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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 9:11 pm 
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:)

Can't help asking - why do you think its interesting? I mean... what does this say to you?

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 9:28 pm 
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Good question, Mahima.

What it says to me is that once Tolkien came up with the idea of the character of Sam Gamgee, his role in the story was immediately clear to him.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 2:37 am 
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Another chapter I led the discussion on for another board. A few of my thoughts culled from that discussion. I will try to reply to some points brought up by others.

"'In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds; some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles-yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals.'" I have wondered what sort of powers would these “lesser” rings would have. Improve your cooking maybe? ;)

"'Among the Wise I am the only one that goes in for hobbit-lore; an obscure branch of knowledge, but full of surprises.’” I think this is a comment by Tolkien on his dying academic discipline of philology.

“’I think it is a sad story,’ said the wizard, ‘and it might have happened to others, even to some hobbits that I have known.’” It sounds likepre-Ring Sméagol wasn't necessarily that different from say Otho Sackville-Baggins or Ted Sandyman. Sheds a different light on Gollum.

One interesting tidbit I “discovered” when reading this chapter in preparation for this discussion was that Gollum had actually wandered as far as Esgoroth and Dale in search of information on Bilbo. I find it strange to picture Gollum lurking around the streets of Dale among other people. He is such a solitary creature in the book.

I found the description of the ring cited before quite hypnotizing. Makes it all the more dangerous.

I also found this passage particularly interesting:
“’ But this would mean exile, a flight from danger into danger, drawing it after me. And I suppose I must go alone, if I am to do that and save the Shire. But I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well-desperate. The Enemy is so strong and terrible.’”
“He did not tell Gandalf, but as he was speaking a great desire to follow Bilbo flamed up in his heart-to follow Bilbo, and even perhaps find him again. It was so strong that it overcame his fear: he almost could have run out there and then down the road without his hat, as Bilbo had done on a similar morning long ago.” The contrast between the stay at home Frodo and the seek adventure Frodo is striking.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:12 am 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
N.E. Brigand wrote:
River wrote:
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Ring is that old chestnut personified.

As Tom Shippey has observed, that old chestnut isn't very old.


Just to elaborate on this, Shippey points out that the first person to make this statement was Lord Acton, in 1887, ironically (given Tolkien's Catholicism) in a strongly anti-Papal letter. He adds that William Pitt said something somewhat similar about a hundred years earlier, but that before that, the idea apparently was not attractive, and indeed might even have been thought perverse. Shippey indicates that the Anglo-Saxon concept was more that "power exposes" one's failings, rather than power itself causing the corruption. Shippey says:

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Tolkien is certain to have felt the modernity of his primary statement about the Ring. one has to wonder then why he made it and how he related it to the archaic world of his plot. Does Lord Acton's Victorian proverb, in Middle-earth, ring true?


Shippey's answer is that arguably it does not, considering the fact that while some people (Sméagol, Boromir, Denethor, etc.) are very susceptible to the Ring's corrupting influence, other's (Frodo himself, Sam, Faramir, etc.) are much less susceptible. His answer is that the Ring is in fact "addictive". Just as some people are more inclined to alcoholism or drug addiction, so to are some people more susceptible to the Ring's corrupting influence. Shippey argues that Tolkien's deliberate inclusion of such a modern concept provides a strong argument against his critic's charge that he was engaged in "merely insulated 'ivory tower' escapism.


This. Power does not corrupt. Power is not a sentient being, and has no such capacity.

It is people that corrupt power.

Some with strong wills can heroically resist this corruption for a while, but most can't.

According to a Catholic Tolkien, noone was really capable of resisting. Including the strong-willed Frodo, the arguably even stronger-willed Sam. The stain of original sin could never be truly washed away.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:20 am 
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If you can somehow jumpstart this long-dormant discussion, I will be forever grateful.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 4:40 am 
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The possession of power corrupts? And the possession of absolute power corrupts absolutely?

It doesn't in Tolkien, not quite; Sam at least (we can argue) is not corrupted absolutely, and even Frodo falls only at the last moment.

I wonder if the corrupting influence, the thin end of the wedge, is whether one believes one can use that power for good purposes, to save people one is responsible for protecting. That's virtuous, certainly!

But even though Ring indirectly does corrupt the Shire, it's pretty clear that neither Sam nor Frodo foresees this. There is nothing they directly feel responsible for protecting that the Ring can help them protect. That's their advantage over Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn, Boromir, Denethor, even Faramir. Their strength is that they don't have power.

