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"Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron."
January 16, 2014 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Would the One Ring even work for anyone but Sauron? But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron? It actually seems to diminish its bearers: Bilbo feels "thin" and "stretched", Smeagol becomes the wretched Gollum, Frodo is never quite the same even after it is destroyed. None of them seem more "powerful," even in the abstract way that magic-users in Tolkien operate. No mention is made, that I can recall, of a Ringbearer having greater stature or authority, or of people naturally following them or obeying their commands, while they possess the Ring.
Of the actual Ring-bearers we have:

Sauron himself - well, you know...
Isildur - wore it for a few years, invisibility and possessiveness.
Deagol - never actually wore it, was killed shortly after he found it.
Smeagol - wore it for hundreds of years, longevity, invisibility and possessiveness, small and mean evils.
Bilbo - wore it for many decades, longevity, invisibility and possessiveness.
Frodo - wore it for decades, longevity, invisibility and possessiveness.
Sam - wore it for a few days, invisibility, possessiveness, delusions of grandeur.
posted by ignignokt (357 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd-a kicked Dick Cheney's ass with that ring, I tell ya right NOW.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:07 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I've always thought than a Ring-bearing Gandalf would have been worse (more powerful, more terrible, etc.) than a Ring-bearing Sauron because as Maiar they have roughly similar levels of magical power (far surpassing the natural powers of the other ringbearers) but Gandalf's social stature in Middle Earth would put him in a unique position to persuade, manipulate, and control others.

But that's just my take - I'm excited to hear what others think.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:09 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


No mention is made, that I can recall, of a Ringbearer having greater stature or authority, or of people naturally following them or obeying their commands, while they possess the Ring.

This is disputed in a later comment.
posted by muddgirl at 4:09 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Tom Bombadil - no effect.
posted by Pendragon at 4:10 AM on January 16 [33 favorites]


My impression is that none of them actually tried to use the power of the ring, except for invisibility. When Frodo claims the ring as his own at the end, my impression was that at that point he was saying; now I'm going to actually use this thing. As a mere hobbit, he would of course have been defeated by Sauron anyway, because hobbit powers multiplied a thousandfold are still not enough. But Gandalf would have been another matter.
posted by Segundus at 4:10 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's like the super suit in The Greatest American Hero, unless you have the manual its pretty much useless and you just end up crashing into buildings all the time. Gandalf, as a wizard, would have the knowledge of how to use the power of the ring. Everyone else just ends up all smashed up.
posted by drnick at 4:10 AM on January 16 [23 favorites]


Hi, I'm Lady Galadriel. I'd be happy to BORROW YOUR RING FOR A FEW MOMENTS! RAAAAAWWWR!
posted by ShutterBun at 4:12 AM on January 16 [19 favorites]


I'm sadly not familiar with the format to really want to jump into that discussion, but I'm baffled by people nerding out like this over Tolkien without anybody raising the fact that Sauron and Gandalf are both Maiar--and I'm just a few moments too slow for that, I see, on preview. But, more than that, that this is a religious allegory. The rebellion of angels is qualitatively different than the rebellion of mankind. The One Ring isn't an enchanted piece of jewelry, it's a false prophet. The only one who following Satan ever worked out for, in that mythos, is Satan.
posted by Sequence at 4:12 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


baffled by people nerding out like this over Tolkien without anybody raising the fact that Sauron and Gandalf are both Maiar

What are you, some kind of racist?
posted by Segundus at 4:18 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Gandalf already had a ring, two would be tacky on him.
posted by angerbot at 4:21 AM on January 16 [25 favorites]


But, more than that, that this is a religious allegory. The rebellion of angels is qualitatively different than the rebellion of mankind. The One Ring isn't an enchanted piece of jewelry, it's a false prophet. The only one who following Satan ever worked out for, in that mythos, is Satan.

It all comes down to how you feel about Satan in Paradise Lost: Hero or Villain?

Everyone knows that the ring stands for the powers of science and technology which threaten a world dominated by religious dogma and mysticism.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:25 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Tolkien's concept of "power" was generally far more, ah, subtle than that of his epigones. The ability to command, dominate, corrupt - these were power to Tolkien far more than shooting fire out of your fingertips. Sauron's greatest show of power was the corruption and destruction of Númenor, the greatest civilization of Man. Gandalf with the Ring could only have led the realms of Man to a similar destruction.
posted by graymouser at 4:27 AM on January 16 [21 favorites]


It would obviously work for Gandalf, otherwise the story makes no sense: Gandalf takes the ring, hails a passing eagle, flies down to Mount Doom (blasting thunder and lightning at any Nazgul or other badies along the way), throws it in, end of story. There's no reason to send Frodo on the quest if Gandalf having the ring isn't Really Bad.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:27 AM on January 16 [18 favorites]


"Gandalf already had a ring, two would be tacky on him."

The description of Narya, the "Ring of Fire" or Red Ring and one of the three Rings of Power that were made originally for the Elves, that Gandalf wears might be helpful.
"Take this ring, master," he said, "for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill." - Círdan the Shipwright in the Grey Havens
The ring Gandalf already has is supposed to give him the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, domination and despair, which he uses regularly in the books. It also, like the other three elf rings, hides the wielder from various kinds of remote observation and provides protection from aging. Wearing both would be counter-productive as their effects could only hope to act against each other.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:47 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


It would obviously work for Gandalf, otherwise the story makes no sense:

Yes, but your reason is not precisely why. One cannot possess the Ring without being possessed by the Ring in return. If Gandalf were to have taken it for himself, he would indeed have cast down Sauron. . . but been unable to cast the ring into Orodruin. Frodo himself could not do it, and Gollum only destroyed it by accident.
posted by valkyryn at 4:55 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


> "Would the One Ring even work for anyone but Sauron?"

Yes.

I haven't read the books in years and I remember parts that make this obvious.

I think the person asking this question missed some bits.
posted by kyrademon at 4:56 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


you know how the One Ring is all curved on the inside? In the jewelry industry, that's called "comfort-fitted" - people get it when regular rings irritate their fingers.

Sauron has delicate fingers.

also, hobbits can be ring bearers because their ambitions are so small that they aren't as affected - thus Gollum/Smeagal had the ring for centuries without trying to take over.
posted by jb at 5:20 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


The question doesn't really display a terribly deep understanding of the broader reach of the Tolkien legendarium. The Ring is not a "Ring of Power +5" from D&D that grants discrete, quantifiable "power" bonuses regardless of who wears it. That's a modernist, scientific approach to magic common in the fantasy literature inspired by Tolkien, but utterly foreign too Tolkien's own work.

"Magic" and "power" in Tolkien's world--which can be interchangable--are not forces inherent in the world and independent of individuals. In Harry Potter, D&D, The Name of the Wind, etc., "magic" is essentially a new set of physical forces that can be manipulated (by certain individuals anyway) by some combination of mental effort, exotic reagents, and physical implements/tools. Rather, Tolkien's world, animated by the Secret Fire* of Ilúvatar, permits individuals to impose their will on others, and to some extent upon the world around them. All sentient beings are animated by the Secret Fire--which is also the force that brought Arda into being and sustains its existence--are most definitely not created equal. There are at least three sentient races--Elves, Men, Dwarves--** and they are unequal in their strength of spirit. The Elves are the Firstborn and received, one might say, a "double portion," with Dwarves and Men receiving lesser gifts.***

And these gifts are not of the kind you see in Harry Potter or D&D, e.g., "My Patronus is stronger than yours!" or "The Fireball spell increases in damage as the character gains levels." You don't see much in the way of actual spellcasting in Tolkien's world. Rather, those "strong in spirit," as it were, are able to inspire confidence in others, to resist despair and discouragement, to encourage healing (physical and emotional/spiritual), to convince others to follow them. The Three elven Rings could enhance those powers in those who wore them.

And as Tolkien explicitly portrayed a spiritual world overlaying the physical one, those particularly "strong in spirit" "have great power" "against the Seen and the Unseen". When Frodo was passing into the spirit realm under the influence of his wound from a Morgul blade, he saw the Nazgul as they are in spirit, beings of great power. But he also saw Glorfindel, an "Elf-lord," one of the Noldor, one of the few Elves remaining in Middle Earth to have seen the holy light of the Trees of Valinor before their darkening, and Glorfindel shone with holy brilliance that only those with eyes to see could perceive. And that power enabled him, alone of all those present, to strike fear into the hearts of Sauron's most powerful servants. Not because he could cast level 3 spells of smiting or whatever, but because he was not only protected from the dread the Nazgul usually inspired in others, but himself inspired fear in the powers of darkness.

If that sounds really mushy and spiritual, that's because it is. Tolkien--like most Christians--believed that the most important things about the world are not subject to quantification. "Magic" and "power" in his mythos are qualitative, not quantitative phenomena.

So turning back to the OP's original question: the Rings of Power act more as multipliers of their wielders' inherent virtue/vice and force of personality than by conveying discrete, quantifiable powers. Each person who comes in contact with any ring would be effected by it slightly differently, depending on who they are, though any given ring would have tendencies in one direction. The One Ring tended towards domination and possessiveness, while the Elven Rings towards healing and restoration. Etc. But the reason we don't see the One Ring do all that much is that Sauron is the only person who ever wielded it who actually had the underlying strength of spirit to use it to its full potential. The books actually talk about this in as many words. Gollum became a sneaking, spiteful creature--because that was in his nature to begin with. But his nature did not really have much in the way of "strength of spirit" in Tolkien's terms, so he was never going to be a great lord. Just a really sneaking, spiteful creature instead of an ordinary one.

*Which Tolkien seems to have conceived of as his fictional version of the Holy Spirit. That gives us two of three persons of the Christian Trinity, though he never attempted--as far as I can tell--to try for the Son.

**Hobbits are essentially Men, and the canon strongly suggests that Orcs are corrupted and possibly half-breed Elves.

***Their gifts are so different that it is hard to call them "unequal". The Dwarves possessed long life and incredible physical endurance, and this translated in some sense to an inherent resistance to the influence of others. Conversely, they never really seem to be able to exert much influence of their own. Men, on the other hand, while shorter-lived, had powers of will and influence that, in the Numenorians anyway, did not fall all that far behind the Elves. But they were very susceptible to manipulation and domination, as Sauron proved over and over.
posted by valkyryn at 5:25 AM on January 16 [159 favorites]


I'm sadly not familiar with the format to really want to jump into that discussion, but I'm baffled by people nerding out like this over Tolkien without anybody raising the fact that Sauron and Gandalf are both Maiar--and I'm just a few moments too slow for that, I see, on preview. But, more than that, that this is a religious allegory. The rebellion of angels is qualitatively different than the rebellion of mankind. The One Ring isn't an enchanted piece of jewelry, it's a false prophet. The only one who following Satan ever worked out for, in that mythos, is Satan.

I can see where you're coming from, but the reason I find this discussion interesting is because it shows men, people, great beings, becoming dominated by an object, rather than some idea of superbeings or the religious allegory. And this idea of objects taking over is a hugely hugely powerful idea (heck you can see in Dickens the furniture coming alive and having more vitality than the actual people, Miss Havisham being consumed, almost literally, by her wedding dress) one which definitely ties into ideas of mechanisation and the industrial revolution and people being overwhelmed by their creations. And for me this is a much much more interesting perspective on the books than 'Can Batman beat up Superman' variety.

From the second answer (which is great btw), here's Tolkien:

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place.

So what happens with the Ring is a non-diminishing transfer of power, one which makes that personal intrinsic power more powerful because it's grounded in a thing. So the ring starts as a vessel which eventually gains its own autonomy, its own malice. Which means that in the end, it's not Sauron the Big Bad at that point in time really, it's the ring itself. And I'd never thought of Sauron as desperate, but I can totally see that now.

Great link, thanks ignignokt.
posted by litleozy at 5:26 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


> "'Magic' and 'power' in Tolkien's world--which can be interchangable--are not forces inherent in the world and independent of individuals."

This is why I hated the portrayal of the duel between Gandalf and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies. I thought it missed this point rather a lot.
posted by kyrademon at 5:31 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


It also, like the other three elf rings, hides the wielder from various kinds of remote observation and provides protection from aging.

Well, we never see any of the elf rings on the hands of anyone who isn't naturally age-resistant. Gandalf's order is natually long-lived, as we see with Saruman and Radagast.

Tolkien--like most Christians--believed that the most important things about the world are not subject to quantification.

Well, that depends on the Christian really. Most I'd say don't even think that much about it.

But the reason we don't see the One Ring do all that much is that Sauron is the only person who ever wielded it who actually had the underlying strength of spirit to use it to its full potential.

What I remember reading is that Sauron put a large portion of his power of old into the ring, and that's why it tends back to him, and why it'd be especially bad for him to get the ring back. Because it would mean the restoration of the Sauron of that age, while there are no forces left in Middle Earth that could withstand him.

Also, he had a hand in the making of the other rings, even the Elf Rings, which while made away from him in secret were still able to be influenced by it if Sauron gained the One.

But, really, whether Gandalf could use the Ring or not boils down to one thing: if Tolkien thinks he would be able. Gandalf is presented, by Tolkien, as wise enough to understand the consequences, "wisdom" generally decodes to "accurately determining the implications of events," and those implications were all thought out by Tolkien. Thus, we have a fairly good idea what would happen. We don't have a good enough picture of how magic works in Middle Earth to be able to tell otherwise.
posted by JHarris at 5:39 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


The ring Gandalf already has is supposed to give him the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, domination and despair

So Sauron made a tool whose purpose is to oppose his plans? Man, dude is just Bad At Planning.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:43 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Frodo himself could not do it, and Gollum only destroyed it by accident.

In context, Bilbo's achievement in giving it up, however hesitantly, after owning it for most of his life seems especially heroic.

But then hobbits were somewhat ring-resistant.

hobbits can be ring bearers because their ambitions are so small that they aren't as affected

That's right, but not a very flattering way of putting it. My understanding is that before they settled in the Shire, hobbits had been through a bad time. They survived by becoming inconspicuous, quiet, and living in holes, but also by developing a kind of leathery toughness and a monomaniacal focus on (a) getting home and (b) eating.

When the good times came, they did themselves well with comfy homes and extra big dinners, but they didn't lose their inner toughness. They remained inconspicuous, retained an ability to hang on when others would let go, and were still viscerally unimpressed by wealth and power except as they related to home and dinner. A ring of power was beside the point or even suspect in their psychology.

Hence ideal ring bearers.
posted by Segundus at 5:45 AM on January 16 [30 favorites]


Quick refresher, people:

Three rings for elves
Seven rings for dwarves
Nine rings for men
And the One Ring to rule them all

What was special about the three rings was that Sauron never "touched them", so they weren't automatically evil. But they still depended on the whole "ring system" for their power. When the one was destroyed, they fell back to being just jewelry. In the last scene of LOTR, you have the final bearers of the three (Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond) leaving Middle-Earth for Valinor.

This adds all sorts of complexities to how characters have to act in LOTR: Galadriel is wielding power to keep her forest kingdom in Lorien safe, but that power is dependent on the whole ring-system. Take out the One Ring, and it starts to fade away.

Nine rings were given to kings of men. They turned into wraiths eventually. If you gave one of these rings to a human, this is what happened. The presumption is that if, for example, Boromir were to take the One Ring and use it (and then defeat Sauron, etc.), he'd turn into an evil ring-wraith-king similar to the ones we see riding horses and flying monsters in the movies, and killed by Eowyn at Pelennor.

The appendices to LOTR mention that seven rings were made for dwarf leaders. Dwarves were tough, the rings didn't work that way on them. Four dwarf kings were tortured by Sauron to give their rings back long before LOTR, Sauron is wearing and using them during LOTR. The three other rings were, according to an appendix, "consumed by dragons".

So anyway, here's what you should be looking for: there are several characters with knowledge about the ring. Some characters have more knowledge than others. But nobody knows *exactly* what would happen if Gandalf took it and used it, or Galadriel, or Denethor, or Frodo, or an orc who happened to capture and kill Frodo, or Saruman.....
that's great tension that drives the narrative at a deep level. If it were all cut and dry, it wouldn't be so interesting.

If you want an analogy (and there are many possible ones!) think nuclear proliferation. Tolkien was doing the original work for LOTR too early for this to have been an influence on his background thinking, but for people reading this in the 1970s or 1980s, the analogies to nuclear strategy would have been pretty forward.
posted by gimonca at 5:52 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


And please stop posting things like this when I need to rush off to work. Thanks, bye.
posted by gimonca at 5:52 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


"So Sauron made a tool whose purpose is to oppose his plans? Man, dude is just Bad At Planning."

Narya was made by Celebrimbor, along with the other two elf rings Nenya and Vilya, while Sauron (who was in disguise at the time) was gone. Thus, while they are still bound to the One Ring by their similar design, they are not inherently twisted by Sauron like all the other rings.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:54 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


the canon strongly suggests that Orcs are corrupted and possibly half-breed Elves.

That's one of the problems with how Christopher Tolkien released The Silmarillion (i.e. without footnotes indicating that the material was a melange of decades worth of drafts). It follows an early draft where JRRT saw orcs as corrupted elves – that was part of the mythology for decades. But late in the process, he changed his mind and wanted orcs to be corrupted men. But that causes a flaw in the chronology, because elves encountered and fought orcs before the awakening of men.
posted by graymouser at 5:58 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Me, I'd have given it to Bill the Pony and called it a day.
posted by delfin at 5:58 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Me, I'd have given it to Bill the Pony and called it a day.

Yeah, if you want a Dark Pony Lord ruling the land with Hooves of Iron, that's a great plan....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:02 AM on January 16 [18 favorites]


Just to be clear, it doesn't go well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:04 AM on January 16 [10 favorites]


"It would obviously work for Gandalf, otherwise the story makes no sense: Gandalf takes the ring, hails a passing eagle, flies down to Mount Doom (blasting thunder and lightning at any Nazgul or other badies along the way), throws it in, end of story. There's no reason to send Frodo on the quest if Gandalf having the ring isn't Really Bad."

The aerial ring bombardment solution is just a trivial a blind spot in the book.

If Gandalf had taken The Ring when he rushed back to Bag End to confront Bilbo after discovering its true nature instead of keeping watch over it until Frodo returned, Sauron would have been easily defeatable but the path there would have looked very different. Instead of defeating Saruman the Betrayer with the plucky earnest courage of hobbits and the ancient strength of nature, with the aid of the elf ring Narya, Gandalf could have used the One Ring to dominate the will of Saruman and manipulate him into becoming a powerful ally - probably sent east where he used to live to sway to Rhûn or the Haradrim. Dealing with Denethor would have been much easier by inspiring him with fear instead of attempting to inspire him with courage. Corrupted by the Ring's ambition Gandalf would have made sickeningly terrible deals, while continuing to use the power of the One Ring, to dominate Sauron's allies, turning them against him. Doing things like carving a homeland for the Dunlendings out of someone else's turf, granting the Corsairs free reign, entering goblin politics, and betraying various bits of who he was would have allowed him to build an army more than capable of assaulting Mordor. He would win, but lose at the same time, like trying to hold onto sand by squeezing tighter.

He would also come to be dominated by The Ring, even as he defeated Sauron, Gandalf would come to resemble him. Like how Sauron's artistic grace and persuasiveness turned to vanity and pride, Gandalf's love and righteousness would turn to meddling and self-righteousness. How could he give up the ring when there were so many problems he could use it to 'fix'?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:07 AM on January 16 [17 favorites]


The appendices to LOTR mention that seven rings were made for dwarf leaders. Dwarves were tough, the rings didn't work that way on them. Four dwarf kings were tortured by Sauron to give their rings back long before LOTR, Sauron is wearing and using them during LOTR. The three other rings were, according to an appendix, "consumed by dragons".

I seem to recall a hint in the appendices or elsewhere that there was a suspicion of Dwarven rings, secretly wielded (and Dwarves seem better at secrets than anyone), helped drive their madness re: gold and mithril and attempts to retake Moria.

I've found it interesting that in the Hobbit movies, the Arkenstone has been elevated to a dangerous, madness-inducing artifact like the rings and palantiri. (Though arguably the thing with the palantiri was just Sauron projecting his will through them once he took the Minas Ithil stone.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:16 AM on January 16


Yeah, if you want a Dark Pony Lord ruling the land with Hooves of Iron, that's a great plan....

The thoroughbred of sin?
posted by norm at 6:17 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


The rebellion of angels is qualitatively different than the rebellion of mankind. The One Ring isn't an enchanted piece of jewelry, it's a false prophet. The only one who following Satan ever worked out for, in that mythos, is Satan.

But I thought Sauron wasn't Satan but just Satan's Little Helper?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:33 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


That's not even an accurate summary of the powers the ring hinted at when Frodo came close to using it. Remember when he looked from the hilltop and started seeing all kindsa shit and then got freaked out by almost catching Sauron's attention? I don't have time for all the other stuff but you guys are on top of it! This thread!
posted by prefpara at 6:34 AM on January 16


also should I not have lived my life with "all will love me and despair" as my personal motto
posted by prefpara at 6:35 AM on January 16 [15 favorites]


Gandalf's love and righteousness would turn to meddling and self-righteousness.

Gandalf would have became Mary Worth: Meddler of Worlds.
posted by drezdn at 6:36 AM on January 16 [17 favorites]


The ring Gandalf already has is supposed to give him the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, domination and despair

So Sauron made a tool whose purpose is to oppose his plans?


No; he (in disguise) worked with the Elves to make the Seven and the Nine - thus teaching the Elves ringcraft. While he was away, building the One, the Elves made the Three.

So he didn't touch the Three directly, but essentially the Three are built on the same OS as all the others. Which means that he would eventually be able to bend them to his will, if he rejoins with the One. Of course, if the One is destroyed, the Three are also weakened in their effect. So the Elves are just generally in a bad place with respect to the Rings.
posted by nubs at 6:38 AM on January 16


It would obviously work for Gandalf, otherwise the story makes no sense: Gandalf takes the ring, hails a passing eagle, flies down to Mount Doom (blasting thunder and lightning at any Nazgul or other badies along the way), throws it in, end of story.

I'm pretty sure The Eye would have seen Gandalf trying to do that. If Gandalf tried to fly straight into Mordor that way carrying the ring, I'm guessing he'd either have to fully claim the Ring for his own or he'd end up flying straight to the tower, kneeling, and handing it to Sauron.
posted by straight at 6:38 AM on January 16


Gandalf already had a ring, two would be tacky on him.

AD&D rules say you can wear one on each hand.
posted by straight at 6:39 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


The aerial ring bombardment solution is just a trivial a blind spot in the book.

But then it'd have just become The Battle Of Britain (or maybe the assault on the deathstar) but with eagles and wyverns and maybe a dragon or two, and their chances of success would have presumably been even slimmer than their plan of endless marching.
posted by dng at 6:41 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


AD&D rules say you can wear one on each hand.

Well, yes, but these aren't just magic rings - they are at the level of Artefacts/Relics. So you get both positive benefits and negative curse like effects from them; wearing them together (considering they are linked/part of a set) would probably magnify things. I seem to recall some special rules about what would happen if both the Hand and Eye of Vecna were used by the same person, for example.
posted by nubs at 6:43 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


The aerial ring bombardment solution is just a trivial a blind spot in the book.

Actually, it isn't. The Nazgul had flying steeds, and it was not until the Ring was destroyed that the Eagles were able to fly safely over Mordor.
posted by valkyryn at 6:49 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Yeah, if you want a Dark Pony Lord ruling the land with Hooves of Iron, that's a great plan....

Yeah, I pretty much have to link to this.
posted by JHarris at 6:49 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]




Gandalf would have became Mary Worth: Meddler of Worlds.

And unstoppable once he destroyed the dark lord Aldo Kelrast.
posted by delfin at 6:49 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Sauron and Gandalf are both Maiar . . .
    What are you, some kind of racist?


