Gollum Takes The Ring to The Fire

Frodo cannot cast the Ring into the Fire. It has mastered him and will not be destroyed in that way. In the last two weeks, firstly in my own post, Frodo Claims The Ring For Himself and in Anne Marie Gazzolo’s wonderful meditation, The Ring Claims Frodo we saw that Frodo spent all that he could of himself just to bring the Ring to the Mountain. He had nothing more to give. As Tom Hillman put it, with typical wisdom in a comment on Frodo Claims The Ring For Himself, “no-one could have achieved the Quest by throwing the Ring into the Fire”

I think it is necessary to pause here a moment to say that when Tom says no-one he means that not Elrond, nor Galadriel nor Gandalf nor Aragorn could have thrown the Ring into the Fire. There is an amusing meme that does the rounds of the World Wide Web in which the entire plot of The Lord of the Rings is simplified by Gandalf and the Eagles flying to the Mount Doom and dropping the Ring into the Fire. All that the witty purveyors of this meme achieve is to reveal their spiritual shallowness. For one thing, as a comment from Gwen showed on the same post the mountain would not have been undefended except through the remarkable coalescing of circumstances that Tolkien gives us. Secondly, there is no such thing as a simple throwing of the Ring into the Fire.

And so a grace is given in a form that could not have been anticipated and that form is the last desperate attack by Gollum. It is a form that Sauron ignores entirely regarding it as being completely insignificant. When Shagrat took his report to Barad-dûr of the events in Cirith Ungol did he leave out the detail of “her ladyship’s sneak” turning up again after a long absence? I doubt it. I think that, compared to the news of the dangerous spy who has somehow got past Shelob, Sauron thought that there was nothing more for him to learn about Gollum than he already knew.

That is Sauron’s fatal weakness. He is only capable of seeing things in terms of power and once he had extracted from Gollum all that he had done and all that he knew Sauron had no more interest in him allowing him to play the role in relation to Shelob that Shagrat and Gorbag referred to.

Only Gandalf had a sense that Gollum might have a role to play in the story. “My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.” Gandalf learned respect for small things in his long pilgrimage and for deeds that no-one else notices. “The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many- yours not least.”

Gandalf has learned a deep wisdom through a conscious attentiveness to small people and small deeds, a wisdom that began with his long tutelage in the school of the Lady Nienna, a school in which I suspect he may have been the only pupil. It was Nienna, one of the Valar, who taught him pity, both its necessity as a moral quality and its significance in the history of the world. It is Gandalf who realised that in the long, violent and malicious history of the Ring only Bilbo took it without violence and only Bilbo gave it up freely. Grace takes Bilbo’s kindly disposition, a very small thing in the great scheme of things and puts it to world-transforming use. Grace perfects Nature and so opens the door to Frodo’s pity for Gollum and Sam’s realisation that he too cannot kill Gollum, much as he wished to do so. And it opens the door to Gollum’s last attack upon Frodo and his fall into the Fire with the Ring on his grasp. Without all these small things the Ring could not have been destroyed. Grace would have had no door by which to enter the story. Grace cannot achieve perfection without Nature.

“But for him, Sam,” says Frodo after the Ring has gone, “I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him!”

And let us all forgive Gollum too and trust that he finds his way at the last to peace and to healing just as we long for peace and healing for ourselves too.


14 thoughts on “Gollum Takes The Ring to The Fire

  1. This is the part of LotR that I have the most trouble applying to real life. I suppose I should be grateful. Opportunities to exploit divisions among enemies like that only seem to appear in the most dire crises.

    • The crisis of the events on Mount Doom is certainly dire. In fact it is impossible. Whether the Council of Elrond knew that it was impossible before Frodo and the Fellowship set out from Rivendell I don’t know. What I am sure about is that they knew that it was the only possible way forward. Every other alternative was worse.
      I don’t think that dividing Gollum from Sauron was difficult. He hated Sauron and was desperate not to allow the Ring to fall into his hands. Sauron’s mistake was surely to underestimate Gollum, a mistake that Gandalf did not make. Sauron only ever thought in terms of strategy and tactics. In what sense is the journey of Frodo and Sam a strategy? Indeed in what sense is the march of the Armies of the West to the Black Gate a strategy either? And in what sense was the pity showed to Gollum a strategy? Each one of them is a wager on the nature of reality.
      Please do come back on me about this. I may have misunderstood you. And thanks as always for your comment.

      • The journey was an operation. Marching to the Black Gate was a tactic, as was pitying Gollum, if we want to look at everything with a narrow military perspective. The strategy was to destroy the Ring instead fighting.
        Not sure how much that answers your point.

      • Whereas I would see the march to the Black Gate as a tactic in the same way that a gambler would bet his entire wealth on a number on the roulette wheel in order to achieve a certain goal. As you said in your first comment certain things only happen in the most dire circumstances. My experience tells me that people rarely recognise the circumstance as dire enough. I have known organisations wither and die while the decision is made to hold onto the financial reserves in case of a “rainy day”. The ” rainy day” was always projected into the future and never grasped as belonging to the present. The gambling of the reserves was always seen as an insanity. I would be interested to know whether this kind of all or nothing gambling is taught at West Point or Sandhurst. Perhaps it is.
        As to pitying Gollum I would ask at what point did Bilbo, Frodo or Sam ever ask the question of what advantage the act of pity would bring to them? Gandalf may have reflected upon this but not the hobbits. For them pity was called out of them as they encountered Gollum in the flesh. Of course Frodo wanted a guide and felt that kindness would be a better way to persuade Gollum to play that role but his cry of “now that I see him I do pity him” is entirely spontaneous and unprepared for.

