38

I'm wondering if the Council ever, if briefly, considered using the Ring. At the Council of Elrond it is clearly "accepted" that the Ring is evil and will corrupt the wearer, but wouldn't a corrupt human or dwarf or something be better than Sauron? Did they ever consider this possibility?

Say they let Boromir go crazy with it; it seems likely that Men could have defeated Sauron and the world would just be left with a power hungry human.

I know ideally they want the Ring destroyed, but considering the best plan they could devise was sending a rag-tag group of adventurers to try and toss it into a volcano was their best solution, I'm curious if they spent any time considering giving the Ring to someone to help bring down Sauron, or contest him in some way. Keep in mind they didn't have Tolkien's other books to read that elaborate on the power of the Ring.

So was this ever an option? Is there a reason they so easily dismiss the possibility of using the ring?

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  • 20
    Ring? Not even once. Jun 4 '15 at 19:05
  • 12
    "I'm wondering if the Council ever, if briefly, considered using the ring" I take it you haven't actually read the book, or seen the movie?
    – Lexible
    Jun 4 '15 at 19:15
  • 10
    @FreshWaterTaffy In both the book and movies precisely this question is addressed during the Council of Elrond. The quote from Gandalf in Matt Gutting's response nails it.
    – Lexible
    Jun 4 '15 at 19:19
  • 8
    @FreshWaterTaffy I'm going to go with the idea that as a Catholic Tolkien doesn't believe in "necessary evils". Evil is evil. And Middle-earth reflects his Catholicism. Jun 4 '15 at 19:29
  • 12
    Because it might not even work.
    – Nerrolken
    Jun 4 '15 at 21:06
66

OUT OF UNIVERSE ANSWER

Tolkien said that using the Ring to defeat Sauron would be inherently evil. Commenting on the war effort late in WWII, in a letter dated 1944, he said:

An ultimately evil job. For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Orcs on our side.
-Tolkien, Letter #66.

Obviously, he wanted the Allies to win, but he disapproved of how the Allies were going about it.

He also discussed what would happen if one of the most powerful (and most 'good') characters in The Lord of the Rings used the Ring to defeat Sauron (spoiler alert: it wouldn't be good):

Of the others only Gandalf might be expected to master him – being an emissary of the Powers and a creature of the same order, an immortal spirit taking a visible physical form. In the ‘Mirror of Galadriel’, 1381, it appears that Galadriel conceived of herself as capable of wielding the Ring and supplanting the Dark Lord. If so, so also were the other guardians of the Three, especially Elrond. But this is another matter.

It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power. But this the Great had well considered and had rejected, as is seen in Elrond’s words at the Council. Galadriel’s rejection of the temptation was founded upon previous thought and resolve.

In any case Elrond or Galadriel would have proceeded in the policy now adopted by Sauron: they would have built up an empire with great and absolutely subservient generals and armies and engines of war, until they could challenge Sauron and destroy him by force. Confrontation of Sauron alone, unaided, self to self was not contemplated. One can imagine the scene in which Gandalf, say, was placed in such a position. It would be a delicate balance. On one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron was not actually in possession, and perhaps also because he was weakened by long corruption and expenditure of will in dominating inferiors.

If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end...

Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained 'righteous', but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for 'good', and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

[The draft ends here. In the margin Tolkien wrote: 'Thus while Sauron multiplied [illegible word] evil, he left "good" clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil.']
-Tolkien, Letter #246

The Ring was inherently evil, and even if you used it to do good things, the good things would all be evil when you get right down to it.

IN-UNIVERSE ANSWER

And so now Galadriel's outburst makes sense:

And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!
- The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 7: "The Mirror of Galadriel".

As for Boromir, Gandalf addresses this point later, when Denethor says Boromir should have brought the Ring to him.

