One of the most powerful artifacts in Middle-earth, the One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron in the fires of Mount Doom during the Second Age. His intent was to concentrate and enlarge his own power, and to exercise control over the other nineteen Rings of Power, which had been made by Celebrimbor and his people with Sauron's assistance. In this way, he hoped to gain lordship over the Elves and all of Middle-earth.
To accomplish this end, Sauron knew that the One Ring would need to contain an extraordinary amount of power. As such, he concentrated within the One a great part of his own inherent power, thus a part of him is within it. In this way, Sauron's fate became bound to that of the Ring. If it were damaged or destroyed, the same would happen to the power Sauron put into it.
It was also known as the Ruling Ring, the Master Ring, the One Ring, the Ring of Power, and Isildur's Bane. The Andvarinaut in the Völsungasaga is considered to be one of the inspirations; though Tolkien himself credited many other myths that revolve around the separation of a part of oneself to grant immortality. The story of the Quest to destroy the Ring is told in Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings, as is most of the Ring's history.
After its original forging (about SA 1600), Sauron attempted to use it to subjugate the Elven wielders of the other Rings. However, when Sauron placed the Ring on his finger, the Elves were immediately aware of him. Correctly assuming that Sauron's intent was to gain lordship over them, the Elves removed their Rings and put themselves beyond his influence. Infuriated that his plan had been thwarted, Sauron gathered large armies to seize the Rings of Power by force. The conflict, which became known as the War of the Elves and Sauron, began in SA 1693. Initially, the war went well for Sauron. He captured Eregion and took back the Nine Rings that were kept there, along with Celebrimbor, the maker of the Elven Rings of Power. He tortured Celebrimbor until he divulged the location of the Seven Rings. Celebrimbor died under torment, refusing to reveal what he had done with the Three Rings, which he valued most. Sauron was able to conquer most of western Middle-earth fairly quickly, driving the Ñoldor under Gil-galad Elves to the Havens and besieging Imladris. But in SA 1700, as the Elves were nearing defeat, Tar-Minastir of Númenor led a great army to Middle-earth and, together with Gil-galad, completely destroyed Sauron's army, forcing Sauron to return to Mordor to regroup.
In SA 3261 Ar-Pharazôn, the last and most powerful of the Kings of Númenor, landed at Umbar at the head of an even more gigantic army to do battle with Sauron, in contention of Sauron's self-proclaimed title as Overlord of Middle-Earth and King of Men. The sheer size and might of the Númenórean army was enough to cause Sauron's forces to flee. Understanding that he could not overcome the Númenóreans through martial might, Sauron surrendered to Ar-Pharazôn and was taken back to Númenor as a prisoner. However, Sauron's surrender was both "voluntary and cunning", allowing him to gain access to the people of Númenor. The Elves had not revealed to the Númenóreans the existence of the Rings of Power, and so Ar-Pharazôn was unaware of the One Ring's existence and power. Sauron was able to use the Númenóreans' fear of death as a way to turn them against the Valar, and toward worship of Melkor.
Although Sauron's body was destroyed in the Fall of Númenor, his spirit was able to bear the Ring back to Middle-earth and he wielded it in his renewed war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men between SA 3429 and 3441.
The Ring was cut from Sauron's hand by Isildur at the end of the Siege of Barad-dur in SA 3441, and he in turn lost it in the River Anduin (at the Gladden Fields) just before he was killed in an Orc ambush (TA 2). Since it indirectly caused Isildur's death by slipping from his finger and revealing him to the Orcs, it was known in Gondor lore as Isildur's Bane.
The Ring remained hidden in the riverbed for almost two and a half millennia until a Stoor Hobbit named Déagol discovered it while on a fishing trip. His friend and cousin Sméagol stole the Ring and murdered Déagol. Sméagol was changed by the Ring’s influence over several centuries into the creature known as Gollum. Gollum, after being exiled from his home, sought shelter far beneath the Misty Mountains. There he and it remained for nearly five hundred years, until the Ring abandoned him and fell off his finger.
