17 April 2021

The Council of Elrond and the Doom of Choice (FR 2.ii.270)

'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.'

Elrond raised his eyes and looked at him, and Frodo felt his heart pierced by the sudden keenness of the glance. 'If I understand aright all that I have heard,' he said, 'I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?

'But it is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right....'

(FR 2.ii.270, italics mine)

The Council of Elrond, to which those present have been ‘called, I say, though I have not called you to me’ in order to ‘find counsel for the peril of the world’ (FR 2.ii.242), seeks to harmonize choice – the expression of the will – with Providence or ‘Eru’s plan’. It replays with a different result the debate Elrond and Círdan must have had, however briefly, with Isildur on the slopes of Mt Doom three thousand years earlier. Frodo’s ‘I will take the Ring’(FR 2.ii.270), Isildur’s ‘this I will have as weregild’(FR 2.ii.243), Elrond’s ‘I will not take the Ring to wield it’ and Gandalf’s ‘Nor [will] I’ (FR 2.ii.267) are all choices to be weighed together in the scales of this Council, as is Aragorn’s ‘it does not belong to either of us’ (FR 2.ii.246). Isildur ‘took [the Ring] for his own’ (FR 1.ii.52; 2:ii.243); Frodo takes it as ‘burden’ (FR 2.ii.270). As we have seen*, however, the line between ‘the Ring is my burden’ and ‘the Ring is mine’ cannot be maintained in the end. Yet choosing ‘freely’ to accept the Ring as a burden brings the expression of the will into sufficient harmony with Providence to ‘send the Ring to the Fire’, as Elrond puts it (FR 2.ii.267, emphasis mine), at which point Providence will see to it that it goes into the Fire. 

Elrond’s choice of preposition here seems almost prescient given Frodo's failure at Mt Doom. His remarks about Frodo's present choice, hedged about with four conditional statements in nine sentences (as italicized above) question his own understanding, the conclusion he has reached because of his understanding, the ironic paradoxes of wisdom, and the necessity of free choice to the correctness of Frodo's decision. Elrond recalls all too well how badly Isildur chose, Ring in hand. Could anyone in Middle-earth besides Bombadil make a wholly free choice while in possession of the Ring?

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*Sorry, you will have to wait for my book, To Rule the Fate of Many: Truth, Lies, Pity, and the Ring of Power, to see what we have seen above. 

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