And So It Goes
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While you create the perfect home, enjoy the Conrad Dunkerson [ r. Taking those two statements together, the least hypothesis seems to be that Gandalf was good with fire and fireworks because he had studied them, and used the Red Ring to give renewed hope and courage to people oppressed by Sauron or by their fears. In no place where I have found Gandalf using fire or fireworks is there any mention of his Ring. But there are many places where fire or light is connected with his staff:.
Saruman knew that Gandalf had the Red Ring: Some on the newsgroup have suggested that when he wrote the Orthanc confrontation Tolkien might not yet have decided that Gandalf would bear one of the Three. Alternatively, being learned in Ring-lore, Saruman may not have cared about the Red Ring because he knew that it had no military potential. Since he was not interested in its primary ability, preserving things unstained and healing the hurts of the world, there would be little reason for him to take it for his own use.
None of these is really satisfactory, but many of us prefer not to accept a story-external explanation if we can strain to find a plausible story-internal one. But when the One was destroyed, the Three lost all their powers. How do we know this? The Three Rings like the Seven and the Nine were originally independent, but when Sauron created the One, the others became subject to it. Somehow the nature of all the other Rings was changed so that not only were they under the control of the One but their continued power depended on its continued existence: The Ring changed hands a surprising nine times over the odd years of its existence, though it belonged to only one of its seven bearers.
Since the Tale of Years documents the relevant dates quite well, here is a table of the bearers of the One Ring:. A bearer of the Ring can be defined as someone who holds it with intent to use, claim, or destroy it. That definition has to include Sam. The One was the master ring, the one to rule all the others. Though it was forged last , the other Rings were all immediately subject to it.
In fact, it controlled them so completely that their own power would fail if it was ever destroyed [ Silm: Beyond controlling them, the One Ring may have actually had all the powers of the other Rings. Apparently even Sauron could not exert instantaneous control in this way: Those powers were in the Ring, not in Sauron: Therefore, in principle, someone other than Sauron who claimed the Ring could learn to read and control the thoughts of those who wore the other Rings—given time and practice.
Only thrice have you set the Ring upon your finger since you knew what you possessed. Before you could use that power you would need to become far stronger, and to train your will to the domination of others. It would destroy you. Further evidence that the power was not automatic: The One Ring gave Sam the power to understand Orc-language.
Did the Rings give the ability to read minds? The One Ring had other powers, less clearly specified, over ordinary mortals. Frodo was able to use it to cow Gollum repeatedly. The One Ring also had the power to corrupt its wearer and even people around it. But Jerry Friedman objects, [ r. In a way, the One Ring seems almost to operate like an addiction. But even the incorruptible Sam was not entirely immune to the Ring: Finally, the Ring could abandon its wearer.
It abandoned Gollum too. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him. This also helps explain how, once the One Ring had been forged, the other Rings would lose their powers if the One was destroyed.
Another possible explanation is that Sauron was a mighty sorcerer, and he cast a great spell to alter the nature of the other Rings so that the One Ring would rule them. Clausen posted some speculations on this topic to Usenet [ r. Having some perception; conscious. Whether or not the Ring makes choices, it seems able to sense its surroundings.
But we must not push that too far. We find evidence in The Lord of the Rings that the Ring could in some sense perceive its surroundings and act accordingly. This is also consistent with the traditions of myth, where objects do think and feel. Most people would hesitate to go that far, and no one on r.
What in the story suggests that the Ring could sense its surroundings and make decisions? But as far as I know Bilbo alone in history has ever gone beyond playing, and really done it. He needed all my help, too. And even so he would never have just forsaken it, or cast it aside. And a little later, Gandalf makes the point again with more examples: It could make no further use of him: So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum.
Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire! Whether it was an accident, or a last trick of the ring before it took a new master, it was not on his finger.
This was not the first time that the Ring seemed to try to expose its new master to the Orcs. Recall its betrayal of Isildur in the River near the Gladden Fields: By chance, or chance well used, it had left his hand and gone where he could never hope to find it again. The evidence is open to interpretation. Gandalf meets this objection: I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.
Tim Howe [ r. Sauron may have programmed the Ring as we program a computer or a robot. Only some of what follows was in his article. We would think of Sauron not as programmer but as sorcerer, making these instructions part of the spell he cast when putting his own power into the Ring, so that it would eventually come back to him if he ever lost it.
Against this we must set the fact that Sauron did not seem very good at planning for unexpected contingencies, and ask why he would plan for being separated from the Ring when he had no reason to believe that could ever happen. In less modern language, we can simply say that the Ring behaved a lot like a cursed object in traditional myth. A cursed object brings bad fortune to anyone who holds it, and the bad fortune often takes the form of a series of apparent accidents—the woodcutter chopping off each of his limbs over time, the Ring slipping on and off a finger at inconvenient moments.
Some incidents in the story are hard to explain whether we think of the Ring as making choices or not. The incident at Cirith Ungol perhaps helps us find a middle ground: It grew greater and more terrible as an object the closer it got to Mount Doom, and Sam benefited from that increased stature as anyone would have. The Ring seems to behave in many ways like a dog separated from its humans and making its way back across hundreds of miles.
