It occurred to me as I began re-reading LotR again, that Frodo’s quest is hopeless from the beginning. Utterly hopeless.
When Gandalf returns with news of just what the Ring is, both he and Frodo see that even after such a relatively short span of time (if you consider 14 years a short span) he is unwilling to see it harmed. It already has a hold on his soul. If already (at page 45 or so) he can’t bear to see the Ring harmed, how can anyone expect him to cast it into the fire 900 pages and around a year of story-time later? Especially when we consider the Ring’s growing power and its corrupting influence; the Ring’s desire to get back into Sauron’s hands and its constant pull toward destruction and sin? Tolkien makes it clear from the very beginning that Frodo cannot succeed in this quest. And in the end, he doesn’t. Frodo doesn’t complete his quest. Don’t get me wrong, he did everything within his power to even get the Ring that far, and the fact that he got it to the Cracks of Doom is remarkable, but he cannot complete the mission. The Ring won’t allow it.
So it’s not that Frodo fails. His quest is simply not possible for him to complete. In fact, the intentional destruction of the Ring, while being the only hope for Middle Earth, is also the one thing that no one within Middle Earth can actually accomplish. No one could have done more than Frodo did. Not Gandalf. Not Galadriel. Not Aragorn. The Ring would have corrupted them and turned their desire to be rid of Sauron into them taking Sauron’s place as a new Dark Lord, wielding his power to possess and subdue. If Gandalf and Saruman, who are beings of comparable status to Sauron, could not have followed through on its destruction (and it is clear from their individual story arcs that neither of them could have), then certainly none of those of lesser status (be they elves, dwarves, men, or hobbits) could have either.
So how is it that the Ring is destroyed and Sauron defeated if no one within Middle Earth can willingly do the job? The Valar do not step in. They are actually committed to staying out of the war aside from sending Gandalf, Saruman and the other Istari to fight against Sauron. So what other power is there of greater power than Sauron? The Power that made it all and proposed the music in the beginning; the Power that meant for Bilbo to find the Ring and pass it on to Frodo; the Power that delights in Mercy and Freedom; the Power that Sauron, Gandalf, and Saruman know personally (even though only one of them has stayed faithful) has been at work providentially guiding the history of the world toward its fulfillment and eventual healing. This is just one chapter in Arda’s long march toward restoration. It will be mended in the end and there is only one Power who can accomplish that…