Symbolism of the Ring in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Symbolism of the Ring: The Embodiment of Evil “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them” (1 LotR II,2 The Council of Elrond) One of the masters of British Literature, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien has the unique ability to create a fantasy world in which exists a nearly endless supply of parallelisms to reality. By mastering his own world and his own language and becoming one with his fantasy, Tolkien is able to create wonderful symbolism and meaning out of what would otherwise be considered nonsense. Thus, when one decides to study The Ruling Ring, or The One Ring, in Tolkiens trilogy “Lord of the Rings”, one must not simply perform an examination of the ring itself, but rather a complex analysis of the events which take place from the time of the rings creation until the time of its destruction. Concurrently, to develop a more complete understanding of the symbolic nature of the ring, one must first develop a symbolic understanding of the characters and events that are relevant to the story. This essay begins with a brief background of Tolkiens life, followed by a thorough history of the “One Ring” including its creation, its symbolic significance, its effect on mortals, and its eventual destruction. Also, this essay will compare Tolkiens Ring to the Rhinegold Ring of Norse mythology, and will also show how many of the characters in the trilogy lend themselves to Christ-figure status.
By examining the Ring from these perspectives, a clearer understanding of its symbolic significance will be reached. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, an English scholar and storyteller, became fascinated by language at an early age during his schooling at, particularly the languages of Northern Europe, both ancient and modern. This affinity for language did not only lead to his profession, but also his private hobby, the invention of languages. He was also drawn to the entire “Northern tradition”, which inspired him to study its myths and sagas thoroughly. His broad knowledge eventually led to the development of his opinions about Myth, its relation to language, and the importance of stories.
All these various perspectives: language, the heroic tradition, and Myth, as well as deeply-held beliefs in Catholic Christianity work together in all of his works, including The Lord of the Rings (LotR). The creation of the “One Ring” or the “Ring of Sauron” goes back to the years following the fall of Morgoth. At this time, Sauron established his desire to bring the Elves, and indeed all the people of Middle-Earth, under his control. It was his opinion that Manw and the Valar had abandoned Middle-Earth after the fall of Morgoth. In order to bring the Elves under his control, Sauron persuaded them that his intentions were good, and that he wanted Middle-Earth to return from the darkness it was in.
Eventually the elves sided with Sauron, and created the Rings of Power under his guidance. Following the creation of these rings, Sauron created the One Ring in secret, so that he would be able to control the other rings and consequently control the Elves. The creation of the Ring, and the essence of its power is revealed in the following passage. “and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only as long as it too should last. And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven Rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them.” (from The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age) The power of the One is recognized by the Elves as soon as Sauron puts the Ring on his finger.
They realize that he can control their thoughts, and they decide to remove their rings and not use them. The history of the ring, then, follows that the Elves and Sauron became bitter enemies, and the One ring remained in Saurons possession until it was taken by Isildur after Saurons defeat, and was then lost in the river for many years. Eventually, it was found by Deagol, who was in turn murdered by his brother Smeagol. Smeagol is the same person as the pitiful Gollum, who retained the ring until it was taken by Bilbo Baggins. From here, it logically follows that it was given to Frodo Baggins by Bilbo, under the guidance of Gandalf the Grey, and so we reach the beginning of LotR.
The nature of the One Ring can be explained in three distinct ways. First as a personification of Saurons power. Second as a symbol of evil in general. And finally, as an inanimate object with a mind of its own, with the ability to work away from its creator as well as return to its creator of its own accord. The next section of this essay will examine these three explanations. Indeed, as the Rings creator and original “owner”, Sauron had placed a great amount of his own power into the ring for the purpose of controlling the other rings.
Because of this, the Ring is effectively an extension of Saurons might. The loss of the Ring does not destroy Sauron, as would the destruction of it. Rather, his power is simply spread around, and his influence affects whomever should have possession of the Ring at any time. Should Sauron recover the ring again, however, his power will be greater than ever, as is explained in Book one of LotR. “If he recovers it, then he will command them all again, wherever they be, even the Three, and all that has been wrought with them will be laid bare, and he will be stronger than ever.”(1 LotR I,2 The Shadow of the Past) Even without the ring, then, Sauron’s power was immense.
Throughout LotR, however, there are only hints of this power. Saurons power lies in control and dominion, and the deprivation of free will. One example of Saurons power reflected in LotR is in Gollum, whose pitiful condition is the result of Saurons domination over him as the bearer of the One Ring. The Ring presented as a symbol of evil is possibly the most important idea represented in the trilogy. In Tolkiens world, evil is the antithesis of creativity, and is dependent on destruction and ruin for its basis. Conversely, goodness is associated with the beauty of creation as well as the preservation of anything that is created. The symbolic nature of these two ideologies is represented in the Elven Rings, which symbolize goodness, and the One Ring, which is wholly evil. A main theme of LotR, then, is the struggle between good will and evil.
