Gandalf tells Frodo about Rings of Power
Event Type: Artifacts
Age: 3rd Age - Ring War
Date: April 13, 3018
An event in the prelude to Frodo's Departure from the Shire; see that entry for an overview:
Next morning after a late breakfast, the wizard was sitting with Frodo by the open window of the study. A bright fire was on the hearth, but the sun was warm....
Gandalf... was smoking now in silence, for Frodo was sitting still, deep in thought.... At last he broke the silence.
'Last night you began to tell me strange things about my ring, Gandalf,' he said. 'And then you stopped, because you said that such matters were best left until daylight.... You say the ring is dangerous, far more dangerous than I guess. In what way?'
'In many ways,' answered the wizard. 'It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it....
'In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were... of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles — yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.
'A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later — later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last — sooner or later the dark power will devour him.'
'How terrifying!' said Frodo. There was another long silence. The sound of Sam Gamgee cutting the lawn came in from the garden.
'How long have you known this?' asked Frodo at length. 'And how much did Bilbo know?'
'Bilbo knew no more than he told you, I am sure,' said Gandalf.... 'He thought the ring was very beautiful, and very useful at need; and if anything was wrong or queer, it was himself. He... was always worrying about it; but he did not suspect that the ring itself was to blame. Though he had found out that the thing needed looking after; it did not seem always of the same size or weight; it... might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight.'
'Yes, he warned me of that in his last letter,' said Frodo, 'so I have always kept it on its chain.'
'Very wise,' said Gandalf. 'But as for his long life, Bilbo never connected it with the ring at all. He took all the credit for that to himself.... Though he was getting restless and uneasy. Thin and stretched he said. A sign that the ring was getting control.'
'How long have you known all this?' asked Frodo again.
'Known?' said Gandalf... '[If] you mean "known about this ring", well, I still do not know.... There is a last test to make. But I no longer doubt my guess.
'When did I first begin to guess?' he mused.... 'Let me see — it was in the year that the White Council drove the dark power from Mirkwood, just before the Battle of Five Armies, that Bilbo found his ring. A shadow fell on my heart then, though I did not know yet what I feared. I wondered often how Gollum came by a Great Ring, as plainly it was — that at least was clear from the first. Then I heard Bilbo's strange story of how he had "won" it, and I could not believe it. When I at last got the truth out of him, I saw at once that he had been trying to put his claim to the ring beyond doubt. Much like Gollum with his "birthday present". The lies were too much alike for my comfort. Clearly the ring had an unwholesome power that set to work on its keeper at once. That was the first real warning I had that all was not well. I told Bilbo often that such rings were better left unused; but he resented it, and soon got angry. There was little else that I could do. I could not take it from him without doing greater harm; and I had no right to do so anyway.... I might perhaps have consulted Saruman the White, but something always held me back.'
'Who is he?' asked Frodo....
'He is the chief of my order and the head of the Council. His knowledge is deep, but his pride has grown with it.... The lore of the Elven-rings, great and small, is his province. He has long studied it, seeking the lost secrets of their making; but when the Rings were debated in the Council, all that he would reveal to us of his ring-lore told against my fears. So my doubt slept — but uneasily. Still I watched and I waited.
'And all seemed well with Bilbo. And the years passed..., and they seemed not to touch him.... The shadow fell on me again. But I said to myself: "After all he comes of a long-lived family on his mother's side. There is time yet. Wait!"
'And I waited. Until that night when he left this house. He said and did things then that filled me with a fear that no words of Saruman could allay. I knew at last that something dark and deadly was at work. And I have spent most of the years since then in finding out the truth of it.'
'There wasn't any permanent harm done, was there?' asked Frodo anxiously....
'He felt better at once,' said Gandalf.... 'Soft as butter [hobbits] can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots. I think it likely that some would resist the Rings far longer than most of the Wise would believe. I don't think you need worry about Bilbo.
'Of course, he possessed the ring for many years, and used it, so it might take a long while for the influence to wear off.... Otherwise, he might live on for years, quite happily.... For he gave it up in the end of his own accord: an important point. No, I was not troubled about dear Bilbo any more.... It is for you that I feel responsible.'
The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 2, The Shadow of the Past
Elena Tiriel 26Aug10