Is there any evidence that Boromir’s suggestion to use the Ring as a weapon is influenced by the Ring?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
The suggestion, that the Ring could be used as a weapon against Sauron was introduced by Gandalf, reporting on Saruman’s comments, “The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.” We know that this is where Boromir gets the idea from, because he references Saruman when he makes the suggestion.

Also, it is the only source Boromir has. There has been no other comment nor suggestion that the Ring confers any power to anyone other than Sauron that can be used against Sauron. Invisibility, is the only power so far recounted that it confers on others.

It is a perfectly rational suggestion. It should have occurred to anyone at the Council. Especially, if they had only the knowledge that Boromir has of Rings and such. Of course, Boromir would latch on to that idea. It is absolutely in keeping with his role as Defender of Gondor and Captain of the Army. Let’s go win the war! (Remember, that there is no suggestion that destroying the Ring will win the war.)

(Note, that Boromir is still uncertain whether the Ring can be successfully used to defeat Sauron. "Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say." Saruman's comment, though suggestive, was not crystal clear.)

There is no need for the Ring to influence him at all for him to make this suggestion.

Does the Ring go around influencing anyone other than its bearer? Have we seen any evidence of this? Possibly Smeagol’s murder of Deagol? Still, although that might have been Ring influence (Why? Did the Ring just like Smeagol so much more than Deagol?) it might have just been Smeagol’s greed and dubious nature. I can’t think of any other possible examples?

Now, we, as first-time readers, have reasons to suspect the option of using the Ring as a weapon against Sauron. We have Gandalf’s comments, when Frodo offers him the Ring in Bag End. “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly…. Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

That is enough to induce us to look askance at Boromir’s suggestion. (Even though it is not clear whether the danger of becoming like the Dark Lord is a danger specific to Gandalf himself, or rather to any wielder of the One Ring. After all, Boromir has heard of four other bearers, Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, and Frodo, none of whom seemed to become 'like the Dark Lord himself'.)

But, is this comment from Gandalf known to Boromir? It is possible that Frodo recounted it during his report to the Council. But, would he have gone over the events of The Shadow of the Past in verbatim detail? Or would he have summarized?

In any event, Boromir, in my estimation, would suggest using the Ring as a weapon against Sauron regardless of whether the Ring was influencing him or not. Of course, it is possible that the Ring was influencing him, but I see no evidence of such, and no need to assume such. Is it not better to stick with the simple interpretation that of course Boromir would make this suggestion? It is an obvious possibility!
 
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Rachel Port

Active Member
I agree, Flammifer. I've been intrigued for a while by the realization that we know next to nothing about what the Ring can do. It can make some people invisible, though since not Tom, perhaps not others as well? It's engraving says its purpose is to dominate the other rings. It can slip off (Isildur) a finger or onto a finger (Frodo) at inopportune moments with serious consequences. Other powers are mysteriously hinted at, in the speech you quote as well as some others, but we don't know what they are, exactly. We are told it is drawn to return to its maker, but that is a passive construction.

Boromir is only able to see things as they affect Gondor. He wishes for glory for Gondor and himself, whether in defeat or victory. So when he sees something he is told has great power, he is bound to see it as a possible instrument for that glory. To me, his speech here shows that he is the only one present at the Council who cannot see the whole picture. I don't see the Ring working on him. Just the fact that it's possible to see this as not influenced by the Ring shows that it is unlike his later speeches in which there can be no doubt. He wishes it to fit with his purpose. That, of course, leaves him open to corruption by the Ring.

If Faramir had gone to Rivendell, he could probably have seen the greater issues. But what if Boromir had met Frodo and Sam in Ithilien? Or would they even have been there, since Boromir wouldn't have tried to take the Ring and the Fellowship wouldn't have broken up so precipitously? All the what ifs! I can't help feeling that, like the good that comes out of Gandalf's delay (and Butterbur's, of course), things have been as they were meant to be, in spite of what seems like it would have been better.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Rachel,

I agree with most of what you say. Boromir is human. He is rational. He does not know much about the One Ring. Only what he has heard in the Council. He has heard Gandalf report that Saurman said that if they had the One Ring, the power would come to them. If so, great! If that means that someone could use the One Ring as a weapon against Sauron and defeat him, why not? Of course, he is not sure exactly what Saruman meant by that comment. Nor is he sure that Saruman was correct.

