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The One Ring

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"I shan't call it the end, till we've cleared up the mess." — Sam
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The name The One Ring refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The One Ring (disambiguation).
The One Ring
John Howe - The One Ring 03.jpg
Other namesThe Ruling Ring, the Great Ring, Isildur's Bane
AppearancePlain gold ring with Black Speech inscriptions made visible by heat

The One Ring, also known as the Ruling Ring, Great Ring of Power, and Isildur's Bane, was an artifact created by the Dark Lord Sauron in the Second Age for the purpose of ruling over the Free peoples of Middle-earth, especially the Elves.



The Forging of the One, by Ted Nasmith

The One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age in order to enlarge his own might by combining it with the power of the Elven smiths, and thus to give him control over the other Rings of Power, which had been made by Celebrimbor and his people with Sauron's assistance. Sauron forged the One Ring secretly in the fires of Mount Doom. His will was then inside a Ring that could control the other Rings. Thus, he was more powerful than ever before when he wore the Ring, but became much weaker when he lost it. Though it appeared to be made of simple gold, the Ring was virtually impervious to damage, and could only be destroyed by throwing it into the pit of the volcanic Mount Doom in which it had originally been forged.

Celebrimbor and the other Ring-bearers realized his treachery so went to war with him: the War of the Elves and Sauron destroyed Eregion and devastated much of Eriador. Sauron was master of almost all of Middle-earth beyond the coasts, but the Númenóreans responded to the Elves' call for aid and sent a relief force. After heavy fighting, Sauron became known as the Dark Lord of Mordor. He raised Barad-dûr near Mount Doom; constructed the Black Gate of Mordor to prevent invasion; corrupted nine mortal Men with Rings of Power and turned them into the Nazgûl, his chief servants; and raised massive armies of Orcs, Trolls, and Men, chiefly Easterlings and Southrons.

Sauron's rise offended the arrogant Númenóreans and came to Middle-earth with great force of arms, and Sauron's forces fled. Realizing he could not defeat the Númenóreans with military strength, Sauron allowed himself to be taken as a hostage to Númenor by King Ar-Pharazôn. There, he quickly grew from captive to advisor and was known as Tar-Mairon; he corrupted many Númenóreans using the power of the Ring[1] and eventually convinced the king to rebel against the Valar, resulting to the Fall of Númenor. Sauron was diminished in the destruction and his spirit (presumably with the Ring) fled back to Mordor, where he slowly rebuilt his strength during the time known as the Dark Years.

When the Númenóreans founded the Realms in Exile, Sauron begun an offense against Gondor; the Faithful formed the Last Alliance against Sauron, who was vanquished by Elendil and Gil-galad. Prince Isildur then cut the ring from his fingers and took it for himself.

After Sauron

Isildur realized its properties, such as the strange letters visible for short time after he removed it; he considered it precious, and an heirloom of his Kingdom of Gondor and documented it in a scroll he wrote in Minas Tirith. He kept it with him on his way back to Arnor, when he lost it in the River Gladden just before he was killed in Third Age 2.

The Ring remained hidden in the riverbed for over two millennia, until it was discovered on a fishing trip by a Stoor 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 an Orc.

The Riddle-game

The hobbit Bilbo Baggins found the Ring while he was lost in the caverns of the Misty Mountains, near Gollum's lair. 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 riddle—"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 Orcs who inhabited the Misty Mountains by remaining invisible, but left that part out of the story he told the Dwarves he was traveling with. Gandalf, who was also traveling 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, only to be captured and interrogated by Sauron himself, to whom he revealed the existence of Bilbo and the Shire.

The Shadows of the Past

In T.A. 3001, following Gandalf's counsel, Bilbo gave the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo. This first willing sacrifice of the Ring in its history sparked the chain of events which eventually led to its unmaking. Gandalf was suspicious about the effect it had on Bilbo and went to Minas Tirith and found Isildur's account on the Ring, being lost since his death. He returned to Hobbiton and tested Frodo's Ring in fire, only to confirm his fears, since the letters described by Isildur appeared inside its rim.

