Was the Ring Afraid in Tom Bombadil’s House?

Dave Heinitz

New Member
Professor Olsen,

In Session 175 Tom Bombadil and Frodo’s interaction regarding the One Ring was given some discussion, and it appears this topic may provide some insight into the nature of the Ring itself. I have a potential answer to the below question but I would be very interested in your take on it.

If the ring has no power over Tom Bombadil and Tom is master in his realm, why is it here that the Ring claims its second greatest victory over Frodo of the whole tale?

This may have something to do with the interaction between Frodo and the Ring there in Tom’s house. For some reason the balance between the power of the Ring and Frodo’s weakness reached a critical point at that moment, and only Tom’s intervention saved the day (similar to how another companion “helped” when the Ring claimed its final and greatest victory over Frodo). So is the Ring very powerful at that moment, Frodo very weak, or some mixture of the two?

It’s explicitly stated that Frodo and Sam could feel the power of the ring growing as they approached Mordor and then Mt Doom, “As it drew near the great furnaces where, in the deeps of time, it had been shaped and forged, the Ring’s power grew, and it became more fell, untameable save by some mighty will.” Therefore, it is very unlikely the Ring was at the height of its power in Tom’s realm. The lack of any notable growth in the Ring’s power when they entered the Old Forest or Tom’s house is additionally supported by the lack of any commentary about Frodo feeling the Ring’s power in the Old Forest. It could be argued that Frodo was not yet in touch with the ring enough to have noticed it, but Sam noticed the Ring’s growing power after possessing it for far less time than Frodo had when he reached Tom’s house. It seems unlikely then that the Ring’s inherent power was any higher in Tom’s house than it was in the Barrow Downs, Bree, Weathertop, or at the Ford of Bruinen, all locations where Frodo resisted the Ring better.

On the other side, Frodo’s strength to resist the Ring is likely a combination of his skill in doing so and his active will to do so. Frodo grows wiser throughout his journey, as evidenced by Saurman’s final words to him, “'You have grown, Halfling,' he said. 'Yes, you have grown very much. You are wise, and cruel.” Through this he probably also gained more skill in resisting the Ring, but at any one moment that skill was balanced against his physical and spiritual exhaustion. It would be similar to how a great athlete might grow better at their sport with training, but is probably worse at any one moment if they are both exhausted from exertion and depressed about some outside event. At the Cracks of Doom, Frodo was the most skilled in Ring-resistance he would ever be while possessing the Ring, but he was physically and spiritually exhausted. In Tom Bombadil’s house Frodo was still unskilled in Ring-resistance but was well rested and in good spirits. Therefore, nothing decisive can be drawn from that balance. Which brings us to Frodo’s active will to resist the Ring at that moment.

In Tom’s house Frodo let his guard down. There was clearly nothing to fear in Tom’s safe keeping. Even Frodo’s dreams of the night before and fear of the upcoming road were washed away. Unlike the moments in the Barrow, at Weathertop, or at the Ford of Bruinen, Frodo had no reason to be guarded against an attack. It’s true that the same could be said of Frodo’s time in Rivendell and Lothlórien, and in Lothlórien he was even presented with a similar situation of losing the Ring when he offered it to Galadriel. The difference in Tom’s house was the fear of loss.

Frodo likely feared losing the Ring when Tom made it disappear, when trapped in the Barrow, when the Witch King approached him at Weathertop and at the Ford, when Boromir confronted him on Amon Hen, and at many other points, including at the Cracks of Doom, but the situations at the Cracks of Doom and in Tom’s house (the Ring’s two greatest victories over Frodo) were distinctly different from the rest, because the Ring was afraid too. In every other case, moving to the other party in the situation would have been better for the Ring than staying with Frodo. This includes moving to Galadriel. Only at the Cracks of Doom (where the unwritten Ring-induced monolog must have been mighty) and in Tom’s house did the Ring face the potential of a worse situation than staying with Frodo. It was discussed how neither Tom nor anyone else could be a good guardian of the Ring, but would that entire logic train have been clear in the instant Tom played with the Ring? The Ring appeared to have no influence over Tom so could it be sensed that if Tom kept the Ring it would be unused and have no hope of corrupting its possessor or driving him to its true master? Would that have been as bad as being lost in the Anduin again? If the Ring could sense these things it would make sense for it to scream "run!" with all its might at an unprepared and unguarded Frodo. We can even argue that the Ring was likely trying harder to get Frodo to flee from Tom’s house than it ever tried to get itself taken by a better bearer if we consider the concept of loss aversion.

Originally identified by psychologist/economist Daniel Kehneman and used in behavioral economics, loss aversion claims that an agent (usually human, but similar results have been observed in experiments with other primates) will prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. In some cases this tendency has been observed to reach a ratio as high as 2:1. It is unclear if loss aversion applies to enchanted artifacts in Arda, but it likely did apply to the author of the story.

Frodo’s unprepared state combined with an effort at corruption by the Ring greater than at any other time, save at the Cracks of Doom, would explain why in Tom Bombadil’s realm of safety the Ring claims its second greatest victory over Frodo of the whole tale. That is, of course, if we accept that the Ring can be afraid. Which I believe is still an open question.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Dave,

Excellent question!

