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How The Ring tempts


Jan 27 2013, 5:02pm

Post #1 of 15 (2638 views)
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...


Jan 28 2013, 12:36am

Post #2 of 15 (1656 views)
Get thee behind me, Ring! [In reply to] Can't Post

It's interesting to me how much Tolkien fans disagree about the nature of the Ring: some say it doesn't corrupt at all, and like Men going into Lorien, it only causes trouble if you have trouble within you. But to me it's an evil thing in itself because Sauron put his power and evil will into it for the purpose of dominating others, hence it naturally tries to rule its wearer, and for ill purposes. Elrond says "It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil."

Then there's the part about the Ring being sentient in some way, from Gandalf: "A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it." When Gandalf rejects Frodo's generous offer of the Ring, he not only says that his own power would be terrible, but "over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly." i.e., the Ring would somehow rule Gandalf. I think that's more than temptation, it's dominion.

What's odd is that Sauron put so much of himself into the Ring, but not much intelligence. As you note, it botched the job of corrupting Sam, and really, why did it spend centuries with Gollum instead of slipping treacherously off his finger much sooner, the way it did to Isildur? (And it botched that attempt to get back into evil hands too; are we sure that Sauron even wants this dim-witted trinket back?) I think you nailed it with "it can only understand the will to dominate."

Another odd thing is that the Ring never tempts Frodo to dominate anyone or even be grandiose. It repeatedly tempts him to put it on and betray himself to the enemy, but as far as we know, it never tells him he would be Frodo the Strong, Hero of the Age, as it does with Sam. Is this why Fate chose Frodo to be its bearer, because he couldn't be tempted by dominion or grandeur? Maybe just as strangely, Gollum never seeks dominion with the Ring, he just makes trouble until he's exiled, then he spends life alone, not even a life as a ruler of a little band of outlaws. How could he be so thoroughly corrupted and yet not desire dominion? (Choking and eating people doesn't count as dominion in this context.)

Regarding addiction to something inanimate, Gandalf says that Gollum "hated [the Ring] and loved it, as he hated and loved himself." That sounds like the way alcoholics can describe alcohol, and booze can assume in their minds a persona that is threatening, powerful, and alive. So I can see the argument for the Ring as a morally neutral object of addiction, but I think there are too many other statements that it's inherently wicked and corrupting to discount them.

For all the evil will that I believe resides in the Ring, I agree that it doesn't always need to be doing anything to arouse evil. Nuclear missiles sitting in silos tempt people to build their own for the power they would gain, but I don't think there are Balrogs inside warheads. For that matter, the Silmarils were inherently good and were hallowed by Varda, but Melkor was tempted to murder Finwe and steal them, and then end the source of the light that was in them so he would be the only one to have that light. What was the motivation there: was he overpowered by their beauty, or was there something good inside his evil spirit that was seeking redemption somehow, attracted to what was holy? Or did it matter--would Melkor have lusted after anything that was precious that he could deny to others, and is denying happiness to others a form of dominion?

The Shire

Jan 28 2013, 1:54pm

Post #3 of 15 (1640 views)
Loyal evil [In reply to] Can't Post

I like what Shippey says because he entertains the idea that the ring might in and of itself not be evil. Which is a suggestion that I think does actually have merits. My biggest problem is that if the ring is itself fundamentally evil, and it has agency and thinks and acts for itselfÖthen wanting to constantly go back to Sauron doesnít make total sense. For example, when Isildur takes the ring Sauron is reduced to nothing. Surely, if the ring was evil and had agency then staying with Isildur, an important and powerful figure in the world of men, would actually be better for it in the long run than slipping off his finger to be found byÖwho knows what. It couldnít really have been in a better position, but it leaves that position becauseÖwell we can only assume that it wants to return to Sauron. Unless we want to go so far as to give the ring an emotional dimension and suggest that itís just angry with Isildur for being the one who hurt its master. A bit of a stretch I think.

Admittedly, the ring does seem to make conscious attempts to be handed to more powerful people. Frodo may not want the ring to be burnt in the fire, but he offers it to Gandalf, Galadriel and Aragorn (in a way) fairly freely. We could suggest that at those moments the ring is diminishing its hold on Frodo as it sees a chance to get a more powerful host. But that does sound a little out of character for what we know of the rings normal tactics in changing owners, slipping off fingers. But it is in the lack of logic of behaviour on the rings part that makes me think that it is not a freely acting evil force. It may have evil effects, but it doesnít seem to me that there is any kind of consciousness or thought behind that.