Boromir is still trying (I am sure) to get the answers to his prophetic dream. 'There will be counsels taken stronger than Morgul spells'. Well, no luck so far? Sure, the one decision made so far is that the sword that was broken (and its possibly inconvenient bearer) will go to Minas Tirith. That is a hopeful sign. He has found the sword which his dream instructed him to seek. Hopefully that will help. Now, Elrond has suggested a second decision. To send the Ring to the Fire. OK, that would deny Sauron the Ring, if successful. But, are either of these decisions going to do anything to be 'stronger than Morgul spells'? That cannot be clear to Boromir.

So, using the One Ring? Saruman thought that doing so would wrest the power from Sauron and give it to the new wielders. If true, that should be stronger than Morgul spells, right? After all, controlling the One Ring (If Boromir understands what he has heard correctly) should control the Nazgul? 'One Ring to rule them all,' after all! Ipso facto, if the forces of good could control the One Ring, and control the Nazgul, then obviously, they would be stronger than Morgul spells!

While it is true, that Boromir tends to see things through a Gondor lens, I don't think that he can only see things as they affect Gondor. He understands the Elvish concerns should Gondor fall, and pretty much admits that this is a possibility. I also think that there is little evidence that he seeks glory for Gondor or himself. He seeks salvation, more than glory for Gondor. If he sought glory for himself, he would have remained in command of Gondor's armies, rather than taking on an expedition of 110 days to seek the answers to a divine dream.

Far from being the only one at the Council who cannot see the whole picture, isn't he the only one at the Council who does see the whole picture?

No one else at the Council has made the obvious suggestion, prompted by Saruman's comment as reported by Gandalf, that the Ring be used as a weapon against Sauron? I would suggest that no one else at the Council is thinking of all the options very clearly? When Boromir hesitates, and fingers his horn, is he not hoping that someone else will bring up this obvious alternative? There is no evidence that Boromir is a 'death or glory' general. Did he not command a fighting retreat towards the bridges at Osgiliath, and then a desperate defence while they were cut down behind him, rather than a glorious charge against the foe? Boromir knows when to retreat as well as when to attack! He fingers his horn, and pauses, because he is hoping that he does not have to charge into the Council to challenge Elrond's assertion. But, Boromir is certainly not a coward! If no one else will suggest a third alternative disposition to the Ring, then he will!

Now, of course, Gandalf and Elrond seem to be intuiting (on a level unavailable to Boromir or most other mortals) that the correct course is to send the Ring to the Fire. But, the logic of this course is not explained very well by them, and Boromir is just as baffled by Elrond's statement as any other logical human who had sat through the Council would be. Why are we not even discussing the option which Saruman brought forth? Hiding and destruction are not the only two options! If Saruman is correct, using the Ring as a weapon to defeat Sauron is a third option!

Boromir is reacting to the Council exactly as any logical human being with good listening skills would react. 'Wait a minute, Elrond! You are jumping to the conclusion that the correct course of action is to send the Ring to the Fire? We have not even talked through all the possible options yet? I don't see how destroying the Ring will prove to be 'stronger than Morgul spells'? I strongly suspect that you are totally ignoring the divine dream that my brother and I had? Slow down! Let's think this through a little more!'

Let's face it. Elrond's (and Gandalf's) intuition, or discernment of the patterns of Providence and the Music, which may be inducing them to the belief that sending the Ring to the Fire is the 'right' course of action, is not at all well explained by them. Nor is it at all obvious to any rational and logically driven mortal man. Certainly not to Boromir. Is that surprising?
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Logically yes. Boromir is logical, and somebody was bound to raise the possibility. But the story of Saruman clearly shows that the idea of wielding the Ring in itself is dangerous to the person wishing to do it. Boromir is a great soldier, and thinks strategically. He is able to see complexity, but his view is still parochial. His thinking is, this has come to us now, here, so we can defeat Sauron. Gondor is the barrier that keeps Sauron from overrunning everything. All our combined strength, including the Ring, should therefore come to the defense of Gondor, whose men are valiant and true. It does make sense. But it is limited.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Boromir reminds me a little of King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when confronted by the killer rabbit. When the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is suggested as a weapon his sequence of reactions is
1. A seemingly valid option? Yes! Bring it forward.
2. I have no idea how to use this; How embarrassing.
3. Ask rather sheepishly how it works.

