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The temptation of the One Ring, we quickly learn, is always tied up with power: each character's fantasies of possessing it seem to be about what they would do with great power. Even Sam, as I recall, imagines the power to create great huge sweeping gardens. Boromir wants the power to save Gondor, etc.

But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron? It actually seems to diminish its bearers: Bilbo feels "thin" and "stretched", Smeagol becomes the wretched Gollum, Frodo is never quite the same even after it is destroyed. None of them seem more "powerful," even in the abstract way that magic-users in Tolkien operate. No mention is made, that I can recall, of a Ringbearer having greater stature or authority, or of people naturally following them or obeying their commands, while they possess the Ring.

The accepted answer to this question implies that a being as powerful as Gandalf could dominate the Ring and break Sauron's hold over it, but even then Tolkien says that "It would have been the master in the end", and his descriptions of a Ringbearing Gandalf sound pretty much like Gandalf is using his own powers, not terribly augmented by the Ring:

[Gandalf] would have remained 'righteous', but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for 'good', and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

Now that sounds out of character for a being as humble as Gandalf, but it doesn't actually sound like something he would have been unable to do before. It's a twisted motive, but not really an enhanced power.

Pretty much everyone in Middle Earth agrees that the One Ring will corrupt you, but they all seem to agree that it DOES convey great power even so. Why? Do we ever see any actual, "positive" effects from possessing the One Ring?

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+100 if I could; this is one of the most awesome questions I've ever seen here. –  Darth Melkor Jan 16 '14 at 0:14
I need to add that in 30+ years of reading Tolkien this interpretation never even occurred to me, but it just makes so much sense: it's obviously exactly the way that the Ring works. Well done again. –  Darth Melkor Jan 16 '14 at 0:26
this begs the question - would it even work for Sauron? It sure didn't help him when he wore it against Gil-Galad and the like. –  Oldcat Jan 16 '14 at 0:31
@Oldcat : (Sauron - PowerHePutInTheRing) + PowerHePutInTheRing == Sauron; the Ring wouldn't convey any extra power to Sauron aside from control over the other Rings (speaking of which, where were the Nazgul during the Battle of the Last Alliance anyway?) (and one could argue that it did help him avoid destruction since the Ring survived, and so most of Sauron was also able to survive). –  Darth Melkor Jan 16 '14 at 0:43
@JimmyShelter: Sauron would have survived regardless, as one of the Ainur. The Ring is what made him vulnerable: the destruction of the Ring meant that Sauron would be reduced to almost nothing. –  Shamshiel Jan 16 '14 at 1:39

15 Answers 15

up vote 151 down vote accepted

The key quote from Tolkien that answers this is contained in Letter 246, with my added emphasis:

It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power.

This implies that the Ring is useless to anyone but Sauron, but it tempts you into thinking it's a source of power, and in that way it gets you to wear it, and so gains control over you.

In order to proceed in an investigation of this, and how to reconcile it with other statements made by Tolkien we must first establish a baseline that we're going to work from:

  • It is accepted that the Ring gave some degree of "power" to Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, in the form of invisibility, longevity and an occasionally enhanced presence.
  • Sauron was the maker of the Ring; he originally made it for his own use, and his own use only; he certainly never intended it to be used by anybody else, and he had no requirement for any of these three (as he already possessed them due to his nature as a Maia).
  • Therefore these three "powers" were not an intrinsic property of the Ring intended by it's maker, but rather side-effects of it being used by a mortal.
  • And these "powers" are actually quite minor compared to those possessed by a Maia.
  • There are different kinds of "power"; these minor (by comparison) "powers" are one kind that are available to mortals as Ring-bearers, but the power to raise armies, control others, defeat Sauron and rule Middle-earth is a completely different kind altogether.

Now let's look at what Tolkien says about the Ring, quoting from the same source as Shamshiel's answer:

But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place.

Here it's important to look at what Tolkien says, and only at what Tolkien says. Here's what he does not say (and note the emphasis):

  • Some other person is controlling the Ring.
  • That other person is gaining power from the Ring.
  • That other person is using that power against Sauron to defeat him.

