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.”

l3

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

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!

Farewell (for a while) to Frodo and Sam

I began to write in this blog about the journey of Frodo and Sam from the Emyn Muil at the beginning of March in 2015 and now, about a year later, it is time to leave them where Tolkien does, at the gates of the orc tower that guards the pass of Cirith Ungol before it descends into the land of Mordor.

“The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place inside. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”

We have been on such a journey in this last year! We began with the frustration of the hobbits as they went round and round the hills of the Emyn Muil and then the capture of Sméagol and, for a time at least, his taming. Together with them we crossed the Dead Marshes and reached the Black Gate that was shut against them. Then we turned south for a time until we entered the spoiled beauty of Ithilien, Tolkien’s “dishevelled dryad loveliness.” In Ithilien we met the noble Faramir who showed the hobbits the true Gondor, born of Númenor and of the faithfulness of the Elf Friends, of Elendil and of his forefathers, Eärendil and Beren, and of his foremothers, Elwing and Lúthien. Then after an all too brief rest in the refuge of Henneth Annûn we journeyed on with Frodo and Sam and their treacherous guide into the Morgul Vale, climbed with them up the stair to Cirith Ungol and to Shelob’s Lair. There we encountered the horror of the monster that dwelt in those tunnels of darkness visible but we also saw the inbreaking of the  wondrous light of the Star Glass of Galadriel, the Morning Star of Eärendil, the Silmaril of Fëanor, and we saw Sam, the hero in the darkest moment, driving away the traitor, Gollum, and vanquishing Shelob herself. Shelob is defeated but not before she has stung Frodo and rendered him helpless. Sam takes the Ring from Frodo believing himself to be the last remaining member of the Fellowship and begins his journey towards the Cracks of Doom and the Ring’s destruction only to find that a  company of orcs has found Frodo and taken him alive into their guard tower. Frodo is a prisoner inside it and Sam is shut out.

And that is how it ends, at least for now. The door is shut. Frodo is a prisoner. Sam is shut out. I don’t blame Tolkien for stopping here. It’s as Frodo put it when he and Sam were talking about stories just before they entered Shelob’s Lair:

“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: “Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.”

So this post on my blog is dedicated to all who feel stuck, who feel they have reached a dead end in their lives. There is no way that Frodo and Sam can rescue themselves from this situation. Frodo is drugged and bound and soon he will be naked. Sam is one small hobbit and even if he uses the Ring it wouldn’t be long before he gets the attention of the last being in the world that he would ever want to meet. They cannot save themselves. Help will have to come to them from outside. It will come to you too. Ask for it.

This is no accident on Tolkien’s part. He wanted to tell a story in which the world was saved by the small. He believed (and so do I) that such a story was true to the Christian faith in which he believed. If you want to follow this thought further then listen to this talk by Brenton Dickieson http://apilgriminnarnia.com/2016/02/01/a-hobbits-theology-2016-pub-talk/ He puts it really well.

But now we have to leave Frodo and Sam. Next week we will be with Gandalf and Pippin once more. See you then.