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The One Ring and invisibility

Cirashala
Valinor


Aug 19, 7:02pm

Post #1 of 8 (2298 views)
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The One Ring and invisibility Can't Post

Hello, all!

I am curious about something. When Bilbo wears the ring, he is invisible. So are his clothes (would get quite interesting if he was, but they weren't! LOL). The spiders in Mirkwood do not seem to see Sting, either, IIRC. He's holding Sting in his hand.

The elves of Mirkwood do not seem to see the food he swipes, or the drink he steals. They nearly trip over him several times, in fact, because they cannot see he's there! The most they could perceive (and this might be via their fear/spirits, more than their physical eyes) was a thin shadow at best. Though, they could hear him, which, I imagine, caused quite a bit of excitement and confusion! Laugh

So, that led me to wonder...

If the objects Bilbo holds are invisible, too, while he's wearing the Ring...would holding the HAND of another person render the other person invisible as well? Because he's holding their hand?

Forgive me if this question seems absurd. My grandmother is recovering from cancer surgery, and I'm staying with her during recovery in a caregiver role (she lives in her own house, but on the same property as us), and I tossed and turned til midnight last night, again around 5 am, and had to get up at 6:30 am to make her breakfast, as she's a very early riser, so I am exceptionally tired today Pirate Forgive my slow brain and addled wits Evil

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

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You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


squire
Half-elven


Aug 19, 8:43pm

Post #2 of 8 (2272 views)
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The invisibility is a magical literary device, not a physical phenomenon [In reply to] Can't Post

What I mean is, like invisibility cloaks and invisibility caps in other stories, Bilbo's ring in The Hobbit simply and easily gives its wearer all the perceived advantages of being invisible to others. They can't see you, and you can see them.

Of course a truly invisible human would be blind, because the light rays would pass through his or her invisible corneas! And (as H G Wells humorously imagined in his 'science fiction' tale The Invisible Man) ones food when eaten would remain visible in ones stomach until digestion unified the food with ones invisible innards. Clothes would be an issue - Wells had his invisible man go naked whenever actual invisibility was called for. Etc., etc.

But none of those unpleasant physical realities apply to a magic ring (or hat, or cloak). One is invisible to just the degree that invisibility is a good thing for not being seen, and not to the degree that invisibility becomes inconvenient or physically uncomfortable.

Your interesting question about whether touching makes the thing touched invisible, so that holding another person's hand would extend the spell to that person, is a good one. I can imagine Tolkien proposing a quasi-medieval distinction between lifeless (or spiritless) objects that one owns and controls, like clothing, food, and knives, and objects that cannot be owned or controlled such as other living beings like humans and the higher animals. Your spell of personal invisibility, granted by the magic device, extends to things that are yours. It cannot extend to things that are not yours, such as people and similar creatures.

You mentioned the fear, or spirits, of the Elves as being the part of them that sees a thin shadow. Although Tolkien certainly doesn't include that level of metaphysics in The Hobbit, he does mention in his first description of the ring that the shadow of the ring-wearer is only thinly and shakily visible in the full light of the noonday sun. This is, of course, the device whereby the goblins actually see his shadow during his escape from the final gate of the caverns. It doesn't have anything to do with spiritual vs. physical senses. On the other hand - I have always thought that, even in the context of The Hobbit, the magic of the ring is presented as unnatural and not basically a good thing. Invisibility is, after all, usually desired for the ability to do dishonest things, such as Bilbo's pseudo-profession of burgling - even if, in the book, Bilbo is the "good burglar" who only steals things that need to be stolen. But this unnatural power of the ring is defeated by the brightest light in the natural world: high sunlight, which is always seen in legend as a pure force of goodness, an aspect of divine vision and power.

In The Lord of the Rings, of course, Tolkien shifts gears regarding the Ring's invisibility. He tells us that the Ring's power is to translate a mortal wearer into the invisible spirit-world that parallels the visible one. It's a clever gag, in that it helps explain the connection between the Ring and the other Elven Rings, and it drives the second book's paradoxical trope that the Ring's invisibility power is useless in a quest against Mordor and its agents, the Nazgul. But as with your guess about the Elves' sensing, rather than seeing, Bilbo's shadow, the new version of the Ring's power begs the question of why in the earlier book the immortal Wood-elves or at least their high-Elven King, much less a major spiritual being like Smaug, could not perceive the wearer of the Ring walking about in the 'wraith-world'!