But because Boromir isn't in charge here he never gets past step 1.

On a more serious note, I agree that in the text there is no compelling evidence that the Ring is working on Boromir here; only the description of a glint in his eye when the Ring is first revealed hints at this, and as the recorder of the events is working in retrospect that description might have been added by one of the Hobbit narrators after seeing his later actions.
Edit: If Boromir were under the influence of the Ring I would expect to see more resistance from him to the rebuttal of the idea.
He throws it out there and Elrond says 'Alas, no, We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we now know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil. 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. And that is another reason why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so. I fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it.' , then Gandalf says 'Nor I' and Boromir drops it immediately, rather than saying 'Let me try.' His let me try moment comes later when he is notably under Ring influence.

Consideration of the risks and rewards of using the enemy's positioning, weapons, and fortifications against them, is something that would be expected of any battlefield commander. His investigation into this seemingly overlooked option should be expected.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Logically yes. Boromir is logical, and somebody was bound to raise the possibility. But the story of Saruman clearly shows that the idea of wielding the Ring in itself is dangerous to the person wishing to do it. Boromir is a great soldier, and thinks strategically. He is able to see complexity, but his view is still parochial. His thinking is, this has come to us now, here, so we can defeat Sauron. Gondor is the barrier that keeps Sauron from overrunning everything. All our combined strength, including the Ring, should therefore come to the defense of Gondor, whose men are valiant and true. It does make sense. But it is limited.
Yes, Boromir's point of view is limited. He does not have the perspective of Gandalf and Elrond. That is the nature of the Second Born Children of Illuvatar, when compared to the First Born. But, Boromir's suggestion does make sense. It is logical.

Gandalf and Elrond are doing a very poor job of explaining their plan. It does not make much sense (so far). It is not logical. Boromir is being very human in pushing for logic and explanations. The first-time reader, I think, should also be unconvinced by the Elrond and Gandalf plan at this point.

To begin to understand the Elrond perspective, we need to draw from our knowledge of the rest of TLOTR, and from the vast body of Christopher Tolkien stuff. The Elves might get it when Elrond says, 'We must take the path unforseen.' They have presumably been hanging out with Elrond for thousands of years and had countless conversations about the History of the Elves, the Role of the Elves in Middle Earth, the Role of the Elves in Arda, the Nature of the Valar, whether the Elven Rings were a good thing or a bad thing. They might well understand immediately that Elrond is suggesting that 'We take the path unforseen by us!' When we discussed this interpretation, we had the benefit of familiarity with tons of material which neither Boromir, nor the first-time reader, has accessed.

To Boromir, this comment by Elrond must have been just as unconvincing as it is to the first-time reader. "Sure, there is some advantage to surprising your enemy. Doing what is unexpected. But, that is not a convincing rationale to support an entire critical war strategy. It did not work for the Japanese when they surprised the USA at Pearl Harbor. It did not work for Hitler when he launched his surprise attack against the Soviet Union. A good general would be unconvinced that it was a good reason to send the Ring to the Fire.

An interesting question is; Why are we inclined to be prejudiced against Boromir, and often think the worst of him?

Partly because we are not first-time readers. We know what will happen to Boromir down the road. We therefore look for foreshadowings of that when re-reading earlier passages on Boromir.

But, that is not all. I think JRRT sets up a subtle prejudice against Boromir, even in the first-time reader. He does this partly by giving us some information which Boromir might not have. We know that Gandalf thinks the Ring is dangerous to wield, because he said so when Frodo offered to give him the Ring in Bag End. Boromir might not know this (it depends on whether Frodo covered it in his account to the Council). So, when Boromir suggests using the Ring against Sauron, we think, 'wait, Boromir! That plan could be very dangerous!'. We also 'know' most of the other important participants in the Council and trust them. Boromir is the stranger in the room. (Well, him and Legolas, and Erestor, and Galdor.) The natural human suspicion of strangers kicks in and influences us towards prejudice towards Boromir. Also, I think that JRRT (a great lover of foreshadowing himself) carefully crafts Boromir's interjections so that although they can be read as perfectly diplomatic, logical and rational, they can also be read as vain and boasting.

