70 pages 2 hours read

J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1937

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Symbols & Motifs

The Ring

The magic ring is by far the most famous symbol in Tolkien’s oeuvre. While the bulk of its symbolism is developed in The Lord of the Rings (a mythology that Tolkien hadn’t yet conceived when he penned this first novel), its nascent import is detectable in the early narrative. The ring is widely understood, by scholars and casual readers alike, to symbolize the corruptive force of power and wealth. In The Hobbit, this corruption relates most clearly to greed, a heavy thematic concern that finds some of its most pointed expression in the character of Gollum. The small creature under the Misty Mountains often falls back on the enigmatic refrain, “precious.” He utters the word not as a descriptor but as a beloved subject whom he addresses intimately—and, after some puzzling over the dialogue, a reader may realize that “precious” (often, “my precious”) is the name Gollum has given his cherished ring. His whole life centers on this object, not only the object in itself but the possession of the object. However, this possessiveness is ultimately self-defeating; Gollum’s fixation is so consuming that the ring possesses him.

Before Tolkien’s later Middle Earth texts, the ring’s power is only that of invisibility, but this power is of a consequential nature: The power of invisibility is the power to act without repercussion, and the ring thus further symbolizes the precarity of rogue power.