Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other Stuff

Discussion of the multitude of different ideas expressed by Tolkien in his published letters
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Post by WampusCat »

Old_Tom_Bombadil wrote:Very nice comments, WampusCat. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote. :)
Who could possibly object to the contributions of such an obviously astute poster? ;) I'm glad to see you.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Ophelia »

I just wonder if Sam might have been able to knock Frodo out; just immobilise him long enough to take the Ring from him. Would he have been able to throw it in himself, though? No person of little power could resist it at the last, "certainly not after long possession, months of increasing torment, and when starved and exhausted." What if the person had not been actually bearing the Ring up to that point? (Apart from about 24 hours, IIRC, in Cirith Ungol). Would its power at Mount Doom still be too overwhelming?
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I have no doubt at all that Sam would not have had the strength to throw it in himself.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Primula Baggins »

Nor do I. He almost falls to the Ring just thinking about it, when Frodo is (he thinks) dead. I think it was working on him, too, somehow, during all that time. Using his innate compassion, his wish to do good, as it would have done with Gandalf or Galadriel. They saw that clearly and refused the Ring. Sam refused it, too, but I think his good sense would have vanished the moment he held the Ring for himself. He was not one of the wise and the great.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Passdagas the Brown »

I think the point is that nobody could have willingly destroyed the Ring. Not one single person in Middle Earth could resist it. This is at the core of Tolkien's pessimistic view of human nature. After all, he was a firm believer in original sin.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Alatar »

If that's the case, then Gandalf, Elrond and the wise were sending Frodo and Sam and the rest of the Fellowship to their deaths with no hope of survival. Not just that, but it was the "fools errand" that others accused them of. For if Frodo was guaranteed to fail, then all the battles were for nothing and many lives wouold have been saved by a swift surrender. No. I have to believe there was a way, even if it was for Frodo to cast both himself and the Ring into the fire.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Tolkien certainly believed that no one could have willingly destroyed the Ring (and after all, it is his story):
In Letter 181, he wrote:'Lead us not into temptation &c' is the harder and the less often considered petition. The view, in the terms of my story, is that though every event or situation has (at least) two aspects: the history and development of the individual (it is something out of which he can get good, ultimate good, for himself, or fail to do so), and the history of the world (which depends on his action for its own sake) – still there are abnormal situations in which one may be placed. 'Sacrificial' situations, I should call them: sc. positions in which the 'good' of the world depends on the behaviour of an individual in circumstances which demand of him suffering and endurance far beyond the normal – even, it may happen (or seem, humanly speaking), demand a strength of body and mind which he does not possess: he is in a sense doomed to failure, doomed to fall to temptation or be broken by pressure against his 'will': that is against any choice he could make or would make unfettered, not under the duress.

Frodo was in such a position: an apparently complete trap: a person of greater native power could probably never have resisted the Ring's lure to power so long; a person of less power could not hope to resist it in the final decision. (Already Frodo had been unwilling to harm the Ring before he set out, and was incapable of surrendering it to Sam.)

The Quest ⁂ was bound to fail as a piece of world-plan, and also was bound to end in disaster as the story of humble Frodo's development to the 'noble', his sanctification. Fail it would and did as far as Frodo considered alone was concerned. He 'apostatized' – and I have had one savage letter, crying out that he shd. have been executed as a traitor, not honoured. Believe me, it was not until I read this that I had myself any idea how 'topical' such a situation might appear. It arose naturally from my 'plot' conceived in main outline in 1936.1 I did not foresee that before the tale was published we should enter a dark age in which the technique of torture and disruption of personality would rival that of Mordor and the Ring and present us with the practical problem of honest men of good will broken down into apostates and traitors.
Did Gandalf and Elrond know that no one could have willingly destroyed the Ring, even Frodo? I would say yes. But they didn't have a better plan but to rely on divine intervention at the critical moment. And Gandalf clearly had some sense of what could happen, since he specifically stated that the pity of Bilbo could rule the lives of many, and that Gollum would have a role to play.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Tolkien certainly believed that no one could have willingly destroyed the Ring (and after all, it is his story):
In Letter 181, he wrote:'Lead us not into temptation &c' is the harder and the less often considered petition. The view, in the terms of my story, is that though every event or situation has (at least) two aspects: the history and development of the individual (it is something out of which he can get good, ultimate good, for himself, or fail to do so), and the history of the world (which depends on his action for its own sake) – still there are abnormal situations in which one may be placed. 'Sacrificial' situations, I should call them: sc. positions in which the 'good' of the world depends on the behaviour of an individual in circumstances which demand of him suffering and endurance far beyond the normal – even, it may happen (or seem, humanly speaking), demand a strength of body and mind which he does not possess: he is in a sense doomed to failure, doomed to fall to temptation or be broken by pressure against his 'will': that is against any choice he could make or would make unfettered, not under the duress.

