I have always thought it interesting that Gandalf briefly handles the One Ring once or twice without being affected by it, as powerful as he is. (And my understanding is that the temptation is stronger the more powerful you are, which is why Hobbits are the safest bearers.) Furthermore, Frodo keeps it secret and safe, sealed in an envelope, for 17 years, without ever being tempted by it. He never breaks the seal on the envelope (though I can't remember if the seal was in the book.)

This leads me to wonder. If Gandalf (a wizard, mind you) had instead encased the Ring in steel and stuffed it in a bag, and didn't tell Frodo what it was, only that the bag and its contents had to be destroyed at Mount Doom, would it have affected Frodo or anyone else? Surely there must have been a safer way to carry the Ring without risking corrupting the bearer so much.

I realize that Gandalf had to remove the Ring from the envelope to determine what it is, but let's say for argument he didn't. Alternatively, what if Gandalf had encased it in steel once he determined what it was, then convinced Frodo to give it up, and convinced someone else like Sam or Gimli to carry it to Mount Doom without knowing what it was. Would that have worked?

Also assume for the sake of argument that Gandalf is clever enough to convince Frodo or someone to destroy something in the fires of Mount Doom without telling them what it is.

  • I think they settled the question about whether it would be better to give the ring to someone who wasn't affected by it at the Council of Elrond. It's important to remember that Frodo, et al, were willing to give their lives in the quest. Would they have been so committed if they didn't know what they carried or why? – Quasi_Stomach Jun 1 '17 at 23:07
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    Apologies for my earlier comment, I was in a bad mood. Is your question that of the title or that in the body? – Edlothiad Jun 1 '17 at 23:33
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    The Quest might actually not have succeeded without being able to use the Ring—remember Sam using it after Frodo got captured at Cirith Ungol (at least in the book; my movie-memorie is fuzzy). – Neithan Jun 2 '17 at 3:00
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    Gandalf did touch It in the books. Twice. – Mat Cauthon Jun 2 '17 at 8:23

Possibly, but we can't be certain

The One Ring is able to corrupt people who see it or not, having a noticeably stronger effect when the person is able to see it. As for people who don't see it and don't know it's there, that will be answered below.

The Ring tempts those who are unable to discern its lies.

We do know it could affect people who couldn't see it but knew it was there.

As seen in the case of Boromir, he was immediately tempted by the Ring once it appeared. I expect he was hearing: 'Take me take me or Gondor will fall! Let King Boromir win Mordor!' Finally, Boromir succumbs to this voice and causes the breaking of the Fellowship. On the other hand, his brother Faramir is wiser. He manages to 'pass the test' and doesn't succumb to the Ring like Boromir did.

In the case of Samwise, he is given visions of him conquering Sauron:

He felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. 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-dur. 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.

In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.

What of people who can't see it and also don't know it was there?

Unfortunately it's hard to form a valid conclusion as such incidences didn't happen very often. Here's 1 from the Unfinished Tales:

No tortures would have satisfied his anger with the bungling fools who had let slip the greatest prize in Middle earth; even though they could know nothing of the One Ring, which save to Sauron himself was known only to the Nine Ringwraiths, its slaves. Yet many have thought the ferocity and determination of their assault on Isildur was in part due to the Ring.

Another incident would be when the Ringwraiths 'sensed' the Ring's present near Minas Morgul, but one may argue that he sensed the hobbits themselves.

Even as these thoughts pierced him with dread and held him bound as with a spell, the Rider halted suddenly, right before the entrance of the bridge, and behind him all the host stood still. There was a pause, a dead silence. Maybe it was the Ring that called to the Wraith-lord, and for a moment he was troubled, sensing some other power within his valley. This way and that turned the dark head helmed and crowned with fear, sweeping the shadows with its unseen eyes.

The Ring, in these 2 incidences, attracted "bad guys" only. So, we can't be certain if this works on the "good guys". Note the use of 'many have thought' in the first quote and 'maybe' in the second. It is possible that the answer could also be no, based on one's point of view.


