Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them,
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One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them. This tag was made for the LOTR (Lord Of The Rings) Fellowship Club.
Thanks to Brian Lareau for a beautiful design.
The One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age in order to gain dominion over the free peoples of Middle-earth. In disguise as Annatar
, or "Lord of Gifts", he aided the Elven smiths of Eregion and their leader Celebrimbor in the making of the Rings of Power. He then forged the One Ring himself in the fires of Mount Doom.
He intended it to be the most powerful of all Rings, able to rule and control the others (as long as their owners wore them). Since the other Rings were extremely powerful, Sauron was obliged to place most of his native power, life force and will into it to achieve his purpose.
Creating the Ring simultaneously strengthened and weakened Sauron's power. On the one hand, as long as Sauron had the Ring, he could control the power of all the other Rings, and thus he was significantly more powerful after its creation than before; and, perhaps even more favourably, putting such a great portion of his own power into the Ring ensured Sauron's invulnerability so long as the Ring existed. On the other hand, by binding his power within the Ring, Sauron became dependent on it — without it he lost much of his power and when it was cut from his hand he was unable to regain a physical form for 2,500 years.
The Ring appeared to be made of simple gold, but was impervious to damage. It could only be destroyed by throwing it into the pit of the volcanic Mount Doom where it had originally been forged. Unlike the other rings of power, the One Ring could not be destroyed by dragon fire. Like the lesser rings forged by the Elves as "essays in the craft" (but unlike the other Rings of Power) it bore no gem, but its identity could be determined by a simple (though little-known) test: when heated, it displayed a fiery Tengwar inscription in the Black Speech of Mordor. The lines were later taken up into a rhyme of lore describing the Rings, but they were evidently part of the spell that imbued the One Ring with power, since the Elves heard Sauron utter the same words during the Ring's creation whereupon they took off their own Rings and foiled his plan.
When a person wore the Ring, he/she would "phase" out of the physical realm into the spiritual realm " The Void". A side effect (but usually the first effect noticed) of the Ring was that it made the wearer invisible to physical beings like living Men but highly visible to spiritual beings like the Nazgûl. However the Ring dimmed the wearer's sight at least of the physical world, while at the same time sharpening all of the other senses. This "spiritual world" was where the Nazgûl were forced to dwell, but it was also a world in which the Calaquendi (Elves of Light) held great power: therefore Glorfindel was able to drive off the Witch-king at the Battle of Fornost and later again at the ford of Bruinen at Rivendell.
Part of the nature of the Ring was that it slowly but inevitably corrupted its wearer, regardless of any intentions to the contrary. Whether this effect was specifically designed into the Ring's magic or is simply an artifact of its evil origins is unknown. For this reason the Wise, including Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, refused to wield it in their own defense, but instead determined that it should be destroyed.
The ring had the ability to change its size. As well as adapting to fingers varying in size from Sauron's to Frodo's, it sometimes suddenly expanded in order to give its wearer the slip.
When the Ring was first forged, Sauron spoke these words aloud, and Celebrimbor, maker of the Three Rings of the Elves, heard him from afar and was aware of his now-revealed purposes.
The inscription uses Elvish lettering because all forms of writing Tolkien describes at that time were invented by the Elves.
Some recent editions of The Fellowship of the Ring
accidentally omit the first two clauses of this phrase from Chapter 2, an error which was corrected by the time of the 50th Anniversary editions. An extended verse introduced three of the races inhabiting Middle-earth, as well as the eponymous title character, the Lord of the Rings:
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Gandalf first learned of the Ring-inscription when he read the account that Isildur had written before marching north to his death and the loss of the Ring. When Isildur had cut the Ring from Sauron's hand, it was burning hot, and so Isildur was able to transcribe the inscription before it faded. When Gandalf subsequently heated the ring that Bilbo Baggins had found and passed on to Frodo the inscription appeared, and the wizard then had no doubt that it was the One Ring.
The term Ring-bearer
is used in The Lord of the Rings
to describe any being who has possession of the One Ring. The term is also used to refer to the bearers of all the other Rings of Power.
