During the last debate, Gandalf says:

"Concerning this thing, my lords, you now all know enough for the understanding of our plight, and of Sauron's. If he regains it, your valour is vain, and his victory will be swift and complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while this world lasts. If it is destroyed, then he will fall; and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed."

How does Gandalf -or any other of the wise- know that Sauron will indeed be crippled to such an extent if the ring is destroyed (and why is this not already mentioned during the council of Elrond)?

To understand where this question comes from, it may be useful to know that Peter Jackson's depiction of Sauron's incapacitation at the end of the Second Age is controversial. It is not said in the books that a fit Sauron has his ring-finger cut of and then suddenly disintegrates. The text rather suggests that Gil-Galad and Elendil maim Sauron, whereafter Isildur cuts the ring off a near-incapacitated Sauron.

It was brought to my attention that this question may superficially be viewed as a duplicate of this one. However, that question does not ask after the method by which the wise determine that Sauron will be crippled by the ring's destruction. That is, it asks whether, not how. I find this important because during the last debate Gandalf urges the leadership of Gondor and Rohan basically to bet everything on this single assumption. So one would think/expect that Gandalf has solid proof for his assertion.

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    Side note, I never interpreted, "none can foresee his arising ever again" to mean, "he'll be essentially dead forever". I just thought it meant, "he will be so permanently weakened that if he does ever arise again, it will take him so long that we can't possibly estimate how many eons in the future it will be". – Todd Wilcox Jul 31 '18 at 18:27
  • @Todd, phrases like "while this world lasts", "maimed for ever", "cannot again grow or take shape" suggest otherwise, IMO. Anyone know whether Tolkien ever addressed this point directly? – Harry Johnston Jul 31 '18 at 18:54
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    @Edlothiad - The way I read it, the possible duplicate indicates that Gandalf (actually, the Council of Elrond) knew destroying the ring would take down Sauron; I do not see any information as to how they knew this. – RDFozz Jul 31 '18 at 20:05
  • @Adlohiad: I concur with RDFozz: note that the answers given to the cited question do not say by which method the wise know what they know. – Thibaut Demaerel Jul 31 '18 at 20:39
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    @Edlothiad - None of the answers currently on the "duplicate" question ("did they know") currently provide an answer to this question ("how did they know"). If the two questions are duplicates, I'd have to say that the general was a duplicate of the specific - "How did they know" has to cover "did they know', while "did they know" requires no such explanation by nature. I considered opening a meta on this, but I did that already not long ago, and the resounding favorite answer was "the questions aren't duplicates". – RDFozz Jul 31 '18 at 23:12

To start with, Celebrimbor -- the Noldorian smith who made the Three, the Seven and the Nine -- was very learned in ringlore. (Though not quite so learned as he thought, it seems!) It seems highly likely that he knew what Sauron must have done to create the One and he undoubtedly told the holders of the Three, at least. (When I say "must have done" I'm talking about how a skilled practitioner in a craft can understand how an even more skilled practitioner did something without being able to do it himself.)

In general, in Morgoth's Ring Tolkien writes at length about how Morgoth poured his spirit? essence? being? into Middle Earth at its creation and thus marred it and that Middle Earth was to Morgoth as the One was to Sauron. Some or all of this was known to the Wise either because the Noldor learned it in Valinor before their rebellion, from the Valar or Maia during the War of Wrath, or because the Istari brought the knowledge from Valinor. (You'll remember that Saurman was a master of ring lore and while he was probably always rather arrogant, he was not at first an enemy and doubtless shared some of his more general knowledge with the rest of the Wise.)

So: While there's no evidence that any of the Wise at the time of LotR (with the maybe just barely possible exception of Saruman) could make a Ring of Power, there was a lot of knowledge about how they worked and what they could do and what they did to those who used them. (Many of us know how to use computers and even how to program computers, but few of us can do chip design.)

Gandalf could thus be certain that the destruction of the Ring would cripple Sauron without being sure it would destroy him. He may only have foreseen as a certainty that the Ring's destruction would put Sauron in the the category of "Defeatable by Mortal Men" -- even only that would have been a big step forward.

(Though it does seem like the Council of Elrond came to a decision rather quickly.)

