Frodo and The Ring

For a few minutes Sam and Frodo are able to rest in their happiness in finding one another again but soon the reality of their situation begins to take hold of them and at the heart of that reality lies one thing above all; and that is the Ring.

When Sam had found Frodo’s seemingly lifeless form lying beside the path after Shelob’s attack he took the Ring and so kept it from Shagrat and Gorbag and ultimately from Sauron himself. For a little while he felt the lure of the Ring imagining himself a great hero but soon saw the fantasy for what it truly was, as a deception that would lure him into the grip of one far greater than he.

The Ring searches out the deepest desire of the one who holds it and then twists it to its own enslaving ends. It is not even necessary to hold the Ring to feel its power. It is enough that there is something in the world that can grant you everything that you desire if only you can possess it. For Gollum the desire is merely fish every day and revenge on all who he perceives to have done him harm. For Boromir the desire is to be the liberator of his people from the shadow of their enemy and to be loved and admired by all. Even the best of desires is capable of being perverted. When Gandalf praises the pity of Bilbo he also recognises that the way of the Ring to his own heart would be by pity.

In what way is Frodo corrupted as the journey continues? We never hear the kind of speech from him as we do from Boromir. Frodo is a true hobbit and not much given to the making of speeches (Bilbo is an exception!). He hears far more than he ever speaks. One thing that he does speak of is his desire to “save the Shire”. As with Boromir, and with Gandalf also, his desire is noble. He also has a deep sense of having been given a task to fulfil, a mission to achieve. He did not claim the mission to destroy the Ring at the Council of Elrond as if it were somehow his right. When he spoke it was as if another voice had spoken through him. His offering of himself for the task came with the deepest reluctance.

The Ring has few footholds into Frodo’s heart unless it is by way of possession itself. Perhaps that is why he sees his kinship with Gollum and pities him. When Sam reluctantly returns the Ring to him Frodo sees him “changed before his very eyes into an orc again, leering and pawing at his treasure, a foul little creature with greedy eyes and slobbering mouth.” Frodo has entered the mean world of the orc and it is horrible.

What is essential at this unhappy moment is that it does not lead to the kind of struggle to the death as it did with Sméagol and Déagol long before. Sam gives up the Ring to Frodo while Frodo himself repents of his accusations against Sam. Both are left devastated by the exchange but their relationship remains firm. Even at the very moment when Frodo sees Sam as a thief the perverted vision does not take possession of him. He remains aware that what he thinks he sees is not real.

“What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring.”

This ability to step away from the horrible fantasy and to see it for what it is is essential. It saves both of their lives. Frodo must have had practice in being able to step away from his initial reaction to the actions of others and to be able to see that his reaction was not something inevitable and ungovernable but something that he could choose. And he retains enough independence from the Ring to be able to see its power. For the time being it is enough.

14 thoughts on “Frodo and The Ring

  1. I never thought of that – that Bilbo is an exception in how talkative he is. I so often tend to think of Bilbo as being a standard hobbit, even though his adventurousness is atypical, too.

    Your insight that Frodo must have had a lot of practice stepping back from his initial reaction to others is profound. My mom always told me when I was a child that moments of trials are not the time to build one’s character. It’s the time one finds out what one’s character is really like. Is the fact that the ring has so few footholds on Frodo a testament to his great character, something he must have worked on for many years?

    Whenever my sister and I watch the movie version, my sister reminds me that Frodo was actually older in the book, as opposed to the movie. Could it be argued that only someone who had spent so many years practicing his character be able to bear the ring as long as Frodo does?

    • Thank you so much for leaving a comment, Christina. I have been a fan of your blog for a while now, and in a way, your comment on the way that Frodo’s ability to bear the Ring is related to the building of his character connects to the role of film in my own life. I believe that the stories that we let into our hearts, especially in our early years, profoundly shape the people we become. I think that your mother was absolutely right in what she said. The Greek word in the New Testament for judgement was krisis, from which, of course, we get our word. And every crisis (big or small) is a judgement day that reveals the truth of what we are. When I read your blog I find that I connect to my mother (who I lost two years ago). She grew up in a mining village during the depression and going to the cinema that still stood when I used to visit her family as a boy and was known locally as “the flea pit” was a big part of her life. When I watch a film that I think she would have liked or that I know she did seems to bring me closer to her. They also connect me to the dreams, the hopes and fears, of others. In other words my character is shaped.
      Your sister is right about Frodo. In Tolkien’s telling of the story there is a gap of 17 years between Bilbo’s farewell party and Gandalf’s revelation regarding the Ring. I think it was 17 years of missing Bilbo, falling deeper in love with the Shire, becoming more cross with the behaviour of some of his fellow hobbits(!), being the master of Bag End and keeping the Ring safe.
      And my remark regarding Bilbo’s love of making speeches comes from Tolkien’s telling of his farewell party. The guests are enjoying the party and definitely enjoying Bilbo’s magnificent hospitality but their hearts sink when he stands to make his speech. He has a reputation!

      • That is fascinating about where we get the word crisis. I’ll try to remember that during crises!

