9

This came up in the comments to another question.

According to Letter #246 of J. R. R. Tolkien,

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

(The quote was copied from another question.)

So Sauron controlled the ringwraiths by having physical access to their nine rings.

If somebody stole the nine rings from Sauron, could that person control the ringwraiths?

I prefer answers based on canon sources or from letters and quotes from Tolkien.

  • 1
    @Valorum Don't laugh! That plan might work! Look at who stole a simaril from Angband when it was guarded by somebody more powerful than Sauron. It wasn't an entire army of elves or dwarves or men. It was just Beren and Luthien. – RichS May 16 '17 at 20:04
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    @RichS - Breaking into Sauron's tower/s to steal all nine of the Nazgul's rings sounds like an absolutely amazing plot for a sequel to Ocean's 11. – Valorum May 16 '17 at 20:09
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    Gandalf would simply find more burglars. Good thing about hobbits is that there's so many of them. – void_ptr May 16 '17 at 20:10
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    This makes me wonder: where did the Nine rings go after Isildur defeated Sauron? – J Doe May 16 '17 at 20:32
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    @void_ptr And how would Gandalf control a hobbit who controls nine Nazgul? – RichS May 16 '17 at 20:34
7

We don't know.

What we do know is that Sauron is able to control the Nazgûl via the Nine Rings, but unfortunately we do not know if other people of less (or more) power is able to do the same.

Yes, we do know that the One Ring is much more powerful than the Nine Rings of the Nazgûl. But, though the Nine Rings are under the command of the One, they are still Great Rings and have an independent power of their own. The Nine Rings are used specifically to control the Nazgûl, and hence the wills of the Nazgûl are bound to the Nine Rings, just as how Sauron's is to the One Ring. In the Letters of JRR Tolkien, it is said that:

Sauron sent at once the Ringwraiths. They were naturally fully instructed, and in no way deceived as to the real lordship of the Ring. The wearer would not be invisible to them, but the reverse; and the more vulnerable to their weapons. 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 commands 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.

Use of 'primary' meaning: of chief importance. Use of 'through' meaning: by means of (a process or intermediate stage). This sentence would hence be intrepreted as: By using the Nine Rings, Sauron is able to attain primary control of the Nazgûl's wills.

So, you could say that by physically having the Nine Rings, using them to control the Nazgûl is possible as these Rings give Sauron primary control of the Nazgûl's wills.

Unfortunately, this is all that Tolkien writes on the matter of utilising the Nine Rings of Men. I am aware that this evidence does not directly answer this question; but, there is no canonical evidence that is able to answer your question. Another (non-canon) note on the Nine Rings:

At length he resolved that no other 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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