Tolkien Gateway

Letter 191

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 191
RecipientMiss J. Burns (draft)
Date26 July 1956
Subject(s)Explaining Frodo's "Failure" to give up the Ring

Letter 191 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien urged Burns to re-read all passages dealing with Frodo and the Ring. She would see that it was quite impossible for him to surrender the Ring at its point of maximum power and that his failure had been adumbrated or hinted at far back. He was honoured for taking on the burden voluntarily and doing all he could with the utmost of his physical and mental strength. He and the Cause had been saved by Mercy, through the value of Pity and forgiveness.

Tolkien pointed to the last part of the Lord's Prayer: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." There is always the possibility of finding oneself in a situation beyond one's power, when salvation depends on something apparently unconnected: the general sanctity, humility, and mercy of the sacrificial person. Tolkien insisted that he had not "arranged" the deliverance in the story: it had followed the logic of the story. Gollum had had a chance of repentance but had fallen off the knife-edge. Then-current prisoners who had been "brainwashed" into praising their torturers might seem to be beyond deliverance, but we should judge them by the will and intent they had when they entered the Sammath Naur and not demand of them impossible feats.

Tolkien emphasized: Frodo "failed". The power of Evil cannot be finally resisted by incarnate creatures (and the Writer of the Story is not one of us).

Tolkien stated that he had been forced to publish backwards, with the end of visibly incarnate Evil and the Dominion of Men established before all of the mythology and elvish legends were brought out. When read in the correct order both part might gain, but he was still trying to find a way in which to make the earlier material publishable (and he had a lot of other work to do as well).