I watched The Fellowship of the Ring extended edition with my girlfriend and her family, and I was touched as for the first time by this scene:
The Return of the King is such an epic, emotional movie, it’s easy to forget the first installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a masterpiece as well. No other movie in recent memory hammers home the point that earthly creatures cannot be trusted with the knowledge and power of God. It’s a radical notion in today’s culture, which seeks above all else to “empower” the individual.
Mark Twain said (I paraphrase): Whatever your bugaboo, you will find it therein. That’s literally what the ring represents: the power to reach your fantasy. Gandalf recoils from the ring, not as from a snarling animal, but as from a thing he wants but knows he should not have. He refuses to take the ring, fearful his will cannot overcome the temptation to sin with it. Rather than empower the ring bearer, the ring enslaves the ring bearer to his own desires. The truth is the other way around: It’s the ring that bears the ring bearer.
The fellowship falls apart when Frodo realizes he cannot trust his companions any longer. Had he not struck out on his own, Boromir would have been just the first member of the fellowship to try to take the ring. Boromir wanted the ring so he could use it to amass an army to defend his homeland. As Gandalf said, he would have used the ring with a mind to do good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
It is fitting for a hobbit, the meekest of the races, to bear the ring. A hobbit does not swing a sword, command armies, or incant to animals or trees—at least, not naturally. As poor Gollum’s experience proves—and to a lesser extent Bilbo’s—the ring in a hobbit’s possession poses little danger to others. The worst the ring can do to a hobbit is turn him inward towards a shell of the self, a dark, private hell—which is quite bad enough.
Look around. A private hell exists between some people and their television sets, video games, computers, and smart phones. How many people cling to these things like Gollum clings to his “precious”? What are these a means to, if not endless self-gratification?
Hell isn’t other people, as the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartres wrote. Hell is self.