Gandalf's assertions regarding Rings of Power and the creation of wraiths

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Listening to Episode 67 it occurred to me that Gandalf makes certain assumptions about the affect of the One Ring on its bearers.

We know that the Nine Rings turn their mortal bearers into wraiths and have around 700 years at the outside to achieve this.
Gollum on the other hand possessed the One for around 500 years and was still 'solid' even if 'stretched', and Bilbo felt 'stretched' after only 60 years.
Frodo holds it for less than two decades before his transition to wraith form begins, but there are extenuating circumstances.

In LotRO terms, the transformation process would have to have a very long induction period that is easily interrupted.

Gandalf also suggests that Hobbits (including Gollum) may be more resistant to the effects of the One, on the basis that Gollum is not a wraith.

I don't see enough data points to support Gandalf's assertions about the action of the One on its bearers.

Extended lifespan alone isn't conclusive proof that the bearer will become a wraith.
The Nine are 9 for 9, while the One appears to be 0 for 5 at the time of its destruction (Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, & Sam)

Do you think this is a case of Tolkien being so clear in his own thinking that he fails to provide the textual basis to support Gandalf's statements, or is there some other plausible explanation for this apparent oversight?
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Extended lifespan alone isn't conclusive proof that the bearer will become a wraith.
The Nine are 9 for 9, while the One appears to be 0 for 5 at the time of its destruction (Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, & Sam)
Oh, wow; that never struck me!

Of course, we don't know that the Nine are 9 for 9: for all we know, they could have gone through several men each before achieving a successful wraithification, but 0 for 5 for the One is quite interesting. But it may be explainable: the One wasn't designed specifically as a snare to capture and wraithify its wearer, like the rest of them were (disregarding the Three that Sauron never touched). The One shared that property with them, according to Gandalf, but that wasn't its primary purpose.

Gollum is the real outlier in the list; none of the others held it for very long or wore it very much. And of course, Gollum's magic ring = the One Ring was a later retcon to the story. The rough timeline and his continued visibility were already established long before the concept of wraithification even emerged. He had to be wedged in somehow, thus Gandalf's theory that Hobbits were surprisingly resistant (also the identification of Gollum as a Hobbit, which was not present in The Hobbit).

The Seven, also, are 0 for 7 for their wraithification score, though some Dwarves were very likely corrupted in smaller ways.

Sauron's Ring strategy was a loser in the end. Before the making of The One, the Elves could have crushed him, had they realized he was evil. Open warfare against the them was not at all possible for him at that time. I think of the Rings as sort of as a "Hail Mary pass" (US football term) - a desperate all-or-nothing gamble that could have given him dominion over ME, but instead lead to his complete downfall. Eventually.
 

Beech27

Active Member
Do you think this is a case of Tolkien being so clear in his own thinking that he fails to provide the textual basis to support Gandalf's statements, or is there some other plausible explanation for this apparent oversight?
I think it's worth noting that Gandalf himself asserts that he's not the resident expert in ring-lore. It is, perhaps, less likely that Tolkien failed to adequately support Gandalf's speculations as he deliberately lampshaded them.
 

Kyle Winiecki

New Member
Another factor to consider in thinking about this is the use of the Rings of Power. Gollum, Bilbo and Frodo never use the One Ring to use it's power (other than to make themselves invisible, which is more about the ring effecting them and them using it than the other way around). Presumably with the Nazgul they were given their Rings of Power with the express knowledge that they could use them to a certain affect. As Galadriel will tell Frodo in Lothlorien, he has never really tried to use the One and to draw out power from it and from himself. The express use of the Rings seems to very much be tied to the wraithification process.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Another factor to consider in thinking about this is the use of the Rings of Power. Gollum, Bilbo and Frodo never use the One Ring to use it's power (other than to make themselves invisible, which is more about the ring effecting them and them using it than the other way around). Presumably with the Nazgul they were given their Rings of Power with the express knowledge that they could use them to a certain affect. As Galadriel will tell Frodo in Lothlorien, he has never really tried to use the One and to draw out power from it and from himself. The express use of the Rings seems to very much be tied to the wraithification process.
It still comes back to the fact the we only have Gandalf's statement of the belief by the Wise that the One would produce a wraith with sufficient time and use. As Jim has pointed out, of the 17 Great Rings that have been held by mortals we have a total of nine wraiths produced, yet there are many more wraiths in existence in ME.
Are the Wise correct in their understanding? It's not like they could conduct experiments to confirm their beliefs.
Are the Nine even responsible for the wraith status of the Nazgul?
Could they be the product of Morgul blades instead? We have some solid data to support that claim.
Maybe it actually needs an interaction of both Ring and Morgul blade.
 

