The Ring is Looked Through Again

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32-34

[page 32] THE RING IS LOOKED THROUGH AGAIN A hard look through the ring last time brought considerable comment. Rather than running each by single the editorial staff decided than @that@ a conglomorate run would be made. Thus overlapping comments will not too often rear up and bite. Starting out there is a few words from Walter Breen: Cardboard characters in Tolkien? Nonsense, as MZB could tell you in about three pungent sentences--and as she did prove in her "Men, Halflings & Hero-Worship", published a few months back. A really careful reading would have provided you (as it did me and many others) with abundant evidence of character development and deepening in TLOTR, specifically in Frodo and Sam, and to a somewhat lesser extent in Merry and Pippin, who both mature greatly from their experiences. Hobbits stereotyped? To you, maybe; I found plenty of individual portraiture of them. Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Bilbo (even in senility), Lobelia Sackville-baggins @Sackville-Baggins@ and several others, are as easily distinguishable as are, say, the various knights of the Round Table. Your claim that Frodo's character "remains static" is simply not bourne out by the text. At the outset he is rather harsh, even asking Gandalf why Bilbo didn't kill Smeagol/Gollum; towards the end he has become, by slow degrees,the very opposite, even to the point of showing compassion to Saruman, who for sheer spite had ruined the Shire. And now a few more words by MZB: A lot of your commentary is sheer personal reaction and not impartial criticism at all. For instance, you say that 'Only Gandalf and Strider (and possible @possibly@ Samwise) come through as characters whom the reader can know and love.' What reader? You, obviously; since I, for instance, never sensed Gandalf as a person at all. Some readers identify, I know, with Gandalf. I found myself identifying with Merry and with Eowyn but had to go through the books three times before I started sensing Aragorn as anything but a dressed-up paperdoll with sword and armor, and Sam as more than comic relief. I certainly "knew and loved" Frodo. That's part of the flat characterization; like the Rorschach inkblots which look like nothing until your own personality starts working on them, Tolkien provides a series of images which provide a convenient mask, cloak or persona for the individual reader to adopt his own individual identification. Your personality made you identify with Gandalf/Strider/Samwise. Mine gave me Frodo/Merry/ Eowyn. (( and if you will pardon the intrusion...mine gave me Strider/Faramir)) I know a youngster who identified, from beginning to end, very strongly with Pippin especially _in relation to_ Gandalf. I also disagree with your commentary that it is 'impossible to keep Merry and Pippin in mind as seperate individuals' Nonsense! Pippin is mischievous, irresponsible, high-spirited, occasionally silly, impulsive but braver than Merry -- and I can document every one of these adjectives with a line or phrase of characterization if you like. Merry, on the other hand, is the born aristocrat (Frodo belongs to the middle class and Pippin is too young to have status of that sort). He is calm, acts resolutely, and I can document half a dozen places where Aragorn, himself an aristocrat, relaxes and behaves naturally with Merry -- the two of them are actually more on a level of 'equality', sociaily, and behave that way, from the beginning. He shows Frodo _kindness_, but not affection, as he does at least twice with Merry. As to your remarks about the stacked deck, Gandalf's return from death and the death of Boromir, I was afraid when Gandalf died, then Boromir, that this was going to be one of those cliche-type quests where nine start out, and then one got killed by a Balrog and then there were eight, and then one was murdered by orcs and then there were seven... [page 33] and so on down, gradually depleting the cast of characters until only one remains. This is a stock device, of course, of the novelist so unsure of his ability to juggle characters in conflict that even if he starts out with a large cast, he quickly reduces it to a size HE considers manageable...and of course, people who are used to novels with only two or three major characters find it hard to keep them all straight. To present the other side of the coin, Jinx McCombs: It was because Boromir and Smeagol were willing to give in to evil that they were destroyed by it. While Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and the others were tempted to use the ring for their own use, they did not use it; at least, not for long. Under immediate strain, they did use the ring to escape - at least, Bilbo and Frodo did. And they suffered ill effects for this - these were visible in both characters. But the greatest danger of using evil methods to accomplish good is the fact that people tend to forget the good ends completely. Neither Bilbo nor Frodo did this, though they both came close. They used the ring only in seeking its destruction. This was wrong, and they suffered punishment for it, but it was not as serious as the mistakes made by Smeagol and Boromir. Boromir thought that he could turn the ring to his own use - not just temporarily and in order to destroy it, but permanently. Smeagol was not even seeking to accomplish good by the use of the ring's power. He was interested solely in the pleasure he could get from the ring. For this reason he was more deeply under the power of the ring than any of the others. As long as he