Some characters are able to foresee misfortunes of the Ring before it is too late. Frodo offers to pass the Ring to Gandalf, but the wizard intelligently refuses. Gandalf responds to Frodo, "Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself" (p. 60). The Dark Lord himself created the Ring, it is all together evil. No matter whose hands the Ring falls into, they would slowly decay into an evil tyrant just as Sauron did when he made the Ring. Gandalf successfully refuses the Ring and if he had not, his mind would have been corrupted.
Not everyone is as clever as Gandalf; in fact most are not, and they suffer. The great power of the Ring corrupts a Hobbit named Smeagol. At the first sight of the Ring, he was immediately entranced. When he wears the Ring, he becomes invisible to all eyes. His new trick enables him to perform evil deeds, consequently everyone hates him and calls him 'Gollum' in disgust. He moves as far away from civilization as possible, and lives under the mountains. He possesses the Ring for too long, and it begins eating up his mind. His mind became angry, and the Ring torments him. "He hated the dark, but hated light more. He hated everything, but he hated the Ring most of all." (p. 54) His Ring began to look after itself rather than Gullom looking after the Ring. He could not get rid of it, because the Ring would not let him. Gullom begins to wither away, and if he were able to maintain ownership of Ring for longer, he would have "faded" and become invisible permanently. When Gullom lost his Ring he committed treason, and became a servant of the Dark Lord, hoping to regain it.
At the council before setting off on the journey to exterminate the Ring, one of the members of Frodo’s fellowship suggests they not destroy the Ring, but rather use it as a weapon against the Dark forces. "Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Valor needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory" (p. 260). The council tells him, Boromir, that "the very desire of it corrupts the heart... and that is why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even the Dark Lord was not so." (p. 261) Months later, Boromir could not bare it any longer, and requested to see the Ring. At first Frodo says no, but Boromir says that the Ring can also be used for good, and that the Ring is only evil with the enemy. Frodo tries to remind Boromir about the discussions at the council, however Boromir says that "true-hearted men, they will not be corrupted" (p. 389). He continued by saying that he does not want power with Ring, just strength to defend themselves. He thought it was mad no to use it. Eventually, Boromir could not persuade Frodo to hand the Ring over. Reacting to Frodo’s refusal, Boromir becomes very angry, and demands the Ring. Boromir’s "fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes." (p. 390). At this moment, Frodo realizes that the evil of the Ring had begun to creep into the company, with Boromir already fallen. He decides to travel alone. He put the Ring on, and runs away from Boromir and his seven other companions in secrecy.
The sorry owner of the Ring after Gullom is Bilbo, and Frodo became his heir. Bilbo controlled the Ring for many years, and not so coincidentally with possession of it he never seemed to grow old. Bilbo also said that the Ring was "growing on his mind" (p. 46), and was always worrying about it. After years of research about the One Ring, Gandalf concludes that Bilbo’s perpetual youth is caused by the Ring. With the Ring, Bilbo will just continue existing, slowly withering away inside, but remaining intact to the human eye. Besides being a fountain of youth, the Ring has many negative effects on Biblo. He becomes restless and uneasy around the Ring. He never suspects the Ring is to blame, and never makes the connection; "That was a sign that the Ring was getting control." (p. 46) He has the Ring for so long, that Gandalf suspects that "it might take a long time [for the Ring’s influence] to wear off before it was safe for him to it see again." (p. 47).
On Frodo's long expedition he unexpectantly meets up with his heir, Bilbo. They exchange greetings and discuss Frodo’s travels, but the conversation quickly becomes about the Ring. "Have you got it here?" Bilbo asked in a whisper. "I can’t help feeling curious, you know, after all I’ve heard. I should very much like to just peep at it again," (p.225). Frodo feels very reluctant to show the Ring to Bilbo, but gives in. When Bilbo sees the Ring in Frodo’s hand, to Frodo’s amazement, Bilbo did not look like Bilbo, "Rather a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hand. [Frodo] felt a desire to strike him." (p. 226).
