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  • Roger Colby

Tolkien on Tolkien: Why Must The One Ring Be Destroyed?

The One Ring

The One Ring (Photo credit: Generalnoir)

I absolutely love J.R.R. Tolkien.  He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and certainly is (for fantasy writers at least) the great grandfather of modern fantasy novels.

I often discuss Tolkien’s works with others, and one question that always comes up is “why did they have to destroy the One Ring?”  It was obviously a very powerful tool, and even though Gandalf says that it would only corrupt the wearer, are not some of the beings in Middle Earth powerful enough to handle it’s power?  What about Gandalf or Galadriel or Elrond?  All three of them are mighty indeed.  Why not just give it to them.

Tolkien himself answers this question in a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar.  Mrs. Elgar had written a letter to Tolkien asking him about Frodo’s apparent failure to throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom in Return of the King and that ultimately it is Gollum who, as if by accident, falls into the lava clutching the ring.

So which characters, hypothetically, would be able to wield the One Ring successfully and defeat Sauron with it?  Here is a list:

  1. Gandalf – Received his abilities from the Powers and was able to face down an army of Uru-kai and who is like a one man army.

  2. Galadriel – One of the oldest living elves, a sorceress by her own right greater than most anyone.

  3. Elrond – King of the Rivendell elves and nearly as old as Galadriel, a powerful healer and sorcerer.

  4. Frodo – Imbued with an innate ability to face all odds and struggle through.  Could he have used the ring to defeat Sauron?

  5. Aragorn – Once and future King of Gondor.  Speaks to the dead armies and gets them to join him in the final battle of Minas Tirith.

Tolkien says that, in essence, the ring had to be destroyed.  “It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power” (332).

Of Gandalf, if he “had been the victor” meaning that if he had mastered the One Ring, “the result would have been the same for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken from him forever.  But the Ring and all its works would have endured.  It would have been the master in the end.”  He goes even further, saying that “Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron.  he would have remained ‘righteous’, but self-righteous.  He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great)” but still flawed because the Ring would still win (332-33).

Of Galadriel and Elrond: “In any case Elrond and Galadriel would have proceeded in the policy now adopted by Sauron: they would have build up an empire with great and absolutely subservient generals and armies and engines of war, until they could challenge Sauron and destroy him by force” (332).  Therefore the Ring would be the victor again.

Of Frod0 it is simple: “Frodo would have been utterly overthrown: crushed to dust, or preserved in torment as a gibbering slave.  Sauron would not have feared the Ring!  It was his own and under his will” (332).

The same would be for Aragorn for “of ‘mortals’ no one, not even Aragorn.  In the contest with the Palantir, Aragorn was the rightful owner.  Also the contest took place at a distance” (332).  Aragorn would have given up the Ring to Sauron without question because he is mortal.

So as we can see the One Ring had to be destroyed.  It would end badly for Middle Earth if any of the major heroes would have laid claim to it and tried to use it against Sauron.  Tolkien also spends considerable time discussing the options that Frodo actually had once he had reached the crack of Mount Doom, but I will save that for next week’s “Tolkien on Tolkien.”

All quotations are taken from the following text:

Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. 1st ed. Massachusetts: George Allen & Unwin, 1981. Print.

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