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One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
―The ring's inscription


The One Ring was one of the most powerful artifacts ever created in Middle-earth. It was crafted by the Dark Lord Sauron in the fire of Orodruin, also known as Mount Doom during the Second Age. Sauron's intent was to enhance his own power, and to exercise control over the other 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 the other races in Middle-earth.

To accomplish this goal, Sauron knew that the One Ring would need to contain an extraordinary amount of power. As such, he concentrated within the Ring a great part of his own fëa (soul). In this way, Sauron's fate became bound to that of the One Ring. If it were damaged or destroyed, so too would be Sauron's strength and power.

The One Ring was also known as the Ruling Ring, the Master Ring, the Ring of Power, and Isildur's Bane.

Background

Physical appearance

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 Ring. 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 Elvish Runes. 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 transliteration appears, when Gandalf reads the Ring-inscription during the Council of Elrond.

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
―The inscription in the One Ring


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.

Powers and Abilities

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 powers vastly augmented, and would be able to, in time, draw upon the full power of the Ring itself.

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, as the only immortal being who ever wore the Ring was Tom Bombadil, over whom the Ring had absolutely no power whatsoever. However, Bombadil appeared to have been unique in that regard, as both Gandalf and Saruman were susceptible to the Ring's influence, and Bombadil was anomalous in many other ways.

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.

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 while holding 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 illusion that it fled from the otherwise unintimidating Sam. 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.

However, the Ring does not offer the wielder protection from physical harm. While wearing the Ring, Frodo was still seriously injured by the Witch-king and his Morgul-blade, and lost a finger when Gollum bit it off. Sauron himself suffered the destruction of his physical body at the hands of Gil-galad and Elendil while wearing the Ring.

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. 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 escape from its wearer. 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. Sauron was also capable of sensing the location of the Ring if someone put it on for any extended period of time, even if that person was hundreds of miles away from him.

To fully master all of the Ring's 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. 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 twist 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 no matter how well-intentioned the bearer, 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 the Númenóreans' might 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.

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 his attempt to gain lordship had been thwarted, Sauron marshalled his 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 very well for Sauron. He captured Eregion in short order and took back the Nine Rings that were kept there, and captured 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 by Sauron, refusing to reveal what he had done with the Three Rings, which he valued most. After the destruction of Eregion, Sauron was able to conquer most of western Middle-earth fairly quickly, driving the Ñoldor under Gil-galad to the Havens and besieging Imladris. But in SA 1700, as the Elves were nearing defeat, Tar-Minastir of Númenor led a great armada to Middle-earth and, together with Gil-galad, completely destroyed Sauron's armies, 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"[1], 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 capabilities. Ascending rapidly to become the King's most trusted councilor, 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[2]. 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 Third Age

The Ring remained hidden in the riverbed for almost two and a half millennia until a Stoor 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 Baggins found the Ring while he was lost in the caverns of the Misty Mountains. Shortly after discovering it, Bilbo came upon Gollum himself, who had intended to eat the lost Hobbit. Bilbo managed to get Gollum to agree to a riddle game to determine his own fate; if he lost, Gollum would get to eat him, and if he won, Gollum would have to show him a way out of the caves. Gollum lost the game, but had no intention of letting Bilbo leave. He went to retrieve the Ring in order to use its powers of invisibility to help him kill Bilbo, 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. At one point as he neared the exit, Bilbo was presented with an opportunity to easily kill Gollum, but relented out of pity for Gollum's wretched condition. Bilbo escaped Gollum and the Orcs that inhabited the Misty Mountains by remaining invisible, and 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 retarding effects it had had on Gollum's aging process. Some few years after Bilbo's return to the Shire, Gandalf managed to coerce from Bilbo the real story of how the Ring had come into his possession. The truth, as it turned out, had been quite innocent and was so similar to Bilbo's fabrication that Gandalf saw no real reason why Bilbo would have lied about his story in the first place, save perhaps to put his claim to the Ring beyond any possible doubt. Gandalf quickly came to believe that the Ring had an "unwholesome" effect on its owner that set to work almost immediately, as it was not in Bilbo's nature to lie, particularly regarding something so apparently trivial. However, he saw no real danger in letting Bilbo keep the Ring despite the Hobbit's strangely possessive attitude towards it.