IMO, and I'm sure others have said this. :oops:

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:46 pm 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
The possession of power corrupts? And the possession of absolute power corrupts absolutely?

It doesn't in Tolkien, not quite; Sam at least (we can argue) is not corrupted absolutely, and even Frodo falls only at the last moment.

I wonder if the corrupting influence, the thin end of the wedge, is whether one believes one can use that power for good purposes, to save people one is responsible for protecting. That's virtuous, certainly!

But even though Ring indirectly does corrupt the Shire, it's pretty clear that neither Sam nor Frodo foresees this. There is nothing they directly feel responsible for protecting that the Ring can help them protect. That's their advantage over Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn, Boromir, Denethor, even Faramir. Their strength is that they don't have power.

IMO, and I'm sure others have said this. :oops:


Not quite, IMO, though Tolkien may have disagreed.

It is not the mere possession of power that corrupts. It is the temptation to misuse that power, for the purposes of dominating others (and remaking them in your image), that is the corrupting influence. That temptation is, to a devout Catholic, innate. Thus, I believe Tolkien felt that no man or woman is ultimately capable of resisting the long decline into evil on Earth, particularly as humans grow more and more "powerful." Only death offers an escape from that decline (which is why the Savior's deliverance of man from the Earth-bound "hell" was so crucial).

The elves, on the other hand, are bound to the earth, and cannot escape the decline. That is why death is an enviable gift.

This is partly, I imagine, why Tolkien's "Fourth Age" story never quite got off the ground. It was a deeply depressing look at the slow and mundane victory of evil in Middle Earth! Ultimately, even the destruction of the Ring, and the decapitation of Sauron, couldn't stop it. The victory of evil in Middle Earth is embedded in the "Arda" portions of the Ainur's Music!


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:17 pm 
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I think I fully agree with the Anglo-Saxon take, which I missed the first time around. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one--the implication is that everyone is already corrupt, but most people are simply too powerless for it to show very much. If hobbits were less susceptible to the ring's influence, it was because they were less corrupt to begin with, having been born without much of the lust for power, wisdom, and wealth than men, elves, and dwarves possessed. The one time we got to see ring-corruption growing in a hobbit's mind, it took the form of wanting to turn the whole Earth into a garden, which really isn't that corrupt. :)


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:54 pm 
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Dave_LF wrote:
I think I fully agree with the Anglo-Saxon take, which I missed the first time around. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one--the implication is that everyone is already corrupt, but most people are simply too powerless for it to show very much. If hobbits were less susceptible to the ring's influence, it was because they were less corrupt to begin with, having been born without much of the lust for power, wisdom, and wealth than men, elves, and dwarves possessed. The one time we got to see ring-corruption growing in a hobbit's mind, it took the form of wanting to turn the whole Earth into a garden, which really isn't that corrupt. :)


You say that now. But just you wait until those vines crash through your window, and choke you in your sleep!

But yes, I fully agree with that, and Tolkien is very explicit on the subject.

Gollum becomes a miserable petty thief, Bilbo gets a little shifty, Sam wants to impose a garden-world on everyone (and would not have the power to make that happen anyway) and Frodo becomes a walking cadaver. None of that is particularly injurious to society, but it ain't so good either.

But that's not because of the Ring alone (and it is therefore not an indictment of "power" as an abstract concept). It's because of the nature of man (and hobbit is merely modern man). The Ring is, as many have said, a mere amplifier of our fallen nature. It couldn't do squat without us as its medium.

Just to clarify, despite my Catholic upbringing, I am not a believer in the concept of the "fallen man," and do not accept the existence of original sin. But Tolkien most certainly was a believer in both those concepts.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 4:53 pm 
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This would be an answer to the discussion on another board about the nature of the Ring: agent or amplifier? This discussion definitely puts it in the category of amplifier.

But so are other things in the story, e.g. Lothlórien. Galadriel says that there is no evil there that people don't bring in with them. Look what happened to Boromir.

But that's getting well ahead of the story. :)


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 4:58 pm 
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At this point, I don't think getting well ahead of the story is a problem in this "discussion".