And here's what he does say (emphasis again):

  • Some other person has claimed ownership of the Ring.
  • That other person has, through their own "sufficiently strong and heroic" nature, succeeded in taking that ownership of it from Sauron.
  • And Sauron as a result is diminished and can be defeated by the unenhanced other person (again, if "sufficiently strong and heroic").

This is an important but subtle distinction. In the first case the other person is using the Ring to give themselves a "level up" against Sauron, to boost their own power and defeat him that way -- but that's not what Tolkien is saying. In the second they're not doing this; the power in the Ring is quite useless to them but by being able to deny it to Sauron they diminish him and hence (though their own natural but unenhanced strength) are able to defeat him.

As for "become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring" - Tolkien does not actually define what he means by this. But since the greater part of Sauron's power is in the Ring, it seems reasonable to suggest that this "mastery" actually belongs to the Ring itself rather than to the wielder (hence "since the making of the One Ring"), who only obtains the "mastery" by proxy.

But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end.

Now we'll continue by looking at some other sources. First of all, the words of Galadriel:

Before you could use that power you would need to become far stronger, and to train your will to the domination of others.

These seem to indicate that one could use the power of the Ring, but there are two traps being set for the careless reader here. The first one I've mentioned already:

It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power.

And the second is mentioned elsewhere by Tolkien with reference to a different character in a different situation, but must surely also apply here:

Treebeard is a character in my story, not me...

So what we actually have here is Galadriel being deceived by the Ring into thinking it can be used, and remembering that she is a character in the story, not Tolkien himself, her words must only be read as being in-character - they shouldn't be interpreted as Tolkien describing the way things are.

The same can be said of anyone else who describes using the Ring's power in a similar situation: Gandalf, Boromir, Denethor, even Elrond when he says "I will not take the Ring to wield it".

I'll round things off with some other observations, also from Letter 246. First of all Tolkien equates taking control of the Ring with the Ring taking control of you:

He needed time, much time, before he could control the Ring or (which in such a case is the same) before it could control him.

Then he establishes how difficult it is to face Sauron, even if you have tried to claim the Ring (and indicating that the Ring has no power over Sauron too):

Sauron would not have feared the Ring! It was his own and under his will.

And then he reiterates that the upper hand in a contest with Sauron does not come from your possession of the Ring, but rather from Sauron's lack of it:

On one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron was not actually in possession.

In summary - the answer is "no", the Ring wouldn't work for anyone else in the way they think it would (by granting them additional power or by being able to be used as a weapon), because remember:

It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power.

But "yes", it would work by causing Sauron to become diminished, provided they were strong enough to be able to take and retain control of it; they would remain limited to their own native ability in any contest against Sauron, however.

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I think Shamshiel's answer disproves your suggestion of "no cases whatsoever" –  Dan Gayle Jan 16 '14 at 6:09
I thought frodo didnt actually wear it between ta3001 till he set off to mount doom , he kept it hidden at the bottom of a trunk in an envelope as per gandalfs instructions for the 18years –  howler Jan 16 '14 at 14:43
@howler he did, but it was, nevertheless, his. –  terdon Jan 16 '14 at 15:20
Are you implying that "longevity and invisibility" are not real powers? I'd love to have those! –  zipquincy Jan 16 '14 at 16:06
I am not sure that "everyone is deceived and Tolkien must be interpreted" is satisfactory.. How do you explain this one? "Would they [the Ringwraiths] been immune from its power if [Frodo] claimed it as an instrument of command and domination? Not wholly." And Sauron held the Nine, not the Ringwraiths. Or the rest of the sentence you left out? "before he could control the Ring[...] before his will and arrogance could grow to a stature in which he could dominate other major hostile wills." The Ring in Frodo's hands was a "devastating weapon" he didn't know how to use. –  Shamshiel Jan 18 '14 at 1:51

Yes. While the deceit of the ring was to offer imaginations of supreme power, it did in fact, absolutely, one hundred percent, confer real power upon its wielder - just not supreme power, which not even Sauron possessed. The other answer is incorrect. There are examples of the Ring's powers - chiefly the domination of other wills, but also the understanding of "the thought behind speech" - being used in-story. And here is what Tolkien said:

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place.

