Monday, May 23, 2011

The Ring and the Grail

This is not a proper blog post; rather, it's an idea that's been floating around in my brain since class.

When we were discussing Aragorn's homecoming in relation to his true kingship, Professor Fulton brought up that the land can only really be healed by the return of the king, whose hands, as we all know so well, are the hands of a healer. This is a clear connection to the Arthurian story of the Fisher King, the guardian of the Grail castle who languishes in a permanent state of illness along with his land; the king's life and health are thus tied to that of the land.

We also discussed about the Ring, in a way, truly belonging to Aragorn, as it should have passed through the line of Isildur, and this led me to an idea that combined both elements -- can we regard the Ring quest as a sort of inversion of the quest for the Holy Grail? Clearly, it isn't a perfect correlation, nor is it an allegory, but I believe that the parallels are there.

Instead of an arduous quest to attain a physical item embodying pure good, it is an arduous quest to destroy a physical item embodying pure evil; an ancient evil and an ancient good, both of which hold immense power and act as physical connectors to earlier ages of the world.

Only the purest, after a fashion, can attain the quest itself, where the king, in each, cannot attain the quest himself, nor can his noblest and greatest knights. And in each quest, the hero who achieves the mission itself cannot go on. Galahad dies; Frodo is permanently scarred and damaged and forced, eventually, to pass from the world and go into the West. But each leave behind a messenger of sorts, someone who accompanied the hero on all of the torments of the quests, and someone who can bear the story forward and pass it on to future generations, allowing it to fade into story and legend. In Frodo's case, his messenger is Sam; in Galahad, it's another knight, usually Bors or Percival.

The complication, as I see it, is that Frodo is not actually able to complete his quest and destroy the Ring. It has to fall, instead, into the hands of Gollum and achieve its ultimate end by accident -- but this fits, I think. If we're considering the Ring quest as an inversion of the Grail quest, where the purest had to achieve great good, in the Ring quest, only the most corrupt can destroy the most evil.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I completely off my rocker?
-Michaela Jandacek


  1. I think there's a ton of merit to viewing the matter of LotR as an inverse quest - a reversal of the norms of heroic journeying. So in that sense I think this is completely on point.

    I don't think, though, that I quite agree on the exact significance of Gollum. In my mind what's going on there is not that the corrupt is destroying that which is most evil; what's significant is that Frodo himself does not achieve his quest. It's taken out of his hands (no pun intended) - where in the classic quest form the hero achieves his goal through his own titanic efforts, the end of this inverse quest comes ultimately with the hero's failure and is made good only through this twist of fate. It's kind of stark and dismal, really. It's also worth pointing out that in this connection that Frodo isn't that much of a hero in the classic sense - rather than having more power than us, he has LESS and things are more often inflicted on him than a result of his agency - in some way he's really an ironic mirror of a hero, an inverse hero for an inverse quest. I don't think this is absolutely true because obviously there are certain things that he does choose but I think it's an important aspect of Frodo's quest.


  2. Please write this up into an academic article; I was having similar thoughts but yours are much better articulated and I'd love to cite your argument in the future!