Bilbo and Frodo Were “Meant” to Have the Ring. The Hand of Providence in The Lord of the Rings.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 53-57

Frodo is disgusted by the story of how Sméagol had murdered his closest friend, Déagol, and taken the Ring and so began the journey from being a hobbit to becoming the “loathsome creature” that Bilbo had encountered deep beneath the Misty Mountains many years before. Gandalf tries to engage Frodo’s sympathy for a fellow creature but at this point in the story he has little success. Frodo even finds it difficult to believe that Gollum might have been a hobbit like him.

We cannot really blame Frodo for his reaction to Gollum and in a further reflection that will be published soon we will think about how we learn to pity another. Frodo has to go some distance yet down the road of experience in order to learn pity and it is not only experience itself that teaches. Gandalf and Sauron are both Maiar and so belong to the same order of angelic being with the same long experience of time and all its sorrow and joy. And yet while Gandalf has learnt Pity Sauron has entirely rejected it. Among the Valar, the Divinities of Tolkien’s legendarium, Gandalf sought out the Lady Nienna as his teacher while Sauron sought out Melkor who became Morgoth. Consequently Gandalf never achieved the power that Sauron did but he did learn Pity and Patience which were to prove to be so much more important.

Lady Nienna

Gandalf as Olorin and The Lady Nienna

One of the most important things that Gandalf learnt through his long practice both of Pity and of Patience was the ability to discern the significance of small things. Whereas Sauron could think only in terms of the exercise of his own will and whatever might aid or frustrate it Gandalf could see the exercise of another hand in history to which he must pay close attention and that this hand is as likely to work through small things as through great.

When he speaks of the Ring being found “by the most unlikely person imaginable” Gandalf is speaking of the work of this hand.

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring  and not by its maker.”


Gandalf is capable of discerning that “something else at work” in the astonishing moment of chance in which Bilbo places his hand upon the Ring because of his long practice of paying the closest attention to things. And when we speak of things we are not speaking of those things that are generally regarded as important but of small things. Things like hobbits.

Gandalf expects to see the hand of Providence at work in such things. Sauron does not look for the hand of Providence at all. The direct intervention of the Valar at the end of the First Age and that of Eru, the One, when Ar-Pharazôn of Númenor attacks the Undying Lands, takes him entirely by surprise. But that he might fall because of hobbits is a possibility that could never have entered even his darkest thoughts. You require certain powers of imagination in order to see Providence at work and Sauron not only has no imagination but he despises it. It is necessary to have imagination in order to people the world with hobbits and dwarves and ents. Sauron, like his master, Morgoth, before him, can only think in terms of slaves and of usefulness.


At The Entmoot by Stephen Hickman

Oh, the limitations of the practically minded! Those whose careful cost-benefit analyses can only be constructed in terms of profitability. Those who are prepared to declare whole peoples useless and to construct realities in which the useless no longer exist. Those for whom trees have only value as a carbon based energy source. Those who can only look at land as potential real-estate. At the last they must fall before the playful, the imaginative and the foolish.

Gandalf is accused of being trivial in his love of pipe-weed, fireworks and hobbits and accused of madness in entrusting the Ring to a “witless halfling”. But he has seen something that others have not. That no-one can simply abandon the Ring (or cast it into the Fire for that matter) unless another hand is at work and he has discerned that hand at work in the hobbits, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

And that is an encouraging thought!

10 thoughts on “Bilbo and Frodo Were “Meant” to Have the Ring. The Hand of Providence in The Lord of the Rings.

      • I was looking to understand exactly this line you bring up. I assume from your writing that there isnt a known or written about character in Tolkien’s writings that characterize this “providence” you speak of?

      • Hi Pete. It is good to make your acquaintance. You are taking me back to something that I wrote some time ago and I appreciate your doing it. I hope that my response is at least to some extent a satisfactory answer to your question.
        Gandalf’s statement that affirms that Bilbo and then Frodo were “meant” first to find and then to have the Ring is Tolkien’s expression of Providence although I accept that Providence is my word and not his. Tom Shippey has a lengthy discussion of Tolkien’s use of “luck” or the Old English word, “wyrd” in his study of Tolkien’s work, “The Road to Middle-earth”. My own feeling is that “wyrd” or luck is more how hobbits tend to see things. Gandalf who can see things from a very long perspective indeed and who has been in the near presence of Ilúvatar at the beginning of all things can trace the divine hand at work in the story of Middle-earth but he is not interested in giving Frodo a lengthy theological discourse. His word, meant, is closer to the way hobbits see things and anyway, even the Wise can do little more than guess at the divine purpose in the affairs of the earth. Those who claim to know more are merely guessing.
        So, I guess that my answer to your question would be that all the characters in The Lord of the Rings live in a providential world and the reason that this is an encouraging thought is that it is good to know that the divine power is at work in the world for the sake of the good even though we don’t know in what way it is!
        Do let me know what your thoughts are here and whether mine were of any use.

  1. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Your post reminds me of this quote from Albert Einstein’s which I love. Gandalf sees so much more than Sauron because he looks through a different lens. Where would the world be without those who wisely use their imagination to create wonders and see the Invisible Hand and Artist who is the most imaginative of all? God bless them all. Happy New Year!

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • A Happy New Year to you as well, Anne Marie and thank you for your company upon the journey in the last year. I am looking forward to starting to get to know your new blog in the coming days.
      Sauron is ultimately only capable of creating Mordor and, of course, even that is merely a marring of the truth and not a creation at all. I loved your quotation of Einstein’s. He knew the importance of the imagination to the intellect.
      I was also reminded as I read your comment of the character of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost when he declares, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven”. It sounds so magnificently defiant until one realises that it is only in Hell in all its Mordor like hopelessness that it is possible to reign in defiance of God.
      God bless you 😊

      • I love that quote from Milton and your take on it, of course, so true. Just like the song of the Nazgul from the first movie, which is a great song to hear in the original but chilling . ‘We deny our maker. We cling to the darkness. We grasp for ourselves power and glory. Now we come, the Nine, Lords of Eternal Life.” It sounds so wonderful to them, but they also realize, which they don’t admit to in the song, their lives are a living hell because they are not alive and they are not dead. The cry of the Black Riders the hobbits hear in the Shire is curiously and tellingly described as a lonely one.

        Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

      • I had not paid attention to the song of the Nazgûl from Peter Jackson’s films. It feels very close in spirit to Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. What an appalling tragedy was their tale.

  2. Lovely thoughts! And I was struck by your reference to the Hand of Providence and the fact that Saruman chose The White Hand as his symbol. Another clue that the White Wizard had lost faith in Providence, believing more in his own skill and knowledge.

    • Thank you so much for this and a very happy New Year to you.
      I really had not been thinking about Saruman’s ‘White Hand’ when I wrote my piece but you are absolutely right. That symbol declares in arrogance, “By my hand have I done this!” And of course it is a lie. Saruman searches so long and hard for the Ring. He knows more about it than any of the Wise and yet, by sheer “chance”, it falls into the hands of Bilbo, the friend of Gandalf.

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