What are the powers of the Ring?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
What are the powers of the One Ring? What power would it add to Sauron if he recovered it? What power would it grant to another wielder who wanted to use it against Sauron? What do we know about the power of the Ruling Ring at this point (the end of the Council of Elrond)?

Well, we do not know a lot, but I have tried to assemble all that we do know. Please add if I have missed any evidence.

According to Gandalf:

  • “A mortal who keeps one of the Great Rings does not die,” (but becomes wraithified eventually).
  • “The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring.”
  • “He let a great part of his own former power pass into it, so that he could rule all the others.”
  • “If he recovers it, then he will command them all again, wherever they be, even the Three, and all that has been wrought with them will be laid bare, and he will be stronger than ever.”
  • The Ring tries to get to its master: abandoning Isildur and Gollum.
  • “Already you too, Frodo, cannot easily let it go, nor will to damage it.”
  • “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.”
  • “Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”
According to observation:

  • Power to make its bearer invisible, when worn. It engenders strong possessiveness in its bearers – Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo. It extends life – Gollum and Bilbo. It put the Ringwraiths under Sauron’s domination.
From Saruman:

  • “The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”
From the Ring inscription and poem:

  • It was made to rule, find, bring, and bind the other Rings (and, presumably, their bearers?).
From Elrond:

  • “It is altogether evil.”
  • “Its strength is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own.”
  • “The very desire of it corrupts the heart.”
  • “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.”
  • “Maybe when the One has gone, the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten. That is my belief.”
Now, let’s sort out what we know is true (from our own evidence). What we accept is true (from assertions). What we question:

I think we know, that the Ring makes the bearer invisible when worn. It extends life. It creates strong possessiveness in its bearer. It was created to rule, find, bring, and bind the other Rings. It was used to bind and rule the Ringwraiths.

I think we accept that it could ‘lay bare all that was wrought’ by the Three to a powerful wielder. It might allow a powerful wielder perhaps even to defeat Sauron. (Suggested by Saruman and Elrond, hinted at by Gandalf, - though confirmed by none of them). That such a powerful wielder could turn into a new Dark Lord. I think we can accept that the Ring is, ‘altogether evil’. It was made by evil, for evil, and evil (of some sort) was placed within it. However, is anything in Arda ‘altogether evil’? (I know that this could get into the thorny problem of the redemption of orcs.) We can also accept that Elrond believes that if the One is destroyed the Three will fail.

I think we should have some questions about: “The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the one Ring.” (Gandalf asserts this in ‘The Shadow of the Past’, but Elrond seems to think that Sauron has enough power without the Ring to overcome all, in ‘The Council of Elrond’). “The Ring tries to get to its master”. Yes, the fact that it slipped off Isildur’s finger, and Gollum’s is suggestive, but are we ready to ascribe situational awareness and some sort of consciousness to the Ring yet? More dubiously, that “the very desire of it corrupts the heart.” It is hard to accept ‘corruption of the heart’ as a power of the Ring. This because we have contrary evidence. Bilbo carried the Ring for 61 years. Do we see any evidence of his heart having been corrupted? Well, he did lie about the exact circumstances in which he acquired the Ring, and he did indulge in a few somewhat mean-spirited gift tags when he departed Bag End, but if this is the extent of the corrupting power of the Great Ring, it is not very worrying! Of course, Elrond did not say, “The Ring corrupts the heart”. He said, “The very desire of it corrupts the heart”. He is specifically referencing Saruman. Do we need to believe that this is a power of the Ring? Is it not more that power corrupts, and even the desire for power corrupts – witness Saruman (who has never been close to the Ring, so unlikely that it corrupted him)?

So, if that is what we know about the Power of the Ring, let us try to speculate about a few questions:

What power would Sauron gain if he re-gained the Ring?

I speculate that the only power he would gain would be the power to command the Three, and lay bare all that they had wrought? And would he even be able to command the Three (and their bearers)? They were hidden from him (spiritually I suspect, as well as physically) the last time he tried to find them, bring them, bind them, and rule them. Perhaps they could be hidden from him again. Maybe all he could do is lay bare all that they had wrought? Still a considerable gain for Sauron. But, if Elrond is right, no one can resist the Ringless Sauron. Is Sauron’s effort to re-gain the Ring driven more to stop it falling into the hands of a rival than to add to his own power?