In TA 3001, Bilbo concocted a plan to leave the Shire for Rivendell, and both he and Gandalf had initially intended for Bilbo's nephew and adopted heir Frodo to inherit both Bilbo's estate and the Ring. As the time came for Bilbo to give it up however, he became extremely reluctant to pass the Ring to his nephew, and his obstinacy over the issue led Gandalf to confront him directly about the Ring. At this point, though Gandalf did not yet know exactly what the Ring was, he could tell that it was both evil and gaining a great deal of influence over his old friend. As such, he advised Bilbo in the strongest terms to give the Ring to Frodo. After a short, angry debate, Bilbo calmed down and managed to give up the Ring of his own free will. He then departed from the Shire, and Frodo came into possession of the Ring.

The Truth of the Ring

However, Bilbo's strangely hostile reaction to giving up the Ring had greatly disturbed Gandalf. Troubled by both his encounter with Bilbo 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 White Council and the Istari. However, having grown wary of Saruman's pride, he decided to keep his own council for the time being. Instead, he considered finding and interrogating Gollum in order to help him further understand the nature of the Ring. He searched for news of Gollum, and managed to determine that Gollum had indeed left the Misty Mountains to locate the Ring. However, lulled by the fact that Saruman had revealed to the White Council on at least one occasion that the Ring was beyond finding, he decided to let Gollum be. This proved to be an unfortunate oversight on Gandalf's part, because Gollum's long possession of the Ring had incidentally left him open to a mental summons from Sauron, who was putting forth his power to draw as many evil beings as possible to Mordor to rebuild his forces. As such, Gollum was pulled 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. As the other Rings were all accounted for, being in his possession, destroyed, or in the hands of the Elves, he knew that Gollum must have at some point possessed the One. Under torture, Gollum revealed the existence of Bilbo and the Shire.

Around this time, Gandalf requested that Aragorn and his compatriots, the Dúnedain Rangers, begin to 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's behest. Now extremely worried, Gandalf decided at last to locate Gollum. Gandalf requested of his close friend Aragorn that he should aid him in a hunt for Gollum. However, as Gollum was at the time in Sauron's custody, his search was in vain. After months of fruitless wandering, Gandalf gave up on finding Gollum, leaving the seemingly hopeless search to Aragorn. Desperate for information, he realized while thinking of Saruman's ring-lore that the only source from which he could have obtained his knowledge was some sort of account left by Isildur, as he was the only person ever to have possessed the Ring besides Sauron. Gandalf then traveled to Minas Tirith in search of any records Isildur might have left behind concerning the Ring. After a thorough search, he finally came across a short manuscript by Isildur concerning the Ring's properties, including an important note that the Ring, when made hot, seemed to manifest fiery writing upon its outer 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 that 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. Before he had departed however, he had given a letter to Barney Butterbur, the innkeeper of the Prancing Pony in Bree with instructions that it was to be delivered to Frodo immediately. The letter contained a warning to Frodo that he needed to leave the Shire at once, and had also contained a bit of information about Aragorn, whom Gandalf had instructed to watch for the hobbits and aid them if he could. However, the letter was never delivered, and as such, Frodo delayed his departure in the hopes that Gandalf was simply late. Eventually however, Frodo decided that he could no longer wait, and with his companions, Samwise Gamgee, Peregrin Took, and Meriadoc Brandybuck set out without him for Rivendell. Their delay however, had allowed Sauron's servants, a number of strange, black-clad horsemen, to journey to the Shire and begin searching for the Ring. The hobbits had a few close encounters with these horsemen, but managed to stay out of their grasp. Within a few days, they reached the village of Bree and 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, but the hobbits were wary of his intentions. Fortunately however, Butterbur revealed Gandalf's letter to the hobbit party and they accepted his offer. By then, Gandalf had managed to escape from Isengard, and had begun desperately seeking for Frodo. He quickly reached the Shire, and discovered to his dismay that Frodo had only left a few days before. Having intended for Frodo to have left weeks prior, he realized that Butterbur had almost certainly not delivered his letter. Furious, he arrived at Bree a mere day after the hobbits had left it, and learned from Butterbur that Aragorn had found them and was guiding them to Rivendell. Greatly 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 though he managed to fend them off, he was ultimately forced to flee. In fleeing, he managed to draw four of the Nine into pursuing him, hoping that it would give the hobbits a greater chance of reaching Rivendell. Weeks later, after terrible events at Weathertop, Aragorn and the Hobbits, with Glorfindel's aid, reached Rivendell.