Another point of interest is, I think, that Sam is the only character who is tempted with glory and power while he is actually in possession of the ring. Does Gollum ever express that he was promised kingdoms and riches and greatness? I donít think that he clearly does. I donít think theres a clear sense that that was the impression Bilbo got from the ring either. Isildur Iím less sure about, there is the implication but the emphasis is that he simply doesnít want it destroyed. The people who are tempted by it for its power, Gandalf, Galadriel, BoromirÖdonít actually have much, if any, direct physical contact with the ring. Which leaves us with several questions. Question one, does the ring only act on the person in physical possession of the ring or does it have a wider influence, is its influence based on physical contact or does it have a wider psychic influence? If we consider the ring to be something that draws out an individuals internal evil, then we would have to say option B. However I donít think thatís the case, as I will explain with my own theory next. Question two, why is Sam tempted in that way and none of the other ring bearers are? Iíd hazard the suggestion that it is because the ring gives in proportion to the strength of the bearer, Sam being the strongest and greatest of those we see bear the ring, he is given the greatest offer. Iím not sure though, there are many problems with that suggestion. There are more questions but I think those are the two most pressing.

What I would propose the ring is, is intensely loyal to its creator. All of its actions, leaving Isildur, leaving Gollum, attempting to make Frodo reveal himself are all motivated by a desire to return to Sauron. I donít think we need to give the ring any more agency than that. Itís like its programmed with a homing beacon. It will return to its creator, by any means necessary. That may cause it to do evil, or drive its bearers to evil but I donít think that necessarily means it itself acts out of evil.


Jan 28 2013, 4:45pm

Post #4 of 15 (1614 views)
I like your conclusion [In reply to] Can't Post

"Loyal evil" makes a lot of sense to me in explaining the ring's influence and actions. I think of it as only partially sentient, the way Turin's sword from Beleg seemed to serve him until it perked up and spoke up when it got a chance to kill Turin and avenge its original owner along with other innocent blood. It wasn't a sword that spoke otherwise or had conversations with Turin, and it never betrayed him in battle, but it had a conscience and consciousness of some kind. That didn't mean it was a living thing or had an active, aware mind all the time, just that it was more than a piece of metal.

Similarly, the Ring doesn't act like a living being all the time, and its attempts to get home to Master don't seem that bright, but as you say, it doggedly tries to return to Sauron. Maybe it's loyal like a mean and rather dumb dog. (I'm a dog lover, by the way.)

For your question #1, I think the Ring definitely has a pyschic, non-physical influence. Look at what happened to the lifespan of Gollum and Bilbo who didn't wear it all the time, and how it gnawed at Frodo even though he had only worn it briefly a few times. Frodo told Sam the Ring was always on his mind, yet it was only around his neck, and as far as we know, Frodo wasn't tempted to use it for any reason, not even to get home to Bag End.

If he wasn't tempted by its promise, as Boromir and others were, and he didn't wear it, how could it have had such a destructive effect on him unless it had an intangible influence? He was certainly much weaker than Sam as they journeyed through Mordor, and I don't think that's entirely because of Shelob's poison, though I'll admit I can't prove that with a text reference, other than Frodo repeatedly complaining of the Ring's effect on him, and never mentioning Shelob's bite. There is no, "I can't go much further, Sam. Her poison is still within me."

For question #2, the Ring certainly grew stronger once it was in Mordor. Maybe that gave it more powers of deceit than it had before, and that's why it gave Sam that vision? But I don't really know. When I think of Frodo being tempted by heroism, there's his defiance of the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen where he attempts to be a hero, but the Ring doesn't support any vision of great power to command the Nazgul there or on Weathertop, it just wants him to put it on so it can betray him in their world. Which brings us back to it being loyal to evil. The Nazgul want Frodo to put on the Ring, and it plays its part in urging him. (Or maybe it plays no part at all and the urging comes purely from the Nazgul.)


Jan 28 2013, 5:07pm

Post #5 of 15 (1617 views)
How "intelligent" is the Ring? [In reply to] Can't Post

Interesting thoughts Mim and CuriousG!

I agree with you -

There's that passage where Frodo is wearing the Ring on Amon Hen, and is nearly discovered by Sauron:

He heard himself crying out: Never, Never! or was it : Verily I come, I come to you?