The One Ring would presumably still talk to whoever carries the metal box.

There is plenty of proof of the Ring talking to whoever it chooses (though they must be nearby). It always selects the easiest target to manipulate. That choice is intentional, and shows that the Ring is capable of understanding both its current environments, and the character of those in its current environment.
There is no proof of the Ring only being able to speak to those who know its true identity. Sméagol is a good example of this, as he considered the Ring he found to be a pretty object; not a source of power.

The One Ring is insidious. It has a mind of its own. It chooses who to manipulate. It chooses who it talks to, specifically those who are prone to succumb to it, and it convinces them that they should keep the Ring for themselves.

The Ring's MO is also very particular. It tries to change the good idea that

This power must be destroyed

into the misguided idea that

I can only achieve my goal if I use this power

But, as I will address in a little bit, that is not the only way in which the Ring works. It's simply a very effective manipulation tactic, that many people fall victim to at soem point in their lives.

To misquote Harvey Dent:

You either die trying to destroy the evil power, or you live long enough that you will wield the evil power in a misguided attempt to use it to destroy the evil power.

To summarize the below explanations:

  • The Ring is smart enough to pick the weakest link. It is only limited by proximity to the target, but it knows them inside out.
  • The Ring is smart enough to change how it manipulates. It tailors the manipulation of Frodo to the instillment of paranoia (about Sam), as opposed to the promise of power (Sam, Boromir, Isildur).
  • The Ring is aware of its environment. It promised power to Boromir when Boromir was capable of taking the Ring from a weak Hobbit. But it changed its tactics when that was no longer viable.
  • Sméagol had no idea of the Ring's identity; yet he was still swayed by it. He never truly cared about the Ring's power even when he was told about it. Gollum had his own reasons for desiring the Ring: pure and simple greed. This proves that the Ring can manipulate as it chooses to manipulate, it is not a one trick pony that always revolves around either the desire for personal power (Boromir) or the fear of others' desire for power (Frodo, about Sam).
  • It just so happens that it's pretty easy to sway people with the promise of power, and imbuing its wearer with power is exactly the reputation of the One Ring. Its identity is a tool in its manipulation arsenal, but not a requirement.

From this, we can conclude that if an unknowing subject were to carry a sealed metallic box, the Ring could still speak to it. It probably couldn't instill the promise of power by wielding the Ring (as the subject is not aware of it), but it could instill paranoia as to what was inside the box; urging the subject to open it. Or it could instill the idea that the box is very valuable, and can be sold to the right people for money; which is a promise of financial power.

Let's say we encase it in stone, somewhere inside a mountain. While the Ring could never really instill a miner with the idea that "by opening this rock, I will wield supreme power and destroy my enemies", it could still urge the miner to pick that spot by instilling the idea that "my gut tells me that there's precious metal in this stone".

I am foregoing any theories that encasing the Ring in a box of a particular material would block the telepathic powers of the Ring. I cannot recall any case where magic has an elemental weakness; it is not part of the lore as far as I can remember.
If that were the case, we would have seen some sort of magical armor in one for or another;

Gandalf was a desirable but hard to manipulate target, and did not have a prolonged exposure to the Ring.

Gandalf has a strong mind and is not easily swayed nor manipulated. Other than Saruman, Gandalf has not shown to be a bad judge of character, both of himself and others. He is aware of his surroundings, and incredibly pragmatic.

It's likely that Gandalf never handled the One Ring long enough that it could actually manipulate him.
Gandalf may sense that the Ring would be trying to manipulate him; which means that the Ring reveals itself to Gandalf as a Ring of Power. The Ring may have actively decided against trying to sway Gandalf, because it would work to the detriment of the goal of getting back to Sauron.

This may have been different if Gandalf had carried the Ring for an extended amount of time. Maybe he would not notice subtle manipulations. Gandalf quickly identifies this possibility and therefore passes the Ring to someone he knows well enough to know that he has no desire for power, lacks a violent trait and has no combat prowess even if he wanted to.
In this way, Frodo is a polar opposite to Gandalf.

