Wednesday 22 May 2024

Why the evil of the One Ring cannot for long be resisted by anyone At All

It is striking that the possession of the One Ring is rejected by even the most good and most powerful characters of The Lord of the Rings. 

Gandalf decisively rejects the idea of being given The Ring with mingled horror and almost panicked fear; Galadriel is tempted but triumphantly allows herself instead to decline in power and prestige, departing from Middle Earth rather than take The Ring; Elrond does not even allow himself to consider the idea - Aragorn likewise (Tom Bombadil seems completely uninterested, so the question does not really arise.) 

What is striking is that it is made clear that the corrupting evil of the One Ring cannot ever, under any circumstances, be long resisted by anyone who could and would be able to use it - and this is true no matter how strong and noble their nature and intentions really are. 

This is a powerful conclusion; because it implies that nobody is, or could be, good enough to resist evil - and on the surface it seems to imply that evil always has the upper hand in the spiritual war. 

If the One Ring is indeed so strong that the best and highest are susceptible - then there seems to be no ultimate hope for good. 

Evil seems decisively more powerful, and must eventually prevail... 

But closer examination shows that that this would be a mistaken analysis. When somebody has taken the One Ring to use it, and then tries to resist its corruptions; we are not dealing with two distinct sides of Good versus evil - but are instead already inside the realm of evil; from which position resistance is actually attempting to hold-a-line for lesser-evils against greater evils; but all this happening after the side of evil has been-joined.

The reason why nobody is strong or good enough to resist the One Ring is that by claiming The Ring they have already chosen not to resist its power

Anyone who claims the One Ring has - by that act - opened the door to evil, and invited it inside.  

After that point - with the enemy already loose inside the castle keep - resistance will fail sooner or later. 



NLR said...

That makes sense to me.

Since Sauron appears to be the most powerful being inhabiting Middle Earth at that time, only someone with greater native power than Sauron could truly resist the ring. But then such a being wouldn't need to use the ring against Sauron in the first place. So, using the ring is trying to use Sauron's own power to augment one's own. And therefore, inviting in the evil of the ring.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - "Sauron appears to be the most powerful being inhabiting Middle Earth at that time, only someone with greater native power than Sauron could truly resist the ring"

I'm suggesting that there is more to it than that; and that even a more powerful being than Sauron would be corrupted by the ring.

William Wildblood said...

This is the simplistic way I see it. There is spiritual power and there is material power and they are two totally different things arising from totally different forms of consciousness. The ring is material power so even to want to use it, never mind actually use it, means you have already descended to material consciousness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think this is very close to what JRR Tolkien said, when he describe the big problem as using The Machine as a (fake) direct route to achieve spiritual goals, and The Ring as an archetypal "Machine"

In this documentary, somewhere - spoken by Christopher Tolkien:

William Wright (WW) said...

You sure glossed over and misrepresented Tom Bombadil's interaction with the Ring!

Far from being completely disinterested and not having the question arise, he actually "demanded" that Frodo bring the Ring to him so he could inspect it. Frodo couldn't resist, gave it to Tom, and Tom placed it on his finger where the Hobbits all witnessed that the Ring had no affect on Tom - he didn't disappear. He then gave the Ring back to Frodo.

The Ring literally had no power over him.

The very existence of Tom suggests that your statement that no one can resist the evil of the Ring is a bit too broad.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WW - Au contraire mon ami - Tom illustrates my thesis perfectly, because I am talking about the effect of "claiming" The Ring, of taking the One Ring to *use* it. This intention is opening the door to evil and inviting it inside. .

Tom's interest was more like that of a magpie intensely but briefly attracted by a pretty trinket; he seemed bored by The Ring very quickly, and moved onto discussing badgers after only about a minute. Frodo was irritated that Tom made so light of the subject.

William Wright (WW) said...


That is funny you started your response to me with a complete French phrase! Have you been reading my blog? If not, you might not know that I place Tom Bombadil's House in France, of all places.

And your use of magpie in describing Tom made me laugh, too. The idea of a "pied" Being (such as the Pied Piper) who is related to Tom has come up over on my blog as well, and I noted that the magpie is the source of that term (meaning Black and White):

Anyway, I think your read on Tom is pretty bad, honestly.

Anonymous said...

In contrast to inherent limitations to misusing and perverting what is good, the idea of (so to put it) an 'unusable artifact', so determinedly perverted in intentional construction that it cannot be 'properly used', is fascinating. How unusual is Tolkien in presenting such a thing?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - On the one hand all good writers are unique; on the other, any understandable and effective communication is influenced by what went before - so Tolkien's ring is unique, while also having come into existence because of the traditions and stories of magical rings that he knew.

Paul Kocher and Tom Shippey were enlightening to me on the nature of the Ring, which is related to JRRT's understanding of the nature of evil.

There is also a "plot convenience" level - at which Tolkien needed to make the One Ring impossible for the side of good to use, and necessary to destroy. I think his touch of genius was to discern that it was the small and relatively weak hobbits who could best accomplish this - because the Ring could not be "mastered".

This is a very deep and resonant insight!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! It is fascinating, for example, to compare - and contrast! - things like the ring of Gyges, which seems to 'conduce' to evil, while being imaginably resistible, or Wagner's Ring with the requirement that Alberich foreswear love to get it (if I recall correctly). I am glad the new edition of Tolkien's Letters got me to reread all the previously published letters, too, and appreciate things I had forgotten or was not in a position to appreciate fully when I read the first edition, and which I never happened to read again in between, like Letter 246, and other passages bearing on what you well say about Tolkien's touch of genius and the hobbits and the Ring.

David Llewellyn Dodds