The "Verily" voice sounds like the Ring to me, loyally trying to get back to its Master (the "Never, Never" being Frodo). Though, as Shippey points out, you can also hold that "Verily..." it is some Freudian part of Frodo which wants to die, or wants to be evil: that doesn't work for me, but its a matter of opinion.

Like you and CuriousG, I've not supposed that the Ring is a fully independent or sentient "person" able to betray Sauron or have its own plans. Insofar as I've thought about this I imagine it as having certain behaviours, and perhaps it has the ability to vary those a bit according to context. That puts it along the way to intelligence, a bit perhaps like the magical equivalent of artificial intelligence or the intellectual abilities of some kind of animal. It tries to get back to Sauron, but some of its attempts don't work out because of the limited repertoire of things it can do. Or, of course, because of the intervention of other powers ("Bilbo was meant to find the Ring").

It's all nicely ambiguous - something very odd happens to Boromir: you can argue that the Ring is emanating a kind of evil power to which he succumbs; or that his problems come from within and he'd just as well be driven mad by the wish to have some completely inanimate object that he felt might save Gondor (Anduriel, perhaps?). Or combination of both - evil power working on inner turmoil.

Some of us had a conversation earlier ("oft evil will shall evil mar" ) which touched on whether its a return-to-owner strategy for the Ring to often give people megalomania (MIM, don't know whether you saw that thread?): our conclusions were that maybe inducing megalomania is a good way of getting proto-ring-lords to reveal themselves prematurely to Sauron for military defeat and his capture of the Ring, or whether by contrast its a design flaw in the Ring once it had left Sauron's control. Utterly unknowable (but fun to speculate) whether Sauron ever put any thought into that situation arising, and designed the Ring with any safety mechanisms (such as a return to owner system).

I was thinking, the Ring is not the only object to be a source of temptation. In the Two Towers Chapter The Palantir, Gandalf is musing on how Saruman came to be controlled via the palaintir. Gandalf says:

And how it draws one to itself! Have I not felt it? Even now my heart desires to test my will upon it, to see if I could not wrench it from him and turn it where I would...

Again, you could argue that this turmoil is all within Gandalf. But it reads more like something is emanating from the palantir to me....

One more thought for now - what do we suppose would have happened if Sauraman had got hold of the Ring, deposed Sauron and become the new Dark Lord? I'm wondering whether, in a sense teh Ring woudl make him become Sauron, not replace him. I'm thinking of the creepy way in which several ringbearers start to call the thing "My Precious". Bilbo hears that from Gollumn, but Gollumn can't have known of Isuldur's use of the term in the manuscript that Gandalf finds. It could just be a nicely creepy literary effect, but you could also hypothesize that the Ring has some concept of itself as Precious, and can put that, or the personality of former ringbearers, into its new bearer's head.

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...


Jan 28 2013, 6:06pm

Post #6 of 15 (1602 views)
The power of the ring... [In reply to] Can't Post

The ring is imbued with the evil and sorcery of Sauron. All his malice and ill will was poured into its making, almost moreso than the gold in which is was made of. Therefore it has to be evil, it is an object of evil, made for evil purposes. It contains part of Sauron, in fact it contains the greatest part of his power, which is why he can barely exist without it. That much nastiness kept in one tiny trinket has a profound effect on all who come near it, with the exception of the ever allusive and confusing Tom Bombadil.

The ring represents a paradox, it has both a master and is a master. Had it ensnared Gandalf, or had Saruman found it, such malice and evil that was poured into it, along with the will of Sauron would overpower those other Maiar with their own power making them effectively both in control and controlled by the ring at the same time. That brings up a very interesting question at the same time, why is this not done to Frodo, or even Gollum?

It comes down to purpose and will. Gollum's will was to have another present for his birthday. The ringover powered that will and helped him to kill Deagol in order to gain such a present. Once Smeagol had possession it found no more will to do anything other than survive, which was basically all Gollum did for 500 years, yet in so the ring's evil ate away and strecthed him into a twisted and ruined form of life. Kind of a catch, it will get you what you want, but always it will act on its own accord in how you are allowed to gain such a thing.

Frodo however has no desire to even possess the ring other than to destroy it. How the ring acts with him is similar to how it acts with Smeagol. It eats at him, tries to bend his will to Sauron's, with no effect until he is within the chambers of Orodruin.
One the other hand, the Istari would have a heck of a time with internal conflict and their own power. Their purpose and will was to heal the hurts of sauron and contend with him. If they were to have the ring then the desire's of Sauron would create such a tumult and power within that it would be something altogether far more frightening than he ever imagined, kind of like a doubling of power along with ages and ages of evil intent and purpose.