Well, the context is Lord of the Rings.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:51 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


xqwzts, your second link is broken.
posted by JHarris at 6:52 AM on January 16


Frodo would have eventually become an hobbitual degenerate.
posted by Chitownfats at 6:56 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


What I remember reading is that Sauron put a large portion of his power of old into the ring, and that's why it tends back to him, and why it'd be especially bad for him to get the ring back.

This is also true. But by putting his power into the Ring, he seems to have made that portion of his power available for anyone to use, if they had sufficient power of their own. Again, the rings seem to act as a kind of multiplier, not an integer. The One Ring has a really, really big value for its multiplier, but it still needs to have something in its wielder to work with.

Sauron, being arguably the single most powerful being in Middle Earth at the time, could do more with it than anyone else. The power was his, after all, and so he is the only one whose will would be unaffected by the Ring. Of course, it was already about as evil as you could get, so that's not necessarily a bonus. But a sufficiently powerful wielder would be able to defeat him if it fell into their hands. There doesn't seem to be any question that Gandalf could have done so, and the various elven lords seemed to assume that they could as well. My reading is that The Wise viewed a hypothetical Numenorean wielder as dangerous, but only enough to give Sauron a run for his money, i.e., Aragorn with the Ring would have been approximately as badass as Sauron without it, whereas the elves or Gandalf were assumed to be more so. Again, not all beings in Tolkien's world are created equal. But there is also no question that Sauron with the Ring would be stronger than anyone else with the Ring.

The thing is, that because the Ring is really Sauron's, even a wielder who defeated him would still wind up serving his ends. Sauron wanted to rule Middle Earth and usher in a lasting age of darkness. But if he couldn't be the one to do it, he would not have minded in the slightest if someone else did. Anything to spite the Valar.
posted by valkyryn at 7:02 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


I love playing the "What if so-and-so claimed the Ring?" game. Here's a creepy one: Webs.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:03 AM on January 16 [21 favorites]


I just saw the Hobbit DoS last night and one of things that I dislike about the PJ adaptation is the idea that Gandalf v Necromancer is all bolts of fire and globes of shiny protection and conventional 'wizardy'. perhaps i was seeing it wrongly and it was simply light v dark, but in the greater context of the PJ films being all about heroic encounters and epic battles it was less than satisfying for me.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:56 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Re: the subtlety of magic in Tolkien, I always liked how when Gandalf used his magic to do something as simple as make fire to survive Caradhras he "[has] written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin." When using magic as a D&D style projection of force, it's a big deal, even when it's a thing as small as a campfire.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:05 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Four dwarf kings were tortured by Sauron to give their rings back long before LOTR, Sauron is wearing and using them during LOTR. The three other rings were, according to an appendix, "consumed by dragons".

This really makes me realize that Tolkien's Dwarves are real losers. Not in the figurative sense, but in the literal sense that they keep losing things. We see multiple Dwarven cities/strongholds lost to dragons, orcs, goblins, etc. They lose the rings. I can't even remember if they hung on to the damn Arkenstone in the end. Maybe Thorin's legacy is that he's the first dwarf to actually regain something.
posted by GuyZero at 8:10 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


There is a classic article from Dragon magazine called Gandalf was only a Fifth Level Magic-User! describing everything Gandalf does as achievable by a low mid-level character in Dungeons & Dragons (it helps to read if you know that fifth level characters can cast third level spells). I think that it says a lot about magic in Tolkien that nothing flashier is used.
posted by graymouser at 8:14 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Re: Nuclear war and blasdelb's "Gandalf Uses the Ring to Solve the War" scenario, Tolkien's thoughts on how things would have gone if the Fellowship pursed a WWII Allies kind of strategy:
The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-Dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves."
posted by ignignokt at 8:16 AM on January 16 [13 favorites]


one of things that I dislike about the PJ adaptation is the idea that Gandalf v Necromancer is all bolts of fire and globes of shiny protection and conventional 'wizardy'.

See. . . I'm of two minds about that. For instance, the descriptions of Gandalf's battle with the balrog in Moria do suggest some more overt wizardry than we're used to him doing. He mentions using a "Word of Power" in an attempt to block the balrog's progress. On the bridge he. . . says some things. . . and does some things. . . and a stone bridge completely breaks right where he wants it to. So. . . yeah. Some of that stuff does kind of happen. But only when the stakes are really high, and more often than not they're not directly portrayed in the text. What is a "Word of Power"? We never see Gandalf "use" it, nor anyone else, and the term never appears again in the novels. Or anywhere else, as far as I remember. But it's apparently A Thing.

So all my previous post about magic in Tolkien's universe not being all that much like it is portrayed in D&D. . . there's just enough of this sort of thing to make the connection between the functionally scientific approach taken by contemporary fantasy organic, if not entirely legitimate.

My problem with that scene in DoS is that. . . it never happened in the novel. And I'm not a purist about these things either. I think Jackson fundamentally misunderstands Tolkien, but the additions and subtractions he made in LotR, in the aggregate, worked to make those better movies than they would have been under a more slavishly direct adaptation. Tolkien did not write screenplays, and LotR is arguably more a medieval-style romance than a novel, so if those movies were going to be any good at all, there were going to have to be changes.

No, my objection is that Gandalf does go to Dol Guldor in the novel, and that scene would have been perfect for the movies. That's how he got the map, after all: finding Thrain II a prisoner in the dungeons. Why couldn't we see that instead? If Gandalf has some kind of spectacular confrontation with whatever power is in charge, I'd be willing to allow it. But the scene we get doesn't make sense and introduces a plot inconsistency that I've no idea how Jackson is going to resolve.
posted by valkyryn at 8:16 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


Tom Bombadil?

Wasn't he some character that Tolkien added just to flesh out the very thin plot and stretch it into 3 books?
posted by Danf at 8:18 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I'm really glad this got posted because I love discussions like this.

I totally agree with the thesis that "power" =/= fireballs etc, but there is some crossover. When Gandalf makes a big ball shield that protects him from the Balrog, is that a physical manifestation of him casting an AOE dominate mind spell? When Bilbo puts on the ring and slips past the gobblings guarding the back door, has he convinced them to ignore him, or do they truly not see him?
posted by rebent at 8:19 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Wasn't he some character that Tolkien added just to flesh out the very thin plot and stretch it into 3 books?

When Sauron falls, the other rings will fail and the wizards and elves will leave Middle Earth and the only great power that is left will be Bombadil.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:25 AM on January 16 [21 favorites]


Gandalf's love and righteousness would turn to meddling and self-righteousness.

The Gandalf of The Hobbit is already legendarily given to meddling and self-righteousness. In that respect he can't go downhill due to ring-corruption because he's already in the basement.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:27 AM on January 16


Just correcting the link above - - What special powers did the Dwarf rings give their users?


I think that it says a lot about magic in Tolkien that nothing flashier is used.

There are lots of flaws with the books, but to me this is one of its strengths. I hadn't thought about it until I heard a talk GRRM gave while on a book tour - he was asked about the role of magic in his books and how mysterious it was. He pointed out that in LOTR the number of "on screen" acts of magic could be counted on one hand, and that he felt magic should be mysterious, rare, and inexplicable - otherwise it ceases to be magic. He very strongly felt that there shouldn't be a special school for the characters to go off to to learn it. He likened it to the one time he ordered a pizza with only anchovies; he loved anchovies, but found that by themselves, they made a pizza horrible - it was the light sprinkling of them amongst the other toppings that made them add to the experience, not take it away.

The other thing I will say about LOTR that is always interesting to me - and something it's legions of copycats and descendants haven't done - is that it is about the quest to destroy the object of power, not the quest to find and use the object of power to defeat the Big Bad. Now, Tolkien's anti-industrialization stance undoubtedly is behind some of that direction of the books, but I still find it interesting that the quest is about the removal of a power source, not it's harnessing. I'm sure someone out their in LOTR scholarship has explored that idea in more depth.
posted by nubs at 8:28 AM on January 16 [16 favorites]


When Gandalf makes a big ball shield that protects him from the Balrog, is that a physical manifestation of him casting an AOE dominate mind spell?

I'm very resistant to the notion of distinct, discrete "spells" existing in Tolkien's world. There is no Fireball "spell". There is no Dominate Mind "spell". There is no bloody Melf's Acid Arrow. Those are all specific phenomenon that anyone can perform (theoretically) by literally following a recipe. The things that Gandalf and other powerful entities in Tolkien's world can do are not reducible to recipes.

Again, there are these occasional references to things like "Words of Power" and "spells of binding," and Gandalf is certainly not above using the occasional incantation. But I'd argue those are sort of. . . mnemonics, perhaps might be the best word. The words themselves, or the motions, or whatever, aren't the point, and making a "mistake" in the incantation won't lead to "spell failure". Again, no recipes. Rather, those are all just things that Gandalf does to help him focus.

It just occurred to me that certain notions of Christian prayer might be not entirely off base, though again, Gandalf is not referencing a power outside himself as far as I can tell. Rather, many Christians believe that our prayers are "effective," not because of particular words that are said or because they somehow invoke or provoke God to action. But because they are a means that God uses to accomplish his purposes. Rather than an incantation that has a 1:1 effect on the world--like in D&D--prayer is more a means of aligning one's self with God. Again, Gandalf does not seem to be praying as such here,* but the idea is that whatever he's saying/doing to "produce" an effect is entirely incidental to his exertion of power.

*There are a few instances of what might be considered prayer in the novels, e.g., invocations of Elbereth/Varda in particularly dark times. But they're never involved in the sort of things that we're talking about here. When Gandalf does something, it's his own power he's employing. People who call on Elbereth are pretty much saying they're screwed.
posted by valkyryn at 8:41 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


I think magic in LOTR is like: you can sing along to the Music of the Ainur. You can introduce harmony and accompaniment. But you don't get your own flashy solo, and being outright discordant makes you a Melkor or Sauron.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:48 AM on January 16 [10 favorites]


I was certain that Galadriel brought down Dol Goldur after the War of the Ring and the Encyclopedia of Arda says:

After Sauron's final defeat a few days later, Galadriel crossed the River herself with Celeborn and many of her people, and broke down the walls of Dol Guldur.

So she was still packing quite a punch with her ring even after the One Ring was gone. If I were Jackson I'd have been tempted to film that and tack it on at the end. Picture it. A wall of Elves, all pretty and heavily armed, surrounding the fortress. Orcs and goblins are on the walls, screaming and brandishing weapons. The elf ranks part and Cate Blanchet walks through, barefoot of course. She has that stone cold stare and waves her ring hand at the fortress. And the whole thing comes crashing down.
posted by Ber at 8:49 AM on January 16 [12 favorites]


Metafilter is the place on the internet where I go to be safely and happily surrounded by a host of my fellow nerds that I just simply don't come across in such wonderful flocks IRL.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:59 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


I've come to the conclusion that Gandalf could do whatever the fuck he wants, but he doesn't because he's a moral character who mostly lives according to his oath of indirect intervention. The singular time that Gandalf acts without restraint is against the Balrog, and he describes that as wrecking Moria from deepest basement to tallest peak.

But the power of magical objects in Lord of the Rings is primarily moral and spiritual rather than physical. Denethor and Saruman are, in my opinion, underrated as tragedies of the novel. Denethor's madness is grounded in his virtues. He's the faithful Steward of Gondor, loving father (if flawed by favoritism), and commander of a centuries-long cold war. He's undone by a biased spin on the truth: the King won't come in his lifetime, his favorite son is dead, and the gates of Minis Tirith fall. Saruman is also is undone by his virtues. He's the wisest and most adept, so he turns his considerable abilities in an attempt to out-strategize Sauron.

The threat of the ring to Gandalf and Galadriel isn't power, since they already have power far above that of the other characters in the narrative. The threat is hubris. Gandalf could groom the children of Aragorn into repeating the mistakes of Numenor. Galadriel could raise an empire as powerful as the Noldor of old. Both realize this is a bad thing and their eventual duty is to make room for the age of men. Gandalf certainly is prone to showing up with the right words (and right map) at the right time, but there are multiple cases where characters go ahead and defy him anyway.

Tom Bombadil isn't very good, but he helps to establish one of the key differences between the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is mostly about Bilbo outwitting various mortal antagonists. Bombadil is the first sign that the Hobbits have been drawn into a war between spiritual and moral powers. Faith in the wrong things destroy you, while faith in the right things saves you.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:01 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


But the power of magical objects in Lord of the Rings is primarily moral and spiritual rather than physical.

Absolutely.
posted by valkyryn at 9:03 AM on January 16


Galadriel could raise an empire as powerful as the Noldor of old. Both realize this is a bad thing and their eventual duty is to make room for the age of men.

Exactly, she didn't want to repeat Fëanor's mistakes.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:04 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I'm currently rereading The Return of the King, and I ran into something I forgot--the One Ring doesn't just automatically amplify the wielder's strength of spirit (using the essence -of-Sauron imbued within it at its making) so that a strong individual putting it on would instantly be The New Sauron. It also has a learning curve.

In "The Last Debate", the captains of the West are discussing what Sauron knows. And Gandalf does say that Sauron is most likely "now in great doubt. For if we have found this thing, there are some among us with strength enough to wield it." And Eomer's like, well, if Sauron had it, you say we'd have no hope at all. So why doesn't Sauron assume he has no hope if we have it? And one of Gandalf's answers is "we could not learn to wield the full power all in a day. Indeed it can be used only by one master alone, not by many; and he will look for a time of strife, ere one of the great among us makes himself master and puts down the others."

So it seems like he's saying even if Gandalf himself, or Aragorn--rightful king of ancient Man and Elf lineage, descendant of another holder of the One and someone who's wounded Sauron before, etc.--claimed the ring, he wouldn't just level up all at once and leave everyone else blasted at his feet. There would be a more gradual process of internecine conflict (surely full of supposedly-good intentions, and suspicion and backstabbing and whatnot, before open war), but still giving Sauron enough time that "In that time the Ring might aid him, if he were sudden."

This might add another explanation to why long-time wearers like Smeagol or Bilbo or Frodo didn't turn into Dark Lords--not just the inherent nature of Hobbits (which I think is definitely important), but also 1) they weren't willingly/knowingly claiming the power for themselves, and 2) they weren't working to learn how to wield that power, which is a required step.
posted by theatro at 9:07 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Gandalf's healing of Theoden and defeat of Wormtongue with words in The Two Towers is so much more interesting and dramatic than the flashy exorcism he does in the movie.
posted by straight at 9:12 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


Denethor's madness is grounded in his virtues. He's the faithful Steward of Gondor, loving father (if flawed by favoritism), and commander of a centuries-long cold war. He's undone by a biased spin on the truth: the King won't come in his lifetime, his favorite son is dead, and the gates of Minis Tirith fall.

Yeah, I've been feeling quite bad for Denethor on this read-through. He seems to me to be profoundly depressed--in that ferocious way where the tragedy he sees is very real (all the truths you list cannot be waved away), and it just eats him up, leaving not a spark of hope. Because hope feels fake and speculative, whereas the horrible things are all provable and happening one after the other (especially when he looked in the palantir for some 24/7 if-it-bleeds-it-leads war news and Sauron showed him all the other horrible things coming for him and his city from every direction).
posted by theatro at 9:13 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


jb: "you know how the One Ring is all curved on the inside? In the jewelry industry, that's called "comfort-fitted" - people get it when regular rings irritate their fingers. "

That's not in the books, and I've never noticed it in the film shots. A GIS doesn't even show any shots that seem curved.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:26 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Gandalf's healing of Theoden and defeat of Wormtongue with words in The Two Towers is so much more interesting and dramatic than the flashy exorcism he does in the movie.

I really love his offhand "Saruman, your staff is broken" and it just is. That is the most badass wizardly thing he does, right there.
posted by Foosnark at 9:26 AM on January 16 [19 favorites]


Sauron and Gandalf are both Maiar
...the power of magical objects in Lord of the Rings is primarily moral and spiritual rather than physical

That says something about Sauron. Like Gandalf he's not primarily a physical threat, not like a dragon. In a straight fight (especially deprived of what he put into the ring) his raw power might not be all that impressive, just as Gandalf was once reduced to throwing burning pine cones when he was surrounded by wargs. Sauron could probably fight ten elves at once, perhaps a hundred, but not a thousand, not alone. If that's right, it's no longer as seemingly impossible that a human king was able to strike him down.

If Sauron is like Gandalf his real power is manipulation. Gandalf doesn't fight dragons, he spends years nudging pieces on the chessboard until he has three armies at his disposal at the moment he needs them. Gandalf is dangerous primarily because of what he knows; he can do things like find Thrain in prison and leverage that knowledge, kicking off the plot of the Hobbit. Likewise, the scariest manifestations of Sauron's power that we actually see are a matter of information gathering: the ringwraiths on the hunt, the corruption of the palantir, the ring-sense. Gandalf and Sauron are dangerous not because they can shoot +3 fireballs but because they can see the whole board. Inspire/corrupt the right person at the right moment and empires rise and fall.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:30 AM on January 16 [33 favorites]


litleozy: "But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place.

So what happens with the Ring is a non-diminishing transfer of power, one which makes that personal intrinsic power more powerful because it's grounded in a thing.
"

This aspect has always been interesting to me, and is akin to a one-time D&D physical penalty associated with creating some magical implements.

Imagine that you could increase your X, but at the cost of your Y. Become wealthier, but instantly uglier. Prettier, but suffer a lifelong drain on your income. I suppose we make such decisions implicitly, but to actually say, "Yes, I would like to become governor, and I am willing to endure severe scoliosis to achieve it"... that's... daunting.

And some would do it.

Hell, Nixon might have.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:33 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I really love his offhand "Saruman, your staff is broken" and it just is.

Gandalf and Saruman are probably my favorite dialogue in the books:
'For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!'

I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.

I liked white better,' I said.

White!' he sneered. 'It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.'

In which case it is no longer white,' said I. 'And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.'
posted by Chrysostom at 9:33 AM on January 16 [16 favorites]


Gandalf's social stature in Middle Earth would put him in a unique position to persuade, manipulate, and control others.

Gandalf has social stature with some of the people of Middle Earth, but so does Sauron. He had no shortage of allies and supporters from afar, we just don't see much of them until the battles start.
posted by Hoopo at 9:35 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I'm enjoying the discussion of magic in LOTR because I do feel that for the most part there is consistency in the books. One thing I disliked about the later Harry Potter books was how magic conveniently changed to suit the immediate needs of the characters.

Initially, wizards spend a lot of time learning the right way to say the words (It's LeviOsa, not LevioSA) and working on their concentration (Patronus spell), and we have all kinds of rules from the Ministry of Magic to keep everyone in line.

But then later on, dueling wizards don't utter any words at all, they can use flue powder or apparate to travel, and a lot of what they learned goes out the window. Hermione has a Time Turner she is allowed to use because her school schedule is tough, which is never used by anyone but Hermione and Harry. That's completely ridiculous--Dumbledore couldn't justify using the thing to keep Valdemort from killing Harry's parents, or even taking over in the first place?! How about once the basilisk is discovered?! ARRRGH.

I also come from the old school* where using magic has consequences and a price to be paid. Only the very strong can handle it, because magic is a necessary last resort. It takes a toll.

As far as magic in the Hobbit movie goes, what Radagast saves the hedgehog? He seems to be trying a number of things that don't work until he realizes that something like witchcraft is involved. To me, this is an indicator that dark influences are creeping out of their defined boundaries to leech into the rest of the world because of the Necromancer's influence. Still, it seems as if he is trying to throw off a specific spell and using specific, potion-like ingredients to do it, which brings it closer to Harry Potter/D&D territory.

Also, I have not read the books in a long time, so bear with me, please: is Radagast also a Maiar? I feel like he can't be, because Saruman's disdain for him is so great. They are all brother wizards, but Gandalf and Saruman seem to have more mutual respect for each other going in; while they agree Radagast icomes across as a "silly fellow", Gandalf respects his abilities as a Wizard while Saruman does not.

*Taught by Granny Weatherwax.
posted by misha at 9:39 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


He seems to me to be profoundly depressed--in that ferocious way where the tragedy he sees is very real (all the truths you list cannot be waved away), and it just eats him up, leaving not a spark of hope.

Yes, he is certainly a sympathetic character. All the more so because it was not merely depression that was plaguing him. One can perhaps characterize all forms of depression as involving some kind of self-deception, i.e., refusing or being somehow unable to see that things are not as bad as they seem and that not all hope is futile. Denethor certainly had some of that going on. But he was also actively deceived, because Sauron showed him things through the Palantír that were either not the whole truth or were actually lies.

And to extent the point, it is exactly Sauron's ability to not only show Denethor those falsehoods and half truths, but to get him to believe them, which is very much the sort of thing that powerful beings in Tolkien's world are able to do. Fireballs? Who needs fireballs when, through force of will, you can get people to believe things which are not true and act upon them to serve one's own interests?
posted by valkyryn at 9:40 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


That's not in the books, and I've never noticed it in the film shots. A GIS doesn't even show any shots that seem curved

Also I seem to recall the ring changes size to fit whoever wants to put it on, so it may be Bilbo or Frodo that have sensitive fingers
posted by Hoopo at 9:41 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Wasn't he some character that Tolkien added just to flesh out the very thin plot and stretch it into 3 books?

Bombadil is a really interesting point in the story -- he gives the hobbits (and readers) a first link to a much broader world and universe, as mentioned above, but his very presence is derided by a lot of people, and of course there was little doubt his sequence would be passed over in the movie.

I think there's more to him. Imagine if Tom Bombadil was Tolkien himself.

He has more power than anyone else in Middle Earth. The Ring has no effect on him. He shows up to rescue the hobbits at a very dark moment, especially dark for how early on it is in the story. Viewed macroscopically, the fate of the free peoples would have been doomed right there in the forest had it not been for him.

There is also the transition from kid-friendly fairy tale The Hobbit to the dark, adult-themed LotR. The stunt-children hobbits are fleeing their "safe" Shire for the unknown world outside, chased by the Nazgul hunting them. And what happens? Their adventure ends suddenly in a very disturbing fashion, lulled to sleep and death by Old Man Willow. That gave kid-me nightmares after I first read it.

Bombadil/Tolkien appears and shows off his power, poetry, and humor, dispelling the nightmare, saving the hobbits, the readers, and sets the adventure back on the path. (And of course has to do it again the next day in the Barrows.)

Bombadil speaks in rhyme, hangs out amongst his beloved trees with Goldberry River-woman's Daughter, and helps ease the tough transition between the fairy tale and the nightmarish adventure.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:42 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


misha: "Also, I have not read the books in a long time, so bear with me, please: is Radagast also a Maiar? "

Yes.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:43 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Wait, did Sauron show Denethor lies? I thought the point was that Denethor was just strong enough to know the palantir was showing him true facts, but Sauron was able to control WHICH true facts it showed him - just the ones that seemed terrible or were bad news.
posted by prefpara at 9:44 AM on January 16


"you know how the One Ring is all curved on the inside? In the jewelry industry, that's called "comfort-fitted"

jb the ring appears "comfort fitted" because it is. The ring in the LOTR films is directly modeled off of a wedding band worn by one of the production crew (can't recall exactly which one at the moment which one; may have been simply one of the senior camera crew tasked with the storyboarding shots). This is covered in the special features - while they were doing a bunch of setup rehearsals of camera moves with little mock plastic sets and cheap cameras to build the script and the lighting plans and those big wire panning / helicopter shots and what should be practical models vs. CG and such, they needed a stand-in for the ring, and this crew member just subbed in his wedding band as an afterthought because they needed to use something quick. Peter Jackson liked the shape and how it caught the light so well on the inner and outer surfaces that he wound up using it as the form, and modeled all of the many, many props of the ring using this guy's wedding ring as the model.

Which only increases the interesting allegorical nerdiness for me. It IS a wedding ring, but its use marries the wearer to despair and corruption, not love.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:45 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


he ring changes size to fit whoever wants to put it onhe ring changes size to fit whoever wants to put it on

Or it slips off just to fuck with you. Ooooops visible.
posted by prefpara at 9:45 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


One thing I disliked about the later Harry Potter books was how magic conveniently changed to suit the immediate needs of the characters.

