Possession is 9/10ths of the Law.

I was struck by a passage recently in my annual re-read. When Frodo, Sam, and Pippin have their first encounter with a Black Rider, the text refers to the Ring as belonging to Frodo.

A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. [I, 3, ‘Three is Company’]

What struck me most about this passage is how very early in the book it is. This is only the second day of the journey. Frodo has had the Ring some seventeen years (and a day) by this point, and so it’s perfectly natural for him to think of it as ‘his’. And we can feel fairly confident that Frodo wrote this portion of the book, I think. Still, it did stand out to me, and I decided to see what other mentions of ownership there were, which were not references to Sauron.

As early as the Prologue, the Ring is Gollums:

He slipped away, and returned to his island, of which Bilbo knew nothing, not far off in the dark water. There, he thought, lay his ring. [‘Prologue’]

And then in Bag End, Gandalf refers to the Ring as belonging to Bilbo. But only a few pages later, the the Ring is once again Sauron’s:

‘When did I first begin to guess?’ [Gandalf] mused, searching back in memory. ‘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.’ [I, 2, ‘The Shadow of the Past’]

‘Yes, alas! through him the Enemy has learned that the One has been found again. He knows where Isildur fell. He knows where Gollum found his ring.[ibid.]

It could be argued that ‘his’ here refers to Gollum, but as it is Sauron who “knows”, I think we can safely eliminate that notion. Sauron would never have considered the Ring as belonging to Gollum, and therefore ‘his’ refers to Sauron himself.

After this, we have the mention of the Ring belonging to Frodo, as mentioned above during the encounter with the Black Rider. Then, Gandalf once again names the Ring as Sauron’s when talking to Frodo at ten o’clock in the morning, on October the twenty-fourth.

‘You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand.’ [II, 1, ‘Many Meetings’]

Shortly afterward, Elrond names it as Sauron’s during the Council:

‘Fruitless did I call the victory of the Last Alliance? Not wholly so, yet it did not achieve its end. Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed. His Ring was lost but not unmade.‘[II, 2, ‘The Council of Elrond’]

After that, we don’t get another ‘his ring’ until we get to Lothlórien. There, Galadriel refers to it as Sauron’s, and Sam refers to it as Frodo’s:

‘Would that not have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?’ [II, 7, ‘The Mirror of Galadriel’]

‘But if you’ll pardon my speaking out [said Sam], I think my master was right. I wish you’d take his Ring. You’d put things to rights.’ [ibid.]

The final reference to ‘his ring’ comes in the Appendices, where we are told in the year 3001 of the Third Age, the events include

Bilbo’s farewell feast. Gandalf suspects his ring to be the One Ring. The guard on the Shire is doubled. Gandalf seeks for news of Gollum and calls on the help of Aragorn. [Appendix B: ‘The Tale of Years’]

This is all well and good. But what does it tell us? I’m not really certain. In fact, I’m actually pretty sure it tells us nothing at all. It does appear that ownership is indicated by possession in each case, save one: when Gandalf tells Frodo of the torment Sauron would inflict upon him (Frodo) for keeping his (Sauron’s) ring. Though even then, it can be presumed that the Ring would be back in Sauron’s possession by the time he really starts getting creative with his tormenting of Frodo.

Be that as it may, I can’t help but being fascinated by the idea of Frodo, in particular, feeling that sense of ownership so early on, and despite everything he knows about the One.

Update: It also strikes me that, after Chapter 2, every reference of his Ring has Ring rather than ring (not counting the appendix, which references a time before Gandalf had made his final “test” in Frodo’s parlour).

Sauron, as depicted in The Lord of the Rings, by Ralph Bakshi, 1978

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