What are the powers of the Ring?

Rachel Port

Active Member
Is testimony evidence? We have the testimony of Elrond and Gandalf, though we don't actually see what has happened to Isildur, or Smeagol. We have heard from Gandalf the evidence of Isildur's own words. At the Council, most of the evidence comes from testimony.

I think part of the problem is that the idea of what the Rings were changed pretty radically over time, and some of the earlier conceptions were retained in the published book alongside later, contradictory conceptions. Elven rings appear early on - there were lots of rings scattered about to catch and wraithify whoever happened to pass by - elves, men, I'm not sure about dwarves. Would they have worked on other kinds of animals? Were there fox-wraiths? And at this point all the rings were made by Sauron. The Three were made by Sauron until pretty late in the composition. Then the story of Celebrimbor learning from Sauron entered, being seduced by this new skill. (Confession - I somehow left his last sentence unfinished, and when I just noticed it, I'm not sure what I intended to say.)

The greater rings, the rings of power came later, and their story fluctuated. In quite late versions of the Council of Elrond, they were still made by Sauron. It doesn't seem that they turned elves into wraiths. We don't exactly know how the Nine worked in the beginning. But they were made specifically for humans and were the most effective - the human kings must have been very vulnerable. Gandalf says the Witch King was originally the most powerful wizard (that must be before the wizards were five Maiar incarnated. In any case, we don't know if the Nine were made invisible before the became wraiths - perhaps at first they wore them all the time and were still visible and going about their lives, wielding their new powers and gradually becoming wraiths over time, or whether they became invisible from the start when they were wearing the rings, but didn't wear them all the time, which might have made the process slower.

The point is, we don't know. And maybe Tolkien didn't know. And maybe it doesn't matter. But we can postulate that the rings made for mortal men worked differently on mortals than the One which was meant only for Sauron's own use.

Both the first time reader and Boromir have the same evidence of the Ring's powers, and that comes from the testimony of Elrond, Bilbo, Frodo, and Gandalf. Frodo doesn't put it on, so Boromir doesn't even know for sure that it would make him invisible - he will be shocked later when he does see Frodo put it on. But he knows from the testimony that it has great power (it does) and he would like to put that power to use in defense of Gondor. I'm not sure that means he is giving it more power than it has, just that he wants it used as a weapon.

As for first time readers, I still think they see it as something magical and powerful. They know the history from Chapter Two, and how Frodo has been tempted to use it on the way to Rivendell, which is more than Boromir knows. But I really don't think most readers need or want to get more specific than that. Let them use their imaginations. Please.
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
I always took it simply that Boromir knew it was a weapon. Maybe he had a bit more understanding that than very broad definition but I always took it to be that he knew, from stories and lore, that it was a tool the Enemy had wrought and proudly worn and others had been subjugated by it. If you are a soldier and hear a nuke is on the loose and you are fighting an unwinable war, you probably want the nuke even if you personally don’t get all the science of it. That was always my reading of it.

I suppose I never thought it had any specific set of ‘powers’ rather that it was in itself the idea of power to some people. And we see the occasional few willing to turn down this power. But I am interested to know if any reader thought it had a specific set of powers (aka The Mandarin’s Ten Rings or Infinity Gems). I always thought it was the tangible fear of/lust for the thing that highlighted it had power. In the same way we never see Sauron in the story, we just fear his shadow, we never truly see the ring. It’s one of those few times where tell maybe trumps show. Show the fear I guess, rather than the thing to be feared.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
I never thought it had any particular powers except to make people invisible. (In those days I hadn't thought about whom it did and didn't make invisible.) And yes, it's the desire/lust/fear it rouses that always impressed me most. I admit that I was always more interested in the people - how they related to each other and to the Ring - rather than the Ring itself. And the tales. The Ring was magic and evil, and that was enough. That's why I keep talking about passive, rather than active, power.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
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?
I think we're talking about different things. The elves were conceived of long before the LOTR was even thought of. When Tolkien decided to work his mythology into this story, he had laid out quite a lot. They were supernatural, perhaps, but part of the world he conceived. And yes, he wrote both backwards and forwards, including going back to fit the mythology to LOTR. But mythology is structural, and therefore different from magic.

We don't get explanations of how Galadriel's mirror works, or how Gandalf can create fireworks that give the illusion of a dragon flying over the people at a party, or why Kheled-zaram doesn't reflect things the way other lakes do, or how the Rings work, or how Frodo can see the things he sees from Amon Hen. Tolkien changes the specifics, like who sees what in the mirror, but not the concepts. This is what I mean by magic - that which cannot be explained. And that's why there will always be new readers for these books.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I don’t think of the elves as supernatural. Or rather, I think of them as the most natural. Hyper natural. If anything, humans are supernatural and perhaps more akin to the unexplainable magic of Eru and the like. There are more questions regarding the fate of Men. Unintentionally answered. I don’t think that’s a flaw in the storytelling or a retcon in the making. I feel the questions around the ring are the same.