Sauron made the Ring to ‘rule all the others’. He put ‘a large part of his former powers into it’, so it could do so. Would he get ‘a large part of his former powers’ back if he re-gained the Ring? Maybe, if he could somehow extract them, but then wouldn’t he lose the power to ‘rule all the others’? Was putting some of his powers into the Ring to get domination over the other Rings an irreversible process? It is possible to infer that if Sauron recovered the Ring, he would get some of his ‘former powers’ back. But would he? He put those powers into the Ring in order to ‘trade’ them for the power to dominate the other Rings. Is there any evidence that he could get them back? If he did, would he lose the power to dominate the other Rings?

How much does Sauron need the Ring anyway? His greatest triumph by far was engineering the corruption and downfall of Numenor, which he did without the Ring, having left it behind in his safety deposit box in Middle-earth. (Not that we know this at the time of the Council. However, the attendees might know it, if Elrond covered it when “Of Numenor he spoke, its glory and its fall”.)

What power would a powerful new wielder gain that would possibly allow them to overcome Sauron?

Well, presumably, they could command the Nazgul? That would weaken Sauron and strengthen the opposition. That might be enough to win the war. They might also gain power over the Three and their wielders (though they might encounter the same issues that Sauron did)? They would presumably become invisible if wearing the Ring? If Mortal Men (or Hobbits) they would presumably have extended lives? Is there any evidence that they would gain direct power over Sauron?

What powers does the Ring have, other than the power to rule, find, bring, bind, the other Rings?

Well, we know it does have some other powers (rather curious powers). It extends lifespan. (Why? Unlikely to be useful or tempting in Rings made for Elves? Does not work on Dwarves (though we will not know this until the Appendices). Not likely to be a useful feature of the One Ring, as far as Sauron is concerned (as he lives forever anyway. Seems to at any rate. Comes back from the dead, as we are told at the Council.)

It induces possessiveness in its bearers. Why?

It makes the bearer invisible when worn. A very curious power? Does it make Sauron invisible when he wears it? If it did, how did Gil-galad, Elrond, Elendil, and Isildur fight and kill him on the slopes of Orodruin? How did Isildur see the Ring, and the hand, to cut the Ring from it with his father’s hilt shard? If it does not make Sauron invisible, why does it do this to others?

Does JRRT cunningly induce the reader to imagine more power in the One Ring, at the time of first reading ‘The Council of Elrond’, than the evidence really supports? I think we tend to ascribe to the Ring the power to amplify the power of the bearer to dominate the wills of others. But, besides dominating the wills of the bearers of the other Rings, is there any evidence that this power extends to all and sundry?

What should we be thinking about the powers of the One Ring, if we were first-time readers finishing ‘The Council of Elrond’?
 

Johannes

New Member
Don't forget it changes size!

That power stands out too, by the way, as it's the only power (that I know of at least) that affects the Ring itself and not the wearer or the people around it. We often discuss whether or not the Ring has it's own awareness and makes it's own decision and so on, and I think the way it suddenly grows to jump of a finger seems to be the clearest indication of it's sentience. Or maybe it was just designed that way by it's maker.
 

Beech27

Active Member
It's certainly possible that Elrond and/or Gandalf are exaggerating the ring's powers, or simply speculating beyond their real knowledge. But if that were so, what would Tolkien accomplish? It doesn't seem to me that we are meant to doubt either character's knowledge or honesty. Especially not now, when they're appointed to--from a Doylist angle--deliver the information that establishes the stakes for the whole story to come. Tonally, it just doesn't make sense to me that we would be meant to finish the council, and think, "Well, the ring really doesn't seem all that dangerous, and I'm not so sure about the so-called Wise."

Regarding the seeming contradictions, I think we ought to be concluding that the affectiveness and effectiveness of the ring depend on the power and ambition of the wielder, and that hobbits (and hobbit-types) are exceptional in some ways that aren't obvious.
 
Last edited:

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
It's certainly possible that Elrond and/or Gandalf are exaggerating the ring's powers, or simply speculating beyond their real knowledge. But if that were so, what would Tolkien accomplish? It doesn't seem to me that we are meant to doubt either character's knowledge or honesty. Especially not now, when they're appointed to--from a Doylist angle--deliver the information that establishes the stakes for the whole story to come. Tonally, it just doesn't make sense to me that we would be meant to finish the council, and think, "Well, the ring really doesn't seem all that dangerous, and I'm not so sure about the so-called Wise."

