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On the One Ring there is an inscription:

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

What does "bind them" mean in this context and what is Sauron's motivation for it?

If it's just to possess/control the rings, why would he want it? Judging from the description here and here (quotes below) the three rings were either completely useless to him or he needed only one, to "ward off the decays of time".

[T]hey were not made as weapons of war or conquest: that is not their power. Those who made them did not desire strength or domination ... but understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained.


For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.


and of all the Elven-rings Sauron most desired to possess them, for those who had them in their keeping could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world.

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    To deny them to his enemies? – Valorum May 6 '17 at 19:08
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This answer relies heavily on Stan Brown's work in compiling and revising the 'FAQ of the Rings'.

TL;DR - you answered your own question, Sauron wanted the Three Rings to stave off the decay of time.

Like other Ainur, Sauron would naturally lose power as the world progressed. Yet he was consumed with the desire to control the world absolutely, to install a universal theocracy in Middle-Earth with him as supreme ruler and 'deity' to his subjects, full dominion that would last forever (or nearly forever, until the eventual Last Battle).

To achieve this, he invested his own power in the One Ring and subverted the other Rings. As we know that...

The Valar 'fade' and become more impotent, precisely in proportion as the shape and constitution of things becomes more defined and settled.

(HoME X, Myths Transformed, VII)

...Sauron (an Ainu) would have to counteract the natural tendency of power slipping out of his hands. After all, his fall from 'angelic goodness' was caused by him wanting to mold Order from Chaos, in true tradition of Aulë and his followers.

Celebrimbor managed to create artefacts that could aid Sauron in his quest against entropy (or other beings' pesky Free Will that usually mars dictators' gradiose plans):

the Three Rings of the Elves, wielded by secret guardians, are operative in preserving the memory of the beauty of old, maintaining enchanted enclaves of peace where Time seems to stand still and decay is restrained, a semblance of the bliss of the True West.

(Letter #131)

We don't know who would have wielded the Three Rings upon Sauron regaining the One, and speculation isn't my strongest suit (you can read Michael Martinez' essays for that). However, one would not rule out Sauron either a) taking the Three for himself, or b) utterly enslaving at least one elf who'd be unlucky to remain in Middle-Earth.

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I have always thought that all the rings were "rings of rulership" that captured the purest essence and inspired the highest level of characteristic attainment for the species.

Sauron needed their participation and contribution to create the rings. Neither elves, nor dwarves, nor men would have willingly helped Sauron to make the rings for their races if they had a suspicion of his intent. That the rings exist shows they were deceived, but also that they were necessary. Sauron could have taken evil elves, dwarves, or men and given them already created rings, and with such rings captured as much of the race as he intended, perhaps more - if he had the ability to make them on his own.

Tolkien also has this idea of "noble line", shown in Aragorn. There is something about the "royal blood" that has a right to rule, and a characteristic of excellence in his books.

Given this, the Elven rings were not only the "rings of rulership" of elves, that amplified elvish capacity for greatness in their characteristic strengths, but they were something that was, in part, utterly alien to Sauron. I think that if he had them captured, that he could bend them to his will, and through them darken the hearts of all the remaining elves in middle earth.

Goblins were elves once, but they were taken by the dark powers, twisted, corrupted, broken and mutilated. Similarly Orcs were once men. This is where the Uruk-hai of Saruman come from - the half-elven analog. The Uruk-hai were the equivalent of half-elves, like Elrond and like the son of Aragorn and Arwen.

Orcs are looked at as a subhuman race. They are haters and cannibals. Even Smeagol has a soul, but it is as if the orcs in the books do not. Their wives, and children are not considered. They are treated slightly better than rats, but not as well as a good dog, and certainly not as well as horses. The greatness of their attainment is measured in things like "grond" or vast numbers in an army.

Saurons armies are strongly dominated by orcs. It may be that in the "nine for mortal men" there is a connection to the broken humanity in the orc armies. The nine rings over an orc army makes them fight longer, harder, and crueler. You can also look at the very high level of sorcery that the king of the ring-wraiths has. It seems that it put the pinnacle of human magic attainment into the arsenal of the dark powers. You can see in Barrow wights and the ghost army that necromancy is also something in the power of men - and Sauron when he re-materializes calls the nine from their graves and they come - against many bars and incantations to prevent such from occurring.

I suspect that the 3 rings in the hands of Sauron would make both the highest skills of the elves into the hands of darkness, and that it would make goblin and Uruk-hai armies substantially more powerful, unified in battle, and cruel in their strength.