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. Gollum found Bilbo and the two agreed to a riddle game: if Bilbo won, Gollum would show him the way out, while if Gollum won he would get to kill and eat Bilbo. Gollum lost the game, but had no intention of letting Bilbo leave. He went to retrieve his "Precious" (as he always called it), 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 Bilbo had discovered the Ring's powers of invisibility and was following him to the cave's exit. Bilbo escaped Gollum and the Orcs that inhabited the Misty Mountains by remaining invisible, but then told a falsified account of his adventures to Thorin's company and Gandalf, claiming he had won the Ring as part of the riddle game. Gandalf, who was also travelling with the Dwarves, was suspicious of Bilbo's story and of the Ring itself, which he immediately recognized as one of the Great Rings of Power due to the effects it had on Gollum's aging process. Due to Bilbo distorting the fairly innocent truth of how the Ring came to be his, Gandalf quickly came to believe had an "unwholesome" effect on it's owner that set to work almost immediately. However, he saw no real danger in letting Bilbo keep the Ring despite the Hobbit's strangely possessive attitude towards it.
In TA 3001, Gandalf finally confronted Bilbo over the Ring. Though he did not know exactly what it was yet, he could tell that it was both evil and gaining a great deal of influence over his old friend. After a short, angry debate, Bilbo gave the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo, and departed from the Shire for Rivendell. Troubled by both the dark nature of the Ring and recent events in the world at large, Gandalf began to consider the possibility that the Ring might be more dangerous than he had first believed. He initially considered revealing his concerns to Saruman, the head of the Istari and the White Council. However, having grown wary of Saruman's pride, he decided to keep his own council. Hoping to discover how Gollum had come across the Ring, Gandalf and his close friend Aragorn began hunting for Gollum, who had long since left the Misty Mountains to regain the Ring. After a long and troublesome search, they eventually found him. Threatening Gollum with fire, Gandalf managed to pry the true events behind Gollum's acquisition of the Ring from him. Gollum's story strengthened Gandalf's suspicions, as the area where he had found the Ring corresponded to Gladden Fields, where Isildur was known to have fallen. Seeing little point in keeping Gollum captive, Gandalf released him. However, Gollum's long possession of the Ring left him open to a general mental summons from Sauron, who was gathering as many evil beings as possible to Mordor to rebuild his forces. As such, Gollum was drawn away from his search for the Shire and came at last to Mordor.
Gollum was eventually captured while skulking around the borders of the Black Land, and was taken to the rebuilt Barad-dûr. Here, Sauron too recognized the effects of a Ring of Power on Gollum, and since the other Rings were all accounted for, he knew that Gollum must have at some point possessed the One. Under torture, Here, Gollum revealed the existence of Bilbo and the Shire.
Around this time, Gandalf requested that Aragorn and his compatriots, the Dúnedain Rangers, keep an extremely close watch on the Shire, and they soon began to report that an inordinately large number of creatures not native to the Shire were being used to keep watch on it at someone else behest. Growing increasingly worried, Gandalf made another attempt to find Gollum, hoping to gain information that could help him decide with certainty whether or not Frodo's Ring was in fact the One without resorting to Saruman's aid. However, with Gollum in Sauron's custody, his search was in vain. He again contacted Aragorn and asked for his assistance. After months of fruitless wandering, Gandalf essentially gave up on finding Gollum, leaving the search to Aragorn. Desperate for information, he realized while thinking of Saruman's ringlore that the only source he could have obtained his knowledge from was Isildur. Gandalf then traveled to Minas Tirith in search of any records Isildur might have left behind concerning the Ring. After a through search, he finally came across a short account by Isildur of the Ring's properties, including the fact that the Ring, when made hot, seemed to manifest fiery writing upon the band. Armed with this knowledge, Gandalf began a return trek to the Shire when he learned that, against all odds, Aragorn had somehow managed to find and capture Gollum. Gollum then revealed that he had been to Mordor, and that Sauron now knew virtually everything that Gandalf knew about the Ring's location. Gandalf then hastened to the Shire and confirmed his suspicions; the Ring was indeed the One. Knowing the Sauron would use every means at his disposal to get it back, Gandalf instructed Frodo to flee to Rivendell with it, as it was the closest safe haven. Gandalf had intended to accompany them, but was lured to Isengard and imprisoned by Saruman, who wanted the location of the Ring so that he could take it for himself. With Gandalf missing, Frodo and his companions, Samwise Gamgee, Peregrin Took, and Meriadoc Brandybuck set out without him for Rivendell, pursued by strange, black-clad horsemen. During their one-night stay in the village of Bree, the hobbit party encountered Aragorn, who revealed to them that he knew of their quest and was a friend of Gandalf's. He offered to guide them to Rivendell, and the hobbits accepted his offer after reading a letter that Gandalf had left with the innkeeper of the Prancing Pony Inn. By then, Gandalf had managed to escape from Isengard, and had begun desperately seeking for Frodo. He had intended for the letter that had been left in Bree to be delivered to Frodo to warn him of the need for a hasty departure, but the letter had not been delivered. Furious, he arrived at Bree a mere day after the hobbits had left it, and learned that Aragorn had found them and joined their party. Comforted by this knowledge, Gandalf set out for Rivendell the next morning. With virtually no hope of finding Aragorn and the hobbits in the wilderness, Gandalf set out for Weathertop, hoping that Aragorn would make for it as well. However, he was attacked at the old ruins by all nine of the Nazgûl, and while he managed to fend them off, he was ultimately forced to flee. Four of the Nine pursued him, but to no avail.
