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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 4:45 am 
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Excuse me if I am missing something that is staring me in the face, but what is it that the Rings of Power do exactly?

I get why the One Ring had to be destroyed, but beyond having his full potency back, would having it have given Sauron new strength or simply made him whole again? It seems like they held reserves of power (particularly the One and the Elven Rings), and for those previously unable allowed them into the spirit/Wraith world. But what is it that makes the the bearer so powerful? Are there abilities or a new strength? Do they just kind of hang out and only really take effect if someone lost their Ring? It seems to me that the whole Wraith world thing would be very important, but the Elves are already on both planes, so how are they helped by the Rings? Furthermore, I could see the Rings making their actual bearers more power but they seem to extend to having power over realms or armies and I'm a bit confused on that point, too.

I suppose what this all boils to down to for me is the question of how this alleged increase in power is manifested. Is it control over a certain group of beings or elements? Heightened intellect? Something physical?

Or am I taking the whole Ring of Power thing too literally? :help:

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Last edited by MaidenOfTheShieldarm on Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:18 am 
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My understanding is that it focused power better for one thing.

In LOTR, the mechanism is not really explained, but with some of the other reading I have done, I have a theory about the power of the rings, and the one ring in particular.

You may recall that Sauron put some his own power into the ring, which seems to establish the idea that personal "spiritual" power could be made immanent in a material object.

The analogy is made in HoME, that the whole of Middle Earth was "Morgoth's Ring"--that is, in fact, the title of one of the books.

My theory is that Sauron also figured out how to tap into the power of Morgoth diffused throughout Middle-earth, and that putting his own power in the ring was just a way to control that.

In was in this way that Sauron was even more powerful with the ring, since it acted as a conduit to a vast, though diffuse, source of power within the fabric of Middle-earth itself.

Since Sauron, in the form of Annatar, had also taught the elvensmiths how to make rings, they may also have been tapping into that same power to a lesser degree, without the focus and control that the One Ring had, since they lacked the additional input of Sauron's own power.

The same art (or magic, for lack of a better word) also served to focus the bearer's innate power, but this would be a drain on the bearer--like taking caffeine to keep you awake and focused, but after awhile it takes its toll.

The three ring's might have a similar function, but serve only to focus the power of the bearer, or they might be able to tap the native power of Arda itself (by analogy to how Sauron might tap Morgoth's diffuse power). Only the elven rings source of power in Arda might be residuals of the music corresponding to Air, Water and Fire. So the Air ring might pick up "vibrations" from Manwë, Water from Ulmo etc--echoes of the original Music perhaps relating to these powers and focused through the various rings, as Sauron's ring picked up echoes of Morgoth.

The "technology" for tapping such power would be similar, one would think, but Celebrimbor would be wise enough to avoid tapping Morgoth's power.

This is just a theory that I have.

Make of it what you will.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 7:06 am 
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Mossy, here is one statement that Tolkien made, in the famous Letter 131 to Milton Waldman of Collins, in which he described his mythology at great length:

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But at Eregion great work began -- and the Elves came their nearest to falling to 'magic' and machinery. With the aid of Sauron lore they made Rings of Power ('power' is an ominous and sinister word in all these tales, except as applied to the gods).

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved or its semblance - this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor -- thus approaching 'magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron ('the Necromancer': so he is called as he casts a fleeting shadow and presage on the pages of The Hobbit) such as rendering invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible.

The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of their own imagination, and directed to the the preservation of beauty they did not confer invisibility. But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearers could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them.


Interesting theory, Brian. I'll have to give that some thought. But for now, now to bed!

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 7:17 am 
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That is an interesting theory, Brian, and I should like to ponder it more.

Thanks, Voronwë! That exactly answers what I was wondering. :)

I think this in particular is interesting:

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The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved or its semblance - this is more or less an Elvish motive.


Evidenced clearly in Bilbo and Frodo, of course, but what an odd power for a 'magic' Ring! We all have things we would like to keep the same of course, but to actually enforce stasis, especially since he notes it as an Elvish motive. Is this something else obvious that I'm missing. It seems that, being immortal, the Elves would be most accepting (or even desirous) of change. Or perhaps it is precisely because they are immortal and wish things to stay still with them?

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 2:04 pm 
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I agree it seems to be an odd power for magic ring. It would be interesting to know how much that reflects the "magic ring" tradition that Tolkien was building on, and how much it reflects his original thought. I suspect that it is largely the latter, although I don't know the source material well enough to say.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 2:59 pm 
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I am glad that ShieldMaiden posted this question about the One Ring. I also have had a longtime question about it.

The entire premise of the story is that they have to destroy the Ring because if Sauron gets it back, life on Middle-earth is over as they know it. Sauron will become so powerful that all the Free Peoples will come under his domination.

