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The One Ring gave Sauron control of the Nine, yet when it was taken from him he still possessed the power to control them (or, at least he regained it towards the end of the third age). Why is this? The Wikipedia article mentions that he drew the Nine to him, but not how.

  • I might be wrong, but what I recall is that Sauron's soul [or something similar] is part of what forged the ring, which made them be controlled by Sauron, and the reason that makes Sauron seek the ring (to restore his power) – Oak May 21 '14 at 17:01
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    @Oak I think yes, he put a bit of himself IIRC into the forging process (From the books). But how can his soul poured into a ring, that he does not possess command the Nine, without the ring? – One-One May 21 '14 at 17:04
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    As I recall (but have no reference to back it up), the One Ring is what enabled Sauron to corrupt the Ring Bearers (well, the Nine at least); once corrupted, however, they served Sauron, not the Ring. "In the darkness bind them" means to bind them to Sauron's will. – Kromey May 21 '14 at 17:24
53

After the wearers of the Nine Rings had become the Ringwraiths, Sauron -- who at that time still possessed the One Ring -- took their Rings from them. In a letter, Professor Tolkien wrote,

Sauron ... still through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills.

from The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien; emphasis mine.

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    Ah, now that I did not know. Awesome. – Matthew Read Mar 5 '12 at 18:54
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    Why would he take their rings? – Petersaber Jul 10 '15 at 8:42
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    @Petersaber To control them, it appears. – Matthew Read Jul 10 '15 at 13:28
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    @Petersaber - collateral on their souls. "Witch King of Angmar! You come to me seeking power! What would you give for such power!" "Anything, Lord Sauron! Anything!!" "Even your SOUL...?????" "Even that, my lord - ANYTHING! Just...not my ring. I love my ring. My little ring...my little ring...I like to play with my little ring..." "A RING?!?!? GIVE IT TO ME!!!!" "No!" "YES!!" "NO!!!" "YESSSSS!!!!!!!!" "Oooh, I just love those sssssibilant esssssesssss!!!! OK, here's the ring. Give me power!!!!" "Power, shmower. I've got the ring. You do as I say, puppet-boy!" "Oh, drat..." – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jan 3 '17 at 4:13
  • @BobJarvis I thought he controlled them through a connection between their Rings and One Ring, so in my mind it didn't make sense to "sever" that connection while he still had the One Ring. – Petersaber Jan 3 '17 at 10:24
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Despite no longer being in control of the One Ring, Sauron still maintained control over the Nazgûl through each of the Nine rings which he regained while still in control of the One.

Letter #246 explains that even if someone else had control over the One Ring, the Nazgûl would still ultimately obey Sauron:

Sauron sent at once the Ringwraiths. They were naturally fully instructed, and in no way deceived as to the real lordship of the Ring...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 command 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..

246 From a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963

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    I've removed the link to pirated material and replaced it with something more appropriate. I understand that you were very much most probably just using it to support your answer (which IMO is the correct answer), but it still shouldn't have been there. – user8719 May 21 '14 at 21:04
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    @Oldcat - also from Letter 246: "It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power" - so Saruman, or Denethor, or anyone else would be deceived by the Ring into thinking they could use it. – user8719 May 21 '14 at 21:48
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    Back in the 70s a wargame company SPI made a War of the Rings game and had an optional rule that let Saruman or Aragorn claim the ring. The wraiths started changing sides from 9 down to 1 over the turns. – Oldcat May 21 '14 at 21:53
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    @JimmyShelter Thanks for changing the link. It slipped past me the dubious nature of the previous one. – ssell May 21 '14 at 21:53
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    @Oldcat - already discussed (and disagreed on) at some length here - scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/48180/… - I'd suggest reading that (but take a deep breath cos it's a long dive in) for the arguments for and against the theory. – user8719 May 21 '14 at 21:54
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From Unfinished Tales "Hunt for the Ring":

At length Sauron resolved that no others would serve him in this case but his mightiest servants, the Ringwraiths, who had no will but his own, being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held.

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