Ainulindalë: Hints of Providence and the Election of Frodo

Eru Ilúvatar is absent in the narratives of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is neither named nor invoked. Yet there is one moment (actually two) that hints at Ilúvatar’s providential involvement. During their long conversation after Bilbo’s birthday party, Gandalf reviews the history of the One Ring and explains to Frodo how it came into the possession of Gollum and then Bilbo:

“A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. . . . It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him.”

“What, just in time to meet Bilbo?’ said Frodo. “Wouldn’t an Orc have suited it better?”

“It is no laughing matter,” said Gandalf. “Not for you. It was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far: Bilbo’s arrival just at that time, and putting his hand on it, blindly, in the dark.

“There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur’s hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Déagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

“It is not,” said Frodo. “Though I am not sure that I understand you.”

That Frodo does not understand is unsurprising. Belief in a supreme being does not appear to have informed the lives of Hobbits, and they were typically ignorant of the Elven myths that spoke of Ilúvatar. As Tolkien observes, “I do not think Hobbits practised any form of worship or prayer (unless through exceptional contact with Elves).”1

The conversation continues. Finally Frodo exclaims:

I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?

The Grey Wizard replies:

Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.2

A power that can override both Sauron’s will and the will of his Ring? A power that intended Bilbo to find the Ring and then persuaded and enabled him to pass it on to his nephew? A power that has chosen Frodo to be the Ringbearer? These questions remain unanswered through the rest of the story. Readers of The Silmarillion, though, know the identity of this One who governs the events of history.

And how was it that Gandalf could be so certain that Eru’s hand was at work here? We know that he was one of the Istari, a Maia sent by the Valar to Middle Earth to encourage the peoples in their long battle against Sauron. After the fall of Sauron, Gandalf shares with Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Gimli the details on how he acquired the map and key to Erebor and then years later, in a “chance-meeting” with Thorin Oakenshield on the road, how he conceived the plan of the burgling of Smaug’s lair and ultimately persuaded Thorin to accept Bilbo into his party. “I knew in my heart,” he tells them, “that Bilbo must go with him, or the whole quest would be a failure—or, as I should say now, the far more important events by the way would not come to pass.”3

“But who wove the web?” asks Pippin.

I do not think I have ever considered that before. Did you plan all this then, Gandalf? If not, why did you lead Thorin Oakenshield to such an unlikely door? To find the Ring and bring it far away into the West for hiding, and then to choose the Ringbearer—and to restore the Mountain Kingdom as a mere deed by the way: was not that your design?

After a long pause, he replies:

I do not know the answer. For I have changed since those days, and I am no longer trammelled by the burden of Middle-earth as I was then. In those days I should have answered you with words like those I used to Frodo, only last year in the spring. Only last year! But such measures are meaningless. In that far distant time I said to a small and frightened hobbit: Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker, and you therefore were meant to bear it. And I might have added: and I was meant to guide you both to those points.

To do that I used in my waking mind only such means as were allowed to me, doing what lay to my hand according to such reasons as I had. But what I knew in my heart, or knew before I stepped on these grey shores: that is another matter. Olorin I was in the West that is forgotten, and only to those who are there shall I speak more openly.4

Mere coincidence? A wild guess? Surely not. Guiding the history of Arda, there is the providential hand of Eru Ilúvatar. We must return to the Ainulindalë and the Music of the Ainur.


[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 153, fn.

[2] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, chap. 2.

[3] J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Quest of Erebor,” Unfinished Tales (1980), pp. 324-325.

[4] Ibid., pp. 329-330; emphasis mine.

(Go to “The Umbar of Ambar“)

This entry was posted in Ainulindale, Inklings & Company, Mythopoeia and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Ainulindalë: Hints of Providence and the Election of Frodo

  1. kenwilliams says:

    Fully agreed! And Tolkien’s Catholic Faith lies very strongly at the deep and shines through here I think. When people say “there’s no G-d in Middle Earth”, it’s not quite accurate. There’s no “Zeus” or “Odin” granted, but there are active forces “at work” in Middle Earth, that are bigger than Sauron.


Comments are closed.