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Recall that Sauron has inscribed the One Ring with the following words.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In this inscription, what or who does the “them all” refer to? Does it refer to the other rings of power? The lords that bear the other rings of power? Or all the masses of elves, dwarves and humans? Or is it left deliberately vague who or what the ring is to rule?

See also an earlier question Is the ring poem slightly inaccurate? Who wrote it?

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"Them all" refers to both the rings AND their bearers, or else what is the point of ruling? Rings don't make decisions, rings don't give orders. Ringbearers do. And what would an evil being like Sauron conspire to? Control. Control over rings wouldn't really help him achieve his dark goals for Middle Earth, unless through them he could influence the decisions and followers of the inferior ring bearers. The issues of the Elven rings and the Dwarven rings are covered in other posts. Suffice to say the control over mortal men (via the rings held by them) is a commentary on the weakness of the rac – user41626 Feb 8 '15 at 23:56
up vote 45 down vote accepted

This is made clear in the essay Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, published in The Silmarillion:

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

The choice of phrase can hardly be accidental here: it's explicit that the purpose of the One Ring was to rule the other Rings, and not to rule their bearers.

Note from the accepted answer to the question you link (which is IMO correct) that the "one Ring to rule them all..." part (i.e the Ring inscription itself) was composed first, with the other lines added by person or persons unknown at a later date. At the time the other Rings were made, there was actually no distinction between the Seven and the Nine, with only the Three being in any way different.

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+1 for being the only answer so far to address the inherent ambiguity of the original text, and bring citations as to the correct interpretation. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jun 3 '14 at 16:25
Brilliant answer, great find on the quote. – CandiedMango Jun 4 '14 at 8:09
Hmmm. "Last only so long as it too should last"? But in the movie, Galadriel still wore her ring of power after Sauron's had been destroyed. Oversight by Jackson, or excessive literalism on my part? – Blazemonger Jun 4 '14 at 21:17
Gandalf wore his (at the Havens) in the book too, but does just wearing one necessarily equate with using it's power? Or was it more the case that wearing them openly at the end was symbolic of the departure of the Ringbearers? See also Gandalf's words to Aragorn: "the power of the Three Rings also is ended". – user8719 Jun 4 '14 at 21:20
@MatthewNajmon It's ambiguous whether or not in the book Galadriel actually wore the ring after Sauron's destruction, but certainly she had it with her: "...there came out of the gathering mist a flash; and then they saw no more. Frodo knew that Galadriel had held aloft her ring in token of farewell." – Matt Gutting Jun 5 '14 at 20:11

The full verse is:

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 verse as a whole describes the Rings of Power. The first half enumerates them, and the second half establishes the One as their master. Since the other rings are associated each with a whole race, the implication is that the One is meant to rule over all races via the other rings, but the literal wording refers to the rings themselves.

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"them all" refers to the other rings Sauron created the one ring with the intention of ruling the 3 Elven rings, the 7 Dwarven rings and the 9 rings of men.

The other 19 rings were made by Elven Smiths of Eregion, led by Celebrimbor.

He was hoping to use the rings of power to seduce the Great Rulers of Middle Earth towards evil. IIRC in the books Elrond has one Elven ring, Galadriel has another and Gandalf has the third of the Elven rings. It is believed the Dwarven rings were lost and, we all know the tale of the nine.

For those that don't: The nine rings of men were given to powerful men, Kings and Warriors 3 were Numenorean, these men were corrupted by the ring and transformed into the Ringwraiths.

I would say it does not only refer to the rings but also the rulers who wear the rings by proxy anyway.

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