While on route to Rivendell, Aragorn and the hobbits stopped for an evening at Weathertop, where they were attacked by five of the Nazgûl. Frodo was gravely injured, but with the help of the Elven lord Glorfindel, both Frodo and the Ring were delivered safely to Elrond in Rivendell. There, a council was convened, incidentally including members of every free race in Middle-earth, to decide what to do with the Ring. It was eventually decided that the Ring needed to be taken to Mordor and cast into Mount Doom, where it could be destroyed. Frodo volunteered to carry the Ring there, and a company of eight companions were chosen to accompany him. The Fellowship of the Ring, as the group came to be known, began the long trek to Mordor, but Saruman's treachery prevented them from traveling through the Gap of Rohan. With the pass of Caradhras not passable due to snow storms, the group was forced to trek through Moria. There, they encountered a Balrog and Gandalf fell with it into an enormous chasm. The rest of the Fellowship safely reached Lorien, where the Elven lady Galadriel bade them to rest and replenish their supplies. While there, she spoke to Frodo concerning the Ring, revealing that even she was not immune to the temptation to take the Ring and wield it. However, she overcame the pull of the Ring, and provided each of the members of the Fellowship with a personal gift, specifically tailored to the skills of each.
Shortly thereafter, the Fellowship was scattered when Frodo and Sam split off from the rest of the group after an Uruk-hai attack. They continued on to Mordor alone, while the rest of the Fellowship prepared for war against Sauron's forces. Frodo and Sam quickly became lost in Emyn Muil's jagged hills. There, they encountered Gollum, who had been shadowing them ever since Moria. Frodo and Sam managed to capture him, and after swearing an oath to serve the Ring's owner (in the immediate case Frodo), Gollum was ordered to lead the two hobbits to Mordor. Passing through the Dead Marshes, the hobbits came to the Black Gate and prepared to enter Mordor. However Gollum, learning only then of their intent to actually enter Mordor, revealed that there was another way into Mordor; the pass of Cirith Ungol. On their way to the pass, the hobbits encountered Faramir and a group of Ithilien rangers. Learning of their goal, Faramir aided them, providing stores of food and water. Reaching the city of Minas Morgul, the hobbits began their climb up the winding stair to a long tunnel. Here, Gollum betrayed them, for inside the tunnel dwelt the monstrous spider Shelob, who sought to consume the two hobbits. Sam and Frodo nearly escaped, but Frodo was stung by the beast and appeared to have been killed by Shelob's venom. Sam managed to drive the gigantic spider off, but believing that Frodo was dead, he took the Ring from him and resolved to finish the quest himself. However, Frodo had simply been paralyzed by Shelob's venom, but he was captured by a group of Orcs while still unable to move. Shortly thereafter, he was rescued by Sam during a mutinous battle among the Orcs who had captured him. Returning the Ring to Frodo, the two began the arduous march to Mount Doom. After a few days, they managed to make it to the volcano, but were ambushed by Gollum. Fending the shriveled creature off, Frodo continued to the Crack of Doom. But throughout his quest, the Ring had continued to tighten it's hold on Frodo's mind. As he reached the Crack of Doom, Frodo claimed the Ring for his own and put it on. Sauron immediately spotted him and, realizing the magnitude of his folly, sent the Nazgûl on winged mounts to retrieve it. As fortune would have it however, Gollum, who had been spared moments before by Sam, attacked Frodo and bit the Ring and most of the finger it had been on off of Frodo's hand. Then, dancing with joy over retrieving the Ring, Gollum took one misstep and toppled over the side of a cliff into the Crack of Doom. There, the Ring was swiftly unmade, crippling Sauron's power and ensuring that he would never again threaten Middle-earth.