Boromir is just being human, in the strange company of Elves. (How clever of JRRT to make us think that the company of Elves is the norm, and that Boromir is the stranger!) The Elves are not explaining their thoughts very completely, logically or rationally. They may be using a lot of shared history and long ago conversations to understand what other Elves are saying. But, this is not available to Boromir. I think that Boromir is just doing what any logical, rational, and intelligent human, who has had a divine dream, and wants it explained clearly, would be doing. He is doing it very well.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Boromir is also seen to contradict those characters we have come, as first time readers, to admire, like Gandalf and Aragorn, and that we are inclined to admire like Elrond, which can lead Io a prejudice against him. I don't remember exactly, but I don't think I started out with negative feelings about him when I first read LOTR.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Yes - it must be very strange to Boromir, who has spent all his life where there are only men, to find himself one of only two men in this room, and Aragorn has been raised among elves, and is himself part of a mythic past. Complete culture shock.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Exactly! One would think that the natural expectation for first-time readers would be to adopt the point of view of Boromir. He is human. We are human. In most 'fairy tales', we, the readers, accompany the human protagonist into faery and experience the strange and baffling world of the Elves with him. Thanks to the genius of JRRT, this is entirely reversed. To us, the readers, the strange Council, of strange Elves, seems normal. Boromir appears to us to be the 'stranger'. It takes an effort on our part to shift our perspective and realize that Boromir is a 'Stranger in a Strange Land' and that perhaps we really should be identifying with him, more than with the Elves?
 

Beech27

Active Member
Let's face it. Elrond's (and Gandalf's) intuition, or discernment of the patterns of Providence and the Music, which may be inducing them to the belief that sending the Ring to the Fire is the 'right' course of action, is not at all well explained by them.
I keep finding myself coming back to this thought: If we grant that Elrond and Gandalf know what they know based on said intuition/discernment, what would a convincing explanation to Boromir even look like? Was one possible?

"Well, Boromir, first you need to understand why there is something, rather than nothing, and the manner by which that something was brought into being. So, really, the nature of being itself, and the perpetual outpouring thereof. Once we establish that--"

That's obviously a little hyperbolic/tongue-in-cheek, but I do wonder.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Beech27,

You are right that it is hard to explain a course of action derived from intuition or discernment. However, Gandalf and Elrond could certainly do a much better job.

In the very next paragraph, which we will come to next week, you will see them doing a very poor job of telling Boromir why his suggestion of using the Ring as a weapon is not good.

Elrond introduces new assertions (as statements of fact) with no description of where this knowledge comes from or how he knows these things: 'It is altogether evil;' 'the very desire of it corrupts the heart;' 'yet another Dark Lord would appear'. This is all new stuff, thrown at Boromir like a machine gun. It contradicts the evidence he has already gathered; 'It didn't seem to corrupt Bilbo?' 'No sign that Frodo is corrupted?' 'None of the holders has become a Dark Lord yet?' Boromir must wonder, 'How do you know all this Elrond?' "Why has no one mentioned any of these properties of the Ring before?'

Then Elrond makes a pure appeal to authority. "I fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it." Gandalf chimes in, "Nor I."

No! We are not going to discuss it. We are not going to do it. We are the bosses here. We have told you why. (But we have not told you how we arrived at the 'why' arguments, which contradict previous evidence).

These are not good ways to convince anyone, least of all Boromir.

The way to give Boromir a convincing explanation, would start with going back to examine his over-riding focus: 'What is the explanation of my Divine Dream?' (A dream seemingly long forgotten by Elrond and Gandalf.) 'What Counsels are we going to take that will be stronger than Morgul spells?' Is taking the Ring to the Fire going to do anything to combat Morgul spells?'
 
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Beech27

Active Member
It is difficult to provide empirical evidence where none exists. Ultimately, Boromir could come back to suggesting that no Elf-lord of Wizard has ever claimed the Ring, so how can we be sure of what would occur if one were to do so? And any implication that it has providentially come into their hands could, as we noted in class, just as easily support that conclusion as any other.