Kyle Winiecki

New Member
A few more questions to dive even further.

What is the difference between the Nazgul and the other wraiths of Middle-Earth?
What is the difference in powers/abilities between the Nazgul and the other wraiths?
What is the relation to Sauron and or Morgoth (if there is evidence for this at all) between the Nazgul and other wraiths?
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
Extended lifespan alone isn't conclusive proof that the bearer will become a wraith.
I think I disagree. Lifespan extended indefinitely is pretty much the definition of a wraith, from what we see in Tolkien.

As Jim has pointed out, of the 17 Great Rings that have been held by mortals we have a total of nine wraiths produced, yet there are many more wraiths in existence in ME.
I forget; where have we seen non-Ring wraiths in the text?
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
I think I disagree. Lifespan extended indefinitely is pretty much the definition of a wraith, from what we see in Tolkien.
Hmmm, I'm not sure I accept that. It seems instead to be a being with primarily spiritual (and maybe not physical) form. After all, Elves fit the definition of indefinite lifespan, but aren't wraiths.

I forget; where have we seen non-Ring wraiths in the text?
In the Barrows of the Barrow Downs and the Paths of the Dead
 
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JJ48

Well-Known Member
Hmmm, I'm not sure I accept that. It seems instead to be a being with primarily spiritual (and maybe not physical) form. After all, Elves fit the definition of indefinite lifespan, but aren't wraiths.
Elves simply have an indefinite lifespan; not a lifespan which has been expanded indefinitely. It is the artificial extension, not the mere duration, which defines a wraith.

In the Barrows of the Barrow Downs and the Paths of the Dead
I don't see that the Oathbreakers are the same thing in any but the most superficial terms. Yes, Gimli says, "Strange and wonderful I thought it that the designs of Mordor should be overthrown by such wraiths of fear and darkness. With its own weapons was it worsted!" But to me this sounds as if he's using the term primarily for the ironic inversion, and not because they're necessarily the same kind of being.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
You also have to be careful about using dialogue as canon source. If Gimli was speaking literally instead of figuratively or colloquially, what is the source of his information? Who is he to know of the classification of evil spirits into accurate categories? To a guy who knows nothing about anything, Oathbreakers and Nazgul seem like the same sort of thing. That doesn't make them the same sort of thing (it also doesn't make them different sorts of things - it's not data).
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
You also have to be careful about using dialogue as canon source. If Gimli was speaking literally instead of figuratively or colloquially, what is the source of his information? Who is he to know of the classification of evil spirits into accurate categories? To a guy who knows nothing about anything, Oathbreakers and Nazgul seem like the same sort of thing. That doesn't make them the same sort of thing (it also doesn't make them different sorts of things - it's not data).
Where do we have anything but dialogue for canon source?

More importantly, we have many statements of truth made by people of various levels of wisdom, but the text offers nothing to show how they have come by their beliefs. Who amongst the wise has witnessed the process of wraithification by ring to its conclusion?
Where is the peer review process to confirm the conclusions?

Plausible explanations have been offered for why Gollum isn't a wraith: Hobbits are unusually resistant, and he lived in the dark under the mountain so didn't really use it very much.
While these points can allow for Gollum being an outlier for the theory that Great Rings produce wraiths, they don't actually prove the theory. Are we to believe that opportunities existed and the ethics of the Wise in ME allowed them to conduct a series of wraithification by ring experiments to develop conclusive proofs and publish their results? Or is it much more likely to be educated guesswork, with all of the problems that introduces?

