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I'm curious as to why Sauron is the only being/person shown wearing the One Ring who does not become invisible?

Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, and Samwise all become invisible while wearing the One Ring.

Why didn't Sauron become invisible while wearing the one ring?

I became interested after reading Pearsonartphoto's question asking what effect wearing the One Ring would have had on other beings.

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    Tom Bombadil also wore the Ring without disappearing. – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 1:41
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    Is there any reason to think that Sauron could not have used the ring's power to become invisible? It seems to me that the simplest answer to this question is "Only Sauron ever had complete control over the power of the ring; he could have used it to become invisible if he wanted to, but he didn't want to". – zwol Oct 15 '15 at 18:45
  • I had the impression that this was a side-effect on lesser, non-magical beings. – PoloHoleSet Aug 22 '16 at 15:44
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    Related: Why wasn't Sauron invisible when he wore the Ring? – TARS Sep 20 '16 at 10:17

13 Answers 13

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The Ring made its wearer invisible by shifting them mostly into the Unseen world. Gandalf told Frodo:

You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself.

Gandalf also stated:

if [a mortal] often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings.

But Sauron already lived in that world as a Maia - his body was something deliberately constructed. Sauron was naturally pure spirit, not a hybrid like mortals or Elves and Dwarves. Since his presence in the mortal world was in effect a construct of his own, not him himself, it was not shifted into the Unseen world.

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    Great answer, I didn't know most of this! – Ben Brocka Mar 8 '12 at 22:41
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    note that elves are not mortal. Glorfindel was clearly visible to Frodo "on the other side" as a shining figure at the Ford – horatio Mar 8 '12 at 22:45
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    Dwarves, while mortal in the sense that they will die, were created by Aule and imbued with characteristics unlike Men and Hobbits, i.e. their resistance to domination. They aren't mortal in the sense that Tolkien used the word, kind of a synonym for the "Children of Eru". Ents would presumably be mortal, for instance. – dlanod Mar 9 '12 at 5:44
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    @horatio. Glorfindel had lived in Valinor, and seen the light of the trees. And such elves live in both worlds. Other elves do not. – TRiG Nov 7 '12 at 4:04
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    @horatio - "Glorfindel tells of his ancestry in Gondolin" goes back to the first drafts of LotR. "Ancestry" doesn't imply any intention that they're the same character, of course (he could have been a descendent with the same name) but it does establish that even right at the start Tolkien was seeing a connection. – user8719 Jan 10 '14 at 0:43
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I was always under the impression that Sauron as the master of the One Ring and partial creator had much more access to the true powers of the ring. Invisibility seemed to be a very minor power that actually seemed to be drawing the wearer of the ring into the spirit realm. Sauron already seemed to have some mastery over the spirit realm and therefore wouldn't be subjected to becoming invisible unless he decided to.

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    Since Sauron is a Maia, he's rather closely linked to the "spirit world" - as he's originally a spirit himself. – Josh Darnell Mar 8 '12 at 21:55
  • @jadarnel27 I don't know that being a Maia is necessarily the relevant bit. It seems to me that it's more important that he lost his physical body in the ruin of Numenor and fled to Middle-Earth as a spirit. – Brian Gordon Sep 19 '16 at 23:58
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It was my understanding that the One Ring was built FOR Sauron. Everyone else got a pale reflection of what it could do. Sauron had full control over it and was capable of using it to do several different things. The others who have it did not have any control over it and so they a) had no control over how the ring behaved for them and b) the ring would begin to control THEM. In essence the ring is still working for Sauron, even when he is not wearing it.

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    I always like it when someone posts almost the same answer as I do at almost the same time. It makes me feel like I understood the story and that someone else understood it as well. – Kevin Howell Mar 8 '12 at 20:03
  • brofist makes it hard to decide the correct answer though... That being said, should be you. Technically you finished your post first! – Ashterothi Mar 8 '12 at 20:07
  • I really like your point that the ring is always working for Sauron. Gandalf definitely knew this. Also I'm sure someone will come along soon and site references and give actual data to back up their theory most likely they'll receive the award for the correct answer. – Kevin Howell Mar 8 '12 at 20:48
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Invisibility for hobbits was caused by their natural stealth features. the Ring amplified that tendency, like all others (greed in Dwarves etc..).

In other words, the One Ring wasn't an "Invisibility Ring", it merely aided those predisposed to it to become invisible.