Perhaps further use of the dream-language would have been helpful, though. Something like:

Boromir, first, think of the Ring as Sauron's biggest/strongest Morgul-spell of them all.

Ok, we can counsel that either the Ring be 1) hidden, 2) destroyed, 3) used.

1) Neither diminishes Sauron's strength nor increases ours.
2) Radically diminishes the amount of Morgul-spell extant in the world.
3) Invests the wielder in Morgal-spelldom, which logically cannot result in anything stronger than Morgul-spells.

So, option number 2 is most consistent with your dream language.
 
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I agree with a lot of this, but would say that rather than a logical man, I would describe Boromir as a practical man.

We have the ring, let's use it!
We can't use the ring, okay then, let's destroy it.

Boromir trusts the wise, I'm guessing partly because his father has trained him to do so, and he is practical enough to move on to the next plan.

I do think the ring is working on Boromir immediately, partly because he now knows what it is, and partly because of who he is, but I certainly don't see enough in the text to prove it. Only infer it.
 

Kate Neville

Active Member
I'm not sure the ring is working specifically on Boromir, though I think he is certainly susceptible to its call. It seems that the ring operates by appealing to what is otherwise a virtue -- in Gandalf, it would twist pity into tyranny, in Sam, nuture into domination -- and so Boromir's true and noble desire to protect and serve Gondor will be twisted into a willingness to subjugate.

In a week or so we'll get to the moment when Bilbo volunteers -- might he also be feeling the lure of the Ring? Being tempted by his desire to protect Frodo? We never get anyone else's POV, though I imagine the dwarves might be wondering whether they could get their forges hot enough to do the job.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Leading to the wonderful line "It has grown and I have not." Last night Bilbo understood for the first time what the Ring could do, but I think he goes back and forth a little.
 
TBH I've always thought that both Bilbo and Frodo only volunteer because of the opportunity to hold the ring a little longer. I'm looking forward to hearing the class discussion on these moments.
 
That's fair. "Only volunteer" was too strong of an assertion. I shall update to:
TBH I've always thought that both Bilbo and Frodo partly volunteer because of the opportunity to hold the ring a little longer.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Gandalf and Elrond are doing a very poor job of explaining their plan. It does not make much sense (so far). It is not logical. Boromir is being very human in pushing for logic and explanations. The first-time reader, I think, should also be unconvinced by the Elrond and Gandalf plan at this point.

To begin to understand the Elrond perspective, we need to draw from our knowledge of the rest of TLOTR, and from the vast body of Christopher Tolkien stuff. The Elves might get it when Elrond says, 'We must take the path unforseen.' They have presumably been hanging out with Elrond for thousands of years and had countless conversations about the History of the Elves, the Role of the Elves in Middle Earth, the Role of the Elves in Arda, the Nature of the Valar, whether the Elven Rings were a good thing or a bad thing. They might well understand immediately that Elrond is suggesting that 'We take the path unforseen by us!' When we discussed this interpretation, we had the benefit of familiarity with tons of material which neither Boromir, nor the first-time reader, has accessed.
I think we get so wrapped up in something like LOTR that we forget that it's a novel, and that people read novels and believe what the novel tells them. Until the past year I knew nothing of Tolkien scholarship, or of Christopher Tolkien's work. I knew these books and had been reading them for some 50 years. I knew these characters and was still unravelling their complexitiies. The ordinary reader reads to find out what happens next, and are grateful for this chapter that tells us so much of what is going to happen next. Within the world of the book as we know it so far, we have no reason to disbelieve Elrond or Gandalf - we accept them as people who know more than the others in the room - they are the people who explain things.

There's a reason we say that fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief; most readers read to see the story unfold and get carried away. I, for one, found that, in this year of COVID and other horrors, Middle-earth was preferable to this world a lot of the time, and that is why I also got interested in the other stuff as well. But I had no idea that this world of Tolkien fandom and study existed, and sometimes it seems less real than Middle-earth. I'm enjoying my journey into this new world immensely, and I'm learning a lot. But I still read for fun, and think that most readers do, too.
 
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