One day I looked into Tolkien Gateway and decided to change one part concerning Frodo’s Destruction of the One Ring in Mount Doom. It also seems to be a hot button topic – that of Frodo’s Destruction of the One Ring, and what role he had in the journey.
I wasn’t sure if changing the part was justified, since I was worried it was too much about how I was feeling – but later figured if Tolkien wrote it, then it was definitely justified. After all, there’s a reason why he did and also there’s no better way to get a concept than from the author themselves, isn’t it?
It just seemed so important – and it went through, though it did take a while to get the formatting correctly. Thankfully, a fellow member, LorenzoCB, was able to help with that once and for all, bonus points for not changing much of what I wrote haha. (before that, I just put the quote there and hoped someone got the hint.)
But I’m glad I was able to further clarify the Destruction of the One Ring. After all, there’s one part which I thought was a very important point, which I think we tend to forget when reading the books.
Tolkien states that yes – (in this one and another letter earlier on) that Frodo did, indeed, fail in his quest of the Destruction of the One Ring. At that point, the pressure of the ring had reached its maximum – so you see that Frodo claimed the Ring as his own right before he was attacked by Gollum, seized by it, who eventually fell into the fire with the Ring.
We can see that later on in the letter, Tolkien discusses the general ideas of sending the ring-bearers (Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam) at the end of Lord of the Rings.
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In this letter, Tolkien didn’t have to beat around the bush. He just immediately stated his intent on writing – which was that Frodo’s failure to voluntarily destroy the ring (The Destruction of the One Ring did indeed happen, but not at his own will), was an important point that few were able and/or willing to ask.
Frodo’s failure in the Destruction of the One Ring
Then, he states the quote that describes Frodo’s intents. He says, that “Frodo indeed ‘failed’ as a hero,” which was conceived by simple minds. At the top of Mount Doom, when he had the chance to simply drop the One Ring into the fires, he succumbed claiming the Ring as his own.
So yes – Tolkien didn’t want to condemn the “simple minds,” though it seems self-explanatory what it is (that we see that Frodo had a chance to dump the Ring into the fire, and failed to do so). Instead, he explains the general weakness of seeing things in that angle and not the others, in that they didn’t “perceive the complexity of any given situation in time.”
He is saying that by merely seeing that Frodo failed, they’re not perceiving any internal difficulties that may have arisen at the moment. Which could be “the strange element in the world that we call Pity or Mercy,” as Tolkien explains.
He relates it to living a lifestyle rooted in his Catholic/Christian worldview, and expresses that it’s important to note these elements when it comes to moral judgments, since “it is present in Divine Nature.” Especially after that, he explains how as humans, we know our limits and shortcomings and we should know those in terms of natural strength and grace, while continuing to aim at the highest.
However, it is further explained in the footnote that Frodo was given ‘grace, to answer the call at the end of the “Council of Elrond”.
Then Tolkien starts to mention how in our lives, some people tend to be put into these ‘sacrificial positions’ – probably trying to relate the destruction of the one ring arc to that. As he describes those kinds of positions, as that “a body may be destroyed, or so maimed that it affects the mind and will.”
After all, Frodo took this out of love, in order to save the world he knew. But he knew he was “wholly inadequate” to complete the task. Since he had already gone through so much by the point where he was in Mount Doom, it really wasn’t his fault per se, that he succumbed to the power of the One Ring in the morning of its destruction.
Frodo didn’t seem to have a sense of guilt, and then Arwen was the first to notice his discomfort when he was wounded (though it wasn’t really mentioned explicitly how she arranged it). Frodo was wounded by a “knife sting and tooth and a long burden.” But it also wasn’t just the thoughts of past horrors and nightmares, but he notices that he won’t come back to the Shire the same as when he left. This was alluding to a temptation of wanting to return as a ‘hero’ instead of wanting to be an instrument of good, which was weaved in with other temptations as well.
Then, Gandalf mentioned that such wounds couldn’t be ‘wholly cured’ in Middle-earth, causing Frodo to eventually leave in order to be healed, before he died. Now, we know that going to Valinor doesn’t make one immortal. Nor is it alluding to heaven (that would be the Timeless Halls of Ilúvatar) – though Valinor could be alluding to a sense of restoration.