So as much as I liked Harry Potter Tolkein's approach is called "being a good writer."
posted by GuyZero at 9:46 AM on January 16 [10 favorites]


is Radagast also a Maiar? I feel like he can't be, because Saruman's disdain for him is so great. They are all brother wizards, but Gandalf and Saruman seem to have more mutual respect for each other going in; while they agree Radagast icomes across as a "silly fellow", Gandalf respects his abilities as a Wizard while Saruman does not.

Yes. IIRC correctly, after the fall of Morgoth/Melkor (one of the Valar), the Valar withdrew from Middle Earth. The eventual war against Sauron (one of Melkor's lieutenants) depicted at the beginning of the LOTR movies makes the Valar aware of the fact that Morgoth had corrupted many things, including some of the Maiar (Sauron/The Balrog) that could pose an ongoing threat. So they sent 5 Maiar to Middle Earth to watch for, and help resist, the efforts of those corrupted by Morgoth.

The 5 sent are the 5 wizards. In the books we only see Gandalf and Saruman; Radagast is mentioned in passing and the other two are never named - we know only that they ventured further East and disappear from the tale.

Each wizard seems to have fallen into their own set of interests - Saruman the Lore-Master; Gandalf who wanders and learns about the people of Middle Earth, especially the Hobbits; Radagast, who falls in love with the natural world.

I think Saruman's contempt expressed for Radagast is that Radagast is enraptured by things Saruman considers useless. Gandalf at least is interested in people; but where Saruman's concern is about control and domination of civilization, Gandalf is more about encouraging the peoples of Middle Earth to stand together, build together and resist evil that way. In the end Gandalf is the only one of the Maiar sent who remains true to the mission given by the Valar.
posted by nubs at 9:49 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Wasn't he some character that Tolkien added just to flesh out the very thin plot and stretch it into 3 books?

Not sure how that could be the case. He really doesn't occupy much of the book. It's a short and mysterious stop along the way in the narrative.
posted by Hoopo at 9:50 AM on January 16


Each wizard seems to have fallen into their own set of interests - Saruman the Lore-Master; Gandalf who wanders and learns about the people of Middle Earth, especially the Hobbits; Radagast, who falls in love with the natural world.

IIRC, this was also influenced by which Vala each Maia 'belonged' to, in a sense. Just off the top of my head, Gandalf/Olorin was linked to I think Nienna, mistress of pity/compassion/comfort, which certainly fits. Saruman/Curumo was linked to Aule, the master of crafts. I can't remember Radagast for sure, but I'd assume he'd surely be linked to Yavanna, mistress of flora and fauna.

I always wondered what happened to the two blue wizards, who went east and out of the story.
posted by theatro at 9:56 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


It definitely would have been jarring to go straight into the barrow-wight scenes without that nice easing transition stuff with Old Man Willow and Bombadil.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:56 AM on January 16




Gandalf/Olorin was linked to I think Nienna, mistress of pity/compassion/comfort

True. But he was nominated for the mission by Manwë, which should also say something. Saruman looked down on Gandalf as insufficiently badass, but it's generally safe to assume that Manwë knows what's what.
posted by valkyryn at 10:04 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I have a lot of sympathy for the Stewards of Gondor. Their lot is basically to hold Gondor against all enemies and keep the people going until the real heir gets his act together, steps in and takes over as King. It is akin to King Lear giving over his power to his own children while he still lives--all rulers are weakened by the schism, and no one appreciates the interim government until after it is gone.

Boromir, by all accounts, Is a great guy, a caring brother and a worthy son to Denethor. His brother, accustomed to always coming in second, is perfectly situated to deal well with adversity and shows a strength of character Boromir does not--he is able to resist the pull of the Ring.

Denethor's biggest weakness as a Steward is a reflection of his weakness as a caregiver and father. He never recognized his younger son's worth. Once Boromir, his heir, is taken from him, he just gives up on everyone and everything, including the kingdom, which for all intents and purposes represents his adopted children in this tale.

Gandalf then becomes a sort of Wizard Godfather (as opposed to a fairy godmother), taking over until Prince Charming Aragorn saves the day.
posted by misha at 10:06 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Wait, did Sauron show Denethor lies? I thought the point was that Denethor was just strong enough to know the palantir was showing him true facts, but Sauron was able to control WHICH true facts it showed him - just the ones that seemed terrible or were bad news.

I think it's a bit ambiguous. I don't believe the Stones were capable of showing images of things that did not exist. Whatever he saw, it existed outside his mind and Sauron's mind. It was out there in the world somewhere. So in that sense, everything Denethor saw was "true."

But there are a multitude of ways of being deceitful even within that framework. Sauron could certainly choose to show Denethor less than the whole picture, which is bad enough. But I think he could also lie to Denethor about what was being shown and its meaning.

Remember, though, the Stones doesn't convey merely visuals. People who used the stones could communicate with each other. Sauron had every opportunity to lie via that channel.
posted by valkyryn at 10:11 AM on January 16


Here's what the books says:

He was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind.
posted by prefpara at 10:13 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron? It actually seems to diminish its bearers...

Am I missing something? I always considered that to be the major metaphor Tolkien was trying to convey about power in general. Now you're telling me that there has to be some kind of literal meaning to it?
posted by coolxcool=rad at 10:19 AM on January 16


Right. My last post reflects my understanding of that line.
posted by valkyryn at 10:23 AM on January 16


I'm rereading The Lord of the Rings now, and am not nearly as much of a Tolkien scholar-nerd as those posting in this thread (but I'm going back to LoTR in large part because Tolkien scholar-nerds are so interesting). I'm glad those way more articulate and well versed than me have commented on the nature of "power" (which I read as political, but spiritual works just as well and seems to overlap), but I haven't seen anyone else comment on two things that stick out to me about the ring: immortality and freedom from consequence.

It's stated pretty early on in Fellowship that the ring grants its users a kind of immortality--Bilbo remains rather ageless for a time, Gollum is older and the Nazgul, well...--but it's not eternal youth, and it's not an increase in quality of life. It seems to trade quality for quantity, even, hence the "stretched thin" feeling; the ultimate state of one pursuing that aspect of the ring is a kind of purposeless, diminished shade existence. Immortality without living. It's not even reliable; its nature is treacherous, so it'll keep one going for centuries then walk away the one day it's really needed.

The invisibility, too, seems in part to be a kind of freedom from consequence. Those who get into that aspect of the ring can act without leaving traces that can be followed back to them. Murder, theft and other crimes that violate another person can be committed without consequence. Biblo may escape some of the nastier effects that can have by only using that aspect of the ring to dodge his annoying relatives, but it seems implicit that it's there for more dangerous ends.

So, yeah: power to impose one's will on others/the world with increasingly less concern for morality or meaning in life, rather than power to shoot lasers from one's eyes.
posted by byanyothername at 10:26 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind.

That's definitely why I'd compare it to 24/7 bleeds/leads war news: it shows him all the horrible truths, the truths that feed in to his growing sense of despair and resentment at being seemingly-alone on the front lines. And that sort of pervasive depression is obstinate--anyone who says to Denethor, 'there are good things happening too' can easily be dismissed with a 'bullshit, look at all of these real (bad) things, here, here, here, here, and here.'
posted by theatro at 10:28 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that one aspect of the Ring is that it makes the wearer "more like her/himself," but generally in the worst possible way. The various hobbits that get their hands on it benefit from not really having grand, world-shaking designs. As a result, they are not much affected by it (and the rather bad time they have with it is probably evidence of how nasty the effect is -- more ambitious people can loose their shit entirely just by looking at it). Similarly, I expect that the Ring helps the bearer get whatever she/he wants; again, the hobbits, whose wants are pretty small on a Sauron scale, don't get very much -- occasional invisibility and longer life. A more powerful wearer would, presumably get more powerful effects (but at the greater cost).

For a very interesting treatment of magic, I would recommend Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of the Labyrinth (four books, although you can stop after #3 or 4 if you are so inclined, starting with Melusine). In her world, magic is generally more powerful the more indirect it is -- so the wizards we first meet don't do much in the way of flashy spells because they design their magic into buildings to direct the social order). Additionally, there are a bunch of different schools of magic, each one of which philosophically limited in what they can do (the architect-wizards, for example, don't really admit the existence of souls, so their magic can't deal with spiritual issues at all; there's no space in the equations). It's really difficult to see this, because each school is useful enough that they tend to link up with governments and purge each other's enemies, leading to "this is the way magic works" being rather dogmatically treated everywhere.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:34 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


IIRC, this was also influenced by which Vala each Maia 'belonged' to, in a sense. Just off the top of my head, Gandalf/Olorin was linked to I think Nienna, mistress of pity/compassion/comfort, which certainly fits. Saruman/Curumo was linked to Aule, the master of crafts. I can't remember Radagast for sure, but I'd assume he'd surely be linked to Yavanna, mistress of flora and fauna.

I always wondered what happened to the two blue wizards, who went east and out of the story.


Alatar was sent by Orome, the great hunter of the Valar, and his name roughly translates to "wide-forest" or "forest-spreader," so plants and trees would seem to be his specialty. Trees certainly played a significant role in Middle Earth -- Yavanna's Two Trees, Nimloth, the White Tree of Gondor, the Ents, Old Man Willow, the mallorn sapling planted in the Shire at the end of LotR -- so perhaps he might have had a role behind the scenes in that way, or perhaps he just disappeared up his own interests' ass like Radagast did.

Pallandro may equate to "far-seer." He was also a servant of Orome, but might have been influenced by Irmo (the Vala of dreams, visions and such). His doings were never laid out in print AFAIK, but I could picture him as a sage guiding those men of the east who deserved help and chose to hear.

Of course, you can possibly dispose of all of the above by considering this: Saruman went east with Alatar and Pallandro. Only Saruman came back. We know what Saruman was like and might not have to have pictures drawn of how the other two ended up, unless the pictures are chalk outlines.
posted by delfin at 10:40 AM on January 16 [20 favorites]


This thread is my favourite thing on the internet right now and has successfully eaten my entire morning.
posted by annathea at 10:41 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I forget - is the ring's invisibility power something that just anyone can do without training? Or is it something that hobbits are just naturally adept at because being invisible is in their nature?
posted by jason_steakums at 10:43 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I thought the invisibility was automatic. You don't will it, it just happens any time the ring is on.
posted by prefpara at 10:47 AM on January 16


Alatar was sent by Orome, the great hunter of the Valar, and his name roughly translates to "wide-forest" or "forest-spreader,"

...oh my goodness, it's Jóhnny Appleseëd.
posted by theatro at 10:49 AM on January 16 [12 favorites]


Ahh, yep, some Googling shows that Isildur went invisible too.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:50 AM on January 16


Worth noting that details on the blue wizards are pretty much only found in Unfinished Tales, so must be regarded as of dubious canonicity.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:50 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Basically what I would say in response to the actual article linked in the OP is this: imagine the one ring is a magic wand. Would it make sense to argue that it lacks power merely because Frodo, who never uses it and only carries it on his person, doesn't become master of all he surveys through possessing it? If you told me, "here's a magic wand that if you use it will grant you incredible power but simultaneously corrupt you completely, but if you just hang on to it will extend your life by hundreds of years, grant you invisibility, and periodically exhibit semi-aware behavior such as seeking to make itself known to the minions of darkness," I would be like, THAT IS SOME POWERFUL SHIT FOR A WAND TO DO THAT I AM NOT EVEN USING I CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW MUCH POWER IT GRANTS AN ACTIVE SORCERESSSSSSSSSSS.

In conclusion, what everyone above said about how none of the ring-bearers actually wielded the ring for realsies.
posted by prefpara at 10:57 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


We know what Saruman was like and might not have to have pictures drawn of how the other two ended up, unless the pictures are chalk outlines.

This week on CSI: Isengard....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:58 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


This week on CSI: Isengard....

"Seems that this murder..."

*sunglasses*

"...Ent what it seems."

YEAAAAAAH
posted by jason_steakums at 10:59 AM on January 16 [34 favorites]


"Seems that this murder..."

*sunglasses*


"...was an ork-place dispute."

YEAAAAAAH
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:06 AM on January 16 [15 favorites]


This week on CSI: Isengard....

Episode 1: Accident.
Episode 2: Orc did it.
Episode 3: A different orc did it.
Episode 4: Uruk-Hai
Episode 5: Ent
Episode 6: Ent
Episode 7: Ent
Episode 8: Ent

Series is cancelled halfway through the season. Proposed spin-off featuring curmudgeonly yet urbane Doc Saruman as he moves to the rural Shire with a quirky sidekick to set up a new practice moves forward.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:06 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


valkyryn, I'd love to hear your comments on Bombadil as an entity and, possibly, anomaly in the LoTR/Tolkin-verse. Your other insight has been very much appreciated on this end and Bombadil has always been a sticking point for me, if an enjoyable one. I think my last take on his presence, not to mention the ring's [lack of] effect on him, was that it was simply a literary kudos for one of Tolkien's sons who, again I'm struggling to recall here, had a doll that fit the description and maybe even name.

Great discussion all, doubly so on the rings acting as multipliers of intrinsic power rather than as crutches or extenders. That fits in rather nicely with the Phial of Gladriael's ability and, to a greater degree, the Silmarils themselves and, to a greater degree the trees and leaves in Valinor.

The fact that each of these is tied together by the aspect of light and beauty, if lessened by evil through each iteration, is a nice touch to the lore as well. Never put it together all the way down until now.

Maybe that's just a way of saying that instead of turtles all the way down that, for Tolkien, it's light sources all the way west... or something...
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:06 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Would it make sense to argue that it lacks power merely because Frodo, who never uses it and only carries it on his person, doesn't become master of all he surveys through possessing it?

But Frodo does wear it on his finger--however, I think we're making a point about the for-realsitude that the original article doesn't seem to grapple with, which is that they assume wearing = using/wielding, and we're saying that canon indicates it actually does not.
posted by theatro at 11:07 AM on January 16


I forget where but somewhere Gandalf discusses the power of invisibility by the ring as being part of the process of becoming a wraith. The less powerful beings who possessed the Rings of Power (men, hobbits) were granted immortality, but at the cost of their souls; over time they do become "thin and stretched" to the point a very long time indeed down the road where they become wraiths.

The reason a mortal ring-wearer disappears from mortal vision is that when they put on the ring, they become, in essence, part of the wraith world. This is why the Nazgul are cloaked and hooded - they have become invisible to the mortal eye. Frodo only actually "sees" the Witch-King's face when he dons the ring on Weathertop.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:08 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


And yea, I recall a distinct impression throughout the cannon that, with regard to the One ring at least, wearing most assuredly does not equal Using. Invisibility be damned.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:08 AM on January 16


none of the ring-bearers actually wielded the ring for realsies.

Sam came the closest, during his rescue of Frodo from Cirith Ungol. The orcs he fights there perceive him as a great Elf-Warrior and panic at his approach; this is one of the few in book examples of the Ring being more than an invisibility trinket and influencing others into perceiving the holder of the Ring as powerful and fearful.

I don't think Sam does this consciously, but it is rather the Ring picking up on Sam's fears and desire to rescue Frodo and being "helpful" with an eye to Sam coming to enjoy that help.
posted by nubs at 11:10 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


There is a classic article from Dragon magazine called Gandalf was only a Fifth Level Magic-User! describing everything Gandalf does as achievable by a low mid-level character in Dungeons & Dragons (it helps to read if you know that fifth level characters can cast third level spells). I think that it says a lot about magic in Tolkien that nothing flashier is used.

That amusing article also agrees with line of thought here that "the universe of LOTR was magic-weak." It goes on to propose that the Middle Earth campaign was "run by 'a very tough DM' who rewarded experience so slowly that it would take 2000 years for a pseudo-angel to get to the 5th level, and 6000 years or so for an EHP {"Evil High Priest"} to reach 12th."

The Tolkien estate-licensed Middle Earth Role Playing system sucks all the fun out of the topic by helpfully spelling out the One Ring's powers and quantifying their effects. (It does have a nice set of footnotes, though, for all Tolkien's mentions of the artefact.) The basics are invisibility, sense enhancement, longevity, profession- and spell-boosting, magic-item resistance against anything made with the Ring's help, and command/control powers, especially of evil creatures and those wearing the lesser Great Rings of Power.

This scenario, however, is played for laughs in the hilarious screencap-webcomic "DM of the Rings", which imagines Peter Jackson's movie adaptation of LotR as a campaign run by a micro-managing, long-winded Dungeon Master for a bunch of impatient and greedy hack-n-slash munchkin roleplayers. Those guys hardly need a Ring of Power to be corrupted.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:12 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Now, I've lurked here for just north of a decade, but this is important enough to loose my tongue.

Everyone's been talking about how none of the mortal ringbearers used the ring in any significant capacity, but they're forgetting Mr. Samwise Gamgee in the depths of Cirith Ungol. He was brave before that, but there's a difference between being stouthearted and becoming a figure of doom and dread, single-handedly winning a guerilla war against a company of orcs in their ancient fortress. That, right there, suggests some temporal use of the ring.

edit: nubs, you were a hair too fast for me.
posted by The Gaffer at 11:15 AM on January 16 [15 favorites]


The Tolkien estate-licensed Middle Earth Role Playing system sucks all the fun out of the topic

I also found it sucked all the fun out of roleplaying with a combat system that either left everyone dead or so severely injured that further travel was out of the question.
posted by nubs at 11:15 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


veryone's been talking about how none of the mortal ringbearers used the ring in any significant capacity, but they're forgetting Mr. Samwise Gamgee in the depths of Cirith Ungol.

But I do believe by the time Sam gets there, we're down to Shagrat and Snaga - and I think one of them escapes.
posted by nubs at 11:17 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron? It actually seems to diminish its bearers...

coolxcool=rad: "Am I missing something? I always considered that to be the major metaphor Tolkien was trying to convey about power in general. Now you're telling me that there has to be some kind of literal meaning to it?"

My intuitive interpretation is that the literal "diminishing" aspect of the ring is an effect it has on mortals only such as hobbits and humans. Their nature is to live only for a limited time but possessing the ring artificially and forcefully stretches that potential out over a longer time. Not sure immortals such as elves and maiar would be similarly affected since their lifespan doesn't need to be artificially stretched to begin with.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:19 AM on January 16


I never understood the haterade for Bombadil. He is a critical reminder that there is a larger world than the particular story being told. It's necessary perspective. 99% of the books you're like OMG THE STAKES ARE SO HIGH WHAT IF THEY DIE OR FAIL but for 1% of the books you're like WHEN YOU ZOOM OUT HUMANS ARE NOT EVEN VISIBLE FROM SPACE YOU GUYS AND WE'RE ALL MADE OF STAR STUFF.
posted by prefpara at 11:23 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


A dwarf might be the scariest of all mortals to fully possess the One Ring - I'm imagining a kingdom in which all wealth and lands are hoarded in the manner of dragons, and all people are treated as mere objects, possessions of the corrupted Dwarf King, forced to endlessly dig ever deeper under the earth to bring him treasures.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:27 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


prefpara: "I never understood the haterade for Bombadil."

Yeah, me neither.

As far as Tom Bombadil is concerned... I never had a problem with this figure. After reading the creation stories I always viewed him as maybe one of the valar and maiar that chose to enter Arda upon its creation and that had ultimately set up residence in Middle Earth and chosen to be visibly present and interact with it. A lot of the valar/maiar seem to have favorite aspects of or parts of the world that they chose to associate themselves with. Looking at Tom in this way doesn't seem like reaching to me.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:28 AM on January 16


The only beef I have with Bombadil is that I'm not a big fan of the songs in general, and his are the ones I like the least. Everything else about him and his portion of the book, I like.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:31 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


There are multiple stories alluded to in Lord of the Rings and explored in the Silmarillion and other works that the Maiar, if it came to direct conflict, would be weapons of mass destruction. Gandalf describes his battle with the Balrog as catastrophic to the ruins of the greatest city of the Dwarves. I think somewhere in the expanded works Tolkien says that the Wise were prohibited from direct intervention.

Sauron, in contrast, seems to have put his power into his war machine (with the Ring as a universal remote for it all). Even so, the battle of Barad-Dur when he lost the ring was an 8-year Pyrrhic siege that effectively destroyed both the Men of the West and the Elves. Sauron himself slew Gil-Galad and Elendil and broke the heirlooms of both houses. Isildur's blow was either extremely lucky or blessed.

In the aftermath, the Noldor were reduced to a handful. The remaining elves would fragment into a few kingdoms or migrate West. The kingdoms of men would split and gradually decline. Elendil's heirs were driven into hiding.

lonefrontranger: The reason a mortal ring-wearer disappears from mortal vision is that when they put on the ring, they become, in essence, part of the wraith world. This is why the Nazgul are cloaked and hooded - they have become invisible to the mortal eye. Frodo only actually "sees" the Witch-King's face when he dons the ring on Weathertop.

I think there's possibly other weirdness going on between the "Seen" and "Unseen" if I remember Frodo's vision of Glorfindel correctly. But I don't know if Tolkien really writes it consistently.

nubs: I don't think Sam does this consciously, but it is rather the Ring picking up on Sam's fears and desire to rescue Frodo and being "helpful" with an eye to Sam coming to enjoy that help.

My interpretation is they fear the Ringbearer because they're bound to Sauron and the Ring. "Elf-Warrior" is the scariest thing they can think of that's not "Master," and they might not have seen either Elf or Hobbit before. Similarly, I think Frodo unconsciously uses the ring a couple of times to dominate Gollum. This fits in well with the narrative that Sauron is big bad because he can dominate massive armies.

jason_steakums: A dwarf might be the scariest of all mortals to fully possess the One Ring - I'm imagining a kingdom in which all wealth and lands are hoarded in the manner of dragons, and all people are treated as mere objects, possessions of the corrupted Dwarf King, forced to endlessly dig ever deeper under the earth to bring him treasures.

Although the Dwarves get shortchanged in these narratives, it's plausible that the Dwarf kingdoms were subverted by their Rings.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:37 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I've got a suspicion that without Bombadil, you'd never have Dagobah and Yoda, though I don't know that Lucas has ever made that line of inspiration explicit in interviews or commentary.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:39 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I agree, jason_steakums. If Tolkien had done a re-write to lessen the "fairy-tale" quality of the early chapters (i.e., taking out the talking rabbits), I think Bombadil would have fared better.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:39 AM on January 16


GuyZero: "This really makes me realize that Tolkien's Dwarves are real losers. Not in the figurative sense, but in the literal sense that they keep losing things."

One could actually look at the dwarves as a people that bear something resembling a flaw or original sin of sorts or at least some sort of otherness distinguishing them from all other sentient mortal species.
This would be because they're the only sentient mortal species in Middle Earth not created directly by Iluvatar as part of the great plan/music but were instead created in secrecy by one of the valar, Aule. Iluvatar did delay their awakening but allowed them to exist.
Of course one could argue that Aule creating them in secrecy might have been a hidden aspect of Iluvatar's plan all along. Either way... there's something qualitatively different about dwarves when compared to hobbits and humans. They're almost closer to the ents in that they're more... elemental. They have a very deep and fundamental association with the "earth" part of nature just like ents are associated with trees. Hobbits and humans do not seem to have any such fundamental association.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:39 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


It does seem that Bombadil's songs by and large feel more akin to the Rivendell-elves' "tra la la lally" songs in The Hobbit (and the tra-la-la-lally business is not something I would expect to hear from one of the Lord of the Rings elves).
posted by theatro at 11:40 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


My interpretation is they fear the Ringbearer because they're bound to Sauron and the Ring. "Elf-Warrior" is the scariest thing they can think of that's not "Master,"

I agree - what I was trying to get at is that the Ring is active here - it is making Sam appear as something that the orcs would fear; the form that takes is somewhat arbitrary, but it is not Sam on his own creating this perception.
posted by nubs at 11:42 AM on January 16


Sam came the closest, during his rescue of Frodo from Cirith Ungol. The orcs he fights there perceive him as a great Elf-Warrior and panic at his approach; this is one of the few in book examples of the Ring being more than an invisibility trinket and influencing others into perceiving the holder of the Ring as powerful and fearful.