Regarding the seeming contradictions, I think we ought to be concluding that the affectiveness and effectiveness of the ring depend on the power and ambition of the wielder, and that hobbits (and hobbit-types) are exceptional in some ways that aren't obvious.
Hi Beech27,

I don't think that I am suggesting that Elrond or Gandalf are exaggerating the Ring's powers? (Except maybe in one instance.) I doubt three assertions about the Ring:

I doubt, “The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the one Ring.” I doubt this only because Gandalf and Elrond seem to disagree on this point, and I don't know which one to side with. My hypothesis is that Elrond has a more realistic assessment of his (and the other Elf-lords') defensive capabilities than Gandalf does. However, I personally would place more faith in Providence not giving up, and side with Gandalf. My supposition would be that Ringless Sauron would not conquer all.

I doubt that, “The Ring tries to get to its master” . OK, this is the one where I wonder if Gandalf is interpreting the Ring's power correctly. He says this in connection with the Ring leaving Gollum and being found by Bilbo. The other possible instance is the Ring slipping off Isildur's finger in the River. But, is this the Ring making decisions? Or, is it Providence making decisions? Or is it just the cold water of the Anduin causing Isildur's finger to shrink and become slippery? I see no way that Gandalf could know that the Ring has this power, and I prefer to think that if power was exercised, it was the power of Providence.

I doubt that, “The Ring corrupts the heart of it's bearer”. However, this is not doubting Elrond. He does not say that the Ring has this power. He says, “The very desire of it corrupts the heart.” Which is a different thing. Here, I am doubting readers, who interpret this to think that the Ring corrupts. Does it? Or is it power that corrupts, and this corruption is a characteristic of people (or a characteristic of Arda marred), rather than a power of the Ring?

I don't think that Elrond or Gandalf really exaggerate the powers of the Ring. I do think that many readers by this point have exaggerated the powers of the Ring beyond the evidence actually presented.
 
Last edited:

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Don't forget it changes size!

That power stands out too, by the way, as it's the only power (that I know of at least) that affects the Ring itself and not the wearer or the people around it. We often discuss whether or not the Ring has it's own awareness and makes it's own decision and so on, and I think the way it suddenly grows to jump of a finger seems to be the clearest indication of it's sentience. Or maybe it was just designed that way by it's maker.

Hi Johannes,

Thanks. I had not forgotten the passage about the Ring changing sizes. But it seems less than a direct assertion of a power to the Ring to me. Gandalf says that Bilbo thought the Ring, "Did not seem always of the same size or weight; it shrank or expanded in an odd way, and might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight." Well, both rings and fingers expand or contract with differences in temperature, and slip on or off more easily due to sweat or moisture or other conditions. Gandalf does not assert this as a power of the Ring, and Bilbo only suggests it as a phenomena, and one he is not very sure of, "It did not seem'. Gandalf approves of the notion of keeping it on a chain, and probably is open to the possibility that the Ring can shift its own size and weight (is this what leads him to the notion that the Ring can decide when to leave Isildur and Gollum?) But he does not directly assert this as a power of the Ring.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Thank you for this summary. Like LyndonLeaves, I always enjoy it when you do this (whether I agree or not).

Power to make its bearer invisible, when worn. It engenders strong possessiveness in its bearers – Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo. It extends life – Gollum and Bilbo. It put the Ringwraiths under Sauron’s domination.
It makes some people invisible. We have seen it make Bilbo and Frodo invisible, and are told it made Isildur invisible, and we have seen it not make Tom Bombadil invisible. We do not know from observation that it makes all people invisible. If Gandalf or Elrond put it on, would they be invisible? Apparently, it didn't make Sauron invisible when he still wore it, or how could he have been defeated in battle?

Personally, I think this is an effect it has on mortals, like extending life.

More dubiously, that “the very desire of it corrupts the heart.” It is hard to accept ‘corruption of the heart’ as a power of the Ring.
It also induces a great, corrupting desire for it in people who do not possess it. The strongest evidence of that is Smeagol murdering Deagol to get it, and of course the long betrayal of Saruman. We will get more watching Boromir, but that's not certain yet. I do think this is a power of the Ring, though a passive one. Saruman started out great. Smeagol started out in a questionable moral state. Boromir starts out valiant and brave, and good though not great.

Corruption of the heart of a bearer is not necessarily the same thing. I think that has something to do with whether a bearer tries to wield it purposefully. This is why Gandalf and Galadriel turn it down when Frodo offers it to them - they would wield it for victory, and both anticipate that what they do with it will ultimately turn evil, and that they would eventually. So neither Bilbo nor Frodo can be used as evidence against this.