This theory may leave us with more questions than answers. If Sauron embued a greater part of his power within the ring, then why does it get stronger in Mordor, perhaps Sauron has also done the same thing with that land, or maybe it is just by product of his presence, to where his evil somehow possesses those who entire his house.

The Ring is a complex thing, it was the apex of the skill he both taught and learned from the Noldorin smiths, and Aule in Valinor, combined with the evil of his teacher. I do not think it is possible to limit it to one finite example. It is more of a fluid entity, a complex spell meant at all times to obey but one master as well as hold emmense power.

Questions? Comments?

"clever hobbits to climb so high!"
Check out my writing www.jdstudios.wordpress.com


Jan 28 2013, 6:50pm

Post #7 of 15 (1608 views)
There was only One Ring, but [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you said it pretty well: the Ring is complex and has multiple facets to it, so even though there's only One of its kind, it can't be said to be a single thing.

Maybe it's just because we get exposure to the Ring throughout the narrative, and Sauron is always at a distance, but I find the Ring more complex and interesting than its maker.


Jan 28 2013, 10:42pm

Post #8 of 15 (1578 views)
Not so sure about the Palantir. [In reply to] Can't Post

The palantiri were utilitarian devices for the Numenorians. It's hard to imagine their having evil tendencies of their own. The problem is that Sauron had acquired the Ithil Stone, and was therefore "on the network" and able to exert his own evil in communication with the stones used by Saruman and Denethor (and, potentially, on Gandalf had he attempted to use one).

(This post was edited by Elizabeth on Jan 28 2013, 10:43pm)


Jan 29 2013, 1:05pm

Post #9 of 15 (1616 views)
Corrupted palantirs, an insight into Sauron's powers and methods? [In reply to] Can't Post

Quite right, Elizabeth, the palantirs aren't evil as such (unlike the Ring).

But there is nothing that Sauron cannot turn to evil uses. Alas for Saruman! It was his downfall, as I now perceive. Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves. Yet he must bear the blame. Fool! to keep it secret, for his own profit.

[Gandalf, discussing the palantiri with Pippin while en route to Gondor]

Sauron certainly seems to have corrupted (or bewitched? hacked?) Saruman's stone, and perhaps that gives us some insights into Sauron's powers.

Sauron has done something to Saruman's palantir, perhaps a bit like getting a virus onto a computer. Barad dur has become Saruman's "Home page", and Gandalf also thinks that Saruman is held under some form of compulsion to use the stone. Later in the same conversation with Pippin he says:

Easy it is now to guess how quickly the roving eye of Saruman was trapped and held; and how ever since he has been persuaded from afar, and daunted when persuasion would not serve. ...How long, I wonder, has he been constrained to come often to his glass for inspection and in instruction, and the Orthanc-stone so bent towards Barad-dur that, if any save a will of adamant now looks into it, it will bear his mind and sight swiftly thither? And how it draws one to itself! Have I not felt it? [and so into the quote I used in my initial post...]

So this section can be read that the corrupted palantir emanates some kind of mental influence from Sauron which persuades, daunts, compels and draws. If you accept that reading, it follows that the Ring might work similarly.

Though, of course, this is not completely clear. From Gandalf the White's encounter with Saruman at the siege of Isenguard (the Voice of Saruman chapter), its very clear that wizards at least can throw mental influences at each other from a distance without a palantir being needed. When Saruman tries to terminate the discussion with Gandalf, this happens:

'Good day!' He turned and left the balcony.
'Come back, Saruman!' said Gandalf in a commanding voice. To the amazement of the others, Saruman turned again, and as if dragged against his will, he came slowly back to the iron rail, leaning on it, breathing hard.

That looks like some kind of tele-compulsion to me. So you could argue that Sauron has been operating a similar kind of mind-control to get Saruman to the palantir when required, and the palantir is not involved in that: it remains only a telecommunication device (albeit locked onto Sauron's channel). Or that the palantir only helps Sauron to do this, so that he can get at Saruman, better than at Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel etc.

And again, you could insist that it is really only Saruman's subconcious that persuades, daunts, compels and draws, or even that it is pure psychology that makes him return to Gandalf with a considerable internal struggle. But I don't read it that way.

