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How do we know for CERTAIN you can't use the Ring?

Sir Eowyn

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A wild question, I know, and slightly blasphemous, but in the spirit of "trust the tale, not the teller" (as D. H. Lawrence put it), I feel I have to ask this.

We know that the One Ring confers great power, that one of sufficient strength who wields it can, in theory, not only rival Sauron but completely overthrow him. The hitch, it's said, is that then you'll just take Sauron's place---that Gandalf, had he used the Ring, would have then become Sauron in some other guise. No one really questions this, except Boromir (of course, fatally). Denethor has his doubts as well, but from a desperate position. But do they KNOW? "Because Tolkien said so" isn't really an answer.

The problem, it seems, is a certain contradiction at the heart of the story. However much Tolkien professed against allegory, it can be said, broadly, that the Ring represents a certain form of absolute power. To seize tyrannical powers to throw down the tyrant as currently standing, the argument seems to go, is to be no better than your foe, and to simply perpetuate evil. But the climax of the Third Age all hinges on Aragon taking the throne as High King, to govern all Gondor and Arnor, all the realm of old. In other words, the Men of the West hardly mean to set up an anarcho-syndalicist commune, to reference Monty Python. Aragon will rule as an absolute monarch.

"But," it will be said, "it all depends on your intention. Aragon means to lead men well, not subjugate them." Well, I'm sure that's true, and I'm not here to dump on monarchy---it has many merits, and is probably far nobler (in the right hands) than our current system. But the point is, Aragorn's after power. Power is understood here to be a good thing, to provide law and order, and finally peace. So then, why NOT use the Ring?

Presumably the Ring is under some spell of inherent evil, that whatever it does will wreak destruction, no matter what the intention at first. Let's say that's true, even though there's a lack of evidence. First of all, nobody's tried it---Isiildur lost it far too soon, and the only others to bear it were hobbits. And if Minas Ithil can become Minas Morgul, far removed from the beauty of its original structure, and Elves can be turned into Orcs, then why not the Ring into good? But alright, let's say in Tolkien's world (which is mythic, and so different from ours; it's ultimately his call)---even still, there's something unsettling here, some apparent contradiction and flip-flop. One can sympathize with Denethor's outrage that instead of being kept safe from Sauron, the Ring is sent into Mordor carried by hobbits. Yes, it all worked out in the end, but that by a million strokes of good luck. Tolkien would call it providence, and I suppose it is. But to risk the lives of everything in Middle-earth by trusting to providence rather than master your soul enough to govern wisely... this is strange.

Some of what I've said is a bit incoherent, I know, but this question's been on my mind of late. It just seems that Tolkien had some strange ideas about power, and grace. That Frodo ultimately yields and claims the Ring for his own, even at the edge of ruin for everything... well, what does this imply but that evil is something no heart can resist, that without grace, without someone there to bite your finger and fall in the magma, we'd all be lost? That's not necessarily invalid... the frame of things may indeed be structured thus... but it seems to go against all the traditional morals Tolkien would claim to believe in, absolving us all of any culpability for claiming the Ring of Power. Grace will take care of it. But then, why not just have Gandalf (or Galadriel) overthrow the Dark Lord, then let grace take care of it?

Interesting.
 

Rivendell_librarian

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From letter 130 to Stanley Unwin: (14 Sept 1950)

"So great was the Ring's power of lust, that anyone who used it became mastered by it; it was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure it, cast it away or neglect it"

Yet Bilbo left it to Frodo (with Gandalf's encouragement)!
 

Olorgando

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...
"But," it will be said, "it all depends on your intention. Aragon means to lead men well, not subjugate them." Well, I'm sure that's true, and I'm not here to dump on monarchy---it has many merits, and is probably far nobler (in the right hands) than our current system. But the point is, Aragorn's after power. Power is understood here to be a good thing, to provide law and order, and finally peace. So then, why NOT use the Ring?
...
There are no right hands (Aragorn is a fantasy figure).
Power corrupts. To cite Lord Acton (I hope Wiki has the quote right): "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

To sharpen the argument, I use Tom Shippey's 2000 book "JRRT - Author of the Century".
He quotes William Golding, author of the 1954 "Lord of the Flies" and the 1955 "The Inheritors", both of which take an extremely dim view on humanity, in a collection of essays published by Golding in 1965 entitled "Hot Gates":
"I must say that anyone who passed through those years [of World War II] without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head."

JRRT failed at resolving the problem of theodicy. Not something to wonder at, as every theologian in history has also failed to do so. Eru blew it.
 

Sir Eowyn

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There are no right hands (Aragorn is a fantasy figure).
Power corrupts. To cite Lord Acton (I hope Wiki has the quote right): "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

To sharpen the argument, I use Tom Shippey's 2000 book "JRRT - Author of the Century".
He quotes William Golding, author of the 1954 "Lord of the Flies" and the 1955 "The Inheritors", both of which take an extremely dim view on humanity, in a collection of essays published by Golding in 1965 entitled "Hot Gates":
"I must say that anyone who passed through those years [of World War II] without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head."