I always read this more as Sam coming more into his own stout-hearted power, motivated by his love for Frodo. The great Elf-Warrior shadow is more a trick of the light than a trick of the Ring, no? Although I do like the "Ring as multiplier" take in which the Ring amplifies his stature and courage.

But put against that: we've already seen Sam's formidable side when he faces down Shelob. That thought, that someone could "stick her with a pin", scares the Orcs too. Is Sam carrying the Ring at that point? I forget. But it's written much more as Sam reaching into a desperate place in himself and finding courage and determination.

It's always struck me that Sam is the only mortal bearer who is not damaged by the Ring. He feels its power and is tempted by it, but is able both to voluntarily relinquish it and to return to his previous life -- something Smeagol, Bilbo and Frodo were unable to do. He's changed by the journey, but for the better. Not accidental that the last words of the book are his.

(And yeah, Bombadil's bloody derry-dol singing annoys me. But he's an interesting character otherwise; it's a light-hearted chapter that has flashes of darkness and depth when Tom's true age and stature are hinted at. Also, Old Man Willow is terrifying.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:48 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


A dwarf might be the scariest of all mortals to fully possess the One Ring - I'm imagining a kingdom in which all wealth and lands are hoarded in the manner of dragons, and all people are treated as mere objects, possessions of the corrupted Dwarf King, forced to endlessly dig ever deeper under the earth to bring him treasures.

So, you've met the Koch brothers. I thought they'd be taller.
posted by delfin at 11:49 AM on January 16 [11 favorites]


If Jim Henson ever did a Lord of the Rings film, Bombadil and Old Man Willow might very well have been one of the most standout parts of the whole thing.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:50 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


So, you've met the Koch brothers. I thought they'd be taller.

That's a vile slur against the Dwarfs. You take that back!



Also, am I the only one thinking a mashup of LOTR and the Wire, perhaps called The Shire, featuring only somewhat corrupt constables from Bree on the trail of an illegal pipeweed cartel would be something to see?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:52 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


Hairy Lobster: As far as Tom Bombadil is concerned... I never had a problem with this figure. After reading the creation stories I always viewed him as maybe one of the valar and maiar that chose to enter Arda upon its creation...

For me he's sort of like Don Juan in Castaneda's books - he loves (Middle-) Earth so much that he really can't be anywhere else. Or he's some primeval embodiment of Nature, or both. I like the idea above that he's Tolkien.

The songs are pretty crappy though, although I mostly blame Donald Swan for that.
posted by sneebler at 11:59 AM on January 16


Although I do like the "Ring as multiplier" take in which the Ring amplifies his stature and courage.

My take on the Ring is that it really can't do much by itself; it magnifies and amplifies things from the user/bearer - but always with a filter of fear and domination, because that's what it was created for.

So how Sam appears is not just him and the light; and its not just the Ring; its the Ring amplifying things from Sam - his courage and unwillingness to leave Frodo - and making him appear in a way that is frightening for the orcs.
posted by nubs at 11:59 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Insofar as I've always understood it, Bombadil was placed in the story because Tolkien believed every story should contain an enigma. As such, perhaps there is not supposed to be a definitive answer as to who or what he is.
posted by walrus at 12:04 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


If you take the idea that the ring's real power in the hands of Sauron (and indeed, Sauron's real intrinsic power even without the ring) is that of corruption, manipulation and domination, his real downfall was operating out in the open, especially while rebuilding his power after his first defeat. A more subtle Sauron with an eye on the long game might have been successful.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:04 PM on January 16


Also, am I the only one thinking a mashup of LOTR and the Wire, perhaps called The Shire, featuring only somewhat corrupt constables from Bree on the trail of an illegal pipeweed cartel would be something to see?

Wormtongue: You are amoral, are you not? You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the pipeweed trade. You're stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our Shire. You are a parasite who leeches off--
Merry: Just like you, man.
Wormtongue: --the culture of pipe... Excuse me, what?
Merry: I got the barrowblade. You got the briefcase. It's all in the game, though, right?
posted by nubs at 12:06 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


i began reading this thread at work this morning, paused to Google "Tom Bombadil," and now it's four and a half hours later, i've just closed the last of about 30 open Tolkien wiki pages, and it's almost time to go home for the day.
posted by echocollate at 12:10 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


My favorite Lord of the Wire season is 3, with Hamster-dûm.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:11 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


And Maj. Balrog Colvin
posted by jason_steakums at 12:13 PM on January 16


I was thinking more of an action series, The Orcing Dead.
posted by delfin at 12:13 PM on January 16


Gandalf has social stature with some of the people of Middle Earth, but so does Sauron. He had no shortage of allies and supporters from afar, we just don't see much of them until the battles start.

I'm well aware that Sauron has plenty of allies...

However, I think the consequences of a Ring-bearing Gandalf (RBG) corrupting/manipulating his friends and allies would be more serious and certainly more disturbing in a conceptual sense; imagine RBG corrupting Aragorn or other rangers, or corrupting any of the more ME peoples we consider to be peaceful or wholesome. The ramifications of that are much more tragic IMO than what we see when Sauron manipulates his allies.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:13 PM on January 16


In conclusion, Middle-Earth is a land of contrasts.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:15 PM on January 16 [15 favorites]


Sam's rescue of Frodo in Cirith Ungol, and whether the Ring is creating any of the effects on its own, is an interesting question. In the end, I don't think it's an intentional action of the Ring per se. Because other times, when the Ring does things (e.g. slips off Isildur's finger so his escape will be foiled), the story tells us that it is trying to get back to its Master. And it would seem to me that the best way for it to get back to Sauron at this point is for Sam to lose to Snaga or somebody. Why would the Ring would want to help Sam come across as bigger/shinier/pointier?

But there does seem something to the idea that Sam's intention is having an effect--and even if he's not wearing the Ring, he is at first gripping it in his fist in this sort of halfway gesture, and that's when he looks the most directly big/ominous to Snaga. Later, when it's specifically mentioned Sam's not holding the Ring in his hand, it's said to be the "hidden power" and the "cowing menace" of the Ring just hanging there, plus the elven-starlight of Sting, that frightens Shagrat, not any appearance of Sam as big/elven/whatever.

Sam's other heroics on that rescue, on the other hand, are pure Sam. He sings, clinging to hope, which draws Snaga up to the top of the tower and shows Sam where Frodo is kept. And then Snaga strikes Frodo, which rouses Sam to pure protective fury and he charges right at him like any warrior in a tale and cuts his hand off (granted, he then kills Snaga more by awkward grappling and Snaga falling through the trap door, but that sounds like an actual authentic hand-to-hand struggle in a real battle, rather than clang-clang-fencing movie heroics).
posted by theatro at 12:16 PM on January 16


BILBO: Where did you learn about this pipe-weed? Where?

FRODO: I LEARNED SMOKING IT FROM YOU, DAD! FROM YOU!

BILBO: Well, of course I taught you to smoke. But how did you find my private stash?
posted by delfin at 12:17 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


The ramifications of that are much more tragic IMO than what we see when Sauron manipulates his allies.

I would argue that is only because of the fact that we get to know Gandalf's allies, and not those of Sauron.

"The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from. And if he was really evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home. If he would not rather have stayed there ... in peace. War will make corpses of us all." (Faramir in the movies, I think Sam in the books?)
posted by nubs at 12:19 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


nubs: "I think Saruman's contempt expressed for Radagast is that Radagast is enraptured by things Saruman considers useless. Gandalf at least is interested in people; but where Saruman's concern is about control and domination of civilization, Gandalf is more about encouraging the peoples of Middle Earth to stand together, build together and resist evil that way."

I imagine Saruman's disdain (which isn't in the books, anyway) to be analogous of Sauron's view of hobbits: too unimportant to even bother dignifying with attention.

nubs: " In the end Gandalf is the only one of the Maiar sent who remains true to the mission given by the Valar."

But we don't know this - all we can be sure of is that Saruman failed to stay true. Did Radegast's million small efforts pay off, perhaps by way of the eagles? And what of "the East" that the blue wizards went to? It's a bit like the Genesis blurb, "There were giants in the earth in those days" -whuh-huh? Really? That's ALL you're gonna say about that? Gotta be an interesting story there you're not telling.

Feels in some way like Tolkien left himself an exit strategy, in case his interests turned to orientalism. Just why did he even bother creating those two?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:21 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Like Bombadil, Radagast and the Blue Wizards make the world seem bigger than it is on the page.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:24 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


Ooh and the mystery of the Entwives. He really threw a lot of stuff like that in as part of his world building, and it's effective.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:25 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


valkyryn, I'd love to hear your comments on Bombadil as an entity and, possibly, anomaly in the LoTR/Tolkin-verse.

My take on Bombadil is that he's something along the lines of the Spirit of the Wilds, at least in Eriador and possibly of Middle Earth itself. He talks as if he had been around for quite a while when the Elves first awoke on the shores of Cuiviénen. He might be far older. Possibly as old as Arda itself. As Gandalf says, his domain used to be significantly wider, as what is called the "Old Forest" at the end of the Third Age used to stretch from the gates of Moria all the way to Ered Luin, and from the Isen to above the Downs. As "civilization" extended its reach and more and more of the lands were domesticated, he retreated. But possibly only in terms of attention and presence. Not power.

I don't get the sense that he's one of the Ainur. He's sui generis. As Goldberry (seemingly the Spirit of the River Withywindle) says, "Who is Tom Bombadil? He is." I'd argue that he is, in a sense, the incarnation of the wilderness parts of the world. Tolkien occasionally portrays natural forces, particularly bodies of water but also the occasional mountain like Caradhras, as having some kind of indwelling spirit of their own. Bombadil seemingly the one who keeps these spirits in line, as we see him interacting with the Willow and possibly married to a "river daughter". But those wild, natural spirits seem to largely go dormant when people arrive. All of the natural spirits we come across in Tolkien's writings are to be found in places where there isn't really anyone around. So Caradhras is still kind of active, but the Brandywine lacks that kind of overt personality. Or something like that. There's really not a lot in the canon to go on. Kind of speculation on my part here, but I think it's consistent with what little is there.

Any way you read it, he's not really all that interested in the doings of sentient beings. Even the Ents were perhaps a little too. . . organized for his tastes. I think what I've described above would tend to explain some of that, but again, the canon leaves him largely a mystery and really doesn't explain why some geographical features seem to be possessed of animating spirits and others don't. But this would fit with Tolkien's larger thinking on industrialization, I think.

All of that being said. . . he's kind of an oddity in the legendarium. Really a one-off. And with no obvious parallel in Christian theology, unlike so many other figures or concepts in Tolkien's works.
posted by valkyryn at 12:26 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


There's a lot of speculation as to what Bombadil represents, including on the part of Tolkien. He eventually just decided it was a welcome mystery for the reader, an important element to the story that denotes concerns and information beyond the fight over the ring.

Most speculation about his identity is that he's a retired Maiar, Valar, or is Illuvatar (the chief god); or an elemental piece of creation that's either emergent from the land or was present from creation or just before it.

Whatever the case, the theory is that right now he is the land. That is why he has a lack of desires (and a corresponding lack of vulnerability to the ring), it's why he's married to the daughter of a river, and why he has such great power that he uses for little purpose.

(also, concerning this link. The area of land being discussed is not evil because of Tom Bombadil, it is evil because the Witch-King sent his servants there after Angmar defeated Rhudaur to prevent the kingdom of Rhudaur from being resuscitated by the country of Cardolan.)
posted by tychotesla at 12:27 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Bombadil is the Green-Man-in-church of Tolkien's world.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:35 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


I always thought Tom Bombadil was a Green Man. That, and his name always seemed really jarring and out of place in middle earth, which is thing that bothered me most about him.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:36 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


It's hard for me to imagine Charlie Kelly getting a woman of Goldberry's caliber.
posted by delfin at 12:38 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Wow, I love this thread so much. So much that it's becoming...precious to me. Yes, yes.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:38 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I forget - is the ring's invisibility power something that just anyone can do without training?

It's been said upthread that Tolkien's magic is interesting to read about partly because it is mysterious. The rings are in keeping with that. Tolkien hints at how powerful the rings of power are by telling us that they make their bearers more mysterious.

Apparently one of the canonical powers of the three elven rings is that if you put them on the ring can become invisible, except to someone with the one ring. Gandalf's ring Narya makes him invisible to remote sensing, hard for Sauron to monitor remotely. The elven rings allow their bearer to operate secretly and, by concealing themselves, allow their user to hide just how powerful he/she has become.

The one ring's effects are even more extreme. It conceals its true nature even when it is not being worn. Even Gandalf fails to identify it for decades. Someone actually wearing the ring may very well not realize what it is (Bilbo, Gollum) or how dangerous it is (Isildur). Just carrying it around seems to make the motives of ringbearers hard to detect - see Gandalf's perplexity about what Bilbo is hiding from the moment he discovers the ring. Concealment and insidiousness are the powers it displays when its engine is idling. It would probably require conscious effort not to be invisible while wearing it.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:42 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


It's hard for me to imagine Charlie Kelly getting a woman of Goldberry's caliber.

I kind of want to make an Always Sunny Green Man carving that can be tucked away half-hidden into the stonework of a Philadelphia cathedral, just to make a really esoteric dumb joke for art history students.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:42 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I thought the invisibility was automatic. You don't will it, it just happens any time the ring is on.

Only we know that's not the case, because Sauron was wearing it when he fought Gil-galad and Elendil, and there's no indication that they had any trouble seeing him.*

Inconsistent, you say? I think possibly not. Again, what the Ring really seems to be doing is making one more real on the "other side" than this one, shifting one's being into the Unseen world. Remember, when Frodo put on the Ring at Weathertop, the Nazgul could see him better than before. Invisibility to mundane observers could be a mere side-effect of phenomenon. But for a being with significant power on both sides of that divide, this effect seems to be something they can overcome. Sauron certainly could. Or it could simply be that if one is "real" enough in both Seen and Unseen worlds, the Ring doesn't need to mess with you that way to work.

*There's also Bombadil, but I think that's different. Bombadil might have been the wrong kind of being for the Ring to even be relevant.
posted by valkyryn at 12:43 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


If you take the idea that the ring's real power in the hands of Sauron (and indeed, Sauron's real intrinsic power even without the ring) is that of corruption, manipulation and domination, his real downfall was operating out in the open, especially while rebuilding his power after his first defeat. A more subtle Sauron with an eye on the long game might have been successful.

I don't think he did too badly. He squeaked away from Morgoth just in time. He conned the Elves into creating rings that allowed him to dominate nine human kingdoms and undermine the seven Dwarf kingdoms. He saw the Men of the West coming to his doorstep, surrendered, offered himself as a war slave, then convinced them to go to war against the Valar. He would have broken the siege of the Last Alliance and the Last Alliance itself, were it not for a lucky strike by Isildur. In the Third Age, he secretly destroyed Arnor, drove Aragorn's line into hiding, built his armies in Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains, and likely was responsible for two massacres of Dwarves at Moria. In the War of the Ring, he came close to sacking Minas Tirith, drew Aragorn into a tactical trap, and had Erebor, Dale, Mirkwood, and Lothlorien under siege by pure force of numbers without the Ring.

About the only problems in the War of the Ring that Sauron couldn't handle were two very good Hobbits, a Gollum, the power of the Ring itself, and a mischievous narrative use of a self-fulfilling oath. (Arguably an ironic power of the Ring, although Gandalf hints at larger powers at work.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:47 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


theatro: "That's definitely why I'd compare it to 24/7 bleeds/leads war news: it shows him all the horrible truths, the truths that feed in to his growing sense of despair and resentment at being seemingly-alone on the front lines. And that sort of pervasive depression is obstinate--anyone who says to Denethor, 'there are good things happening too' can easily be dismissed with a 'bullshit, look at all of these real (bad) things, here, here, here, here, and here.'"

The One Ring: the original concern-trolling poster.

On a related note: Gandalf is known as "Storm Crow", for all the bad news he sees (and is constantly reading up on and checking up on). Yet, through all of this he clearly and fundamentally believes in the power of small, good acts to overcome great evil and power: he's a dyed-in-the-wool optimist.

In some ways, he's the unRing.

Chrysostom: "Worth noting that details on the blue wizards are pretty much only found in Unfinished Tales, so must be regarded as of dubious canonicity."

Nonsense. In my dungeon they run an inn called "The Two Blue Wizzes". So that's canon. (And so much for my opinion of Tolkien Junior's writing)
posted by IAmBroom at 12:47 PM on January 16


give it to the balrog
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:50 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Again, what the Ring really seems to be doing is making one more real on the "other side" than this one, shifting one's being into the Unseen world. Remember, when Frodo put on the Ring at Weathertop, the Nazgul could see him better than before. Invisibility to mundane observers could be a mere side-effect of phenomenon.

I like that. The invisibility is the Middle Earth version of the Prey anti-theft app.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:50 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I think the consequences of a Ring-bearing Gandalf (RBG) corrupting/manipulating his friends and allies would be more serious and certainly more disturbing in a conceptual sense

Gandalf and Sauron are both Maiar. The primary difference between them is their modus operandi. Gandalf is a Sauron who gathers allies by inspiring them, and Sauron is a Gandalf who gathers allies by appealing to the worst in them.

Gandalf with the one ring would be to the men of the south exactly what Sauron is to the men of Gondor.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:52 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I think the difference between wielding the ring and merely wearing it goes a long way to explaining why Sauron can wear it without becoming invisible to mortal eyes. Moreover, Sauron is always a special case when it comes to the one ring.
posted by prefpara at 12:52 PM on January 16


On a related note: Gandalf is known as "Storm Crow", for all the bad news he sees (and is constantly reading up on and checking up on). Yet, through all of this he clearly and fundamentally believes in the power of small, good acts to overcome great evil and power: he's a dyed-in-the-wool optimist.

That's one of my favorite aspects of Gandalf - he could really give a crap about the noble deeds of heroes, for him it's the meek going above and beyond that's really important. So much that he took a huge gamble on Bilbo. And I suppose, big damn heroes don't really need to sacrifice as much to be slightly bigger damn heroes as little hobbits who just want a leisurely life do, and maybe paying that price is part of the subtle magic that makes it all work.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:55 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "Gandalf with the one ring would be to the men of the south exactly what Sauron is to the men of Gondor."

BSABSVSauron?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:58 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I don't get the sense that he's one of the Ainur.

Bombadil might have been the wrong kind of being for the Ring to even be relevant.

Agree and agree. Thanks for the breakdown, a fair one at that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:02 PM on January 16


My read on the selection of Bilbo to round out the party is that Gandalf realized that a company of stiff-necked, uncompromising, proud, and grudge-holding Dwarves needed at least one person who didn't give a shit about their treasure, legacy, or multigenerational grudges.

In the novel, Thorin is wonderfully, beautifully, ridiculously, superhumanly proud in a way that likely wouldn't work for a more human character.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:09 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Thorin is likely another example of a virtue taken so far that it becomes a vice.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:13 PM on January 16


but is Sauron ever actually "visible" in the bodily sense or not? In every reference I've read or seen in either the books or the movies (which I've read and seen numerous times apiece), Sauron is always either not described very fully, described as "too terrible to look upon" or described as completely armored and cloaked, or last and most famously, described simply as an all-seeing, fiery disembodied Eye - he is a ruined spirit wholly given over to the world of the damned; an avatar for Satan in all his fallen angel glory.

worth noting that the "half-step into the Unseen / wraithworld" effect for mortals wearing the Ring is both described by Gandalf to Frodo (hence why he cautions Frodo not to use it; IIRC this occurs fairly early on in FOTR), and was picked up on by the screenwriters from the footnotes and from other highly read Tolkien scholars; among them Christopher Lee who was one of their primary sources of Tolkien references outside of things like the Appendices and the Silmarillion.

The screenwriters go one step further in tying the entymology of the word "wraith" (an Old English word meaning "twisted or deformed"), from which also stems the words "riven" and "rent", as in "torn in two", to their concept of the "wraithworld" as a "twisted, broken world" of ghosts and damned spirits. This maybe a reach on their part, however it is actually fairly well supported in Tolkien's descriptions and by allusions from the various characters.

In the books it is abundantly clear that no one can clearly see either mortals wearing the Ring, or the Nazgul (Black Speech for "Ringwraith"). The only time their forms are clearly visible is to Frodo whilst wearing the Ring - which conversely brings him far enough into their world that they can clearly see / sense him. Note that there are multiple references early on to how the "Black Riders" cannot see well, particularly in daylight, thus they use other senses (scent, the senses of their mounts, etc...) to "locate" their targets.

And as far as Frodo seeing a distorted vision of Glorfindel - Gandalf himself explicitly states in the Healing House in Rivendell (after Frodo is healed) that the combination of the wound from the Morgul blade AND the fact that he slipped the Ring on whilst lying there meant he had gone most of the way over into the wraith world. That plus if you don't like theological interpretations, well, I can state from experience your mind does some seriously freaky shit in fever dreams.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:16 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I'm reading The Hobbit right now after a loooong time since my last read, and I spent an inordinate amount of time this time around wondering in the back of my mind about the state of Bilbo's house when he returns, with all the non-shelf-stable food and lack of refrigeration. And he left without putting his cooking fires out!
posted by jason_steakums at 1:16 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Don't fret jason, the dwarves thoroughly depleted his stores.
posted by prefpara at 1:20 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


jason wasn't it implied that the Gaffer was Bilbo's groundskeeper / gardener, and would have likely done something about the house? Both Sam and the Gaffer were mentioned to have had keys, for starters.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:23 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


lonefrontranger, a reader can interpret sauran as satan's avatar, but tolkien clearly didn't. Sauran was just a lacky for morgoth, who was much bigger and badder.
posted by rebent at 1:24 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


but is Sauron ever actually "visible" in the bodily sense or not?

Actually. . . yes. He had a body. Or, at least, he could assume one. He was a Maiar like Gandalf, a species of Ainur. All of the Ainur are able to take on corporeal form. Sauron lost the ability to assume a pleasing form when Numenor was destroyed, but there is no indication that he lost the ability to assume a corporeal form as such until after the Ring was destroyed.

In that sense, Jackson's interpretation of the Eye of Sauron does a disservice to the novels. Sauron may have created the Eye above Barad Dur, but he was not the Eye. It was his symbol, not himself.

Of course, he is never mentioned by name in The Hobbit, and we never actually "meet" him in person in The Lord of the Rings, so Tolkien never really put forth a concrete description. Nor does he anywhere else, for that matter. But from the writings in the appendices and especially The Silmarillion, it's pretty clear that Sauron took on a physical form at least a fair amount of the time until the Ring was destroyed.
posted by valkyryn at 1:24 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Sauron had physical bodies up until the end of the Second Age, when the Last Alliance defeated him and Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron's hand. He abandoned his physical body at that point, but may not have been incapable of forming a new one once his power regenerated.

In earlier ages, he could assume monstrous forms (as he did to fight Huan the great hound) or take on humanoid forms as needed.
posted by delfin at 1:28 PM on January 16


I'm merely reading Sauron = Satan as both were "fallen angels" and I am a (recovering) Roman Catholic and Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

valkyryn, I am not admittedly very well versed in the Silmarillion but does Sauron ever take bodily form after the Ring was cut from his hand by Isildur? I mean in the Hobbit there's some vague references to "The Necromancer" in Mirkwood, who ultimately turns out to be Sauron, but I don't recall any references to his form taking shape after the Siege of Barad-dur.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:30 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


a company of stiff-necked, uncompromising, proud, and grudge-holding Dwarves

Another aspect popping out to me during this latest re-read is how particularly awesome Gimli is, in this regard. Like, you might not notice it if you weren't paying attention (or if you just knew Gimli from the films), but he shows a change in temperament/pride. At first he's pretty much as stiff-necked as any of his kindred, pulling his axe at inopportune moments, almost getting them stompled to death by the Rohirrim, pissing off the guard elves in Lorien.