When Frodo sees Bilbo looking as the Ring, he catches a glimpse of what Bilbo’s spirit has become inside, even though on the outside he appears physically fine. Had Bilbo not been kept preserved while wearing the Ring, that is what he would truly look like. The Ring is powerful, and the Ring is beginning to twist Frodo’s mind and how he perceives thing. Bilbo did not literally change when he saw the Ring, it was just the horrible distorted vision of the Ring and is a frightening indication of how it is affecting Frodo. If he sees Bilbo as a disgusting little Gullom-like thief, it suggests how deeply the Ring has already started to possess him. It is his ring. That is the attitude Frodo is displaying, and nobody else must have it. Gullom himself began life as a hobbit, just like Frodo and Bilbo; which neither of them could believe. The potential to become like Gullom exists inside Bilbo, Frodo and each one of us. The Fellowship of the Ring is the adventures and hardships that occur in order for Frodo to come to accept this truth.
The addiction to the One Ring that all the characters had, showed that no one was safe. Even the noble characters who rejected the Ring too, expressed the notion that they were attracted to it. The fascination with the Ring is similar to other dangerous possessions one can acquire in life such as money, alcohol, or power. The true test that everyone must face is whether they are strong enough to withstand the temptation of addiction. Admirable people who deny addiction are successful and trustworthy; while those who are overcome by it, are ultimately doomed.
Lord of the Rings Essay Topics
There are so many different essays you could write about Lord of the Rings (and I’m focusing only on Lord of the Rings in this post, since adding in The Hobbit and The Silmarillion would make it way too long.) Since I don’t know what your grade/level is, or what class this is for, I’m going to try and offer a wide variety of topics:
- Good and Evil - In LOTR, how does Tolkien define or describe good and evil? Is this a black and white issue, or are there some characters or decisions that are more morally ambiguous?
- What is the significance of the One Ring? What do you think it symbolizes?
- According to Tolkien, what is a hero? Who is The Hero of the story?
- Fate vs. Free Will (as an influence on many of the characters’ decisions, including Frodo, Aragorn, Gollum, etc.)
- (This one might really apply more to The Silmarillion, but oh well.) How is mortality treated in Lord of the Rings? Especially when the reader is able to compare the mortal characters to their immortal elvish counterparts?
Literary Structure Topics:
- The use of a split narrative (when the fellowship breaks up, Tolkien follows each group of characters, instead of sticking only with Frodo.)
- Tolkien included a ton of songs in the book - some of which clearly advance the story, while the purpose of others isn’t so clear. What does the inclusion of these stories add to (or subtract from) the book?
- Tolkien is credited with being the “Father of Modern Fantasy”, and several techniques used in Lord of the Rings have been adopted by many, if not most, fantasy writers since. You could write a great essay exploring Tolkien’s influence on the genre, and on the authors that were inspired by him. (Similarly, you could write a great essay on the authors that inspired Tolkien, and what techniques he borrowed from previous works.)
- Tolkien did an extraordinary amount of world-building for Lord of the Rings. He established thousands of years of history, a detailed geography, not to mention dozens of languages. How does this affect the book as a whole?
- How does the geography (scenery, topography, etc.) reflect the more abstract themes in the book? (For example, the Old Forest, the mines of Moria, the Dead Marshes, etc.)
Cultural/Social Science Topics:
- There are very few female characters in Lord of the Rings. You could write about this absence of women, or about how the few female characters represent women and femininity.
- It’s mentioned a few times that the War of the Ring marks the beginning of the “Age of Men” - how does this cultural shift add significance to the characters and events of the book?
- Tolkien was a very devout Catholic. How did that affect the books? What Christian themes can we see in the books?
- Similar to Catholicism, there are many English themes, or nods to English culture and history, that Tolkien added to Lord of the Rings. What are they, and how does this add to (or subtract from) the story?
- Almost all intimacy in Lord of the Rings takes place between two men, leading some scholars to argue that the story contains homosexual themes, while others argue for a more homosocial theme. How are the friendships in Lord of the Rings important to the story? How are they different from today’s typical friendship? How does this characteristic add to the reader’s experience?
These are just a few of the many essay topics you could write about - and I didn’t even include essays focused on specific characters! There are plenty of interesting topics for essays about Galadriel, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Sam, Eowyn, etc etc.
Good luck, and let me know if you need more help!