It revolves around the thorny question of the sentience of the Ring. You made a number of extremely interesting points. I think this is a question to keep considering as we continue through TLOTR. I don't think we are really ready to attempt hypotheses yet.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
the Ring claims its second greatest victory over Frodo of the whole tale
Great post! But in addition to Flammifer's comment that you assume at least agency, and probably sentience, in the Ring, you also presuppose that the episode represents a victory for the Ring over Frodo.

From another thread:
I never thought that Frodo was going to go anywhere. I always assumed that Frodo's urge would be to keep secret the fact that he had put on his ring; but how to explain his sudden disappearance to the others? Maybe, although it was never mentioned, the outer door could not be seen from where the hobbits were sitting, so Frodo was going to reach the door, open it, and slip off the Ring. Then, when everyone heard the door and noticed he was missing, they would call out to him and he could poke his now visible head back around the screen (or whatever was there). "I'm just popping out to the loo. Be right back." he could say. Maybe he was hoping everyone would think they'd been so engrossed in Tom's tales that they hadn't noticed him getting up. (Well, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it. )
And quoting myself:
Of course Frodo was never running away from them, just testing the Ring, and making a jest. The question is why Bombadil spoiled it!
In the previous (and in the later) scenes of temptation to put on the Ring, we've seen Frodo's struggle, and he's been saved by "chance, if chance you call it" (the approach of Gildor and the Elves in the Woody End). But there's nothing like that here.

I do not think the Ring overpowered Frodo in Bombadil's house at all. I do also like your alternate theory -- it's neat and well-thought-out -- but since I lean (more strongly all the time as we explore tLotR) towards "no sentience for the Ring", I tend to think there is really nothing much to explain here: no temptation and no capitulation. Frodo just wanted to be certain he'd gotten his Ring back.
 

Dave Heinitz

New Member
Thank you both for your insightful additions.

Since the question was specifically for Professor Olsen, I was presupposing all his comments from session 175, including the idea that the Ring scored a "victory over Frodo." As for the matter of sentience, my intent was not to assume the Ring has it, but to ask if, given the presupposed conditions and results, does a logical thought train provide evidence of sentience? Perhaps I could have worded my last two sentences better.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Since the question was specifically for Professor Olsen, I was presupposing all his comments from session 175, including the idea that the Ring scored a "victory over Frodo."
Professor Olsen comments on some of these these posts in the regular session, but rarely posts replies here. That's why we all tend to chip in with whatever thoughts we have!

I still like the way you thought this through, but I personally do not think there was any "victory of the Ring" here. I think it was no more dangerous for Frodo to put on the Ring in the House of Tom Bombadil than it ever had been for Bilbo to put it on in The Shire to avoid the Sackville-Bagginses!
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I agree that this incident might not really count as a victory for the Ring. However, I think it may count as a defeat for Frodo.

Gandalf's instructions to Frodo were, "Be more careful than ever, especially of the Ring. Let me impress on you once more: don't use it!"

Well, Frodo has not used it until now. But now he does. And not for a particularly good reason.

I don't think that this was a great decision by Frodo.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Frodo had seen Tom put the Ring on and not disappear. How could he be sure the ring he got back was the same one he'd handed over, except by trying it himself?

But I also don't think that he was planning to desert his companions when he tried to leave. Going out the door and desertion of the sort he contemplated in the Barrow. He was not leaving them in danger - Tom certainly was not a danger to them.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
Frodo had seen Tom put the Ring on and not disappear. How could he be sure the ring he got back was the same one he'd handed over, except by trying it himself?
Frodo hasn't had the ring on ever, as far as we know (the last time it was ever on a finger was Bilbo's disappearing trick at his party, no?). Other than Gandalf's trick with the fire, he only has Bilbo's promise that it's been the actual Ring in his pocket all along.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
amysrevenge, how can we assume that Frodo has never used the Ring in the 17 years that he has had it and carried it around with him? That seems a stretch.
 

Beech27

Active Member
I don't think we can assume, but we can perhaps glean something from the text.

A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. He hardly dared to breathe, and yet the desire to get it out of his pocket became so strong that he began slowly to move his hand. He felt that he had only to slip it on, and then he would be safe. The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd. Bilbo had used the Ring.
If Frodo had used the Ring before without harm, wouldn't that be his rationalization--not the fact that Bilbo had done so?

Of course, there are numerous other passages which might nudge us further that direction, or in the opposite. Galadriel says:

Only thrice have you set the Ring upon your finger since you knew what you possessed.
Which may imply that he put it on before he really knew what it was.

Ultimately, I don't think the text is definitive.

But Frodo, at least, feels like he can identify the Ring simply by holding it in his hand.

It was the same Ring, or looked the same and weighed the same: for that Ring had always seemed to Frodo to weigh strangely heavy in the hand.
Though--perhaps because of the Ring--he ultimately doesn't feel sure enough, and puts it on.
 
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