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    The ring didn't cause Isildor to become invisible? – Jack B Nimble Mar 8 '12 at 19:54
  • @JackBNimble - I don't recall that being stated, but not certain. Ask as a separate Q, may be someone will recall – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 8 '12 at 19:56
  • It did in the movie. – Dylan Yaga Mar 8 '12 at 20:03
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    Isildur was invisible when he wore it. "Isildur himself escaped by means of the Ring, for when he wore it he was invisible to all eyes; but the Orcs hunted him by scent and slot, until he came to the River and plunged in." (Silmarillion) – horatio Mar 8 '12 at 22:50
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    The Nine also turned invisible when they put on their rings: "Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. ... They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun," So it seems plausible that invisibility is a part of Ring of Power technology. – Brian Gordon Dec 17 '13 at 22:04
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Sauron doesn't turn invisible because he is above the material world. He is of the beings that helped make it.

You have Eru Ilúvatar who if you were to compare to Christianity, would be God. You have the Ainur who are equivalent to angels for all intents and purposes. The Ainur split into two groups, the Valar (The greater of the two) and the Maia (The lesser spirits). I say they can be called angels, but the Valar might even parallel the Greek gods.

Sauron is a maia, just like Gandalf, Saruman, the Balrog, etc. The Ring was created by him as a means to control the other rings he offered to the Elves, Men, and Dwarves. He had complete control over the One Ring because he was its creator and master. I imagine any Maia would have had the abilities or know-how to demonstrate some form of control with the ring, but the theory never gets tested, as Gandalf is too afraid to use it. (We can only speculate that he was only too weak to handle it in his human form, but maybe even Olorin (Gandalf as a Maia, not a man) could have been corrupted) We can also only speculate that Tom Bombadil, the only potential Ainur to have donned the ring besides Sauron, was even a Maia to begin with.

But Tom Bombadil did clue is into one thing, and that is that not ALL beings were drawn by its corruption, thus leading me personally to believe he was either Eru himself, or that if Gandalf had been in his true form, he would not have had problems with the Ring. As a manifestation of man, perhaps he was more prone to be corrupted. (A trait we see mirrored in the fact that the nazgul were the only ones to fall corrupt) (Edit: Oh and also in Saruman's betrayal)

Of course my TL;DR answer would be that once you've turned your back on your creator, and your big brother Morgoth is gone, and dissolved your soul into a material possession, what is left to turn invisible :D

  • Interesting answer! Is LoTR itself a Christian allegory series, or were you just making those comparisons as examples? Also, you say that Tom Bombadil suggested that not all beings were drawn in by the One Ring's corruption -- which beings would this be? Welcome to scifi.stackexchange, btw :) – Slytherincess Mar 10 '12 at 20:42
  • Hello, Slytherincess! Thanks for the welcoming words. J.R.R.T stated that he did not mean for his writing to be allegory. (I imagine he would not like the idea of his writing being compared to the Chronicles of Narnia) The relations I was making were putting them in the only context I can relate them too. The Ainur sang songs to create the world, and that has nothing to do with Christianity at all. You can read all about this in The Silmarillion. For question 2: I can only speculate that the Ainur (The Valar and the Maia) would not be corrupted in their true forms. – Sheph Mar 11 '12 at 8:46
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    Bearing in mind, that while Gandalf was a Maia, he was instructed by Manwe (The lead Valar) to go to Middle Earth as one of the five wizards. They were to take the forms of Men, and their powers were severely limited. Manwe could have stopped Sauron at any time he wanted, but he chose to let Men resolve the issue themselves. The wizards were there to guide Men in the right direction. When Gandalf dies, he is sent back by Manwe with increased power (To balance the loss of Saruman) But Gandalf in his true form might have been able to stop Sauron even. We can only speculate at that too! – Sheph Mar 11 '12 at 8:50
  • Galadriel's speech when offered the One freely by Frodo in Lothlorien seems to imply that she at least knows she would have some control over it: “And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!” Galadriel is one of the oldest and most powerful elve, she herself lived in Aman. – Drunken Code Monkey May 20 '15 at 0:28
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Also the power of the ring was relative to the power of the bearer and/or the distance from Sauron. If you recall, the ring does something completely different when Samwise puts it on in Mordor.

Also, the ring was a completely different temptation to Gandalf and Galadriel because it would increase their overall power, not just turn them invisible. Bilbo and Frodo were mere hobbits. Thus it only granted them invisibility. I am willing to bet it granted Isildur powers beyond invisibility, thus why he prized it so. It doesn't go into detail as to what he gained from the ring.

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    1. Sam never put it on in Mordor, only in Cirith Ungol. He specifically said he could tell that if he wore it in Mordor, Sauron would find him immediately 2. The Ring didn't do anything different for Sam. It turned him invisible and enhanced his hearing, exactly the same as it had done for Smeagol, Bilbo, and Frodo – childcat15 Dec 10 '13 at 15:57
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Well, Sauron doesn't have a body by the time of the war of the ring, so there's nothing to make invisible - his body was destroyed when Eru sank Numenor. Like other answers suggest, what people see when they look at him is a construct of his spiritual presence/power - as well as some armor and other such earthly objects.

