The Duality between Sauron and Hobbits
In order to understand why the hobbits were the ones to save Middle- earth and not the great powers like Gandalf, Lady Galadriel, Elrond or Aragorn, it is important to look at the duality of hobbits and Sauron. Everything Sauron does is trying to mock life and produce life in order to serve only him. Hobbits, on the other hand, cherish life as it is. This contrast is one of the core ideas of The Lord of the Rings and also one of the biggest issues represented in the works of artists in the 20th century:
“ …man is bent on destroying himself through sociological, technological and psychological means. Man’s technology is the enemy of his humanity. “ (Hugh Keenan, The Appeal of the Lord of the Rings)
Exactly this can be found among so many who fall under the spell of the Ring of Power and Sauron’s influence. Boromir who wants to take the Ring from Frodo and causes the fellowship’s break, Denethor who goes mad due to the influence of Sauron and tries to burn his own son, or Saruman who turns against his original nature. Instead of helping the inhabitants of Middle- earth, as the wizards were supposed to do, he wants to become a version of Sauron himself. Sauron, the representation of industrial warfare, its machinery and technology destroys all those with once pure hearts.
Therefore, it is the hobbits who are the only ones able to go up against the powers of Sauron:
“ The hobbits combine the strongest traditional symbols of life… They represent the earthly as opposed to the machine or scientific forces. “ (Hugh Keenan, The Appeal of the Lord of the Rings)
Thus the hobbits are immune to what Sauron represents and symbolises. Of course, they can be tempted and, like Gollum, they fall for his power but in comparison to all the other beings in Middle- earth, they are the most resilient.
When Sauron represents everything nature is not in Middle- earth then the One Ring represents the same, as Gandalf explains right in the beginning of the storyline:
“ He only needs the One; for he made that Ring himself, it is his, and he let a great part of his own former power pass into it so that he could rule all the others. “ (The Lord of the Rings)
It becomes apparent that the One Ring is an extension of his industrial warfare and its technology. It is his most important tool to overthrow all of Middle- earth, as the Ring is connected to the three rings of the elves. As Gandalf, Elrond and Lady Galadriel explain multiple times, if he gets the One Ring, their power would become his. This is also clarified within the inscription on the Ring:
“ One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. “ (The Lord of the Rings)
Concerning what the Ring is doing to the characters in the book, this fits as well. As Sauron causes trauma through his warfare by whatever means, the One Ring corrupts and therefore alters the minds and bodies of the characters he is affecting. Therefore, Frodo is changed the most as he has the Ring for the longest time when the power of Sauron rises:
“ Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. “ (The Lord of the Rings)
The consequence of putting on the Ring in this moment, makes Frodo completely exposed to Sauron and to the ring wraiths. In the following scene Frodo is struck by one of his most traumatising wounds; he is pierced by the Morgul blade by the witch king. Just like a soldier in an industrial war being exposed to such a power like Frodo is, it changes his mind and his body beyond healing, as it was said in the beginning: “ some wounds cannot be wholly cured“. Frodo’s character, traumatised by the Ring, is therefore just as traumatising as taking part in a battle in an industrial war.
The One Ring and Corruption:
When the Ring is an extension and symbol of Sauron’s industrial warfare, it is important to take an even closer look at what exactly the Ring and the other rings of power can do to the characters in the story. As the Ring is superior to the other rings and consequently affecting the characters, all this is deeply tied with the experience of trauma in The Lord of the Rings.
When an expert on Middle- earth takes a closer look on the history of the rings, it is clear that the strongest power of the Ring is corruption. The Ring corrupted Isildur causing his death and it corrupted Smeagol making him kill his own brother. Later, it would corrupt Boromir leading towards the break of the fellowship. Ultimately the One Ring is an object of pure power, as Tom Shippey explains as well:
“ Gandalf says a great deal about it but his information boils down to three basic data: (1) the Ring is immensely powerful, in right or wrong hands; (2) it is dangerous and ultimately fatal to all its possessors- in a sense there are no right hands; (3) it cannot simply be left unused or put aside, but must be destroyed, … “ (Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle- earth)
This concept, all of it relating to pure power and its corruption, deeply connects with a new idea in the modernised world at the end of the 19th century: “ Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. “ (Tom Shippey) Shippey also explains that the idea of “ power corrupting “ has not been very present in the minds of the people before the rise of industry, technology and industrial warfare: “ Lord Acton gave it expression for the first time in 1887, in a letter which Tolkien might have been interested enough to read “ (Tom Shippey). Again a modern work of medieval mythology deeply connects with concerns and new ideas arising in the 19th and 20th century.