The physicians of the Tudor era believed that they could bleed the sickness out of people. Even if widely believed among physicians of the time, it didn't make it true.

So, how is a member of the Wise in ME to know the classification of evil spirits into accurate categories, or the true causes of their condition?
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
I think this misses the point somewhat. It's not that Gandalf knows all about the wraithification process and so he knows that eventually even hobbits would be wraithified if they held on to the Ring, though it hasn't really happened yet. Rather, it's that he knows enough about the wraithification process to be able to tell that it's happening to Bilbo right in front of him, albeit at a much slower rate than with the Ringwraiths. Becoming a wraith isn't just something that will happen; it's something that is happening, even if the final outcome is still a long way off.

EDIT: To clarify, becoming a wraith isn't simply one of multiple effects of the Ring; all the effects are simply a natural consequence of what the Ring is and does.
 
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Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
I
I think this misses the point somewhat. It's not that Gandalf knows all about the wraithification process and so he knows that eventually even hobbits would be wraithified if they held on to the Ring, though it hasn't really happened yet. Rather, it's that he knows enough about the wraithification process to be able to tell that it's happening to Bilbo right in front of him, albeit at a much slower rate than with the Ringwraiths. Becoming a wraith isn't just something that will happen; it's something that is happening, even if the final outcome is still a long way off.

EDIT: To clarify, becoming a wraith isn't simply one of multiple effects of the Ring; all the effects are simply a natural consequence of what the Ring is and does.
I accept that this is a widely accepted view amongst readers, I just don't see how the text supports this as the only conclusion.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
I think mention of the Wise emphasises my point about what degree of certainty to hold over dialogue from any given character.

I would trust the word of Gandalf or Elrond, if they were to explicitly describe the nature of the universe, to be true and accurate to a very high level. Or at least as much truth as we are likely to glean about Middle Earth.

I would be less likely to trust the word of Gimli the Dwarf, when he colloquially describes one entity in similar terms to another entity, as either intended to be a true and accurate statement, or to actually be a true and accurate statement.

It's not a general distrust of all dialogue from all sources (sorry if I implied that in my earlier post), but rather it's about taking dialogue into context before choosing how to interpret it. We instantly dismiss all of Ted Sandyman's BS in the Green Dragon because he doesn't know what he's talking about - his assertions notwithstanding, we don't know as a canonical fact that there ain't no Ents. I don't know that Gimli knows a whole lot more about the metaphysical providence of the Oathbreakers than Ted knows about the existence of Ents.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
I think mention of the Wise emphasises my point about what degree of certainty to hold over dialogue from any given character.

I would trust the word of Gandalf or Elrond, if they were to explicitly describe the nature of the universe, to be true and accurate to a very high level. Or at least as much truth as we are likely to glean about Middle Earth.
I think this is the crux of the issue: Are we expected to accept Gandalf and Elrond's assertions unchallenged, or are we allowed to perform our own critical analysis of what is presented, including asking how the Wise could know what they claim to know?
Some Tudor nobles died sooner than they otherwise would have, by trusting the words of their physicians without challenge. Thankfully, the consequences here are nowhere near so dire.

We have seen evidence of Gandalf's fallibility, and to a degree Elrond's also.

I would be less likely to trust the word of Gimli the Dwarf, when he colloquially describes one entity in similar terms to another entity, as either intended to be a true and accurate statement, or to actually be a true and accurate statement.

It's not a general distrust of all dialogue from all sources (sorry if I implied that in my earlier post), but rather it's about taking dialogue into context before choosing how to interpret it. We instantly dismiss all of Ted Sandyman's BS in the Green Dragon because he doesn't know what he's talking about - his assertions notwithstanding, we don't know as a canonical fact that there ain't no Ents. I don't know that Gimli knows a whole lot more about the metaphysical providence of the Oathbreakers than Ted knows about the existence of Ents.
 