On several occasion Tolkien writes that the Ring tried this or decided that, and the most economical reading is that the Ring did indeed have some will and sense of purpose. Did the One Ring speak on Mount Doom? Thus Sauron did not simply transfer some of his existing power into the Ring. Rather, he used that power to make the Ring a master Ring, a Ruling Ring.
Think of a man using a lever to pry a boulder out of the ground, or turning a key that starts a powerful motor. Sauron with the Ring was far more powerful than he had been before; but if it were destroyed then so would be much of his power, forever. Presumably he knew this. You might also be interested in a story-external reason.
Sauron did, most likely when it was forged. The letters ran over the inside and outside of the Ring, and began to fade after the Ring was removed from the fire. Sauron had two choices: But nowhere there would be safe, from his point of view: Sauron would never risk that. All that means is that he first completed the new body, then turned again to his plans for world domination.
Perhaps Sauron made the Ring invisible while he wore it. It seemed to be a normal trait of the Three Rings, that they could not be seen while worn. Or perhaps Ar-Pharazôn did order Sauron to hand the Ring over. If he did, we can be sure he could not enforce his command.
We can only speculate what Sauron would do if the King demanded the Ring from him: Tolkien himself weighed in on this issue in a letter: The Elves kept the matter of the Rings very secret, as long as they could. In any case Ar-Pharazôn was not in communication with them. Sauron no longer had a material body; how could he move a material object? Tolkien simply brushes the difficulty aside: We know that Sauron in particular had this ability because he created a body for himself several times.
Though Tolkien never answered this question directly, most opinion in r. The Rings of Power except the Three made their wearers invisible by shifting them mostly into the Unseen world. His material body was something deliberately put on, as we put on clothes. Sauron was naturally pure spirit, not a hybrid like mortals, Elves, and Dwarves.
Ciaran Shanahan reminds us [ r. And the finger must have been visible; otherwise why would Isildur have thought to cut off the Ring? Gollum fought the invisible Frodo , but only because he first saw Frodo visible and then held on to him.
One wrong reason is sometimes seen. Some people argue by analogy: Gandalf wore a Great Ring and was visible; Gandalf was a Maia; therefore Maiar were not made invisible by Great Rings; therefore Sauron the Maia would also not be made invisible. The trouble with this chain of reasoning lies at the start: There was no problem for Sauron as long as the Ring still existed; only if it was destroyed would he be fatally weakened.
But his own power that he had let pass into it was still available to him as long as no one else claimed it and was powerful enough to keep it. Perhaps the chart below will help. Both Conrad Dunkerson [ r. Gollum Sméagol murdered Déagol and took the Ring around T. One would think he should have turned into a wraith by then, but he had not even begun to fade. Compare with the Nazgûl. Sauron got the Nine Rings somewhere in S. So years is the outside estimate, but the actual time to create a Ringwraith could well be less than the years Gollum had it.
And still sometimes he put it on, when he could not bear to be parted from it any longer, or when he was very, very hungry, and tired of fish. Second, Gollum was resistant to the Ring because he was of hobbit-kind. One inference to be drawn is that the Ring gives long life whether or not it is used, but only makes its keeper into a wraith if used frequently.
The two cases are rather different, and we may gain some insight from comparing them. Bilbo was eleventy-one years old when he gave up the Ring. As Gollum he kept the Ring for nearly years, and in that time kept his physical vigor. Was this preservation effect permanent, or would it have eventually worn off even if the Ring continued to exist?
Certainly Gollum seemed as strong and healthy eighty years later as he had when Bilbo met him, aside from the effects of a long time without enough food. Gollum himself predicted this: Gollum was no master of lore, of course; but his inference seems reasonable.
The effect may have been instantaneous, or more likely when the Ring was destroyed Bilbo rapidly began aging to where he would have been if he had never had it. It would be fascinating to know whether Bilbo in Rivendell was aware of the moment when the Ring went into the fire. We do get one hint. She must therefore have left Rivendell within a few weeks after the destruction of the Ring, yet in that short time Bilbo became noticeably aged and feeble.
For you know the power of that thing which is now destroyed; and all that was done by that power is now passing away. My thanks to Christopher Kreuzer for drawing attention to the significance of this quote [ r.
Though Tolkien never tells us in so many words, the scanty evidence available suggests that the Ring grants its possessor long life not just while he holds it but for a considerable time afterward.
They were utterly enslaved to Sauron and had no will of their own. In other words, they were immune to the lure of the One Ring because they were so completely dominated by their own Rings, and they were dominated by Sauron because he held those Rings. These same factors also meant they could not be ordered to work against Sauron. Yes and no, but mostly no. At least in the short term, that thralldom was stronger than any commands a new Lord of the One Ring might issue.
Second, Sauron knew that it would take time for anyone to learn to use the Ring. No Ring-bearer, no matter how intrinsically great, could just pick it up and start issuing orders to the Nazgûl or anyone else except possibly to Gollum. Galadriel alluded to this in her conversation with Frodo after he looked in her mirror: If nothing else, Sauron himself could come and overawe the new Ring-lord into handing it over.
