Top Seven Characters of Middle Earth who Resisted the Corruption of the One Ring Rather Well

Submitted by C B Wright on

Last week I had to go on a business trip to Richmond. It's an 11-13 hour drive each way, and part of that journey gave me enough time to listen to about 5% of the audiobook recording of The Lord of the Rings (seriously--that's a ridiculously long audiobook, even if you skip over all the appendices at the end). As I was listening to this audiobook, I noted two things:

1. Listening to someone read about Hobbits makes me hungry.

2. For all the talk about how absolutely fatal the One True Ring was when it started tempting you, there were people who did rather well when the time came to face it down.

There's not much to tell about #1--it's pretty self-explanatory--but #2 distracted me for a while, because while the One Ring is described throughout the book as an Irresistible Force there are actually quite a few characters in the book that... well... resist it. Some resist more than others, but there are at least seven characters who resist it to an extent that must have pissed Sauron off but good. So... without further ado, the Top Seven Characters of Middle Earth who Resisted the Corruption of the One Ring Rather Well:


If you were taking a drink when you read that one, well, clean your monitor. Or tablet, or phone, or whatever. I'm serious. Yes, I know that by the time of the Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman has gone fully over the Dark Side and is plotting to steal the ring and take over the world, but Gandalf tells us later in the story that one point in time Saruman was genuinely good and was all in when it came to the fight against darkness. The very fact that he was, eventually, corrupted means he was, at one point, uncorrupted. And since we know from some of the things Gandalf says that he was instrumental in the assault that drove Sauron/The Necromancer out of his fortress in Mirkwood, we can assume he was still working for the Good Guys at that point, and he had been studying the One Ring long before that. He is lowest on the list because he never actually comes into contact with the ring and is corrupted by it anyway--and, also, he gets points deducted because he's really an incredible jerk--but he still gets a nod because as far as I can tell he was studying the ring and being seduced by it for an incredibly long time before he finally gave in.


There is a pretty large gap from #7 to #6, and it shows that while Gandalf is occasionally overconfident and prone to arrogance, he also possesses a large amount of self-awareness as to his limitations. He *knows* that the ring will tempt him, and he very quickly takes steps to make sure that it isn't offered to him in any formal capacity. Not more than once. And he makes sure the ring is kept by people who he genuinely LIKES, in order to stave off the desire to obtain the ring by killing whoever has it at the time. Because of this, he is never put in a position where he is forced to actively resist the temptation of the ring. He has to resist the temptation to be tempted, essentially, and he engineers the situation so that it doesn't go any farther than that.


Galadriel scores higher on the list than Gandalf because she is actually put in the position of being offered the ring directly, so she is tempted directly. She, like Gandalf, has enough self-awareness to know that her desires to use the ring, while noble, will ultimately lead to her becoming a prettier Sauron with much better fashion sense. Unlike Gandalf, she actively chooses to decline the ring even though she knows the consequence of giving it up means her power will lessen. That is a pretty hardcore decision to make, and she does it willingly.


I'm pretty sure there will be people who feel Frodo should be higher on this list, but I want to say, first of all, that being on this list at all is rather a notable feat, given what the freaking ring is and what it will do. It's not like being #4 means that Frodo is a simpering, weak-willed rube or anything like that. Point of fact, Frodo shows enormous force of will and determination, and resists the One Ring for a good long while during a particularly trying time. And he suffered a lot for it: wounded by the Morgul blade, almost turned into a wraith, almost done in by a lake monster, almost done in by a Balrog, almost eaten by the Biggest Spider What Ever Walked Middle Earth, tortured by orcs, and forced to listen to a bunch of big people talk about how silly Hobbits are (and then say "oh, but not you, Frodo--you're great.") Considering what he goes through, Frodo resists the crushing temptation of the One Ring quite admirably and was a good choice as ring bearer... but in the end, he doesn't give it up. Not willingly. He has to get his finger bitten off by Gollum in order for the quest to succeed. Let's repeat that last part: after going through all the crap he had to wade through to get to Mount Doom, the One Ring finally breaks him, and it takes a crazed, junkie proto-hobbit biting off his freaking finger and then falling into Mt Doom before Frodo can come to his senses and run away. As far as interventions go, that's pretty extreme. And the entire ordeal wrecks his psyche afterwards. I mean, once again, it's perfectly understandable why that would be, and nobody's blaming him. Except for Gollum, of course. And maybe Saruman. And the Sackville-Bagginses (we should be thankful Lobelia didn't get the ring).


In my original list, I had Bilbo and Frodo flipped, but in the end I think that Bilbo edges out Frodo because he had been influenced by the ring longer and still came out stronger. After all, he used the ring whenever he wanted to. He used it for trivial things, like (according to Merry) hiding from the Sackville-Bagginses when he didn't want to deal with them, and of course for playing silly disappearing pranks at his birthday party. And while he didn't do a very good job giving up the ring of his own accord, Gandalf didn't have to bite off a freaking finger. And while Bilbo was still clearly affected by the ring, even after being rid of it (based on some of his behavior when he and Frodo are reunited in Rivendell) he is not wholly enslaved by it, and even realizes that it's affecting him. He probably interacted with the ring longer than anyone other than Gollum and Sauron, and out of all the people who were affected by the Ring who weren't Terribly Evil he comes out #2 on the list of People Who Weren't Horribly Crippled by the One Ring (of which there are actually only two entries.)