But as the growing friendship between him and Legolas shows, he does unbend. There's a wonderful demonstration of it, I think, in the surprisingly detailed depiction of Gimli's experience passing through the Paths of the Dead. I had forgotten how much we get of his POV and inner life there.

He's too afraid to enter until he pricks his own pride (the line about how an Elf dares to go underground where a Dwarf dare not). But then he's completely traumatized--he's last in line, panicked by the sounds, his vision gone black. Eventually he is reduced to crawling on the ground like a beast.

And this would all stay private in his POV, if he were still as stiff-necked and proud as his kin, and as he himself was at the beginning of the book. But instead, we see him talking to Legolas, Merry, and Pippin about it--he does say he doesn't want to tell the story, but then he goes on to say why he doesn't want to talk about it: "For upon that road I was put to shame: Gimli Gloin's son, who had deemed himself more tough than Men, and hardier under earth than any Elf. But neither did I prove; and I was held to the road only by the will of Aragorn." He mentions his distress in a few different ways, and his friends are kind to him about it. And I mean, admitting his vulnerability and fear and loss of self-image in that scene is, like, the anti-Thorin.
posted by theatro at 1:31 PM on January 16 [19 favorites]


Well it's also sort of a glorification of Aragorn who gets things done simply by the sheer force of his will.
posted by GuyZero at 1:35 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


if you just knew Gimli from the films

In which case you do not know Gimli.

Gimli in the films is butt-of-all-jokes/comic relief to heartthrob/ninja Orlando Bloom, who also happens to sometimes resemble the character of elf with a bow Legolas.

Gimli in the books is actually a great character that develops and entertains.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:37 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


it's also sort of a glorification of Aragorn who gets things done simply by the sheer force of his will

That's how Gimli frames it--that he utterly failed and found his self-image was hollow, but only Aragorn's will kept him on the path. But I think Legolas is kind and even comforting in his response, which is "And by the love of him also," putting the ball back in Gimli's court as it were--it wasn't just that Gimli was an object acted upon by Aragorn's mighty will, but also that he loves Aragorn well enough to hang in there. Which, after all, Gimli did--despite his panic and trauma, he stuck to it and came out the other side.

But Gimli undervalues himself there, and Legolas gives him more credit than he gives himself. try that with Thorin!
posted by theatro at 1:41 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Perhaps Sauron did not _want_ a physical body after his previous defeat. Coming forth to battle his enemies in personal combat didn't end well for him, nor for his fallen master. It's not that Sauron did not recognize the value of a physical army -- he certainly commanded a vast one -- but that being physically slain once was enough for him.

What's the credo of every AD&D player when confronted by deities and archdemons and godlings and whatnot? "They got stats, right? Then we can kill 'em." Sauron may have decided that staying metaphysical and becoming impossible to stab was a better approach.

And he'd have gotten away with it and recovered his MacGuffin, too, if it weren't for those meddling kid-sized hobbits!
posted by delfin at 1:44 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


RolandOfEld: "Gimli in the books is actually a great character that develops and entertains."

Yes. It's the contest at Helm's Deep, but it's also so much more.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:45 PM on January 16


Gimli in the films is butt-of-all-jokes/comic relief

It's such a shame. Because book-Gimli does have some very funny lines, usually something wry/plainspoken/earthy to counteract someone else's flight of elaborate-high-grandeur. But not, like...being ridiculed.
posted by theatro at 1:46 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Seriously, and this is the end of my mini-Gimli rant, I think it's in The Two Towers, in the battle of Helm's Deep.

When all hope is fading.
When the enemies keep coming. Wave upon wave.
When friends are few and falling around them.
Gimli and Legolas are there.
Counting their work, kill for kill, tied for most of the duration.
And joking and bragging about it as they fight.

Compare that to the Gimli and Legolas from the movies, where you'd expect the score to be something like

Legolas: 4596 killed, 43 swooned from his awesome moves, and one witty pun.
Gimli: 3 tripped, one accidentally wounded, and a shot of him saying something offensive or dumb enough to be corrected in turn. Perhaps farting.

On preview: Chrysostom: great minds think alike.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:47 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


'The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Theoden son of Thengel,' said Gandalf.

Same with Gandalf - he kills the one liners when he wants to, but that's a small portion of who he is.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:52 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


The Tolkien estate-licensed Middle Earth Role Playing system sucks all the fun out of the topic

I also found it sucked all the fun out of roleplaying with a combat system that either left everyone dead or so severely injured that further travel was out of the question.




The Last Homely House has many tables.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:01 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


After reading the creation stories I always viewed [Bombadil] as maybe one of the valar and maiar that chose to enter Arda upon its creation and that had ultimately set up residence in Middle Earth and chosen to be visibly present and interact with it.

I'll bet that if he'd lived to publish the Silmarillion, Tolkien would have given it a framing device similar to that of Bilbo / Frodo writing There and Back Again. The Silmarillion would probably be a collection of the myths and history of the elves. And they don't know everything.

Bombadil's origin is one of those things they don't know.
posted by straight at 2:09 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


the entymology of the word "wraith" (an Old English word meaning "twisted or deformed"), from which also stems the words "riven" and "rent", as in "torn in two"

This doesn't appear to be correct. OED's first citation is 16th century and it says that the origin is obscure (entering English through Scottish writers).
posted by junco at 2:11 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Bombadil all grumpy and yelling at Valar during the Years of the Lamps. "Tra-la-turn out that light!"
posted by jason_steakums at 2:12 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


My favorite thing about Gimli is his idolization of Galadriel, and how that plays into the matter in the appendix of what happens to Gimli after the War of the Ring....
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Ah, apparently Tolkien thought it was related to "writhe", which is in OE. But that etymology seems pretty dubious.
posted by junco at 2:16 PM on January 16


the only great power that is left will be Bombadil.

See, I look at this and wonder, because the trees of Middle Earth have a reason to be angry. The trees are in danger. The Old Forest used to be the only forest, everything used to be forest. Tom Bombadil's trees may be the most honest of them, the ones that lash out because the world they occupy is changing in ways hostile to them. Tom is potentially helpful, but Tom is not safe, and Tom's concerns are not the same as those of men, or elves. When the other manifestations of power have gone, Tom Bombadil will remain in the world, and will probably remain relatively unknown, or known under other names, known in stories, involved only when he must be.

There's more of Aslan in Tom Bombadil than there is in Gandalf, I think. He is not, after all, a tame lion.

Generally, given Tolkien's priorities, I can't get behind the master of the Old Forest being an evil thing. To call the Old Forest evil is to say that anger in the face of injustice is the same thing as evil, and it's not.
posted by Sequence at 2:21 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


Isn't he the werewolf in the Silmarillion? (Giving a hint as to one physical form.)

Pure theory: It's tempting to interpret the ideas of Seen/Unseen to Aristotelian/Catholic ideas of accident(appearance)/essence. Frodo sees the Wraiths as terrifying because they've become creatures of essential terror and avarice. Similarly, he sees Glorfindel in terms of light because Glorfindel came from the West and carries that essential light with him. This might match well with the way that Galadriel appears to change, and how Sam, Frodo, and Gollum change under the influence of the ring. Then again, I might me just spinning because it's a tangent and Tolkien isn't entirely consistent.

I do think that the Eye is a manifestation of what Sauron has become, a presence with vision but not understanding of where to look, who hides in an unassailable fortress and acts through dominated thralls and armies. Gandalf implies that having created and lost the ring, Sauron can't take a different form.

straight: I think the Silmarillion does have framing device as Bilbo's notes from Rivendell. But I think it's an important point that Tolkien goes to great lengths to frame his stories as mythic narratives written in Middle Earth rather than objectively about it. It's a big reason why the myth of Tolkien as the worldbuilder gives me fits.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:21 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Fun fact (at least to me):

The actor that played Radagast, Sylvester McCoy, played The Fool in King Lear, to Ian McKellan's Lear in the 2008 production for British television. Of course it ends slightly more badly for their characters in Lear.
posted by Danf at 2:21 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


junco, I'm not a linguist, and yes you are correct, the word is not well sourced unless you dig deep into its Celtic / Norman roots - my dad, however, is extremely well versed in a couple of very obscure old European languages (as Tolkien would have been), as my dad was a fairly extreme Gothic / Norse / Celtic mythology nerd in his younger life, and he interprets it as a word tied to the old Gothic term wraiqs, which is further related to the words "wrath / wroth", which have literal interpretations of “twisted by rage”. The Old English form of "wrath" was wráð, derived from Primitive Germanic wraithaz, which looks familiar enough.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:27 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


The actor that played Radagast, Sylvester McCoy...

...was also the Seventh Doctor. I didn't recognize him under that thick layer of ill-advised makeup.

That makes film Radagast rather menacing for me. As the Doctor, McCoy played the clown primarily to hide the fact that he was a ruthless manipulator.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:36 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


lonefrontranger: Cool! That does sound plausible. Lehmann's Gothic Etymological Dictionary gives a Swabian (?) cognate meaning "annoying person". I wonder if Tolkien addressed this at length anywhere. Weird that it only shows up in English through Scots, though, and so late.
posted by junco at 2:39 PM on January 16


I just always kind of assumed that Bombadil was something along the lines of Robertson Davies' Fifth Business trope - a character aside from the main archetypes, a necessary mystery.

"Those roles which, being neither those of hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were none the less essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement were called the Fifth Business in drama and Opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business"
posted by Chitownfats at 2:41 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I've always thought than a Ring-bearing Gandalf would have been worse (more powerful, more terrible, etc.) than a Ring-bearing Sauron because as Maiar they have roughly similar levels of magical power

I was recently geeking out on this and read somewhere the Maiar aren't a class of similarly-powerful beings, there are great differences between their levels of "power." Sauron is apparently one of the most powerful, and Gandalf is much weaker.

Also, this is a wonderful discussion.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:46 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Wow, I love this thread so much. So much that it's becoming...precious to me. Yes, yes.

I am just glad that this thread can't be dragged off under a mountain for a couple of centuries while we wait for another hobbit to bring us back out again so we can return to the hand of our Dread Master.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:55 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


That makes film Radagast rather menacing for me. As the Doctor, McCoy played the clown primarily to hide the fact that he was a ruthless manipulator.

I rather enjoyed that. It was like a little subliminal reminder that, although Radagast seems silly and kinda useless, he's still one of the Istari and thus shouldn't be discounted.

(Seven was always my favorite Doctor, though, so YMMV.)
posted by darchildre at 2:56 PM on January 16


junco that's a good find, but tbh Swabian (southern German aka Schwaebich, aka Bavarian/Swiss German), and Old Frisian, (the basis for Plattdeutch aka Dutch and/or Flemish) are imo distinct enough in both origin and geography to be 2 completely distinct (albeit related) languages; it's notable that in your cite there that the OF is notably wrak with a long a sound, meaning "crooked", or as we say now "raked", with one definition being "not straight", where "wrek" (we would pronounce that as "wreak/reek") is your annoying person, who "wreaks havoc" maybe, or else "reeks" as in being annoyingly odoriferous.

not to mention OF would be more tightly bound to the tongues spoken by peoples who, by virtue of geography would have trade / travel in regions of Europe such that words from their traditions would be likely carried across the Channel and assimilated into the culture.

here concludes my derail down the forest paths of the ancient Germanic tribal duchies, mainly because I have actual work to finish today...
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:06 PM on January 16


Alll this makes me wonder if the answer to:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

wasn't "MetaFilter" all along.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:09 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


I love witnessing the intersection of multiple forms of nerdery.
posted by prefpara at 3:11 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Sauron has taken a corporeal form since losing the ring. Gollum mentions that he is still missing a finger.
posted by Eddie Mars at 3:35 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


With all this talk about Gandalf and Saruman I would like to share a dream I had several years ago that I call 'The Great Wizard Race.'

In it, Gandalf and Saruman were up against each other in the most epic footrace in Middle Earth - the track being the outer walls of Isengard. Everybody is there cheering on their respective master/friend - Sam, Frodo, Aragorn, etc yelling for Gandalf while various orcs, foul creatures, and dark beings are pumping up Saruman. Things are tense, right?

So the race starts and they go off at full tilt, running like sprinters but in their full wizard garb and their staffs. This seems to be pretty much what you would expect but once they get out of range from the crowd it starts to get nasty.

It turns out Gandalf is a motherfucking cheater - tripping up Saruman with his staff, throwing dirt in his eyes when Saruman returns the favor, and overall just being a right bastard so he can win this race.

And when he does. Of course, because Gandalf. But when he realizes he's won he starts trash talking like crazy.

Saruman walks away with a hangdog look to be comforted by his adoring minions.

So yeah, uh, obviously we don't want to be giving Gandalf the ring. Say 'goodbye' to parity in footraces, friends.
posted by Tevin at 3:38 PM on January 16 [10 favorites]


This week, Hanna-Barbera brings us a very special episode of Wacky Races.
posted by JHarris at 3:43 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Okay so there are 108 new comments by the time I've gotten to the end of this, and I just want to say:

Thank you for making one of the best threads on MeFi ever. This is just wallowing in unapologetic nerdery and passion and it is beautiful.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:48 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Oh also I want to call out the shit out of valkyryn because fuck. Amazing.

I wonder what Tolkienry will look like in a hundred years.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:51 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I predict it'll involve a lot more mentions of pokemon.
posted by JHarris at 3:58 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


'Radagast' would be a pretty solid pokémon name, now that you mention it.
posted by rifflesby at 4:01 PM on January 16


Rifflesby, I imagine a wild radagast would be a ghost type with plumage in the shape of a tattered leather jacket, a mohawk, and some wicked shades.
posted by Tevin at 4:04 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Radagast is an alternate form of Bidoof
posted by jason_steakums at 4:06 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


For a few years now I've thought of The One Ring as Tolkien's metaphor for firearms. (Which goes right back to his life in the trenches in WWI),

They don't themselves intrinsically make you evil (Gollum, e.g., was broken, not evil), but they both make it a lot easier to be evil, seductively.

Also valkyryn, why the everloving fuck are you a lawyer and not an eminent Tolkien scholar? I've been reading Tolkien repeatedly for (oh my god) just over 25 years now, and have never even come close to approaching the insight you have. Not saying that lawyering is bad or not the right thing for you but wow. Just wow. I am this >< close to making a MeTa calling you out for being awesome about all things Tolkien.

Thank you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:20 PM on January 16


Suddenly, a wild Radagast appears!
posted by orrnyereg at 4:23 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


This essay on fantasy by Adam Gopnik (aka a mini-review of Eragon using Twilight and the LOTR) is something that I refer to every once in a while. It's pretty weak on facts, but it has some very interesting ideas in it.

I deliberately and regretfully stopped playing scrabble because I realized the next step in my journey was to start memorizing word lists. I loved learning Kanji because memorizing the at first esoteric shapes revealed systemic relationships fraught with significance but ultimately unpredictable. And while I don't consider myself a big Tolkien buff or fan (I simply respect his works), I've begun to learn more and more about the history simply because it's there and has deliberate meaning and that's enough of a world to sink into.

YOLO
posted by tychotesla at 4:23 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I forget - is the ring's invisibility power something that just anyone can do without training?

I've been told in the most certain terms that I don't disappear when I put it on. You either need training or I'm Tom Bombadil.

No, I'm not really that dumb, but you're forgiven for thinking so.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:26 PM on January 16


am i the only person who expected that link to be to a cockring?

okay then

door's thataway, right?

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:30 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Gandalf states pretty early on in LOTR (possibly in The Shadow of The Past in FOTR) that his use of The Ring to defeat Sauron would solve The Problem of Sauron but create The Problem of Gandalf.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:31 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


How do you solve a problem like Gandalf?
How do you catch a wizard and pin it down?
posted by jason_steakums at 4:33 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


He's a will o'the wisp...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:35 PM on January 16


(also mr steakums that would have to be How do you solve a problem like a Gandalf for it to scan)

(yes I love The Sound of Music and no I will not apologize)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:36 PM on January 16


am i the only person who expected that link to be to a cockring?

It would have been a safer place for Sauron to wear it, now that I think of it....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:38 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


(also mr steakums that would have to be How do you solve a problem like a Gandalf for it to scan)

Or m'Gandalf, if you want to put a soupy twist on it.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:38 PM on January 16


How do you solve a problem like a Gandalf

"How do you solve a problem like old Gandalf," surely?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:39 PM on January 16


How do you solve a problem like a Gandalf for it to scan

Dude's got other names.

How do you solve a problem like Olórin?
How do you catch a crow and pin it down?
How do you solve a word that means Olórin?
A Mithrandir! An Istari! A Clown!

I love The Sound of Music and no I will not apologize

That's like saying you love hugs, beer and chocolate no matter what the haters say.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:48 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Regarding the Entwives: in the first third of FOTR, Sam is in the Green Dragon and someone mentions (can't remember who) that his cousin had seen something as big as a tree walking at night. I wonder whether that could be one of the Entwives?
posted by orrnyereg at 4:48 PM on January 16


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: if I weren't already spoken for (which was kind of a surprise to me tbh), I could possibly fall in love with you for that comment.

orrnyereg: I doubt it. Treebeard says they lost the Entwives a long time ago. To an Ent, a thousand years is a blink.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:55 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


am i the only person who expected that link to be to a cockring?

It would have been a safer place for Sauron to wear it, now that I think of it....


Has Lord of the Cockrings - a porn parody already been made or could some enterprising soul still have a shot?
posted by nubs at 5:08 PM on January 16


could some enterprising soul still have a shot?

$20, SAIT.

And I am willing to bet that movie has already been made.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:09 PM on January 16


$20 SAIM (same as in Mordor) perhaps?
posted by nubs at 5:11 PM on January 16


I dunno, I figure it's cheaper in Mordor than in Minas Tirith.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:12 PM on January 16


Nah, I'm pretty sure Aragorn would look to standardize prices in order to stabilize the post war economy.
posted by nubs at 5:15 PM on January 16


Well, it depends on who's making them. There's something to be said for elvish craftsmanship, but when it comes to raw firepower nobody beats the dwarves. (WARNING: NWS and NWS)
posted by delfin at 5:22 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I love witnessing the intersection of multiple forms of nerdery.

Let's see, so far we've had

Metafilter lore
Musical theatre
Pokemon
Hanna-Barbara cartoons
Doctor Who
Swabian Etymology
Dungeon mastery
Heaps and heaps of Silmarilioning.
...and more.

All shall geek out and despair.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:23 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


And I am willing to bet that movie has already been made.

Indeed.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:26 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Nah, I'm pretty sure Aragorn would look to standardize prices in order to stabilize the post war economy.

I'm pretty sure Aragorn wouldn't have to pay for anything ever. He's (movie) not even my type at all and I would go to bed with Viggo-as-Aragorn in a red hot New York minute.

All shall geek out and despair.

My boyfriend doesn't even know he's jealous of you yet but if you keep this up...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:26 PM on January 16


does Sauron ever take bodily form after the Ring was cut from his hand by Isildur?

Well, I mean, Sauron doesn't actually have any lines in Lord of the Rings. He's entirely off-camera.

But let me ask you this: what would an incorporeal being want with a ring anyway?

Really though, Gollum does specifically say that Sauron is still missing a finger.
posted by valkyryn at 5:45 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


> "It would have been a safer place for Sauron to wear it, now that I think of it...."

SAURON: I cannot be vanquished! For now no one shall ever separate the Ring from its -

*Isildur cuts it off*

SAURON: ... I have made a terrible mistake.
posted by kyrademon at 5:58 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


okay so that exchange is making me think Very Inappropriate Thoughts,
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:14 PM on January 16


I could have sworn that Gimli also made a reference to Sauron's physical nine-fingered form as well but damned if I am going to swim through all that text tonight to find it. Oh why isn't Stephen Colbert a MeFi?
posted by Ber at 6:17 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I may be late to this thread, but this never stopped Tolkien after all. If you are 200+ comments into a Tolkien thread and expect this comment won't consist of nerdery and channeling of 12-year-old ersatz, you are so deluded, you might as well decide to attack the Valar with a massive armada and hope to win while you're at it.

I find it interesting that Elrond hasn't really featured in this discussion apart from a throwaway mention with regard to the Three. If Elrond's dad is the Kwisatz Haderach of Middle Earth, Elrond himself could have been the God-Emperor. Let us see first why and then what it means that he's not.

In Tolkien morality is an essential factor for handling power. The Secret Fire is bestowed by Eru, the Creator, and it serves as a, mostly off-camera, parallel to the Holy Spirit. Characters may wield power but without a moral center, the power destroys the bearer (cf. Gandalf vs Saruman or Aragorn vs Isildur). Furthermore, power can be explained by the nature of a creature (elf, man etc.) and its genealogy. Eru created the Ainur who in turn created the world. The Ainur of greater power that entered the world were called the Valar e.g. Morgoth (Sauron's CEO), and the Ainur of lesser power were called the Maiar (Sauron, Gandalf, Saruman and the Balrog). Both are creations of Eru, so their power originally comes from him even though they are independent. In terms of raw power the elves were weaker than both and men were even weaker (but read on). Nevertheless, the elves that lived by the Valar and the men who had elven blood, had lived in Númenor or had contact with elves were considerably more powerful.

This is where genealogy comes into play. Elrond is the son of Eärendil, messenger to the Valar and saviour of the elves and men from Morgoth, who wielded power considerably greater than Sauron. By way of his father, Elrond is grandson of Tuor, outlaw and messenger of a Vala, and great-grandson of Fingolfin, High King of the elves who was valiant enough to engage Morgoth in hand-to-hand battle, injure and scare him enough so so that the latter never left his fortress after that day. Kindly remember that Morgoth was of such power that he commanded a number of Maiar including Sauron and a host of Balrogs.
Elrond is also the son of Elwing. She was the great-granddaughter of a Maia strong enough to shield an entire kingdom from Morgoth. She was the granddaughter of Luthien, who entered the fortress of Morgoth, which made Barad-dûr look like a castle made of sand, and made it out alive with the Silmarils, artifacts of greater power than the Ring. Lastly, she was the son of Dior who vanquished a dwarf-host and, fittingly, '[had revealed] himself as the most beautiful of all the children of the world, of threefold race: the Edain (Men), the Eldar (Elves) and the Maiar (Ainur) of the Blessed Realm'.
Elrond wields the mighiest of the Three elven rings, Vilya, he is the ruler of Rivendell, which serves as the seat of the White Council, and, most importantly, he has had the Ring in his grasp. This is a person who literally chose to be immortal, he is descended from a divine spirit and he doesn't even walk into Frodo's room to see how shiny the ring is, let alone use it.

Is there any doubt that Elrond could have used the Ring successfully? He has not only the power, but a genealogy that carries the intertwined weight of destiny and morality, just like the Silmarils carried the light of the two Trees of Valinor. He could claim the Ring and make use of it. Yet Elrond is also the product of generations of sorrow; he uses the means at his command, but he won't succumb to hubris; he cooperates with other good people; he shelters the heirs of Isildur, who are also his distant relatives, and helps the plans of the Maia Gandalf, which in the end depend on Men (incl. hobbits) making their own, independent decisions. The last Age of the elves is about to end and Elrond recognises that his role is to preserve the past for a little while longer until Sauron is defeated and the elves depart Middle Earth once and for all.

