4.4.7. On Frodo

Frodo goes through a number of distinct stages in his relationship with the Ring, culminating in his choice to take the Ring as its Master at the Cracks of Doom.

Frodo is by no means the perfect hero. In fact, his tale is one of tragedy, for the eucatastrophic event of the destruction of the Ring does not result in a result that could be described as one of the classic "happily ever after sort". He has been maimed by knife, by Sting and by the burden of the Ring. He never finds true peace, but is permitted, as a Ring bearer and one who has dwelt in the two worlds, to pass over the Straight Road to Valinor. This outcome, together with a hint of the starglass given him by Galadriel, is referred to by Gandalf;

    "He is still not half through yet, and to what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can." [164]

Frodo starts holding the Ring to keep it and guard it, which, as I have observed, is a purpose that will result in the Ring being slow to harm him. His possession of the Ring until he reaches Rivendell is based upon that premise. However, although he is warned by Gandalf not to use the Ring both at Hobbiton and in the letter left at The Prancing Pony Inn, he uses it on three occasions nonetheless. When he slips on the Ring at the House of Tom Bombadil it is to see that indeed he still has the real Ring, for when Bombadil put the Ring on he did not vanish, and it had no power over him. Frodo, clearly was both annoyed and concerned at some possible sleight of hand.

    "Frodo looked at it closely, and rather suspiciously (like one who has lent a trinket to a juggler). It was the same Ring, or looked the same and weighed the same: for the Ring had always seemed to Frodo to weigh strangely heavy in the hand. But something prompted him to make sure. He was perhaps a trifle annoyed with Tom for seeming to make so light of what Gandalf thought so perilously important."[165]

Frodo next dons the Ring at the Inn when he is performing the encore of his song. On this occasion the Ring seemed to betray him, and slipped onto his finger as he fell off the table. In my opinion this is clearly a demonstration of the animus of the Ring, for it does not constitute a considered choice on Frodo's part.

There is a temptation to slip on the Ring when the hobbits are prisoners of the Barrow-wight;

    "Then a wild thought of escape came to him. He wondered if he put on the Ring, whether the Barrow-wight would miss him, and he might find some way out. He thought of himself running free over the grass, grieving for Merry, and Sam, and Pippin, but free and alive himself. Gandalf would admit that there had been nothing else to do.
    But the courage that had been awakened in him was now too strong: he could not leave his friends so easily. He wavered, groping in his pocket, and then fought with himself again; and as he did so the arm crept nearer. Suddenly resolve hardened in him, and he seized a short sword that lay beside him, and kneeling stooped low over the bodies of his companions. With what strength he had he hewed at the crawling arm near the wrist, and the hand broke off."[166]

Frodo conceives that he can escape if he uses the Ring, and the desertion of his comrades becomes rationalised as a part of that temptation [167]. However, as a counter to this temptation are the positive virtues of courage and resolve, couple with loyalty. Thus Frodo's innate virtues overcome the temptation.

The most dangerous use of the Ring comes at Weathertop, when, in the presence of the Black Riders, and their fell King, he slips on the Ring. On previous occasions in the proximity of Black Riders [168], Frodo has been tempted to slip on the Ring. Part of the desire to do so comes from the Ring itself, trying to return to its Master and sensing the presence of his most powerful servants. But principally the reason is to hide and to escape. He refrains from yielding to temptation on the first occasion because the Black Rider suddenly sits up, shakes the reins of his horse and moves away. He rationalises his temptation by considering Gandalf's advice as absurd, and he is, after all, on his home territory in the Shire. It is the action of the Black Rider that breaks the spell. Similarly, on the second occasion, just after singing the supper song [169] Frodo feels the desire to slip the Ring on when the shadowy Black Rider approaches. The sound of Gildor's band of Elves causes the Black Rider to retreat, and the temptation is lifted [170].

On Weathertop, Frodo, Aragorn and Merry see Black Riders in the daylight, and there is no desire upon Frodo to use the Ring. It is a totally different matter when they are among them. He feels terror, swallowed up by the temptation to put on the Ring. The Ring calls out to him to reveal himself, and enter the world of the Ringwraiths. There is a conflict in his mind. He recalls the warnings but feels compelled to disregard them. On this occasion, escape is not the motive;

    "...(H)e longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger." [171]

Thus, the power of the Ring in the presence of the servants of Sauron is at its highest. On previous occasions, escape by hiding had been the motive. But by donning the Ring in the presence of the wraiths would make escape impossible. That Frodo does use the Ring, and yet manages to escape is only made possible by his call upon Elbereth and the intervention of Aragorn wielding fire. It is clear from Aragorn's comment that Frodo did not would the pale king with the barrow-dagger.172

At the final climax of the first book, where Frodo confronts the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen, there is no suggestion that he should use the Ring. He is not even tempted to do so. There is no urge to use it to escape. He has been borne away by the elven-steed Asfaloth, and charges the Riders to return to Mordor and trouble him no more. They call out for the Ring, but Frodo is not tempted. He invokes Elbereth and Luthien. The Witch-king strikes Frodo dumb, but upon entering the flowing water, the Riders are swept away.