But I don't think all power needs to be active. I think much of the Ring's power lies in inducing strong feelings in others. The power to attract is great and capable of creating great chaos. I think where you and I differ on this is that I do not define power as the ability actually to do things. Sometimes power lies in being able to induce others to do things.

Sauron made the Ring to ‘rule all the others’. He put ‘a large part of his former powers into it’, so it could do so. Would he get ‘a large part of his former powers’ back if he re-gained the Ring? Maybe, if he could somehow extract them, but then wouldn’t he lose the power to ‘rule all the others’? Was putting some of his powers into the Ring to get domination over the other Rings an irreversible process? It is possible to infer that if Sauron recovered the Ring, he would get some of his ‘former powers’ back. But would he? He put those powers into the Ring in order to ‘trade’ them for the power to dominate the other Rings. Is there any evidence that he could get them back? If he did, would he lose the power to dominate the other Rings?
I never thought of it as his being able to recover his powers from the Ring, but that, wearing the Ring again, his remaining power and the power he put into the Ring would work together so he would operate at full power.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
I don't think that Elrond or Gandalf really exaggerate the powers of the Ring. I do think that many readers by this point have exaggerated the powers of the Ring beyond the evidence actually presented.
I don't think it matters what a reader thinks, reaching this point for the first time. Whatever it is, the reader most likely will be eager to read on to find out more, and that's the real point. At this point, the Ring is practically a McGuffin.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I don't think it matters what a reader thinks, reaching this point for the first time. Whatever it is, the reader most likely will be eager to read on to find out more, and that's the real point. At this point, the Ring is practically a McGuffin.
Hi Rachel,

There are many ways to read and interpret TLOTR. In one way of interpreting it, it is certainly possible to see the Ring as a McGuffin.

One way of interpreting TLOTR is via traditional literary analysis. In this approach, for example, we can interpret the curious power of the Ring to make it's bearer invisible thus: "Why does the Ring make it's bearer invisible? Does it make Sauron invisible when he wears it? If so, we know he was wearing it during the last battle of the Last Alliance, so how did Elendil and Isildur see him to fight him? And, how did Isildur see the Ring, and Sauron's dead hand, to be able to cut the Ring from it with the hilt shard of his father's sword? Well, the Ring makes bearers invisible because this was its main (and only) power back when it was just Bilbo's magic ring, in 'The Hobbit', and it had not yet become the Great Ring, the Ruling Ring, the One Ring, the Ring of Power. This power is a bit of an anachronism in TLOTR, so it might not always make perfect sense." Perfectly reasonable way to interpret TLOTR. In this mode of interpretation, the Ring is 'practically a McGuffin.

However, another way to read and interpret TLOTR is within the frame. This makes interpretation more like Biblical exegesis. We have eyewitness accounts of all the events (subject perhaps to the vagaries of eye-witnesses, and the problems of translation and transcription). If we choose to interpret TLOTR within the frame (and this is the way that JRRT liked to analyze and interpret it himself), then we have to try to create coherent in-frame explanations for puzzles and seeming anomalies within the text. This is a fun way to interpret TLOTR, and in this way of reading, the Ring is not a McGuffin, but a central reality in a long ago time, that had to be considered and contended with.

In both of these (and other) modes of interpretation, to understand how the characters are reacting to the events, we have to try to understand what they know at the time of the events that shapes their interpretation and actions. TLOTR tends to make understanding what they know challenging, because the language and structure of the text, and the dialogue of some of the characters, both seem at times to be inducing us (the reader) to infer more than is supported by actual evidence. So, we then have to try to figure out, is our understanding the same or different from the understanding of the characters we are trying to interpret?

There are more than two ways to interpret TLOTR, but most, in this class and forum, tend to go for interpretation within the frame. TLOTR exegesis. It is a lot of fun!
,
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Thank you for this summary. Like LyndonLeaves, I always enjoy it when you do this (whether I agree or not).



It makes some people invisible. We have seen it make Bilbo and Frodo invisible, and are told it made Isildur invisible, and we have seen it not make Tom Bombadil invisible. We do not know from observation that it makes all people invisible. If Gandalf or Elrond put it on, would they be invisible? Apparently, it didn't make Sauron invisible when he still wore it, or how could he have been defeated in battle?

Personally, I think this is an effect it has on mortals, like extending life.