This brings us back to the nature of power in Tolkien. Power and morality are intrinsically tied and power without morality is a perversion that cannot stand in the long run. LOTR depends on moral decisions: Frodo deciding not to kill Smeagol, the contributions of the hobbits, Faramir refusing power, the redemption of Theoden and the moral courage of Eowyn. The elves that were movers and shakers in the Silmarillion have taken a step back - even Elrond the Half-Human and Galadriel, 'the mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth' can only have a passive role. Gandalf offers guidance and encouragement, yet in the end the War is won by the decisions of mortals, who are the moral actors this time. Elrond cannot take the Ring without repeating the mistakes of his ancestors and, after the War, he duly leaves Middle Earth while Arwen stays behind for a short 122 years, a reminder of an era that's ended.
posted by ersatz at 6:24 PM on January 16 [38 favorites]


of course, everyone misses the real point of the book - that if barliman butterbur had possessed the ring, middle earth would have been covered with hipster bars that at first would have served fine craft beers, but as the corrupting influence of the ring took hold, would have changed to PBR, bud and 40s of colt 45 - and everyone would be smoking basics and swisher sweets instead of fine pipeweed
posted by pyramid termite at 6:26 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


ersatz, that was a thing of beauty. *clipped to Evernote*
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:31 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Oh why isn't Stephen Colbert a MeFi?

I would actually be surprised if he weren't.

NEW GOAL: Get MeFi mentioned on Colbert.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:32 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Ah! This thread was proper fourteen-twenty, it was!
posted by COBRA! at 6:55 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


The elves that were movers and shakers in the Silmarillion have taken a step back - even Elrond the Half-Human and Galadriel, 'the mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth' can only have a passive role.

I think that has a lot to do with the War of Wrath. Most of the Eldar who had ever been in Valinor returned with the Host after Morgoth was defeated. Indeed, Elrond was born in Middle Earth after the Darkening of Valinor and so never saw the Light of the Trees. Galadriel, who did, is almost six centuries his senior. If it were not for his rather unique and significant parentage, he would not even be in the same ballpark as Thranduil, let alone Galadriel, in terms of power and influence. So he's badass and all, and there's a reason that he's got Vilya instead of Galadriel, but they're not as different as they might seem.

And really, there are basically two reasons that there are Elves in Middle Earth. Either they never went to Valinor in the first place--like the Sindar--or they were of the Noldor that came back with Fëanor after he rebelled against the Valar.

Again, most of the Noldor returned to Valinor with the victorious Host after the War of Wrath, before the end of the First Age. Those few that remained behind did so either because they loved Middle Earth and still felt some allegiance there, or, like Galadriel, because they may not have been entirely welcome in Valinor.*

In a sense, the War of the Ring was the last mopping-up action of the tragic consequences of Fëanor's arrogance and Morgoth's deceit. If Fëanor did not rebel against the Valar, the Trees may never have been destroyed, or at least Yavanna would have been able to heal them. Even if Fëanor had only repented after the Darkening of Valinor, declining to pursue Morgoth on his own, one suspects that the First Age would have gone very differently. The Host of Valinor might have set out immediately, or shortly anyway, not giving Morgoth six hundred years to delve the pits of Angband and throw up Thrangorodrim. Meaning Sauron would probably not have been able to escape. Meaning no One Ring.

So there's an argument to be made that the only reason any High Elves remain in Middle Earth at all by the time the Third Age rolls around is that they feel some lingering responsibility for Sauron. The Sindar wouldn't, as none of this was their fault, but they were always basically bit players. The Siege of Angband was all about the Noldor, and the Last Alliance was primarily between the Numenorians under Elendil and the Noldor under Gil-Galad. But by the War of the Ring, there isn't really a kingdom of the Noldor anymore. There are maybe a few hundred living with Elrond at Imladris, and another few hundred living with Galadriel and Celeborn in Lorien. They cannot abandon Middle Earth to what is ultimately a power released by their own tragic actions, but neither can they be the primary means of defeating that power.

*Galadriel's role is ambiguous, and there's a section in Unfinished Tales devoted pretty much exclusively to her. The gist of it seems to be that while she never took the Oath with Fëanor or participated in the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, neither was she willing to submit herself to the Valar when they returned. She did not necessarily care about the Silmarills, but she was eager to find lands in Middle Earth to rule for herself. It was not until she refused possession of the Ring and aided in the defeat of Sauron that she was finally welcome home.
posted by valkyryn at 7:05 PM on January 16 [21 favorites]


orrnyereg: "Regarding the Entwives: in the first third of FOTR, Sam is in the Green Dragon and someone mentions (can't remember who) that his cousin had seen something as big as a tree walking at night. I wonder whether that could be one of the Entwives?"

Likely not. In-story, the Entwives seemingly disappeared in the War of the Last Alliance. This was some 3,000 years prior to the events of FOTR.

Out of story, Tolkien mused a good deal over their fate, but eventually concluded, "I think that in fact the Entwives have disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance...some may have fled east, or even have become enslaved..."
posted by Chrysostom at 7:19 PM on January 16




I haven't caught up with this whole thread yet, so apologies if this point has been raised already....

Did not Sauron launch his attack on Minas Tirith hastily and prematurely because he thought it all too likely that Aragorn had the ring, and it was consequently important to strike quickly before he could learn to fully wield it? In which case Sauron, who should know, believed that others could use the ring, and to great effect.

It's always possible that Gandalf's analysis of Sauron's behavior was wrong, but that doesn't seem to be how we're meant to read it.
posted by philipy at 7:37 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


lonefrontranger: "but is Sauron ever actually "visible" in the bodily sense or not? In every reference I've read or seen in either the books or the movies (which I've read and seen numerous times apiece), Sauron is always either not described very fully, described as "too terrible to look upon" or described as completely armored and cloaked, or last and most famously, described simply as an all-seeing, fiery disembodied Eye."

Frodo's clothing is rendered invisible, so why wouldn't Sauron's armor (unless by his will)?

The Eye of Sauron doesn't count, as it is his tenuous manifestation in the mortal world - only his eye (wherein resides the soul) can return at that point. His (previous) body had been destroyed.

In the books it is abundantly clear that no one can clearly see either mortals wearing the Ring, or the Nazgul (Black Speech for "Ringwraith"). The only time their forms are clearly visible is to Frodo whilst wearing the Ring...

When they ransack the shire looking for him, they have no problem interacting with the other hobbits - how can this be if they are invisible?
posted by IAmBroom at 7:44 PM on January 16


lonefrontranger: "the word is not well sourced unless you dig deep into its Celtic / Norman roots"

Your intimation that the OED authors did not dig deeply into its roots, and that your father knew more than they, is... unlikely.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:51 PM on January 16


I started reading this thread and nearly broke my brain on the nerdery...

::Backs away slowly...very...slowly... ::
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:01 PM on January 16




Your intimation that the OED authors did not dig deeply into its roots, and that your father knew more than they, is... unlikely.

Eh, the OED entry hasn't been updated since the first edition. The proposed OFris -> 'writhan' -> 'wraith' etymology is apparently endorsed by Tom Shippey.
posted by junco at 8:23 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Did not Sauron launch his attack on Minas Tirith hastily and prematurely because he thought it all too likely that Aragorn had the ring, and it was consequently important to strike quickly before he could learn to fully wield it? In which case Sauron, who should know, believed that others could use the ring, and to great effect.

Sauron set the pattern for Dark Lords who make bad decisions (though he's still far more conniving and clever than Voldemort). His greatest failing was that he could only comprehend that the Ring would be turned against him, never conceived that his enemies would destroy it. It is Tolkien's ultimate statement on power. Instead of using the ultimate weapon, the forces of good seek to destroy it.

My father-in-law never used a gun after WWII. I know that's the case for a lot of veterans. And I suspect that Tolkien had a similar sentiment. He may have made noise about having no use for symbols and allegory but the subtext here screams from the peaks of the Misty Mountains.
posted by Ber at 9:11 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I like valkyryn's analysis. LOTR is often described as an allegory for one or both of the World Wars. Just as the messy conclusion of WWI and a 'bad peace' made WW2 all but inevitable, the loose ends left after the War of the Last Alliance ensured that the events in LOTR would happen.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:40 PM on January 16


Thank you for making one of the best threads on MeFi ever.

I've been reading this thread and following the links on and off since before sleep last night. Including about 6 hours straight now, today. It is, indeed, one of the greatest Metafilter threads I've ever seen. And I'm not even that much of a Tolkien fan.

I do have a question, since we have so many esteemed experts here.

At one point, Gandalf describes Saruman as being "the head of his order". This suggests to me me that apart from the five, there are other orders of Wizards. Where are they? What are they doing? Disclaimer: I never made it through the Similariothingy.

One thing I disliked about the later Harry Potter books was how magic conveniently changed to suit the immediate needs of the characters.

Regarding Harry Potter - I have to regard it as a worthy and excellent series, despite the inconsistencies. However, in terms of complaints that at the start magic was something that required saying certain words correctly, while at the end people were just going ZAP ZAP ZAP with their wands - I think this can simply be put down to practice. When you start to learn a musicial instrument, you're just carefully reading and playing notes on the staff. Once you've been trained, once you're good, then you can just jam.

I do agree that the Time-Turner was some whack shit, though.
posted by Jimbob at 9:57 PM on January 16


Much like we must all choose which injustices to bear in the world, we all pick which deus ex machina we choose to accept.

Convenient eagles?

Loosey-goosey convenient magic?
posted by GuyZero at 10:17 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Convenient Eagles #bandnames
posted by Jimbob at 10:19 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


At one point, Gandalf describes Saruman as being "the head of his order". This suggests to me me that apart from the five, there are other orders of Wizards. Where are they? What are they doing? Disclaimer: I never made it through the Similariothingy.

I think "his order" just refers this specific order of Wizards On a Mission (#alsobandnames), as opposed to other orders of Maiar both incarnate in the physical world (Sauron, Durin's Bane) and not.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:27 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


The wizards are called the Istari, which would make an okay band name. Maybe a bit on the dreamy side.
posted by rewil at 11:50 PM on January 16


JHarris: “Yeah, if you want a Dark Pony Lord ruling the land with Hooves of Iron, that's a great plan....

Yeah, I pretty much have to link to this.
My Little Shadowfax
posted by ob1quixote at 1:03 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Frodo's clothing is rendered invisible, so why wouldn't Sauron's armor (unless by his will)?

The ring confers invisibility as an effect of sending the wearer into the wraith world. Sauron already inhabits that world and his corporeal form is a manifestation of his will. I'd imagine the ring would not affect it in that way unless he chose it to.

When they ransack the shire looking for him, they have no problem interacting with the other hobbits - how can this be if they are invisible?

Only the Nazgûl's black cloaks or armour are ever seen unless by the ringbearer. I'm not sure why these are not affected. Perhaps again a manifestation of their will? They need to display some kind of corporeal presence in order to interact.
posted by walrus at 1:11 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Alternatively perhaps the Nazgûl's cloaks and armour are specifically constructed so as not to be rendered invisible by their rings.
posted by walrus at 1:18 AM on January 17


Also the eye of Sauron is only interpreted by Jackson as a large, physically present ball of flame. In the text, Frodo and Sam only once glimpse it physically "as from some great window immeasurably high". When it's seen in the mirror of Galadriel, "the Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing."
posted by walrus at 1:32 AM on January 17


His (previous) body had been destroyed.

Actually. . . there's no indication that it had. He lost the ability to assume a pleasing physical guise with the destruction of Numenor, but the text strongly implies that he was still at least capable of corporeal form until the destruction of the Ring. See the discussion above.

I think Jackson's conflation of the Eye of Sauron with Sauron himself did a real disservice to the text.
posted by valkyryn at 4:19 AM on January 17


Sauron certainly had a physical form. Gollum says that the Black Hand had only four fingers, but that was enough.

Tolkien also wrote in a letter (#246): "Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic."

Invisibility was a power of the Ring. The Nazgûl had more control over their rings (even though, as Tolkien would have noted, the rings truly controlled them) and would have been able to choose whether or not to be invisible.
posted by graymouser at 4:31 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I think that whole "pleasing physical guise" is just enforcing social norms. Some people... you know... really like lidless eyes that tear into the very fabric of your soul.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:14 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


As cosmic.osmo mentioned, the assumption being made, that maiar=maiar! or even that the valar were all equal is, I think, a mistake. The differences in power amongst the valar is talked about at length in the Silmarilion. Talk as is referred to as being the most physically strong, though Manwe was in some other way the most powerful, though the case could be made for the strength of Ulmo being even greater.

I might be mistaken (I think this came up in another discussion here recently), but I believe the Balrogs were Maiar, and that they were, in essence, on par in terms of raw power, as the Istari. The power levels of the Maiar were pretty widely varied, and Gandalf, while powerful, was in no way Sauron's equal.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:50 AM on January 17


"I think Jackson's conflation of the Eye of Sauron with Sauron himself did a real disservice to the text."

Well to be fair, the text does some serious disservice to Jackson. The visual ambiguity that Tolkien uses in the books makes him terrifying and mysterious, but anything Jackson might have tried to do to replicate that in the movies would have only succeeded in making him confusing.

That ambiguity in the nature of Sauron that the books communicate so well is fundamentally impossible to portray in cinema for all the same reasons it is impossible to do Shakespeare any justice in film. In the books the Lidless Eye of Sauron can be abstract and terrifying in its mystery for lacking an especially corporeal form in our visual minds and still remain a coherent and distinctive part of the story, while in film you just cannot do that. In the books Sauron is both a darkly beautiful yet sickeningly decayed dude who does nefarious stuff from his fortress, a lidless eye that looks out from somewhere around the top of Barad-dûr watching everything like a medieval NSA, a vengeful shadow that leaps out from Barad-dûr at the end of the Battle of the Morannon towards the heroes only to be blown away by a gust of wind, and a metaphor for a spirit of rebellion against the natural order and everything wholesome or noble while he was also not really any of these things. Jackson had to show Sauron somehow in some kind of clear and visually singular form for Sauron to be a character in a way that Tolkien simply didn't because of the limitations of the mediums they worked in. The lidless eye of Sauron had to be shown at the upper levels of Barad-dûr somehow for it to register as living there, there is no way to do that in film that works except visually.

That said if Jackson were going to have Sauron as both an eye and a dude, he would have to show that dude, which would mean that the dude would have to not only be visually concrete in a way that could only be less exciting and more tacky than it sounds but also that dude would have to be doing something. The only character with a point of view who actually ever meets Sauron in the books after the battle Orodruin where Isildur slays him is Gollum who talks about Sauron being involved in his torture. That isn't really enough to justify establishing an already inherently confusing visual scheme for the person of Sauron and there really aren't any ways an interaction with Sauron could be invented to establish a visual theme. The only other way in which Sauron is actually seen aside from as an eye is when his dying shadow tries to attack the men of the west, which in only more confusing.

When I read the books over and over again as a child, I imagined Sauron to be a terrifyingly tall, gauntly angular, fluorescently pale and almost not quite corporeal dude with a left eye that was almost opaque with age like the Nazgûls' are described by Frodo and a right eye not that different from what Jackson showed atop the tower but in his head. Thus, for example, when Frodo and Sam visually describe hiding from the eye on the plains of Gorgoroth they are hiding from a human sized eye that they can viscerally sense through the magic of Sauron but not actually physically see. However, I know that, as powerful as these images were for me reading the books, actually seeing them on film could only hope to de-mystify them to my mind's eye and disappoint everyone with incompatible images.

There is also something much more important about the ambiguity that I think was very intentional on the part of Tolkien, where all the stories told in the cannon are very very clearly rooted in the perspective of the character telling them rather than some sort of foundational truth. We know, as people really into the lore, that Sauron was one of the most powerful of the Maiar, the type of being that wizards like Gandalf or the Balrog of Moria were, but its not clear that almost anyone in the books actually knows that and those that do certainly don't clearly communicate it. That we don't see Sauron as he really is, rather than how his magic makes him appear, in the movie does mimic how that is also the case in the books, if only to a lesser extent. To most of the perspectives that the story of the books is told in, Sauron really is a dark and powerful but fundamentally mysterious force. Only the Elrond, Gandalf, Sarumon, seemingly Bombadil, and maybe Denathor and Aragorn to a much lesser extent really have much idea at all of what they're really dealing with.

Why should we as an audience have that visual knowledge? Who is to say, from our perspective, that the physical form of Sauron isn't at the top of that tower just beneath the great lidless eye?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:04 AM on January 17 [12 favorites]


One of the better done bits in the films ( the extended versions, at least) was the Voice (mouth?) of Sauron at the gates of Mordor. The makeup effect had his own mouth split wide, as if speaking with the power of the voice of Sauron had been too much for the man, Black Numenorean notwithstanding, to be able to convey without cost.

Given the existence of the Voice, some part of me had always thought of the Eye as being a similarly held position under Sauron, though not Sauron's literal eye. This is in no way backed up with anything from the books, just a version of the books as I saw them as a kid.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:30 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Who is to say, from our perspective, that the physical form of Sauron isn't at the top of that tower just beneath the great lidless eye?

I hear what you're saying, and I've already discussed the fact that I think that most of Jackson's editorial and adaptive choices work for the good. But I think there was a way for him to still have the Eye without making the Eye be Sauron. Some visual way of communicating that it was a device of Sauron but not Sauron himself. Heck, I thought the depiction in DoS was better than in the LotR movies. There was a visual reference to the way he appeared during the War of the Last Alliance.
posted by valkyryn at 6:35 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


SAURON: I cannot be vanquished! For now no one shall ever separate the Ring from its -

*Isildur cuts it off*

SAURON: ... I have made a terrible mistake.


That human knew my one weakness... my finger.

(Note: Link to early-aughts Newgrounds flash animation. That stuff aged worse than the old Rankin-Bass cartoon.)
posted by radwolf76 at 6:41 AM on January 17


In a sense, the War of the Ring was the last mopping-up action of the tragic consequences of Fëanor's arrogance and Morgoth's deceit.

Yes, absolutely. One of the benefits of reading the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales is that it puts LOTR in context and what first reads like, and is experienced by its characters as, an earth-shaking existential struggle is to an extent a repetition of events that have already taken place in a much grander scale. Sauron was once defeated by the leftovers of the Elves and Men despite bearing the Ring. Sauron had surrendered to the Numeroreans as he couldn't match their power. Hell, much was made of Smaug when Turin Turambar, a man, had nanaged to kill Glaurung, the dragon who sired the rest, the Great Worm who broke the siege of Angband, destroyed the Union of Maedhros and laid waste to Nargothrond. The Dark Tower was a diminished copy of Angband, which was in turn a diminished copy of Utumno and Sauron himself spent a big part of the Third Age attempting to regain his form; compare this with Melkor a.k.a. Morgoth and his form that was 'as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold'.

History repeats itself in Tolkien and possession ought to be distrusted; sometimes you have to let the Sackville-Bagginses have some of your silver spoons. Desiring to possess the Ring, the Arkenstone, the Silmarils or an impregnable fortress like Gondolin or Utumno are all in vain because for Tolkien this is not where power lies. Giving up on the Ring, the last major artifact in Middle Earth closes the circle starting with the theft of the Silmarils (or the destruction of the Two Trees/the Lamps of Valinor) and leads to a Middle Earth mostly bereft of magic. In fact, in Tolkien the artifacts that are not pernicious are the ones symbolising bonds or duty: the fruit of the Tree (the tradition of Valinor), the ring of Barahir (friendship between elves and men), the Star of the Dunedain and the Star of Elendil (tradition). The Scepter and the Crown only come to light when Aragorn comes forward to rule as a king.

As you point out, the remaining elves are few and the remaining Noldor even fewer and they couldn't hope to win by military action without the Ring. Could they do it with the Ring? I'd put that as a definite maybe; Gandalf and Galadriel imply they could become replace Sauron and I think Elrond could do it too. The Ring responds to the greatness of its wearer, controls the Ringwraiths and since Sauron had invested the greatest part of his power in it, I think it's more likely that a powerful wearer who put their mind to it would start gaining control of Sauron's forces to the extent that they could wrest them from them. The extent to which that could happen is probably speculation though.

Nevertheless, Fëanor and his sons persisted in the war against Morgoth even though they knew it was hopeless. Elrond, Galandriel and Gandalf (not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks!) didn't use the Ring not because they were unsure if they'd succeed, but because they were afraid they would. The Ring is the temptation of power, stretching to accommodate the stature of the owner. It can be pretty gardens and tasty goblins or domination over Middle Earth, yet since the Valar sent the five Istari to ME to oppose Sauron, even such domination would be short-lived by their reckoning.

Actually. . . there's no indication that it had. He lost the ability to assume a pleasing physical guise with the destruction of Numenor, but the text strongly implies that he was still at least capable of corporeal form until the destruction of the Ring. See the discussion above.

It's also certain that he had a proper body until the Last Alliance: 'Then Sauron was for that time vanquished, and he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places.'
posted by ersatz at 6:54 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


Peter Jackson actually discusses, at length, his abject frustration with the process of creating the visuals for Sauron for exactly the reasons that both Blasdelb and valkyryn are raising. He explicitly says at one point when he's sitting there with Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, that by creating the movies, they have forever changed the imagery in many people's minds when they read the books, and from what he goes on about, at length, in the moviemaking interviews, he's... quite ambivalent about that, actually. Maybe I'm the only one here who is such a moviemaking dork that I watch the Extended Edition special features all the way through at least once a year while I'm on the bike trainer? idk. (my favorite is the costuming and armor making bits, but I've watched all of them at least a dozen times through).

anywhoo. This is indeed an amazing thread and I am by no means a Tolkien geek, as in my family it's my dad who has that honor (along with as stated above being an obscure early European languages nut, an interest partially spurred by his reading things like Beowulf and Tolkien in the '60s under the influences of goodness knows what mind altering substances but that's another story).

For myself, I barely made it through the Silmarillion twice and honestly the analysis in this thread and in the various links in the FPP has done more to enrich my understanding of the metaphysical and the allegorical subtexts, as well as the motivations, strengths and failings of the characters themselves.

heigh ho, it seems I am much overdue for a re-read of the novels themselves. Maybe I'll try to wade through the Silmarillion again, too, though I doubt I'll make it much past Feanor being a general asshole (that's usually where I get bogged down).
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:02 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


they couldn't hope to win by military action without the Ring. Could they do it with the Ring? I'd put that as a definite maybe

Even with the Ring, I'd argue that the Elves, on their own, didn't have a chance to stand against Sauron. Their only hope, with or without the Ring, was to inspire the peoples of Middle Earth to resist him. The Ring would have made that trivial. Whether they would have needed to resort to wresting Sauron's forces away from him is an open question. But I think the answer to the question you asked is more of a definite yes, if we expand the answer to include rallying non-Elves to the new Ring Lord's banner.
posted by valkyryn at 7:13 AM on January 17


On Hobbit vs. Ringwraith coture: As I suggested, I don't think Tolkien is entirely consistent about what the rings do. It's one reason why I think his influence on modern fantasy has largely been a matter of imitated wordiness and name-dropping. Tolkien is writing on a mythic and moral level, so it makes dramatic sense that the Wraiths would be monstrous ghostly apparitions, Frodo invisibile, and Sauron seen (by Frodo on the magic seat) as a great eye. Just as it makes dramatic sense that Hamlet would be something of an anachronistic puritan coming back to his homeland. Tolkien's concern is moral, not anthropological verisimilitude.

How the Wraiths work is what they say. They are the immortal revenants, thralls, and generals of Sauron. Their leader was the Witch King that destroyed civilization in the North. They wear armor because they rule through violence and fear, and they're ghostly because everything good about mortality has been stripped from them. They are terrifying in appearance, but spiritually hollow.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:24 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Why are we assuming the lesser rings grant invisibility? Why do we assume the Nazgul are invisible, for that matter? I don't think strict invisibility is in the text, only the heavy robes and possibly hints of some spectral/faded form.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:33 AM on January 17


I don't think Tolkien is entirely consistent about what the rings do.

Or, rather, he is consistent in portraying the effects of the rings as at least somewhat unpredictable.
posted by valkyryn at 7:36 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


One of the benefits of reading the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales is that it puts LOTR in context and what first reads like, and is experienced by its characters as, an earth-shaking existential struggle is to an extent a repetition of events that have already taken place in a much grander scale.

And this is why I love the Silmarillion, though I fully understand why many people find its detail and historical expansion exhausting.

