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
Weapon/item of jewellery
"The One Ring" by John Howe
Other namesRuling Ring, Master-ring, Great Ring, the One, Ring of Rings, Ring of Power, Ring of Doom, Isildur's Bane, the Burden, Precious
OwnerPrimarily: Sauron, Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo and Frodo
AppearancePlain gold ring with Black Speech inscription made visible by heat
Mount Doom, c. S.A. 1600
Mount Doom, T.A. 3019
GalleryImages of the One Ring
The Ring Verse, recited by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Now the Elves made many rings; but secretly Sauron made One Ring to rule all the others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only so long as it too should last.

The One Ring was an ancient artifact created by the Dark Lord Sauron in the Second Age for the purpose of ruling over the Free peoples of Middle-earth, mainly the Elves.

It was also known as the Ruling Ring, Great Ring of Power and Isildur's Bane (due to it causing the death of Isildur). In the Black Speech text of the Ring Verse, it is referred to as Ash Nazg.[1]


Origin and creation

The Forging of the One by Ted Nasmith

During the Second Age, the Dark Lord Sauron persuaded Celebrimbor and his people, the Elven smiths of Eregion, to forge the Rings of Power. Secretly, Sauron returned to Orodruin and forged the One Ring in its fires.[2]

It was made as the Master Ring, the One Ring which would control all the others, and thereby dominate their bearers. Sauron allowed much of his will and power to go into it.[3][4] Thus, he was at his most powerful when wearing the Ring; and although his power did not diminish if he was not in possession of it,[5] he would lose the ability to have a physical form once it was destroyed.[6]

Although it appeared to be made of simple gold, the Ring was virtually impervious to damage, and could only be destroyed in the very fires where it had originally been forged - Orodruin.[1]

Dark Years

When Celebrimbor and the other Ring-bearers realized Sauron's treachery, they took off their Rings, as while they were wearing them, Sauron knew where they were, and went to war with him. This war, the War of the Elves and Sauron, destroyed Eregion and devastated much of Eriador. Sauron conquered and was able to claim all the Rings of Power (except the Three) and distribute them.[2] During the era known as the Dark Years, Sauron became master of almost all of Middle-earth beyond the coasts and was known as the Dark Lord of Mordor. He raised Barad-dûr near Mount Doom, constructed the Black Gate of Mordor to prevent invasion, and raised massive armies of Orcs, Trolls, and Men, chiefly Easterlings and Southrons.

The power of the Ring allowed Sauron to link it with some of his works, such as Barad-dûr.[1] By the One Ring's influence he controlled the Nine Rings which had been given to nine mortal Men, who were corrupted and turned into the Nazgûl, his chief servants. However, he was unable to control the Seven Rings of the Dwarf-lords, because of their different, more hearty nature and natural resistance against domination by others--instead, the Rings increased the greed of the dwarves.[2]

Sauron's rise offended the arrogant Númenóreans, who attacked him with great force of arms. The forces of Sauron fled the onslaught, and Sauron realized that he could not overcome the Númenòreans through military might. Sauron allowed himself to be taken as a hostage to Númenor by King Ar-Pharazôn. There, he quickly grew from captive to adviser. The King obviously knew nothing about the Ring and its significance[7] and Sauron corrupted many Númenóreans using the power of the Ring,[7] eventually convincing the king to rebel against the Valar. This resulted in the Downfall of Númenor. Sauron was diminished in the destruction and his spirit (presumably with the Ring[7]) fled back to Mordor, where he slowly rebuilt his strength.

First defeat of Sauron

When the Faithful Númenóreans founded the Realms in Exile, Sauron began an offence against Gondor, which was one of those realms; the Elves and the Númenóreans formed the Last Alliance against Sauron, who was vanquished by Elendil and Gil-galad. Prince Isildur then cut the Ring from Sauron's finger and took it for himself.

The Ring has moved on by Anke Eißmann

Isildur was corrupted by his great desire for the Ring and took it for his own, instead of destroying it as should have been done. Though he bought it "with great pain", Isildur considered the Ring a most precious heirloom of his house, and documented its properties upon the scroll he wrote in Minas Tirith.[1] He kept it secret even from his sons, except his Heir Elendur whom he trusted most.[8] While wearing it around his neck as he travelled back to Arnor, his party was attacked by a group of Orcs during the Disaster of the Gladden Fields. Isildur jumped into the Gladden River to escape, but the Ring betrayed him, and in an attempt to return to its master, it slipped off his finger.[3] Isildur was revealed to the Orcs when he climbed out of the river, and he was shot. Although this happened as an attempt to return to Sauron,[3] the Orcs did not find the Ring, as it was lost in the Gladden River.