Effects of the One RingEdit
Sauron forged the One Ring with the purpose of controlling the thoughts and deeds of those who wore the lesser Rings, hoping to gain dominion over the remaining Ñoldor in Middle-earth. However, its secondary function ended up being far more useful to Sauron in the long run. So long as he wore it, it enhanced his power in the same manner that one of the Seven or Nine would do so to its wielder. A person with sufficient willpower and native strength — such as a Maia, Elf-lord, or some lords of Númenórean heritage — could use this power to their advantage. Only someone of such power could fully master the Ring, while others would gain only its side effects of invisibility and long life. If they were to do so, they would become a new Dark Lord, while Sauron would lose his power just as if the Ring were destroyed.
When a typical person put on the ring, he would be partly "shifted" out of the physical realm into the unseen realm, walking its threshold. A side effect (but usually the first effect noticed) of this was that it made the wearer invisible to physical beings like living men, but highly visible to other unseen beings like Ringwraiths. This "unseen world" was the world the Wraiths were forced to live in but it was also a world in which the Calaquendi held great power.
For mortals, the ring had several side effects, most of them negative. Like the other Great Rings of Power, it would extend the lifespan of its owner indefinitely, but that person, as Gandalf put it, would not grow or obtain more life, but would merely continue, until every minute was an unbearable weariness. One potentially positive effect was that the Ring may have granted the wearer some understanding of the speech of evil creatures. While wearing the Ring, Samwise Gamgee was able to understand the Black Speech used by the Orcs of Mordor.
Gandalf held that if the Ring was worn too frequently, the wearer would become wraith-like over time; entirely subsumed into the spirit world. This would depend largely on that person's race and inner nature. If the Ring was destroyed, the mortal being would begin to age again. Merely keeping the Ring without using it greatly slowed most of the negative effects of the Ring, but it could not do so indefinitely. Additionally, its owner did not need to wear it in order to benefit from it's effects on aging; Bilbo and Gollum both hardly ever used the Ring, yet were both seen to age remarkably well (even in Gollum's case, though his lifestyle and extreme age warped his body in some ways).
The Ring, being essentially an extension of Sauron himself, was evil in nature. The Ring caused those who possessed it to become enthralled by it; parting with it in any permanent fashion was virtually impossible once someone had gotten it. Only Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee ever managed to give it up of their own accord, and Bilbo needed a great deal of help from Gandalf in order to do so. The Ring seemed to possess at least a limited will of it's own, and could "call out" subliminally to other people, in an attempt to get them to pick it up or possibly kill the current owner. It was also capable of changing sizes and could easily slip off of a finger where once it had been tight, with no obvious explanation as to why. Frodo Baggins was warned by Bilbo of this oddity, and kept it on a chain to make sure it never got lost.
The Ring's power grew throughout Frodo's journey, particularly on the last stage of the quest when Sam and Frodo entered Mordor and approached Mount Doom, the place of the Ring's forging.
Besides a partial, if not complete, loss of sanity over time, there were possibly physical consequences of keeping the Ring, as Gollum had been physically ruined by the time of his death; emaciated, pale, and hideous to view. However, it is not certain whether or not this physical transformation was a direct result of the Ring itself, or simply a consequence of Gollum's subterranean lifestyle and the fact that he was nearly five times older than any halfling-esque creature could ever naturally age.
List of Ring-bearersEdit
In total, the One Ring existed for c. 4867 years and was held by nine people, five of which were Hobbits. Sauron was by far the one to carry it for the most time (c. 1850 years), followed by Gollum (478 years), Bilbo (60 years), Frodo (17 years) and Isildur (2 years). Tom Bombadil also wore the ring on September 26, 3018 but was apparently unaffected by it. Of those who held the ring, only Samwise Gamgee, Bilbo Baggins and Tom Bombadil (who was not affected by the ring in any way) gave it up willingly. "Bearing" the Ring does not seem to be synonymous with merely touching or carrying it, since Gandalf refused to bear the Ring but was willing to handle it for a few seconds in Bag End.