I was trying to make the comparison between this and say, Dr Strange in the films which explain magic as drawing on energies from alternate realities. Is that a thorough explanation? Maybe not. But they clearly felt a need to add some sort of mechanic behind what magic is. I don’t think Tolkien asks the same of us. Certainly a practitioner of magic might know that doing x, y and z equals a set result. But more mystical elements? Predictive dreams? How do they work? How is Beren able to overcome Melian’s enchanted girdle. It’s his fate. You could argue that’s hanging a lampshade on a plot issue, but it’s meant to be evocative and unresolved.

Magic needs mystery to be magic
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I think the tale of Beren and Luthien makes it pretty clear that 'magic' in Arda, is made up of will and words and song.

"But Luthien heard his answering voice, and she sang then a song of greater power. The wolves howled, and the island trembled."

Luthien commanded Carcharoth to sleep before the gates of Angbad, "O woe-begotten spirit, fall now into dark oblivion, and forget for a while the dreadful doom of life."

When coming to the seat of Morgoth, "Luthien was stripped of her disguise by the will of Morgoth."

"Then Luthien catching up her winged robe sprang into the air, and her voice
(singing) came dropping down like rain into pools, profound and dark. She cast her cloak before his eyes, and set upon him a dream, dark as the Outer Void where once he walked alone. Suddenly he fell, as a hill sliding in an avalanche, and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell. The iron crown rolled echoing from his head. All things were still."

That's how Sauron put the 'magic' into the One Ring. His Will. His Words,"Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatuluk agh burzum ishi krimpatul". His Song, "Three rings for Elven-kings under the sky..."

There you have it. Will, and words, and song. That's what 'magic' is made of in Arda.

So, I do think that JRRT 'explains' 'magic' at least as well as Dr. Strange films do.
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
I guess that’s the point I was trying to get across. It’s not based on quantifiable mechanics. It’s not a list of laws but something more innate. Something evocative. You get the what but not the how. The What being ‘will’ but not the complexities of How. As that I think is less vital to know for the story. Like when trying to explain time travel too much in a fun sci fi flick and detract from just enjoying the ride and the knowledge that the time machine takes you through time. For me anyway. Anyway, let’s agree to disagree on this particular type of dissection. As you were.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I guess that’s the point I was trying to get across. It’s not based on quantifiable mechanics. It’s not a list of laws but something more innate. Something evocative. You get the what but not the how. The What being ‘will’ but not the complexities of How. As that I think is less vital to know for the story. Like when trying to explain time travel too much in a fun sci fi flick and detract from just enjoying the ride and the knowledge that the time machine takes you through time. For me anyway. Anyway, let’s agree to disagree on this particular type of dissection. As you were.

Hi Rob,

I am somewhat baffled by what you think I am talking about? I am not trying to understand 'how' the Ring makes people invisible, or 'how' it commands the other Rings. I am not trying to understand the mechanics of 'magic'.

What I am trying to explore is, what are the powers of the Ring? So is Boromir. When he explores; 'couldn't we use the Ring as a weapon against Sauron?', it is clear that he does not know if this is possible. When he is informed (by Elrond) that it could be used as a weapon against Sauron by a few people, of course, he is going to try to figure out, 'what sort of weapon? How would it work?' I am pretty sure, from the evidence he has heard that he will conclude that a new bearer could take over the Nazgul from Sauron and employ them himself, and that this would be the most likely and potent way that the Ring could be used as a weapon.

Boromir is not going to be resisting thinking about, 'what are the powers of the Ring?' He is not going to think, "Oh, It's magic! It's mysterious! No point trying to figure out what it can and can not do."

If one is faced by magic; dangerous magic; deadly magic; one does not just say, "How cool! How mystical! How evocative!" Certainly not if you are a warrior like Boromir (or, really anyone else at the Council). You try to figure out just as fast as you can, what it can do, what it can not do, and how to beat it or survive it.
 

Johannes

New Member
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.
Sure it may seem like a minor thing, but I really don't think Bilbo or Gandalf would bother mentioning it if it was nothing more than ordinary ring behavior (i.e., expanding and shrinking because of heat and moisture). Like I said, I it might seem like a small thing, but if this is something the Ring is capable of doing, then it stands out. Might be worth a closer look.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Johannes,

You are right. This could well be a power of the Ring. I think that Gandalf suspects that is possible. (Though he does not assert it as such.)