The hobbits (besides Frodo) that went to Valinor
- Bilbo went too – and he had a role to play in Frodo’s journey. He had a great affection with Gandalf (Olórin), and they were able to connect with Frodo. But the fact stands that he still bore the ring, and dealt with a sense of “pride and personal possessiveness” as a result. And he still would’ve liked to see it one last time…
- Sam was supposed to be ‘lovable and laughable,’ irritating some readers. We all know that he went because of the day he claimed the ring. He seemed to be one that’s more represented as a hobbit than others. While he was a little conceited at first (I think maybe before the Lord of the Rings series) he grew in this area by having this connection he had (a devotion) to Frodo. In “The Forbidden Pool,” he didn’t really understand what Frodo was dealing with. He especially had a hard time understanding the weight of the Ring, until he claimed the ring for a day when Frodo was caught by Shelob. That would be when he started to perceive the evil of Sauron, and realized he couldn’t use the Ring and didn’t have to strength to keep it for an extended period of time.
How did the Ring affect Frodo?
Tolkien describes the growth that Frodo went through as more of a spiritual growth, rather than a mere increase in mental and physical power. He had to strengthen his will, and he needed time before the ring would control him. While the task seemed good to him, it also benefitted others as well.
The weakness was that he didn’t know how to use the weapon yet – and by temperament and nature, he was adverse to violence. And he showed more of a sense of submissiveness. Then Tolkien starts to hypothesize what would happen if Frodo refused the task.
Lastly, Gandalf was the only one expected to master him, being an ’emissary of the powers’ and an immortal spirit. However, Galadriel also conceived herself as capable of wielding the Ring. But if she or Elrond decide to challenge Sauron, then they would’ve built up an empire for it.
What if Gandalf took the Ring?
It might look like a nice deal, as he is seen as this other side of Sauron, containing the same superior strength compared to the rest of the characters in the Middle-earth Legendarium.
But it would’ve been ‘far worse than Sauron.’ As he would have remained ‘self-righteous,’ in the desire to rule and order for good and according to his wisdom.
The reason why the destruction of the One Ring important to note is because that it might just be something that it could be hard to fully understand it with just what’s right in front of us, or as Tolkien mentioned, ‘simple minds.’ It was also meant to be that way. It was also that by the time they got to Mount Doom, the weight was too strong for Frodo to make a conscious decision to destroy the Ring. Or make a lot of other good conscious decisions.
Then he starts to talk about the other hobbits like Bilbo and Sam who went to Valinor.
Maybe it’s different from what we’re talking about here – but it’s easy to look at it and see what Frodo did and line it up against what Sam had to go through, being his gardener, all the way until the end, and look at Frodo as a weak guy, when in reality (in reality as in the basis of Middle-earth), it is far from true.
In a recent poll, when asked who’s the real hero in the Lord of the Rings on Tylt, 74.3% said that Sam was the real hero over Frodo. That’s almost three-quarters of the pollers!
They do indeed have a point. But I think there could be something we’ve been missing all along about Frodo which Tolkien writes in his letter. (I also wonder if it’s also more about the modern values we hold today rather than the movie adaptations.)
Let’s think of it this way. Both are important – and both are very central to the story arc. When we try to choose one over the other, we really miss out on the whole point of it all.
And it wouldn’t make too much sense to ask the other characters (though they may seem bigger and stronger mentally and physically), as they would’ve wanted to try to wield it for the wrong reasons. It seems that each character had a major contribution to the destruction of the One Ring, even if it wasn’t the task itself.
Sam also had some issues shortly after the breaking of the fellowship, and he had trouble understanding the situation at first. But Sam was able to grow while journeying with Frodo as well, especially when he had to claim the Ring for a day.
It also might be easy to see Frodo all weak and hobbled, and wonder why he was put up with such a task. It was because there was an important spiritual connection to it all.
In an earlier letter, Letter 131, and another one to a real-life Sam Gamgee in 184, Tolkien describes Sam as a heroic character. I’m not denying it. We’re not denying it. Sam was indeed a true hero of Lord of the Rings.
I used to think here that Tolkien said that Sam was the true hero in Lord of the Rings. However, after reading the Letters again, it seems that he didn’t really have one person in the series he would call “the main hero,” but sort of just interweaves each character, giving each of them his/her own dignity in their own rights. Though maybe he did, and I could just be having a problem finding the quote I used to find.
But based on what we covered so far in Letter # 246, it seems that both characters had a major role in the destruction of the One Ring. It’s probably just difficult to see what goes on in the destruction of the One Ring.