In The Lord of the Rings
, Frodo Baggins is appointed to be the Ring-bearer by the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. He was to carry the One Ring from Rivendell to the Crack of Doom in Mordor and destroy it before Sauron's minions, the Ringwraiths, could retrieve it.
The title of Ring-Bearer
is also given to two other hobbits who carried the Ring. They were Bilbo Baggins (who found the Ring in Tolkien's first novel, The Hobbit
) and Frodo's companion Samwise Gamgee (who carried it briefly in Mordor). Because of their position as Ring-bearers, they were granted passage to the Undying Lands.
Others wore the Ring during its existence, but were not actually called "Ring-bearers" in any Tolkien work. They include:
- Sauron, who made the One Ring and put much of his essence into it, who was the only being who could bend it to his will, and who was its rightful master.
- Isildur, who cut it from Sauron's finger and bore it until it slipped off into the River Anduin just before his death.
- Gollum, who murdered his friend Déagol to get it, and later took it back from Frodo just before inadvertently destroying it and himself.
- Tom Bombadil, on whom it had no effect.
At least two others handled the Ring but did not actually wear it: Déagol, who found it in the River Anduin but was murdered soon after, and Gandalf, who cast it into Frodo's fireplace to test whether it was the One Ring. Further information: Timeline of Arda
After its original forging (about S.A. 1600) Sauron wielded the ring and waged war against all who opposed him, specifically the Elves (this is known as the War of the Elves and Sauron). At first the war went well for Sauron and Eregion was destroyed along with Celebrimbor, the maker of the three rings of the Elves. But later (about S.A. 1700) Tar-Minastir led a great army to Middle-earth and, together with Gil-galad, destroyed Sauron's army, forcing Sauron to return to Mordor.
In S.A. 3261 Ar-Pharazôn, the last and most powerful king of Númenor, landed at Umbar at the head of a gigantic army to do battle with Sauron. The sheer size and might of the Númenórean army was enough to cause Sauron's forces to flee. Sauron surrendered to Ar-Pharazôn and was taken back to Númenor as a prisoner. Tolkien, in a letter written in 1958 (#211) wrote that the surrender was both "voluntary and cunning" so he could gain access to Númenor. Sauron was able to use the Númenóreans' fear of death as a way to turn them against the Valar, and toward Melkor-worship and human sacrifice.
Although Sauron's body was destroyed in the Fall of Númenor his spirit was able to travel back to Middle-earth and wield the one ring in his renewed war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men between S.A. 3429 and 3441. Wrote Tolkien "I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended". (letter #211).
The Ring was cut from Sauron's hand by Isildur at the slopes of Mount Doom, and he in turn lost it in the River Anduin (at the Gladden Fields) just before he was killed in an Orc ambush (T.A. 2). Since it indirectly caused Isildur's death by slipping from his finger, it was known in Gondorian lore as Isildur's Bane
The Ring remained hidden in the river bed for almost two and a half millennia, until it was discovered on a fishing trip by a Stoor Hobbit named Déagol. He was murdered by his friend and relative Sméagol, who stole the Ring, and was changed by the Ring's influence over many ages into the creature known as Gollum. The Ring, which Sauron had endowed with a will of its own, manipulated Gollum into settling in the Misty Mountains near Mirkwood, where Sauron was beginning to resurface. There he and it remained for nearly five hundred years, until the Ring tired of him and fell off his finger as he was returning from killing a goblin.
As is told in The Hobbit
, Bilbo found the Ring while he was lost in the caverns of the Misty Mountains, near Gollum's lair. When The Hobbit
was written, Tolkien had not yet conceived of the Ring's sinister back-story. Thus, in the first edition of The Hobbit
, Gollum surrenders the Ring to Bilbo as a reward for winning the Riddle Game.
However, after Tolkien revised the nature of the Ring for The Lord of the Rings
, he realized that the Ring's grip on Gollum would never permit him to give it up willingly. Therefore, Tolkien revised this chapter in the second edition of The Hobbit
: after losing the Riddle Game to Bilbo, Gollum went to get his "Precious" (as he always called it) so he could kill and eat him, but flew into a rage when he found it missing. Deducing that Bilbo had it from his last question— "What have I got in my pocket?"— Gollum chased him through the caves, not knowing that the Hobbit had discovered the Ring's powers of invisibility and was following him to the cave's exit.
