The One Ring: A Device or Being?

by Anborn1 and Varda

Varda and I have been swapping thoughts on the nature of the Ring's being and operations - that is, is the Ring a *character* of the tale in its own right, or is it a device/tool or mechanism? With her kind permission, I am posting an excerpt from our discussions. I hope people might be interested in sharing their views on the matter, or commenting on the views prsented here. No offence is intended to any fans of Tollers, the Ring, Frodo or anyone!!

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V: It is a catalyst, no more. It exerts power subtly, and really only on those near it but that is enough, the butterfly syndrome, it sets in chain a reaction that has a life of its own. It is almost like something out of nuclear fission, it has a life and rules of its own. It works away quietly in the background, never overt, always powerful but deeply hidden… Sundered from Sauron it behaves a bit like some severed limb, erratically. It is a loose cannon…I hesitate to make it a 'being' for the simple reason that I think Tollers really wrote a book about real people and set it in a fantasy setting, and making the Ring too magical would rob the characters, especially Frodo, of their human responses, instincts and thereby their heroism, because we would be explaining what they do in terms of a ring not in terms of their own characters. That is why I see it as a catalyst.

A: I usually think of the Ring as a living entity with an intelligence, will and purpose of its own. “It *wants* to be found.” "It *wants* to return to its master’s hand.” So in this respect I see it considering the people/creatures around it – assessing their strengths and weaknesses, their desires and motivations, evaluating which ones are weak and in what way, which ones it can put to use and how, which ones it can dominate most easily or effectively. Some creatures are very simple for it to dominate – the Watcher in the Water, the Orc Chieftain in Moria - all the Ring has to do is point it in the right direction, at its Bearer who is resisting its will. Others take more work and skill – Boromir, Frodo.

In this respect I see a Ring that is more active in effecting situations that it desires, and in trying to control the situations and outcomes, albeit within a limited sphere of influence. And with this view I perceive that the Ring tempted Frodo, but also wheedled, threatened and cajoled him. I see it as getting more desperate since it is with Frodo for such a long time yet doesn’t control him effectively. But it is also growing in power as they approach Orodruin, so it becomes more aggressive and overt in its efforts (Frodo’s hand straying repeatedly to his breast, losing his memories and senses).

Another way I sometimes think of the Ring is that it is more like a beast, with less cognitive thought, but rather a few very dominant instincts – reunite with Sauron, reveal itself to Sauron’s servants, control its bearer or get a bearer it can control. It is crafty and wily in acting on these instincts; it doesn’t see in terms of overview or longer term planning, but rather just the more immediate situation. The Ring is almost a smart bomb/tool, but really has little cognitive intelligence.

In any case, it IS very subtle, crafty, and almost delicate in its operations (at least most of the time).