On the other hand, we know that the Ring has the power to make its bearer extremely possessive. A very possessive bearer would naturally be paranoid about losing the Ring. Thus, the normal variations which all ring wearers know make a ring sometimes looser and sometimes tighter on the finger, could seem particularly alarming, and the sort of thing which they might mention, as Bilbo does?
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
What I am trying to explore is, what are the powers of the Ring? So is Boromir. When he explores; 'couldn't we use the Ring as a weapon against Sauron?', it is clear that he does not know if this is possible. When he is informed (by Elrond) that it could be used as a weapon against Sauron by a few people, of course, he is going to try to figure out, 'what sort of weapon? How would it work?' I am pretty sure, from the evidence he has heard that he will conclude that a new bearer could take over the Nazgul from Sauron and employ them himself, and that this would be the most likely and potent way that the Ring could be used as a weapon.
Didn't Corey say in one class that the Nazgul are enslaved to their own rings and Sauron holds those, which is why he still controls them even without the One Ring? In that case, a new wielder of the One Ring would not necessarily control them.

What war technology could Boromir be imagining? How does he think of weapons? Swords, axes, bows and arrows. Perhaps catapults. Some weapons, such as those made by the elves long ago or by the Numenorans, have spells on them that give them special strength or the ability to sense orcs, the ability to injure the Witch King or some such thing. The blade that wounded Frodo has spells on it that make it especially powerful. Would Boromir even imagine the new weapon that would fell the gates of Minas Tirith?

So I don't think he is expecting the Ring to shoot missiles or turn into a physical weapon, or explode. My guess would be he thinks it would give the bearer extra strength to inspire his troops, would make their weapons stronger, make them immune to fear. That kind of thing. He has just experienced the terror of the Nazgul - some weapon that could stand up to that terror and battle it undaunted, or perhaps even daunt it. Is he imagining himself in single combat, the way Eowyn would be much later? He might imagine that kind of personal glory for himself.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Rachel,

I agree with you that Boromir would be considerably concerned with making his troops immune to the fear of the Morgul-spells. He has been promised in his Divine Dream that counsels taken in Imladris will be 'stronger than Morgul-spells.

What could be stronger than Morgul-spells than controlling the Nazgul, and sending their spells against Sauron's armies. Boromir has no idea whether or not Sauron holds the Rings of the Ring-wraiths. Even if he does, the purpose of the One Ring is clear. If it works as designed, and can be wielded by someone other than Sauron, then the Nine and their holders will become under the control of the wielder of the One. That much, Boromir must have gathered from what he has heard so far in the Council. That is pretty clear!.

(By the way, Corey also said, in the last class, in response to a question, that if someone other than Sauron wielded the One Ring, they could control the Ring-wraiths. What is clear to Corey, should also have been clear to Boromir.)

Boromir has not heard anything to lead him to believe that wielding the Ring could allow someone to particularly inspire troops (and, I guess that Boromir has never had any problems inspiring troops except when his troops experienced the Morgul-spells.) He has not heard anything that would lead him to believe that the Ring would confer any particular ability to stand up directly against Sauron one on one.

I think we need to look at what Boromir might know about the powers of the Ring, to consider what sort of weapon he thinks the Ring might be against Sauron. I would be pretty sure that the main way he thinks the Ring might work against Sauron, from what he has heard so far, is that it might shift the Nazgul from Sauron's greatest weapons, to his greatest opposition.

How could he be thinking anything else from what he has heard about the powers of the Ring so far?
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
He has not heard anything that would lead him to believe that the Ring would confer any particular ability to stand up directly against Sauron one on one.
I was not thinking of Sauron, but of one of the Nazgul. I was not assuming that the Ring would give control of them to the new bearer.

It's a real moral concern, whether using the terror of the Nazgul would in itself be succumbing to evil, whatever the outcome. The first and ultimate step in rationalizing that the ends justify the means. Anyone who did that would indeed become a Dark Lord.

But I'm thinking of the riddle Boromir brings:

Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur's Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.


It isn't the token that is stronger than Morgul spells, but the counsels. Essentially it tells the whole story - the Halfling will bring the token of Doom, and what that Doom is will be decided in those counsels - the right decision will be stronger than Morgul spells. I don't think I've ever thought of it quite that way.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Rachel,

I perfectly agree with you.

I think that Boromir is also potentially concerned about the moral hazard of using the Ring-wraiths against Sauron. He is not totally convinced by Elrond's rejection of the 'let's use the Ring against Sauron' possibility, but, he is mostly convinced. However, he has still not seen counsels that seem to him to be 'stronger than Morgul-spells'.

He soon will, however. In the next two to three classes (I guess).
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
I'm not so sure of that. But we'll see.

But I was thinking more of using terror against the armies from the South that Sauron has mustered, human, and maybe even orcs.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
To me, I find a lot of this to be ascribing motivations and thought processes to characters that aren’t in the book.

It feels like extrapolation to solidifying the vagaries of what Boromir is contemplating. Which is fine to do, I just don’t enjoy trying to imagine beyond the text so I guess I didn’t realise that’s what was being done as my brain doesn’t go there.