The reason we don't see the effects of the Ring all the time is threefold:

  1. Because wielding the Ring takes effort and practice. "Before you could use that power you would need to become far stronger, and to train your will to the domination of others", in the words of Galadriel. In fact, she says that without this training, the Ring would destroy Frodo.
  2. You have to actually claim the Ring as your own to truly use its power. Frodo and Bilbo never did this, and maybe Gollum just never had the strength. The moment Frodo claimed the Ring for his own, Sauron knew. "And far away, even as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-Dur was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him[...]
  3. The power of the Ring is not absolute. Sauron was able to dominate and subvert the Numenoreans only with time and subtlety. And the reason Sauron had to do that? "So great was the might and splendour of the Númenóreans that Sauron’s own servants deserted him." So even Sauron wielding the Ring wasn't able to control his own servants under some circumstances.

Bilbo and Gollum are actually good examples of the power of the Ring: forcing a mortal to stay alive is tremendous. The Ring doesn't grant you courage, strength, wisdom, or magic spells. It gives you the power to dominate others, strengthens your native ability to read minds, and, if you're a mortal, forces you to stay alive - not even the Ring can fundamentally change fate decreed by Illuvatar; the Ring is already stretching The Rules quite a bit here.

The Ring granted Frodo and Sam it's chief power and purpose - domination over others - on several occasions, to subdue Gollum and to terrify Orcs. This was before Frodo even claimed the Ring.

Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.

‘Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’

The crouching shape backed away, terror in its blinking eyes, and yet at the same time insatiable desire.

Then the vision passed and Sam saw Frodo standing, hand on breast, his breath coming in great gasps, and Gollum at his feet, resting on his knees with his wide-splayed hands upon the ground.


For what it saw was not a short frightened hobbit trying to hold a steady sword: it saw a great silent shape, cloaked in a grey shadow, looming against the wavering light behind; in one hand it held a sword, the very light of which was a bitter pain, the other was clutched at its breast, but held concealed some nameless menace of power and doom. For a moment the Orc crouched, and then with a hideous yelp of fear it turned and fled back as it had come.

We also have some examples of what would have happened, from Tolkien's letters. For example, what if Gollum hadn't been there at Mount Doom?

Frodo too would then probably, if not attacked, have had to take the same way: cast himself with the Ring into the abyss. If not he would of course have completely failed. It is an interesting problem: how Sauron would have acted or the claimant have resisted. Sauron sent at once the Ringwraiths. They were naturally fully instructed, and in no way deceived as to the real lordship of the Ring. The wearer would not be invisible to them, but the reverse; and the more vulnerable to their weapons. But the situation was now different to that under Weathertop, where Frodo acted merely in fear and wished only to use (in vain) the Ring's subsidiary power of conferring invisibility. He had grown since then. Would they have been immune from its power if he claimed it as an instrument of command and domination? Not wholly. I do not think they could have attacked him with violence, nor laid hold upon him or taken him captive; they would have obeyed or feigned to obey any minor commands of his that did not interfere with their errand – laid upon them by Sauron, who still through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills. That errand was to remove Frodo from the Crack. Once he lost the power or opportunity to destroy the Ring, the end could not be in doubt – saving help from outside, which was hardly even remotely possible. Frodo had become a considerable person, but of a special kind: in spiritual enlargement rather than in increase of physical or mental power; his will was much stronger than it had been, but so far it had been exercised in resisting not using the Ring and with the object of destroying it. He needed time, much time, before he could control the Ring or (which in such a case is the same) before it could control him; before his will and arrogance could grow to a stature in which he could dominate other major hostile wills. Even so for a long time his acts and commands would still have to seem 'good' to him, to be for the benefit of others beside himself.

It also granted Sam the ability to understand the speech of Orcs, and Frodo was able to understand Galadriel's thoughts: "[Frodo] perceived my thought more clearly than many who are accounted wise."

However, in the end, the Ring - as essentially distilled Sauron and "power" - would have turned anyone who used it "evil." From Tolkien's letters:

In any case Elrond or Galadriel would have proceeded in the policy now adopted by Sauron: they would have built up an empire with great and absolutely subservient generals and armies and engines of war, until they could challenge Sauron and destroy him by force.

