The One Ring

28 Jan


The One Ring was forged by the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age to gain dominion over the free peoples of Middle-earth. In disguise as Annatar, or “Lord of Gifts”, he aided the Elven smiths of Eregion and their leader Celebrimbor in the making of the Rings of Power. He then forged the One Ring himself in the fires of Mount Doom.[1]

Sauron intended it to be the most powerful of all Rings, able to rule and control those who wore the others. Since the other Rings were themselves powerful, Sauron was obliged to place much of his own power into the One to achieve his purpose.[2]

Creating the Ring simultaneously strengthened and weakened Sauron’s power. On the one hand, as long as Sauron had the Ring, he could control the power of all the other Rings, and thus he was significantly more powerful after its creation than before;[3] and putting such a great portion of his own power into the Ring ensured Sauron’s continued existence so long as the Ring existed. On the other hand, by binding his power within the Ring, Sauron became dependent on it—without it his power was significantly diminished.[1][3]


The Ring seemed to be made simply of gold, but it was impervious to damage. It could be destroyed only by throwing it into the pit of the volcanic Mount Doom where it was originally forged. Unlike other rings, the One Ring was not susceptible to dragon fire.[4] Like some lesser rings forged by the Elves as “essays in the craft”—but unlike the other Rings of Power—the One Ring bore no gem. Its identity could be determined by a little-known but simple test: when placed in a fire, it displayed a fiery Tengwar inscription in the Black Speech of Mordor, with two lines from a rhyme of lore describing 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.

The lines inscribed on the Ring (in boldface above) were pronounced by Sauron when he forged the Ring. The Elven smiths heard him chanting them, and thereupon became aware of his purpose and took off their own Rings to foil his plan.

A person wearing the Ring would enter a shadowy world revealing the physical world from a different aspect, and from which physical objects were harder to see. The wearer was mostly invisible to ordinary beings, like Men, but highly visible to the Nazgûl. The Ring dimmed the wearer’s sight, while at the same time sharpening the other senses.

The enigmatic Tom Bombadil appeared to be unaffected by the Ring and to have some power over it; when he wore the Ring, it did not make him invisible, and Frodo could not become invisible to him by wearing the Ring. Also, Tom played with the Ring like a conjurer borrowing someone’s watch for a trick, seemingly making it disappear and reappear.

The Ring slowly but inevitably corrupted its bearer, regardless of the bearer’s initial intent. For this reason the Wise, including Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, refused to wield it themselves, but determined instead that it should be destroyed. The corrupting power of the ring was apparently stronger on individuals more inclined to evil and selfishness: it took almost immediate hold of the greedy Sméagol as soon as he saw it, and corrupted Boromir after a few months of near proximity, while its effects were only starting to be seen in the noble Bilbo after 60 years of his owning it.

The Ring had the ability to change size. As well as adapting to fingers of varying size, from Sauron’s to Frodo’s, it sometimes suddenly expanded to give its wearer the slip.[5]


The words of the ring-inscription are in Black Speech, a language devised by Sauron and used in the land of Mordor. The inscription reflects the One Ring’s power to control the other Rings of Power. The writing uses Elvish letters (tengwar), in a mode (i.e. orthography) adapted to the Black Speech.

Normally the One Ring appeared perfectly plain and featureless, but when heated its inscription appeared in fiery letters. A drawing of the inscription and a translation provided by Gandalf appears in Book I, Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Shadow of the Past”.

One Ring inscription.svg

Gandalf speaks the words in Black Speech in Book II, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”:

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

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 Isildur took the Ring from Sauron’s hand, it was burning hot, so the letters were legible. Isildur was able to transcribe the inscription before it faded as the Ring cooled. This transcription survived in a document Isildur left in Gondor before marching north to the Gladden Fields, where he was killed and the Ring lost.

Gandalf learned of the Ring’s inscription when he read Isildur’s account. When Gandalf subsequently heated the ring that Bilbo Baggins had left to Frodo, the inscription reappeared. The wizard then had no doubt that Frodo’s ring was the One Ring. When Gandalf recited the inscription in Black Speech at the Council of Elrond, everyone trembled:

The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, 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 first Ballantine paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring printed the inscription upside-down. Some recent editions[6] accidentally omit the first half of the translation in Book I, Chapter 2. This error was corrected in the 50th Anniversary edition.


The term Ring-bearer is used in The Lord of the Rings to describe a person who has possessed the One Ring. The term is also used to refer to bearers of other Rings of Power.



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