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Old 01-22-2024, 10:25 AM   #1
JeyEn
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Seriously - what was it that scared Gandalf to look more into Bilbo's ring?

Hello all! I am wondering about the precise reason why Gandalf needed to investigate Bilbo's ring.

Bilbo's reactions and behavior after his party scared Gandalf so much he felt he needed to seek out answers about Bilbo's ring. But why?
He knew Bilbo has a Great Ring (no lesser ring theory please), so when he saw Bilbo is starting to succumb to its will, he shouldn't have been scared, because it is just an effect of Great Ring - or yet another effect of it. And it takes over Bilbo, which would probably do, sooner or later, and it would be assumed. This behavior could have been anticipated, sooner or later, if you think about that.

Why would this exact point of Bilbo having The Ring poke Gandalf to finally do something?

Thanks for answers.
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Old 01-23-2024, 06:07 PM   #2
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He probably knew what it was, but he didn't know what to do with it. He knew he couldn't take it. So what would he do with it? How would he get it to the fires of Mount Doom? Did he even know the Fires would destroy it (Elrond did). It was safe (mostly) in The Shire. He needed to plan for what comes next.

That's my theory at least.
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Old 01-27-2024, 03:23 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by JeyEn View Post
Hello all! I am wondering about the precise reason why Gandalf needed to investigate Bilbo's ring.

Bilbo's reactions and behavior after his party scared Gandalf so much he felt he needed to seek out answers about Bilbo's ring. But why?
He knew Bilbo has a Great Ring (no lesser ring theory please), so when he saw Bilbo is starting to succumb to its will, he shouldn't have been scared, because it is just an effect of Great Ring - or yet another effect of it. And it takes over Bilbo, which would probably do, sooner or later, and it would be assumed. This behavior could have been anticipated, sooner or later, if you think about that.

Why would this exact point of Bilbo having The Ring poke Gandalf to finally do something?

Thanks for answers.
This is probably one of the things that annoys me most in the books!

In “The Shadow of the Past” Gandalf states to Frodo that “a shadow fell on his heart” around the time that Bilbo found the ring, and that he often “wondered how Gollum came by a great ring, as plainly it was – that at least was clear from the first.”. Of course it could be argued that any magic ring could be identified as “Great”, but Gandalf has already distinguished between the many magic made in Eregion of old (To the elven-smiths they were but trifles), and the great rings.

To my knowledge there has only ever been identified twenty great rings: “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne”.

The three elven rings were already accounted for, even though most people did not know their location or who wielded them, such information would have been available to Gandalf. The ring Nenya was in Galadriel’s possession, Vilya was first worn by Gil-galad and then passed to Elrond, Narya had also been Gil-galad’s before it passed to Cirdan, who in turn handed it over to Gandalf when he first arrived in Middle-Earth. As a wearer of one of the three, Gandalf would not only have known who wielded the others, but he would also have a rare insight in to the nature of the great rings. Of course the three elven-rings were special, since Sauron had no part in their making, and they were not created to dominate or subjugate, but rather to preserve and enhance the existing.

The nine were given to mortal men, and it turned them into Sauron’s most feared servants: The Nazgul, or Wringwraiths. It seems quite unlikely that Bilbo’s ring could have been on of the nine, though I guess it is not inconceivable. I am not quite sure if the Nazgul actually wears the rings, or if they are in Sauron’s keeping. Nor am I aware of what would happen if a Nazgul lost his ring… It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would happen to an undead lord of destruction. Although the thought of a malevolent spirit desperately ransacking its knapsack in search of lost jewelry is an amusing one.

Also if Gandalf expected it was one of the nine, then he would be the most crappy friend on earth. In fact it is a bit of an understatement when he says (about the lesser and the Great Rings) ” – yet still to my mind dangerous to mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.”
Perilous..? You turn into a freaking ghost, completely under the command of some insane diety hiding in a tower!!!

It seems like something you would warn your friends about...