Another theme that is in accordance with this struggle is the theory that while goodness can create and be beneficial, evil can only serve to pervert and destroy. Therefore, evil cannot exist unless there is something that can be perverted and destroyed. This idea is the main essence of Saurons evil nature, and thus the One Ring is the essence of evil as well, as it is the personification of Sauron. In the “Letters” of Tolkien, it is said that, “Essentially the primary symbolism of the Ring is as the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies.” (Letters 180) This is to say that the purpose of the Ring is to destroy, through deceit and corruption, anything good in the world. Another way to show the symbolic nature of the ring is to say that it represents the omnipresence of evil. Its very existence, because it contains the evil will of its creator, has the power to tempt, corrupt, and in doing so destroy. The next way in which the nature of the Ring can be examined is in the way it has seemingly animate abilities as an inanimate object, namely the ability to work away from and return to its creator.
In order to understand this, one must realize that if the Ring is evil in itself, which has been explained earlier, then it must also have the ability to work evil. It cannot necessarily create evil ideas on its own, but instead it can take advantage of any opportunity which presents itself to the Ring. Specifically, whenever Frodo is tempted to use or actually uses the Ring, the Ring has a chance to work corruption on him, even in the absence of the creator. In this way, the Ring is advantageous, and the stronger the presence of evil, the easier it is for the Ring to work on the bearer. For example, on Weathertop, the presence of the Witch-king is a tremendous evil, and the Ring takes advantage of this, convincing Frodo to use it in order to escape.
Although Frodo is not permanently corrupted at this point, the Ring is slowly eating away at him, and its power over him grows each time he uses it. This leads inexorably to the final failure of Frodo, that being at the Cracks of Doom, when he decides that the Ring is his by right. At this point, the Ring has won, and it is only by chance that it is successfully destroyed. It can be said that it is either the culmination of the Rings corruption of Frodo that resulted in its victory or else it is that the Ring finally had enough outward evil presence to aid it in conquering the bearer, that presence being Mordor itself, the heart of evil. The idea that the Ring has a mind of its own is further explained in the way it is never lost or forgotten for long. As Gandalf explains in Fellowship, “A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo.
It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it.” (1 LotR 1,2 The Shadow of the Past) This statement shows how the Ring will protect itself from destruction if at all possible. The further explanation, that, “It was not Gollumbut the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him.” (1 LotR 1,2 The Shadow of the Past) again shows how the Ring always strives to return to its creator. This goes to further the notion that Sauron has control over the Ring even when it is not in his possession. His power is not vanquished by the absence of the Ring, simply reduced and spread out. The Ring will always be found, and it will always return to its creator so that its evil nature can be whole.
The temptation of Frodo throughout LotR is another important aspect of the power of the One Ring. Unless one first understands what is involved in a struggle between Good and Evil, it is incomplete to simply say that such a struggle exists. Also, in order to examine the nature of temptation, one must also discuss the idea of free will. If the essence of Evil is control and domination, which has been explained earlier, and the essence of goodness is freedom and creativity, then it seems as though temptation is based on evil. The Ring does tempt Frodo, in an effort to subvert him and conquer his ability to choose whether or not to wear the Ring, but it is not the nature of goodness to prevent this from happening, because to do so it would be to destroy Free Will in a different fashion with the same result.
From Frodo’s point of view, the entire trilogy is an examination of choice and free will. When Frodo chooses to take the Road to the Fire at the Council of Elrond, he is not only choosing to take a dangerous path, but he is also choosing to continue to allow himself to be presented with the temptations that are presented by the Ring. There is a very important relationship that concerns both temptation as well as the general effect of the Ring on mortals. This is the conflict between Frodo and Boromir. Their confrontation is an example of the choice issue, and the temptation and fall of Boromir is the first of two critical choices that are made at this point. Boromir is overwhelmed by the Rings power, and it eventually results in his madness.
The Ring preys upon Boromirs desire for the power of Command, and it corrupts him through this weakness. In the end, Boromir is rescued only by his death, which, coupled with his last-breath admission of his attempt to retrieve the Ring, give a bittersweet sense of redemption. Aragorns words following Boromirs death, “In Minas Tirith they endure the East Wind, but they do not ask it for tidings. But now Boromir has taken his road, and we must make haste to choose our own.”(2 LotR III, 1 The Departure of Boromir) sum up the fall of Boromir, and show what the future must hold for the rest of them. The second choice made at this point concerns Frodos choice to use the Ring in order to escape from Boromir.
At this time, the power of the Ring nearly conquers Frodo, and it is only the last-minute intervention of Gandalf which saves Frodo. The enhanced powers of perception that …