retained his selfish motives, he could not hope to escape the ring's power. As for the characterizations, this would be my explanation: The characters were not intended to represent complete personalities, but rather human traits. The hobbits were propriety - good behavior, loyalty to duty - all these things. These things were not strong under normal conditions; in time of peace they were rather scorned, for they easily slipped into extremes of rules and regulations. But in the end it was this plodding loyalty to duty that was able to win out against the ultimate power of the Evil. Fredo probably wouldn't have gotten to Mordor without Gandalf and Strider and the others, but it was the hobbits who took the ring to Mount Doom. The rules of the hobbits didn't cover all situations; they caused mistakes - as when Samwise helped to destroy Smeagol 1s desire to go straight. Just as the ring represents the power of Evil, Gandalf is the power of Good. He represents the strength, and while he may temporarily seem to be overcome by Evil, he cannot be actually destroyed by it. One of the principle points is that good is stronger than evil. If the characters were considered people, then the failure of the protagonists in some areas would be necessary for reality. It would be unrealistic for men to travel through such adventures without suffering harm. But if the charecters are only representations of traits, then good can be destroyed by evil only when it ceases to be good and takes on the traits of evil. Smeagol is not purely selfishness, for there is more to his character than that. Perhaps he is enthusiasm. He is easily diverted into things which are neither wise nor good, and is very reluctant to give them up once he has them. He is frowned upon - the more proper the person, the more Smeagol is hated. He is considered rather unimportant in the long run. But in the end, without really knowing what he is doing, he is the one to make the success possible. Eleanor Arneson adds a bit more along this line: Tolkien is writing a tale that includes (a) great good and great evil, (b) strange races, and (c) a lot of myth. NOW: greatness is hard to portray. When it's linked with purity - of evil or of good, it becomes next to impossible. Thus, Sauron and Mordor are too evil to come across well. They [page 34] can only be flat - that amount of evil can't be expressed fully. Next, the elves and dwarves, especially the elves, aren't human. If they are flat, can't it be in part the old problem of how to make the non-human three dimentional without constant use of human referents? Finally, Tolkien is telling a myth. A quick look at most myths will show you that flatness is a characteristic. A character can't take that heavy a load of archetypal etc. symbolism without becoming more a symbol that a person. Compare Strider before and after he acquires all the Aragorn-White Tower mythos. Frodo is always flat because he's always more ringbearer than hobbit. Evil in the pure form present in Mordor _is_ a symbol, just as Gandalf the White - great good - is a symbol. So, perhaps my first point is part of my third point. Anyway, I still end up agreeing with the idea that Tolkien set himself a monster of a job and didn't quite make it. As Archie Mercer (British Agent) sees it: The background was far more fascinating than the characters - indubitably so. Not that there weren't utterly fascinating characters around the place. Tom Bombadil is outstanding, and I also remember sharply that nurse who was active in the siege@,@ Ioreth - some name like that anyway. Gandalf, on the other hand, I did not find fascinating. All the way I found him a complete bore. You compare his activities towards the end of the saga to those of the U.S. Cavalry. This struck me forcibly at the time, in fact he seemed to be playing Superman all the way through. Despite his maintaining that these miracles were very difficult, he always seemed to be able to perform when called upon. If I hadn't had a sneaking suspicion that he'd be back later on, I'd have been glad - _glad_, I tell ya - when he met his. And from across the other ocean, Chris Bennie: As to your quibble about Boromir; he is a weak link in a line of high descent, not having bred true to the line of Numenor, which has been growing weaker as a race due to intermarriage with lesser men and general decline of the strength due to all the best men being killed off in wars. The general suggestion is that nothing can ever really last in Middle Earth - even the enduring and durable realms of the Elves must at last come to an end, how much more the realm of men. Boromir is a product of this lesser age; his environment is one of war and strife. All he can think of is gaining advantage over the enemy, he does not worry about what comes after. When he learns of the ring and its power, he does not appreciate the danger to the user, but only how he can turn it on the enemy, indeed he considers its destruction as unnecessary waste. The desire of it is enough that the ring overcomes his better nature and he makes a bid for it. In this he is very human. You have made out the whole thing "black and white" . Neither Boromir nor Gollum are really bad guys and the fact that the evil powers destroy them is part of the Allegory. We do see the ring corrupt its users. In the end, Frodo is unable to give it up and puts it on to challenge Sauron. It is only through Gollum's intervention that he is saved; thus emphasizing that evil may be turned to good. More indirectly, both Boromir and Saruman are corrupted by the same evil power.

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