Confrontation of Sauron alone, unaided, self to self was not contemplated. One can imagine the scene in which Gandalf, say, was placed in such a position. It would be a delicate balance. On one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron was not actually in possession, and perhaps also because he was weakened by long corruption and expenditure of will in dominating inferiors. If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end.

Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained ‘righteous’, but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great)."

EDIT: To clarify, the One Ring did enhance Sauron's powers as well, and it was not created solely to control the wielders of the other Great Rings.

From Tolkien's letters, the Ring was created in "his [Sauron's] effort (largely unsuccessful) to enslave the Elves, and in his desire to establish a control over the minds and wills of his servants."

Additionally, we know Sauron used the One Ring to subjugate the Numenoreans. From Letter 211:

He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans.

Thus, the Ring could be used by Sauron used to dominate the minds and wills of people who were not wearing other rings. Wielding another one of the Great Rings only seems to have made you especially vulnerable.

The reason we didn't see any amazing tricks from Frodo or Sam (beyond terrifying and subjugating Gollum, Orcs, etc.) is explained in the book, and in one of my quotes above. Frodo asks Galadriel why he can't use the Ring to know the thoughts of the wielders of the Three:

'Only thrice have you set the Ring upon your finger since you knew what you possessed. Do no try! It would destroy you. Did not Gandalf tell you the rings give power according to the measure of their possessor? Before you could use that power you would need to become far stronger, and train your will to the domination of others.'

Using the power of the Ring is not as simple as "put it on, get amazing results."

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typo at the top: Bcause. The 6 character limit and overall good grammar prevent me from suggesting an edit ;-) –  Henk Langeveld Jan 16 '14 at 11:38
Thanks! I also said twofold instead of threefold, ha. –  Shamshiel Jan 16 '14 at 13:35
“Motive” should probably be “motif” if I'm not misinterpreting the reading. –  Christopher Done Jan 16 '14 at 17:50
Another minor typo in the last quote, ``Do no try'' --- not? –  WillAdams Jan 17 '14 at 15:14
@JimmyShelter: To expand on that, the Ring "wants" to be used. To Tolkien, the Ring was "the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies." I'll add that to my answer if you think it is relevant; I am afraid it is growing too long. –  Shamshiel Jan 18 '14 at 3:18

Yes -- the One Ring seems to "work" for beings other than Sauron, as Samshiel says. The relevant factor is not just possession of the Ring, but consciously trying to use it to exert power over others. I think Gandalf remarked that the Ring granted Smeagol "power according to his stature" -- so all he could do was commit petty acts of evil, for which he was eventually cast out of his homeland.

As for the others, Frodo, Bilbo and Sam seldom or never used the One Ring in this way. Isildur is an interesting case. The power of the Ring might have helped him make Gondor stronger than it would otherwise have been, by eliminating any remaining enemies. He was ambushed and killed before he could do the same in Arnor, which may be one reason why Gondor endured while Arnor collapsed into civil war and ruin. On the other hand, Isildur was already an exceptionally capable individual, unchallenged as King, and most of his enemies had been destroyed or scattered at the Battle of the Last Alliance, so he may not have needed much assistance from the Ring.

I think that power proportionate to the wielder's own strength is the key point. So Smeagol only had petty abilities. Someone like Aragorn or Boromir might have become a great and merciless conqueror, much like Genghis Khan with added longevity. (He might end up like the Witch-King of Angmar, only more powerful and not owing allegiance to any other being.) Finally, a being like Gandalf, Saruman or Galadriel might have become a godlike figure, as powerful as Sauron himself or even more so.

I can see how Gandalf might have been even more terrifying than Sauron, if he was corrupted by the Ring. Sauron doesn't care if his subjects argue among themselves, drink beer, play games, or whatever as long as they obey his commands. Gandalf the Ringlord would not allow that kind of disorderly behaviour. Arguing, fighting, eating too much cake, or ignoring a "do not walk on the grass" sign would incur dire punishment. Recreation would mean gathering to sing songs in praise of Gandalf's benevolent rule.

(FYI Meat Trademark: Stack Exchange doesn't allow comments until you have a reputation rating of at least 50. So new users (like me) can only contribute by posting new replies.)

