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How The Ring tempts


Jan 27 2013, 5:02pm

Views: 2543
How The Ring tempts Can't Post

I have been reading Prof. Tom Shippey's Book "JRR Tolkien, author of the century." It has a learned and well-written chapter on Concepts of Evil in LOTR. I find I don't completely agree with Prof Shippey's ideas about how The Ring works, and I've been trying to think on from the place to which he gets us.

Prof Shippey's argument is probably best summed up in this quote:

The Ring's ambiguity is present almost the first time we see it, in 'The Shadow of the Past', when Gandalf tells Frodo, 'Give me the ring for a moment'. Frodo unfastened it from its chain and, 'handed it slowly to the wizard. It felt suddenly very heavy, as if either it or Frodo himself was in some way reluctant for Gandalf to touch it.
Either it or Frodo.... The difference is the difference between the world views I have labelled above as 'Boethian' and 'Manichaean'. If Bothius is right, then evil is internal, caused by human sin and weakness and alienation from God; in this case the Ring feels heavy because Frodo (already in the very first stages of addiction, we may say) is unconsciously reluctant to part with it. If there is some truth in the Manichaean view, though, then evil is a force from outside which has in some way been able to make the non-sentient Ring itself evil; so it is indeed the Ring, obeying the will of its master, which does not want to be identified.Both views are furthermore perfectly convincing. ...The idea that on the one hand the Ring is a sort of psychic amplifier , magnifying the unconscious fears or selfishnesses of its owners, and on the other that it is a sentient creature with urges and powers of its own, are both present from the beginning..."

Shippey then examines places in the text which support the "psychic amplifier" theory, and those which support the "sentient creature" theory. He finds examples to support both.

Personally, I think Prof. Shippey has got too caught up in the dicotomy he's proposing. I don't see why the Ring can't both be actively evil , but do its work by means of being a psychic amplifier. So it actively seeks evil goals (particularly to be reunited with Sauron), but typically does do by working on the weaknesses of its current or potential host (the wish to do good, or to save Gondor, or to preserve Lothlorien or whatever). I don't think the Ring always judges its man accurately- when Sam is temporarily its keeper:

"Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the String, Hero of the Age..."

... A vision so ridiculous that he has little trouble dismissing it. The Ring should have tempted him that only by using it could he save Frodo. Perhaps it just does not get a long enough "look" at Sam to figure him out, or perhaps it can only understand the will to dominate.

Mixed up in this too must be that the Ring, without doing anything more than existing, is going to be a temptation to the ambitious or greedy. If you are, say, a Saruman or Denethor, simple political and military calculation would lead to you wanting to control the Ring, or at least deny it to other powers.

So in conclusion I think the Ring operates on several levels (my list below may not be complete). And it is much more creepy and realistic that these overlap and aren't completely clear:

1) the Ring as Maltese Falcon.In its eponymous story, the Maltese Falcon is an entirely inanimate statuette- no hint of magical powers. Yet characters murder each other to get it- they want it for the power it would give them through its cash value. I don't mean that anyone wants to sell the Ring- I mean that the same calculation of "what I could do if I had..." Might spur some characters to evil, without any evil magical power from the Ring.

2) the Ring as chocolate cake if Denethor had tried to keep it safe, it would have indeed "gnawed at his mind". Worse than that chocolate cake I KNOW is in the kitchen, though I still have to lose some Christmas pounds. I don't imagine the chocolate cake is emanating any active influence. But in the case of the Ring this blurs into...

3) An "unwholesome power that set to work on its keeper at once". That reads as too active for me to think its like the unwolesome allure of a bottle of booze for an alcoholic: I think the Ring is a predator or parasite out to use its current host for its own ends. After the host has succumbed, I don't know whether this goes do far as...

4) the Ring as Red Contact Lenses: sci Fi and Fantasy and the like has a trope in which characters can be temporarily so under the influence of evil that they are effectively brainwashed. Wardrobe (or the artists/animators) often seem to supply red eyes too indicate this. Nothing the character can do to resist. Well, not until the plot requires- e.g., the leading lady is strapped to the sacrificial altar, in a skimpy costume of course, and the red-eyed hero is just about to plunge the knife into her delightful chest when he suddenly cuts her lose and stabs the High Priest instead. It's not clear the Ring itself operates as a brainwasher, though something makes Frodo attempt to run into Minas Morghul and certain capture: that could be the Ring, the Nazgul, or Sauron: we never find out.

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....
Feel free to meddle in the affairs of noWizardMe by agreeing or disagreeing (politely...) with my posts! I may not be subtle, but at least I'm usually slow to anger...

Subject User Time
How The Ring tempts noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 27 2013, 5:02pm
    Get thee behind me, Ring! CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 28 2013, 12:36am
    Loyal evil Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 28 2013, 1:54pm
        I like your conclusion CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 28 2013, 4:45pm
        How "intelligent" is the Ring? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 28 2013, 5:07pm
            The power of the ring... elevorn Send a private message to elevorn Jan 28 2013, 6:06pm
                There was only One Ring, but CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 28 2013, 6:50pm
            Not so sure about the Palantir. Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Jan 28 2013, 10:42pm
                Corrupted palantirs, an insight into Sauron's powers and methods? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 29 2013, 1:05pm
                    still not sure about the palantir... telain Send a private message to telain Jan 30 2013, 7:09pm
                        Imbued vs contaminated? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 30 2013, 9:11pm
                            "When can an object be evil?" May be a promising question noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 31 2013, 11:05am
                                Some objects are "evil" in Tolkien's world, but he explains what that means in terms of his story. squire Send a private message to squire Jan 31 2013, 2:37pm
                                    Very interesting answer: thanks! // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 31 2013, 2:40pm
                                    Very well said! // Voronwë_the_Faithful Send a private message to Voronwë_the_Faithful Jan 31 2013, 2:52pm


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