It also induces a great, corrupting desire for it in people who do not possess it. The strongest evidence of that is Smeagol murdering Deagol to get it, and of course the long betrayal of Saruman. We will get more watching Boromir, but that's not certain yet. I do think this is a power of the Ring, though a passive one. Saruman started out great. Smeagol started out in a questionable moral state. Boromir starts out valiant and brave, and good though not great.

Corruption of the heart of a bearer is not necessarily the same thing. I think that has something to do with whether a bearer tries to wield it purposefully. This is why Gandalf and Galadriel turn it down when Frodo offers it to them - they would wield it for victory, and both anticipate that what they do with it will ultimately turn evil, and that they would eventually. So neither Bilbo nor Frodo can be used as evidence against this.

But I don't think all power needs to be active. I think much of the Ring's power lies in inducing strong feelings in others. The power to attract is great and capable of creating great chaos. I think where you and I differ on this is that I do not define power as the ability actually to do things. Sometimes power lies in being able to induce others to do things.



I never thought of it as his being able to recover his powers from the Ring, but that, wearing the Ring again, his remaining power and the power he put into the Ring would work together so he would operate at full power.
Hi Rachel,

I like your supposition that the Ring only makes Mortals invisible. That works well. However, it does still leave the question of, Why does the Ring make Mortals invisible? What possible use could that power have been to the Ring's maker and its purpose?)

Good thoughts also on the possible passive power of the Ring to 'corrupt the heart'. I would say, at this point of the story, we are going well beyond the evidence if we think this. However, later on, the evidence might grow stronger. It is a cool feature of TLOTR, that JRRT's love of foreshadowing, often leads to hints, which might become clearer in the future. We, who have travelled into the future and back, are apt, I think, to pick up on these hints where the first-time reader, and the characters would not. So, we are often jumping the gun on the understanding we ascribe to the characters, and risk mis-interpreting their motivations and actions.

I think a lot of people think that if Sauron recovered the Ring, he would regain access to some of those powers he put into it. I don't think there is any evidence to support this. Sauron 'traded' some of his power into the Ring, in order to get the power to find, bring, bind, and rule the other Rings. He translated his innate powers into Ring powers. I see no reason why he should be able to 'get those powers back' if he reclaims the Ring, and no evidence to suggest that he would. But I do observe that a lot of people seem to interpret it that way!
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
There’s an element of trying to pin down magic as if it were a science. Which in many forms of fantasy, especially modern, particularly post-Tolkien fantasy, is a genuine and intentional comparison. However in Tolkien, magic can often tend to be more...well, magical. Why can a song devastate a fortress? Is it because the vocal chords vibrate at the right frequency to shatter solid matter? I mean, maybe?? But that seems to be more in the bias of the interpreter’s worldview that all things need a Linear and logical explanation that correlates to real world standards. The truest answer is likely that the song is stronger. That’s vague, though. Perhaps, but it’s mythic. Epic in powerful sense. Why does the Ring behave the way it does? Because that’s what it was made to do. Or even, because it’s magic. I’m not trying to be reductionist and say the conversation doesn’t matter. Far from it. I just want to come at it from another worldview.

Talking of Biblical exegesis, there is a propensity amongst certain groups, I often find it with young-Earth proponents (no shade, just an observation) to explain Biblical narratives with modern day science. Trying to pinpoint Eden. Trying to explain the Flood using modern theories of O-Zone and meteorology. But all that can lead you to miss what those stories TELL the reader/listener.

If you’re a desert dwelling nomadic people, who look around and see humanity as a flawed race. You may wonder how things got this way? You might wonder if humans were made to be something more? What might you imagine to be that perfect form to humanity? Well it probably wouldn’t include all the death you see. Immortality might look like the dream. And what where would this dream have existed? Certainly not here in the desert. Well, what does paradise look like for a desert dwelling people. Well, on occasion you might be lucky enough to see a mountaintop flushed with green. Waters run down it and life flows forth. Thus the image of trees on high places become a recurring cultural symbol for closeness to the divine. And why did the Flood occur? Well, the sky is a beaten out shield that keeps up the waters above. It’s obvious to see, cos it’s blue overhead. And beneath the ground is more water because if you dig deep enough you find it. Which means the world must be suspended between them on pillars. But that doesn’t just happen. That’s an act of craftsmanship. What’smore, that works perfectly for human existence. So whoever did that did it to bless people. Same as creating time and seasons to harvest by. So what if that wasn’t the case. Well, it’d be chaos. Disorder. What does disorder look like for desert nomads? Well, the formless void of the vast desert to the East where nothing can be sustained. And chaos? To a desert people it may well be an ocean. The waters. Thus the waters and The East become cultural symbols of chaos and ruin and a departure from the divine. And if the being who sustains the world stops, well, the shield breaks and Creation is systematically undone in reverse order.