It would have been no better had he suspected the ring to be one of the seven given to the Dwarf-lords! Those rings were of a similar nature, the only reason the dwarves did not become minions of Sauron, was due to their nature. If their maker Aule, had made them any less hardier, they would have suffered the same fate as men. Even if Gandalf assumed that Hobbits reacted similar to Dwarves when exposed to the power of the great rings, that would mean that Bilbo would be possessed with an overwhelming greed for treasure. A fate that clearly did not befall Bilbo, but surely not something you would chance with one of your friends.

That is all speculative though, since it could not have been one of the seven. Four had been destroyed by dragon fire, and the others had been reclaimed by Sauron. People like Balin and Gloin thought the last of the dwarven-rings might still be found in Moria, but Gandalf knew that this was not the case. He him self ventured into Dol Guldur were Thrain was held prisoner, and learned that the last of the seven had been reclaimed by Sauron. This happened about 90 years prior to Bilbo finding the ring, so Gandalf should have known damn well that there was only one great ring unaccounted for…

So in the year 2850 of the Third age Gandalf learned that Sauron had acquired the last of the dwarven-rings, and therefore there is only on great ring unaccounted for: The One. In 2941 Bilbo finds a ring that Gandalf knows to be a great ring. Only at Bilbo’s farewell part in 3001 does Gandalf suspect that his ring migh be the one. In 3017 Gollum is finally captured by Aragon, at the same time Gandalf has gained access to the archives of Minas Tirith and realise the true nature of Frodo’s ring. So if Gandalf had been a little brighter they could have had a 66 years head-start, or if he hadn’t wasted time chasing Gollum: 16 years.
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Old 01-29-2024, 08:08 AM   #4
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Tolkien nods here; because he also has Gandalf say [paraphrasing] "At first I thought it was one of the lesser rings, not such a big deal though still perilous for mortals in my eyes." I think he should have stuck with this line and not used the other, which creates the plot hole.
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Old 01-29-2024, 03:31 PM   #5
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Tolkien nods here; because he also has Gandalf say [paraphrasing] "At first I thought it was one of the lesser rings, not such a big deal though still perilous for mortals in my eyes." I think he should have stuck with this line and not used the other, which creates the plot hole.
That would have been preferable. I have spend so many hours pondering what I had overlooked...
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Old 02-04-2024, 02:55 PM   #6
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Is there any evidence that before reading Isildur’s scroll, Gandalf knew that the One Ring could change size?

It fit Gollum and Bilbo’ little fingers - but it was really forged for the much larger hand of Sauron. We know it slipped from Isildur’s, but before his investigation in Minas Tirith - might Gandalf have felt it fitted loosely on him - being a partial reason for its loss?

Putting oneself in Gandalf’s position, early on - size-wise Bilbo’s ring might not have been thought to be a good physical match to the One Ring. This might be a reasonable source of doubt - though, I don’t recall Tolkien mentioning or hinting at it.
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Old 02-06-2024, 08:24 AM   #7
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I seem to recall some mention from Frodo or Bilbo that the Ring was placed on a chain because it sometimes changed size. I could not find such a reference in Shadow of the Past (which does mention that Gandalf's interest in the Ring shifted from professional curiosity (when Bilbo found it and disclosed the "true" story) to alarm at Bilbo's conduct during the Birthday Party (which prompted Gandalf's visit to the archives in Minas Tirith). This is an interesting observation, Priya.
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Old 02-06-2024, 03:01 PM   #8
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I seem to recall some mention from Frodo or Bilbo that the Ring was placed on a chain because it sometimes changed size. I could not find such a reference in Shadow of the Past (which does mention that Gandalf's interest in the Ring shifted from professional curiosity (when Bilbo found it and disclosed the "true" story) to alarm at Bilbo's conduct during the Birthday Party (which prompted Gandalf's visit to the archives in Minas Tirith). This is an interesting observation, Priya.
It is from The Shadow of the Past. Early on in the conversation between Frodo and Gandalf.

"Though he had found out that the thing needed looking after; it did not seem always of the same size or weight: it shrank or expanded in an odd way, and 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"

From this it appears that Gandalf would have been aware of the ability to change size prior to going to Minas Tirith.
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Old 02-08-2024, 03:00 PM   #9
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Hi Rune Son of Bjarne


When I say “change size” - I mean something more radical than a loosening or tightening. Those minor fluctuations, of course, might be attributable to a biological factor and/or sudden local temperature variations which affect metals - and Gandalf doesn’t seem to have been overly concerned by them. Indeed, we must note it was Bilbo who suggested the chain and not the wizard.