But then I keep coming back to the Last Alliance of Elves and Men at the end of the Second Age. Sauron had the Ring. And what good did it do him? His enemies came to his doorstep and stayed there for several years hemming him inside like a traped rat. When he finally did come out, they cut the Ring from his hand and carried the day.

The Ring was far from the final weapon we are led to believe it could be.

So what am I missing here?

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 3:10 pm 
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The Elves and the Dúnedain were much more powerful at the end of the Second Age than at the end of the Third Age. They would not have had the strength to resist Sauron with the Ring.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 3:41 pm 
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Or without it, for that matter.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:44 pm 
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SF, I think beyond the mere assertion that the Elves and Dúnedain were less powerful lies a deeper thematic element.

This ties in with the dual nature of Middle-earth as an essentially pagan world with overtones of Tolkien's Christianity, in particular the idea that Middle-earth is a pre-Christian world.

In this view, the world is fallen, and mankind (elvenkind) must necessarily fail in the fight against evil, even though they fight defiantly.

There is even a wikipedia article covering this aspect of Tolkien's thought:

The Long Defeat

Quote:
The Long Defeat is a phrase denoting an apparently impossible but noble battle.

The modern sense of the expression seems to derive from J. R. R. Tolkien, who used it in The Lord of the Rings to refer to the long struggle against the evil forces of Morgoth and, later, of Sauron. Lady Galadriel, recollecting the role she and Celeborn have played in this fight, says to the hobbit Frodo Baggins: "For the Lord of the Galadrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat."[1] The phrase reflects one of the major underlying themes of The Lord of the Rings, that "no victory is complete, that evil rises again, and that even victory brings loss."[2]

In accordance with his strong Christian beliefs,[3] Tolkien saw this phrase as applicable to all of human existence, which had been tainted by Original Sin since the Fall of Man, and would remain so until the Second Coming. He stated in a letter: "Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory."[4]


In accordance with this, there may be temporary (or seeming) victories, as was the apparent victory at the end of the Second Age.

These victories also come at a cost, and can only occur when an act of providence has intervened. In this case, it is important also to recall that Sauron was greatly weakened at that time due to the destruction of his body in the downfall of Númenor (which was due to the intervention of Eru).

Sauron, though thrown down, was not destroyed. The Ring, though taken, was not cast back into the fire.

The unredeemed world says this must be so.

At the end of the Third Age Sauron had risen again, but Arnor was gone, Gonder was a shell of its former self. The Elves were scattered in the woods, hiding in sanctuaries, or gone over the sea, never to return.

The logic of the long defeat says that at the end of each Age, the power of good will be less, unless and until an act of Providence occurs.

The end of each Age coincides closely with the intervention of divine power.

At the end of the First Age, the Valar have mercy on the exiled Noldor and the other elves and men of Middle-earth and send their armies to conquer Morgoth.

At (or near) the end of the Second Age, Númenor is overthrown by Ilúvatar, and the world is changed. Sauron is caught up in this destruction, and his hröa is irrevocably harmed, greatly weakening him, such that he can no longer assume a fair form. The armies of the Elves in Middle-earth were still great, as were those of the Faithful of Númenor who had escaped--but as Elrond said at the Council..not so fair nor so great as the armies of the Valar before Thangorodrim.

At the end of the Third Age, two kinds of intervention occur--Gandalf is returned to his body by the intervention of Eru. Tolkien also speaks of the fact that Frodo fails, and it is only by the grace of Eru that the ring is destroyed--and there is the suggestion that even the finding of the ring by Bilbo was engineered by divine providence. The armies at the end of the Third Age were even more greatly diminished, and Sauron did not have the ring.

The unspoken assumption (hinted at in the Athrabeth) is that at the end of some age, Eru will make the ultimate intervention and come into the world--at hint at something like divine incarnation, as is told in the Gospels.

But this is beyond the scope of time in Middle-earth.

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
I agree it seems to be an odd power for magic ring. It would be interesting to know how much that reflects the "magic ring" tradition that Tolkien was building on, and how much it reflects his original thought. I suspect that it is largely the latter, although I don't know the source material well enough to say.


I think that the power is perfectly in accord with the view given above that one of the central themes is the long defeat. In such a view, the preservation of things and preventing decay would be of great value.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 7:01 pm 
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Brian, I believe you are right. This pervading view of Tolkien's is perhaps my least favorite part of Middle-earth, jarring as it does with my own worldview. In that sense, I find Pratchett's humanitarian outlook much closer. Well, there's divine interference in Small Gods, but I bet you've never seen diving grace work quite like that elsewhere. :D

Honestly, I think the Ring is the one element in LOTR that is the least able to bear close scrutiny. As Voronwë might tell you, it started out as a simple magic ring that granted invisibility, and evolved into a super-McGuffin. It works great as a symbolic entity that turns the wearer's worldly desires against him/herself and prevents escape by granting immortality.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:12 pm 
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As for the elves...think of it this way.

