The vision of power between Tolkien’s LOTR and Plato

Ghaida Bouchaala
7 min readMar 21, 2022


source: Reddit

The Lord of the Rings is one of Tolkien’s popular works that analyze power, choice, and morality through imagination. It seems to have drawn the theme of self-chosen invisibility from Plato’s Ring of Gyges. However, the analysis presented by the two thinkers seems to be a point of fine distinction between their visions of power. Tolkien seems to have a better vision of power because the story of the One Ring complements and enriches Plato’s analysis. The following article attempts to briefly summarize the similarities and differences between the two writers in order to determine who has a better vision of power.

Before looking for what the Lord of the Ring confirms or undermines in Plato’s analysis, it’s necessary to understand what is Plato’s idea in The Ring of Gyges and what is Tolkien’s idea in The Lord of the Rings.

First and foremost, it is relevant to explore Plato’s discussion of the Ring of Gyges; The Ring of Gyges is a myth used by Glaucon in Plato’s Republic. Plato’s argument raises the question of whether people are innately good or bad in instances involving the urge to do something wrong without being caught. And, if enormous power demolishes the need to be a moral individual. Glaucon makes a reference to the Ring of Gyges to demonstrate that there is no true morality and that justice is a man-made construct. In it, a shepherd stumbles upon a ring that grants him the ability to become invisible. He seduces a queen, kills her king, and uses his invisibility to take over the realm. As a result, he ends up abusing his newfound capacity to act without consequence in order to pursue his own self-interests and eventually acquire control of the kingdom.

With this in mind, it’s fascinating to consider Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a variation on this ancient Platonic myth. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings centers on the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. It’s a centuries-old Ring that’s been assumed to be lost. Then it was found, and by a strange twist of fate, it was entrusted to Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit, whose mission is to carry the One Ring to the fires of Mount Doom, where it was formed, and destroy it for the end of the Dark Lord’s reign and the future of civilization.
Yet, he does not go alone. A Fellowship is formed to accompany the Ring and Frodo, the Ringbearer. Gandalf, Legolas the elf, Gimli the Dwarf, Aragorn, Boromir, Merry, Pippin, and Samwise, his three Hobbit friends, accompany him. “The Fellowship of the Ring must travel across mountains, snow, darkness, forests, rivers, and plains, fighting evil and danger at every turn.”

The ring has the power to control the entire world and he who wears it becomes invisible and in most cases corrupt. However, the hobbits are more resistant to the Ring because they have no ambition for power or dominance over others. Hobbits like Frodo and Samwise are not as easily corrupted as Sméagol for some other reasons. And, many of the other characters in The Lord of the Rings have their own hidden intentions and motivations, which the Ring might exploit.

In various ways, The Lord of the Rings verifies Plato’s analysis. Actually, through the Ring of Gyges, Plato’s question is whether or not one should be a moral person even if one has the power to be immoral with impunity. Socrates defends the moral life in Plato’s Republic by pointing out that the immoral life is worse than a morally virtuous life since the immoral life ultimately corrupts the immoralist’s soul. Mental pain, the loss of friends and loved ones are all consequences of living an immoral life. Besides, the psychic emptiness of an immoral life cannot be compensated by all the power in the world. Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, who is continually characterized as an unhappy creature, terrified of everything, friendless, homeless, and continuously seeking his “precious” Ring, is the character who most clearly exhibits Plato’s point that the unjust life leads to nothing but unhappiness. Gollum appears to be nearly utterly ruined by his desire for the Ring, in fact, every action he does is aimed towards regaining the Ring, including guiding Frodo and Sam on their voyage into Mordor. Because his soul is split in two, Gollum continuously talks to himself: one half is Sméagol, the hobbit he was before the Ring came into his hands, and the other half is Gollum, the creature whose one desire is to reclaim the Ring. As a result of his insatiable desire for the Ring of Power, Gollum is a striking example of the corruption of the soul and the loss of a meaningful life.