Bilbo escaped Gollum and the goblins who inhabited the Misty Mountains by remaining invisible, but left that power out of the story he told the dwarves he was travelling with. In fact, the version of the events that Bilbo told was the version of the first edition of The Hobbit
. Gandalf, who was also travelling with the dwarves, later forced the real story out of Bilbo, and was immediately suspicious of the Ring's powers.
Gollum, meanwhile, eventually left the Misty Mountains to track down and reclaim the Ring. He wandered for decades, eventually to be captured and interrogated by Sauron himself, to whom he revealed the existence of Bilbo and the Shire.
In T.A. 3001, following Gandalf's counsel, Bilbo gave the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo. This first willing surrender of the Ring to another in its history sparks the chain of events which eventually led to its unmaking. It is one example of the frequent interplay between apparent chance and destiny, a ubiquitous theme in The Lord of the Rings
By this time Sauron had begun to regain his power, and the Dark Tower in Mordor had been rebuilt. In order to prevent Sauron from reclaiming his Ring, Frodo and eight other companions set out from Rivendell for Mordor in an attempt to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. During the quest, Frodo gradually became more and more susceptible to the Ring's power, and feared that it was going to corrupt him. When he and Sam discovered that Gollum was on their trail and "tamed" him into guiding them to Mordor, he began to feel a strange bond with the wretched, treacherous creature, seeing a possible future of himself. Gollum gave in to the Ring's temptation, however, and betrayed them to the spider Shelob. Believing Frodo to be dead, Sam bore the Ring himself for a short time and experienced the temptation it induced, wore it briefly twice, although he never succumbed to its deeper temptation.
Sam rescued Frodo from a band of orcs at the Tower of Cirith Ungol and returned the Ring to him but feared that the toll it was taking was too great. And in the end, it was: although Frodo and Sam, followed by Gollum, eventually arrived at Mount Doom, Frodo was overcome by its corrupting nature and claimed the Ring for himself rather than destroy it. However, he was attacked by Gollum, who bit off the finger holding the Ring before falling into the fires of Mount Doom, finally destroying the Ring.
The Ring's primary power was control of the other Rings of Power, including "mastery over [their] powers" and domination of the wills of their users. By extension, the Ring also conferred the power to dominate the wills of other beings whether they were wearing Rings or not. However, this is its least accessible power since it granted this ability in proportion to the user's natural capacity. In the same way, it amplified any inherent power its owner possessed. Even though the Ring could not grant the wielder the physical power to control or destroy beings greater than Sauron, such as the Valar, it could be a very useful tool for domination of the mortal world.
A mortal wearing the Ring was made effectively invisible except to those able to perceive the non-physical world, with only a thin, shaky shadow discernible in the brightest sunlight. Whether immortals would be made invisible by it is unknown.
The only direct example given is Tom Bombadil, who was anomalous in other ways. The Ring would also extend a mortal possessor's life indefinitely by preventing natural aging. Gandalf explains that it does not "grant new life", but that the possessor merely "continues" until life becomes unbearably wearisome. However, the Ring could not protect its bearer from immediate death or destruction; Gollum perished in the Crack of Doom while in possession of the Ring, and even Sauron himself (as the only one who could truly control the full power of the Ring) could not preserve his original body from destruction during the downfall of Númenor.
Likewise, the Ring could not protect its bearer from physical harm; Frodo (while bearing the Ring) was seriously injured by the Witch King on Weathertop. In the same way, Frodo and Sauron each lost a finger while actually wearing the ring. Like the Nine Rings, the One Ring also has the effect of physically corrupting mortals who wore it for extended periods of time, eventually transforming them into wraiths. Hobbits prove to be somewhat resistant to this process, as proved by Gollum.
It might have also given its wielder the ability to read minds, as Galadriel suggested to Frodo when he asked if he could learn to communicate telepathically as she did. On at least one occasion, the Ring sharpened its wearer's hearing at the expense of his visual acuity, and it may at that time have granted understanding of unknown languages.