Frodo was in such a position: an apparently complete trap: a person of greater native power could probably never have resisted the Ring's lure to power so long; a person of less power could not hope to resist it in the final decision. (Already Frodo had been unwilling to harm the Ring before he set out, and was incapable of surrendering it to Sam.)

The Quest ⁂ was bound to fail as a piece of world-plan, and also was bound to end in disaster as the story of humble Frodo's development to the 'noble', his sanctification. Fail it would and did as far as Frodo considered alone was concerned. He 'apostatized' – and I have had one savage letter, crying out that he shd. have been executed as a traitor, not honoured. Believe me, it was not until I read this that I had myself any idea how 'topical' such a situation might appear. It arose naturally from my 'plot' conceived in main outline in 1936.1 I did not foresee that before the tale was published we should enter a dark age in which the technique of torture and disruption of personality would rival that of Mordor and the Ring and present us with the practical problem of honest men of good will broken down into apostates and traitors.
Did Gandalf and Elrond know that no one could have willingly destroyed the Ring, even Frodo? I would say yes. But they didn't have a better plan but to rely on divine intervention at the critical moment. And Gandalf clearly had some sense of what could happen, since he specifically stated that the pity of Bilbo could rule the lives of many, and that Gollum would have a role to play.
"Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from his halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world."
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Alatar »

Tolkien was entitled to think what he liked. But once he published, it was no longer just "his" story, as many have argued before. He can state what his intentions were, but as we all know a tale "grows in the telling".
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Frelga »

I wonder if what Tolkien wrote about his story does not sometimes contradict what is actually in the story, if he did not attempt to retcon his writings to be more in line with his religious belief as it evolved.

Based on what is in the book, Gandalf either believed that Frodo could succeed, or he was criminally negligent not just with regards to Frodo's life but in sending him where his failure would certainly result in Sauron's recovery of the Ring and the ultimate catastrophe. They'd have a better chance of success if they invested into some R&D to build a furnace that was capable of reaching sufficiently high temperatures to melt the Ring.

Based on Tolkien's other writings it appears that Gandalf's actual plan was to get as far as possible and count on divine interference to do the rest. Which, while a time-honored literary device, is somewhat unsatisfying to me.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I think that is clear not just from Tolkien's other writings, but from LOTR itself. But then, it is not unsatisfying to me, either.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Frelga »

Unless you read the Sil, would you ever know about the Valar and Co., and the possibility of their interference? The only reference I can think of is Gandalf's remark that finding the Ring was meant to happen, which is a rather slim narrative hook.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Frelga wrote:Unless you read the Sil, would you ever know about the Valar and Co., and the possibility of their interference? The only reference I can think of is Gandalf's remark that finding the Ring was meant to happen, which is a rather slim narrative hook.
Plus his comments about Bilbo's pity ruling the lives of many, and that his heart tells him that Gollum would have a role to play. As for knowing about the Valar and Co, I'm not sure I see the relevance, since it is not the possibility of their interference that is significance, it the possibility of Eru's interference that is significance. And I don't need to read the Silmarillion to know about Him.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Frelga »

Do you mean that you would extrapolate from knowing that Tolkien is Catholic, or from your own personal beliefs that you expect to be consistent with the world depicted in the books? Or is there a specific reference to Eru or any sort of divine creator in LOTR? It's been a while since my last reread, it's quite possible that I have forgotten.