"In no case would Boromir have brought it to you. He is dead, and died well; may he sleep in peace! Yet you deceive yourself. He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own, and when he returned you would not have known your son".
-The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 4: "The Siege of Gondor"

But Gandalf already mentioned this at the Council of Elrond:

Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. Consider Saruman. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set himself on Sauron's throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear.
-The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 2, "The Council of Elrond"

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  • 1
    Please keep comments focused on the question, cheers.
    – Valorum
    Jun 5 '15 at 21:44
  • 2
    @Richard - that's what I was trying to do, dammit. I was telling him that the reason I didn't address exactly what would have happened to Boromir is because the OP didn't ask. :)
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 5 '15 at 22:11
  • 1
    So "give it to Boromir, he'll win the ring war theory": Boromir (not having a great power, nor hobbit-folk resilience) would be enslaved by the ring and brought to to Sauron (possibly thinking he could defeat Sauron with it, or whatever, but be deceived)?
    – Yakk
    Jun 6 '15 at 1:59
  • 1
    @Yakk - Yes. As one of my quotes says, the Ring is designed to "fill minds with imaginations of supreme power". Boromir fell victim to this when he tried to take the Ring. If he had taken it, it would have destroyed him quite quickly. Faramir resisted the Ring because he was humble; Boromir fell to it because he was proud and vainglorious.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 6 '15 at 2:17
  • 1
    Any idea why "especially Elrond"? As a half-human, despite having chosen to be counted among the kindred of elves, I would expect him to be the weakest of the Three. Especially since he was the only one of the Three who was born in Middle Earth and had never been in Valinor.
    – terdon
    Jun 7 '15 at 11:46
19

Your question of course assumes that they believe that it's OK to intentionally allow the ring to corrupt someone. Gandalf's speeches on Pity and Mercy seem to indicate that the contrary is the case.

As importantly, however, allowing someone to use the Ring rather than destroying it will in fact not defeat Sauron, as is clear from this answer:

His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.

(Elrond, Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 2, "The Council of Elrond"; emphasis added)

Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. ... If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set himself on Sauron's throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear.

(Gandalf, ibid.)

In other words, Gandalf says, only a few beings now in Middle-earth have the power to wield the Ring against Sauron, and those beings are powerful enough that the Ring would corrupt them into a second Sauron. Thus, the fundamental problem of an awesomely powerful, evil being would not be solved.

6
  • I wonder if they would have used it as a last resort then. Jun 4 '15 at 18:25
  • 5
    Is the possibility of defeating Sauron worth the apparent certainty of creating a new Sauron - even as a last resort? Jun 4 '15 at 18:28
  • 2
    @FreshWaterTaffy I think "doing (a lesser) evil as a last resort" doesn't mesh with Tolkien's morals and worldview.
    – Andres F.
    Jun 4 '15 at 18:47
  • 1
    In support of the opening of this answer, I was reading the preface to a 1990-ish Silmarillion wherein there is a synopsis Tolkien wrote for his publisher(?). He explicity states that with the exception of the Powers (the Valar), the word "power" itself is a dirty word in his writings.
    – Yorik
    Jun 4 '15 at 21:36
  • 2
    Denethor was quoted by Tolkien (disapprovingly) as wanting to hide the Ring deep in the vaults of Minas Tirith, "only to be used in the last desperate hour of need". Gandalf replies that it would have gnawed at his mind, even sealed up. And the suggestion is that this sort of calculation would only make the bearer more susceptible to evil.
    – Ber
    May 7 '16 at 4:40
11

I post this to expand on the first quote in Wad's excellent answer, above, and because it seems to me highly relevant, showing as it does Tolkien's clear belief that the use of the Ring by the forces of good would rapidly produce bad ends. It's taken from Tolkien's foreword to my 2nd edition "Fellowship" (Unwin, 1966), in which he writes about the 2nd World War:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.

He adds

In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt; they would not long have survived even as slaves.