Nice to see you here, Morwenna!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:12 pm 
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The one time we got to see ring-corruption growing in a hobbit's mind, it took the form of wanting to turn the whole Earth into a garden, which really isn't that corrupt. Smile

I've always interpreted this a little differently, in line with Gandalf's statement that "I would take it out of a desire to do good." Yes, Sam's power fantasy is to turn Gorgoroth into a garden, pretty harmless. But I don't think he would have stopped there, in the same way Gandalf or Galadriel wouldn't have stopped with using the Ring to defeat Sauron.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:17 pm 
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The whole problem with trying to do good is thinking you know better than the recipient of the good. This is a very real problem everywhere. Remember the whole "white man's burden" thing from the 19th century? Those with much intelligence but less wisdom are very prone to this sort of thing. And that's precisely what the Ring offers those like Gandalf who really do want to do good. He's forbidden to act directly, only to try to help or convince people to resist Sauron. Saruman fell victim to this; look at the arguments he gives Gandalf. And he never has the actual Ring in his reach!


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:24 pm 
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But if the recipient of the good is asking for assistance, is there really anything wrong with providing it?


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 1:02 am 
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Not at all; but one must be sure that the aid really is in the asker's best interest, not just what the giver thinks it ought to be. Yes, sometimes the giver really does know best, but one should always examine one's motives.
There are a lot of examples on both sides, of course.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:09 am 
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Morwenna wrote:
Not at all; but one must be sure that the aid really is in the asker's best interest, not just what the giver thinks it ought to be. Yes, sometimes the giver really does know best, but one should always examine one's motives.
There are a lot of examples on both sides, of course.


See Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad.

Quote:
'It's a big responsibility, fairy godmothering. Knowing when to stop, I mean. People whose wishes get granted often don't turn out to be very nice people. So should you give them what they want - or what they need?'

Death nodded politely. From his point of view, people got what they were given.


Back to Tolkien, it seems to me that the Ring acts as an amplifier, but not simply of the human weaknesses. It is a sentient agent that zeroes in on the particular quality that would make the wearer vulnerable to the desire to put it on and use its power. This is not necessarily a weakness of character, it can very well be a virtue - the desire to protect one's homeland and people, as with PtB... sorry, Boromir, or to turn a defiled desert into a flowering gardenland.

This is almost a Buddhist concept in a way - a desire, even a good and virtuous desire, is the downfall of the Ring's prey.

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‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:29 am 
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Great point - and yes, that philosophical treatment of "desire" is an area where Buddhism and Catholicism are very similar.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:33 am 
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This is probably not the thread, but I'd like to hear more about that idea. It has not crossed my mental horizon before.

ETA: following up on my previous thought - I wonder if Frodo lasted as long as he did because his main desire was actually to destroy the Ring.

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‘There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.’
‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 5:04 am 
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I am certainly no expert on comparative religion, and "very" similar is perhaps a stretch, but for example:

In Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths are that:

Quote:
(1) life is suffering, (2) the cause of suffering is desire, (3) to be free from suffering we must detach from desire, and (4) the "eight-fold path" is the way to alleviate desire.


In other words, the Ring amplifies many of the things Buddhism tells us we need to reject. So there's a strong connection between the philosophy infusing caution about the Ring as expressed by LOTR's "good guys," and Buddhism, I would argue.

Where in Catholicism Tolkien might have sourced this part of LOTR's philosophy is not entirely clear, but it's there, I think.

For example, the Catholic Church actively promotes the philosophy that detaching oneself from "inordinate desires" (or controlling one's passions) is absolutely critical to personal holiness (and/ or personal humility).

So I would argue that at the core of the similarity between the faiths is an emphasis on "humility," and a fundamental aspect of humility is rejecting "desire," especially the desire for temporal power. For both faiths, that is a path that leads to the diminishment of suffering.

The Ring is thus a common enemy of Buddhism, Catholicism, and probably a significant number of other faiths.

I think... :)


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 2:30 pm 
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I remember the first time I tried to read LotR, I couldn't get through the Party. The second time, I pushed through, still was ambivalent about the book and mad at Tolkien for sidelining Bilbo, and then I read this chapter. It absolutely captivated me, and from then on I was hooked. Except it took me much longer before I could appreciate or even finish the second half of book VI (which I now love), but that's for another time...

The way this fits into the structure of Book I is interesting. It's a major shot of darkness and seriousness very early that really shows how large and deep the world is. But then the next few chapters go back to the lighter Shire stuff, with the darkness only increasing gradually. This early chapter casts a real shadow over the Hobbits' journey and really raises the stakes even as many of its elements won't be fully incorporated until later.

One thing I remember the very first time reading it is when Gandalf mentions that Ancalagon the Black may have been able to melt rings of power, but not the One Ring. My first reaction was "Wait, who's this dragon I've never heard of? What about Smaug? Give him some credit!";)

So did Gandalf torture Gollum? He mentions "putting the fear of fire in him." Then again, book Gandalf has a tendency to talk about doing awful things without really meaning it.


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