I recently came across this question, about an oddity from Lord of the Rings. The question is asking about this passage:

“I would ask one thing before we go,” said Frodo, “a thing which I often meant to ask Gandalf in Rivendell. I am permitted to wear the One Ring: why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?”

In case you're somehow not familiar with the story: the protagonist (Frodo) possesses an extremely dangerous object (the One Ring), about which he has been given very clear instructions (by someone he trusts, respects, and generally listens to) never to wear. However, near the end of the novel, when speaking to someone else he respects and trusts, he claims he is "permitted" to wear it, despite no indication (at least, to the reader) that the situation has changed.

One explanation given for this apparent change of heart is that we are reading "I am permitted to x" incorrectly, and that we should not assume Frodo is implying any degree of allowance or permission. Rather, the phrase may have had a different meaning to Tolkein, more in line with "I have had the opportunity to x", or even "I have already done x." But I can't find any evidence to indicate that "permitted" was ever used in this context.

Was there ever a meaning of "I am permitted" which did not imply permission to do something?

  • Actually 'permit' carries the connotation you are referring to.Permit: Provide an opportunity or scope for (something) to take place; make possible. oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/permit – user66974 Feb 23 '15 at 19:58
  • I did see that, but that definition didn't seem to make sense to me in the context of a specific person being "permitted" to do something that pretty much anyone could physically do anyway. that's why I asked about the whole phrase. But, if that's the answer then I guess that's the answer. :) – KutuluMike Feb 23 '15 at 20:03
  • This may belong in another exchange, but I don't believe Frodo was ever forbidden to wear the One Ring. He certainly was warned (in a general way) of the corrupting power the ring, which he experienced progressively after he put it on for various reasons throughout the novel. The passive: I am permitted, is often inferred from the negative: He did not forbid. There are linguistic considerations, but that is more of a moral ethical interpretation. – ScotM Feb 23 '15 at 21:56

This shows a blurring of the meaning of permit. It's the same kind of blurring that happens between can and may. Normally, can addresses ability and may addresses permission. Your mother might have joked with you when you were kid in this fashion:

Kid: Mom, can I go out.
Mom: Sure, you can go out. But you may not.

What she means is: You are able to go out, but I am not going to give you permission to do so.

Moms are funny, right?

A similar thing happens with permit itself. We can be forbidden to do something yet we can go ahead and do it anyway. There's even an old saying that references this apparent conflict:

"It is easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission."

In other words, we can break the law and hope to escape punishment. All this hinges on one of the alternate meanings of permit. One is about permission, and another is about possibility:

  1. To afford opportunity or possibility for something. [TFD]

Now, it seems pretty clear that Frodo was playing on the two different meanings. Moreover, he is surprised that he should be afforded the possibility of wearing the One Ring if he be not also granted the godlike power to see the other ringbearers and know their thoughts. You could sum up this feeling with a statement to the effect that "This is so amazing, why is it not better?"

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