By this time Sauron had begun to regain his power, and the Dark Tower in Mordor had been rebuilt. The War of the Ring had begun. Gandalf urged Frodo to carry the Ring to Rivendell where the Wise would decide their actions. Despite Gandalf's warnings, Frodo did wear the Ring several times during his journey. On Weathertop he was tempted by the Ring to wear it and evade the Ringwraiths, only to to make him more visible to them, and to be wounded by a Morgul-blade.

In order to prevent the recapture of the 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 that he felt he had to save in order to save himself. Gollum gave in to the Ring's temptation, however, and betrayed them to the spider Shelob who stung Frodo. Believing Frodo to be dead, Sam bore the Ring himself for a short time, and glimpsed its power, although he never gave in to it.

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. It nearly was: although Frodo and Sam, followed by Gollum, eventually arrived at Mount Doom, Frodo decided to keep the Ring for himself rather than destroy it, evincing its corruptive nature. 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, and Sauron with it.


Physically the Ring resembled a geometrically perfect circle of pure gold, this perfection and purity being part of its allure. Unlike the lesser Rings, it bore no gem. It seems to have been able to expand and contract, in order to fit its wearer's finger or slip from it treacherously. Its identity could be determined by a simple (though little-known) test: when heated in fire, fine lines of fire, forming a script, would appear running along on the inside and outside of the Ring.[2] The letters were an inscription in Tengwar of the Black Speech of Mordor, citing a section of poetry from part of its lore:

One ring.png
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

Whose translation is:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.


The One Ring by Roger Thomasson.
When a person wore the Ring, he would be partly "shifted" out of the physical realm into the spiritual realm. There, if he managed to consciously subdue the Ring's will with his own, he could theoretically wield a large portion of the powers that Sauron had before he lost the Ring; notably, he could control and enslave the will of others. 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), dimmed the wearer's sight, and sharpened his hearing. This "shadow world" was the world the Wraiths were forced to live in always, but it was also a world in which the Calaquendi (Elves of Light) held great power: therefore Glorfindel was able to stay 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 was specifically designed into the Ring's magic or is simply an artifact of its evil origins is unknown. (Sauron might be expected to endow his One Ring with such a property, but he probably never intended anyone besides himself to wear it. It may be a side-effect of the portion of Sauron's will that lies within the Ring, influencing the wearer.) For this reason the Wise, including Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel, refused to wield it in their own defence, but instead determined that it must be destroyed. It appears that Hobbits, being more pure of heart than Men, and far less powerful than Elves, were the ideal vessels to resist its seductive power; this explains why Frodo and Bilbo bore it for long periods of time with very little ill effect. Even Gollum had not turned into a Wraith after 500 years of bearing the Ring.

The enigmatic Tom Bombadil was unaffected by the Ring, or rather, the Ring had no effect on him. This may be explained in many ways. (See the article on Tom Bombadil, which includes some theories.)


The One Ring may have been inspired by the Ring of Silvianus and its inscribed curse. The hypothesis is based on Tolkien gaining knowledge about the Ring of Silvianus through the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, for whom Tolkien wrote the text "The Name 'Nodens'".[3] However, Tolkien scholars Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull have pointed out that there is no "evidence, or good reason to believe, that Tolkien was inspired by the Roman ring".[4]

Portrayal in Adaptations

2011: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North:

The One Ring is shown in the introduction of the game. In the Prancing Pony Aragorn refers to Frodo and the Ring as a "Hobbit with an important burden".[5]

See also


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958)
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past"
  3. "A Ring with a Curse", The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza: Forum (accessed 10 April 2013)
  4. Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull, "Re:Tolkien and Nodens in the news this morning (message 24198)" dated 9 April 2013, Mailing list for the Mythopoeic Society (accessed 23 November 2013)
  5. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, Prologue

 Rings of Power 
The One Ring
Three Rings
(Narya · Nenya · Vilya)
Seven Rings
(Ring of Thrór)
Nine Rings