The true fate of the One Ring was unknown for many years. To the North, the Ring would be known as "Isildur's Bane" for the role it played in causing his death.[9]


The Ring remained hidden in the riverbed for over two millennia, despite Saruman's many attempts to locate it, until it was discovered on a fishing trip by a Stoor named Déagol. Once again, the Ring's evil powers acted upon Déagol's friend and relative, Sméagol, who murdered Déagol and took the Ring for himself. Over many ages, Sméagol was changed by the Ring's influence into the creature called Gollum (which is what he called himself, as it was similar to a sound he made). The Ring manipulated Gollum into settling in the Misty Mountains near Mirkwood, near a colony of Orcs, where Sauron was beginning to resurface. But Gollum was too small and never left his deep pool so the Ring stayed with him for centuries. It was 500 years later, in the Third Age, when the "Necromancer" awoke once more in Mirkwood, sending his dark thoughts, and the Ring, wishing to be discovered by a new keeper and so find its way back to its Master, fell off Gollum's finger[3] as he was returning from hunting a Goblin.

Bilbo finds the One Ring by David T. Wenzel
The Riddle-game by Darrell Sweet

The Ring was discovered a few hours later lying on the floor of a tunnel by a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who had been separated from his party of Dwarves and become lost in the caverns of the Misty Mountains, near Gollum's lair. After losing the Riddle-game to Bilbo, Gollum sneaked off to fetch his "Precious" (as he always called the One Ring), so that he could kill Bilbo and eat him. But when Gollum arrived at his island, he found that the Ring was missing, and he let out a great wail. Deducing from Bilbo's last question--"What have I got in my pocket?"--that Bilbo had taken it, Gollum chased the hobbit through the caves, not knowing that Bilbo 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 (although he lost a few of his nice brass buttons.) But it seems that the Ring once more tried to betray its new master and slipped from his finger, allowing the pursuing goblins to see him.[10]

When he told the story to the Dwarves and Gandalf, however, he left the Ring out of the story. But Bilbo was aware that Gandalf suspected the presence of his magic Ring. Later on Bilbo was forced to tell the Dwarves about the Ring, to preserve their lives and continue their journey to Erebor.

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 Ring by Nia Kovalevski

Frodo's quest and destruction

In T.A. 3001, following Gandalf's counsel, Bilbo gave the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo. This first willing renunciation 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 upon it.

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 make him more visible to them and to be wounded by a Morgul-knife.

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 the Cracks of Doom, Frodo decided to keep the Ring for himself and wore it rather than destroy it, evincing its corruptive nature. Seeing Frodo's footprints, Gollum pounced on the invisible Frodo and bit off the finger wearing the Ring. Having retrieved his long-lost "precious", Gollum rejoiced before tripping over the edge and falling into the lava pit with the Ring in hand, finally destroying it. The Ring's loss resulted in the permanent disembodiment of Sauron's spirit (ëala) and crumbling of his structures, including Barad-dûr and the Black Gate.



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.[3] The letters were an inscription in Tengwar of the Black Speech of Mordor, citing a section of poetry from part of its lore:

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

Which translates to:

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

Like all Rings of Power, the One Ring enhanced the natural powers of its bearer, and it could also be used to decelerate decay and change in the world.[5] But unlike the other rings, the One Ring was forged by Sauron alone without any Elvish assistance[2] and was entirely evil. A person who bore the Ring could more easily dominate and command others; for instance, Sauron used this power to help convince the Númenóreans to attack Valinor,[11] and Boromir desired to use this power to gain loyal subjects who would attack Mordor.[12] The Ring also allowed its bearer to see and control the thoughts of anyone who wore any other Ring of Power.[2]

When Men wore the Ring, they would be partly "shifted" out of the physical realm into the wraith-world. A side effect (but usually the first noticed) of the Ring was that it made the wearer invisible to most inhabitants of the physical realm (but highly visible to the Nazgûl), it dimmed the wearer's sight, and it sharpened his hearing. When Men wore the ring, only their faint and shaky shadow could be seen, and only in the full light of the sun.[10] This "shadow world" was the world which Wraiths inhabited, but also where the Calaquendi (Elves of Light) lived at the same time as the normal world and held great power, as was evidenced by Frodo viewing Glorfindel at the Ford of Bruinen near Rivendell[13] and later explained by Gandalf.[14] If a bearer managed to consciously subdue the Ring's will with his own, he could wield the powers that Sauron had before he lost the Ring; notably, he could control the will of others.

Part of the nature of the Ring was that it slowly and inevitably corrupted its wearer, regardless of any intentions to the contrary. Whether this was specifically designed into the Ring's magic or was simply an artefact 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.) Part of its essential deceit was filling minds with imaginations of supreme power[15] 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; while Sam wore it, his mind was filed with fantasies of him as a hero marching to the overthrow of Barad-dûr with a flaming sword and Gorgoroth turning into a garden with flower and trees that grew fruits, but he rejected them;[16] even Gollum had not turned into a Wraith after 500 years of bearing the Ring.[17][18]

Its power to lust was so great that it was impossible for anyone (even Sauron) to try to injure it[5] although unbreakable by itself.

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.)