Gandalf, while definitely not omnipotent, is already more capable than practically any other living creature in Middle Earth (save Saruman and Sauron). He has less desire for an additional boost of power, compared to e.g. Boromir, who has been the victim of violence (Orc raiders from the east) for his entire life and has so far been unable to put a stop to it.

Frodo has a prolonged exposure to the Ring, but is not a desirable target for the Ring to manipulate.

Frodo is no one important. Even if Frodo was easy prey for the Ring (easily tempted by the promise of power), a Hobbit wouldn't achieve much. Not only do they grow up without any real training or experience of violence; but their short stature makes them ill suited for combat.

This is often the case when the Hobbits partake in combat. They are no swordsmen. And although Aragorn has imparted some swordsmanship to Merry and Pippin; Frodo and Sam are not seen sparring with Aragorn (referencing the movie here, it's been too long since I read the books). To their credit, Hobbits have strong convictions, and are not easily swayed (although their peaceful upbringing makes them averse to violence).

From all that we have seen from him, Frodo is not a violent Hobbit even when provoked. Even by a Hobbit's standards, Frodo is a less than ideal target for the Ring to manipulate.

But the Ring got to Frodo after a while. I believe that this is due to the Ring's own decisions. In the beginning, it mainly tried to sway others to take it from Frodo (who couldn't put up a fight if the others tried to take it).
This is what happens to Boromir. Boromir is a much easier target for the Ring. He has an emotional need to overcome the wrongs of the world (the Orcs' relentless raiding of Gondorian lands), he is trained and ready for combat, would appreciate a boost in power, and is relatively easily swayed by the promise of that power.
Why Boromir, and not someone else? Boromir seems to be the weakest link in the fellowship. The Hobbits are ill suited targets for the Ring, Gandalf intentionally stays away from it, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli have no desire for power, they are happy being who they currently are. Boromir is the only one with a burning desire that he is currently unable to overcome, but would be able to overcome when wielding the One Ring.

However, when Frodo and Sam split off from the group, the Ring loses that opportunity. The only additional opportunity the Ring gets is Gollum, who is already completely convinced that he needs the Ring and needs no further coercion. However, part of Gollum (which is referred to as Sméagol) has also come to understand that the Ring is bad for him. To that end, the Ring should not reenforce its hold over Gollum, because that might be the straw that breaks the camel's back, when Gollum sees the damage the Ring has caused to him.
Frodo and Sam avoid people as much as they can, so the Ring is stuck with them and no one else. This is key to the Ring not being able to find its way to Sauron in the end.

The Ring spoke to Frodo, because it realized that Sam was stronger than Frodo. While it could not sway Frodo with the promise of power, it did manage to make Frodo paranoid that Sam wants the power for himself.
Since it is clear to us that Frodo needs Sam to get through the adventure; it should have been laughably obvious to the Ring, who knows everyone inside out.

The Ring's reputation can be enough to sway people, without the Ring needing to manipulate them

Faramir comes to mind. His decisions were not driven by the Ring's manipulation. Faramir did not need to be coerced to want the Ring. He already had plenty of personal reasons to want it: to redeem himself in the eyes of the father who does not love him.

If Faramir had not been geographically close to the Ring, e.g. he commanded his men to do his bidding via messages; he would've made the exact same decision. He was not driven by any promise that the Ring made to him.

This proves that the Ring's reputation can be very powerful. The Ring, being a masterful manipulator, will of course utilize that reputation if it is a useful tool to achieve its goal.

EDIT Direct response to part of your question:

This leads me to wonder. If Gandalf (a wizard, mind you) had instead encased the Ring in steel and stuffed it in a bag, and didn't tell Frodo what it was, only that the bag and its contents had to be destroyed at Mount Doom, would it have affected Frodo or anyone else? Surely there must have been a safer way to carry the Ring without risking corrupting the bearer so much.

Let's say Frodo carries an unidentified box, unaware of its importance.