That kind of reading doesn’t take away from the stories, if anything it tells you more about the worldview the authors want you to capture and grapple with. It doesn’t even make them less believable for those who choose to believe them. Rather it might reinforce a belief that the divine works is humans through their specific place and time in history, using the storytelling skills of their highest craftsman to create something tangible and elegant. That time and place element is important in the understand though. And you need that context for modern understanding of the intention.

Reading Tolkien I think is similar in that he was intentionally trying to invoke cultures and legends that are temporally and specially distant. So there’s a level of cross-cultural rewiring to be done at times.

Or maybe that’s how I let myself off over analysing lol
 
Last edited:

Rachel Port

Active Member
I like your supposition that the Ring only makes Mortals invisible. That works well. However, it does still leave the question of, Why does the Ring make Mortals invisible? What possible use could that power have been to the Ring's maker and its purpose?)
Perhaps Sauron never intended the Ring to be used by mortals, so he didn't put any special powers into it for mortals. However, when mortals use powerful things that were not made for them, there are unintended side effects. I think both invisibility and extended life are such side effects.
Good thoughts also on the possible passive power of the Ring to 'corrupt the heart'. I would say, at this point of the story, we are going well beyond the evidence if we think this. However, later on, the evidence might grow stronger. It is a cool feature of TLOTR, that JRRT's love of foreshadowing, often leads to hints, which might become clearer in the future.
It's an even cooler feature that the foreshadowing was often added after the foreshadowed event had been discovered by Tolkien, sometimes years after the initial writing of the scene, what he called "writing backwards." The future changes the past, as well as the other way around.

There’s an element of trying to pin down magic as if it were a science. Which in many forms of fantasy, especially modern, particularly post-Tolkien fantasy, is a genuine and intentional comparison. However in Tolkien, magic can often tend to be more...well, magical. Why can a song devastate a fortress? Is it because the vocal chords vibrate at the right frequency to shatter solid matter? I mean, maybe?? But that seems to be more in the bias of the interpreter’s worldview that all things need a Linear and logical explanation that correlates to real world standards. The truest answer is likely that the song is stronger. That’s vague, though. Perhaps, but it’s mythic. Epic in powerful sense. Why does the Ring behave the way it does? Because that’s what it was made to do. Or even, because it’s magic. I’m not trying to be reductionist and say the conversation doesn’t matter. Far from it. I just want to come at it from another worldview.
Rob, this helps me clarify something I've been trying to say here in other discussions - that magical things happen because of magic. Reading LOTR for the first time, a reader enters a magic world, and therefore accepts that things work differently there, and looks around at the place with a sense of wonder. Though I am enjoying the microanalysis of this class, sometimes it's good to pause and remember that sense of wonder. Even to try and recover it for a while.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
There’s an element of trying to pin down magic as if it were a science. Which in many forms of fantasy, especially modern, particularly post-Tolkien fantasy, is a genuine and intentional comparison. However in Tolkien, magic can often tend to be more...well, magical. Why can a song devastate a fortress? Is it because the vocal chords vibrate at the right frequency to shatter solid matter? I mean, maybe?? But that seems to be more in the bias of the interpreter’s worldview that all things need a Linear and logical explanation that correlates to real world standards. The truest answer is likely that the song is stronger. That’s vague, though. Perhaps, but it’s mythic. Epic in powerful sense. Why does the Ring behave the way it does? Because that’s what it was made to do. Or even, because it’s magic. I’m not trying to be reductionist and say the conversation doesn’t matter. Far from it. I just want to come at it from another worldview.

Talking of Biblical exegesis, there is a propensity amongst certain groups, I often find it with young-Earth proponents (no shade, just an observation) to explain Biblical narratives with modern day science. Trying to pinpoint Eden. Trying to explain the Flood using modern theories of O-Zone and meteorology. But all that can lead you to miss what those stories TELL the reader/listener.

