Several characters tried to get hold of the One Ring on Frodo's journey to Mount Doom, some by force like Boromir, some by persuasion like Galadriel. All spoke of gaining power and using it against Sauron. But what power did they expect?

I mean, what would that power consist of? Gandalf mentioned that the Ring would amplify his powers. OK, but what could humans like Boromir or Denethor expect to gain? Just an overall resistance to damage and enormous physical strength(like Sauron who sent several soldiers flying with one swing of his mace)?

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    On a side note. I never "read" that galadriel was trying to take it... She was tempted to have him indeed especially after it was offered freely to her. but just that. Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 19:55
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    Galadriel indeed never wanted the One, and stated so. In fact she stated quite explicitly "I pass the test" when refusing it when freely offered. Of all who came into voluntarilly contact with the Ringbearer during his travels and knew about the One, only Boromir attempted to take it, and all those it was offered to freely rejected the offer (Sam took it out of desperation and later freely returned it).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 10:13
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    “Just an overall resistance to damage and enormous physical strength” — hardly seems worth it, does it? Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 17:39
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    @jwenting Does that make Sam more worthy than Galadriel? If so, I wholly support this.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:56
  • 3
    Ah yes, the old "Tolkien must have been writing his characters with an RPG in mind" fallacy.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 0:23

8 Answers 8


I don't think it really mattered. The Ring tempted people with whatever power they craved. Look at the temptations that Sam suffered when he briefly took care of it in The Choices of Master Samwise:

Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.

So for Sam, the power would have been the ability to turn everywhere into a garden. For Boromir and Denethor, no doubt, it would have been more about the ability to command; for Galadriel, to stop the decay of time, and so on.

Whether the Ring really could have granted these powers is basically irrelevant: the temptation was all that mattered.

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    +1 for saying Sam's power would be to turn everywhere into a garden.
    – fire.eagle
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 16:08
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    For a while... The One also would eventually destroy that garden as its power was entirely destructive.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 10:14
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    “Oil ’ave the biggest tohmartoes the Shire ’as ever seen!” Cut to visions of Frodo and the other hobbits shuffling along in chains, pulling a giant tomato with Sam riding on top. Peter Jackson: why are you keeping this deleted scene locked away? Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 17:42
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    And then Sam returned the ring, for he knew in his heart that the power to make the world a garden was in himself the whole time.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:59
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    The idea of "wanting to turn Mordor into a garden, but eventually destroy that garden" strangely reminds me of the plot of "the last Ringbearer" (By Kirill Eskov), where Mordor is a desert because of the inconsiderate use of irrigation.
    – Rémi
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 15:03

There are a couple of known abilities of the One Ring.

As you mentioned, it amplifies the Bearer's own powers. Presumably this is of primary advantage to those capable of using magic, such as Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel. Those already powerful individuals would become instantly god-like, much as Sauron was.

In addition, it gives the obvious ability of invisibility.

It also grants the ability to dominate and control the bearers of any other of Sauron's Rings of Power. This alone is a formidable ability, even for those without other innate magic. A group of obedient Ring Wraiths is a pretty serious threat, even to an army.

The last power we know if is a bit less tangible, but no less effective. Being the Bearer of the One Ring will let that person become a symbol of leadership. Armies and nations would flock to their command. Still others would form alliances against them, fearing or coveting the power they are presumed to have.

The mere act of possessing the One Ring gives even the most humble Bearer tremendous power to influence nations, simply because the nations will act on the power they assume must be there.

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    +1 Overall a good answer, though I have a minor nitpick: the Ring doesn't grant invisibility to everyone. We only know it turns Hobbits and Hobbit-like creatures invisible. It certainly doesn't turn Sauron invisible, and there is no indication it would do so to Gandalf, Galadriel, etc, were they to take the Ring.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 17:51
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    @tchrist Again, we're talking about the One Ring, not the other Rings of Power. The One Ring was just a ring to Tom Bombadil, so of course none of its powers were exhibited. And clearly mortals would not be the only ones whom the One Ring would corrupt, as both Gandalf and Galadriel stated quite clearly that, should they take up the One Ring, they would eventually become corrupted and as horrible as Sauron.
    – Beofett
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 19:25
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    @AndresF. To nitpick a second time, we also know it turned Men invisible. Isildur was seen only after the Ring slipped off his finger at the Gladden Fields.
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 20:28
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    Does the One Ring really give control over the Ring Wraiths? If I recall correctly, at Weathertop, Frodo becomes visible to the Wraiths once he puts on the Ring, but not only he doesn't control them, this doesn't stop them from attacking him. Maybe he doesn't know how to use the Ring, and he doesn't have enough personal power (even though he shows considerable strength of the spirit throughout the book), but at the very least one would expect the Wraiths not to attack the Ring bearer. Apparently, they are still controlled by Sauron, even though he doesn't have the Ring for a long time.
    – Zottek
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 10:06
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    @Zottek interesting point. The One Ring was explicitly designed to subvert the bearers of the other rings ("One Ring to rule them all ... and in the darkness bind them"). However, it is unclear (to me, at least) whether direct control is possible (and the hobbits simply don't know how), or whether the binding is simply by slow corruption, eventually turning the bearers under Sauron's control. Given that the bearers of the elvish rings were uncorrupted, yet were threatened, I suspect there is some mechanism for direct control.
    – Beofett
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 12:31

