Prior to the Trilogy, there are several sources regarding the ring:




Morgoth's Ring--The History of Middle Earth (edited by Christopher Tolkien), Volume X

The Return of the Shadow--(edited by Christopher Tolkien)--Volume VI


1. NOTICE in the beginning what makes evil so dangerous? A good parallel would be Richard III (Gloucester in 3 Henry VI):

Tut I can smile, and murder when I smile,
I crie content, to that that greeues me most

2. Does Tolkien attempt to diminish Sauron's evil; could in modern terms, Sauron plead diminished capacity?
3. What seems to invigorate Sauron is his belief that the Valor, following the last alliance, grew lax in watching Middle Earth. Hubris motivates, and whom does he find most disposed to his words, and why? What name does he use? What are his (linguistic) clues?
4. Tolkien suggests that the rings were made in Eregion (part of Eriador - home of Arnor, Rivendell, the Shire) because the elves wished to gain influence there; thus displacing him. Tolkien (p.356) relates that Sauron exploits the Noldor's flaw (subtlety), the longing to return to the West, and their wishing to enjoy that which they lacked: the "bliss of those that had departed."(p.356). For these reasons, they made the rings of power guided by Sauron's sophisticated intelligence. How does Plato's diagram of the soul serve here? What question of Dr. Freitas best provides a clue?
5. The ONE RING is a product of....? Think of a historical parallel; hint the title of a pre-WWII film called, "Triumph of the _ _ _ _" concerning whom?
6. What is the real evil of the ONE RING?
7. What happens to the 3 elven rings; why does Sauron not possess them?
8. Since Sauron and the elves are thus permanently estranged (at the time Elrond found Rivendell), his seductive powers turn to men (9 rings, and for Dwarves, 7 rings). The dwarves are undone by their rings--why? What disposition does Sauron seem to know they have?
9. "Men proved easier to ensnare." (p.358). Why? What are the Nazgul? Given their description and appearance in the movie, and although Tolkien would later disavow the comparison, would NAZI be a suitable comparison thematically? Linguistically, though, Tolkien's etymology was from NAZU, meaning RING, as translated at the head of this page; they are of course the Ringwraiths.
10. Why does Tolkien use FIRE to describe how Sauron reigns? Recall the creation myth, and note:

"Now Sauron's lust and pride increased, until he knew know bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle-earth, and to destroy the Elves, and to compass, if he might, the downfall of Numenor. He brooked no freedom nor any rivalry, and he named himself Lord of the Earth. A mask he still could wear so that if he wished he might deceive the eyes of Men, seeming to them wise and fair. But he ruled rather by force and fear, if they might avail..." (pp. 358-359).

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." (Macbeth, I,i), and one would strive in vain to find a description of Hitler that did not parallel.
11. Important for the history of the ring is a flashback recalling the founding of Gondor and Arnor by Isildur and Anarion, his brother. Of importance in the Trilogy is Minas Ithil-home of Isildur (later in the war, Minas Morgul), and Minas Anor-home of Anarion (renamed Minas Tirith). Referenced also are the White Tree (Nimolth, descended from The Tree of Tirion) and the seven stones (Palantiri). There use in LOTR will be critical in the company's winning through evil defeating itself, much to the dismay of Saruman.
12. Why does Tolkien use (beyond the obvious) an EYE as the image for Sauron?
13. THE LAST ALLIANCE of Elves and men against Sauron is described. Importantly, note the role of Gilgalad and Elendil. What is Narsil? What happens to Narsil and obviously the ring will dominate action in the Trilogy.
14. Tolkien marks the defeat of Sauron as the start of The Third Age. Note the Anglo-Saxon reference regarding the motivation of Isildur; for Tolkien's catholicity, history does repeat itself.
15. What figure of speech does Tolkien use to describe what next happens to the ring? Why?
16. How is prophecy involved regarding Narsil?
17. The tone is one of great loss; the renaming of Minas Ithil as Minas Morgul is described; and Minas Anor becomes Minas Tirith (of Gondor).
18. The heir of Isildur (?) will play a deciding role in the company's victory.
19. The location of the three Elven rings is important...

