Tolkien on Tolkien: Frodo’s Other Option

Elijah Wood as Frodo in Peter Jackson's live-a...

Elijah Wood as Frodo in Peter Jackson’s live-action version of The Lord of the Rings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of us who have read The Lord of the Rings, we all thrill when Frodo finally throws the One Ring into the crack of Mount Doom, but according to Tolkien’s own letters Frodo had one other option once he possessed the Dark One’s Ring.

In a letter to a fan, one Eileen Elgar, who had asked some pointed questions about Frodo’s motivations, Tolkien wrote that the Ring Wraiths were sent by Sauron once he discovered that Frodo held the Ring.  He offered one other option for Frodo:

Use the Ring Against Sauron – In this case the Ring Wraiths could not “have attacked him [Frodo] with violence, nor laid hold upon him or taken him captive; they would have obeyed or feigned to obey any minor commands of his that did not interfere with their errand – laid upon them by Sauron, who still through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills.  That errand was to remove Frodo from the Crack [of Mt. Doom].  Once he lost the will or opportunity to destroy the Ring, the end could not be in doubt – saving help from outside, which was hardly even remotely possible”.  This option would have failed Frodo because even though he could possibly control the Ring Wraiths briefly, Sauron still controlled the Ring and was connected to it, which therefore required its destruction to defeat Sauron.  Another problem with this that Tolkien mentions is that Frodo “had become a considerable person, but of a special kind: in spiritual enlargement rather than increase of physical or mental power”.  He further states that in order to truly control the One Ring, he would have to have spent “much time” growing in strength of will and his acts with the Ring would have to “seem ‘good’ to him” in order to benefit.  Unfortunately Sauron was not going to wait that long. (331)

In any case, it is interesting to note that Tolkien had indeed worked out another possible path for his hero to walk.  Any good writer will spend much time plotting out other possibilities for their heroes even if there is not an intention of using them.  What this does is prepare the writer to make the tough choices when plotting the life of characters.  I find it interesting that Tolkien even considered letting Frodo fall into the Crack of Doom himself rather than Gollum, but decided against it.  He states: “When Sauron was aware of the seizure of the Ring his one hope was in its power: that the claimant would be unable to reliquish it until Sauron had time to deal with him.  Frodo too would then probably, if not attacked, have had to take the same way: cast himself with the Ring into the abyss” (330).

The lesson here for writers is clear: we need to think of all of the possible outcomes (at least two or three) that our characters could move toward.  If we can map out these possibilities, in the long run our stories will be richer and more realistic.  Like Tolkien, some of the paths we devise for our heroes might be problematic which then forces us to find the happy path, the path of the best ending for the character.

All quotations are taken from the following text:

Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. 1st ed. Massachusetts: George Allen & Unwin, 1981. Print.

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