This ends the first phase of Frodo's possession of the Ring. The second phase comes when he elects to take the Ring to Mordor and destroy it, although he does not know the way. Once again his holding of the Ring is for a positive purpose that is in no way self-centered. Quite the contrary, for in making that choice, he is setting the scene for his own test, and for a future of pain and sorrow.

During the attempt to cross the Misty Mountains by the Mountain Pass, and the journey through the Mines of Moria Frodo is not tempted to use the Ring. The Ring comes into sharp focus at the Mirror of Galadriel. This incident represents a double temptation. It is a temptation for Galadriel, as I have already observed. It is also a temptation for Frodo, in that it presents him with an opportunity to relieve himself of the burden. He does not make the decision himself, in that he leaves the matter to Galadriel;
"I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me."173 By making this comment, Frodo is at once echoing and resiling from his statement at Rivendell that he will take the Ring although he does not know the way. There is no doubt that he has been spellbound by the timeless beauty of Lothlorien, and Galadriel's desire to preserve the beauty of the past. There is also a sorrow for the fact that the Elves are prepared to cast away all, rather than submit to Sauron. To see an end to such wonder provides for him the motive to cast the choice upon Galadriel. That she does not submit allows Frodo's position to remain unchanged.

The second test of this phase of Frodo's dealings with the Ring comes at Amon Hen, when he slips the Ring on his finger when Boromir reveals his dark desires. Initially the use of the Ring is to escape, the motive that tempted Frodo in the first phase. However, from there the matter progresses further as Frodo allows the Ring's power to work in conjunction with the power that exists in Amon Hen. He is able to perceive the activity that has been set in motion by Sauron, and ten he feels the Eye. This is a different perception from that he experienced at the Mirror of Galadriel. It is only when the two powers - that of Sauron seeking him, and that of Gandalf giving him the opportunity to exercise free will - wrestle, that he is able to approach the matter clearly, and he takes the Ring off his finger. However, Frodo's use of the Ring has had consequences for him that go beyond the desire to escape, and the other times that he has used the Ring. He has confronted, indirectly, the power of the Ring and of the Dark Lord. From this point his relationship of the Ring has changed. He is unchanged in his desire to destroy it. He must do this on his own and rely upon his own resources. During this third phase, he develops an inner power and strength, and the naivete which coloured his earlier possession of the Ring has gone. He realises the potential of the Ring, how it can and cannot be used, and he has developed insights as a result of his experiences that will colour his actions in the future.

This third phase covers the period from Frodo's decision to strike out on his own until he recovers the Ring from Sam at Cirith Ungol, and essentially centres on two issues - how Frodo uses the Ring with Gollum, and the dealings that he has with Faramir.

In a sense, Frodo uses the Ring to tame Gollum. He does not put it on and command, but he uses Gollum's lust and desire for the Ring to at once eliminate his covetousness and possible treachery, and to have him take them to the Black Gate, and onwards through Ithilien.

Frodo pities Gollum. He says that now that he has met and sees him he pities him. It is this pity that allows him to have the rope removed from Gollum, if Gollum is prepared to make a promise that Frodo can trust. Gollum says he will swear on the Precious, but by doing so he would bind himself to evil, and to break his oath would bind him in Darkness forever. Frodo says that he must swear by the Precious.

" 'All you wish is to see it and touch it, if you can, though you will know it will drive you mad. Not on it. Swear by it, if you will. For you know where it is. Yes, you know, Smeagol. It is before you.'
For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in a grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another's minds."174

A similar event occurs before the Black Gate. Gollum pleads with Frodo to give him back the Ring, and Frodo admonishes him severely;

" 'You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Smeagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care Smeagol.'
Sam looked at his master with approval, but also with surprise: there was a look in his face and a tone in his voice that he had not known before."175

Frodo is actually using the Ring, but not by wearing it. He is using Gollum's subservience to the Ring as a means of controlling him, and in a sense is doing what a Ringlord would do - using the Ring to control. He allows Gollum to choose to swear, but really, given Gollum's desire and corruption, has he any other choice if he is to keep the Ring in his sights. Thus we see the transformation of Frodo from one who is naive concerning the Ring to one who is able to indirectly use its power. And his ability to do this is symbolised by the impression that Sam has when his master is in command of the situation. However, it is also to be noted that Frodo pities Gollum, and his actions in releasing Gollum are motivated by this sentiment. Thus, although he indirectly uses the Ring, his motivation colours the effect that it has upon him.