Simply stated : Power.

The Power to do whatever you want (within the bounds of your own being and nature).

For Sam : The power to stop people destroying the Shire.
For Galadriel : The power to preserve the Elves
For Boromir : The power to save his people and family.

In each case, the power would eventually overwhelm them and destroy them.

It's not like a D&D ring of invisibility. it's more like a mass mind control and reality warping device.

It's not what it does to others though that is important, it's what it does to you


I have always thought that the ring was a kind of amplificator of personal power (magical and mundane), which is explained by Galadriel when she refuses Frodo's offer (everybody would love me blabla..) and by dreams like Sam's cited previously (albeit the delusive effect of the ring).

This theory goes well with the powers of a Galadriel (first born of the Noldor) or a Gandalf (Istari or Maia in human form). They would have developed tremendous powers with the ring (exactly like Sauron). But both are also aware of its corrupting nature and pass the test (they refuse the gift).

If the power of hobbits is clearly "discretion" (as Gollum) and simplify the idea of invisibility associated with the ring: What about a great warrior like Isildur (invisible not super warrior ???). My explanation is that the rings over their amplifying powers put you a little bit more in the "spirit" world (The source of power, the original song of the Ainur).

The Humans & Hobbits have souls, not spirits like the aforementioned: so they "shift": if you are mortal you gain presence in the spirit world and leave nearly no trace in the physical world (The invisibility is not a "perfect one" as explained in The Hobbit). But beings of power, having spiritual & physical presence, are in both worlds so they don't become invisible. This also explains the "amplifying" power of the other rings (the 3 or the 7): riches for the dwarves (but as the rings are tainted this leads to greed), security and protection of their realms & kinds for the elves. The magic of Middle Earth is very subtle (not of the D&D Fireball style), but Gandalf wearing the ring of Fire is still the best Pyromancer(Anor) of his time ;)

In my opinion all the pieces of the puzzle fit !

By the way Sauron & Gandalf are both Maia "issued" from Aulë. One corrupted by Morgoth the other not. Both are using their communication skills to achieve their goals, one with empathy the other with manipulative evil. No need to wonder what Gandalf's intelligence, empathy and secrecy would have given with the corruption of the One...

One Ring to rule them all ! Yes, all the rings touched by Sauron were linked to the One (except the 3), which simplified the control he sought over the main rulers of the time (who received those rings). The rings were also built for a specific racial trait (or race) as the poem goes... Sauron's effort to get the last of the 7 for him when is plot was thwarted by Dwarf resilience to magic is also a good indicator of their real "wealth generating effect" to rebuild his new Mordor.

Hope you liked my prose ;)


  • I do! Thats a nice answer!
    – Evgeni
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 11:53
  • That fits with what's in the books. Tolkien's take on magic wasn't anything you can fit on a card or work out with dice. Magic in Middle Earth is ethereal, non-linear and definitely non-mechanical.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 10:22
  • Good except one part: the Three Rings actually would be risky to wear while Sauron had the One; they weren't sullied by him but they were still crafted from the knowledge of Sauron. Of course originally the Rings were meant for the elves entirely; only when they perceived his deception did he declare war and take Rings by force (but he never found the Three). Then he ensnared Men and attempted to ensnare Dwarves.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 21:59

The power of the One Ring was Sauron's power. Therefore, anyone who claimed and was able to fully wield the One Ring would have gained many of the powers of a being (formerly) of divine nature.

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.

There are four thing we know the Ring grants, which is consistent with what we know to be the powers of a Maia.

  1. To make the Seen unseen, and the Unseen seen. We see this occur when Frodo, Gollum, and Sam put on the Ring. Sauron is fundamentally one of the Unseen: incarnation to a Maia is something like wearing clothes (although Sauron's abilities in that area were curtailed after the Downfall of Númenor). I think we could reasonably speculate that someone who mastered the Ring would not become invisible, but simply exist in both worlds at once. Sauron, after all, was not invisible when wearing the Ring. It may also depend on how much you yourself dwell in both worlds: Hobbits did not at all, while say, Glorfindel dwelt in both worlds and was visible in both worlds. Access to the Unseen would allow you to see and speak with the spirits of faded Elves and dead Elves who refused the summons of the Valar, and perhaps of dead men.