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His comment was on a post by somebody with 101 rep (at the time of the posting), so they had the option of commenting. Also, while posting new answers - not replies - is the only way for you to contribute, that doesn't mean you can post whatever you wish; you're still expected to answer the question. –  Anthony Grist Jan 16 '14 at 12:46
Anthony Grist -- fair enough, thanks for the clarification. And yes, I realise that we are supposed to post on-topic answers (not replies) and not just whatever ramblings we feel like. –  Royal Canadian Bandit Jan 16 '14 at 13:31
Here, have my +1 so next time you might be able to comment ;) –  Kevin Jan 16 '14 at 15:49
And in only a year, you've gone from not being able to comment to being one of the top 50 users on the site. tips hat –  corsiKa Dec 10 '14 at 0:06

To bolster the answer of Yes already stated by other answers, we do see that Frodo was granted the power to percieve the other Rings of Power. Specifically, he was able to see Galadriel's ring:

'Yes', she said, divining his though, 'it is not permitted to speak of it, and Elrond could not do so. But it cannot be hidden from the Ring-bearer, and one who has seen the Eye. Verily it is in the land of Lorien upon the finger of Galadriel that one of the Three remains. This is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, and I am it's keeper.'

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True, but this is hardly a world-changing ability that would tip the balance if Sauron got it. –  Oldcat Jan 16 '14 at 19:01
@Oldcat - Good point, I was just addressing the question as stated: "Do we ever see any actual, 'positive' effects from possessing the One Ring?" I think this counts as a positive power. –  eykanal Jan 16 '14 at 19:40

This is more of a supplementary answer because I don't want to repeat what was mentioned in the answers already.

Short answer: No, it only works for Sauron; because it only gives him the advantages; it doesn't give anyone else any advantages of using it.

Long answer: We really never seen any examples of Sauron himself being augmented with powers due to the ring. For example, Sauron might have had superior strength but compared to what? Before the ring? We were never given any comparisons of his strength. In fact, there is no mention of him using the ring for any other purpose than to control the other rings. He was probably just as strong as he was before together WITH IT; but once he's separated, Sauron would be weaker than ever before.

Before I continue, I'll pose a question, how does the ring make him (or anyone) else more powerful? He basically just transferred his native power into it; but that's it. He simply transferred energy, not augment it. When we transfer something, we mean we displace "something" from one container.. to another; what this means is that the transfer has weakened Sauron himself.. but the ring's purpose has been empowered; this is proven by the fact that when he was departed from the ring, it exposed his true weakened state and had to go into hiding.

Power is really all about perspective here. Like what does it mean to be truly powerful?

To discuss the meaning of absolute power we could suggest the following:

  • There should not be any need for any defense mechanisms, such as the power to vanish since there's nothing to hide or run away from. We could argue that vanishing doesn't mean it's a defense mechanism, but we could still argue the point on having it as a feature.
    • However, all examples of reasons why someone would vanish is to hide and protect themselves from being discovered. When we talk about concealing, we do not think about the context of power here.
  • There should not be a need to create these "ring satellites" and deceive the other races of men, dwarves, and elves into wearing them so that they'd be manipulated and controlled. The ring would enable Sauron to force any race into submitting to his will. The ring would be powerful enough by itself to get Sauron what he needed.
    • Sauron had to DISGUISE himself as "Annatar" the "lord of gifts", into creating rings to control them.
  • It would be impossible for the ring to be separated from the master, there would be no weak points in it.
    • Sauron was separated from the ring by a single slash of a sword cutting his finger off, no thanks to Isildur

So with all these points in mind, we could suggest that the ring really serves one purpose, that is to deceive and weaken the enemies of Sauron, which would then allow Sauron to take advantage over them. It would NOT weaken all enemies, just the ones connected with the ring.

Examples: The vanishing feature, though used as a defense mechanism for the ring bearer, it doesn't augment their power.. but it does give Sauron an advantage to discovering the vicinity of their location.

Being possessed, puts them at a disadvantage from being discovered as they are walking into enemy territory, risking themselves in getting caught or captured.