  2. Another wonderful post! Indeed everything happens at the time is supposed to happen and in the manner it’s supposed to. I’ve seen the meme too and agree about its shallowness. How terrible things may have turned out Middle-earth if such had happened, if the Ring overcame the Eagles too and made them drop the Ring along the way just waiting for someone to find and/or not fly to the Fire to destroy it but to deliver it As messengers of Manwe, perhaps they could have withstood its wiles, but I don’t know. It certainly would not make the same tale from which there is so much richness to learn from.

    I do not think Gollum found peace for he was born from evil (after Smeagol saw the Ring and murdered Deagol) and died evil. What I do hope is Smeagol found healing and peace at last.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • The really impressive figures in the story do not trust themselves with the Ring. I have no doubt that the Eagles would be among that number. Gandalf certainly is. I am convinced that if the attempt was made to carry the Ring to the Mountain it would have ended in disaster.
      Thank you for your distinction between Gollum and Sméagol here. If ever there was a false self it has to be Gollum. Gollum must die. But surely Sméagol can find peace. Thank you.
      God bless you 😊

  3. Hello! It has been far too long since I delved into your wonderful musings, here. I hope you and yours are well. 🙂

    Frodo also took the ring without violence, but unlike Bilbo, he did not face the motivation/temptation for violence. I’m not sure what this means in terms of the narrative, but I feel that it’s significant. At the least, like Gandalf, I recognize that Bilbo’s choice for pity and mercy is the point on which everything turns. Perhaps, even, the one choice that has the greatest impact on all other events in these books.

    Gollum/Smeagol always made me rather sad, but in a good way. I feel like his accidental sacrifice is very poignant. He saves the world with a selfish, desperate, even insane act that dooms him. He cannot be lauded as a hero, for his actions aren’t at all heroic, and yet through his act of evil, we have the eucatastrophe. He’s important, he’s someone we can sympathize with, but not someone we can admire. And yet of the three there at the mountain, it is through him that the day is saved.

    • How lovely to hear from you again on the blog! You are still the person who has left the highest number of the comments on the blog. I think that the reason is that often a comment from you began a conversation that would continue over a number of days. I have really missed those!
      In many ways the reason why I ended my thoughts on the events that end in the Ring going to the Fire with Frodo’s words, “Let us forgive him” is that I cannot construct a theology that makes sense to me, at least not with statements of the “the action x leads to the consequence y” variety. There is not a direct trajectory from Bilbo’s Pity to Gollum taking the Ring to the Fire and yet the Ring could not have gone to the Fire if Bilbo had not shown Pity. At the last I pray for forgiveness for Sméagol with Frodo and nothing more. I choose to align myself with those who show mercy.

      • I’ve missed our great conversations, too ^_^

        Mercy, and prayer for forgiveness does align most with my beliefs, as well. I think Tolkien was feeling out the seeming controversy between fate and freewill and how the two, at least from our perspective, intertwine. Gollum made a choice (freewill), just as Bilbo made a choice to spare him. Though the argument can also be made that Gollum was enslaved to the Ring. But Gandalf’s assertion that Gollum had a part to play, for good or ill, seems to point to fate. If Fate is all their is, then Gollum is clearly its victim, but Tolkien, true to his nature, is more nuanced than that, and obviously considers freewill to be a vital part of his story. I don’t have a clear answer, but I love how Tolkien doesn’t seem to be trying to give a clear answer, either. Instead, he’s showing us events, and asking questions to which he doesn’t pretend to have an answer.

      • None of the so-called clear answers have ever really satisfied me. It is as if theologians claim to be able to declare the mystery of the destiny of God’s creatures. As for me I only feel sure that God calls me to love and to do mercy. If you get the chance to read the posts on Frodo and his failure to destroy the Ring you will see quotes from Tolkien’s letters that make it clear that he does not blame Frodo for being overcome by the power of the Ring. Of course, and Tolkien also affirms this, the great difference between Frodo and Gollum is that Frodo took the Ring unwillingly because he was asked to and that he gave his utmost to trying to trying to resist the power of the Ring right to the very end, whereas Gollum took the Ring with murder and never tried to resist the power of the Ring at any time.

      • You are absolutely right. In Lewis’s words, Christianity offers us “positive doctrines, not limiting doctrines.” We’re told what we need to do, but our questions are not all answered, even if we could understand the answers, which I suspect we can’t at this point.

  4. Reblogged this on Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings and commented:

    Dear Readers,
    A few weeks ago I celebrated the first post on my blog to have been viewed 1,000 times. It is entitled A Chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to Show His Quality. If you look at Top Posts and Pages in the column on the right of this page you will find a link to it there.
    Today I wish to celebrate the second of my posts to achieve the same distinction. Actually allow me to confess. It has been viewed 997 times but I hope that by the end of the day that will have become 1,000! It is a piece that I remain pleased with. It expresses two things. One is the importance of small things in The Lord of the Rings and how wisdom is shown in paying attention to them. Another links to a recent conversation on the blog about how Sauron, the great planner, tends to overlook small things. Olga Polomoshnova made this point in a comment on my post, Why Did Sauron Make the Ring?
    And the post that I hope you are about to read also gave me the chance to thank one or two othere who have been regular supporters of the blog. Conversation is one of the joys of blogging and it has contributed so much to deepening my understanding of Tolkien’s work.

  5. His oaths and his madness and the Ring’s curse upon him and his own spiritual exhaustion all played a part in what happened to Smeagol. I do not think he slipped entirely by accident, or even Eru’s will, when he could climb sheer cliffs with ease. Subconscious desire surely played a part. Perhaps the greatest part was played when Frodo stopped being himself and became a pitiless glowing thing to Sam’s sight and the Ring spoke a curse that doomed it to the fire.
    He saved the world, though I doubt he much cared about that. He was forgiven, as was only fair. He got the One back and no one could ever take it from him again. We must imagine he died happy.

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