This was going to be just another paragraph in my second (or was it third?) post about Chapter Two … and then I dug a little deeper, and it became more than that. I don’t know quite what it is, but I like it.
Gandalf twisted the truth out of Gollum, and now tells Frodo what he needs to hear. Once upon a time, two friends went fishing, and one friend was pulled from the boat by a huge fish, and being towed along underwater caught sight of something in the sand. Once on shore with his find, he stood admiring it. Briefly. The first reaction of the other friend:
‘ “Give us that, Déagol, my love,” said Sméagol, over his friend’s shoulder.’
Going back to when Bilbo stumbled on it … well, let me see.
He … crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.
He never saw it.
And he forgets about it immediately, too caught up in thoughts of what he longs for, cooking bacon and eggs on his own stove at home, and on his immediate fear and discomfort. He never gives it another thought until his desperate moment in the Riddle Game.
Quite a difference! It sounds almost silly to say it – but it seems like part of its power is visual. Somewhat ironically, this dark, dark artifact needs light in order to ensnare someone – like eye contact. Déagol saw it “shining in the river-bed”, and when the mud was cleaned away he found it was a “beautiful golden ring; and it shone and glittered in the sun, so that his heart was glad.” That makes it sound like a positive thing; how could something evil make his heart glad? He didn’t have to take it from anyone, just found it, much like Bilbo – maybe he won’t take much more harm from it than Bilbo. But a moment later he’s described as gloating over the thing. Not positive.
But Sméagol had been watching from hiding, and he sees it too. And in a moment he kills his best friend, apparently without another thought, “because the gold looked so bright and beautiful”.
Seriously, I’m finding this interesting. Not to take anything away from Bilbo and his good heart and good intentions, but – well, come on. Bilbo forgot about it. I don’t think anyone else does that! He finds it in the pitch dark – it got itself under his hand – and kind of shrugs and sticks it in his pocketses – I mean pocket, and moves on to thinking about light and food and what in the name of the Shire is he going to do now. I just clicked through all uses of the word “gold” in The Hobbit (there are a lot of them), and it’s never as far as I can see used for the ring. (I think it’s also kind of interesting that except for once the word “ring” is only used to refer to sound or smoke up till Bilbo happens upon that “tiny ring of cold metal”.) Oops – there’s “golden” – but it’s from Gollum’s point of view. “He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.” (Beautiful phrasing. It’s not just a ring, nor even just a golden ring, but a precious ring. THE precious ring, even.) In fact, as far as I can see, there is never any sort of description of the ring from Bilbo’s viewpoint. It’s called Bilbo’s magic ring, and – kind of hilariously – his invisible ring, but that’s it.
So … yes, of course Bilbo’s mercy to Gollum had everything to do with the comparatively benign effect the Ring had on him – but that also might be in part due to the fact that for those first weeks and months of Bilbo’s possession of it, he barely gave it a thought except for how to make use of it to help his friends and himself, and also he never had the time or leisure or comfort to sit about and admire it. He found it in the black darkness, and never seemed to even look at it when putting it on or taking it off. It was a wondrous, useful tool – and that’s it.
That’s my head canon, and I’m sticking by it. You need to see the Ring in order to be ensnared by it. I wonder what kind of immunity a blind guardian would have (if any). I guess the lesson is … if you happen to come upon the One Ring, do as Gandalf says and don’t use it – and maybe try to keep your eyes off it.
(When a wizard tells you not to do something … Seriously, don’t do that thing. But … well, not to insult the hobbits, but that’s human nature, isn’t it? Every day that goes by makes me wonder how humanity has made it this far without self-immolation – it’s a marvel and a mystery. People are idiots. And after all, Bilbo used it for decades any time he wanted to slip past the S-B’s, so why not? So Frodo keeps it on a chain on his belt, like a biker gang member’s wallet, and you know he does just as Bilbo always did. If nothing else, his changelessness seems to give him away. Also, when Gandalf mentions markings on the gold, he is able to answer immediately, “‘It is quite plain, and it never shows a scratch or sign of wear.’” Yes, he’s handled it quite a bit, has Frodo.)
I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this, especially when Boromir has his moment of weakness.
One more loop back to The Hobbit: Gollum stole the Ring and retreated underground into the tunnels and caves in the hills. Bilbo found the Ring (unknowingly stealing it) and retreated out into the sunlight, out of the tunnels and the caves and the hills. The symmetry is beautiful.
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/chapter-one-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/chapter-two-the-shadow-of-the-past-prologue/
Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/lotr-reread-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/