If you’re a desert dwelling nomadic people, who look around and see humanity as a flawed race. You may wonder how things got this way? You might wonder if humans were made to be something more? What might you imagine to be that perfect form to humanity? Well it probably wouldn’t include all the death you see. Immortality might look like the dream. And what where would this dream have existed? Certainly not here in the desert. Well, what does paradise look like for a desert dwelling people. Well, on occasion you might be lucky enough to see a mountaintop flushed with green. Waters run down it and life flows forth. Thus the image of trees on high places become a recurring cultural symbol for closeness to the divine. And why did the Flood occur? Well, the sky is a beaten out shield that keeps up the waters above. It’s obvious to see, cos it’s blue overhead. And beneath the ground is more water because if you dig deep enough you find it. Which means the world must be suspended between them on pillars. But that doesn’t just happen. That’s an act of craftsmanship. What’smore, that works perfectly for human existence. So whoever did that did it to bless people. Same as creating time and seasons to harvest by. So what if that wasn’t the case. Well, it’d be chaos. Disorder. What does disorder look like for desert nomads? Well, the formless void of the vast desert to the East where nothing can be sustained. And chaos? To a desert people it may well be an ocean. The waters. Thus the waters and The East become cultural symbols of chaos and ruin and a departure from the divine. And if the being who sustains the world stops, well, the shield breaks and Creation is systematically undone in reverse order.

That kind of reading doesn’t take away from the stories, if anything it tells you more about the worldview the authors want you to capture and grapple with. It doesn’t even make them less believable for those who choose to believe them. Rather it might reinforce a belief that the divine works is humans through their specific place and time in history, using the storytelling skills of their highest craftsman to create something tangible and elegant. That time and place element is important in the understand though. And you need that context for modern understanding of the intention.

Reading Tolkien I think is similar in that he was intentionally trying to invoke cultures and legends that are temporally and specially distant. So there’s a level of cross-cultural rewiring to be done at times.

Or maybe that’s how I let myself off over analysing lol
Hi Rob,

Yes, of course, Tolkien was intentionally trying to invoke cultures and legends and create a sense of wonder. However, he was also very keen to maintain the internal logic and consistency of TLOTR. He was constantly retconning, to try to understand and explain questions or problems, or inconsistencies in the text. So, he liked to do that, and, presumably would have liked us to do that too.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I suppose I don’t mean that he didn’t use logic. Obviously he wanted the internal narrative to hold up. But I think part of that narrative is the space for wonder. The unanswerables.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Yes, of course, Tolkien was intentionally trying to invoke cultures and legends and create a sense of wonder. However, he was also very keen to maintain the internal logic and consistency of TLOTR. He was constantly retconning, to try to understand and explain questions or problems, or inconsistencies in the text. So, he liked to do that, and, presumably would have liked us to do that too.
Yes, he was careful to maintain consistency regarding matters like dates and phases of the moon and the history that was evolving throughout the writing. But magic was magic, and stood apart, I think. His world was this world, and the laws of nature needed to be applied. But he added elements that could not be logically explained and that remained mysterious, sometimes even to himself.
 

Forodan

Member
It makes some people invisible. We have seen it make Bilbo and Frodo invisible, and are told it made Isildur invisible, and we have seen it not make Tom Bombadil invisible. We do not know from observation that it makes all people invisible. If Gandalf or Elrond put it on, would they be invisible? Apparently, it didn't make Sauron invisible when he still wore it, or how could he have been defeated in battle?

Personally, I think this is an effect it has on mortals, like extending life.
We've discussed this before. The Rings of Power were not created with mortals in mind at all. They were created for Elves: on the one hand the Elves themselves thought they were to enhance their own powers, while on the other Sauron fully intended from the beginning to ensnare and control the Elves with them. After the attempt to 'ensnare' went wrong, the Elves were aware of him and took off their Rings, he got angry and demanded the Rings be given to him, and then went to war to take them. Only after taking them back by force are some of the Rings given to Mortal Men, and it turns out, quite by accident I think, they they turn Mortal Men invisible.

Also note: Tolkien has a very specific definition of "mortal". Mortals are people who have limited life-span within the world, and leave the world after death to go somewhere else. Dwarves are not mortal! Their souls do not leave the world. Durin was reborn several times. We have to take the word of the Dwarves that it was indeed the same person. The souls of Dwarves are collected in special halls by Mandos, and the word is that they will help Aule rebuild the world after the 'Final Battle' with Morgoth. No one within the world knows what happens to the souls of Mortal Men after they leave the world.
 