Quest of the Ring

At Rivendell, a Council overseen by Elrond convened, which incidentally included 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.

Following their adventure through Moria, during which Gandalf fell, and their time at Lothlorien, the Fellowship was scattered when Frodo and Sam split off from the rest of the group after an Uruk-hai attack. They continued on from Nen Hithoel to Mordor alone, while the rest of the Fellowship, including a reborn Gandalf, prepared for war against Sauron's forces. Alone and without any clear sense of how to reach Mordor, 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, as he had been there before and knew the way. Passing through the Dead Marshes, the hobbits came to the Black Gate and prepared to enter Mordor. However Gollum, learning only upon their arrival of Frodo's intent to actually enter Mordor, revealed that there was another way in; 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 Shelob and captured by her. Sam managed to drive the gigantic spider off, but believing that Frodo was dead, he took the Ring and resolved to finish the quest himself. However, Frodo had simply been paralyzed by Shelob's venom, which made him appear dead. He was captured by a group of Orcs while he was unable to move but Sam, who had overheard the Orcs discussing Frodo's condition, followed them to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Shortly thereafter, Sam managed to rescue Frodo in the aftermath of a mutinous battle among the Orcs who had captured him, which had resulted in nearly the tower's entire garrison killing each other. Returning the Ring to Frodo, the two began the arduous trek towards Mount Doom.

Destruction of the Ring

After a few days, Frodo and Sam 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 manipulate 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, Gollum dances with joy over retrieving the Ring, Frodo tackled the creature, toppling them both over the side of a cliff. Fortunately, Frodo hangs on the cliff with his good hand, whilst Gollum plunges into the Crack of Doom. There, the Ring was swiftly unmade and melted into nothingness, undoing Sauron's power and ensuring that he would never again threaten Middle-earth.

Other appearances

The Big Bang Theory: The Precious Fragmentation

In this episode, Leonard finds the exact object used in the Lord of the Rings films. This causes Sheldon, Howard and Raj to constantly fight over the ring. One night, Leonard persuaded Penny to wear the ring whilst she is sleeping with him. Sheldon enters Leonard's bedroom, attempting to take the ring, but Penny socks him in the nose.

The following day, the guys immediately brawl over the ring at the cafeteria, finally having a holding contest. Because of this, they have the drive awkwardly back to the apartment. Sheldon is determined to have the ring for himself. Leonard lets go of the ring and joins Penny to watch Victoria's secrets.

However, Sheldon, Howard and Raj dozed off into sleep; Leonard secretly took the ring that none of them were holding and hid it in his bedroom. Leonard lies to them that he sent it back to Peter Jackson and reprimands them for who ever won it would be hated by the others thus ending their friendships.

That night, Sheldon finally sees Leonard sleeping and wearing the ring. He again attempts to steal it, but Leonard wakes up and wrestles Sheldon, causing Penny - who was sleeping with Leonard at the time - to head back to her apartment. It is possible that the guys will have to acknowledge the Leonard truly wins it.


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