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An excellent answer, albeit lacking any references or quotes to prove the points you're making... –  Richard Jan 16 '14 at 21:48
I'm sorry for this, I spent a long time writing the answer, the contexts of the quotes would be extremely large since I'm describing full events. Plus to go through the material would be take more time than the answer in itself. I have read all the books, and it just seemed more convenient for myself and for other fans to understand the references from memory :). –  sksallaj Jan 16 '14 at 21:51
I appreciate what you mean, but without quotes or references it's hard to determine what's canonical (e.g. from the books, letters, interviews, etc) and what's essentially a fan-theory. –  Richard Jan 16 '14 at 21:56
Re: your comments on Sauron's powers with the ring - "While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'." - Tolkien The purpose of the One Ring was to gain power over the Elves, which failed. The Ring didn't do much for Sauron. –  Shamshiel Jan 17 '14 at 1:05
I also want to add...I did give examples of the Ring conferring powers and advantages over people other than Sauron, and Tolkien's statements that it would do so. :) –  Shamshiel Jan 17 '14 at 1:10

Both answers so far have overlooked that old Tom Bombadil was unaffected by the ring when he put it on his finger. Yes, some beings (of stronger magic) would be able to take control as Gandalf and Galadriel described.

I think they were right about its corruptive abilities as well. Both would have been subject to the corruption from it through the rings that they already wore, and they had seen what became of the individuals who put on that one ring.

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This is not an answer to the question. It's just an opinion on answers already provided. This would be better as a comment below one of the answers and not posted as answer by itself. –  Meat Trademark Jan 16 '14 at 9:06
This is already well explained in the books - the Ring has no power over Tom. Whether you say "yes" or "no" to the question, this doesn't actually change anything. –  Darth Melkor Jan 16 '14 at 10:11
'I know little of Iarwain save the name,' said Galdor; 'but Glorfindel, I think, is right. Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself'. — Tom Bombadil is indeed unaffected by the ring, but that's all: he would not be able to "take control" any more than it would be able to take control over him. Probably, that is; it remains unclear who / what Tom Bombadil is, so something he might actually be able to do doesn't prove anything whatsoever about other guys. –  leftaroundabout Jan 16 '14 at 12:05
I started to post this as a comment, but both of the answers at that time categorically stated that the ring had the same effect on everyone. Simply pointing out that Tom Bombadil was unaffected invalidates half of their arguments and demonstrates that what Gandalf and Galadriel stated is well within the realm of possibility. These two used stronger magic (and rings of power) on a regular basis to make Middle Earth better, which seems to make them good authorities on this matter. I do realize that this is not a definitive, independent verification. –  Peg Leg 3941 Jan 16 '14 at 15:32
I certainly did not mean to categorically say the Ring had the same effect on everyone. But in the case of Tom, I doubt he could use the Ring. 'It seems he has a power even over the Ring', 'Say rather that the Ring has no power over him...But he cannot alter the Ring itself, nor break its power over others.' –  Shamshiel Jan 17 '14 at 1:09

Why do we assume that the ring benefitted Sauron at all? Every person who had it became obsessed with it and had to acquire it at all costs. They also seemed to suffer from the delusion that it possessed "great power" beyond invisibility. It seems reasonable to assume Sauron was affected too, and that's why he wanted it so badly - much the same way as Gollum did. After all, everything we know about him is supposition from the other characters. Gandalf saw Sauron's forces desperately trying to recover the ring and ASSUMED it had great magical power (or why else would he be trying to recover it), but it fact it was just a cursed "Addiction Ring" tied to Sauron's life force.

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Not everyone had to acquire it "at all costs." Both Bilbo and Déagol simply found The Ring. Sméagol lost himself in the acquisition of it, but not everyone does. Frodo was just given it with the task of disposing of it. –  Meat Trademark Jan 16 '14 at 15:08
@MeatTrademark Other than that statement, he does have a point. I don't believe there is proof that Sauron actually 'got stronger' after the forging of the ring. The only thing known is that it gave him control over the other ring bearers (of the lesser rings). –  Kevin Jan 16 '14 at 15:52
We are told that Sauron needs the ring in order to assume physical form. –  Nate C-K Jan 16 '14 at 18:48
@NateC-K But that is because he lost his other bodies in the fall of Numenor and the battle with Gil-Galad. It wasn't an inherent property of the ring, just the result of previous carelessness. –  Oldcat Jan 16 '14 at 19:49
@NateC-K Where are we told that? Gollum saw Sauron without the Ring and notes that he had nine fingers. –  TGnat Jan 16 '14 at 20:42