Newcomers to Tolkien start with The Hobbit, and there's a neat little adventure: brave Bilbo goes there and back again, dragon's dead, war starts and ends, home again for second breakfast. Now the camera pulls back - way back, and here's Bilbo's adventure as a mere prologue for a vastly larger tale, with the fate of all Middle Earth at stake and everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. NOW the camera pulls back even further, and _that_ was all just a piece of a larger puzzle, finishing what far grander heroes and villains had started.

It does not diminish the accomplishments in The Hobbit and LotR but puts them in proper perspective. The return of the king of Gondor means more when you know what role in history Gondor has played. The defeat of Sauron doesn't mean he stops threatening some elves and hobbits and men, but saves legacies of thousands of years of history. It makes it all the more remarkable that, with limited exceptions, consistency is maintained throughout.
posted by delfin at 7:47 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm the only one here who is such a moviemaking dork that I watch the Extended Edition special features all the way through at least once a year

I'm a LOTR dork and I watch every second of the extended special features at least once a year.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:03 AM on January 17


"I hear what you're saying, and I've already discussed the fact that I think that most of Jackson's editorial and adaptive choices work for the good. But I think there was a way for him to still have the Eye without making the Eye be Sauron. Some visual way of communicating that it was a device of Sauron but not Sauron himself. Heck, I thought the depiction in DoS was better than in the LotR movies. There was a visual reference to the way he appeared during the War of the Last Alliance."

In the extended life sink of The Return of The Kings, Jackson talks about how he really wrestled with whether or not to have Aragorn battle Sauron himself in the armor he wore at the end of the Siege of Barad-dur instead of the Olog-hai he faces in the book, so much so that he ended up having to shoot the scene with Viggo Mortensen fighting something that could be renderable as either Sauron or the Olog-hai we end up seeing while he made up his mind. To do so would have allowed Jackson to try and show Sauron as the dude in that freaky armor and, with a bit of cleverness the eye as a device of that dude, which is absolutely correct, but I can see why that was a really tough choice because doing so would have distorted the nature of Sauron in other important ways in addition to inventing more things not in the books. Sauron really shouldn't be a dude in freaky armor who smacks up the heroes when he can't trust his dudes to it anymore than an eye, neither really accurately depicts who the character is or how he works. Both turn a three dimensional and only subtly but supremely powerful magical being with serious daddy issues into a very flat two dimensional image,

I totally get where you're comming from, but I kind of lean towards thinking Jackson made the right choice at least in this instance, because the two dimensional image of Sauron we end up with seems more true to the perspective of the characters even if it isn't true to a deeper perspective. Where even if Mairon the Admirable was more minor diety like and Annatar was more evil wizard like, the dude's shtick while calling himself Sauron really was the Great Lidless Eye, which was at least talked about as if disembodied; its clear that practically no one knew him as anything else and worked to portray himself that way. Why have a Mouth of Sauron if his has a physical mouth that he could use to speak for himself if not to make it seem like he didn't because that is some scary ass shit? My feeling is that if we're not going to see the scheming, the rage, the elaborate centuries long deceptions you'll never unwind until long after its too late, the cunning temptations, the terror he inspires, the believable promises, the swift betrayals, the wizard tricks that don't really have much to them but their subtlety, or the ultimately self-defeating pride - because the books being adapted aren't even about that anyway - getting the side of Sauron that Middle Earth got doesn't seem so bad.

I agree that the wizard battle that Gandalf has with Sauron in the DoS is especially awesome, where it shows a lot of the things about Sauron that were missing in the LotR series and especially RotK, like how everything we might see are just manifestations or tools of the dude while being scary and mysterious as fuck. My favorite part of it though is how captures the feeling that the wizard battle with Sarumon never managed to get, and the battle with the Balrog totally failed at, where what we are seeing really should feel like just a physical manifestation of something deeper and more ontologically weird happening. Its Sauron intimidating the fuck out of Gandalf with his superior power, even from a distance, and all the lights and smoke are clearly just the visible part of that.

It almost helps me forgive Jackson's total, entire point of everything unraveling, misunderstanding of Bilbo.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:11 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]


I think that whole "pleasing physical guise" is just enforcing social norms. Some people... you know... really like lidless eyes that tear into the very fabric of your soul.

I am physically incapable of reading this sentence without hearing it in the voice of Cecil from Welcome to Night Vale.
posted by Freon at 8:23 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


Blasdelb if I could favorite that comment a thousand times, I would. And as far as your last point, I can't readily forgive Jackson for the comprehensive disaster of script and pacing that is the Hobbit series...someone in the executive branch of that process, be it Jackson himself, or some clueless studio executive waving fat piles of cash and yelling "MOAR ACTION...MOAR FART JOKES!!" got either careless, or greedy, or both.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:32 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I've said this elsewhere, but I think that in regards to The Hobbit, after Jackson was careful and considerate in balancing the source and the things he brought to the table himself in LOTR for fear of screwing it up and then got all these accolades for doing it right, he doesn't feel he has near as much to prove with The Hobbit and that kind of confidence actually hurts the product. Peter Jackson is The Guy Who Does Tolkien Movies Right after LOTR, so I think there's a little "well of course it's okay to throw in a fucking rabbit sled to spice things up, I'm The Guy Who Does Tolkien Movies Right."
posted by jason_steakums at 8:43 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Just to take off a bit from erstaz's excellent comment above - which maybe gets at the whole question that started this discussion ("would the One Ring have worked for anyone other than Sauron")
As erstaz's comment notes, Elrond shows no interest in the Ring at all, beyond the larger strategic question of what to do with it - and he warns those in attendance at the Council of its nature:
"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."
Elrond's warning about the Ring is interesting - he notes it could be used by others, but only those who already have a great power of their own. But those few would be corrupted by it - which is part of one of Tolkien's larger themes, the corrupting nature of (increasing) power and the need for ethical use of it. Elrond's warning is that power corrupts, and that those who have power often come to desire more and more of it - which is the temptation of the Ring. And note the other piece here - "it was made by him alone, and is altogether evil."


The Lord of the Rings wiki says this about the forging of the Ring:
His intent was to concentrate and enlarge his own power, and in time gain overlordship of all of Middle-Earth. Sauron also wanted control over the other 19 Rings of Power, which had been made by Celebrimbor and his people with Sauron's assistance.

To do this, he concentrated within the One a great part of his own fëa ("soul" or "spirit") by cutting through his hand that was holding the gold, and letting his evil bind with the molten gold. In a sense, the Ring became an extension of Sauron himself, and his power became bound to it.
This is what makes it evil and would pervert a wearer without great power of their own - Sauron's power held in the Ring would overwhelm them. A wearer with power of their own would be able to use the Ring, but the will of Sauron in the Ring would likely pervert their actions over time, tending them towards control and domination - even if their intentions were good.

I remember when Fellowship (the movie) came out and a colleague observing that the film played up the Ring as another character/being too much. I felt they were wrong, because the Ring is not just a tool - it is a piece of Sauron himself, and as such it is trying to exert dominance and control over those around it. A person with power might be able to subdue the Ring, but I think it would at that point become a great temptation - it would offer a shortcut to getting things done, to making the world right, and as such the wielder would find themselves corrupted and eventually evil. To say nothing of the fact that the Ring would probably be seeking other subtle ways to subvert the intent and effect of things.

Elrond's actions when the Ring comes to his domain are interesting in this light. He could be wrong entirely about whether or not it could be used by others - in all the time the Ring is not with Sauron, it is never really with anyone who has a great power of their own. But his warning remains that it is a power that no one should try to master. He convenes a Council of Elves and Men and Dwarves and Hobbits to discuss what is to be done. He does not impose his will and send the Ring forth to be destroyed without the agreement and consent of all those gathered. (Now, having done my Master's work on the use of public input on policy decisions and how it can be controlled/manipulated by those in power, I could do a detailed analysis on how Elrond ensures that the Council goes the way he wants it to, but I'll give the benefit of the doubt here as say he did this as ethically as he could). Elrond, despite having the power to just do what he believes best, seeks consent and assent as to the correct course of action.

In Frodo's journey, he encounters the wearers of the Three - arguably, three of the only people on Middle Earth who could fully use the Ring beyond Sauron himself. Elrond we've discussed. Gandalf refuses it quickly, recognizing that despite his intentions, the use of the power contained in the Ring would eventually lead to evil.

That leaves Galadriel - and I found it wonderful that the movie showed both her temptation and her surprise at her ability to step away from it. I know my wife found the scene somewhat confusing - she had liked Galadriel in the books, but found her threatening and somewhat scary in the movie (though she was very glad that the extended edition restored Galadriel's gift giving scene). It is unfortunate that unless you understand all of Galadriel's history - her long, long history and long-standing desire to rule - that the significance of that scene comes home. Over her long time on Middle Earth, she has come to understand what ruling is, and how it can lead to horrible ends.

In short, if we believe Elrond - others could wield the Ring. If Elrond is wrong about that, his point about the desire for what the Ring represents leads to essentially the same answer: the desire of the Ring would lead to the same end as someone successfully wielding it would - suffering, war, pain, and attempts at subjugation of others. Sauron was not always successful even when he did wear the Ring (although his surrender to Ar-Pharazôn may have been part of a larger plot), but he still caused misery and war in his attempt to take control over Middle Earth.

OK, I'm actually going to go do some work now. But I'm glad this thread is here. And it will likely get me back on a re-read of the LOTR and the Similarillion and those parts of Unfinished Tales I haven't poked a nose into yet. And I believe my wife found a second hand copy of The Children of Hurin I haven't cracked yet.

The road goes ever on.
posted by nubs at 9:03 AM on January 17 [18 favorites]


Why are we assuming the lesser rings grant invisibility? Why do we assume the Nazgul are invisible, for that matter? I don't think strict invisibility is in the text, only the heavy robes and possibly hints of some spectral/faded form.

The witch-king, at least, is described as invisible when he fights Eowyn during the siege of Gondor. "The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter." I believe when the Hobbits are in Bree, there is also some mention of their faces not being visible beneath their cloaks as well, though we only get that secondhand and it doesn't necessarily prove that they are literally invisible.
posted by whir at 9:21 AM on January 17


yea to actually circle back to the whole point of the thread, I don't think the question is whether the Ring would work or no... I think it's explicitly stated (as quoted by many above) by both the characters in-story AND by Tolkien himself, that yes, the ring ABSOLUTELY WOULD work if wielded by Gandalf, or Galadriel, or anyone with the power and strength of mind to bend it to their will... and the Wise were (rightfully) terrified by that, to the point of (e.g. Elrond) actively fearing / resenting the fact that it had been dumped on their doorstep to fuck up their day, so to speak. The whole point of the "power corrupts" narrative is that this shit is seductive and that's part of the beauty of Tolkien's writing is that if you even understand a tenth of the backstory here, you really do get how that fucks with the character's minds.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:27 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


oh also in composing the above commentary, one of the (many) wormholes I fell through resulted in this gem. Behold, Balrog Math!
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:35 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


One thing I find interesting with the ring having agency of its own from the portion of Sauron in it is that despite literally having a part of himself self in the ring that can choose to stop working or strongly influence its wearer, he still fears someone else getting their hands on it. It's totally able to just betray Isildur and slip off his finger of its own accord, but Sauron must realize, perhaps due to his history of being a lackey to the more powerful Morgoth, that the part of his will that is in the ring is either weak enough to be commanded by someone more powerful (which puts Aragorn > Isildur in Sauron's mind) or it will simply back a bigger winner than Sauron himself. Either way, Sauron knows the part of himself that is in that ring, and he knows it's in his nature that it would betray him either out of weakness or ambition.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:13 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


It almost helps me forgive Jackson's total, entire point of everything unraveling, misunderstanding of Bilbo.

Oh god this. I'm hoping this gets corrected a bit in the final movie, because in the book everything after the fall of Laketown is even more all about Bilbo, his despair at the shitstorm that has been wrought as a result of the Company's actions, his desperate actions to break the stalemate.

My fear of course is that it's all going to be "woot hour-long Battle of the Five Armies scene" and then way too much of Thorin being all emo and then bloody Legolas will pop up to steal the thunder all over again and then in the end it's all meaningless anyway because SAURON.

I did like the spiders though -- except for the slapstick pulling-all-the-legs-off gag. Especially having Bilbo understand the spiders' speech when he puts on the Ring. Is that in the book? It surprised me in the film but it also felt kinda right.

(Also, barrels: too much thrill-ride, not enough scary. In the book the dwarves are nailed into the barrels and there is a very real fear that they're going to drown in there on the way down the river, that Bilbo's going to be pulling out waterlogged corpses at the other end; as a kid I found that quite disturbing. In the movie: twenty bloody minutes of bloody Legolas hamstering around.)

The worst thing is: the obvious problems in the Hobbit movies actually make the LoTR movies suffer on re-watching. Watching them again: there's a lot of CGI spectacle for the sake of spectacle; there's a lot of implausibly over-the-top action; there's a surprising amount of mediocre acting. They hung together well enough as a trilogy; but they're cheapened a bit by what's followed.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:44 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I'm sorta wondering if that's one of the reasons that Del Toro got sacked, that and I think he'd be more likely to tell producers to go hang themselves if they insisted on slipping in an elf-dwarf-elf love triangle during reshoots.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:53 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Especially having Bilbo understand the spiders' speech when he puts on the Ring. Is that in the book? It surprised me in the film but it also felt kinda right.

Bilbo does understand the spiders' speech in the book. "Their voices were a sort of thin creaking and hissing, but he could make out many of the words they said."

He IS wearing the Ring at the time - it explicitly states that's why the spiders did not see or hear him - but there is no implication that wearing it gave him the power to understand them. Apparently, they just speak Westron.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:54 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


(Yeah, that should be elf-elf-dwarf but the best ship is a crack ship.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:55 AM on January 17


having Bilbo understand the spiders' speech when he puts on the Ring.

Parseltongue is a secondary benefit? If so, what language does Smaug speak? In their first encounter is Bilbo unconsciously speaking Draconic? Wouldn't that be as weird and intimidating as his invisibility? It's not surprising that Smaug would be hesitant to lash out until he discovers that the mysterious voice belongs to nothing more than a barrel riding burglar.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:21 PM on January 17


Unless I missed something, I don't see that Speak Languages is a benefit of the Ring that is stated, or even implied, anywhere in the text.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:42 PM on January 17


As far as liberties go, understanding of Mirkwood Spider is minor and forgivable.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:54 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I'm not understanding what you mean by "liberties." As quoted above, Bilbo DOES understand the speech of the spiders in the text. And he is wearing the Ring while doing it, it just doesn't seem to be related to the Ring.

I haven't seen the film - in the movie, does he not understand them, then does once he puts on the Ring?
posted by Chrysostom at 12:57 PM on January 17


in the movie, does he not understand them, then does once he puts on the Ring?

Yep, exactly that. Like Arthur with the Babel Fish suddenly understanding Vogon.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:01 PM on January 17


Ah. Falling under the heading of "Minor, but pointless, change."
posted by Chrysostom at 1:04 PM on January 17


in the book, everyone spoke... westron? The trolls spoke it, the goblings spoke it, the dwarves spoke it, i don't remember but I'm guessing the eagles spoke it, beorn spoke it, the elves spoke it, the dragon spoke it...

in LotR, smeagul makes a deal with shelob. Shelob gets the hobbitses, smeagol gets their stuff. No surprise that spiders speak it.
posted by rebent at 1:10 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: nothing more than a barrel riding burglar
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:16 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen the film - in the movie, does he not understand them, then does once he puts on the Ring?

My memory of the scene is that it's implied.

Parts of The Hobbit work from the premise that everyone speaks a language that Bilbo understands, something that's abandoned in Lord of the Rings. Bilbo is a bit of an unreliable narrator, something that Jackson introduces in the first scene of the Hobbit trilogy. I also suspect that Jackson is posing an alternative explanation to Tolkien's choice to make practically everyone in Middle Earth polyglot for the sake of narrative convenience.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:16 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


sweet baby balrogs, this thread!!! I love you guys!

must do actual work today...must do actual work today...
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:25 PM on January 17


in LotR, smeagul makes a deal with shelob. Shelob gets the hobbitses, smeagol gets their stuff. No surprise that spiders speak it.

And even before that, Ungoliant cuts a deal w/Melkor. (Probably a different language, but another instance of a spider speaking a something common.)

Shit, time to dig out The Silmarillion again.
posted by cog_nate at 1:27 PM on January 17


Or Melkor, by virture of being of the Valar, being able to speak spider. Perhaps, in fact, it is that brief alliance between Melkor and Ungoliant that results in all giant spiders of Middle Earth being able to speak - or learn how to.
posted by nubs at 2:56 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Count me as another who's about to pull out the Silmarilion again.

As mentioned up thread, it's easy to see LotR as a diminished echo of the events of the Silmarilion, and, in some respects, that's one reason why I find/found the ending of LotR to be so sad, which is really only brought home by reading the appendices that discuss the events after the ring. I remember crying as a teen, thinking that it was just so crushing that, at the end of the books, all of the magic, all of the wonder had left the world. The elves all leave. The hobbits end up living on a private reserve. The dwarves were already in decline, and there would be no more ents. Even the union of Aragorn and Arwen, bringing revitalization to the last line of "great" humans, that would, in time fade away as well, leaving the world mundane and bereft of wonder (I was that kind of teen). Between "I will diminish, and go to the west" and the last line of the appendices about Legolas, at that time, the last elf in middle earth, and Gimli, who becomes the only dwarf to go to the west, boarding a boat and sailing away, I found the ending to be painful, a kind of "the time of, and for, stories has ended. This world is now without magic, and the wonder will remain only in legends."

The idea of the elves remaining until Sauron is finally defeated, then leaving because their work, or the cleaning up of the mistakes (some of which they were personally involved in) had been completed, and it was time to go, to step back from all the destruction and woe that had been, in large part, their fault, is a beautiful one. In some ways, it shifts the idea of the elves as mystical caretakers and guides for the later-awoken races into a race that had fucked up so badly for so long that, as long as the echoes of their failure were still around, they would have to remain to deal with it. When the West is presented essentially as heaven, it shows them as willing to put off paradise to atone for their failures, or those of their kin.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:58 PM on January 17 [14 favorites]


I think the author's opinions on Beowulf are critically important here. You read Beowulf for the story of heroes and monsters, of honor and blood debts, of the woman at the end wailing because the Geats have lost their hero. Melkor and Ungoliant is a story, passed oraly from Elf to Elf, to Bilbo, to a copy by the scribes employed by Aragorn, to other scribes, and finally to Tolkien who coyly inserts himself into the lineage just before delivering a big pile of bullshit about liberties he's taking in translating and novelizing the names of plants and Hobbits.

Thinking too hard about the history or pseudohistory of either is missing the point in Tolkien's literary method.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:20 PM on January 17


it's easy to see LotR as a diminished echo of the events of the Silmarilion

I think echo is exactly the right word. The Music of the Aniur created Arda; at the beginning, the Valar shaped it, fought on it, build on it and eventually leave. Melkor falls, and while Sauron is the next threat, he is not as fearsome as Melkor. The Elves do great things, as do the Men of Numenor, but eventually all their works dwindle and pass. The Elves leave Middle Earth, leaving it to men.

Things seem to diminish and become less with each passing Age, much as if the Music that created Arda is slowly fading, echoing down over time but eventually becoming too faint to hear any longer.

The idea of the elves remaining until Sauron is finally defeated, then leaving because their work, or the cleaning up of the mistakes (some of which they were personally involved in) had been completed, and it was time to go, to step back from all the destruction and woe that had been, in large part, their fault, is a beautiful one

I really, really like this idea.
posted by nubs at 4:28 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]


The ending of LoTR is incredibly sad and, for me, very hard to read these days. The old dictum of 'The only thing sadder than a battle won is a battle lost.' is true here. The good guys win and yet the elves still leave, the ents still die out, dwarves are still doomed, Frodo never really has a happy day again, hobbits are now known to the wider world and are living on borrowed time in their Shire which exists only because of the sufferance of others. Arwen will live happily for a time until the bitterness of her choice becomes fully apparent.

I suppose things would be worse if Sauron wins but, at least on the large scale, it's hard to see it being a lot worse. The ancient forests will still be destroyed, the ancient ways and magic forgotten, and man's inhumanity to man will continue at levels which would have made even Sauron blush. By the hand of Melkor, or Sauron, or men, what difference does it make when the end result will be a world full of cruelty and ash?
posted by honestcoyote at 7:04 PM on January 17 [9 favorites]


But if you buy Tolkien's way of thought, that's not the end result. The end result is [Catholic eschatology translated to middle-earthian terms].
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 PM on January 17


Fan-fucking-tastic thread. I hope this gets five thousand lurkers to join when they realize what an accepting community this is.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 10:37 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


what language does Smaug speak?

Humans and elves have been speaking with dragons since the First Age. Glauring had quite the tête-à-tête with Turin on several occasions.
posted by valkyryn at 12:16 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


I suppose things would be worse if Sauron wins but, at least on the large scale, it's hard to see it being a lot worse.

Umm. . . no.

if you buy Tolkien's way of thought, that's not the end result. The end result is [Catholic eschatology translated to middle-earthian terms].

Yes.

Tolkien's vision for the end of the world is that at some point Morgoth will escape from his imprisonment, pass back through the Door of Night, and attack Arda one last time. This time, Manwë will oppose him directly. The Host of Valinor will muster itself for Dagor Dagorath, the Final Battle. Eärendil will return from the sky and lead the Host with Eönwë. Tulkas shall wrestle with Morgoth again, but it is Túrin who will deliver the killing blow, vanquishing Morgoth forever.

After the victory, the Silmarils will be recovered, and Fëanor spirit released from the Halls of Mandos. Finally repentant, he will turn the Silmarils over to Yavanna, who will release their light to restore the Trees. The Second Music shall begin, when not only the Ainur, but Elves and Men shall sing before Iluvatar, ushering in Arda Unmarred, not only restored to its original splendor, but remade into something even more glorious.

So, basically, a very thinly disguised retelling of Catholic eschatology. Really just standard, orthodox Christian eschatology when it comes down to it. A last battle, the final victory over evil, and a resurrected world. That's about the sum of it. But Tolkien does capture some of the tragedy inherent in that narrative very well. Which I actually referenced in the linked thread. The main reason the Elves stay in Middle Earth after the War of Wrath is because it's beautiful.* They knew it would not last forever, and they wanted to live beneath the trees while they could.

*With the possible exception of Galadriel, who may or may not have remained under the Ban of the Valar, maybe or maybe not of her own volition. But the rest of the Elves were free to return whenever they chose.
posted by valkyryn at 1:18 AM on January 18 [10 favorites]


I'm sorta wondering if that's one of the reasons that Del Toro got sacked.

Del Toro did not get sacked, he left because of ongoing delays. I'm still hoping he gets to make Mountains of Madness.
posted by Pendragon at 1:56 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


The Host of Valinor will muster itself for Dagor Dagorath, the Final Battle.

There's a note in that Dagor Dagorath link that says Tolkien abandoned the concept, with a cite that points to articles referencing chapters in The History of Middle Earth and the Silmarillion. Does anyone know if Tolkien elaborated on the abandonment or came up with something to replace it?
posted by ignignokt at 7:11 AM on January 18


Does anyone know if Tolkien elaborated on the abandonment or came up with something to replace it?

I think that's as far as he got. Nothing ever made it into the canon. Then again, a lot of what we've discussed in this thread isn't in the canon either, if we strictly limit that to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with allowance for The Silmarillion. I've made more than ample reference to The Unfinished Tales, and some of the more obscure stuff is drawn from writings only published in The History of Middle Earth.

But even within the canon, there are quite a few references scattered about which touch on things eschatological. It's certain that the world is going to come to an end, that there will be something new and better beyond it, but that said something will bear some relationship with what currently is. If nothing else, both Elves and Men from Middle Earth will exist in some form beyond the end of the world. That basic structure seems undeniable, and it's entirely consistent with the broadly orthodox Christian conception of eschatology.