5
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    Wow. I've never read that passage. Haunting to say the least. But I can understand now why some people think the Ring is an analogy for the bomb.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 6 '15 at 0:26
  • 2
    I'm glad you like the passage! I thought it, coming early as it does in the publication history of LoTR, might be unknown to some. I, too, can understand how some people see in the story allegories to the 2nd World War, and to nuclear devastation, but Tolkien very explicitly rejects this in the same foreword ("As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. ... I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.").
    – MadHatter
    Jun 6 '15 at 8:45
  • 2
    I know, I don't buy the atom bomb analogy. He wrote most of the story before anyone knew about it. I seem to recall him saying explicitly that the atom bomb had nothing to do with the story.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 6 '15 at 15:40
  • Yes, I agree with you, and that's what Tolkien also says, in the quote: LoTR isn't an allegory for anything in the real world, radioactive or otherwise. I think these allegories are attractive ideas, just wrong ones.
    – MadHatter
    Jun 6 '15 at 16:02
  • 1
    I think there are analogies in there, or at least allusions to real life events (he fought on the Somme in WWI, and he admits that the Dead Marshes are based on that; and the similarity between WWI's "No Man's Land" and LotR's "Noman-Lands" is so obvious that it goes without saying). He didn't like to admit most of his real world influences.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 6 '15 at 16:07
8

There is no guarantee that even using the ring they could defeat Sauron. The reason they manage to fool him at the black gate is because he believes one of them has he ring and is ready to attack and claim back the ring.

‘He is not yet sure,’ said Gandalf, ‘and he has not built up his power by waiting until his enemies are secure, as we have done. Also we could not learn how to wield the full power all in a day. Indeed it can be used only by one master alone, not by many; and he will look for a time of strife, ere one of the great among us makes himself master and puts down the others. In that time the Ring might aid him, if he were sudden.

Even if Galadriel had accepted the ring, Saruon could still have waged war and won it back. Having the ring didn't guarantee success for any other than Sauron.

7

You just cannot use the Ring. The relationship with the Ring it's more like a symbiosis: it gives you power but it also needs power. Remember that the reason why the Ring wants to come back to Sauron, it's because it needs Sauron. It needs his power.

Someone without a comparable power would just be betrayed by the Ring at the first opportunity. That's what happened to Isildur (and Sméagol, too). And remember that Isildur was not the first guy around: he was the most powerful man at the time.

So, I'd say that very few people could manage the power of the Ring with the intent of using it as a weapon against Sauron, and those people are basically the 4 members of the White Council (Saruman excluded, obviously):

Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Cirdan.

Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel explicitly refuse to use the Ring, and Cirdan (whose real power I'm actually not quite sure about) is probably too old, even for an elf (he's the oldest living elf, actually).

Apart from the White Council, the only man who could use the Ring was Aragorn. But he also refuses to do so. And I think it was the right choice, because if the Ring betrayed Isildur, it's very likely that it would have betrayed Aragorn too.

8
  • 2
    ..well, Cirdan is the oldest living elf in Middle Earth. The oldest living elf in Arda would probably be Ingwë, though.
    – a-user
    Jun 4 '15 at 20:17
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    Valinor/the Undying Lands are no longer a part of Arda, since the fall of Numenor
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 4 '15 at 21:23
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    Exactly. It is straight in that it doesn't follow the curvature of the earth. It goes off into space.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 5 '15 at 16:46
  • 1
    Here is a ridiculously crude drawing of what the straight road is like. It is "Straight" in that it doesn't follow the curvature of the earth. It peels away from the earth and goes off to another planet, basically. farm1.staticflickr.com/387/18514871786_01227f4f57_b_d.jpg
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 6 '15 at 23:57
  • 1
    bahahahah I just laughed so hard! that drawing does look crude indeed! :D but yes, that's the way I always imagined it. A sort of magical point in the surface of Arda where the gravitational pull would suddenly disappear, allowing you to take off into space.
    – a-user
    Jun 7 '15 at 3:56
4

I suspect there's one critical problem.

I don't think anyone could throw the ring in.