Arnthro

Active Member
"Known?" said Gandalf. "I have known much that only the Wise know, Frodo. But if you mean 'known about this ring,' well, I still don't know, one might say....." (FotR - The Shadow of the Past)

I think Gandalf is not only referring to the test he is about to make on the ring, but I think he is also he is speaking to the overall knowledge of The Ring and what to do with it. They don't really know for certain.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
@Anthony Lawther

Fair points - we can question the accuracy of the knowledge of the Wise as well, in context. No character that we know of has complete and accurate knowledge of all things. But I think that we can safely dismiss some things almost out of hand (Ted Sandyman's claims about walking trees, or Gimli's claims, which I don't even want to call claims, about the nature of the Oathbreakers), while other things deserve to be considered more charitably as likely true.

It is folks in the middle that are the most interesting cases really. People like Frodo and Bilbo, and even Aragorn. How much of what they state as fact is actually fact, and how much of it is a best guess? Case-by-case is how we should consider it. Example: the existence of Giants in the Misty Mountains is really only sourced to Bilbo's account of his trip - Gandalf's dialogue is still in Bilbo's hand, and I don't think we can treat his account as a perfect representation in every facet. It is fair to question whether or not giants exist in Middle Earth (I come down on the "No" side, but I can't prove it and I don't think people on the "Yes" side are foolish).
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
I

I accept that this is a widely accepted view amongst readers, I just don't see how the text supports this as the only conclusion.
What other conclusion do you propose? The Ring obviously extends the life of mortals who possess it, yet it also clearly does not add to their life (Bilbo feels "thin and stretched", and Gollum looks it). If not the beginnings of wraithdom, what is this?
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
What other conclusion do you propose? The Ring obviously extends the life of mortals who possess it, yet it also clearly does not add to their life (Bilbo feels "thin and stretched", and Gollum looks it). If not the beginnings of wraithdom, what is this?
In Gollum's case his appearance is adequately explained by harsh conditions.
Equally, the feeling does not necessarily translate to physical transformation: Bilbo looks unnaturally well preserved, not 'thin and stretched'.

Alternative conclusions that are the result of my speculation rather than Gandalf's:
1. The Nâzgul got to a point where the torment on their minds (parallel to Gollum) and the feeling of being 'thin and stretched' (parallel to Bilbo) got too much for them and they turned to the Morgul blades (or similar artefacts) as a means of 'relief'.
2. The use of the Morgul blades (or artefacts) upon themselves conferred extra supernatural powers in exchange for much of their physical realm abilities.
3. Some other factor (e.g. arcane ritual) that is completely beyond the experience of any of the characters led to their wraithification, and both rings and Morgul blades (or artefacts) are completely unrelated to their wraith status.

These also suffer from insufficient support from the text, but I think the first case has about as much support as the conclusions drawn by Gandalf.
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
1. The Nâzgul got to a point where the torment on their minds (parallel to Gollum) and the feeling of being 'thin and stretched' (parallel to Bilbo) got too much for them and they turned to the Morgul blades (or similar artefacts) as a means of 'relief'.
This supposes that:
1. The torment or desire would drive them to do such a thing. Gollum, for instance, feels terrible desire for the Ring, but never seems to contemplate even for a moment harming himself to find relief. Further, any such decision would be made by all nine of them.
2. That they have the capacity to do such a thing. With Sauron in possession of the One, would they have been capable on their own in such a way?
3. That they are ignorant of the function of the Morgul blades.

I'm sorry, but to me, this all strains credulity far more than any explanation Gandalf gives. Gandalf gives an explanation which is at least consistent with the data he has. Other explanations may be thought up which are also consistent, but as that's true for pretty much any explanation of anything, I don't see it as sufficient reason to suppose that Gandalf is wrong.

Yes, Gandalf has been wrong before, but so has literally every single other person in Arda. It is not reasonable to expect that even one of the Wise should be utterly infallible; only that he recognize and learn from what mistakes he does make, which Gandalf seems to do. I don't see how Gandalf being mistaken in the past indicates that he's mistaken here, in the absence of other evidence.
 
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