By the time Frodo made his climb up Amon Hen, he had worn the One Ring on three occasions. First was at Tom Bombadil’s House, second was accidentally in Bree, and lastly during the attack on Weathertop. But the fifth, when he places it on his finger to escape Boromir, was something of a milestone for Tolkien. Previous to writing this explanation, Tolkin had only touched what it was like to wear the Ring once before – and then almost in passing. Let’s take a closer look at this to see what we find.
In the Hobbit, Bilbo wore the Ring for hours at a time and nothing was really mentioned of its effects. It’s even stated that he continued to wear it on and off after returning home from the journey. There was no mention of Sauron or much of what it was like for the wearer. At this point in his writing, Tolkien hadn’t considered the Ring to be anything more than a magical ring. But as he developed Lord of the Rings, something much bigger took shape, changing Bilbo’s ring into the One Ring, and creating a few odd inconsistencies between this new book and his previous.
When looking at his early drafts for Lord of the Rings, we see that Tolkien apparently didn’t even think about the Ring’s effects upon the wearer, apart from becoming invisible. Such was the case when Frodo wore it at Tom Bombadil’s house. Then, at Bree, it happened by accident, but the whole narrative is seen from outside of Frodo’s point of view. If Tolkien was considering the Ring’s effects, it was not shown.
It wasn’t until the attack at Weathertop that Tolkien delved into what it was like for the wearer of the Ring. Here, “everything remained as before,” except for the Black Riders, who were shown to Frodo as “terribly clear.” He was able to see through their cloaks to their white faces, black mantles, long grey hair and long grey robes. It’s possibly indicated that the Ring also helped the Riders see Frodo, though that’s not specifically said.
In some additions to the chapter Tolkien made soon after, the concept that the Ring was a bridge between two worlds was cemented. And though that didn’t actually explain much, it was all that Tolkien knew, having no real idea that he would have to develop it further.
Getting to Amon Hen
As we know, the Fellowship left Lórien, floated down the Anduin, fought off some Orcs, portaged around a waterfall and then came to Parth Galen and Amon Hen, the hill nearby. Frodo walked up the side of the hill and Boromir followed. Eventually, Boromir tried to take the Ring, and Frodo slipped it on his own finger, disappearing from Boromir’s sight.
Tolkien first wrote about the conversation between Boromir and Frodo in a series of notes taken after writing the Moria chapters. In those, Frodo wore the Ring, but the effects were nothing all that special. “What does he see then,” Tolkien jotted to himself, “cloud all round him getting nearer and many fell voices in air?”
In the writings that followed through the Lothlórien chapters, Tolkien considered how the Ring worked its Evil, especially over Boromir. This working, no doubt, effected his idea for what wearing the Ring must be like. When he finally came again to this scene, things were found to have progressed a bit. When describing what Frodo saw, still taking notes, he wrote: “Sees Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul opposed. Sees Mordor. Sees Gandalf. Suddenly feels the Eye and wrenches off the ring and finds himself crying Wait, wait!”
The Eye, first written about in the original draft of the Galadriel’s Mirror scene, had just made its second appearance. Though these notes were hastily scribbled onto the back of one of the pages of the Great River chapter, Tolkien was clearly anticipating what was to come.
But there were still more notes, these penned in more of a narrative form:
“Standing on rocks he saw nothing about him but a grey formless mist, and far away (yet black and clear and hard) the Mountains of Mordor: the fire seemed very red. Fell voices in air. Feels Eye searching, and though it does not find him, he feels its attention is suddenly arrested (by himself).”
Fairly confident of what he was going to do with this, Tolkien wrote the first draft of the Breaking of the Fellowship chapter. But when it came to what Frodo actually saw, Tolkien poked his way down several different paths. “His writing here is at its most difficult,” wrote his son of these passages, “the marks very weak and the pen seeming to float or glide on the paper.”
For a time, Tolkien seemed to consider that Amon Hen, and not the Ring, was giving Frodo these visions. In the first rendering, Frodo saw the Anduin, the Misty Mountains, the uncharted lands in the east. To the west, he “saw little horsemen galloping like the wind upon wide green plains,” as well as Isengard. To the South, he saw the Anduin flowing into the Sea.
But then all he saw turned to war. Orcs poured out of the Misty Mountains, there was “deadly strife” in Mirkwood, “the land of the Beornings was aflame.” Clouds were over the gates of Moria, and there was smoke on the borders of Lórien. Wolves came forth from Isengard, and from the South and East, countless columns of Men were approaching. “All the power of the Dark Lord was in motion.” And then he saw the Eye, which leapt toward him, feeling for him. As in the published version, a voice told him to take it off, and “two powers strove in him.”
This was just the draft, and the scribbles became almost indecipherable. When he wrote out a manuscript, Tolkien added little, but changed much of the wording, and the power of Amon Hen was still responsible for the visions. The setting was basically the same, it just sounded better. As before, he described what Frodo could see from atop Amon Hen, but when the vision changed, so did his rendering.
“…nothing but water was below him, a wide rippling plain of silver, and an endless murmur of distant waves upon a shore he could not see.”
Tolkien soon struck this out, including anything having to do with the power of Amon Hen. As he continued to write, the water below Frodo was no longer a part of the story. It was now “a world of mist in which there were only shadows” that Frodo sees. He then wrote: “But also he sat now upon the seat of Sight which the Men of Númenor had made,” but quickly struck that out as well.
Strange at it seems, the Ring in these drafts clouded Frodo’s sight, making everything misty and cloudy. It’s only when he sat upon the “seat of Sight” that he could see the visions. This was a new addition, differing greatly from the notes. That Tolkien quickly nixed the idea is telling. Had he kept it, the Ring’s power would not have been as great (in this respect, anyway).
Though Frodo’s leaving has several variations in the drafts, the basic outline was the same: Frodo came down off the mountain and decided to split, putting on the Ring again to make a stealthy exit. In one of the drafts, however, there’s an interesting aside, after Frodo put the Ring on once more:
“The power of the Ring upon him had been renewed; and maybe it aided his choice, drawing him to Mordor, drawing him to the Shadow, alone.”
A Few Notes
- When I talk about “Frodo” in the early drafts, I mean the character that became Frodo. This fellow went through a series of name changes, and it’s just easier in these cases to simply.
- It’s possible, even probable, that Frodo wore the Ring between Bilbo’s birthday party and when he left the Shire, but we’re not given any specifics, so I didn’t include them.
- In the first draft of the Amon Hen chapter, Sam followed Frodo immediately, wanting to protect him from Orcs. Sam, from the start, was just one awesome friend.
- I’m going to wrap up Fellowship with one more post, and then take a little Silmarillion break.
About the Photo
This is the tower at Sea-Tac Airport. It’s a Polaroid negative, so the colors are weird and things are a bit fuzzy. There’s also some reaching coming in from the West, so, you know, Mordor.
- Miles today: 9
- Miles thus far: 1309 (389 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
- 470 miles to Mt. Doom
Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 26, 3019 TA. (map)