"What?!?" I hear you shout, possibly outraged, perhaps incredulously. "But Boromir was actually corrupted by the One Ring and tried to stuff Frodo into a sack so he could be carried unwillingly to Minas Tirith!" Well, yes, this is true -- Boromir was seduced and corrupted by the ring. And then he pulled back from it, which is remarkable. He realizes what has happened, is heartily ashamed of it, and while he doesn't immediately accept full responsibility for what happens next (he lies to Aragorn about the incident initially) he does try to take steps to fix the problem, and ultimately owns up to everything. And then he dies, which is probably not what he wanted, but it happens to be the most badass death in the book (Gandalf's fall in the Mines of Moria doesn't count because SPOILER ALERT HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY DIE HE LEVELS UP). But in all seriousness, the fact that Boromir pulls back after jumping off the cliff is truly remarkable. All the lore we're told about the ring through the story tells us that once it gets its hooks into you it's just a matter of time, and eventually you're gone. It got its hooks into Boromir, and then he goes... and then he comes back.


Well of course Sam Gamgee is at the top of the list! Sam is the most remarkable character in the entire story, because while he is not immune to the rings influence per se, when the time comes that it actually tries to tempt and corrupt him it fails so utterly that Sam laughs at the attempt. I know plenty of disparaging things have been written about poor Sam--he is obviously an idealized representation of a specific social class and social class relationship--but all that aside, when the ring tries to tempt him with promises of power beyond his dreams, Sam, and only Sam (apparently in the entire history of the One Ring), manages to compare all those promises with the dreams he really has and sees the utter ridiculousness of them. Any power the One Ring may have had over him is completely broken at that point, and this is only underscored when Frodo demands the ring back and Sam hands it over without so much as a second thought. It's true he only carries the One Ring a short while, but it doesn't exactly play softball when he picks it up. And then he goes off to kick Saruman out of the Shire, get married, become mayor, and have a pretty happy life. Which is why he edges out Bilbo to get #1 on the list of People Who Weren't Horribly Crippled by the One Ring. Also, he is a lot more reliable in a fight than Frodo. He kills an orc in Moria and his "get large spiders to sit on pointy things" maneuver is probably studied by Rangers for generations to come.


There are a number of people who I considered adding to this list, if only to get it to ten entries... but ultimately I decided they really didn't meet my criteria. They are listed below.


I was very tempted to add Tom to the list. After all, when Frodo (reluctantly) gave the One Ring to him all he did was throw it into the air a few times, put it on his finger, then give it right back. And when it slipped on to his finger, he didn't disappear. His ring immunity was so remarkable the suggestion is made at the Council of Elrond that he be given the ring, since it won't corrupt him. But that is ultimately why I disqualified him -- the ring has no power over him whatsoever. He is always his own man and the One Ring has no chance to try to seduce and corrupt him. Even Sam is tempted by the Ring, even though the temptation fails.


I regretfully disqualified Faramir (book-Faramir, not movie-Faramir) because he tells Frodo point blank that he doesn't want it, and would never want it, because he believes no good can come from anything the Enemy offers. In this respect, he's more like a lesser Tom Bombadil than a Gandalf or a Galadriel. Gandalf and Galadriel do want the One Ring, at some level, but they know they should never, ever, have it. Faramir feels no urge to wield it--there is no struggle.


As far as we know, Isildur is never corrupted by the One Ring -- he is killed by orcs before the Ring has a chance to start in on that. But he is immediately seduced by the Ring and takes it with him instead of destroying it. He's no Sam Gamgee. Because he probably would have been corrupted, if the orcs hadn't killed him, he is disqualified.


There may be some who feel Gollum should be on the list because, for a time, he regains some of his humanity... er... Hobbitanity... um... anyway, he becomes less Gollum and more Smeagol. While that's true, there is never any indication that during his redemption he makes any progress at getting free of the Ring. He gets better because he has no chance of getting the Ring back, and he gets worse when he decides maybe he has a shot after all. While he struggles with himself somewhat over betraying Frodo to Shelob, the struggle has nothing to do with whether or not he wants the Ring back. He always wants the Ring back. Gollum has never had a moment where he considered trying to resist the Ring (though to be fair, he had no idea he needed to). For that reason he is disqualified.


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Movie-Samwise got the shaft

I always liked reading in the appendices about what happened to Samwise, and beside the dropping of the Scouring of the Shire from the movie, I thought that not giving Sam the same consideration as the other Ringbearer was pretty crappy. Would it have hurt them to have shown the old Samwise boarding the last boat from the Gray havens, sailing away with Meriadoc and Peregrin looking on from shore as the boat sailed over the horizon? The first time I read that scene I actually teared up, and I DON'T get emotional about that many books, maybe two or three in my 50 years of reading.

heck, I can forgive that...