It appears to me that Gandalf never extrapolated the significance of the loosening/tightening phenomena. If Gandalf had truly suspected that the Ring could grow from aptly fitting the “long slender brown fingers” of a typical hobbit - to the girth of Sauron’s (seemingly of stature greater than even a 7 ft tall Isildur), then it’s probable that a third piece of evidence would have come into play.

Namely - Bilbo’s ‘little’ ring was not only gold, and unadorned (i.e. without a gem), but size-wise it could fit Sauron’s hand. Upon such a realization, alarm bells ought to have sounded in Gandalf’s head.
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Old 02-15-2024, 03:30 PM   #10
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Hi Rune Son of Bjarne


When I say “change size” - I mean something more radical than a loosening or tightening. Those minor fluctuations, of course, might be attributable to a biological factor and/or sudden local temperature variations which affect metals - and Gandalf doesn’t seem to have been overly concerned by them. Indeed, we must note it was Bilbo who suggested the chain and not the wizard.

It appears to me that Gandalf never extrapolated the significance of the loosening/tightening phenomena. If Gandalf had truly suspected that the Ring could grow from aptly fitting the “long slender brown fingers” of a typical hobbit - to the girth of Sauron’s (seemingly of stature greater than even a 7 ft tall Isildur), then it’s probable that a third piece of evidence would have come into play.

Namely - Bilbo’s ‘little’ ring was not only gold, and unadorned (i.e. without a gem), but size-wise it could fit Sauron’s hand. Upon such a realization, alarm bells ought to have sounded in Gandalf’s head.
I think it is quite apparent from the section quoted, that Gandalf thinks this is significant, and definitly not something he would have attributed to biological factors.

This is the essense of what is problematic with this part of the book. Gandalf seems very concerned, and yet he does nothing for ages.
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Old 02-22-2024, 09:47 PM   #11
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Hello Rune Son of Bjarne

Perhaps we ask too much of Gandalf. Despite being of a divine nature - he was not infallible. Tolkien related in a correspondence:


“But in this ‘mythology’ all the ‘angelic’ powers concerned with this world were capable of many degrees of error …”. - Letter #156

When talking of wizards, and in particular Gandalf:

“… he makes mistakes of judgement ….”. - Letter #156


One of these “mistakes” is misjudging the growth potential of the Ring. All we can conclude from the text is that he was aware of minor fluctuations in fit. We would be on dangerous ground extrapolating further.

Consider the scenario of the Ring being of fixed size for the Dark Lord’s finger and not being endowed with the magical ability to substantially grow or shrink. Does anybody truly believe Gandalf would not have instantly recognized Bilbo’s ‘magic bangle’ for what it really was?

So in my opinion, the text displays Gandalf hastily overlooking the Ring’s minor fit fluctuations without due consideration. But this was intentional on Tolkien’s part, and conveyed by the relatively quick dismissal of the looseness/tightness phenomena. The ‘chain’ solved the problem. And that was the only problem - in the wizard’s mind.

It usually takes a minimum of three aligning matters before one can reasonably start thinking of dismissing coincidence and begin forming a tenable theory. The Ring was definitely ‘gold’ and ‘unadorned’. A correctly envisioned ‘size’ - would have formed the third physical characteristic leg to the triad. A connection Tolkien didn’t want Gandalf to make in The Shadow of the Past or in the interval prior to reading Isildur’s scroll. Otherwise the hole in the plot would have been too large for a credible story.
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Old 02-28-2024, 12:58 PM   #12
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The thing is, I don't believe that it says anywhere that autosizing is a property restricted to the One Ring, or even the Great Rings. For all we know, it may be a feature of any magic ring made by the Mirdain. Tolkien never bothers telling us.

So it may well be that all Gandalf has to go on is "magic ring"- which tells him nothing new. And keep in mind that magic rings are not Gandalf's field; that's Saruman's speciality.
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