On the Impossibility of Casting Away the One Ring. So Why Even Try?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp 59-60


(An audio recording of my reading of this post)

The point has come in which a decision has to be made concerning the Ring. The time of hiding and waiting (not that Frodo had known that he was doing either of these things) has come to an end. Sauron knows that the Ring is in the Shire and that it is possessed by a hobbit called Baggins.

Frodo will take the Ring to Mordor but at the last he will fail to cast it into the fires in which it was made in Mount Doom. Only an inbreaking of the most extraordinary grace will finally destroy it.

And yet, surely, we already have evidence enough here, in the peace of Bag End in the spring time, to know that the task is far beyond Frodo’s capacity to achieve it. When Gandalf encourages Frodo to try to “do away” with the Ring he fails miserably.

“Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its colour, how perfect was its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious. When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But he found now that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away- but found that he had put it back in his pocket.”

And so right at the very beginning of the story Frodo fails even to cast the Ring into the small fire burning in the grate at Bag End, a fire as we have already seen would have no effect upon it at all so what chance is there that he might cast it into the Fire of Orodruin?

Gandalf makes it clear that Frodo has little talent for the task, anyway, that he lacks the necessary power or wisdom so why not give the Ring to one who possesses both power and wisdom too? Frodo offers Gandalf the Ring.

“No!” cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.”

And with that reply Gandalf makes it clear that it is not just Frodo’s wisdom and power that are insufficient to deal with the Ring but his own too. If Frodo has too little of either then Gandalf has too much. This quest, the search for the Cracks of Doom and the destruction of the Ring, will not be achieved either by strength or even by wisdom.

Then how is the Ring to be destroyed?

Surely the clue lies in Gandalf’s words to Frodo. “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power and wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” It is in the words, “but you have been chosen” that we learn how the Ring is to be destroyed. Frodo will have to leap into faith and to travel, step by step, to the Cracks of Doom and there he will have to do what he can. At no time will there ever be some kind of blueprint for him to follow. No one will ever say something like, “When you get to Mount Doom this is what you have to do”. And that is because no one, not even Gandalf himself, knows what to do apart from the need to cast the Ring into the Fire and we have already seen that Frodo does not possess the capacity to do that and neither, as far as we can see here, does Gandalf. The Ring is too powerful for either of them. Some other power, the power that has done the choosing, will have to intervene.

One might wish that this power would give a little more guidance, either to Frodo or to Gandalf, but all that is given is the choosing. And that is enough.

5 thoughts on “On the Impossibility of Casting Away the One Ring. So Why Even Try?

  1. It’s always struck me in the whole story of the Ring how difficult it is to deal with it. No one knows anything for certain, no one can be 100% sure that right decisions are being made and no one knows how it all will end. Realising how powerful and dangerous a thing one is carrying cannot be of much help either. What a horrible burden to carry!

    • And I am also struck that Gandalf, who has been a carrier of burdens for so long is excluded from carrying the biggest burden of them all and to give it to a hobbit. That must have been hard. I need to think more about it.

  2. What a wonderful post! “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Yes, a little direction would be splendid, but that’s all we get and that is enough. Any more could interfere or blind us completely to reliance on God’s direction. Frodo is the perfect Ring-bearer because of his emptiness of power and worldly wisdom and inability to destroy the Ring. Because of this, God can pour His grace into this malleable instrument without having to take the time and bother to empty him of arrogance, overconfidence, selflishness etc. before He can use him. Frodo trusts in this Chooser while he doesn’t even know Who it is, incredible really, and a great lesson for us all. Love Olga’s words too. Not knowing for certain what steps to take or whether they are the right one to take is part of daily life and lends so much reality to the tale.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • The walk of faith is a cloud of unknowing through which we must pass. The writer of that wonderful book states that it is impossible to grasp and to hold God through our knowledge but only by love. We are so anxious to know.
      Is Tolkien creating a world in which obedience has to come from love and not knowledge? As you put it so well, we have so much unlearning to do. Frodo is able to make the journey in complete innocence accompanied by one who is a true holy innocent.
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

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