  • Why would he hide its existence? If he does not know its importance; there's no reason to not talk about it. Frodo comes from a place where everyone is happy and there is no real struggle.
  • Frodo would still know that it must be destroyed in Mount Doom; or he may have disposed of it in another seemingly equivalent fashion. Assuming Frodo never hears of the One Ring; someone else can still figure out that the thing that can only be destroyed in Mount Doom is the One Ring. And then they can convice Frodo to let them take it there.
  • Why would Frodo risk his life for a wizard who, although Frodo likes him very much, is the cause of Bagginses to be considered "weird" in the Shire? He doesn't particularly carry resentment about it, but he mentions that to Gandalf in one of the first scenes of the movie. Why would he risk his life for an undisclosed object, simply because it was asked of him by somemone who has a past of sending Hobbits out on adventures beyond their capabilities (as far as Bilbo/Frodo were aware of their own capabilities at the time of embarking on the journey)?

You are sent on a mysterious journey by a wizard who is known for sending people on dangerous quests; to a land that compared to your home region is the embodiment of Hell; without any explanation as to why you're the best candidate for the job; with a mysterious requirement to do it all by yourself; while you have never been outside of your own home region; with a very real chance of dying on the way.
Why on (Middle) Earth would you do that?

Gimli states something similar.

Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?

Now consider the following:

  • Gimli knows the importance of the Ring, and evil that powers it.
  • Gimli is battleworthy, and even enjoys combat (as per his friendly rivalry with Legolas)
  • As a soldier, Gimli knows the importance of self sacrifice for the greater good.
  • Gimli knows more than just his own home region. Although not the most diplomatic of characters; he is still capable of traversing the world without much problems.

Even with all that, Gimli's statement is still considered comical. Because even Gimli would have to logically conclude that he should not go on this mission; but he comically subverts it by going on it anyway. The fact that the others laugh at his statement confirms that everyone thinks that the logical choice is to not go on this mission.

Except that destroying Sauron is the best reason to sacrifice yourself.

But without knowing that, Frodo can have no possible reason to accept Gandalf's mission.
Unless Gandalf relied on Frodo's naive desire to see the world; but then again, why would Gandalf entrust such an important task to someone who can be swayed by naive desires without thinking things through?

  • '.. sway people'. Most people. I rather dislike power and by a lot. 'Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?' Film. The idea that Gandalf could have put it in a box is rather silly because Frodo already had it and reluctant to throw it in the fire (Gandalf shows Frodo the difficulty); he inherited it from Bilbo and Gandalf thought he was safe (enough) for a while. 17 years go before Frodo leaves. 'Frodo has a prolonged exposure to the Ring, but is not a desirable target for the Ring to manipulate.' He still failed the quest. Tolkien says so and so does the book. – Pryftan Aug 7 '17 at 17:59
  • @Pryftan "I rather dislike power and by a lot" Even those who are driven by their disgust of seeing others abuse power can be tempted by giving them the power to right the wrongs they want to. Your personal opinion doesn't really matter to the story and its characters. "Frodo already had it and reluctant to throw it in the fire" Frodo thought it was a normal golden ring, but also an inheritance from Bilbo. There's plenty of reason for his reluctance that does not point to the Ring. "He still failed the quest. " I didn't say the Ring didn't influence him, I said it would have preferred others. – Flater Aug 7 '17 at 19:03
  • I wouldn't be; I've already demonstrated it though you wouldn't know since it's irrelevant to you. But bottom line is this: nobody willingly was able to destroy the Ring. Whether some would be more successful is irrelevant because nobody did. And the suggestion Frodo thought it a normal Ring? 'It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its colour, how perfect was its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious. – Pryftan Aug 7 '17 at 23:49
  • When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But he found now that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away - but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.' You call that a normal ring do you ? – Pryftan Aug 7 '17 at 23:49
  • And in HoME you will find that theme as well though not worded the same. Sorry, but absolutely not, it WAS the Ring and Tolkien himself even says so in the Letters. – Pryftan Aug 7 '17 at 23:52

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