  2. Immortality. The Ring apparently kept your hröa and fëa (essentially body and soul) together until at last you "faded" just like the Elves. (In fact, Gandalf uses the exact same word, even in quotes! "A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if often enough uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades[...]". One wonders if the Elves would still fade. The Three were apparently made to preserve things and prevent fading, but the One is a different matter altogether.

  3. Telepathy. It was one of the native powers of the Maiar, and we actually saw in in effect to some degree. For Frodo, who Galadriel said "perceived my thought more clearly than many who are accounted wise," and when Sam put on the Ring and understood the speech (he "understood and translated the thought to himself") of Orcs. We can easily imagine that if someone such as Denethor (who was already practiced in it) wore the Ring and actually claimed it for himself, his powers would be greatly enhanced in that area.

  4. Domination of the will of others. This is the big one. This was the whole reason Sauron forged the Ring, which was made in "[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." We saw that even Hobbits were capable of some degree: Frodo subjugated Gollum (for a time), Sam terrified Orcs, and Sauron evidently used it to aid him in his domination of the Númenóreans: "He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans."

It's fantasies of (4) (often no doubt beyond the power of the wielder) that the Ring uses to corrupt people. It is a real power of the Ring, although Frodo, for example, would have been destroyed if he tried to do it (according to Galadriel) until he trained his mind to the domination of others. That's why Galadriel, Sam, Gollum, and the others dreamed of leading armies and commanding others to create gardens/bring fish. The chief power of the One Ring was power itself, as we understand it: the desire for and ability to get others to do what we want, influence in the world. Here is what Tolkien had to say Elrond, Galadriel, or Gandalf would have done with the One Ring:

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).

I do not thing that the Ring would have granted greater physical endurance, or physical strength. Those were not inherent powers of the Maiar, but of the forms they took on.


I thought it was the power to control the owners of the other rings--all the rulers of the most powerful factions in the world.

The phrase wasn't "One Ring more powerful than them all", it was "One ring to rule them all" which I read as granting control or at least influence over the others--otherwise why did he create them and give them out?

  • Yes it was meant to rule all the other Rings (or those wearing them). Originally that was meant to be just elves, though. In fact he only created the One; the others were made by the Elves: once they had perceived his deceit they were scared and removed them. He declared open war, took the Rings he could by force (he could never find the Three because the elves hid them) and then gave them out to other races.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:02

The principle power of the ring was the domination of the minds and wills of others. This was how Sauron was able to raise huge armies and mind-control his servants.

The other ring bearers were more vulnerable to the One Ring's power of domination, but it would work on non ring-bearers too.

Frodo uses the power of the ring to dominate Gollum in The Return of the King and Sam uses it to scare away the orcs at Mordor when Frodo is captured.

The ring also enhanced one's innate ability to read minds. This is how Frodo was able to read Galadriel's thoughts at Lórien.

The other abilities the ring conferred upon its bearers were invisibility and longevity.

Finally as Galadriel said, the Ring gave power to each bearer according to his measure.


It's somewhat complex.

When the other Rings of Power were forged Sauron helped in the creation of all but three (the ones kept by the elves). As a result, he exercised some degree of influence over their users. However, since he didn't help make them, he didn't have that power over the Three. Therefore, he forged the One as an amplifier of his inherent ability to dominate others so that he could control the Three.

While that was the primary purpose of the ring, it also gave a litany of unintended (but not unwanted) powers.

  1. While the amplification of the user's ability to dominate other wills was primarily intended for dominating the other rings, it amplified that ability in general. As a result, the user could exercise influence over the wills of those around them.

  2. The mechanism by which the One gave its user power was by partially transferring him into the spirit world (the original song of the Ainur). As a side effect, this allowed the user to see spirits and, in the case of mortals, turn invisible. The latter didn't work on elves, Istari, and other immortals, since they were already at least partially spiritual in nature.

  3. The ring kept the user's body and soul firmly in the mortal coil, giving them immortality of the same sort as the elves. In other words, the ring's user wouldn't die of old age, although he could still be killed or fade away.

  4. When he created the Ring Sauron put a great deal of his soul into it in order to power it. As a result, he couldn't be killed while the ring continued to exist. Whether or not that extended to other users isn't said, although the fact that Frodo survived the blunt trauma from the pike stab in Moria with no more than a couple cracked ribs seems to indicate that it does.

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