Sorry to ramble, but it has always been such an interesting device in its double incarnation in TH and then LotR. Hope this has amused your addled wits.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Silvered-glass
Rivendell

Aug 19, 8:56pm

Post #3 of 8 (2266 views)
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Theory of Invisibility [In reply to] Can't Post

Clearly not just anything Bilbo grabs turns invisible. For example, doors and gates appear to turn by themselves rather than vanish. I think it likely has to do with Bilbo's perception of himself and his personal items, and the Ring latches into that. If Bilbo was carrying a hobbit baby while invisible, the baby might well become invisible as well, or it might not, depending on Bilbo's current mindset.

It would be possible for Bilbo to intentionally turn another person invisible, or keep himself visible while wearing the Ring invisible on his finger, but he would need to master the finer details of the invisibility power first, and in the books he never gives thought to whether such things could be done.


GreenHillFox
Bree


Aug 20, 8:40am

Post #4 of 8 (2227 views)
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(In)visible objects [In reply to] Can't Post

There is a text in TH suggesting that, when Bilbo has the ring on and has Sting in his hand, his sword is visible:

Out came his little sword. He slashed the threads to pieces and went off singing. The spiders saw the sword, though I don’t suppose they knew what it was.

But if so, then that would mean that his sword becomes invisible when it is sheathed! Difficult, to make sense out of that.


squire
Half-elven


Aug 20, 1:12pm

Post #5 of 8 (2209 views)
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I'd missed that one [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, that's kind of tricky to decode in the context of The Hobbit's convention that the ring renders its wearer and his possessions invisible. How could Bilbo sneak about the Elven palace stealing food if the food in his hands remained visible? Clearly (ha ha) it didn't, making the sword an outlier in the 'rules' of the spell.

I don't know that Tolkien necessarily gave a hoot, since the story is meant to be a fairy-tale with flexibility about its magic and magical works. But ... perhaps ... Sting is uniquely visible while in his hands because it too is enchanted, with its glow-in-the-presence of evil qualities?



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 21, 12:18pm

Post #6 of 8 (2155 views)
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Fun thing to discuss [In reply to] Can't Post

Firstly (and most importantly) - you do sound like you're having a very draining time, Cirashala, & if Tolkien talk is helpful or distracting amidst all that, then let's do it. Of course your curiosity is not absurd.

Please also find attached a virtual hug, to use as required.

In any case, I have a track record of wondering what (if anything much) we can infer or deduce about the workings of Magic in Middle-earth. And I'm currently thinking a bit about what happens if we read Tolkien as literature vs. reading it in 'feigned history' mode (by which I mean playing the game of imagining Middle-earth as a real place, with Tolkien reduced from creator to primary source). The workings of the Ring tap into both of these interests.


So: - Middle-earth as literature....Following on from squire's comparison of Tolkien and HG Wells. That makes the point, I think, that writers have many choices when it comes to how much to explain the mechanics of speculative fiction devices. It's partly the author's personal preferences, but also goes on to affect the feel of the of fictional world the writer is building, and the sort of reader who will come along for the ride.

Something I personally find helpful here is the Turkey City Lexicon (a primer for SF workshps produced by the SFWA, Edited by Lewis Shiner; Second Edition by Bruce Sterling). I'd like to consider the item called "The Edges of Ideas":

Quote
The solution to the “Info-Dump” problem (how to fill in the background). The theory is that, as above, the mechanics of an interstellar drive (the center of the idea) is not important: all that matters is the impact on your characters: they can get to other planets in a few months, and, oh yeah, it gives them hallucinations about past lives. Or, more radically: the physics of TV transmission is the center of an idea; on the edges of it we find people turning into couch potatoes because they no longer have to leave home for entertainment. Or, more bluntly: we don’t need info dump at all. We just need a clear picture of how people’s lives have been affected by their background. This is also known as “carrying extrapolation into the fabric of daily life.”


"The Edges of Ideas", from Part Five: Background of the Turkey City Lexicon


(A lot of other entries in that Lexicon are amusing or useful, in my opinion)

The comparison of Wells' Invisible Man with Tolkien's invisible hobbit (squire, earlier in this discussion) is perfect here, I think.


I think it would be fair to say that Tolkien is more likely to be on The Edges of Ideas than Wells, who prefers to stare straight at the idea and provide at least some of its mechanics. Of course he can't go all that far with that - if Wells really knew how to make an invisibility device, the details would be secret. And, to me, the interesting things about Wells' Invisible Man is not how he 'figleaves' the technology of becoming invisible: it is the consequences and limitations of that being possible in the story. And that, of course, could be seen as a point of similarity with Tolkien.