JRRT failed at resolving the problem of theodicy. Not something to wonder at, as every theologian in history has also failed to do so. Eru blew it.
Yes, I agree with everything said there---but as much as the whole "power corrupts" quote is taken to heart, we all agree some measure of it is necessary. A kingdom, for example, was understood to be progressive compared to a bunch of scattered tribes that bicker and slaughter each other. A strong medieval king would serve the positive function of protecting the security of the common people (to some extent) from the inter-fighting among the barons.

Point is, until we all live in a utopia where there is no need for power at all, we need some. Despite what Gandalf says, they DO replace Sauron... they replace him with Aragorn. They just don't use the Ring.
 

Olorgando

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… Despite what Gandalf says, they DO replace Sauron... they replace him with Aragorn. ...
Yes, but there are no Saurons in our word and never have been.
The "realistic" opposite figure to Aragorn would in my imagination be Saruman, after Gandalf broke his staff after Helm's Deep.
Even the most benevolent historians towards questionable (serious British - or is that English? understatement there) leaders have located hugely more Saruman figures than Aragorn analogues.
Imperfect as it may be, the checks and balances at least written into the constitutions of democracy provide a lever against abuse absent from hereditary / god-given / otherwise considered unaccountable forms of rule. Those in power (and it is a serious flaw in thinking, if it occurs, that power is solely to be seen as political, including control of the military and police - for one financial power can be at least as corrosive) strive towards unaccountability, towards safeguards against (mostly justified) retribution for misdeeds. Those most anxious to establish safeguards against a coup are the now-entrenched leaders of the last successful coup (who by nature have quite a bit of knowledge of what must be guarded against).
 

Sir Eowyn

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Yes, but there are no Saurons in our word and never have been.
The "realistic" opposite figure to Aragorn would in my imagination be Saruman, after Gandalf broke his staff after Helm's Deep.
Even the most benevolent historians towards questionable (serious British - or is that English? understatement there) leaders have located hugely more Saruman figures than Aragorn analogues.
Imperfect as it may be, the checks and balances at least written into the constitutions of democracy provide a lever against abuse absent from hereditary / god-given / otherwise considered unaccountable forms of rule. Those in power (and it is a serious flaw in thinking, if it occurs, that power is solely to be seen as political, including control of the military and police - for one financial power can be at least as corrosive) strive towards unaccountability, towards safeguards against (mostly justified) retribution for misdeeds. Those most anxious to establish safeguards against a coup are the now-entrenched leaders of the last successful coup (who by nature have quite a bit of knowledge of what must be guarded against).
Hmm. Some interesting points there. This goes a bit beyond the scope, but it seems to me absolute monarchy is either the best or the worst form of government... depending. Democracy is mediocre, middle of the ground. You don't get the hellish scenes, but you also give up the splendour. The downside is that Aragorn might know what's best, but now has to get the committee to agree to it. An absolute monarch doesn't have to listen to the polls, but can do what he thinks regardless of popularity. Again, of course, a very dangerous downside too...

Whether there are actually more Sarumans than Aragorns is debatable... of the English monarchs (my knowledge of the rest of Europe is less extensive) before the Glorious Revolution, 1688, which established the "constitutional monarchy" as we now know it, I think there were eight Sarumans, out of twenty-five. Even Henry VIII was largely good for the common people (most of his victims were members of the Church and the nobility). So yes, debatably eight White Wizard serpents, out of twenty-five. The others all seemed to give it their best shot, at least.

And yes, with financial power, well, in the modern world the corporations have the enormous power they do because under democracy, numbers and dollars equals power. The Middle Ages didn't allow that---the guilds had rules, you couldn't just buy up all the competition. At least the feudal overlords, as brutal as they could be, were in some sense answerable to the king, to the land. The modern businesses are answerable to nothing and no one.

Good food for thought. Thank you.
 

CirdanLinweilin

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But to risk the lives of everything in Middle-earth by trusting to providence rather than master your soul enough to govern wisely... this is strange.
Not to a devout Catholic author, the type of people that see inherent danger in this thought of yours. I'm sure Tolkien would subtly bristle.


CL
 

CirdanLinweilin

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Yes, but there are no Saurons in our word and never have been.
The "realistic" opposite figure to Aragorn would in my imagination be Saruman, after Gandalf broke his staff after Helm's Deep.
Even the most benevolent historians towards questionable (serious British - or is that English? understatement there) leaders have located hugely more Saruman figures than Aragorn analogues.
Imperfect as it may be, the checks and balances at least written into the constitutions of democracy provide a lever against abuse absent from hereditary / god-given / otherwise considered unaccountable forms of rule. Those in power (and it is a serious flaw in thinking, if it occurs, that power is solely to be seen as political, including control of the military and police - for one financial power can be at least as corrosive) strive towards unaccountability, towards safeguards against (mostly justified) retribution for misdeeds. Those most anxious to establish safeguards against a coup are the now-entrenched leaders of the last successful coup (who by nature have quite a bit of knowledge of what must be guarded against).
"Checks and Balances"
Hasn't stopped my country, I'm afraid, where Saurons abound.