Within the land of Mordor where it was forged, the Ring's powers increased so tangibly that even without wearing it, its wielders could draw upon its powers. Seemingly, the Ring actually in some way inspired or caused its wielders to access its powers. One power the Ring could give was an aura of terrible power which would emanate from the Ring and onto its wielder. When Sam encountered an orc in the Tower of Cirith Ungol and grabbed the Ring, he appeared to the orc as a powerful warrior cloaked in shadow "[holding] some nameless menace of power and doom." The orc was so terrified of this vision of the otherwise unintimidating Sam that it fled.
Similarly at Mount Doom, when Frodo and Sam were attacked by Gollum, Frodo grabbed the Ring and appeared as "a figure robed in white... [and] it held a wheel of fire." In this scene, Frodo also accessed a second power of the Ring. Frodo told Gollum "in a commanding voice" that "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom," a statement which held true when Gollum fell into Mount Doom with the Ring.
Although the Ring was certainly invoked with this statement, it is unclear whether Frodo was prophesying a fate of Gollum (Frodo previously had less sinister visions while in possession of the Ring), or if Frodo was laying a curse upon Gollum.
As it contained the better part of Sauron's native power, it was endowed with a malevolent sentience of sorts. While separated from Sauron, the Ring would strive to return to him, both by impelling its bearer to yield to Sauron or his servants, and by abandoning its possessor at key moments.
For example, it slipped off of Gollum's finger when the time was right for it to be brought back into the world at large. Frodo carried it on a chain, having been warned by Bilbo that it tended to slip away if it were not attended to otherwise.
To fully master all of these abilities, a wielder of the Ring would need an extremely disciplined and well-trained mind, a strong will, and a high degree of spiritual development. Those with weaker minds such as Hobbits and lesser Men, would have gained very little benefit from the Ring, let alone realize its full potential. Even for those with the necessary prerequisites it would have taken time to master the Ring's powers to the point where he was strong enough to overthrow Sauron.
Yet in the end, the Ring's inherent corruption would have twisted its bearer into another Dark Lord as evil as Sauron was, or worse, regardless of his intentions at the outset. Ironically, this is the main appeal that the ring holds over all those who come in contact with it. It is seen as a symbol of hope for anyone strong enough to dominate it, they would have the power to defeat Sauron and bring peace to the world.
Despite its powerful qualities, the Ring was not omnipotent, nor was its power over others absolute. Three times Sauron suffered military defeat with it in his possession, first by Tar-Minastir in the S.A. 1700, and again by Ar-Pharazôn in S.A. 3262 when Númenórean power so overawed his armies that they deserted him. He was defeated militarily once more at the end of the Second Age by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, which culminated in his personal defeat at the hands of Gil-galad and Elendil.
Tolkien indicates that this would not be possible during the waning years of the Third Age when the strength of the free peoples were greatly diminished. At that time there were no remaining heroes of the stature of Gil-galad, Elendil, or Isildur; the strength of the Elves was fading and they were departing en masse
to the Blessed Realm of Aman; the Dwarves had been driven out of Moria and would have been unwilling to concentrate their strength in any event; and the Númenórean kingdoms had either declined or been destroyed, and had few allies. In this environment, Sauron wielding the One Ring would have been able to conquer the entire continent with ease.
Of the several bearers of the One Ring, three were still alive following the One Ring's destruction: Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, and Samwise Gamgee. Bilbo, having borne the Ring longest of the three, had reached a very advanced age for a Hobbit. Frodo suffered both physical and psychological scars from his strenuous quest to destroy the Ring. Samwise, having only briefly kept the Ring, was affected the least and appeared to carry on a normal life following the Ring's destruction.
In consideration of the trials the Ringbearers had endured, special dispensation was granted them by the Valar to travel to the Undying Lands, where it was hoped they could find rest and healing. At the close of The Return of the King
, Bilbo and Frodo embark for the voyage to the West along with Galadriel, Elrond, and many of their folk, as well as Gandalf. Near the end of his life, Samwise is also said to have been taken to the Undying Lands.