I agree with squire that "I don't know that Tolkien necessarily gave a hoot [about the workings of invisibility], since the story is meant to be a fairy-tale with flexibility about its magic and magical works." That's probably just as well : Tolkien has to make the invisibility ring of TH seem like the same object as the One Ring of LOTR, and giving TH some Wellsian discursus on exactly how the invisibility ring worked could have been really ufortunate when LOTR got under way.


I think it is also worth stopping for a moment to imagine what TH or LOTR would be like if Tolkien kept stopping to explain how exactly everything worked. Some folks would like that and some would not. But I think we should all be able to agree that the stories would be very different.


I think that would affect the 'feel' of Middle-earth too. It's a world in which characters can meet with unexplained and perhaps inexplicable events or people. As readers we can be presented with things that we cannot work out by inference or deduction from the known 'facts'.



My go-to example of this taken to the extreme is the identity and nature of Tom Bombadil. To me, Tom functions within Tolkien-seen-as-literature as a mystery. I think we are not supposed to be able to work this out. I think the author's intention is to give us something we cannot work out. I'm mentioning TB here because (in my opinion) this mystery is drawn attention to overtly in the LOTR text, and then it seems clear to me from Letters that the normally very mailbag-responsive Tolkien is just not going to provide an answer. So to me it is clear that, on occasion at least. Tolkien has no intention of helping us to understand the 'mechanics'. (Other people don't agree with my analysis here, I know: and that is fine - why should it be a problem if we don't agree?)


[I see TB as an extreme case - I'm not arguing that every time we can't work something out this is because Tolkien didn't want us to. And - need I say this? - I'm definately not arguing that Tolkien doesn't want us to know things, and that we must honour his intention and not look. I am very wary of anyone appointing themselves the High Prest and Guardian of Tolkien's True Meaning, Intent and Legacy, and casting everyone else into the roles of blastphemers, heretics or philistines or whatnot. But maybe you weren't expecting The Tolkien Inquisition...Wink]
But where were we - ah yes, the Ring...

The mechanism of the invisibility ring could well be something that Tolkien considered but didn't include so as to keep the story flowing. In that case there would in principle be a 'right' answer, just one that is lost because Tolkien didn't write it down, or the paper is lost. But I don't think so. I think it is more likely that Tolkien didn't know exactly how this worked, and didn't feel the need to work it out.



What I don't believe is that Tolkien knew exactly the invisibility ring works, and set it as a puzzle, such that all the clues are in the texts. Now of course I can't prove that, even if I felt it was important to try to. In any case the onus ought to be on someone who disagrees to assemble and exhibit those clues. Quite likely I'd enjoy either being convinced by that, or thinking about & discussing why I disagree.




But if we look at Middle-earth as feigned-historians or worldbuilders...
... we could hope to find explanations for the things that Tolkien, as our primary source, didn't know or understand.


Or, perhaps one should say, we could hope to find explanations for the things that the authors and editors of the Red Book didn't know or understand.

Realistically we can come up with explanations for just about anything, but I think we'll rarely come to any consensus.


Before discussion the limitations of that, I'd like to stop and note how well it works that the authors and editors of the Red Book don't know or understand everything. As regards the invisibilty ring/One Ring specifically, Smeagol/Gollum and Bilbo got no learned advice about it. I think it is easy to understand why people want to tell Frodo just enough for him to understand and undertake his task. But of course they dont want to tell him enough to attempt to experiment wth the accursed thing. We could further imagine that the Red Book was written & copied out in a Fourth Age where Ring-making had been rejected, and the mechanical details dangerous, taboo and inappropriate to write down, if they were still even known.



Now of course in the Real World, Ring lore would be preserved as military secrets, but I think that difference between the Real World and Middle-earth can be extrapolated from Tolkien's comments about destroying the Ring instead of using it in the 2e LOTR Foreword.


That example might nicely introduce my next point: it isn't necessarily compelling to make assumptions about Middle-earth based on the cultures, morals, and world-views of people in the Real World past or present. Someone else can choose to doubt that Middle-earth is the same in that particular regard.


You might say the same about Physics. A lot of physics in Middle-earth seems consistent with what we're used to - fire burns, dropped objects fall and so on. Some things might not work by physics alone - who is to say? (I once had a fun conversation about this, involving a thought experiemnt about a vending machine. But it would be a fairly long post to explain that, so I won't do it here.)


I think we also, having decided to try and explain things ourselves, we have to decide what terms to use. I've been unable to find, just now, an explanation of invisibility rings in terms of postulating optical and physical effects. And I don't mind much that I can't find it: it may have been excellenty Wellsian, but to my tastes it didn't 'fit' the worlds of Middle-earth as I imagine it. I prefer something like squire's explanation earlier in this discusion:

In Reply To
I can imagine Tolkien proposing a quasi-medieval distinction between lifeless (or spiritless) objects that one owns and controls, like clothing, food, and knives, and objects that cannot be owned or controlled such as other living beings like humans and the higher animals. Your spell of personal invisibility, granted by the magic device, extends to things that are yours. It cannot extend to things that are not yours, such as people and similar creatures.