Last edited:

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
We've discussed this before. The Rings of Power were not created with mortals in mind at all. They were created for Elves: on the one hand the Elves themselves thought they were to enhance their own powers, while on the other Sauron fully intended from the beginning to ensnare and control the Elves with them. After the attempt to 'ensnare' went wrong, the Elves were aware of him and took off their Rings, he got angry and demanded the Rings be given to him, and then went to war to take them. Only after taking them back by force are some of the Rings given to Mortal Men, and it turns out, quite by accident I think, they they turn Mortal Men invisible.

Also note: Tolkien has a very specific definition of "mortal". Mortals are people who have limited life-span within the world, and leave the world after death to go somewhere else. Dwarves are not mortal! Their souls do not leave the world. Durin was reborn several times. We have to take the word of the Dwarves that it was indeed the same person. The souls of Dwarves are collected in special halls by Mandos, and the word is that they will help Aule rebuild the world after the 'Final Battle' with Morgoth. No one within the world knows what happens to the souls of Mortal Men after they leave the world.
I think, Forodan, that the creation of the Rings for Elves might well have been a bit of JRRT retconning. When did he come up with that story?

Interestingly, why did he come up with that story? What problem was he retconning his way out of?

Also, according to the Dwarves (as per Appendix A) Durin's Ring was believed by the Dwarves to have been given to Durin III by the Elven-smiths themselves (not by Sauron). Would they have given him a Ring that was not made for him?

I also wonder why Rings would turn Mortal Men invisible just by accident? The process or power, seems to me to probably be linked to the power to confer long life and eventual wraithification. The Ring probably confers immortality by maintaining (trapping) the spirit in Arda, while the body fades away. That seems to be what happened to the Ring-wraiths. Invisibility, when wearing the Ring, might then be a temporary fading of the body (to the point where it cannot be seen by others). I speculate that something like this is involved in both the immortality and invisibility conferred by the Ring. But, why would any of this process be useful or desirable for Rings made for Elves?
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Yes, he was careful to maintain consistency regarding matters like dates and phases of the moon and the history that was evolving throughout the writing. But magic was magic, and stood apart, I think. His world was this world, and the laws of nature needed to be applied. But he added elements that could not be logically explained and that remained mysterious, sometimes even to himself.
Hi Rachel,

I don't think that JRRT considered 'magic' to be beyond his retconning and explanatory endeavors? He wrote tons on the immortality of Elves, and exactly how that worked. Which might well be considered 'magic'. He wrote an entirely gorgeous story about how the world was created and marred, which might well be considered 'magic'. He told us a lot about the importance of song, and music, and words in the essence of magic. The story of Luthien confronting Morgoth comes to mind.

JRRT seems to me to have been just as concerned with retconning explanations of problems with 'magic' as he was with retconning anything else?

Now, you might think, (and I would agree) that JRRT was never satisfied enough with much of his retconning to actually publish 'The Silmarillion', and that it might have been better for TLOTR if Christopher had never published all this stuff. In TLOTR, many things are left more vague and mysterious than later explanations. And this makes them, in some ways more interesting.

My own considerations about, 'What do we know about the powers of the Ring at the time of the Council of Elrond', are mostly driven by trying to understand Boromir. He is an interesting person to try to understand. He is the only Mortal Man, who has not been raised by the Elves, and Elrond, at the Council. His perspective should, I think, be interesting to us. He is us. At least he is the obvious representative of one part of us. He is smart. He is logical. So what might he know about the powers of the One Ring, what might his perceptions be, and how might that be influencing him, is an interesting question for us who are reading for the first time? To understand what Boromir might be thinking about the powers of the One Ring, we need to understand what evidence he has heard, and how he might interpret that. We need to forget all that we know about the powers of the Ring that came after the Council, or in unpublished material.

So, I am trying to figure out:

What does Boromir think about the powers of the Ring, from the evidence he has heard at the Council?

and:

What should the first-time reader be thinking about the powers of the Ring from the evidence so far?

I think there is a difference between what we, in the class, are thinking about the powers of the Ring (because we are not first-time readers), and what Boromir is probably thinking. I also think there is a difference between what Boromir is probably thinking, and what the first-time reader is probably thinking.

In short, I think that Boromir's conception of the powers of the Ring is crisper, more clearly defined, more limited, and more circumscribed, than ours. I think it likely that the first-time reader has been induced to infer more powers to the Ring than the evidence suggests, and more powers than Boromir is likely to have arrived at.
 
Last edited:
Top