  • Letter 246: "Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic"; he didn't have a body in the movies for sure, but since the question mentions Sam's use of the Ring, we can assume that it relates to the books. – user8719 Mar 14 '15 at 14:43
  • @DarthSatan: I was talking about the books. "Taking the form of a man" does not mean "having a body" necessarily. Ghosts have forms of men, but no bodies, for example. – einpoklum Mar 18 '15 at 3:56
  • Since there's already a question about that, I don't think we need continue this further: scifi.stackexchange.com/q/27657/8719 – user8719 Mar 18 '15 at 8:06
  • Except Gollum says Sauron "has four fingers, but they are enough" in the books. If you have four fingers, chances are you have a body. – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 1:46
  • Isildur literally cut off Sauron's ring finger after Sauron was "killed" in combat with Elendil and Gil-Galad. There's no indication that the Ring was supported only by an animated suit of armor. His body was destroyed in the downfall of Numenor, but it is stated that he only lost the ability to take a fair form afterwards, not that he could not take a physical form. – chepner Jan 31 at 16:58
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The One Ring turns everyone but Sauron invisible due to the fact that as the ring is part of Sauron and thus shares his "will". That will is so powerful and consuming that it covers you from sight.

In truth, it doesn't actually turn them invisible - it actually pushes you through the folds of the world partially into the wraith realm because there is no room for you. More on the will of Sauron can be found in the Silmarillion as well as other references throughout the short stories of J.R.R. Tolkien .

  • Is your "." key broken? – Null Feb 7 '15 at 2:05
  • Do you have any canonical backing for this - sounds like just your opinion to me, or a twisting of some facts into something else – The Fallen Feb 7 '15 at 2:40
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Sauron and Tom Bombadil could actually use the ring. Invisibility is the power that is granted to those who can't unlock it's full potential.

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    Do you have any references or examples of this happening? – phantom42 Aug 14 '15 at 18:09
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Sauron is a Maia and he belongs into the Spirit World,as well as Valar and the Eldar partly and he can take several forms as an act of his own free will (giant wolf,bat,serpent etc).After the destruction of Numenor he could never take any form other than his terrifying one.So he choses to become visible and reveal himself to others.

My opinion is when crafting the One Ring,Sauron put into it the ability to pass into Spirit World. Its not the same as being invisible because the bearer of the Ring could actually be seen in daylight as a mere shadow, when Sun is at its peek. So lesser beings like Hobbits or Men could use the powers of the Ring only to extent of their own capabilities and eventually became consumed by it passing permanently into Shadow.

The One Ring is a product of Sauron's making, so its evil and corrupted and has greater influence on someone who has lust for power and domination like Black Numenoreans who became the Nazgul. Sauron is already the embodiment of evil so the Ring has no effect on him, only extends his powers. He cannot turn invisible because he is in control of its powers unlike the others, except maybe the strongest among the Eldar not including Galadriel and Elrond if they wore the Ring, But they are all long dead :)

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Sauron actually IS the dark power that rules the Rings. As their Ruler, and as the being who created the Ruling Ring, and who made it to be subservient to his will, he himself is not subject to it.

The Ring obeys him, just as all the lesser rings obey it.

The title of the book answers this question: Sauron is literally "the lord of the rings". It is Sauron who is their lord and master. They obey him, not the other way round.

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All of The Valar had the ability to become invisible.In the Silmarillion Morgoth / Melkor lost this ability due to investing too much of himself into Middle Earth.Sauron was a great shape shifter before he poured most of his native strength into The Ring,therefore I think he has the ability to choose whether or not he's invisible whilst wearing it.

  • To take it even further, it's probably more accurate to say that the Ainur are naturally invisible to mortal eyes, and have the ability to take a visible form when it suits them. Sauron is never stated to have lost the ability to change form completely, only that he could not take a fair form (which one could argue means that the forms you can take are somehow linked to and limited by your inner nature, and Sauron was too far gone to take a fair form). – chepner Jan 31 at 17:02
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Sauron didn't become invisible because he was never visible in "this" dimension. The ring has one main power and purpose: connecting both dimensions. It existed in both dimensions. Once you wear it you access the other one. Thus Sauron needing it to come to "ours".

  • Do you have anything to help substantiate your answer? Information from a particular story or something from Tolkien's many papers? – Thaddeus Howze Jan 6 '17 at 6:51
  • Sauron did quite a lot in "our" dimension long before creating the Ring. I see the Ring as an example of sympathetic magic; in order to exert control over the other Rings of Power, Sauron need to imbue a Ring of his own with his own power. – chepner Jan 31 at 17:04

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