It's conjecture on my part, but here's the idea: We know for sure there was a spell on the ring that made people not want to hurt it (we see it as early as the fireplace scene, where Gandalf tells Frodo to toss it in). We also know for sure that Sauron and the Ring's magic gets much stronger closer to Mt. Doom. Based on these two things, I think once you get to "Sammath Naur" (the forge in Mt Doom), it's so strong that nobody, no matter who they are, could resist it — at least not if they're the bearer. We'll never know if a few unbelievably strong-willed characters like Gandalf could overcome that, but I think the fear that both Gandalf and Galadriel expressed about the ring getting power over their will, if they took it (and they'd have to take it, to do this), suggests that they too wouldn't be able to resist it.

Frodo and Isildur were the two working examples, and they both came off as very stoic, strong-willed "good people" — but they totally crumbled in there. Between that and the fear on Gandalf/Galadriel's part, I don't think anyone could resist it.


I think that — in deliberate irony, all of Sauron's spells essentially worked as designed, and he was "hoist by his own petard".

It was actually impossible for anyone to walk in there and throw in the ring. The only thing that made it possible... was Sauron's own magic — specifically, his choice of wanting the ring's power to be one of command and enslavement.

There's a very strange thing that I picked up on in the books where - as far as I can tell, Frodo actually uses some of the "higher" powers of the ring on gollum - he actually uses it's power of command, telling him to throw himself in if he dares to try to take the ring. At first I was a little doubtful of this interpretation, but Tolkien actually repeats this in multiple scenes in the second half of the tale, to the point where I think he was repeating himself so it wouldn't get misinterpreted.

That "command" works. Sauron's own "make a ring that lets you command others" is the very thing that gets through his indomitable "don't you dare hurt the ring" spell. It feels right to me that Tolkien would have wanted Sauron's own evil — the evil of mental enslavement, to be the very thing that would destroy him in the end.

It starts with the promise he made, when they run into him right after Frodo and Sam cross the river:

'Sméagol,' said Gollum suddenly and clearly, opening his eyes wide and staring at Frodo with a strange light. 'Sméagol will swear on the Precious.'

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, Sméagol? It will hold you. But it is more treacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!'

Gollum cowered. 'On the Precious. on the Precious! ' he repeated.

`And what would you swear? ' asked Frodo.

`To be very very good,' said Gollum. Then crawling to Frodo's feet he grovelled before him, whispering hoarsely: a shudder ran over him, as if the words shook his very bones with fear. 'Sméagol will swear never, never, to let Him have it. Never! Sméagol will save it. But he must swear on the Precious.'

'No! not on it,' said Frodo, looking down at him with stern pity. 'All you wish is to see it and touch it, if you can, though you know it would drive you mad. Not on it. Swear by it, if you will. For you know where it is. Yes, you know, Sméagol. It is before you.'

For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another's minds. Gollum raised himself and began pawing at Frodo, fawning at his knees.

'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.

But then it's foreshadowed directly when they're at the black gate:

But I warn you, Sméagol, you are in danger.'

'Yes, yes, master! ' said Gollum. 'Dreadful danger! Sméagol's bones shake to think of it. but he doesn't run away. He must help nice master.'

'I did not mean the danger that we all share,' said Frodo. 'I mean a danger to yourself alone. You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, 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, Sméagol!'

Sam looked at his master with approval, but also with surprise: there was a look in his face and a tone in his voice that he had not known before.

There's this passage right outside Mt. Doom:

With a violent heave Sam rose up. At once he drew his sword; but he could do nothing. Gollum and Frodo were locked together. Gollum was tearing at his master, trying to get at the chain and the Ring. This was probably the only thing that could have roused the dying embers of Frodo’s heart and will: an attack, an attempt to wrest his treasure from him by force. He fought back with a sudden fury that amazed Sam, and Gollum also. Even so things might have gone far otherwise, if Gollum himself had remained unchanged; but whatever dreadful paths, lonely and hungry and waterless, he had trodden, driven by a devouring desire and a terrible fear, they had left grievous marks on him. He was a lean, starved, haggard thing, all bones and tight-drawn sallow skin. A wild light flamed in his eyes, but his malice was no longer matched by his old griping strength. Frodo flung him off and rose up quivering.

‘Down, down!’ he gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the Ring. ‘Down you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray me or slay me now.’

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.’

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