... the last thing the Return of the King needed was another freaking ending. But the movie doesn't show Sam being tempted and slapping the ring down hard!

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Good list. I don't know that

Good list. I don't know that I would agree about Faramir, though. He entertains the idea.
He knows that it might win his father's heart to show up with Frodo and the ring.
He is tempted by it, but is too wise for it to last very long.

Now Aragorn. Aragorn never seems tempted, not even a little.

And, minor technicality, Shelob is not the biggest spider ever to inhabit Middle Earth.
That would be Ungoliant (I don't believe I remembered how to spell that).
Shelob is the descendant of said biggest spider, or maybe a couple generations out.

The Anono in your El.

Audiobook, eh?

Maybe you should try listening to the BBC radio version. Ian Holm plays Frodo in that; probably why he got Bilbo in the movies.

He entertains the idea in the movie...

... but I don't remember him even considering it once in the books. The movie is a... poor representation of Faramir.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Well the audiobook I have...

... is the unabridged audiobook narrated by Robert Inglis. He's fantastic, except for the parts where he actually sings the songs. I'm not fond of that, and unfortunately Tolkien was very fond of inserting those damned song bits, at least five songs a chapter. Mostly I just suffer patiently until he's through with that part.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

I've never seen Two Towers,

I've never seen Two Towers, or most of The Return of the King, actually.

As for Faramir: Once Sam spills it, he pronounces the irony of the hobbits running from Boromir to him, and that it is the great chance for him to prove his worth; but also that he swore he would never take up the thing, even if he found it laying in the road. And so he tells Frodo not to tell him more about it, or show it to him lest he be lured by it to his doom. He certainly considers himself weak enough to be broken by the Ring.

The Anono in your El.

Ah, I see.

When I read that I didn't sense any teeth in the "chance for him to prove his worth" part, which is why I disqualified him along the same lines as Bombadil. But I can see an argument for putting him between Saruman and Gandalf, I guess.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

It's hard to say. Faramir is

It's hard to say. Faramir is written as a tired, wise man, and knowing the details of his relationship with his brother and father, it feels to me very bitter, that passage.

That he could prove his worth to his father only by doing what he knows would be an evil thing, and that he loves his father enough that he fears he would be tempted, given too much of a chance... that would be bitter knowledge to have.

I think you're absolutely correct in that he has no desire for the thing himself, or the power that it could bring him. In that ways he's like a lot like Sam. The only way he could be tempted by the Ring is through his love for something, and it seems that when the Ring tries that on people, it comes across as false and empty.

Also, I don't know if it's right to say Frodo really ever gives into temptation, though he's clearly more desirous of the Ring than Sam. I think maybe he just breaks through long, unbearable suffering. No matter how strong his will, or how moral his character, he's still just a hobbit fighting the greater part of the will of Sauron at the seat of its power. If it had been Sam who had suffered as long and hard as Frodo from carrying the thing, he might have had his will broken in the end to, even though he couldn't really be tempted.

I've also had a random thought about Gandalf "leveling up", and since I'm apparently just leaving lengthy discursive comments around the internet these days, I will share it with you.

We know from various bits and the Silmarillion that when Maiar take a human form they lose some of themselves in the process; not all of what they are 'fits' into their fleshly envelope, as it were. We also know from the deaths of Sauron and Gandalf that being killed doesn't really stick, necessarily. What's interesting is how the two differ, and I think there might be some insight into Tolkien's views of death there.

Sauron is of a much greater stature than Gandalf, he's among the greatest of the Maiar in the beginning. When he is 'killed' (once in the drowning of Numenor, and once by Gil-Galad and Elendil), he is lessened, his power restricted. He loses the power to change his shape to something pleasing or to veil his power after the first time. And he's weakened sufficiently after being killed the second time that it takes him centuries to take a new shape, and the loosing of his essence from the Ring causes the rest of him to just sputter out.

Gandalf, in comparison, seems to have greater access to the whole of his being after death. He's risen in power above Saruman, and suggests to Gimli that normal weapons would have little ability to harm him. It seems that he's always been able to access the greater part of his power through his staff, as breaking Saruman's staff reduces his ability to use his power beyond that of his will, and presumably Gandalf tricks the guard into allowing him to retain it, because he needs it to rouse Theoden. So he's still not fully 'incarnated', even after returning.

But why does Gandalf become greater through death, while Sauron and Saruman are lessened?

I think it's because Gandalf does not cling to life, to the physical world, and to his power, but Saruman and Sauron do. In trying to keep part of themselves in the world, they ultimately shut the greater part of themselves out.

Which feels Catholic to me, I guess. When it is Gandalf's time to go, he goes, and he is elevated to a higher state of himself. Those who fight against the inevitability of dying are first debased by their fear and desire, and then lessened and cast out.

The Anono in your El.

You can argue about Faramir all you like...

... and I'm willing to acknowledge you may be right there -- but I won't bend on Frodo and Sam.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.