Elrond has been around since the end of the First Age. We all react strongly to his line, "I was there, Gandalf..." in the movies, or to Frodo's sputtered, "You remember?" in the book. He watched as his brother founded Númenor. And then, towards the end of the Second Age, Númenor fell. Much that was once great was lost forever.... This is the sadness of the Elves. Isildur's youngest son was born in Rivendell right before the host marched off for the Last Alliance. Elrond watched the kingdom of the North wither, and then each son of the Chieftains of the Dúnedain considered Rivendell 'home'. Each new generation...and the old generation died off. Again, and again, and again. This change and turnover is a turbulent aspect of mortal lands, absent from the much more static Undying Realms.

And we saw how well elves reacted to 'change' there, when the Trees were killed. The "Long Defeat" only comes in when you realize that the 'highlights' of the past cannot be repeated. Yavanna could make the Two Trees once, but not again. Fëanor could make his three Silmarils, but he could not replace them with new ones. Etc. I do think it true that much of the past is irreparably lost, and just saying that we can make it again if we wanted to isn't always...realistic or fair.

Immortality in the real world means that everything (and everyone) that you love is slowly taken away from you. People die, kingdoms fall, great works of art crumble and are forgotten. Etc. Time, which seems not to touch the immortal himself, ravages everything around him. (Gollum's riddle, which nearly stumped Bilbo, would have been obvious to an elf, or indeed anyone who had lived long enough to feel the weight of years [as Gollum himself had].)

There is a reason I picked "Elven Ancient" to display under my name at TORC. I am (by any definition) an oldbie there. What this means is that I've made many different friends on the messageboard over the years, and I've gradually watched them all drop off one by one. Many I have not heard from in years, and they will never return. Of course, new people come along, and I make friends with them too. I enjoy TORc. But it was the first time/place I ever felt 'old', not in the sense of physical age, but in the knowledge of loss. Here, I am not old, and people don't seem to run away as much, so I do not get that same weight of history on this board. (For me personally, I mean - I get to be one of the newcomers that you all met later on ;))

Elves....are very, very old, and they feel this loss keenly. It is no wonder that they would wish to use magic to make time stand still - they seek preservation. On the land of Lórien, there is no stain. In the Last Homely House, the past is remembered, not forgotten. (I'm not sure what Círdan was doing with his Ring before he passed it along to Gandalf, but possibly sustaining elves who would otherwise be tempted to board those ships they were building.)


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 9:49 pm 
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Brian, thank you for sharing that. That says what I wanted to say - but didn't have time to say - wonderfully. It is such a characteristic of Tolkien's work that I takes an element of ancient myth - the magic ring - and uses it to express his own philosophy (which of course is influenced so strongly by his deep Christian beliefs)

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2008 10:02 pm 
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thanks to all for those insightful explainations

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 8:53 am 
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Great posts everyone. Thoroughly enjoying this thread!

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 5:49 pm 
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Wonderful, Mith. As lucid an explication of Tolkien's "burden of immortality" as I've read anywhere. No wonder the Mirdain fell into temptation! No wonder Galadriel observed that, whether Frodo succeeds or fails, the Elves lose.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 6:31 pm 
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There's an interesting parallel thread going on in TORC right now:
Sauron, the Nine Rings and the Lordship of the Nazgûl

And despite my username, I have nothing profound to say here. Just enjoying reading and lurking.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 8:11 pm 
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I find Brian's idea of the the Three and the One tapping into the powers of the Valar an intriguing one. I have little to add to the philosophic insights here but I think a lot of the confusion lies in a misapprehension of Tolkien's 'magic'.
Both tradition and poorer fantasies and Hollywood equates 'magic' as labour saving movements of physical objects. So, if Sauron had the Ring he could just sweep away armies and blast strongholds. Though that power is shown in small ways it seems to involve a great expense of innate stength as in Gandalf's spells in Moria.
Tolkien's magic is more to do with enchantment. The power that Sauron accrues from his Ring is chiefly the power to dominate. The strong minded and noble can resist it, the lesser of us had no chance. It meant that he was vulnerable to the sort of physical force that the Last Alliance brought against him.
Added to that is the ability to manipulate the spirit world to create illusion and to stave off the death of chosen allies.

Sauron when in possession of the Ring and in his full powers submitted to Númenor as a device to bring about its downfall. When he too was caught up in its fall he had to expend his strength to rebuild his body not to mention his military forces. This evened the balance of power between him bearing his Ring and the still powerful Elven armies and the vengeance seeking remnants of Númenor.

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