It is not only Shippey who points out these striking similarities but also the critic Helms. He, like many others, insists that the One Ring is not purely allegorical representing the atomic bomb, but rather stands within an image of a metaphor, symbolising something deeper than simply an object of the real world:
“ The Ring does not equal the Bomb, but is rather a symbol for the entire complex fact that twentieth- century man has, like Frodo, suddenly found himself, without wanting it, without even guessing it would find a way into his pocket, in possession of a power over nature so immense even the desire to use it will inevitably corrupt his soul. “ (Randel Helms, Tolkien’s World)
And clearly the characters in The Lord of the Rings are confronted with this very same problem as men and women are in the 20th century; what to do with this knowledge of technology? Some will be corrupted, like the leaders of Europe in 1914 or like Boromir, Smeagol or Saruman, others can withstand the ultimate power like Frodo, Gandalf or Lady Galadriel. In the real world this game of ultimate power has been a continuity as wars are still fought in the present and Middle- earth finds itself in a time of long lasting peace.
One of the best examples within The Lord of the Rings on how power corrupts is Saruman the White. He is the figure of the corrupted man of the 20th century. First, starting out as a “ Man of Craft “ a name Tolkien gives him in The Unfinished Tales:
“ Moreover Saruman’s names as they appear in Unfinished tales greatly lend to the interpretation of him as the wizard of the city. In Unfinished tales, Tolkien translates Saruman’s Sindarin name Curunir as ‚ the Man of Craft‘ “ (Dominika Nycz, The Forest and the City)
Saruman is the wizard who has been interested in technology and industry, as Radagast has been interested in nature. It is then Saruman’s knowledge of technology and his knowledge of Sauron that corrupts him. He believes that Sauron’s ideas are better, imitates him, and tries to gain the One Ring for himself to become a second Sauron. This is reflected within his doings and his surroundings. Once he was a lot like Gandalf, supporting nature and humankind then he starts imitating Sauron:
“ I looked on it and saw that, whereas it had once been green and fair, it was now filled with pits and forges. Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet. “ (The Lord of the Rings)
This description is the transformation of a once fair world occupied by nature thrown into an industrialised world ruled by technology and, above all, hovers the poisonous smoke like the industrial revolution brought about in European cities: “ Over all his works a dark smoke hung and wrapped itself about the sides of Orthanc “ (The Lord of the Rings). His imitation of Sauron and his eagerness in arming himself reflects on the leaders of the 20th century in Europe who started armament, making themselves ready for a war to come, yet not knowing what it would do to them. Like blind men they entered a war not realising the consequences. The same happens to Saruman. He creates his very own enemies but only having Sauron and the remaining elves in mind. Within his power hunger that has corrupted him, he becomes blind to everything around him. Nature itself in the form of the ents take back Isengard and break Saruman’s power.
Another place within Middle- earth that can be regarded as a place of industry is no other place but Mordor. In terms of geography of Middle- earth, Mordor is an actual country and to connect another place with Isengard it is most interesting to focus on Minas Morgul. This city, once the reflection of Minas Tirith in the east and a stronghold against Mordor is the exact opposite of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings. It is a place of darkness, it’s gates are always closed not like Minas Tirith which is always busy with life: “ Minas Tirith’s plains imply fertility and farming, while Minas Morgul’s recession into a mountainous valley suggests barrenness and death. “ (Jennifer Harwood- Smith, Fractures, corruption and decay) It is the place where Sauron’s darkest warfare comes to life. After all, it is the city where the ring wraiths dwell:
“ Minas Morgul’s seclusion in the valley suggests secretive activities and gives the impression of something evil ironically growing into decay in the darkness. “ (Jeniffer Harwood-Smith)
As the ring wraiths are Sauron’s closest servants and caused a profound trauma to Frodo on Weathertop, the city itself, the glooming presence of the nine and the growing strength and will of the One Ring causes another trauma for Frodo:
“ There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. “ (The Lord of the Rings)
As the reader can make out, Frodo reaches a point where terror takes over and he no longer has the will to resist the immense power of Sauron’s warfare that is pressing upon him, on the one hand within his mind by the force of the Ring, and on the other hand by simply seeing and realising the strength of Mordor’s army, marching out of the gates of Minas Morgul.