20. Thus, Tolkien ends the third age, calling them the "fading years."
21. GREENWOOD becomes MIRKWOOD--evil lurks there, more by implication and rumor, but like the marshes bordering the Mead Hall in Beowulf, one does not venture too far.
22. Characters important to the Company's quest for good and ill, for trust and betrayal are introduced--wizards: Gandalf and Saruman. What is the evidence (p.373) to suggest that good does still appear naive? (p.374)
23. THE CHAPTER CONCLUDES with the finding of the ring by one The Hobbit and the Trilogy will call Gollum, who wants "his preciousssss."

A note on Sauron in Morgoth's Ring

Volume 10 was published in 1993, and contains valuable new information on Sauron. On pages 394 ff, Christopher notes that his father had written comments called, "Some notes on the "philosophy" of the Silmarillion," which he later expanded, retitling it, "Notes on Motives in the Silmarillion."

Part I...

Tolkien contrasts Morgoth at the end of the First Age, and Sauron in the Second Age, believing that Sauron had "not fallen so low" as Morgoth who expended much of his substance in the First Age on what Tolkien called "...a vast demiurgic lust for power...on a grand scale," whereas Sauron focused energy on the rings. Melkor warns Tolkien would have destroyed the cosmos if he could, whereas Sauron "...had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness." Tolkien almost sees Sauron as the Borg-queen is in Star Trek. The Borg seek order and in so doing, wish, as one of theme said to Picard, to improve the quality of life. Assimilation means subordination to their will; not nihilism. Tolkien sees Sauron doing the same. Sauron's crushed self-esteem finds refuge in the worship of Melkor, and in turn by having others worships him. As the "high-priest" of Melkor, he could in turn demand worship from The Numenorians as his subjects. Much of this is reminiscent of Satan's relationship to God in the soliloquy that opens Book IV of Paradise Lost.

Part II...

Tolkien's epistemology warns that greater minds will often seek (quite immorally) to dominate those of lesser skill or intelligence. His Christianity emerges in the form of Manwe who has nefarious activity going on "behind his back." Thus, evil is allowed to flourish, but not willed. Manwe's vast intelligence is manifested in restraint; whereas Sauron seeks to use his to control.

Tolkien explains the title of this volume,.


The evils of Morgoth and Sauron are thus different. When reviewing the details of the creation myth, Morgoth is much more of a substance of Middle Earth than Sauron. Perhaps it would be wise to revise our comparison to Hitler, wherein Morgoth: Sauron :: Hitler: Heydrich, Himmler etc. To destroy the ring is to destroy Sauron, but to destroy Morgoth would be to ravage Middle Earth including Arda. The implication, I think, is that Tolkien in his own time and forecasting, foresaw Melkor as the greater threat.

Part III...

Perhaps due to philosophical necessity, the good seems to be limited in what it can do the defeat evil, and thus develops a siege mentality in that applying emanationism to the music of creation, the notes become less and less audible as they are more and more remote from the source. In Intimations Ode, Wordsworth uses light imagery in the same way. The glory and the dream fade eventually into "the light of common day" which is NOT the light of Plato's good. He goes on the describe the earth as a "prison house", as is the body which confines the soul, but immediately then compares the earth to a nurse which nurtures with compensations of its own. That is what Tolkien is doing here--we long to go back to God. To us, this appears to be a "rival possessiveness, " in which the Valar hide, but Tolkien immediately comments that such only appears to be the case due to "...the lies of the enemy" that mar perspective. Point of view is morally significant.

Man, in other words, cannot read the mind of God then, or now, as in the words of a priest the following Sunday, "Where was God on 9-11?"--Why did He hide? The answer is a familiar one, both elves and men ("...the best elements of mankind...") ennobled themselves by the struggle against evil, and although Morgoth was destroyed, his effects were not....hence Sauron or any racist living after Hitler who admires him. We live in the Fourth Age, and our evil, our Sauron, are terrorism, racism, hatred, pollution etc. which must be fought. Does God hide from us, or we from Him?




Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine edition, 1973

EVERYONE OF COURSE HAS HEARD OF THE HOBBIT, the alleged prequel to LOTR although Tolkien disagreed. Nonetheless, its quest - like theme and the major characters obviously find enrichment in the later writings. Readers of Beowulf will see immediate parallels, including thematic ones. In The Return Journey, for example, we know Thorin, lusting for treasure, strives to keep it for himself, but dies of wounds inflicted by goblins (Orcs). Just moments before death, however, his recognition recalls Hrothgar's, and anticipates the ethics of those who renounce the ring...

"Farewell good thief...I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate."

Bilbo knelt on one knee filled with sorrow. "Farewell, King under the mountain," he said. "This is a bitter adventure if it must end so; and not a mountain of gold can amend it. Yet I am glad I have shared in your perils...

"No!" said Thorin. "There is more in you of good than you know...Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure." If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell." (pp. 272-273)

Having come thus far in the course, the meaning is obvious.

As we will consider the importance of Chapter V for the Trilogy, that will be discussed below, but CLICK HERE FOR A SHORT SUMMARY / ANALYSIS OF THE NOVEL.

The Chapter alludes to the Anglo-Saxon fondness for riddles. A good study is:

Alexander, Michael. The Earliest English Poems. New York: Penguin, 1977.
Pages 90-103 provide commentary and analysis.

Alexander's introduction explains what must have fascinated Tolkien, the linguist. I offer two from Alexander's collection that would have special meaning for Tolkien:


I am the scalp of myself, skinned by my foeman:
robbed of my strength, he steeped & soaked me,
dipped me in water, whipped me out again,
set me in the sun. I soon lost there
the hairs I had had.
The hard edge
of a keen-ground knife cuts me now'
fingers fold me, and a fowl's pride
drives its treasure trail across me,
bounds again over the brown rim,
sucks the wood-dye, steps again on me,
makes his black marks.
A man then hides me
between stout shield-boards stretched with hide,
fits me with gold. There glows on me
the jewelsmith's handiwork held with wires.
Let these royal enrichments and this red dye
and splendid settings spread the glory
of the Protector of peoples - and not plague the fool.
If the sons of men will make use of me
they shall.
. ..



A curious and wonderful creature I saw
- bright air-gail , brave artefact -
homing from a raid with its haul of silver
brimming precarious crescent horns.

To build itself a hideaway high up in the city.
room in a tower, timbered with art,,
was all it aimed at, if only it might.
Then over the wall rose a wonder familiar
to the earth-race, to everyone known.
It gathered to itself the hoard, and to its home drove off
that unhappy outcast. Onward it .coursed,
wandered westward with wasting heart.

Dust rose to the skies, dew fell to the earth,
night was no more. No man knew
along what ways it wandered after.

Why do you think Tolkien would love these Riddles? Suddenly (except for Tolkien, the linguist, for whom this is all self-evident), their relevance emerges. Our very human nature is rooted in paradox as Pope wisely observed in Essay on Man, Epistle II

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself abus'd, or disabus'd;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurl'd:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

What a riddle! Much of Tolkien is here, and perhaps the feeling of "bafflement grows," notes Alexander," when we are confronted by a riddle to which no solution has been found. The effect of being asked a riddle by someone who lived eleven hundred years ago is frankly disconcerting; but not to know the answer is frankly embarrassing."

Tolkien's linguistic and poetic subtleties, his longing for solutions to the riddles of our modern world from the "infernal combustion engine" to nuclear bombs perhaps explains why he so much loved them. Think of how the company accessed Moria.

Alexander, however, discusses a very Tolkien-like reason for loving riddles: "...the poet extends and diversifies our understanding of--or at least our acquaintance with--the noumenous natural world, of whose life, or even existence, modern men are becoming progressively more unaware. This operation is salutary, and may be said to have religious value."

So riddles are transcendent; they take us from were we are to a reminder of where we ought to be through delicacy, humor and substance. For Tolkien as well, they have religious value (...a hint regarding one of the solutions).