So even though, like so many of Tolkien's notions about Arda, the Last Battle was never really set down in any kind of final form, it seems pretty difficult to think that he'd have come up with something that wasn't ultimately a retelling of Christian eschatology. The characters and concepts in the final version differ somewhat from his extant writings about Dagor Dagorath, but I'm willing to treat the basic structure as a given.
posted by valkyryn at 8:14 AM on January 18


But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron? It actually seems to diminish its bearers: Bilbo feels "thin" and "stretched", Smeagol becomes the wretched Gollum, Frodo is never quite the same even after it is destroyed.

This is the same sort of argument I use whenever somebody asks to borrow a book from my shelves.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:12 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron? It actually seems to diminish its bearers: Bilbo feels "thin" and "stretched", Smeagol becomes the wretched Gollum, Frodo is never quite the same even after it is destroyed.

You know, reading this magnificent thread has gotten me to thinking: yeah, maybe the ring didn't really do anything for anyone...including Sauron.

What if the "part of his essence" that he put into it isn't anything related to physical or "magical" power but is instead derived from his greatest skill, deception?

So the Ring doesn't really do much more for him than it does for Smeagol, Frodo, whomever. It just makes him think it increases his might, when, really, to paraphrase words from another fantasy epic, he had the power to go home all along.

This would make him just as susceptible to being "addicted" to the Ring as any of the other people it got its hooks into. When you look at his war footing, it sometimes seems like he didn't even care all that much about wanting to cast the world into ever-lasting darkness, throw down the race of Men and blah blah blah. He had the resources to crush the West several times over, after all.

He didn't want that, though, he wanted his binky back.

Maybe that's also why the Ring doesn't work on Bombadil. He knows who he really is -- even if no one else inside the story or outside of it does to this very day -- and so the ring can't deceive him into seeing himself as anything else.

Man, this is a fun thread.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:41 PM on January 20 [9 favorites]


lonefrontranger : "the ring appears "comfort fitted" because it is. The ring in the LOTR films is directly modeled off of a wedding band worn by one of the production crew (can't recall exactly which one at the moment which one; may have been simply one of the senior camera crew tasked with the storyboarding shots). "

Huh? I don't know if there are any elements of accuracy to that story, I mean, maybe the crew members ring was by Jens Hansen Jewellers in Nelson (a town I used to live in), but Jens Hansen was asked to design it, created 15 different prototypes, and then one design was chosen for the movie, and made in a variety of sizes. The script was a post production effect only, obviously.
See http://www.jenshansen.com/pages/lord-of-the-rings-rings
You can buy replicas of the actual movie rings, from them.

Ten years ago, you could get the ring replica for no more than a standard gold wedding ring, but it seems like there has been a considerable mark-up now.

The ring has a rounded edge, but doesn't appear to curve inwards on the inside.
posted by Elysum at 8:13 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The one ring replica looks exactly like my wedding ring, which is comfort-fitted. The edges are rounded, rather than a sharp cut, but the interior is flat.

So, yes, you can get the One Ring for the price of a wedding ring. Also, the jeweller will even size it properly for you. The inscription won't appear unless you're a wizard and know the right words and stuff, of course.
posted by jb at 8:19 PM on January 21


and please forgive me if it's already been posted in this very long thread,

but I now have "Frodo, don't wear the ring... running through my head.
posted by jb at 8:26 PM on January 21


So the Ring doesn't really do much more for him than it does for Smeagol, Frodo, whomever. It just makes him think it increases his might, when, really, to paraphrase words from another fantasy epic, he had the power to go home all along.

Except that we know that the Ring does actually do things. It's not a placebo. It does make people invisible. It does let them see things they couldn't otherwise see. It does give them longer life. We may not see some of its more exotic and interesting powers, but the text leaves no question that they're there. Your interpretation simply ignores pretty much every discussion of the Ring found anywhere in Tolkien.
posted by valkyryn at 2:37 AM on January 22


Except that we know that the Ring does actually do things. It's not a placebo. It does make people invisible. It does let them see things they couldn't otherwise see. It does give them longer life.

Plus we have the Nazgul, who are made wraiths under Sauron's control through the use of the Ring; we don't see that happen "on screen", but they aren't out there leading armies and on Fell Beasts through their own resources or design. And note that all the remaining Nazgul are destroyed when the Ring is.

So as neat a thought experiment as it is, there is lots of evidence that the Ring is as advertised - a piece of Sauron's power, that in the hands of a powerful wielder, is capable of great and horrible things.
posted by nubs at 6:33 AM on January 22


valkyryn: "Except that we know that the Ring does actually do things. It's not a placebo. It does make people invisible. It does let them see things they couldn't otherwise see. It does give them longer life. We may not see some of its more exotic and interesting powers, but the text leaves no question that they're there. Your interpretation simply ignores pretty much every discussion of the Ring found anywhere in Tolkien."
The ring is also notably shown giving its users extraordinary powers of intimidation referenced in the text, and how else would a tiny and mild mannered if brave hobbit like Sam terrify the strongest and craftiest surviving orcs of Cirith Ungol? However, I think lord_wolf is still pointing out something important, where the ring would have extraordinary magical powers - in the Tolkien-esque sense - simply by virtue of its reputation. While the distorted perspectives communicated in the Lord of The Rings under-represent the remaining military prowess of the West by only really being able to show it at its most disordered, demoralized, and scattered; the aura and reputation of the ring had a lot to do with that.

The fear and respect that people in Middle Earth give to the one ring is an inherent part of its power. With it they not only fear Sauron more and desire it more, but for any possible Ring Lord, its reputation for evil would become a powerful spiritual totem. A Ring Lord could easily use its acquisition to justify all sorts of convenient evil, just think of all the good that could be done with its power, then its ability to inspire fear and despair - even if it were all in the head of the user - would still be very powerful and have all sorts of seemingly productive ends. Someone who believes they can terrify you, and justify that, is after all pretty inherently scary if they have any form of power over you at all. The ring could just contain resistance to age and a collection of cheap tricks but still have incredible power over the hearts of men and elves through its semi-magical notoriety.

Deeper than that though, I think the deception inherent to the ring isn't the power the ring has but the power it doesn't have. One of the central themes of the books is that deception remains at the heart of the power of the ring, even if it is in a more subtle way. After all Sauron, for all of his lights and fire and armies, was defeated by a soft, meek, hairy-footed, one meter tall hobbit with his shorter and even more meek hobbit friend. It is a deeply Christian theme, where the One Ring represents the same deception at the heart of the three temptations of Christ - the temptation to be comfortable, the temptation to be secure, and the temptation to be powerful. Giving into the sin represented by the ring would in fact do none of these things, and could only hope to make you as tortured, endangered, and powerless as Mairon the Admirable became when he joined Melkor as Sauron. The deception involves more than just any powers the ring might give you, but the orientation inherent to taking and using the ring, of giving into the temptations of Christ instead of following His example.

Christ's solution to sin isn't strength but vulnerability, turning the other cheek rather than fighting back as men and elves do, surrendering wealth rather than hording or even manipulating it as dwarves do, loving others as they are rather than controlling them into what you think they could be as Melkor did, and refusing to see neighbors as means to an end like Sauron does but ends in and of themselves. Whether Tokien would like to openly admit it or not, the powerlessness of the One Ring is pretty analogous to the powerlessness of the cross to defeat Christ. Melkor couldn't improve the song of creation by singing over others, and Sauron couldn't improve Middle Earth by ruling it. Gandalf, however, could improve Middle Earth by inspiring it, teaching it, and sacrificing for it. In the end Gandalf's wisdom was greater than Sauron's power.

Indeed, the political situation of Judea around the time of Christ was not that much unlike that of the West in Middle Earth, to any educated observer the world was clearly coming to an end. The Roman Empire was growing, and Judea was no longer really a client state with an appropriate distance between the Emperor and Judaism but was instead more of a province like any other causing deep problems that didn't have solutions, which pretty soon no band-aid would be big enough for. Statues of Caligula had been recently been placed in Jewish synagogues by force, the benefits of integration with the Roman economy were being very unevenly spread, and the people of Judea were increasingly seeing the Roman collaborators who ruled them as corrupt, sacrilegious, and (almost worse) Greek. They also weren't wrong, and no amount of negotiation could fix the hard truths of the time, rebellion was inevitable. However, rebellion was also inevitably a disaster. The Roman Empire was near its height, and no matter how well put together, how popular, or how well led any rebellion was, its downfall would also be a trivial and essential task. The world was going to end, the temple was going to be sacked and desecrated, the wealth of Judea was going to be carted back to Rome to finance the Empire and its obscene building projects, the people of Judea were going to be slaughtered, raped, sold as slaves, and scattered, and there wasn't really anything anyone could do about it. Of course there were all sorts of solutions, the Sadducees and Hellenized Jews like Josephus did their damnedest collaborate, the Essenes retreated from society, and the Zealots tried to fight militarily but none of it was ever going to work.

Tolkien makes clear that, to any educated observer, the forces arrayed by Sauron were more powerful than anything the West could realistically withstand in its fallen state. Slaughter, slavery, cultural death, and scattering before an inevitable end of everything the West was, was the only logical outcome. Sarumon's solution to the clear facts at hand is to collaborate, the solution of elves was to seclude themselves, the solution of men was to fight - but none of those solutions had any hope of resisting Sauron. Christ's solution to the oppression of the Roman Empire was, if you'll allow me a little liberty, a spiritual journey to defeat sin. Giving up everything you love, your wealth, your family, your security, your comfort, and your life in service to others regardless of what they could do for or to you - radical transformation. While other factors contributed to the decline of the Empire, it rapidly crumbled the foundation out from under the oppression of Roman institutions and caused a profound ontological reorientation to the western world.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:22 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


and the people of Judea were increasingly seeing the Roman collaborators who ruled them as corrupt, sacrilegious, and (almost worse) Greek

Ένα όλους να κυβερνά και να τους βρίσκει Ένα.
Ένα, να τους μαζεύει όλους μαζί, με μαύρα μάγια Ένα.
Στης Μόρντορ τη γη, που ζουν οι Σκιές.
posted by ersatz at 9:58 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I'd like to point out that this thread is amazing and wonderful and I just finished it.

Here are my only contributions to it:

1. Lord of the Cockrings does exist.

2. Ersatz's Elrond comment had me thinking that the entirety of Lord of The Rings is just Agent Smith roleplaying as a character named Elrond as he realizes that humans are gonna be leaving "The Matrix". A rather amusing thought process.

3. I can't help but like really really bad jokes. Sauron liked the ringbearers so much he put a ring on each one of them.
posted by lizarrd at 3:26 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Humans and elves have been speaking with dragons since the First Age. Glaurung had quite the tête-à-tête with Turin on several occasions.

Heck, Turin's SWORD spoke to Turin once.
posted by delfin at 2:02 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Sauron liked the ringbearers so much he put a ring on each one of them.

Which is why Sam had to go along on the quest - Sauron tried to put a Ring on Frodo

pervy hobbit fancier
posted by nubs at 2:09 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Christ's solution to the oppression of the Roman Empire was, if you'll allow me a little liberty, a spiritual journey to defeat sin.

That is, of course, one take on Christian theology. Specifically, the liberal tradition. It would be an utter derail to have the conversation, but suffice it to say that this was not really a prevailing view until the nineteenth or even the twentieth century. For most of Christian history, most of the church has believed that Christ's solution to the oppression of the world was not for his people to engage in some kind of "spiritual journey to defeat sin"--Christ did that all on his own, thank you very much--but to "bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." I.e., God does judge the world with power. . . but he does it in his own time, in his own way, and there are many wrongs which will not be righted until the end of all things. In the mean time, any attempt on our part to solve the evils of the world on the basis of our own power is doomed to failure.

To quote Tolkien on the matter, as I alluded to before, when the Noldor were exiled from Valinor, they had some periods of security and even limited success in the Siege of Angband. Morgoth was wounded. A Silmaril was even recovered. But the message of the Valar was "love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart; and remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea." The Noldor were never going to defeat Morgoth by force of arms. But Morgoth was defeated by force of arms in the War of Wrath--only it wasn't the armies of the Noldor, but the Host of Valinor. And they will defeat him again in the Dagor Dagorath.

And it wasn't really Frodo that defeated Sauron. Frodo, despite all his journeys, struggles, and suffering, despite all his "spiritual growth". . . claimed the Ring for himself! In the contest between Frodo and Sauron, Sauron won! No, the way the text talks about it, it was the sovereignly ordained conjunction of Frodo and Gollum's fates that ultimately led to Sauron's downfall. Granted, Frodo and Sam are rightly honored for what they did do, but the text is all but explicit in rejecting chance as a factor in what happened. Frodo was meant to have the Ring, and in the context of the Tolkien legendarium, that kind of intentionality can only be attributed to Ilúvatar. Ilúvatar, like the Christian God upon which he is based, does often choose the weak things of the world to shame the strong and the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. But whether in this world or Arda, the solution to evil is, has always been, will always be, and can only be divine power.

Simply put, I think that Tolkien's theology and eschatology was not a liberal theology and eschatology, but an orthodox one. A "spiritual journey" was never the solution. It was merely a means to an end, which end is the supernatural intervention of God in the world, both now and at the End. Think back to the Ainulindalë. Melkor mars the First Theme with dissonance and overpowers the Second Theme with sheer volume, but is unable to defeat the Third Theme, which in its subtlety took the "most triumphant notes" of Melkor's chaos and wove them into its own beauty. There's your spiritual journey of self-sacrifice and discovery. But the music remained at odds with itself. Melkor could not overpower the Third Theme, but neither could the Third Theme fully eliminate Melkor's notes. The critical thing to remember is thus that that is not the end of the Music. No! The Music only ends when Ilúvatar sounds a single, mighty "chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar. . . ." The Ainur, and the Children of Ilúvatar represented by the Third Theme, may be able to hold Melkor at bay, but it is only the sounding of that final, divine chord that brings all things to completion.

Tolkien's message and Christianity's message are thus the same. True, we cannot defeat evil by the strength of our arms, and the way of faith is one of self-sacrifice, suffering, and even sometimes defeat. But that is not the end of the Music, and God, like Ilúvatar, will not leave things marred by chaos. The world must be set right by power, only it is not our power, but God's, that will bring this about, and that power will only be fully shown forth at the end of this present evil age. We await, as it were, the sounding of the Last Trumpet.

Which is never something liberal theologians have ever been all that interested in. . .
posted by valkyryn at 5:12 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


Screw waiting, immanentize the eschaton!
posted by Chrysostom at 6:00 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


*sigh*
posted by valkyryn at 7:15 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


valkyryn, *someone* needs to speak for Fëanor's point of view here.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:41 AM on January 24


Frodo, despite all his journeys, struggles, and suffering, despite all his "spiritual growth". . . claimed the Ring for himself! In the contest between Frodo and Sauron, Sauron won!

No, Frodo won when he spared Gollum's life. Gandalf could never have trained Frodo to develop the kind of superhuman willpower to do what Isildur had failed to do. But Gandalf was able to encourage in Frodo the kind of compassion through which Ilúvatar chooses to bring about his purposes in the world.
posted by straight at 8:59 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


(And valkyryn, the idea that Jesus' self-renunciation on the cross is a judgment of the world's powers and that the Church's life of self-renunciation is both a proclamation and fulfillment of the cross's judgment of the world is not some 19th/20th century invention. It's right there in the New Testament. Rather, it's the idea that the Church will have no impact on a world that only gets worse until Jesus returns that is the 19th/20th century invention.)
posted by straight at 9:12 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


And it wasn't really Frodo that defeated Sauron. Frodo, despite all his journeys, struggles, and suffering, despite all his "spiritual growth". . . claimed the Ring for himself! In the contest between Frodo and Sauron, Sauron won!

My thoughts on the moment are pretty straightforward (but then I tend to look at LOTR from a perspective different than yours I think): If Frodo never has that moment - if he just walks to the crack of Mt Doom and chucks the Ring in, dusts his hands off, and turns around - it undermines the entirety of the story (even more than just riding the Eagles there would've). The Ring is the temptation of power, and we are told repeatedly that it tempts everyone - if Frodo proves immune, then really, honestly, is the Ring anything? Frodo is able to resist longer than anyone else because of his nature - because of his simple wants and needs - but at the last moment of extremity, he succumbs (and Christ had his moment of doubt and pain as well). Because the Ring is at its most desperate in that moment (like it probably was when Isildur carried it there) and because it had been working on Frodo throughout the journey.

It was the Ring itself that leads to its own downfall. Because of it's nature - the promises it offers, the temptation it is - when not on Sauron's hand, the Ring provokes strife and competition out of the desire to own it. Which is, generally, a good thing when not on Sauron's hand - his enemies will be fighting for possession of it. What Sauron did not expect was for his enemies for possession of the Ring to be (a) small creatures with limited ambition and (b) for them to have that fight in the one place the Ring could be destroyed.

It got there because of the virtues of Frodo and Sam; and the destruction is the result of the pity and mercy of Bilbo:
"Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”
Which raises an interesting thought: Bilbo, it is implied, was less impacted by the Ring because shortly after he began ownership he displayed Pity and Mercy. Frodo is given the Ring - it is not taken by force or from greed. And it is likely because of these virtues displayed that the Ring was able to be carried so long and so far without becoming a problem - without Frodo making the claim earlier.

So there's a lot of virtue on display that gets us to the end - self-sacrifice, pity, mercy, loyalty, etc. Which fits in with Tolkein's world view/religious philosophy well, yes, but I would argue also makes it such an enduring story - the heroes are virtuous not only in name but in deed, and suffer greatly in staying true to those. We have too many stories in which virtuous heroes don't seem to suffer a great deal in upholding those virtues.
posted by nubs at 9:52 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Yes, and the classical Christian conception of virtue is habitual practices forming character, initiated and sustained by God's grace and forgiveness for one's failures. Which is the opposite of the typical Hollywood conception of virtue, where an unvirtuous person redeems himself by making a single, heroic act at the crucial moment.

Frodo is a virtuous person who is given grace in his moment of failure, made possible in part by the fruit of his practice of virtue.
posted by straight at 10:24 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


it's the idea that the Church will have no impact on a world that only gets worse until Jesus returns that is the 19th/20th century invention.

No, it isn't.

posted by valkyryn at 12:02 PM on January 24


Here's something I don't hear mentioned often. Gandalf tells Bilbo that there are "many such rings in the world," and they're not to be taken lightly. It seems likely that Gandalf doesn't think, yet, that Bilbo's is one of Sauron's 20, or he'd caution him more carefully or even suggest he get rid of it. Does this mean there's someone else out there making magic rings and putting them into Crackerjack boxes?
posted by JHarris at 2:19 PM on January 24


Is that quote in the text, or just the film? I didn't see an exact equivalent. In any case, I think the answer to your question is yes. Gandalf tells Frodo:
In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles – yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.
This seems to clearly state that there are (lesser) magic rings out there beyond the 20. Additionally, Saruman has made his own ring, as mentioned earlier in this thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:56 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Text. "There are many rings of power, Bilbo Baggins, and none of them are to be taken lightly!" Pinned down the quote with a web search, but my Google Play copy of The Hobbit doesn't seem to want to, you know, search properly, so I don't currently know if it's in that book of LOTR.
posted by JHarris at 11:19 PM on January 24


(And the place I found it could have been quoting the movie. Damn you Google Play Books, why can't I enter "ring" and find all instances of that word in the book?!)
posted by JHarris at 10:15 AM on January 25


Heh, I ended up spending the morning reading much of The Hobbit and some of The Fellowship of the Ring, half-looking for that quote. I gave up and found text versions of both, and it's not in there. I think it's from the movie.

Still, a morning well-spent, if not according to plan. As great as the lore of LOTR is, The Hobbit is so much more a rollicking, flowing tale. And partly because it's happier, although not without its tragedies. It's nice to see Gandalf the Grey taking out a few months to walk Bilbo home and to see him feel imperiled by wolves like the rest of us. I'd like to think that after Gandalf the White departed from the Grey Havens, he did a little bit of blowing smoke rings and meandering. But Valinor seems like a Very Serious Place.
posted by ignignokt at 10:41 AM on January 25


I know I read it before the movie even came out. The quote, now that I look at it hard, is probably from the movie, it reads like the voice of the movie. Do a search through your copies for many rings, maybe that will turn it up?
posted by JHarris at 10:54 AM on January 25


I searched online versions of both the Hobbit and FOTR, and I don't see anything like that at all, JHarris. There are only two refs in the Hobbit to magic rings in the plural, and neither is anything like that.

"Rings" comes up a lot more in FOTR, of course, but nothing like your quote; Bilbo and Gandalf only have one real scene together. There are a few other refs here and there that corroborate the idea of their being lesser magic rings abot.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:57 PM on January 25


Well where the heck did I get that impression from? Argh!
posted by JHarris at 1:30 PM on January 25


The more I look into it, the more it seems like it might be me filling in blanks from a movie quote. Ah well then, carry on.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on January 25


The quote is from the movie. But the thought doesn't seem out of place in the world of the books....

Gandalf looked again very hard at Bilbo, and there was a gleam in his eyes. ‘I think, Bilbo,’ he said quietly, ‘I should leave it behind. Don’t you want to?’

‘Well yes – and no. Now it comes to it, I don’t like parting with it at all, I may say. And I don’t really see why I should. Why do you want me to?’ he asked, and a curious change came over his voice. It was sharp with suspicion and annoyance. ‘You are always badgering me about my ring; but you have never bothered me about the other things that I got on my journey.’

‘No, but I had to badger you,’ said Gandalf. ‘I wanted the truth. It was important. Magic rings are – well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am. I should like to know where it is, if you go wandering again. Also I think you have had it quite long enough. You won’t need it any more, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.’


And a little later....

‘The ring!’ exclaimed Frodo. ‘Has he left me that? I wonder why. Still, it may be useful.’

'It may, and it may not,’ said Gandalf. ‘I should not make use of it, if I were you. But keep it secret, and keep it safe! Now I am going to bed.’


I certainly get the impression from the books that the ring is an object of a type that is rare enough to attract the interest of Gandalf from the outset, but not so rare as to instantly set the alarm bells ringing in his mind.
posted by philipy at 6:49 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]


Does this mean there's someone else out there making magic rings and putting them into Crackerjack boxes?

The Elves do seem to have made many magic rings, but apparently most of them were little more than trinkets. Their power would be bound up with the One as well, but if they can't do all that much good, they probably can't do all that much evil either. Rings which make food taste slightly better, or enhance musical ability slightly, are cool and all, but not really of any strategic value.

Note that Tolkien didn't actually describe any of these other rings, but the text does suggest they're out there (even though that quote really is from the movie).
posted by valkyryn at 2:01 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Still catching up with this thread... here's some thoughts about magic...

First I wanted to say that I like the time-turner in Harry Potter, and what I esp like is that "whatever happened stays happened". (Is that a Pratchett quote?) i.e. You can't go back in time and undo anything that has been observed happening. But it does turn out that some of the things you observed didn't mean what you thought they meant. You heard the thud of the axe, but it wasn't the thud of an execution as you'd assumed, but the thud of the executioner venting his frustration that his victim had gotten away. It's a very internally consistent and paradox-free kind of time travel.

Compared to that some of the more mysterious magic in Harry Potter seems out of place in that world, like Sirius going through the veil and vanishing.

In LOTR it's the other way around, and the non-mysterious magic is what seems out of place. Most striking to me is this:

I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door. I know many; but to do things of that kind rightly requires time, and even then the door can be broken by strength....

The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces.


That doesn't seem quite right, magic isn't that straightforward or practical or well-understood by anyone. The LOTR tone is more:

But there is only one Power in this world that knows all about the Rings and their effects; and as far as I know there is no Power in the world that knows all about hobbits.
posted by philipy at 4:31 PM on February 6


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