37

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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    Ring? Not even once. – Major Stackings Jun 4 '15 at 19:05
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    "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
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    @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
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    @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. – Matt Gutting Jun 4 '15 at 19:29
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    Because it might not even work. – Nerrolken Jun 4 '15 at 21:06
59

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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    Please keep comments focused on the question, cheers. – Valorum Jun 5 '15 at 21:44
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    @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
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    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
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    @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
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    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
18

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.

  • I wonder if they would have used it as a last resort then. – FreshWaterTaffy Jun 4 '15 at 18:25
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    Is the possibility of defeating Sauron worth the apparent certainty of creating a new Sauron - even as a last resort? – Matt Gutting Jun 4 '15 at 18:28
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    @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
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    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
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    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
9

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.

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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
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    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
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    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
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    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.

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    ..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
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    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
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    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

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