There is one thing missing in this discussion as it concerns Gandalf's real stature. Gandalf is also one of the Ainur. He is Maiar (lesser of the Ainur) and was sent to middle earth with the other Istari (wizards) by Manwe. They Istari did so but in a diminished form which apparently included lack of full awareness of who they really were. Regardless, when considering the effects of the ring on its wearer, Gandalf should not be grouped with Galadriel, Elrond or any others. The ring would perhaps of "unlocked" his full nature and I suspect he would have been less affected by its corrupting nature. Gandalf in this condition would likely have been able to directly challenge Sauron 1:1 and overthrown him. For elves and men the ring would have corrupted and betrayed them and I do not think they could have mastered the ring. Saruman (also Maiar like Sauron) probably understood this in his bones and his own corruption was likely due to visions of possessing the ring and being able to "fix" middle-earth for the better.

Unfinished Tales Part Four Chapter II 'The Istari' pp. 508–509

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I'm not sure why everyone's being so philosophical, the ring works just fine on Frodo.

How so? Let's recall what it does:

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,

One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them


  1. Bring them all: Frodo is certainly found by/finds/happens upon a whole bunch of ring bearers - most of the human rings and all of the Elven ones. As for the Dwarf rings, well, that feature was broken to begin with and didn't work for Mairon either. So, [✔].
  2. Find them: When Frodo puts the ring on, I recall he is very noticeable to other rings bearers (at least, the Human rings), and vice versa. See also this detailed answer. Now, probably a more experienced/corrupted/powerful bearer of the one ring would be better with this perceptive skill, but I'll put this one down as [✔].
  3. Bind them: The Elven rings avoided the binding by design, and the Dwarven rings just didn't have that effect like Mairon wanted to, so it's basically the Human rings. Given that 'to rule them' is a separate point than the 'binding', you could claim that they're still bound to the ring, and in many senses to whoever it is that's wearing it, even if he's not ruling them. So, [sort-of-✔].
  4. Rule them: Here is point where everybody's arguments come in. Now, Ok, maybe you don't get to boss (non-)people so easily, and maybe you need to be a powerful Maia. So, [✖].

Three out of Four is pretty good, considering how Frodo is not really the ruling type. Anyway, whoever expects the ring to do other things for him should RTFM, which is conveniently printed on the ring itself :-)

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To the question: Yes. Additionally...

1) The one-ring had awareness and a personality and seduces the wearer into doing it's bidding. For an inanimate object, that's a lot.

2) Power to control other powers is power. The brain is not very powerful outside the body.

3) It seems the great power of the one-ring is to cast illusions which it uses to both seduce and empower it's bearer. As advertisers can attest, it is not an insignificant power.

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I believe it is a reasonable assumption that because Sauron is a servant of Morgoth/Melkore, the ring would have worked for them and possibly sought him if he had still been a factor.

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In unfinished tales it says if Gandalf wielded the ring against Sauron,ultimately it would lead to Saurons destruction despite the rings allegiance to Sauron,

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According to this answer Gollum possessed the ring for nearly 500 years while the average Hobbit lifespan is 96 years.

when Precious goes we’ll die, yes, die into the dust.

The One Ring will help you stay alive, control, and dominate as long as it can return to Sauron in the end.

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You actually asked a series of questions.

It appears though that you have three main questions. 1) "Would the One Ring even work for anyone but Sauron?" 2)"But does the One Ring actually convey power to anyone but Sauron?" 3) "Do we ever see any actual, "positive" effects from possessing the One Ring?"

I'm not sure what you mean by "work". A person can wear it. It does stuff to them, it gives them some powers(ie; invisibility, long life, etc.). Positive effects? It'd be pretty cool to be invisible when you want. I'd like to live to see 500. So it works and it does convey power. Some of those powers are positive. So the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of other people's answers. However, here is a power it granted that has not been mentioned previously. It answers all three of your questions. This power "works" for Frodo not just Sauron, "coveys" Frodo power, and it's a positive effect. It gave Frodo the ability to see much further than a person not wearing the ring from the seat of seeing.