Chapter V:

1. If the Trilogy were read first, and then Chapter V, an immediate narrative difference appears. How is the earlier work different? Why does Tolkien employ a technique considered today dated or parochial?
2. We open with Bilbo in a cave--what is the archetype, and why does Tolkien use it? Note also the Plato allusion. Where in the cave is Bilbo? Gollum?
3. Gollum is presented directly, but with ambiguity as a creature of unknown origins who wants only his "precioussss." His fondness for "SSSSsssssssss...." recalls a snake, and with Bilbo's "I do not know where I am; and I don't want to know, if only I can get away." (p. 80) suggests, in more mature terms, an initiation rite for Bilbo (like Alice's pool of tears).
3. Alone now and alienated from his own kind, Gollum's only recourse had been in the distant past to recite Riddles. Here an Anglo-Saxon theme clearly emerges: that of exile. Study three Anglo-Saxon poems, The Wanderer, The Seafarer and The Wife's Lament. Interestingly, each poem from its own perspective endorses a Christian theme wedded to a pagan legend.
4. The riddles of Gollum to Bilbo...What do they mean, and what is at stake appears to be cannibalism vs. a way out for Gollum. The early ones appear solvable:

5. Thus far, the narrator deems these too easy, so the difficulty increases (as it will morally in LOTR), since the next one is a metaphor for evil.

The answer is DARKNESS, and the riddles begin to change. We know that possessiveness defines Tolkien's view of evil, as it did for Rousseau; what he called the real "original sin" in the garden of Eden.

From Pandora to the Barrow of Beowulf to Angband to Mt. Doom the lust for treasure is evil. The images that follow --fish and time--involve consumption, as Tolkien's phrases, "never thirsty, ever drinking" and "devours...gnaws..slays..." suggest. These will be the themes of the Trilogy, themes which Tolkien anticipates when Bilbo, frustrated by the game, grasps for the ring, which in a more sophisticated mode anticipates the actions of Frodo who "...slipped the ring on the forefinger of his left hand," (p. 263) (A Knife in the Dark) when overcome with fear. Tolkien will write, "The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else....something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield."

Gollum anticipates, "It isn't fair, my precious to ask us what it's got in its nasty little pocketses." Tolkien's use of the "S" alliteration suggests the snake in the garden. Gollum's describing himself as US suggests a conflict that LOTR will fully dramatize, leaving us to decide (perhaps from The Poetics' perspective), how tragic he is. Lest we rush to judgment, a virtue always associated with Christianity will also be associated with Gollum in the trilogy. Without it, the quest will be unsuccessful. Hobbits other than Bilbo will need to learn that, as with riddles, the appearance is not the reality always. Bilbo finds Gollum repulsive and slimy, not to be trusted. Bilbo does not understand what the ring had done to Gollum, but Tolkien does,

He wanted it because it was a ring of power, and if you slipped that
ring on your finger, you were invisible.

by Robert Ouellette

Details that Tolkien does not fully dramatize in The Hobbit emerge, but will become essential to understanding the roles of Gollum and the ring in the Trilogy.

6. Given Gollum's lust for the ring, what does Bilbo fear, and is he justified?
7. Do you find Gollum a pathetic creature? How much of a victim?
8. Bilbo's sophistication and his audience demand that for now, the ring be seen as MAGIC. How after all do you at this point explain invisibility? For now, Tolkien attributes its history to old tales they defy credibility--hence the riddle format, but Gollum finding the ring by accident really is not; accidents do not occur in a Christian universe; they only appear to, due to limited perspectives, and the hobbits, given their claustrophobic existence.
8. If Bilbo escapes using the ring, what is the moral paradox that Frodo will find much later on; it dominates the Council of Elrond, especially regarding Boromir.


"I have suggested that by this stage my father knew a good deal more about the Riders and the Ring than Bingo [a Shire Hobbit, nephew / first cousin of Bilbo]..." wrote Christopher Tolkien in Chapter III of The Return of the Shadow. Retrospectively, we know the truth of his son's remarks. The publication of these notes in 1988 allowed readers to know what Tolkien was thinking "behind the scenes."