        I am so glad my blog has helped you be closer to your mother!! I’ve always tried to stay close to my mother, too, after she died by remember the things she taught me or what we did together. Or the things we talked about after watching a movie. Or even learning from my grandmother more about my mom as a child.

        It is interesting how Tolkien built that time for Frodo’s character to be created during his time at the Shire. That Frodo would be fully prepared to carry the ring, something he might not have been as ready for, do you think, when he first received the ring?

      • I am sure that you are right here. Frodo would not have been ready when he first received the Ring. And those 17 years of grace were necessary for all the other characters too, maybe even for Gandalf.

      • Hi Stephen, thanks for the warm welcome. I’ve been reading all your essays, specially in airports, not sure why, it’s something that just happens, your words happen to be a good company during travels. Maybe it’s because LoTR is a travel in itself?
        Was reading these last two essays at home, and wondering about number 17. In Bible 40 was like a number of change: 40 days/nights of rain, 40 years in the exile, 40 days in the desert. While I don’t think 17 is a number of change in Tolkien’s imaginarium, it might be a number pointing to maturity? To a coming of age?
        I looked up some quick references about Tolkien and 17, but got little:
        – his younger brother, Hilary, was born on February 17
        – his first son, John Francis, was born on November 17
        – composed “The Book of the Foxrook” in 1909, when he was 17
        Maybe it’s nothing, I was just curious 😀

      • I am so delighted and humbled that you have enjoyed my short essays. I don’t envy the fact that you have to fly often. The pace of your travel is very different from the pace of the hobbits, especially as they struggle through Mordor. That kind of pace is painfully slow but increasingly I prefer to move at walking pace.
        Thank you so much for letting me know about the 17s in Tolkien’s life. It is a fascinating idea but I do not know enough to speculate on whether the number did have significance for him. What I do is that hobbits come of age at 33 and that this was Frodo’s age at Bilbo’s farewell party. 50 was Bilbo’s age when he began his adventures with the dwarves and that Frodo always felt that this age might have some significance. He deliberately delayed his departure (almost disastrously) from Bag End until his 50th birthday. The 17 years between the two dates were a time of maturing for him and growing up for Sam but beyond that I do not know their significance.

  2. At this point, Frodo still knows what appears to be his own reactions/overreactions are actually coming from the Ring/influenced by the Ring. It is good you point that out and he realizes it. His age and his years spent resisting the Ring even before he left the Shire is indeed helpful for him, as Christina’s sister observes. Alas he will not realize that also happens at the Fire when he thinks he freely wills to claim the Ring and he does not understand the Ring was in charge and he wasn’t.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • Many thanks for this, Anne Marie. I know that you have written about Frodo at the Cracks of Doom before and how his resistance to the Ring is finally broken down there. Certainly Sam never blames him for this and I do not believe that Sam is pretending at the Field of Cormallen. His joy there is genuine. I have not yet read Tolkien’s letter replying to someone who accused Frodo of treachery, of deserting his post but I intend to do so before I write about this scene at a later date. God bless you 😊

  3. Everyone knows the truth about what happened at the Fire except Frodo, but Tolkien says he likely had no memories of it himself. So he had to rely on what Sam said he said and with those terrible words condemned himself. Cheers to Sam’s joy and all those who celebrated the true victory and Frodo’s long resistance!

  4. Thank you for this post – and for redeeming Frodo and finding good in him even at one of his lowest points. The analogy between Frodo and Sam here, and Sméagol and Déagol long before, is a brilliant one, I hadn’t connected the two. Poor Frodo escapes Gollum’s fate for now, but it is desperately sad to see the Ring increasingly taking hold of Frodo.
    The connection with another earlier scene is also very interesting – the one in which Bilbo and Frodo meet again in the house of Elrond. I remember when I first read LOTR, I thought Bilbo’s apparent transformation when he reached for the Ring reflected its continued hold on Bilbo. But it was only after further re-reads that I came to realise that what Frodo saw was actually a reflection of the Ring’s influence on himself. Frodo did not have the self-awareness to understand what was happening when he saw Bilbo in a hideous light, and seems to not have fully appreciated the power of the Ring – that it could even momentarily make you mistrust someone you love so much. He narrates the scene between him and Bilbo as if it were the reality. But what a contrast with his self-awareness and self-rebuke when he later sees Sam in that same hideous light, something your post has highlighted so beautifully. Though the Ring must have a much greater hold on him by that point, Frodo is far more conscious of its effect. In a way, that is what makes his final ‘failure’ so tragic – perhaps the closer he got to his goal, the more he knew deep inside that he would not be able to do the deed. What a difficult burden to carry.

    • I suspect that if Frodo had known, from the beginning, what effect the Ring would have on him he would not have taken on the journey. Or would the Ring have taken him. The Ring desires its true master and so every step towards Mordor takes it towards him. A glorious irony! Gandalf and the Wise have a deep compassion for Frodo, not just because they feel for his suffering but because they fear the power of the Ring themselves. They know that they could not have been the Ring-bearer. And the more I understand my own weakness the more I honour Frodo. His “failure” is greater than the triumphs that most who believe themselves to be great will ever know.
      I do hope that you will read the posts I wrote about the climactic scene on Mount Doom and comment on those too. I would very much appreciate your thoughts there.

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