Third, Sauron expected any claim on the Ring to trigger a civil war among his enemies. A newbie Ring-lord was only a potential threat to Sauron, and Sauron could take countermeasures.
In particular, a newbie Ring-lord like Frodo could not control the Nazgûl, and would be betrayed by them into a meeting with Sauron. It could have been Elrond, or Gandalf, or anyone. Since the Ring was not common knowledge, even in Rivendell, probably Elrond or Gandalf performed this task personally. But merely touching it briefly did not seem to be dangerous. Most people think not.
But it is definitely a matter of interpretation. The passage in question is probably worth quoting at length:. 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. If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom. The crouching shape backed away, terror in its blinking eyes, and yet at the same time insatiable desire. Then the vision passed and Sam saw Frodo standing, hand on breast, his breath coming in great gasps, and Gollum at his feet, resting on his knees with his wide-splayed hands upon the ground.
But most people on r. The Ring was the source of his power, and thus transformed his voice into one of command as it transformed his appearance. If the earlier episode was explicitly stated to be a vision and not reality, and Tolkien explicitly linked it to the episode on Mount Doom, it seems likely that Tolkien also intended that second episode as a vision with Frodo speaking and not the Ring.
But I think the clinching argument was offered by John Yohalem in e-mail 1 Nov To me this seems conclusive: At no other point in the novel did Tolkien give any indication of the Ring speaking. Could the One Ring think, feel, and make choices? This interpretation is consistent with other story elements. We know that Gollum could not see a Ring-wearing Bilbo. When he tracked Frodo he had been eighty years without the Ring, and he would therefore not have gained any further abilities from it.
Frodo would not instantly have become master of the world. Claiming the Ring is just the first step in mastering the Ring. Tolkien expands greatly on this theme in a letter. Tolkien proposed two possible outcomes after Frodo claimed the Ring at Mount Doom, if Gollum had not saved the day. While he was distracted some of them would have destroyed the entrance to the Cracks of Doom so that Frodo could no longer harm the Ring even if he had repented.
Very soon Sauron would have come, taken the Ring, and crushed Frodo utterly. Possibly Gandalf might have done it: It would be a delicate balance. Tolkien is quite definite that, in a confrontation, not only Frodo but pretty much anyone would have handed Sauron the ring at once: But they would have done it by building up armies and defeating Sauron militarily, destroying him by ordinary force.
We are not told directly, but it seems at least possible that, if he had chosen to claim the Ring, Aragorn could have defeated Sauron militarily. Of course, if Aragorn had done that using the Ring, he would have become a tyrant worse than Ar-Pharazôn had ever been. Powerful though it may be, the Ring is not unbeatable. Even its power of command is not absolute. Remember that while Sauron was using the Ring, his own armies deserted him.
They were defeated not by force of arms but psychologically: If Sauron could be defeated twice while using the Ring, how much unlikely is it that anyone else using the Ring could win a military victory against him?
And while Sauron still lived, the Nazgûl would have held to their loyalty to him , even for some time after someone claimed the Ring. Remember that Sauron was confident enough of their loyalty despite the Ring that he sent them to hunt for it, knowing that they knew what it was. In purely military terms, the Ring was perhaps a threat to Sauron, but far from decisive. The real issue for Sauron was that by the time someone mastered the Ring enough for it to be a factor in the military progress of the war, Sauron would already have been personally reduced to impotence , just as if the Ring had been destroyed.
Tolkien wrote in a letter: Ohlmarks had produced an error-riddled Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings , with an introduction containing such gems as the remark that Sauron was an allegory of Stalin. Tolkien did not consciously borrow from Wagner, he was not writing an allegory of Wagner or of anything else, there were major differences between the two Rings, and the two plots are quite different. But certainly there are similarities between the two Rings.
In a later article [ r. Anyone who wishes to claim that Wagner had no influence at all on Tolkien must somehow get past those facts. Doubtless there are other similarities too.
Conrad Dunkerson points out [ r. Sources Finding things in Tolkien by page number can be tricky because page numbers vary by edition, and there are many editions. I try to give references by chapter or division and by page number. Meaning no slight to other FAQs not listed, here are the ones I refer to most frequently:. Tolkien is an invaluable guide to questions Tolkien himself answered in Letters. I mention it here for completeness.
Updates and new info: The Rings of Power A1. What were the powers of the Rings? Why did the Rings make their wearers invisible? Who could see an invisible Ring-wearer? Who made the Rings, and when? How many Rings were there? The Seven and the Nine Rings C1. How did the Seven and the Nine differ? When did the Nazgûl arise? What ultimately happened to the Seven and the Nine Rings? What if an Elf or Wizard had put on one of the Seven or the Nine?
The Three Rings D1. What were the names of the Three Rings, and what were they made of? Who bore the Three Rings? What special powers did the Three Rings have? The Elves were good so the Three Rings were good, right?