Frodo's approach to Faramir is one of a cautious, wary person on a mission, who will not disclose the purpose of the mission if at all possible. Rather than try and shed the burden, as he tries with Galadriel, now Frodo is careful to preserve it and keep it and the nature of the Quest hidden. Try as he might to return to the issue of Isildur's Bane, Frodo manages to avoid confronting the issue head on, even to the point of prompting Faramir to observe that Frodo was not wholly frank. Frodo counters that he told no lies and of the truth, all that he could. It is not until Sam lets it slip that Boromir desired the Ring, that the full truth comes out.

Once again, with Faramir, Frodo demonstrates the nature of his relationship with Gollum. He is tempted to allow Anborn to shoot Gollum at the Pool of Henneth Annun, and if he were to do this, he would be rid both of Gollum, and a competitor for the Ring.

"Only one true shot and Frodo would be rid of the miserable voice for ever. But no, Gollum had a claim on him now. The servant has a claim on the master for service, even service in fear. They would have foundered in the Dead Marshes but for Gollum. Frodo knew, too, somehow, quite clearly that Gandalf would not have wished it."176

As Frodo come closer to Mordor, the Ring becomes an increasing burden. At Morgulduin, the burden becomes almost unbearable, and once again, in the presence of the Witch-king, he is tempted to put the Ring on

"As he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king - not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. It took his hand, and as Frodo watched with his mind, not willing it but in suspense (as if he looked on some old story far away), it moved the hand inch by inch towards the chain upon his neck. Then his own will stirred; slowly it forced the hand back and set it to find another thing, a thing lying hidden near his breast. Cold and hard it seemed as his grip closed on it: the phial of Galadriel, so long treasured and almost forgotten till that hour. As he touched it, for a while all thought of the Ring was banished from his mind."177

The next phase is Frodo's recovery of the Ring until he reaches Mount Doom. Initially Frodo is distraught that he has lost the Ring. He comments to Sam that all is lost. His grief seems not to be for the loss of the Ring to himself, but that the Ring has fallen into Sauron's hands. Although we know that to see the Ring upon Sauron's hand would be a torture for him, that does not seem apparent from what Frodo says. His grief is for Middle-earth that will fall under shadow. But Sam reveals that the Ring has not gone, and he says "I suppose you must take it back"178 although he is reluctant to give it back, not wishing to burden Frodo with it. Frodo becomes acquisitive and covetous. He demands it, denies that Sam can hold it and calls him a thief. In his mind;

"Sam had changed before his very eyes into an orc again, leering and pawing at his treasure, a foul little creature with greedy eyes and slobbering mouth."179

But almost immediately Frodo apologises, and expresses his understanding of what is happening.

"It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never been found. But don't mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can't be altered. You can't come between me and this doom."180

As they proceed into Mordor, the appalling burden of the Ring causes Frodo to discard the orc-mail that he donned as a disguise at Cirith Ungol. The Ring becomes so heavy, and it etches itself upon Frodo's mind like a great wheel of fire. After the escape from the column of orcs, the hobbits inched their way through Mordor. The Ring was gnawing at Frodo, eating away what little was left of his will.

"Anxiously Sam had noted how his master's left hand would often be raised as if to ward off a blow, or to screen his shrinking eyes from a dreadful Eye that sought to look in them. And sometimes his right hand would creep to his breast, clutching, and then slowly, as the will recovered mastery, it would be withdrawn."181

Sam offers to share the burden, not out of any desire to hold the Ring, but for the genuine wish to relieve his master of the burden. Frodo turns on him, telling him to be off, as his hand strays to his sword hilt. Then he says that he is almost in the Ring's power, and it is at this stage that Frodo discards his weapons saying that he will "bear no weapon, fair or foul."182 He is almost totally consumed by the Ring and there is no veil between him and the wheel of fire. It has gone beyond an obsession. The Ring is becoming all. It is at this point that Frodo enters his final phase.

As Sam is carrying Frodo up the tortuous slopes of Mount Doom, Gollum bears them to the ground, and tries to take the Ring from Frodo. Now Frodo takes hold of the Ring as he delivers his dreadful command;

" 'Down, down!' he gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the Ring. 'Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray me or slay me now.'
Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than a shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.
'Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.' "183

And, with Gollum subdued, Frodo takes his leave of Sam to go on alone. It is clear at this point that Frodo has effectively taken the Ring, and that his tragedy is complete. He has issued an awful command, conditional upon a certain action. If Gollum touches him ever again (as indeed Gollum does) then Gollum will be destroyed by the Fire. It is inevitable at this point that Frodo will not complete the Quest, and other forces must work to achieve it. But in the final analysis, Frodo is not bereft of will. His inner strength has not been eroded to the point of madness as is the case with Gollum.

"Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.
' I have come,' he said, ' But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine.' "184

With this statement, Frodo's tragedy is complete, although, as we have seen, his is not a sudden fall, but a decline. Gollum attacks him, and by touching him, is doomed. Frodo is maimed, but survives. And the full tragedy is the fact that he does survive. There is no glorious death, as was the case with Theoden, who redeemed himself out of the darkness of despair into which he fell after listening to the wily words of Grima Wormtongue. Frodo must face the fact that upon the brink he did fail, and he carries this burden with him, along with the wounds by tooth, sting and knife. Probably worse is the wound to his psyche that he did not meet the test. In this respect, Frodo becomes Everyman, for no one is perfect, and we all fail our tests at some stage or another. This does not condemn us to perpetual damnation, and, for the life well-lived there is a reward. The reward that Frodo may have expected is not available to him. "I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me."185 But Frodo's life has been well-lived. His actions have been prompted by laudable motives. Morally correct decisions at times of trial entitle him to his reward in the Undying Lands.

4.4.8. On Gollum

The way the Ring works on Gollum symbolises the destruction of the individual by evil. He is totally corrupted by the Ring, and has no hope of redemption. There are flashes of humanity in Gollum, but in the main he is totally eaten away by the evil of the Ring.

I have already shown that Gollum was able to avoid the horrific consequences of holding the Ring.186 But the portrayal of Gollum reveals one of the most complex of Tolkien's characterisations, especially in The Lord of the Rings.

Gollum is the soul corrupted, and he demonstrates to us the way that Evil works. He is evasive and cunning. He lies and deceives, even himself. He is thin and tough, hating the Ring, but loving it at the same time. He represents a certain duality of spirit, and shows us what Frodo or Bilbo could have become, and, from time to time what they do become when challenged about the Ring. He carries on bizarre conversations with himself and with the Ring. His mind is broken and can focus on one thing - reunification with the fatal object.

But in essence Gollum was small and petty. He was vengeful and hurtful, cowardly and snivelling. After he left the mountains, he was tracked by the Wood-elves.

"The wood was full of the rumour of him, dreadful tales even among beats and birds. The Woodmen said that there was some new terror abroad, a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles."187

Ultimately, he was caught by Gandalf, who discovered that he had been to Mordor, and put into the care of the Wood-elves. From there he escaped, and found his way to the point where he follows the Fellowship through Moria, into Lothlorien and down the River. He does not reveal himself clearly until he is seen descending Emyn Muil, following Frodo and Sam.

Gollum will do anything to stay near the Ring. He is prepared to bide his time. He makes his promise by the Precious and aids the hobbits. His loyalty is to Frodo, and he has a continuing conflict with Sam. Sam does not trust Gollum, and sees Gollum for what he is - an opportunist claiming loyalty but waiting until the time is right to act. From time to time, Gollum betrays himself, seeking the Ring from Frodo. But it is clear that from the time that he suggests that the hobbits take the peril-fraught way of Cirith Ungol into Mordor that he will manipulate the situation to obtain the Ring. He himself will not hurt Frodo, and thereby will not break his oath. Shelob will take care of Frodo, will throw out the Ring, and Gollum will take it, and then he will pay them all back.

It is the desire for the Ring and the desire for petty vengeance that motivates Gollum throughout. He has no focus but himself and his own desires. He is so inward-looking that he does not understand that if he claims the Ring he will betray himself to Sauron. Nor does he comprehend that he does not possess the power to wield the Ring.

Yet there are occasions when Gollum does display tenderness, and reciprocates the care that Frodo has demonstrated. This is never done openly, but in secret. He also goes and obtains the rabbits and herbs that are requested by Sam, and in doing so demonstrates a child-like naivete and a willingness to please. In this way, the flashes of good still appear. But they are flashes only, and the old, evil, vindictive Gollum is swift to reappear.

At the last it is Gollum's desire for the Ring that destroys him. He cannot bear to be parted from it. He has always opposed Frodo's desire to destroy it. For an ecstatic moment he is reunited with his treasure, only to fall at the end, a victim of the Ring's animus, Frodo's curse and his own unbridled lust, not for power, not for control, but for the mere possession of the Ring, and his own petty, self-serving desires.

Continue to next section-->

The Tolkien Encyclopedia
The Art of Tolkien
One Ring to Rule Them All by David Harvey

Hypertextual System by FMI Publishing, 1995