After our readings and class discussions on the nature of evil and the power of the Ring, I was left pondering the difference between what it was that Gandalf and Samwise saw themselves doing when they were tempted to take the Ring. Gandalf feared that his righteousness would become self-righteousness--as we said in class, he believed he would become worse than Sauron himself because he would act on his self-righteousness to eliminate free will. Though for ostensibly good purposes, this would still be an act of domination and of tyranny, one made worse by the fact that, because he appears good, few, if any, would oppose him not because the others were too afraid, but because they would not be able to see that he needs to be opposed. However, though seeming fair, a Gandalf in possession of the Ring would still be evil, partially through his very possessing of it. As I brought up in class, there is some aspect of the Ring which changes the bearer's very nature, coercing him to act in ways he would believe unspeakable otherwise. In the case of Gandalf, he is able to resist using the ring--for good or for ill--as long as he is not in possession of it. Though it would be quite easy for him, at any point, to overpower Frodo and take the Ring for himself, Gandalf is never as weak against this temptation as, for example, Boromir is when he tries to take the Ring. However, Gandalf acts as though his using the Ring for his own ends (albeit seemingly good ends) is inescapable should he ever have the Ring in his possession for longer than the second it takes for him to hurl it away. Were he the official bearer of the Ring, Gandalf would act for good and inevitably do evil.
Here we reach the first of the two main questions I was left with after this reading and this class: Is Gandalf evil only because he seeks to dominate wills, or is there something inherently evil in the destruction of anything, even evil itself? It can be assumed with reasonable certainty that, were Gandalf to shape the world as he saw fit under the power of the Ring, he would eliminate all the which appears 'evil'--all the discordance and chaos--until 'good' was all that remains. The need for contrast aside (there can be no good without evil just as there can be no night without day, thus by destroying evil, Gandalf would essentially also destroy good), is Gandalf doing evil by destroying that which Melkor once represented? When Melkor first attempted to sew discord into the theme of Ilúvatar, Ilúvatar informed him that "no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me" (The Silmarillion, 6). All things stem from Ilúvatar, Melkor and the evil he brings with him included, and nothing can exist without his acquiesance. Therefore, all evil too ultimately stems from Ilúvatar, for all creation of good also creates the evil that is the corruption of that good, as expressed by Sayers in the reading we did for earlier this week. To do evil is to destroy or corrupt anything that is pure creation is evil--but is evil not a pure creation of Ilúvatar? Therefore, Gandalf's destruction of all evil as such from Middle Earth would be the complete destruction of something created by Ilúvatar himself as Sauron could only dream of destroying all good, thus rendering him both more effective and "worse" than Sauron.
My second question addresses a different side of the conundrum of the Ring's temptations--the vision Samwise sees when he bears the Ring along the path to Cirith Ungol. As Frodo did upon Amon Hen, he feels torn between two different parts of his mind, leaving him with the choice of either forswearing the ring or claiming it. Sam resists the urge to claim it, better than any others in the tale, for he is the only character to wear the Ring and yet not be corrupted by it (though, of course, he bore it for far less time than did Frodo). We discussed in class how this may be a product of his servitude to Frodo, and that he is able to avoid the temptation because he only takes the Ring out of his love for his master, as the text blatantly states. However, I feel that Samwise's strength to avoid this temptation lies elsewhere as well: in the very dream with which he is tempted. Throughout the course of The Lord of the Rings, we have never seen any other character's visions of the world if he or she were in possession of the Ring. We have only heard descriptions: Gandalf of his self-righteousness, Boromir of the victory of Gondor, Galadriel of her own Queen-hood. Frodo, interestingly, seems tempted merely by the wearing of the Ring and the visions which it offers and never by anything beyond that. Those who do have plans to use the Ring, however, all have plans to use it to dominate the free-will of others in one way or another. Sam, however, sees himself as a hero briefly (only insofar as he needs to defeat Sauron in order to reshape the world) and then as a larger version of what he is: a gardener. He does not dream of making the people of Middle Earth do his bidding, as even Gandalf wishes to do, but merely to control the dominion of flowers. There is strength in this humility, I believe: even when given the oppurtunity of unlimited power, Sam seeks only beauty that would benefit all and not to force others to enjoy his garden. This is essential Sam's very nature, the foundation of what allows Sam to love Frodo enough to use his love to resist the power of the Ring, because it is in this nature that we can trace Sam's "plain hobbit-sense" (The Lord of the Rings, 881), which does not allow for even the dream of dominion over wills. Merely the passing fancy of dominion over flowers.