes it crystal clear that the phobia about exposing it to fire is Frodo's, not something driven by the ring (other than the addiction and fear of loss). – Valorum Feb 1 '15 at 9:34
  • It seems to me that Gandalf thinks the ring is sentient, or nearly so. At the very least, it chooses to abandon Isildur and Gollem. My question may not be answerable; we don't know enough about the ring. However, characterizing the thing as passive seems wrong. – Michael Stern Feb 2 '15 at 20:15
  • Tolkien suggests that the Ring has its own will: Gandalf in Shadow of the Past states, "The Ring was trying to get back to its master", and describes the Ring choosing to abandon its keepers and ensnare others. But the Ring also imposes upon its keeper something like an addiction: the keeper must have it, must keep it, and cannot bear to be without it. Although the Ring does have limited agency, Frodo was, in effect, "addicted" to the Ring and could not part with it. As Richard states, it's the addictive nature of the Ring that prevents Frodo from discarding it, and not the Ring's own will. – Rob Feb 3 '15 at 0:03
  • 1
    @Rob - "Trying to get back" implies a certain amount of intelligence. Assuming it actually is sentient (which is by no means certain), the question is, is the ring actually quite smart or fearfully dumb? The fact that it's been stuck with Gollum for hundreds of years would imply the latter. – Valorum Feb 3 '15 at 0:09
7

I think you're giving the Ring too much agency here. It doesn't act by itself, really, and doesn't choose how its bearers behave at that level. Rather, this scene shows how Frodo has already become so possessive of the Ring that he can't even do something he knows can't hurt it. And of course it is a nice bit of foreshadowing of what is going to happen on Mount Doom.

  • 13
    I disagree, it's certainly implied if not stated outright that "the ring left" Isildur and Gollem. – Junuxx Jan 31 '15 at 23:37
  • 11
    "And into this Ring, he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life... And the Ring of Power has a will of its own. It betrayed Isildur, to his death." -Galadriel – Mazura Feb 1 '15 at 0:24
  • 2
    Even if the Ring has some kind of agency, that doesn't necessarily mean it's very smart. – user36551 Feb 1 '15 at 1:49
  • +1. There's a difference between the Ring effecting your decisions, and it making every decision for you. My reading was always that Frodo simply didn't want to risk harm to something so precious, not that the Ring itself was afraid of the fire. – Nerrolken Feb 2 '15 at 17:34
5

The power of the ring over both Bilbo and Frodo was such that they did not want to part with it or endanger it.

While the ring would know that the fire could not harm it, Frodo did not. The Ring doesn't control people directly, it does so through their emotions and feelings and beliefs.

So the Ring knew it was safe, but had neither the inclination nor the ability to inform Frodo of that. Frodo saw his "precious" being thrown into a fire and acted accordingly to protect it from the perceived threat.

3

What follows only makes sense in the context of the ring being sentient in some way.

Throwing the ring in the fire does no harm to the ring physically, but what it does do is make visible the elvish characters that when translated read

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

which identitfies it unambiguously as the One Ring. Under the assumption of ring sentience, it makes perfect sense that the ring would not want this fact to be revealed to anyone who opposes Sauron. We see that the final verification of it as the One Ring sets in motion the journey to Rivendell and the beginning of the plans for destroying it. From the perspective of the One Ring, this revelation is indeed harmful, despite the fact that the fire is insufficient to physically harm it.

Yes the above assumes ring sentience, but we see this heavily implied throughout the novels anyway so I don't personally view this as a huge leap of faith.

  • The ring had been in the fire, and the words revealed, before the scene in question. It would seem odd for the ring to compel Frodo in such a way to "hide" information that had already just been made public. – Michael Stern Feb 17 '15 at 21:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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