Frodo’s Hopeless Quest

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…

Morgoth’s Ring

So, I’ve been reading Morgoth’s Ring (History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 10), and Tolkien’s reflections on Morgoth, Sauron, and the Ring are simply fascinating. In an unfinished essay entitled “Notes on Motives in the Silmarillion” Tolkien compares Morgoth and Sauron, the ultimate evils of their respective eras. While Morgoth is the superior being, he was foremost among the Valar along with Manwë, and Sauron is a lesser spirit, one of the Maiar, Sauron is actually “greater” in his era than Morgoth was in his. But why? First, a little back story may help.

As one of the chief among the Ainur (or Valar), Morgoth was one of those who sang the themes propounded by Eru (or Iluvatar: God) and thereby fashioned the world. He was integrally involved in the process, and was in fact the one who introduced discordant threads into the music in his desire for glory and dominion. When it came time to get their hands dirty and make the world fit for the Children of Iluvatar (meaning elves and men), Morgoth volunteered his services pretending to be rehabilitated after his altercation with Eru. But because he could not stand being confronted with things outside of himself in which his mind and will had played no role, he sought to taint and destroy all that the other Valar attempted, thereby making himself their enemy.

What Tolkien reveals in his unfinished essay is that in his desire to dominate and corrupt Morgoth invested most of his being into the physical constituents of the world, in the same way that Sauron invested the greater park of his power into the One Ring. But where Sauron’s power was localized into one item, small and potent and thereby always at hand, Morgoth’s power was distributed through all things that were “born on Earth and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits” (395). This means that all matter outside of Valinor (the earthly home of the Valar) contained a little bit of Morgoth–one might say that every atom contained a piece of his being–and therefore every living thing, to greater or lesser degree, leaned toward Morgoth and his ways. His being was disseminated far and wide, so though his power and being were far superior to Sauron’s in his original “angelic” form, he spread himself too thin and fell far from what he was. Sauron had not fallen so low in his era. His power was with him, contained in a ring on his finger rather than spread through every atom of the world outside Valinor.

This also means that the whole of Middle Earth was Morgoth’s Ring. It was the item he had invested the greater part of his being and power into so that he might achieve mastery and dominion over it. This is why the Valar were cautious in bringing battle to Morgoth. They knew that overthrowing his power would desolate parts of the world. And though they cast him down and the world was not wholly broken, neither was it cleansed of his taint.

The only way to cleanse the world of its terminal case is to break it down and build it anew.

At the end of days, Tolkien’s imagined world will, just like our own, need to be made new. The old must pass away and the new must come. Only then can the corruption of Morgoth be exorcised from the very fabric of the world, and the Children of Iluvatar be free of the pull to be like that fallen “angel” and those he has ruined.