Welcome, as always, dear readers.
Faramir (always one of my favorite characters)
“I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory…” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”)
He means The Ring, of course,
(a John Howe—I like the fact that it’s a painting, not a photographic image)
and, as Frodo is standing in front of him, the ring in a thin chain around his neck, when Faramir says this, it doesn’t seem like posturing: unlike others in The Lord of the Rings, he truly doesn’t want it.
There are others like him, who fear what it might do to them, one who doesn’t seem even to understand what it is, as well as those who lust after it, for various reasons and this brings me to today’s subject.
I am a respecter of fan fiction. I know that there are those who condemn it, since some of it is not at the same literary level as the original work upon which the fan fiction writers base their creations. In my view, that may be true, but it misses several important points:
1. young writers have imitated the work of their elders for centuries and, as a good imitation means close attention to the admired original, such imitation can act as a kind of writing school, in which a beginner who pays that attention can learn a good deal about the craft of writing.
2. fan fiction shows not only a deep affection for an author’s work, but a hunger for more of the same and here we see the Inklings, and Tolkien and CS Lewis, in particular,
famously saying that, having read all they could find which they liked, resolved to create more. Imagine, then, that the fan fiction writer of today, having learned from what she/he loves to read, will now make plans to add to the pool of what she/he enjoys. And, if the person has talent, like Tolkien and Lewis, as well as passion, who knows but she/he will be inspired to create works which the rest of us will enjoy as much as the original inspirations?
That being said, I’m not about to produce for you a short story entitled “Falling from the Bridge”, in which we see Boromir and Faramir’s failed defense of Osgiliath. Instead, just as in fan fiction in which characters and situations are borrowed from earlier authors, inspired by Faramir’s rejection of the Ring, I want to borrow some of JRRT’s characters and employ them in that kind of speculative historical fiction called “What If?”
A very famous story in this genre is Ray Bradbury’s (1920-2012)
“A Sound of Thunder”, originally published in Collier’s magazine for 28 June, 1952,
and republished in Bradbury’s 1953 collection The Golden Apples of the Sun.
If you aren’t familiar with this story, here’s a LINK so that you can read it (and it’s well worth reading, which I think is true for just about anything Bradbury wrote): https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=bW91bnRhaW52aWxsZWFjYWRlbXkub3JnfGNyYWlnLXMtY2xhc3Nlc3xneDoxMjI3ODZmYmIzNjY2OTk1
For our purposes, the most important element is that a wealthy man buys the chance, via a time-traveling firm, to hunt a dinosaur. He has been warned that the firm is anxious about potential changes to the future, should something unpredictable happen in the past, and so the dinosaur with which he’s provided has been seen to have been killed in the near future: therefore, it’s believed safe to shoot him just before his actual death. Things go awry, however, when the wealthy man first loses his nerve, then goes off the specially-engineered metal pathway which keeps the time-travelers off the actual earth. When the travelers return to the present, they find that things have changed in their own time and the wealthy man finds the explanation on the sole of his boot, where there is a dead butterfly from that far past.
My “what if”, then, is about the Ring and what might happen if, rather than it melt in the fires of Mt Doom,
(rather than use a more dramatic image, I’ve thought it interesting to use this by Pauline Baynes, who illustrated both some of Tolkien’s work as well as, at Tolkien’s recommendation, Lewis’ Narnia books)
it fell (literally) into other hands than Gollum’s.
(this is by one of my heroes among the many excellent Tolkien illustrators, Ted Nasmith, who often picks scenes from all over JRRT’s works, as well as depicting them with such flair)
Its first hand was, of course, Sauron’s, until Isildur defeated him and cut the ring from his fiery finger.
(this is by “Tulikoura”, who describes himself on his website as someone who loves traditional illustration, and here’s a LINK to that site so that you can see his other work: https://www.deviantart.com/tulikoura )
And here’s our first—and very easy—What If: what if, instead of keeping the Ring, saying that it was “weregild [blood price] for my father, and my brother” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”), Isildur had tossed the Ring into the fire, as his surviving companions urged him? As happened when the Ring was finally destroyed, I presume that Isildur and the others would have felt that:
“…the earth rocked beneath their feet. Then rising swiftly up, far above the Towers of the Black Gate, high above the mountains, a vast soaring darkness sprang into the sky, flickering with fire…And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 4, “The Field of Cormallen”)
(another spectacular Nasmith)
Should this have happened, The Hobbit might still have occurred—after all, although Bilbo uses the Ring to avoid goblins and forest elves and even Smaug, we might imagine him proving his developing burglarious skills by normal means. After all, the author says of Hobbits:
“They possessed from the first the art of disappearing swiftly and silently, when large folk whom they do not wish to meet come blundering by; and this art they have developed until to Men it may seem magical. But Hobbits have never, in fact, studied magic of any kind, and their elusiveness is due solely to professional skills that heredity and practice, and a close friendship with the earth, have rendered inimitable by bigger and clumsier races.” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue I: “Concerning Hobbits”)
As for The Lord of the Rings, well, no Ring, no lord, even though Sauron was well on his way to a come-back in the later Third Age, even without the Ring.
(the Hildebrandts at their wildest)
After the Ring had betrayed Isildur to the orcs, however,
it was acquired in time by Gollum, but, for all its potential power on the hand of its maker (after all the Barad-dur itself was founded upon that power—The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”), Gollum uses it for nothing more than eavesdropping and relatively petty nastiness, revealing, as Gandalf says, something about the true nature of what he had found: “The ring had given him power according to his stature.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”) Thus, had Gollum never lost it, he would never have been anything more than he already was—a sneaking nobody deep under the Misty Mountains (although he might have slipped up on Bilbo in the dark and The Hobbit would have ended rather abruptly).
Bilbo did find the Ring, however, but, like Gollum, although in a less sinister way, it’s simply part of a disappearing act, even the last time he uses it, at his joint birthday party with Frodo. It originally saved him from Gollum in that role, but that may have been Bilbo’s ultimate salvation, as well, as Gandalf replies to Frodo’s cry, “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”:
“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)
But what would have happened, had Bilbo kept the Ring? Would that earlier act of mercy have continued to save him? Two possibilities, perhaps stages of the same fate, might occur, Gollum being our example. In the first stage, as Gandalf tells Frodo:
“But still the thing was eating up his mind, of course, and the torment had become almost unbearable…He hated the dark, and he hated light more: he hated everything, and the Ring most of all.”
That this was already happening to Bilbo is suggested by his remark to Gandalf:
“…And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don’t you know; or wondering if it is safe and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn’t rest without it in my pocket. I don’t know why…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)
The second and final stage for Bilbo might be:
“A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to someone else’s care—and that only at an early stage, when it first begins to grip.”
That Ring’s eventual escape from Bilbo might appear simply as a loss—Gollum had no idea that it had slipped from his finger in The Hobbit—but it might be much worse, as happened to Isildur: “The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur’s hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Deagol, and he was murdered…”
as Gandalf explains to Frodo.
But with our next character, Frodo, we move from the past of the Ring to the present of The Lord of the Rings, and we’ll consider more What Ifs in Ringing False (2) in the next posting.
Meanwhile, thanks, as ever, for reading,
Refrain from picking up small shiny objects in tunnels,
And know that, as always, there’s