  • This makes me wonder what the corruption of the Dwarves was. Trolls perhaps? – EngrStudent May 6 '17 at 23:17
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    All the Rings were made by Elves. None were made by Men or Dwarves. They were made by Elves, for Elves, with Sauron's help. Sauron took them and distributed the 16 "lesser" Great Rings and gave nine to men and seven to Dwarves. (Although allegedly Celebrimbor's people gave one to Durin.) Good summary here: middle-earth.xenite.org/who-were-the-rings-of-power-made-for – Shamshiel May 6 '17 at 23:28
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    I was under the impression that goblins were just a smaller variety of orcs and that orcs were created from elves as you described. Created before the sun and moon, they had trouble with light. Trolls were made in the same fashion from ents. – Verdan May 7 '17 at 2:00
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I think you've partially answered your own question. Sauron, too, would have been interested in preservation: the Gift of Men was felt even by the Ainur to be a gift - Sauron, no doubt, also felt some of the "ever-mounting burden of the years."

Then the Messengers said: ‘Indeed the mind of Ilúvatar concerning you is not known to the Valar, and he has not revealed all things that are to come. But this we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the Land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World. And the Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew wilful and proud and would not yield, until life was reft from them. We who bear the ever-mounting burden of the years do not clearly understand this; but if that grief has returned to trouble you, as you say, then we fear that the Shadow arises once more and grows again in your hearts. (Akallabeth)

Postponing the weariness of the world would be something, therefore, in Sauron's interest.

You also mention the specific abilities attributed to Gandalf's Ring of Fire:

For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.

It's easy to imagine how Sauron would pervert such a power - imagine armies of Orcs inspired with new fervor, rather than Men and Elves.

He probably also wanted the Three so he could give them out to those he chose, as he did the Nine. Then, with the One Ring, he would be able to utterly control the bearers of the Three. So regardless of whether the Rings were useful because of their primary powers, Sauron would have been able to use them to lure and absolutely control (hopefully, anyway) some (probably) Men somewhere.

So it is now: the Nine he has gathered to himself; the Seven also, or else they are destroyed. The Three are hidden still. But that no longer troubles him. He only needs the One; for he made that Ring himself, it is his, and he let a great part of his own former power pass into it, so that he could rule all the others. If he recovers it, then he will command them all again, wherever they be, even the Three, and all that has been wrought with them will be laid bare, and he will be stronger than ever. (LotR)

I say probably Men because the Elves would have taken off the Rings, and therefore could not have been controlled. This was a characteristic of the Elves, not of the Three.

But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearer could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them. He reckoned, however, without the wisdom and subtle perceptions of the Elves. The moment he assumed the One, they were aware of it, and of his secret purpose, and were afraid. They hid the Three Rings, so that not even Sauron ever discovered where they were and they remained unsullied. (Letters)

  • @Edlothiad: Care to elaborate? I included it because it shows that with the One, Sauron can command the Three, although at least with Elves it doesn't work out since they are 'aware' of him and stop using them - presumably the same isn't true of Men and Dwarves, given they were not aware of him, and the superior of Elves when it comes to "telepathy" implies it's a species characteristic and not a ring-characteristic that made it so. – Shamshiel May 6 '17 at 23:00
  • Hmm, I seemed to have misread your quote. And from elsewhere read that he was unable to control the 3. Sorry I'll delete my above comment. – Edlothiad May 6 '17 at 23:02
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You've already partly-answered your own question.

[...] and three of their rings they saved, and bore them away, and hid them. Now these were the Three that had last been made, and they possessed the greatest powers. Narya, Nenya, and Vilya, they were named, the Rings of Fire, and of Water, and of Air, set with ruby and adamant and sapphire; and of all the Elven-rings Sauron most desired to possess them, for those who had them in their keeping could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world.

Basically, Sauron wanted the Rings (back) because he didn't want the Elves to use the Rings' powers to heal Middle-earth. Once he had retrieved the Rings, he would destroy them. He just didn't want the Elves to 'enjoy' their time on Middle-earth.

Unfortunately for Sauron, this is exactly what Galadriel did.

[...] whereas the Ring of Adamant was in the Land of Lórien where dwelt the Lady Galadriel. A queen she was of the woodland Elves, the wife of Celeborn of Doriath, yet she herself was of the Noldor and remembered the Day before days in Valinor, and she was the mightiest and fairest of all the Elves that remained in Middle-earth. But the Red Ring remained hidden until the end, and none save Elrond and Galadriel and Círdan knew to whom it had been committed. Thus it was that in two domains the bliss and beauty of the Elves remained still undiminished while that Age endured: in Imladris; and in Lothlórien, the hidden land between Celebrant and Anduin, where the trees bore flowers of gold and no Orc or evil thing dared ever come.


'Bind' is defined as: 'tie or fasten (something) tightly together.' This would mean that Sauron would use the One Ring to control all the other 19 (3+7+9) Rings of Power. The Elves, Dwarves and Men wielding the Rings would become under Sauron's power, and serve him.

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