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In a draft of a letter, later recorded as #246, Tolkien makes a strange statement. I am interested in the first few sentences of the letter, but I will include the remainder for the sake of context.

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 wicked'].
-Tolkien, Letter #246

What was Tolkien trying to say with the following line?

If so, so also were the other guardians of the Three, especially Elrond.

If what is so, and Elrond was especially what? Is Elrond especially likely to master the Ring? Is he especially likely to imagine that he could master the Ring?


Note: This is not a duplicate of "Was Elrond, in Tolkien's opinion, more inherently powerful than Galadriel?", since I am not interested in who is more powerful. I am only interested in Tolkien's intended meaning when he wrote the letter. The other question is in-universe, mine is concerned with the letter itself, not the story or the characters within it.

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    Hmm, no way to post this as an asnwer, so I'll post this as a comment. "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." I think this is a bit of awkward grammar here on Tolkien's part. I think he meant to say "did" instead of "were", as in "the other guardians of the Three also conceived of themselves as of wielding the Ring and supplanting the Dark Lord, especially Elrond." I think Elrond was singled out because of his wisdom and knowledge. – Maksim Jun 10 '15 at 18:52
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The One Ring fills all minds with imaginations of supreme power, even if they are not (yet) capable of wielding the Ring. We saw this with Sam and Gollum. But probably Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond were in fact capable of wielding the Ring (though as this and other Letters discuss, the outcome of any direct confrontation with Sauron was not to be contemplated.) Tolkien is saying if Galadriel can (she thinks she can, but he isn't saying yet whether she actually could), then so could the others.

Why would Elrond be especially able? I don't think this has anything to do with Elrond's "power", which we must certainly doubt is comparable to Galadriel's - she's much older, and was born in Valinor under the Two Trees, after all - but rather with two other factors: Elrond would have a slightly better "claim" to the Ring (due to his relationship to Isildur), and Elrond is a natural successor to both the kingship of Gondor and of the remaining Noldor and their followings.

Remember the the chief power of the One Ring, the whole reason that Sauron forged it, was to dominate the wills of others, to rule over servants. The Letter even says that:

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.

as you quote. The One Ring doesn't give you laser cannons or the power to call down meteors. It enhances your ability to command and dominate other wills. And Elrond may have fit much more naturally into this role, as the brother of Elros (from whom the Numenoreans and therefore kings and stewards of Gondor are descended), and the son of Earendil (who saved Middle-Earth ) who could perhaps plausibly claim the High Kingship of the Noldor if he had really wanted to. Obeying the command of a tyrant Elrond would have been more 'natural', he could have more plausibly filled a hypothetical Throne of the West in most of the minds of the people of Middle-Earth who might have recognized his right to rule even without the Ring. So the Ring's job is much easier, Elrond is better suited for rulership.

Galadriel, meanwhile, has been the co-ruler of a isolate kingdom. She has had virtually no influence outside of it. She is a creature of legend even to other Elves. her claim on the High Kingship is even less substantial and she had many other chances to seize it over the millennia, but did not, unlike Elrond, who is in many ways the de facto ruler of the Noldor, even if he doesn't pretend to be so, because he is so widely known and respected. She also has no claim whatsoever to the kingship of Man.

And Gandalf, of course, is a nobody - nobody knows who he is except by report, and then that he's just a wandering wizard. The Ring would have much more work to do, even though Gandalf obviously has more native 'power' than Elrond or Galadriel.

So basically Tolkien is saying:

  1. Galadriel thought she could wield the Ring.
  2. If she could wield the Ring, so could Gandalf and especially Elrond, because of what I discussed above.
  • So you think Tolkien meant that Elrond was more capable of wielding the Ring, not that he merely thought he was capable of wielding it? – Wad Cheber Jun 8 '15 at 1:14
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    Yes. The Letter is saying "Galadriel thought she would wield the Ring. Then Tolkien is saying "well, if she could, so could Gandalf and especially Elrond." To me that's the plain reading of the Letter. Did I misunderstand your question? – Shamshiel Jun 8 '15 at 1:16
  • My question was whether Tolkien thought Elrond was more liable to imagine that he could wield the Ring or that he thought Elrond actually was more capable of wielding it. I am not concerned with whether Elrond could do it better than Galadriel. – Wad Cheber Jun 8 '15 at 1:18
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    He thought that if Galadriel could, then Elrond could. Edited. Sometimes I start thinking and get carried away. :) – Shamshiel Jun 8 '15 at 1:18
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    It says 'only Gandalf might be expected to master him [Sauron]' [apparently in a confrontation], not necessarily that Gandalf would be a better Ring-wielder. Not necessarily the same thing! EDIT: And yeah, also that. – Shamshiel Jun 8 '15 at 1:25

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