  • You may want to copy your answer to the duplicate, as none of the answers there currently answer this question. – RDFozz Jul 31 '18 at 23:00
  • @RDFozz: Thanks! – Mark Olson Jul 31 '18 at 23:29

There is a story in the Unfinished Tales: The Faithful Stone, in the Drúadain chapter. In this story, a Drûg transfers some of his power into a stone watchman, to keep guard over a friend's house:

'See, I have left with it some of my powers. May it keep you from harm!'

The stone statue comes to life when the house is attacked, kills some orcs and stomps out a fire the orcs started. When the Drûg comes back, his legs are blistered, and he comments

Alas! If some power passes from you to a thing that you have made, then you must take a share in its hurts.

Tolkien quite explicitly comments on this story:

The takes, such as The Faithful Stone, that speak of their transferring part of their "powers" to their artefacts, remind one in miniature of Sauron's transference of power to the foundations of the Barad-dûr and to the Ruling Ring.

This appears to be a rule on which Middle-earth operates. As such, it is not unreasonable for Gandalf, a Maia coming from Valinor, to know it. Gandalf can thus safely assume that if the Ring is destroyed, part of Sauron will be destroyed with it. Indeed, if it is a "law of nature", others who care to study such laws, Elrond and Galadriel, for example, might well also be aware of it.

The question thus becomes "how did Gandalf know enough of Sauron would be destroyed that he would be unable to recover?

I think the answer to this question is, at least in part, what @MarkOlson says: Celebrimbor might well have known how much power must be put into the Ring for it to produce the effects it did. Supporting this claim is the fact that Elrond and Círdan both counselled Isildur to destroy the Ring at once:

Isildur took it, as should not have been. It should have been cast then into Orodruin's fire nigh at hand where it was made. But few marked what Isildur did. He alone stood by his father in the last mortal contest; and by Gil-Galad only Círdan stood, and I. But Isildur would not listen to our counsel. (LotR II 2 - The Council of Elrond)

(The knowledge of where the Ring was made had to come from Celebrimbor too, no doubt.)

Gandalf too would know how much power Sauron would have had from the start, and how much he'd need to put in the Ring to produce the desired effects, but he'd have to rely on other sources for description of the Ring's effects, since he wouldn't have actually seen the object until the events of The Hobbit and the LotR.


  Council of Elrond knew a lot about Maiar

They certainly knew Sauron is a powerful Maia, a lieutenant of Melkor (Morgoth) from the First Age, and therefore essentially immortal. They knew that he, like his master, could take physical form. They knew that this physical form is vulnerable (in fact, Sauron was defeated a few times in the First Age, and at the end of the Second Age). They knew that Sauron, like his master Melkor, could put his powers into objects or beings. This would bound them to him. Examples are Melkor's fortresses like Utumno and Angband, and Sauron's fortress of Barad-dûr.

They knew that power of Ainur is not limitless. Indeed, Melkor (mightiest of Vala) put so much power into Arda that in the end he could not even heal his own leg, not to mention change shape. Of course, they understood this would also happen to Sauron who lost the ability to change shape after the fall of Númenor. That Númenorians managed to capture Sauron and that he latter corrupted them was also a known fact because many kingdoms of Men in Middle Earth were founded by refugees from Númenor.

Finally, it was known to them what happened with Sauron at the end of the Second Age. He lost his ring and his body, but was not totally destroyed. Of course, they understood ring lore, and knew that the One Ring (control ring) would need enormous power to subjugate the other rings. Therefore, they correctly assumed what Sauron sacrificed to ensure this. Note that the One Ring was for some time possessed by Isildur (2-3 years), although he kept it jealously some knowledge about it must have survived.

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    'some knowledge about it must have survived.' At least in the form of Elrond :). – Mixxiphoid Jul 31 '18 at 19:22
  • @Mixxiphoid Good point, although I'm not sure did Elrond actually had a chance to physically inspect the ring, because of its effect on Isildur. – rs.29 Aug 1 '18 at 5:09
  • He could for sure physically inspect the effects on Isildur, perhaps that was enough. – Mixxiphoid Aug 1 '18 at 5:38

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