1. Initially, the manuscript suggests, as in The Hobbit, that the ring is but a harmless trinket, but has the potential to be misused and therefore corrupting and dangerous, making one a servant of The Lord of the Ring. The draft (which Christopher had to edit), will become the basis of Chapter II of LOTR, The Shadow of the Past.": Christopher notes that the manuscript is somewhat circumscribed by what Tolkien had written earlier in The Hobbit: (1937-1951)
2. The setting is Bingo worrying about the ring and the disappearance of Bilbo from the Shire. He address Gandalf:


The edition of the HOBBIT you have was published in 1951. What follows below is from the earlier edition of 1937. Track the changes:


PAGE 79............ SEE NOTE 3

PAGE 81............ SEE NOTE 1

PAGE 83 ............ SEE NOTE 2

PAGE 86............ SEE NOTE 4

PAGE 87............ SEE NOTES 5,6,7,8

PAGE 88............ SEE NOTE 8 (continued), 9, 10

PAGE 80............. SEE NOTES 11, 12

1. “If it asks us, and we doesn’t answer, we gives it a present, Gollum”

2. “…what about your present?”

3. Tolkien added the following adjectives: “”small slimy creature" and “in his thin face.”

4. “but funnily enough he need not have been alarmed. For one thing Gollum had learned long ago was never, never to cheat at the riddle-game which is a sacred one and of immense antiquity.”

5. “What about the present?” asked Bilbo, not that he cared very much, still he felt that he had won it pretty fairly, and in very difficult circumstances too. Must we give it the thing, precious? Yess, we must! We must fetch it, preciouss and give it the present we promised.”

6. The hobbit was just thinking of going back up the passage when he heard him wailing and squealing away in the gloom. He was on this island (of which, of course Bilbo knew nothing) scrabbling here and there, searching and seeking in vain and turning out his pockets. Where iss it? Where iss it? Bilbo heard his squeaking. Lost, lost my precious, lost. Bless us and splash us. We haven’t the present we promised, and we haven’t even got it for ourselves.”

7. ...for if you slipped that ring on your fingers you were invisible; only in the sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow, and that was a faint and shaky short of shadow,

8. Bilbo, turned round and waited, wondering what it could be that the creature was making such a fuss about. This proved very fortunate afterwards. For Gollum came back and made a tremendous spluttering and whispering and croaking; and in the end Bilbo gathered that Gollum had had a ring—a wonderful, beautiful ring, a ring that he had been given for a birthday present ages and ages before...sometimes he had it in his pocket, usually he kept it in a little hole in the rock on his island, sometimes he wore it…when he was very hungry and tired of fish, and crept along dark passages looking for stray goblins. Then he might venture even into places where the torches were lit and made his eyes blink and smart; but he would be safer O yes.."

9. The hobbit was just thinking of going back up the passage having had quite enough of Gollum and the dark water’s edge--when he heard him wailing and squeaking away in the gloom. He was on his island,…scrabbing here and there, searching and searching in vain and turning out his pockets. “Where is it? Where is it? Biblo heard him squeaking,,. “lost, lost, my precious, lost, lost! Bless us and splash us…”

10. I don’t know how many times Gollum begged Bilbo’s pardon. He kept on saying: “We are sorry; we didn’t mean to cheat, we meant to give it our only present, if it won the competition"

11. Now Go1lum had to agree to this if he was not to cheat. He still very much wanted just to try what the stranger tasted like, but now he had to give up all idea of it. Still there was the little sword; and the stranger was wide awake and on the lookout, not unsuspecting as Gollum liked to have the things which he attacked.”

12. As they went along up the tunnel together, Gollum-flapping at his side, Bilbo going very soflty, he thought he would try the ring. He slipped it on his finger. “Where is it?” Where iss it gone to?” said Gollum at once, peering about with his long eyes. “Here I am following behind,” said Bilbo, slipping off the ring again, and feeling very pleased to have it and to find that it really did what Gollum said.