The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 30-35
The One Ring has had a long and unhappy history since its forging in the Second Age of the Sun. Its purpose in its conceiving was to increase the power of its maker, Sauron, the Dark Lord.
“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them, In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
Rule has ever been its purpose so that all the work that has ever been done in freedom by Elves, Dwarves or Mortal Men should itself become the work of one being and enslaved forever to his will and purpose.
The Ring is a fearful thing and yet it has never quite accomplished that for which its maker purposed it. Even when it was in Sauron’s possession it never quite gave him the power he desired. He had to submit to the greater power of Númenor and, at the end of the Age, in battle against the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, had it taken from him by force by Isildur, son of Elendil. And although he grows in power once again towards the end of the Third Age the Ring, now the focus of an all-consuming desire, remains hidden from him.
The Ring has had its own history throughout this time, betraying first Isildur to his death and then the unhappy Déagol too until it falls into the hands of a hobbit lost in the endless tunnels under the Misty Mountains. And in this moment of its history a theft takes place undoubtedly but no murder and so its history begins to change. At no point does the Ring ever change in nature but it is clear that another power is at work as well as its own entirely malevolent one.
I think we can say that Bilbo meant to give the Ring up and to leave it to Frodo. It is just that at the moment when he has to make a choice he finds that he is unable to do so.
“Into the envelope he slipped his golden ring, and its fine chain, and then sealed it, and addressed it to Frodo. At first he put it on the mantelpiece, but suddenly he removed it and stuck it in his pocket.”
Poor Bilbo! The Ring is so much stronger than he is and if it had not been for Gandalf’s intervention it would have taken complete possession of him and dragged him down into a living perdition. Indeed already it has begun to do its work. Bilbo speaks of feeling “all thin, sort of stretched… like butter that has been scraped over too much bread”. He speaks of an “eye looking at me” of not being able to rest without it in his pocket.
Eventually Gandalf has to hint at his own power in order to make Bilbo give it up. This is no act of a bully seeking to force someone weaker than himself to give up freedom for servitude but rather the opposite. Gandalf uses his greater power to free Bilbo from himself or should we say to free Bilbo from his false self from the self that can never be at rest while in possession of the Ring? Or perhaps that he can never be at rest while the Ring seeks to gain possession of him?
The true Bilbo leaps into full view almost as soon as he makes the decision to let go of the Ring.
“It was a fine night and the black sky was dotted with stars. He looked up sniffing the air. `What fun! What fun to be off again, off on the road with dwarves. This is what I have really been longing for for years.`”
A good spiritual guide might tell Bilbo that the thing that he had thought that he had desired the most was in fact nothing more than an adhesion “on the wings to love and adventure,” as the poet Patrick Kavanagh puts it. But perhaps Gandalf is better than that for rather than telling Bilbo that this is what the One Ring has become to him he actually sets him free. Later in the story he will do the same for Théoden of Rohan.
But now let us watch with Gandalf as the 111 year old hobbit leaps over a low point in the hedge and heads off down the road to his own “love and adventure”.
4 thoughts on “Bilbo Baggins Lets Go of The Ring. With a Little Help From a Friend.”
“Fearful thing” may be an inspired choice of words. What does the Ring fear? It’s obviously terrified of Bombadil, for one thing.
Of course I was using ‘fearful’ in the sense of being a cause of fear. It felt right as a choice of word at the time. As I write this the line from the Psalms (King James translation) comes to mind declaring that we are “fearfully” made. That makes me stop and think. And then there is the use to which you alluded, that the Ring might itself be afraid. Sauron is certainly afraid. It is a state of mind that tyrants have to live with constantly. Poor them! Of course the option is always there to give up being a tyrant. And the Ring? I don’t know to what degree the Ring shares its maker’s emotional condition.
Thank you for making me think about this.
I think it’s interesting Bilbo perceives the Ring as an eye. He knows nothing really about it, that it is indeed the Eye of Sauron, not even Gandalf at this point knows the truth, but still Bilbo has this awareness without knowing he does. I love that you use the picture of the real Bilbo here and in the last post, Ian Holm. I like too the comment about the Ring being afraid. I think, if it knew, if Sauron knew, about Bilbo coming along and what it would ultimately mean, it would be very afraid. I like to imagine it laying there, trying in vain to be invisible, and begging silently, Please don’t see me, please don’t see me, don’t pick me up, I want an orc I can control, not you, please don’t see me. 🙂 .
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
Gandalf seems to file what Bilbo says for future reference. This is the first time in many reads that Gandalf’s patience has really struck me.
And in reference to the Ring and hobbits I wonder if it did just as its master did. That is to underestimate them until it is too late. The Ring thought that Bilbo was a better bet for getting it back to its master than the miserable Gollum. And surely it would have had plenty of opportunities to betray Gollum to an orc if it had wanted to?
I totally agree with you about Ian Holm. I have great respect for Martin Freeman as an actor but Jackson got the whole character of Bilbo wrong in his Hobbit movies. And, of course, Holm played Frodo wonderfully in that wonderful BBC radio adaptation of many years ago.
God bless you, Anne Marie 😊