CL
 

Sir Eowyn

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Not to a devout Catholic author, the type of people that see inherent danger in this thought of yours. I'm sure Tolkien would subtly bristle.
Oh, I'm sure he'd bristle bigtime. Any teller of stories, though, opens up the way for ambiguity, room for interpretation. I mean, why not write a straight-ahead devotional work, instead of a tale from some parallel world where no worship exists? If hobbits aren't baptized, surely the best they can hope for is Limbo, with the virtuous pagans.

Of course there's inherent danger in this thought of mine. There's also inherent danger in sending the Ring into Mordor, claiming to renounce all power, only to set up a Numenorean empire. Yeah, the contradiction is one that any Christian faces---how to reconcile Eternal Ideal with the Kingdom of This World.
 

Olorgando

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And yes, with financial power, well, in the modern world the corporations have the enormous power they do because under democracy, numbers and dollars equals power. The Middle Ages didn't allow that ...
Financial power existed well before the end of the Middle Ages. The earliest banks (in Italy, I think) existed in the 14th century, at the latest. And then there were the German Fuggers from Augsburg, who gave Charles V of the Spanish Habsburgs the financial means to outspend his competitor Francis I of France in bribes to make himself Holy Roman Emperor. While the corporation may be a very modern form of commerce, (filthy) rich merchants were able to exert influence centuries before.

If "democracy" has not limited the power of financial criminals since World War II, it is because these financial criminals have managed a rollback since the time of Alzheimer Ronnie of laws and regulations effected by (however he did it) FDR at the latest during WW II. A period after the massive, and world-wide, crisis (leading to Hitler being in power in Germany) after 1929 stock market crash. Called the Great Compression (perhaps paralleling the Great De- affecting massively more people) as it did a bit to decimate the wealth of the US parasite class. Not nearly enough, for certain ...
 

Sir Eowyn

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Yes, one can only imagine banks in Middle-earth... headed, no doubt, by Sharkey. Ah well, it may be Middle-earth, but all written by a man of the twentieth century. Just enjoy thinking about all this.
 

grendel

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My two cents (farthings?)... everyone has their good and evil side, I think Tolkien's point was that the Ring would bring out your bad side and suppress your good. As Gandalf pointed out, even Sauron was not evil in the beginning. Anyone who took up the Ring to throw down Sauron would by necessity have their evil side rise up. I found it interesting that Men's rules could be somewhat Draconian... the penalty for deserting one's post is death? Really? And yet, when passing judgement on Beregond, Aragorn showed both mercy and morality. Two thing in which Sauron was, by this point, sorely lacking.

I think the Council (less Saurman) were quite Wise in realizing that use of the Ring would bring them down to Sauron's level, rather than elevating them at all.

Mod edit: removed political statements
 
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Squint-eyed Southerner

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I see my "hints and warnings" continue to fall on deaf ears.

May I remind everyone that politics and religion -- except where they bear specifically on Tolkien's own work -- are two subjects that were long ago prohibited in this forum?

IIRC, some members were banned for repeatedly breaking this rule.
 

Sir Eowyn

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I see my "hints and warnings" continue to fall on deaf ears.

May I remind everyone that politics and religion -- except where they bear specifically on Tolkien's own work -- are two subjects that were long ago prohibited in this forum?

IIRC, some members were banned for repeatedly breaking this rule.
I see my "hints and warnings" continue to fall on deaf ears.

May I remind everyone that politics and religion -- except where they bear specifically on Tolkien's own work -- are two subjects that were long ago prohibited in this forum?

IIRC, some members were banned for repeatedly breaking this rule.
This I was unaware of, though I intended all this as an ethics question in general. That Tolkien was a Catholic is a prism that would colour that, though I'm much more interested in the general question of sending the Ring to Minas Tirith and risking the corruption, or trusting it all to the chance in a million of sending it into Mordor. That almost evokes old Pascal's wager, doesn't it? ...

And as for comparing medieval systems to modern democracy, that has nothing to do with any current political party. Not my intention.
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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The proscription appears on the "Bars and Inns" forum header. I've suggested having it displayed more prominently, possibly on a "Welcome to the Tolkien Forum" Homepage header, along with a little more introductory info about the site. Maybe when Mazzly emerges from his house renovation nightmare, he'll have time to look into it.

Your OP questions are certainly worthy of a thoughtful response; unfortunately I'm out of time at the moment.
 

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