The True Nature of the Ring

Michael Kern '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

J.R.R. Tolkien's renowned trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, has become the standard that other fantasy writers have tried to attain. The legendary series tells the story of Middle-Earth, a land threatened by the evil forces of Mordor. The evil wizard Sauron has awoken again, and now searches for the One Ring, an artifact so powerful it will enable him to crush the forces of good that resist him. Middle-Earth must rely on Frodo, a very unlikely hero, who must bear the ring to the mountain in which it was forged and destroy it. In this passage from the trilogy's first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf describes to Frodo what he has learned about the true nature of the ring he inherited from Bilbo.

He was now smoking silence, for Frodo was sitting still, deep in thought. Even in the light of the morning he felt the dark of the shadow of the tidings that Gandalf had brought.

"Last night you began to tell me strange things about my ring Gandalf," he said. "And then you stopped, because you said that such matters were best left until daylight. Don't you think you better finish now? You say the ring is dangerous, far more dangerous than I guess. In what way?"

"In many ways," answered the wizard. "It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him.

"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 to mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, were perilous."

After a final test in which Frodo's ring is tossed into the fire, Gandalf is removed of all doubt that the ring is in fact the One Ring.

He paused, and then said slowly in a deep voice: "This is the Master-Ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it -- but he must not get it."

Frodo sat silent and motionless. Fear seemed to stretch out a vast hand, like a dark cloud rising in the East and looming up to engulf him. "This ring!" he stammered. "How on earth did it come to me?"


1. How does Gandalf's view of "matters best left until daylight" compare with MacDonald's nocturnal world in Phantastes?

2. Similarly, do Tolkien's elves relate in any way to the faeries of Phantastes?

3. What techniques does Tolkien use to cause the power of the Rings to be more intimidating?

4. Why is Frodo such an unlikely hero? How is his character to the children of Narnia and Menolly of Pern?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 25 February 2004