I guess it doesn’t help that Tolkien doesn’t spend a lot of time on internal thought processes and conflicting motivations. Many of his characters don’t have arcs to speak of as they are more like folklore staples who fill a role. His key protagonists, namely Bilbo and Frodo, show the most growth, but even still, he doesn’t really tell stories in the modern sense of explaining how characters are thinking or feeling. It’s all expressed in action (or more often, very long monologues). Totally a choice of course, most novels prior to post-modern style do not focus on the inner self. But it makes trying to understand motivations difficult. What we know of Boromir is the superficial and we are then invited to accept that or explore ourselves based on other evidence. Which is what I meant by enjoying Tolkien in different ways. I personally think he’s a fantastic world builder and his primary plots, at least in the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, are compelling enough to lead through sometimes clunky narrative. Sometimes beautiful narrative, but I don’t feel his strengths lie in character or dialogue. He is a man who loves a good monologue. More tell than show. King of the infodump. Even if we don't see the battles take place or don't see the characters' inner workings, we are told the feel of them. What he does do with all of that is evoke a sense of grand, mythic folkloric characters, locations and battles. Which are the terms I have to read it by to enjoy it. But that is just me personally.
 
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Rachel Port

Active Member
You know, Rob, I wonder sometimes what the authors I read over and over again (and lately also join groups to discuss in more depth) they seem to have very little in common - Tolkien, Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontes (mostly Charlotte), Dorothy Sayers, Dickens, Trollope, Gaskell, some modern mystery writers like Elizabeth George or the Kellermans who do focus on character, and a few who just write nice cozies like Katherine Hall Page; Frances Hodgson Burnett, and some more I haven't been reading lately but will come back to, and children's books by Alcott and l'Engle and LM Montgomery. I was a psychotherapist for many years, so I look for character; I look for romance. But more than anything, their books are intelligent and the writing good - sometimes what prompts a reread is the memory of a phrase or sentence. I don't read a lot of fantasy or scifi. But I like a good story. And I like books that create world within their covers, whether that world is Middlemarch or Middle-earth. And sometimes for the memories of when I read them before. They are old friends.

Sometimes in these discussions I get lost and wonder if I ever read the book being discussed. I agree with you a lot of the time. I like my magic to be magical. I also must care about the characters - I care about Faramir and Eowyn, about Frodo and Sam, about Aragorn and Gimli. I care about the relationships between them. I am willing to take things on their own terms. But what makes great books great is that there is enough for all of us to find different things in them - things that are new for us, but also that are different from what other people find.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
You know, Rob, I wonder sometimes what the authors I read over and over again (and lately also join groups to discuss in more depth) they seem to have very little in common - Tolkien, Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontes (mostly Charlotte), Dorothy Sayers, Dickens, Trollope, Gaskell, some modern mystery writers like Elizabeth George or the Kellermans who do focus on character, and a few who just write nice cozies like Katherine Hall Page; Frances Hodgson Burnett, and some more I haven't been reading lately but will come back to, and children's books by Alcott and l'Engle and LM Montgomery. I was a psychotherapist for many years, so I look for character; I look for romance. But more than anything, their books are intelligent and the writing good - sometimes what prompts a reread is the memory of a phrase or sentence. I don't read a lot of fantasy or scifi. But I like a good story. And I like books that create world within their covers, whether that world is Middlemarch or Middle-earth. And sometimes for the memories of when I read them before. They are old friends.

Sometimes in these discussions I get lost and wonder if I ever read the book being discussed. I agree with you a lot of the time. I like my magic to be magical. I also must care about the characters - I care about Faramir and Eowyn, about Frodo and Sam, about Aragorn and Gimli. I care about the relationships between them. I am willing to take things on their own terms. But what makes great books great is that there is enough for all of us to find different things in them - things that are new for us, but also that are different from what other people find.
Basically, this.

I do love that Tolkien has a richness to be enjoyed on many levels. I appreciate what Mythgard does in generating serious study. It always frustrates me studying English that ‘genre fiction’ is given do little credit, and even nowadays when you see ‘literary fiction’ be praised, particularly when it touches on themes and stories that ‘genre’ authors have repeatedly done in more interesting ways.

However, I wouldn’t say Tolkien is in my top five authors. I don’t really tend to quantify writers in that way but gut instinct, i find I’d turn to other authors first. And find I finish their books more easily. Not because they are ‘breezy’ (whatever that means) but they just buzz me in ways that chime with me more. I think the Hobbit is my favourite Tolkien story because it really has a lovely solid story structure to it. Characterisation wise though I generally think Jackson et al did things better most of the time.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Tolkien. And one of the things that keeps me coming back is the amazing way he captures the emotional weight of mysterious figures such as Sauron and the ring. He conveys power in a truly powerful way.

Anyway, that’s gotten off topic.
 
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