|Order||Name of Holder||Since||Until||Duration|
|1st||Sauron||About SA 1600, when it was forged||SA 3441||about 1850 years|
|2nd||Isildur||SA 3441, after the defeat of Sauron, which is equivalent to TA 1||October 5, TA 2||about 2 years|
|---||the ring was lost in the Anduin||October 5, TA 2||TA 2463||2461 years|
|3rd||Déagol||Unknown date, TA 2463||The same day, TA 2463||A few minutes|
|4th||Gollum (Sméagol)||TA 2463||July, TA 2941||478 years|
|5th||Bilbo Baggins||July, TA 2941||September 22, TA 3001||60 years|
|6th||Frodo Baggins||September 22, TA 3001||March 14, TA 3019||About 17 years, 6 months|
|7th||Gandalf||TA 3018||TA 3018||A few seconds|
|8th||Tom Bombadil||September 26, TA 3018||September 26, TA 3018||A few minutes|
|9th||Samwise Gamgee||March 14, TA 3019||March 15, TA 3019||1 day|
|---||Frodo Baggins||March 15, TA 3019||March 25, TA 3019||10 days|
|---||Gollum (Sméagol)||March 25, TA 3019||March 25, TA 3019||A few seconds|
The Ring's primary power was control over the other rings, including "mastery over [their] powers" and domination of the wills of their users. However, its effectiveness in this manner proved limited, as the wielders of the Three never used them while Sauron held the One, and the Dwarves to whom the Seven had been given proved too tough for Sauron's mental influence to take hold. 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. Perhaps most usefully, the Ring was capable of augmenting the abilities and powers of whatever being held it. While someone like Frodo was granted only a very limited increase in his perceptiveness, a Maia, Elf or Númenórean of great stature would have their innate beings vastly augmented, and would be able to, in time, draw upon the full power of the Ring itself. Finally, it at times gives its bearer (though those with more total control over the Ring's powers might be able to summon this power at will) the visage of a being great, terrible, that inspires utter fear in enemies who view it. Even though the Ring could not grant the wielder the physical power to control or destroy beings greater than Sauron, such as the Valar (although his powers rivaled theirs because of the Ring), 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 immortal being who ever wore the Ring was Tom Bombadil, over whom the Ring had absolutely no power whatsoever. However, Bombadil was unique in that regard, as both Gandalf and Saruman were susceptible to the Ring's influence, and Bombadil was anomalous in many other ways. The Ring would also extend a mortal possessor's life indefinitely by preventing natural aging. It did not, however "grant new life"; it merely causes the possessor to "continue" 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 (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 or the War of the Last Alliance. 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 Seven and 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, and dwarves may have had a similar resistance (since they were minimally affected by the Seven Rings). However, Gollum was known to have only sparingly used the Ring, and merely kept it hidden in his dwelling for most of the time that he possessed it.
It might have also given its wielder the ability to read minds and communicate via telepathy, 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 seemed to be increased so tangibly that—even without wearing it—its wielders could draw upon its powers, possibly even inspiring or causing the wielder to draw upon its powers accidentally, at times.
Another power of the Ring was the ability to project a false vision of its wearer to observers. 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 (or perhaps the Ring itself) spoke "with a commanding voice" foretelling the destruction of Gollum.
As it contained the better part of Sauron's native power, it seemed to exhibit a malevolent, but limited, form of sentience. While separated from Sauron, the Ring would strive to return to him, both by impelling its bearer to yield to Sauron or his servants, or 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 unattended.
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 at which they would be strong enough to overthrow Sauron, and, hypothetically, bring peace. While this is a tantalizing prospect for some, 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 their intentions at the outset. This result was apparently inevitable, as even fellow Maiar like Gandalf feared to so much as possess the Ring lest it's power begin to take hold.
Despite its powerful qualities, neither the Ring's innate power nor its power over others was absolute. Three times Sauron suffered military defeat with it in his possession, first by Tar-Minastir in the SA 1700, and again by Ar-Pharazôn in SA 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, Elendil and Isildur. 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, Anárion, 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.
- "War is upon us and all our friends, a war in which only the use of the Ring could give us surety of victory."
The Ring appeared to be made of real gold, but was essentially impervious to damage. Even Dragon-fire was said to be inadequate to harm the One. It could only be destroyed by someone whose smithcraft was as great as Sauron's, or by throwing it into the pit of the volcanic Mount Doom where it had originally been forged. Like the lesser rings forged by the Elves as "essays in the craft" before the Great Rings, it bore no gem, but 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.
The ring-inscription is in Black Speech, the language of Mordor, and is written in the script of Tengwar. The inscription symbolizes the One Ring's power to control the other Rings of Power.
Normally the One Ring appears perfectly plain and featureless, but when cast into fire the inscription appears in fiery letters inside and outside the Ring. A drawing of the Inscription appears in Book I, Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past". A transliteration appears in Book II, Chapter 2, "The Council of Elrond", where Gandalf reads the inscription: (see also Ring Inscription)Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.