Frodo is again traumatised by this experience and reminded of his wound on Weathertop. Nevertheless, it is also Sam and Gollum who are simply lost for words in this moment. Throughout the scene, when the king of Minas Morgul and his army march out, the three of them do not speak a single word. It is only Sam who manages to speak again. His remedy against the pressing silence is very hobbit- like in nature. This only makes sense as the light- heartedness of a hobbit is one of the few things that can resist the absolute darkness and power of Minas Morgul: “ Wake up, Mr Frodo! Wake up!‘ Had the voice added: ‚ Your breakfast is ready, “ (The Lordof the Rings). Indeed it is a very hobbit- like fashion, after experiencing such a traumatising moment of darkness, to do what hobbits can do best: eating food. This states again the resistance towards corruption and the duality between Sauron and hobbits:
“ For Gandalf, Galadriel, Boromir, or even Aragorn to have accepted the Ring would have been disastrous; for although they would have begun with good works, the corruption of absolute power would have set in. The implications of a Ring whose possession without corruption is impossible for any king or wise man are obvious… The greatest achievement within the story is the destruction of the Ring by the Hobbit- bearers. It is only through the humble that the mighty are confounded. “ (William Dowie, The Gospel of Middle- earth accordng to J.R.R.Tolkien)
The two cities, Isengard and Minas Morgul, are not only connected through their warfare, but also by the fates of their masters. As mentioned before, Saruman is so corrupted by his power that he becomes blind to everything around him and is then ultimately destroyed by what surrounds him: the forest. Something very similar happens to the witch king of Angmar. It is said that no man alive can kill him, therefore he believes to have ultimate power. This belief in ultimate power corrupts him absolutely, like Saruman, to make him blind to what is right in front of him: a woman. It is Eowyn of Rohan who kills the greatest of the Nine and showing, like with Saruman, that ultimate power corrupts ultimately and triggers its own downfall.
To state another example of the corrupting power of the One Ring, it is even possible to consider the ring wraiths. As it is known from the legend concerning the rings of power, the nine ring wraiths used to be nine mortal noble kings. These humans were lured by the power of Sauron and his warfare and corrupted their minds and bodies. They were traumatised by Sauron’s power. One can compare this to Frodo and his wound from Weathertop. If the elves had not healed him, he would have become a ring wraith himself. Simply, so deeply traumatised by the events that his body and mind would have given in and been corrupted by the malice of his wound.
Therefore, when it comes to the battles and the darkest moments in the story, the ring wraiths are the pure embodiment of trauma: “ Sauron also uses the unconventional tactics of terror- the Nazgul fly low over the city like vultures and terrify the inhabitants. “ (Janet Brennan Croft, War and Works of J.R.R Tolkien) The image of those terror-causing beings becomes much more vivid in a scene of battle in the story:
“ And with a piercing cry out of the dim sky fell the winged shadows, the Nazgul stooping to the kill. The retreat became a rout. Already men were breaking away, flying wild and witless here and there, flinging away their weapons, crying out in fear, falling to the ground. “ (The Lord of the Rings)
This scene of battle stands in great contrast to the battle of the Pelennor fields and shows again how the terror of Sauron’s industrial warfare can break every man, as it happened with soldiers in the Great War. In fact, soldiers of the Great War pictured the enemy in their imagination a lot like the ring wraiths in The Lord of the Rings:
“ John Easton likewise remembers the enemy first as a shade and then as a light- colored slimy thing. During a night attack, “ wraiths in spiked helmets: – the cloth covers shining white in the moonlight – were dashing for safety on all sides… “ ( Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory).
The words “ shade“, “ wraith “ and “ spiked helmet “ are simply too closely related to ignore. Whether Tolkien himself saw the enemy on the front line as something like a “ shade “ as well does not necessarily matter. It is the conjured image, a universal perception, the not- knowing of how the enemy looks like in an industrialised war when all the soldiers are fighting against are bullets and bombs. Here again, aligns another moment of the Great War with Sauron’s warfare.
The following and final part of this series of articles will focus on the most traumatised character in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum; and bring this series of articles together.