However, it's probably of note that Pippin is compelled and drawn to the palantir, even though he is not Sauron's original target, has no idea what the palantir is, and there is no evidence that Sauron is aware of him (until the looks in the palantir). Moreover, when Pippin does look in the palantir, Sauron initially mistakes him for Saruman, and then misunderstands why Pippin is visible in the palantir. So it doesn't seem likely that there is any specific compulsion being aimed at Pippin. That suggests to me that some kind of general evil force is emanating from the palantir now, and I'm further persuaded of this by Gandalf's initial concern, once he discovers Pippin, that Pippin has sustained some ongoing harm from the experience of handling it, and that it must now be hidden from him in case he feels further compulsions.

So how does this help us with the Ring?
Observation - Sauron is able to persuade, daunt, compel and draw at a distance (most likely, by means of the palantir once he has corrupted it)
Extrapolation - the Ring may also be able to persuade, daunt, compel and draw at a distance

Its not all "red contact lenses", however. Note that Saruman "must bear the blame". It's his pride, arrogance and competitiveness which make him keep the palantir as his own secret weapon, and so leads to his troubles. And some of Saruman's secretive palantir use happened before his stone was infected with Sauron's malware. Once again, we see that if there is an evil force it operates upon or through a person's weaknesses.

Or, is it sometimes the other way around: the victim rationalizes the evil force as being down to his or her weaknesses? - Pippin steals the palantir after a most out-of-character speech about being taken for granted and deserving more information from Gandalf. Hard to say whether this is a grievance he's had for a while (and which the palantir is perhaps now exploiting), or whether an evil compulsion from the palantir comes first, and Pippin is trying to rationalize it later. But I don't recall any other evidence that Pippin feels unappreciated, and so prefer the second idea. Perhaps this justification is a little like Smaegol's idea that he deserved to get the Ring as a birthday present, or Bilbo's lie to the dwarves that he won it.

So the new noWizardme thesis is:
  • Sauron is able to corrupt a palantir so that it emanates an evil force drawing one to use it.
  • The force is not specifically tailored to a given victim: we see this in that it operates on people Sauron is not expecting (Pippin)
  • The attractive force either operates through weaknesses in its victim, or the victim (becoming aware of an uncharacteristic urge) explains it in terms of their weaknesses (being taken for granted, wanting to wrest the device away from Sauron...). Or, sometimes it is one and sometimes the other.
  • Actual use of the palantir can lead to longer-term harm (which Gandalf initially fears for Pippin)
  • But the results of some contact with the palantir are varied. Pippin at least claims that he is free from any wish to use it again, whereas Saruman (probably over a longer period of use) has become a palantir-aholic.
Sounds like the Ring to me, at all points.

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...


Jan 30 2013, 7:09pm

Post #10 of 15 (1547 views)
still not sure about the palantir... [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think Sauron corrupted either Saruman's or Denethor's palantirs themselves, but the palantir as a means of communication was able certainly to transmit Sauron's evilness. The difference here (and with the Ring, I think) is the character of the person receiving the message. Saruman -- a great a powerful wizard (oh, wait, wrong story!) -- was first using the palantir to "check up" on Sauron, but his great and powerfulness was corrupted by the constant exposure to Sauron's influence. Since Denethor was never as powerful as Saruman, and his goals were always to rule Gondor, Sauron's influence instead drove him mad.

So, if someone else took the same palantir Denethor or Saruman possessed and used it to communicate with Elrond (if Elrond indeed had access to another one), I do not think the previous communications with Sauron would be still be in effect. Again, this is just a completely off-the-top-of-my-head-unsubstantiated hypothesis, so do what you will!

I also think there is a difference between suggesting Sauron can turn (some inanimate object) into an evil object (like a palantir) and suggesting he can use (some inanimate object) for evil. This is where the Ring may be different. Sauron did pour his hatred into it, so in my opinion the Ring itself is imbued with an evilness. In that way I don't think the Ring is wholly inanimate, but I don't think it is quite as sentient as others might believe. In some ways, as a literary and filmic device, it is necessary to turn inanimate objects into characters. For me, I never know how much of that is 'real' in the minds of the creator (hence, Tolkien.) So is the Ring partially sentient? Or, I wonder, does Bilbo, Frodo, Gollum, et al, refer to the Ring in such a way as it appears sentient -- to build up the problem of feeling drawn to evil deeds, but knowing that those impulses do not come within oneself?

just my thoughts for now .. wait a few days and they'll probably change!