"At first he could see little. He seemed to be in a world of mist in which there were only shadows: the Ring was upon him. Then here and there the mist gave way and he saw many visions: small and clear as if they were under his eyes upon a table, and yet remote. There was no sound, only bright living images. The world seemed to have shrunk and fallen silent. He was sitting upon the Seat of Seeing, on Amon Hen, the Hill of the Eye of the Men of Númenor...And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was. Amon Lhaw it touched. It glanced upon Tol Brandir he threw himself from the seat, crouching, covering his head with his grey hood."

I didn't put the entire quote as it's quite long, but the three periods I installed were a description of just about everything going on in middle earth at the time. The ring conveyed him so much sight that he could see all the way to mordor and see Sauron himself. The sight was so strong that Sauron himself felt the gaze of Frodo. So the ring did have extraordinarily enhancing features.

After Aragorn goes onto the seat of seeing.

"Aragorn hesitated. He desired to go to the high seat himself, hoping to see there something that would guide him in his perplexities; but time was pressing. Suddenly he leaped forward, and ran to the summit, across the great flag-stones, and up the steps. Then sitting in the high seat he looked out. But the sun seemed darkened, and the world dim and remote. He turned from the North back again to North, and saw nothing save the distant hills, unless it were that far away he could see again a great bird like an eagle high in the air, descending slowly in wide circles down towards the earth."

Aragorn saw hardly anything.

Christopher Tolken gave a lengthy discussion of the various drafts of Lord of the Rings and explains a difference in the final draft.

"... this is associated with the fact that in the final form Aragorn does go up but sees nothing it may suggest a more complex relation between the power of Amon Hen and the power of the Ring... [The Departure of Boromir, HoME 7]"

I'm not going to do a lengthy research paper for each of the rings powers, when they showed themselves, how it was used, etc. That's the point of reading the books. Others have given multiple examples of this, I just wanted to add one that was left out, and (breakdown) answer the actual original question.

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Sauron and his master, Morgoth, were a dichotomy of darkness: Morgoth corrupted nature, and Sauron exploited the corruption. Without Morgoth, Sauron was nothing, but once the world had been made with Morgoth embedded in it, Sauron had ample opportunity. All living beings, being made of the matter/cosmic data that Morgoth infected, had a hint of corruption, and were fodder for Sauron's exploitation in specific circumstances. The forging of the rings of power was a scheme by which Sauron could create these circumstances more easily. Witness, for example, the greed of the dwarves. Ownership of the ring kept by Thorin's house was a mark of rulership for his clan. The dwarven rings increased the greed of dwarf kings, which in turn led them to drive their subjects harder and more recklessly. Presumably, the One's rulership over the other rings allowed Sauron to change their power levels, corrupting those who had them with greed or else making them over-reliant on the rings' power, and thus reliant on Sauron. Sauron was a power player, setting up his dopes like pieces on a chess board, and then activating them with one master stroke. They would relate to each other in predictable ways, weakening each other and strengthening him, and when all was said and done he'd be the winner. His only weakness was that he often interfered with forces that were beyond his ken, particularly Illuvatar. After the raid on Valinor, the powerful in Middle Earth became deathly fearful of his potential, forcing him to resort to brute force and sorcery.

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This answer doesn't pertain to if anyone else could wield the One Ring as Sauron did, which is the original question. –  Monty129 Jan 16 '14 at 21:24
A strong enough person could claim and wield the power of the ring. They would have their OWN strengths hugely magnified, but since the Ring is essentially evil anything that person does will, eventually, turn to evil as well. The road to hell and all that. So, no, nobody can wield the Ring the same WAY as Sauron. But in the end the result would be same - the world under a dominion of dark evil under Sauron, or bright shining evil under, say, Galadriel. At least Sauron wouldn't force us to love him. –  Joe L. Jun 4 '14 at 19:59

protected by Darth Melkor Jan 17 '14 at 3:49

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