While in possession of the Ring, Sam encountered two different groups of Orcs. Finding he could understand their speech, he speculated that this was made possible by the Ring.[19] However, it is possible that both groups were using the Common Tongue.[20]

Other versions of the legendarium

While writing the first drafts of A Long-expected Party (December 1937), Tolkien already had decided to link the finding of the Ring with the mysterious figure of the "Necromancer" of The Hobbit. In those drafts Bilbo would be unable to let go the Ring, so on a holiday leaves the Ring to his son, "Bingo Baggins" as a parting gift, and then disappears. Bingo keeps the Ring hoping it will lead him to his father. Gandalf explains that they can "cheat" the Ring to guide them to Bilbo, if he also does the same, hence stages a "Farewell party".[21]

In order to counter the notion that The Lord of the Rings was inspired from World War II, Tolkien himself provided a "what if" scenario in the Foreword to The Fellowship of the Ring that shows what would happen should the Ring be used against Sauron. Tolkien explained that if he had WWII in mind, then the Free peoples would enslave Sauron with the power of the Ring against him, and occupy Mordor. Saruman (whose treachery would remain secret) would then use the Ring-lore found in Mordor to create a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.[22]


Tolkien scholar John D. Rateliff has at length discussed five different rings of invisibility which occur in works that predate Tolkien's:

Rateliff's proposes that the ring most likely to have provided an inspiration for Tolkien is a version of Chrétien's tale, namely Owein's ring in the Welsh Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain. He also regards the rings in Fénelon's and Plato's stories as possible influences, but concludes that: "the primary influence on Frodo's ring is in fact The Hobbit itself: here, as so often, Tolkien is his own main source".[23]

It has also been suggested that 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'".[24] 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".[25]

Portrayal in adaptations

The One Ring in adaptations
The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, Vol. II: The Two Towers
The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game)
The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings (film series)
The One Ring in The Hobbit (2003 video game)
The One Ring in The Hobbit (2003 video game)  
The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
The One Ring as a Lego mini figure
The One Ring as a Lego mini figure  

1977: The Hobbit:

In accordance with the novel, Bilbo finds the One Ring in Gollum's cave. However, in a departure from the book, Gandalf reveals that he knows of Bilbo's ownership of the Ring and that it is indeed the One, thus setting the scene for an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. For some reason, a loud "vwoop!" sound is heard whenever the Ring is put on.[26]

1980: The Return of the King:

The One Ring is unchanged from its appearance in the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit. In the Mount Doom scene, oddly enough, the Ring itself can be seen even when Frodo is invisible, allowing it to be easily located by Gollum with the result of him biting it off of Frodo's finger almost immediately.[27]

2001-3: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

The One Ring is voiced by Alan Howard. It is first mentioned in the Prologue narrated by Galadriel as the Ring that would rule all of the other Rings of Power, and is portrayed, in accordance with the book, as a simple gold band which gains fiery letters on the surface when exposed to fire (these letters being identical to those illustrated in the book). In the sequence of the Siege of Barad-dûr, Sauron channels the power of the Ring into his mace, sending many Last Alliance soldiers flying with every swing. It seems to have the ability to grow or shrink to fit the finger of whomever its master is, a trait touched upon in the novel, and is able to speak, albeit unintelligibly, into the mind of its bearer.[28]

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".[29]

2012-14: The Hobbit (film series):

The One Ring is first seen by Bilbo when it falls out of Gollum's pocket while the former is strangling a small Goblin. It is consistent in its appearance in the 2001-3 film series as a simple gold band. While wearing it, Bilbo gained the ability to understand the speech of the spiders of Mirkwood.[30]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Last Debate"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131, (undated, written late 1951)
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 200, (dated 25 June 1957)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958)
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond" p. 317
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Riddles in the Dark"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958)
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Breaking of the Fellowship"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 246, (dated September 1963)
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol", p. 901
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age", entry for the year 2463, p. 1087
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Great Years", entry for the year 3019, March 25, p. 1094
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Choices of Master Samwise", p. 735
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Other Races", Orcs and the Black Speech., p. 1131
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: I. A Long-expected Party, (v) 'The Tale that is Brewing'"
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Foreword to the Second Edition"
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien, John D. Rateliff (ed.), The History of The Hobbit: One-volume Edition, pp. 176-182
  24. "A Ring with a Curse", The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza: Forum (accessed 10 April 2013)
  25. 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 20 July 2023)
  26. The Hobbit (1977 film)
  27. The Return of the King (1980 film)
  28. The Lord of the Rings (film series)
  29. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, Prologue
  30. The Hobbit (film series)

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

Ring-bearers of the One Ring
Sauron (S.A. 1600 - 3441) · Isildur (S.A. 3441 - 25 September, T.A. 2) · Déagol (c. 2463) · Sméagol (c. 2463 - 2941) · Bilbo Baggins (2941 - 22 September, 3001) · Frodo Baggins (22 September, 3001 - 13 March, 3019) · Samwise Gamgee (13 March, 3019 - 14 March, 3019) · Frodo Baggins (14 March, 3019 - 25 March, 3019) · Gollum (25 March, T.A. 3019)
Also briefly held the Ring: Gandalf (13 April, T.A. 3018) · Tom Bombadil (27 September, T.A. 3018)