Jan 30 2013, 9:11pm

Post #11 of 15 (1548 views)
Imbued vs contaminated? [In reply to] Can't Post

It seems we mostly agree the Ring was imbued with evil, hence inseparable from it. There could not be a good One Ring.

What if the Orthanc-stone is contaminated by Sauron's will/presence? It is somehow stuck to look toward him. Contaminated would mean it's a good or neutral thing that's soiled by an outer vile thing, but hasn't become evil itself and is separable from evil.

What do we make of the Tirith-stone that no longer had Sauron's evil on it, but was stuck with the death-throes of Denethor? Was that Denethor's curse on it, or was his death so traumatic that it left a psychic image behind? Was it contaminated by his suicide and madness? It seems disturbing, but not evil.


Jan 31 2013, 11:05am

Post #12 of 15 (1549 views)
"When can an object be evil?" May be a promising question [In reply to] Can't Post

That sounds right - the palantirs are tools which can be put to evil use (or retain other impressions of previous users - e.g. Denethor's hands). But they are not evil per se. I still quite like the analogy of a computer infected with malware. It is now doing the bidding of some unintended and nefarious master, such as using its internet connection to send people spam emails or to break into their computers. No matter how bad the actions of the computer now are, it would seem odd to say "the computer has become evil!" Instead, you hope to get it decontaminated and back to normal. I think this is what peole are saying about the palantirs.

Which leads me to wonder: we seem to agree that the Ring just is evil (contrasting in some sense to a corrupted palantir). Any project tried with the Ring, or any person using it is certain to turn out evilly, directly as a consequence of having used the Ring. Moreover it seems there's is no prospect of "decontaminating" the Ring so that it is no longer like this and can be safely wielded.

If we agree that the Ring is evil, are we right there and then giving it some of the properties of a sentient thing? I mean in contrast to a computer (or palantir, perhaps) which has no inherent good/bad moral status in itself, but can be used for a good or bad purpose?

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...


Jan 31 2013, 2:37pm

Post #13 of 15 (1553 views)
Some objects are "evil" in Tolkien's world, but he explains what that means in terms of his story. [In reply to] Can't Post

Do we really want to use the mechanisms of a digital computer to explain the ways of Tolkien's universe - a universe where both morality and magic are more effective than they are in our world of science and relativity? Analogies tend to take their users where the users want to go, in this case in a mechanistic direction. Even Tolkien tended to fall into the trap of scientizing some of his magic, such as in his later essay on the palantirs (in Unfinished Tales) where he actually tries to write down the rules of their operation to fit, retrospectively, a sequence of episodes that he wrote rather freely while composing The Lord of the Rings. The explanations seem forced and artificial, even when phrased in Tolkien's soothing and authoritative prose, because his imagination was not following any rigorous rules when he wrote about the Stones in the first place.

But Tolkien is stronger on the subject of the Ring than he is with the palantirs, luckily, since the problem of the Ring is the core of the entire book. The Ring is an extension of Sauron, and both are said to be evil in the story. If we ask what it means to be "evil", there is a clear and satisfying answer: Tolkien consistently shows that Sauron is evil because of what he does, not who he is. The Dark Lord personifies the human concept of a Will to Power, which is the compulsion of another free will. The Ring likewise enables its wearer to compel others to follow his or her commands, against their own wills. This is inherently a corrupt act, and furthermore we know that human nature being what it is, the corruption tends to appeal to the vanity and ego of any personality, leading to further and stronger acts of compulsion. The final result is, in fact, the Dark Lord, a being of absolutely isolated ego and a total inability to empathize with any other personality.

So the Ring is not just vaguely "evil", as if evil is some discrete quality that can be imbued in an object with evil results, etc. The Ring is evil because its only power is to compel obedience and unwilling action through the will of the wearer. Tolkien followed a long string of philosophers and theologians who recognized that compulsion vs. freedom is how good and evil actually exist in the workaday world. His brilliant contribution was to isolate and highlight the point by writing a story in which compulsion is embodied in a physical and inanimate artifact that people can choose to make use of, or not.

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Jan 31 2013, 2:40pm

Post #14 of 15 (1535 views)
Very interesting answer: thanks! // [In reply to] Can't Post


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...


Jan 31 2013, 2:52pm

Post #15 of 15 (2336 views)
Very well said! // [In reply to] Can't Post


'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


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