Or Slivered-glass (again, look earlier in this discussion):

In Reply To
learly not just anything Bilbo grabs turns invisible. For example, doors and gates appear to turn by themselves rather than vanish. I think it likely has to do with Bilbo's perception of himself and his personal items, and the Ring latches into that. If Bilbo was carrying a hobbit baby while invisible, the baby might well become invisible as well, or it might not, depending on Bilbo's current mindset.

It would be possible for Bilbo to intentionally turn another person invisible, or keep himself visible while wearing the Ring invisible on his finger, but he would need to master the finer details of the invisibility power first, and in the books he never gives thought to whether such things could be done.




What I like about that one is it ties the invisibility power to Will. The One Ring is notably about manipulating other peoples' will. So maybe the Ringbearer puts it on willing you can't see them, and lo! you can't --unless perhaps you have a very strong will yourself, or have other abilities, r are a slave of the Ring (Nazgul) or truly don't care about will and Rings and Power (TB).

Now of course, like any explanation, that merely creates further points ot be explained: why is the invisibility of the wearer the 'default' power of the ring (the one that the new ringbearer gets when they aren't expecting any particular result of putting the ring/Ring on, or the one they get without trying to train themselves to achieve something else).



Perhaps though, those explanations get you beyond someone wanting to come up with all teh edge-cases: "So imagine Bilbo has a ball of string in his pocket right? He puts on the Ring and becomes invisble. Then he ties the string onto a..........

Naturally, I have no idea what the answers are! Smile

~~~~~~
"there is the internet truth that good comments encourage other good comments, and bad comments encourage other bad comments"

David Allen Green QC


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 22, 12:02pm

Post #7 of 8 (2087 views)
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The Vending Machine bit [In reply to] Can't Post

 
Imagine a vending machine - ideally a fully-mechnical model in which coin insertion either works the mechanism, or unlocks a door, lever or other thing for the user to do the rest. That way we don't get into complications about elecricity supplies or microprocessors.

In principle, could such a thing exist in Middle-earth? I'd say 'yes' from a physics and engineering point of view - there doesn't seem any reason to suppose that levers, cogs and the like woudl work any differently from the Primary World, or that the fairly simple mechanical mechanisms required would be impossible for people in Middle-earth to understand or build. They do, after all, have door mechanisms, mills and the like.

But Middle-earth societies might show no interest in building vending machines because such machines don't solve a need anyone has.

If there was a need to sell things anonymously, at all times of the day and night, or with fewer staff costs, maybe Middle-earthers wold come up with a different solution.

There's also the possibility of making vending machines that use magic, whatever that is. Or maybe not. From our perspective here it might seem as if being able to make voice-activated magical doors for Moria ought to mean you could make a voice-activated magical vending machine if you wanted to. From our perspecitve, both are mechanisms that open thing under the right conditions.

But since we know so little about magic it could be that ensorceling (is that the word?) a door is utterly different from doing it with a vending machine.

And anyway, would putting a vending machine in one's fan fiction or billion-dollar TV show seem contentious, enve if such things could plausibly exist?

That's the idea, anyway.

~~~~~~
"there is the internet truth that good comments encourage other good comments, and bad comments encourage other bad comments"

David Allen Green QC


Timbo_mbadil
Rivendell


Oct 27, 10:25pm

Post #8 of 8 (987 views)
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Ah, the lack of logic [In reply to] Can't Post

or consequence in so many iconic devices!
(But first off: All the best to your grandma and good on you for being there for her!)

I stopped worrying about these "details" when I realised that devices (in lack of a better word) such as vampires and zombies in the end don't work. Not if you think the matter through, as you did.

If everything he touched turned invisible when he's wearing the ring, then Arda (and possibly everything touching it) would become invisible, as long as he stood on the ground. (Wow, imagine that, Bilbo hopping up and down -- world on, world off, that's one hell of a Rave!)

Invisibility is a device, just like a phone. I enjoy being able to talk to people all over the world, but don't worry about what exactly makes that possible (electrons exchanging polarity -- no, stop right here! ;-)


Otherness represents that which bourgeois ideology cannot recognize or accept but must deal with (…)
Robin Wood 2003, p. 49. "Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan – and beyond". Columbia University Press, New York, Chichester, West Sussex.

 
 

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