The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien

Book II, Chapter 2

Summary Book II, Chapter 2

Tolkien’s idea that resisting evil means, in part, resisting desires reflects his Christian sensibility. Christianity demands the subjugation of one’s own desires—whether sensual, material, or even merely a greed for knowledge—before the word of God. Indeed, excessive thirst for knowledge can be the most dangerous desire. In the biblical book of Genesis, this danger appears in the form of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which offers the irresistible promise of forbidden knowledge that leads to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. In Middle-earth, there are similar examples of forbidden knowledge: the Elven-smiths, ensnared by Sauron with promises of great learning, and the corrupted wizard Saruman. Indeed, even the Dwarves whom Glóin describes to Frodo, who dig too deep in Moria in search of the precious metal mithril and awaken “the nameless fear,” serve as a symbol of the dangers of reckless and greedy curiosity.

Tolkien’s warning against the greed for knowledge appears to be based on the distinction between mere knowledge and wisdom. We are offered a clue as to exactly what differentiates the two in Gandalf’s rebuke to Saruman when he discovers that the latter’s deep study of Ring-lore has corrupted him: “he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” Wisdom implies an added moral dimension that mere knowledge lacks: wisdom involves thinking of the consequences of actions. Gandalf and Elrond, among others, embody wisdom, while Saruman, the Elven-smiths, and the Dwarves of Moria have sought only knowledge.

Another notably Christian element in the text is Elrond’s prediction of the great part that “the weak,” including Hobbits, are to play in the coming battle. Indeed, it is Frodo’s physical weakness that makes him the ideal Ring-bearer, as he is not powerful enough to wield the Ring in a truly dangerous or destructive fashion. However, Frodo’s temperament suits him to the great task before him. As Elrond and Gandalf both point out, physical strength and wisdom will not carry the day in the quest. Resisting the temptation of the Ring is a matter of conviction and inner strength. Elrond’s description of the ideal Ring-bearer—who is not necessarily physically unimpressive, but is morally steady, willing to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity—constitutes a fair description of a Christian saint.