Hearing these words caused everyone in the Council to tremble. The Elves also put their hands over their ears, either due to their fear/hatred of Sauron, or else due to actual pain, the words bring.
"The change in the wizard's voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, and harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves stopped their ears." - The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 2, Page 285
Roughly translated, the 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. 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 that was corrected by the time of the 50th Anniversary editions. The first four lines of the verse introduce 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, the wizard had no doubt that it was the One Ring.
Fate of the Ring-bearersEdit
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 (Although it becomes six if you count Tom Bombadil, Gandalf, and Sauron, who he did not truly die according to Gandalf). 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 Ring-bearers had endured, special dispensation was granted them by the Valar to travel to Tol Eressëa, the Elvenhome; though not the Undying Lands themselves, 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 sailed to Eressëa. Tolkien in one of his letters described the process as a period of extended life and healing, after which, their spiritual scars cured, they would die in peace. No mortal can set foot in the Undying Lands.
Earlier Versions of the LegendariumEdit
When The Hobbit was written, Tolkien had not yet conceived 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, as Tolkien changed the nature of the Ring to fit into the legendarium of Middle-earth, 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, having Gollum offer to show Bilbo the way out instead of offering to give up the Ring. Tolkien then decided that the first edition's version of events was how Bilbo had originally told the story to Gandalf and the Dwarves of Thorin's company, rather than what had actually occurred.
Symbolism of the One RingEdit
Although Tolkien has always held that his works should not be seen as strict symbolism (he believed that an author telling a reader how to interpret an allegory was acting as a kind of tyrant), Tolkien did make use of thematic symbolism and even symbols representing particular realities, in some instances. The Lord of the Rings cannot be properly understood outside of the context of the Catholic Faith,as Tolkien was a devout, outspoken, and lifelong Catholic (in fact, it was he who converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity). The Lord of the Rings series is utterly infused with Christian doctrine. The meaning of the Ring of Power is simple: sin. As the ring entered into existence by the work of a fallen maia (Sauron), sin entered into the world by a fallen angel, Lucifer. (In fact, the hierarchy of Valar and Maiar mirrors that of angelic hierarchy in Christianity, namely: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.) In LOTR, men both covet and hate the ring, just as men yearn for, but struggle against sin. The ring distorts creatures both physically and spiritually (e.g., Smeagol "Gollum" and Frodo), just as sin distorts the human spirit. Bearing the ring is taxing on a ringbearer, and weighs him down; just as Christ's carrying the sin of the world on the cross wearied him and made him fall three times. Moreover, it is through the encouragement of Samwise Gamgee that Frodo is able to endure his trial of bearing the ring (note that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Wisdom in Christianity); whereas, in Christianity, it is through the help of the Holy Spirit that men can overcome their struggle with sin. Further, Frodo consumes elvish bread which restores him both physically and spiritually when he is weary from carrying the ring. This is analogous to mankind being restored physically and spiritually and being given the grace to overcome sin by the "Bread of Life" or the Eucharist (see: the Body and Blood of Christ, cf. John 6). Only when the ring is cast into Mt. Doom (an allegory for hell) can it be destroyed. Further, Gollum's attachment to the ring and his unbridled desire to possess it, ultimately leads him to physical death when he plummets into Mt. Doom. This foreshadows the ultimate end of men who are attached to sin at the moment of their death (they suffer spiritual death in hell). Tolkien wrote, explaining the final climactic moments on Mt. Doom, "that within the mode of the story [it] exemplifies (an aspectof) the familiar words: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.'" It is also not insignificant that in LOTR, the final attempt to destroy the ring took place on March 25, which as all Christians know, is the date of Christ's crucifixion, which Christians believe destroyed the power of sin over mankind.
Likewise, and perhaps most conclusively, Tolkien himself called The Lord of the Rings a "Catholic Book."
- The sequence in Magyk by Angie Sage where Septimus finds the Dragon Ring is oddly similar to when Bilbo finds the Ruling Ring.
- The ring makes an appearance in the animated movie Shrek 2. 
- ↑ The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #211
- ↑ The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #211
- ↑ See generally http://www.ewtn.com/library/HOMELIBR/TOLKIEN.HTM
- ↑ http://catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0161.html
- ↑ http://catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0161.html
- ↑ http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/pkreeft_christlotr_nov05.asp
- ↑ Lord Of The Rings Blu Ray Box Set