He gets quite a bad rep doesn’t he? Especially as played by Sean Bean. I feel this is a bit undeserved, as he is actually a noble and true-hearted character with a terrible burden of leadership placed on him by circumstances. However he is a very neat illustration of one of the key themes in Tolkien’s world: choices. As Gandalf says, “[What happens to people] is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us”, and throughout the series, the ring seems to be used as a symbol for how characters choose to react to circumstances.
I want to show you what I mean, using four characters as examples. I use the Peter Jackson films as well as the books, as I feel he was nearly always true to the spirit of the books. Oh yeah, and in case you haven’t read/seen The Lord of the Rings (not sure how that would come about, but still)… SPOILERS!
The quintessential bad reaction to the ring hits him pretty early on, but like many characters, his reaction to it and its effect over him is largely governed by his motive. He freely admits that, “Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon [the council of Elrond], if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!” His desire is to exert influence, and so the Ring works ‘ill’ on him, as Tolkien would say. When talking with Frodo in the woods, he speaks out a fantasy of becoming a mighty king who could throw down Sauron. His weakness lies in his belief that he alone possesses the necessary insight to combat this evil. His desire to convince Frodo that he should have the ring is the reason he is geographically isolated from the Fellowship, and they are unable to arrive in time to save him.
Gandalf & Frodo
The wise wizard is offered the ring right at the start of the story, when he and Frodo are discussing its true nature. He responds with horror, “the wish to wield it would be too great for my strength”, which could seem a strange choice of words for a member of the White Council, one of the most powerful beings on Middle-Earth (who else thought ‘wow, I did not know Gandalf could do that’, on the bridge in Moria?), but that is entirely his weakness. Frodo is small and far from powerful, and this serves as his protection. He says to Gandalf, “I must keep the ring and guard it, at least for the present, whatever it may do to me”, and tell-tale reply is “Whatever it may do, it will be slow, slow to evil if you keep it with that purpose”. Because he does not count himself as important, the ring’s corrosive effect on his willpower is much reduced.
The elf-queen of Lorien is under no illusions of her own influence. She knows full well that, when Frodo offers her the ring, “In place of a Dark Lord you would set up a queen”. It’s strange that Sauron is not the evil in this part of the story. Unlike Boromir, the defeat of Sauron is of no concern to Galadriel. With the One Ring, she could throw him down with ease; it is her own power that terrifies her. Her knowledge of her ancient power (she is herself a ringbearer) is tempered by her sure knowledge of the folly of such a course of action. Frodo wishes she would use the ring to put the right the wrongs of the world, as Boromir wishes to do, but she tells him that “it would not stop there”. Tellingly, she returns to herself by laughing, and saying that she has “passed the test”, because of her willingness not to make herself great.
Overall, it seems humility is the real weapon that defeats Sauron’s purpose. If taken by force the ring sends people a bit loopy, but taken reluctantly when offered, that seems to do the trick (in case you ever encounter the One Ring). Also, part of me will always believe that Smeagol could have redeemed himself, if events in Orodruin had worked out differently…Leave comments if you agree/disagree with anything I’ve written.