Originally published as “The One Ring is an Independent Character” in January, 2014 at Part Time Monster.
If you are just joining us, I am reading The Lord of the Rings as a series of encounters between The One Ring and the other characters. I hope to draw conclusions about how good and evil work in Middle-earth, eventually. I have a system of categories that most of the characters fit into, and a timeline for the Rings of Power. In other words, I have done the easy stuff. This week, it gets complicated. My task in this post is to convince you that The One Ring should be regarded as a character in this narrative rather than an inanimate object.
I am just going to run through most of this stuff without citing it. If I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected. But I think I know these books well enough to do this, and if I start citing at this point, we are going to end up spending two or three weeks on The Ring.
Here is a list of reasons why I think it is fair to read The One Ring as a Character, rather than as an inanimate object or a pawn of Sauron:
1. Once he loses it, Sauron does not know where it is. If he knew where it was, he would not need to search for it. That is simple logic. A king does not search for his pawn.
2. Even though it does not have legs, The One Ring is motile. It slips off Isuldur’s finger in the river, and it obviously gets away from Gollum in The Hobbit. (Read the whole chapter “Riddles in the Dark,” — it may be the crux of the entire mythology — and even if it is not, it is clear from this chapter that Gollum has no idea he’s lost the ring at the moment he loses it.)
3. It communicates. It does not use words, but it does communicate. Anyone who reads these books from beginning to end should be able to find places where The One Ring is putting thoughts in other characters’ heads.
4. It has its own interests. What it wants, most of all, is to be reunited with its maker, Sauron. But it takes pleasure in tempting people, and in setting friends against one another to the point of violence, and in betraying ringbearers to their deaths. From a certain angle (and I will do an entire post on this at some point), it is a parasite. It feeds on the lives of others.
I believe those three things are enough. 1 and 4 are really proving the same point — the ring is a free agent. The mobility and communication allow it the freedom it needs within the narrative to demonstrate its independence.
I am interested to know what my fellow Tolkien-bloggers think about this before I move on. Do I need to prove all this, or, is my reading here self-evident enough that we can agree on it for now, so that I can start working on Isildur? (From here, we discuss, in order: Isildur – Gollum – Bilbo. Then things get even more complicated).
For Tolkien fiends who are just tuning in and want more to read: I also have a stand-alone post in which I attempt to begin a discussion of colonialism in Tolkien by paying very close attention to the Orcs.
Here are a few of the best WordPress posts on Tolkien I have read over the last couple of months: Some serious meditations on the nature of Sauron, your quick guide to Dragons in Middle-earth, and What you make, I mar.
Here is a bibliography of the actual books I use to write these posts.
Next: All about Isildur
image: SilentrageLeon/Deviant Art
That is interesting. I had never considered the One Ring as a character before, but it does make sense. At the very least it is a semi-intelligent plot device 🙂 much better than say John Travolta in Battle Earth. Seriously though, thanks for the food for thought. It is always refreshing to take a look at one my much loved stories from a different angle or point of view.
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Thanks very much for this comment and for the social media love. This Tolkien series is not my most important thing, but it is my favorite thing 🙂
You can read the Ring either way. It doesn’t have to be an independent character. It can just be an object that acts like Sauron. But what if it is, is my question. What if it has free will and is able to see what is going on around it?
That’s the premise. And I find it lovely.
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That’s a really interesting observation about the ring being classed as a character in its own right rather than an inanimate object; when reading the books I think for me the thought begins to formulate but it is quickly dismissed. Reading this post really brings that point home though and I will now read the books in a different light.