Furthermore, the maxim “power corrupts man” and its universal acceptance is the point on which Plato’s Glaucon and Tolkien seem to differ. Plato implies that all who possess the ring tend to be immoral. He argues that the invisibility and anonymity conferred by wearing Gyges’ ring is the only barrier between a just person and an unjust person. In other words, for him, anyone will be unjust if they have a cloak of anonymity. For injustice is much more profitable and as soon as one can do evil without being judged or accountable for their activities, then one will be inclined to evil and act in the most selfish and self-serving manner possible. While Tolkien asserts that personal choice has much to do with a personal tendency to be evil. Each man may reject the use of the ring based on his own power of choice.

Through exploring the characters, two alternative ways of dealing with Plato’s dilemma about the relationship between power, personal choice, and morality are presented by Boromir, the character who best fits the model of Glaucon’s moral argument about the shepherd Gyges, and Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien. Boromir desires to put the One Ring to good use. Later on, though, he succumbs to the lure of using the Ring in the struggle against Mordor. Boromir responds, “It is not yours save by an unhappy chance,” Boromir says. “It might have been mine. It should be mine. Give it to me!” (FR, p. 449) Boromir corrects himself by defending Merry and Pippin from the orcs, and he confesses to Aragorn that he tried to steal the Ring from Frodo as he dies. As a result, the Ring’s corruption is not permanent. Galadriel, on the other hand, is one response to Plato’s challenge to immoralists. She is determined not to allow the temptation of power to poison her spirit. She declines the One Ring and stays true to her values. She declared, “I passed the test.” “I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” (FR, pp. 410–11) Tolkien demonstrates via her that even at enormous personal cost, a strong and moral person may resist the lure of immense power. Additionally, To have a deeper understanding of Tolkien’s concept of power. Tolkien depicts the various activities of Tom Bombadil, Frodo, and Sam, all of whom chose to utilize the Ring. In fact, Bombadil was not corrupted by the Ring since it had no effect on him. Thus, he was referred to as “his own master.” But he can’t change the Ring, and he can’t take away its influence over others” (FR, p. 298). Frodo, the ringbearer, on the other hand, appears to be experiencing mixed feelings. He gradually succumbs to the Ring’s power, and by the time he reaches the Cracks of Mount Doom, he is unable to complete his mission. “I have come . . . But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” He then regains his identity and finds the strength to reject the Ring’s power. Nonetheless, Frodo’s companion, Sam, defeats the Ring’s power in a short time thanks to his love for Frodo and his own sense of self.

The fundamental element of the corruption generated by the Ring, according to Plato’s analysis, is the corruption of the soul, the “heart,” or the personality of the user of the Ring. Although this may be true, Tolkien shows that the ring may be resisted by remaining loyal to oneself rather than lusting after the urge to be bigger than oneself. Tolkien’s characters show a variety of answers to Plato’s question: can a just person be corrupted by the possibility of nearly infinite power? When the Ring is used, it corrupts those who wield it. Plato argues that such corruption will occur through Glaucon’s argument, while Socrates’ argument argues for the importance of moral life. This presents individuals as either extremely just or extremely unjust. Tolkien’s stories about the One Ring, on the other hand, give a better view of power because they complement Plato’s analysis, and establish a relationship between power, choice, and morality.

Cutting it short, as this multi-dimensional narrative of the One Ring supports and deepens Plato’s analysis, Tolkien appears to have a greater vision of power. So, “Why be moral? Plato asks. And Tolkien answers, “to be yourself.” “What kind of life should I choose? A life that is in accord with my abilities. If you need a Ring of Power to live your life, you have chosen the wrong life.” ( Bassham). Now, thinking that the world of Middle-earth is very similar to this world, several lessons can be drawn from Lord of the Rings. An inspiring one is “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (Tolkien)



Ghaida Bouchaala

I'm a developer who writes.