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After Sauron's first downfall, normally the One Ring appeared perfectly plain and featureless, but when heated in a fire the inscription appeared in fiery letters on 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. He described it to be of a style "of Eregion", and the mode to be the one used also in Westron.
Gandalf first learned of the 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.
Long before, on the creation of the One Ring, the smiths of Eregion who had forged the other Rings of Power, heard in their minds the voice of Sauron, reciting the words. They then realized his plans, removing the rings from their fingers.
The inscription read:
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
These words were physically painful to any Elves who heard them, as any words of that "Black Speech" which incurred some of Sauron's dark power on those present. When Gandalf recited them at the Council of Elrond, the sky darkened and the Elves were pained.
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
At some point following the gifting of the rings, a verse was written among the Free Peoples regarding them:
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.[note 1]
Portrayal in adaptations
- The Ring Inscription poses a plot gap in the movie. Gandalf makes Frodo 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-existent 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.
2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):
- 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 only 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.
- The words of the Ring-Inscription in the Black Speech are chanted in the opening cinematic and are quoted several times throughout the game, especially when distracting enemies where the words "Ash Nazg" can be heard being whispered by the Wraith.