Tolkien Encyclopedia > Objects > ArtJewels and Jewelry > Rings > One Ring to Rule...

One Ring To Rule Them All: Addictions in LOTR

by Lisa Smith
July 8, 2013

The 'One Ring' is inevitably a powerful symbol of greed, desire and addiction, and Tolkien's aim is to convey the desire it awakens in a number of characters we come across in The Lord of the Rings

Gollum is the character that is affected most by the powers of the Rring, as it takes not only a toll on his mental state, but also his appearance, as where he once represented the hobbit Sméagol, he transformed over time into the creature we more commonly know as Gollum. Andy Serkis, who portrays Gollum in the film, states he "based his portrayal on that of a junkie". In other words, Serkis deliberately went for the approach of acting like he had an addiction to the Ring, which ultimately is how Tolkien originally portrayed Gollum. Gollum is certainly the most extreme example of a character that is considered to be 'beyond help', even more than Frodo's addiction.

Of course, there are many other characters affected by the dark curse the Ring possesses.

One does not simply... Be cured of addiction

On Sméagol's birthday, he kills his fellow cousin hobbit Déagol in order to obtain the One Ring on a fishing trip in the Gladden Fields, north of the mountains. Sméagol was promptly corrupted by the Ring, and as a result banished by his people, forcing him to find shelter in the Misty Mountains, where he remains until the ring is stolen by Bilbo in The Hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins, the character who steals the Ring off of Gollum in The Hobbit, develops an apparent addiction throughout the course of time that he bears it.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo repeatedly refuses to hand over the Ring to Gandalf and leave it at Bag End, where Frodo will assume property of it. His denial to let go of the Ring is an obvious sign of addiction, similar to being unwilling the give up a pack of cigarettes, for example. 

It is the persistent theme through the Lord of the Rings series that friendship is the most effective way of curing the addiction to the Ring, much like having other people help through co-occurring disorders and mental illnesses, which requires dual-diagnosis treatment. During such treatment to help cure drug related incidents and mental illnesses, it's a researched and scientifically proven fact that social support and counseling are key to effective treatment, correlative to in the Lord of the Rings, where Samwise, Frodo's accomplice on his journey through Middle-Earth, repeatedly attempts to rid Frodo of his addiction to the ring. Through this friendship, Frodo is on several occasions saved from the One Ring's possessive power. Tolkien may or may not have intentionally crafted this similarity between addiction to the One Ring in the books and addiction to drugs in real society, but the way addiction is dealt with in Lord of the Rings is almost identical to how medical experts portray effective treatment for consumers of drugs.

The One Ring and how it relates to drug abuse

The One Ring in several manners can be related to drug addiction, as it works in similar ways. Frodo and Gollum are both persistently seen to be unable to give up the Ring, which suggests a very strong addiction, much like the way drug addicts cannot give up taking substances. Even after Frodo destroys the One Ring at Mount Doom, he is not fully cured of its effects.

After all, it was not technically Frodo that destroyed the Ring; it was, in fact Gollum, who bit into Frodo's finger that bore that Ring, and Gollum himself fell into the fires of Mount Doom. In Frodo's perfect scenario, he never would have lost the One Ring, but would have instead kept it. As such, he never was healed of the Ring's effects but instead lost what he had once 'loved', which was forcefully taken away from him, even though it was for the better. In one sense or another, this is ultimately how drug addiction works. There is no such thing as an 'ex-addict', just one who has given something up that ideally they may prefer to be in possession of.

How a 'fellowship' helps banish an addiction

The effects of drug abuse are much more likely to be healed when there are other people to help the victim, much like in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo makes the statement in the Council of Elrond; "I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way". Here we see that Frodo has accepted a task to destroy the burden that threatens to destroy him, yet he asks for help in his quest. It is in seeking recovery we see progress, and Frodo takes the first steps in order to guarantee his safety by requesting the help of others, to ensure he is not alone and has sufficient help along the way.

The One Ring was much like a companion to Frodo and, even after its destruction, its power and symbolic portrayal of desire lives on within him. It is not cured, much like drug addiction can never be cured, but instead helped to a point towards recovery. Both Tolkien and Jackson portray this sensitively and in a way the audience is lead to understand and portray in their own manner.