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The Ring-inscription was a Black Speech inscription in Tengwar upon the One Ring, symbolising the Ring's power to control the other Rings of Power, and perhaps being part of the spell that gave it its powers.
Normally the One Ring appeared perfectly plain and featureless, but when heated in a fire the inscription appeared in fiery letters inside the Ring.
It seemed that the inscription used Elvish lettering because the other Rings of Power were made by the Elves. Isildur was the first to notice the letters. When he had cut the ring from Sauron's hand, it was burning hot, and so Isildur was able to transcribe the inscription before it faded. He described them to be of a style "of Eregion" but was not able to understand the language. The mode of writing was the one used also in Westron.
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 Gandalf subsequently heated the ring that Bilbo Baggins had found and passed on to Frodo the inscription appeared, leaving him in no doubt that it was the One Ring.
The inscription read:
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
These words were physically painful to any Elf who heard them (as well as any other words of that language), most probably because of the power and the shadow they brought (the Shadow being the more harmful to the elves).
Roughly translated, these words mean:
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them
On the creation of the One Ring, the Smiths of Eregion heard in their minds Sauron's voice reciting the two-verse spell; then they realized Sauron's plans and removed the Rings from their fingers. Obviously this was the basis for the creation of a poem about the Rings of Power that also contained these lines. It was probably composed by the Free Peoples during the wars with Sauron.
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.
Portrayal in adaptations
- The Ring Inscription poses a plot gap in the movie. Gandalf makes Frodo to throw the Ring in the fireplace, and later they both notice it is cold. The Inscription does not appear nor is mentioned, although Gandalf recites the verse; all these remain without giving any explanation why the Ring was thrown in the fireplace in the first place, since the non-existant Inscription was not the point.
- The Black Speech words form the "background" sound in various scenes about the Ring, and Gandalf speaks them at the Council of Elrond.
- Tolkien describes the inscription to be in the inner side of the Ring. For visual purposes, this version has the inscription being both on the outside and the inside of the Ring.
- In the book, Gandalf mentions the Black Speech phrase in the Council of Elrond in order to prove his concerns about the Ring, the atmosphere darkens and the Elves seem to suffer to hear the words. In the first film he utters the words while the participants begin to argue and shout in order to "darken" the atmosphere and make them stop. It is not mentioned anywhere in the context that these lines were the Inscription of the Ring and he appeared like as he was conjuring a "spell". That event was a bit controversial to the fans of the books, since it was like somehow Gandalf made use of the Shadow in order to restore order, performing thus "dark magic"[source?].
- The Ring-inscription is found on the outer side of the ring. Gandalf speaks the words several times, both in Bag End and Rivendell. The Black Speech version can also be found on the cover art and disc, however, it is written in poor quality Angerthas Erebor. A writer who was unfamiliar with the keyboard values of most Elvish fonts simply typed "a-s-h n-a-z-g (et cetera)", so the runes read "l-lh-ng ô-l-e-s (et cetera)" in proper Angerthas Erebor.
- ↑ Some recent editions[source?] of The Fellowship of the Ring accidentally omit the first two clauses of this phrase from Chapter 2.