The Valar reference is to the War of Wrath, in which they engaged and defeated Morgoth. Although Gandalf states outright that they would not consider the Ring to be their problem.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Frelga wrote:Do you mean that you would extrapolate from knowing that Tolkien is Catholic, or from your own personal beliefs that you expect to be consistent with the world depicted in the books? Or is there a specific reference to Eru or any sort of divine creator in LOTR? It's been a while since my last reread, it's quite possible that I have forgotten.
Both the knowledge that Tolkien is Catholic, and a generally common belief in the existence of God, which I somewhat share in my own iconoclastic way. As for reference to Eru in LOTR, one need look no further than Gandalf's comments about Bilbo being meant to find the Ring ("I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker").
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Passdagas the Brown »

Frelga wrote:I wonder if what Tolkien wrote about his story does not sometimes contradict what is actually in the story, if he did not attempt to retcon his writings to be more in line with his religious belief as it evolved.

Based on what is in the book, Gandalf either believed that Frodo could succeed, or he was criminally negligent not just with regards to Frodo's life but in sending him where his failure would certainly result in Sauron's recovery of the Ring and the ultimate catastrophe. They'd have a better chance of success if they invested into some R&D to build a furnace that was capable of reaching sufficiently high temperatures to melt the Ring.

Based on Tolkien's other writings it appears that Gandalf's actual plan was to get as far as possible and count on divine interference to do the rest. Which, while a time-honored literary device, is somewhat unsatisfying to me.
Your last sentence is how I see it. Frankly, I think Gandalf could see the mind of God, even if it wasn't always clear to him. In that context, he had some inkling that Frodo might succeed, one way or another. I also believe that he sanctioned Frodo's sacrifice because Frodo made it willingly. He did not force Frodo to go to Mordor. Thus, he is not criminally-negligent at all. He chose a mature hobbit that knew perfectly well what he was doing. This comes through far better in the books, but is hard to accept in the form of the doe-eyed teenaged Frodo of the films.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Alatar »

Nobody's talking about then movie here PdG, leave the bashing at the door.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Alatar wrote:Nobody's talking about then movie here PdG, leave the bashing at the door.
Agreed. Unnecessary and unhelpful and irrelevant to the discussion.
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Passdagas the Brown »

IMO, my comment was 100% relevant because I was making the point that Frodo's maturity (and free will) in the matter of the "quest of the Ring" comes off, IMO, very strongly in the books. When determining whether or not Gandalf was criminally-negligent with regards to Frodo's life, I think it's important to underline the degree to which Frodo made an informed, mature,and free decision at the outset (and then again, at the Council of Elrond). I bring the films in because even I, who have read the books annually since I was 13 years old or so, sometimes replace events in the book with events from the films. In that context, I was actually appealing to myself (and anyone like me) that occasionally needs to disentangle film event from book event, and film characterization from book characterization. And given that conversation in this community is in large part driven by the context of the films developed over this past decade and a half, I found it appropriate to make that observation. Creating silos with overly-thick walls seems a strange thing to do when discussing literature and the arts.

And while I appreciate Voronwë's responsibility to keep things on topic (this is, after all, his house), I would very much appreciate if others who are not moderators would leave their self-righteous reprimands at the door. If you don't know my motivations for saying something, and don't bother asking, then your grounds for issuing insulting statements that mischaracterize my comments (in this case, use of the word "bashing," and demands that I leave my comments "at the door") are very thin. And whatever you may think of my opinion of the films, I like them a whole lot more than my caricature might indicate.

And with that, I think I'll take a break from this forum for the next few years or so. Meanness and excessive pedantry directed at other members are not my idea of welcoming characteristics for a community. It only takes a few loudmouths to create that atmosphere, and I frankly have better things to do with my time than to deal with electronic vitriol.

ETA: Ignore the threat above. I'm posting now, and I'll be back again tomorrow and every day after that for a while. Al, you got under my skin with your schoolmaster comment, and I lost my cool a bit. Nothing to see here. Move along now! :)
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Re: Letter 181 and Letter 246 Frodo, Sam, Gollum and Other S

Post by Jude »

Frelga wrote:Unless you read the Sil, would you ever know about the Valar and Co., and the possibility of their interference? The only reference I can think of is Gandalf's remark that finding the Ring was meant to happen, which is a rather slim narrative hook.
There's also the line "May the Valar turn him aside!" spoken by one of Faramir's men (I forget which one) when the oliphaunt was rushing right towards them. I still remember the first time I read the book, not knowing anything about the Valar, and inferring from the context that it was a derogatory term for the men riding the oliphaunt. Then later, when I read the Appendices, I had to totally reframe that remark.

Anybody else have an experience like that?
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