I had this exchange on What would have happened if the Balrog of Moria had taken possession of The One Ring? with Jeremy French.

Jeremy French: But how would he have got it to fit?

DavRob60: That would not be a problem, as the ring has been show reducing his diameter by himself to suit Isildur finger. We could safely assume it would be able to expand again to fit the Balrog's finger. As Konrad Rudolph commented here, at the beginning of LotR, Bilbo (?) mentioned that the ring became sometimes looser and sometimes tighter.

Jeremy French: the ring changed because it wanted to fit on Isildur's finger. It would not want the balrog to challenge it's master so why would it accommodate it?

So, would the One Ring scrupulously serve a powerful being like the Balrog, Saruman or even Gandalf, or would it plot to get back to its master and ultimately betray its bearer, like it did for Isildur?

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    I have just found this question scifi.stackexchange.com/a/22732/324 of which this is substantially a subset. I am happy that my answer is (imho) along the lines of the accepted answer :-)
    – Francesco
    Sep 12, 2012 at 14:49
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    I don't know why it is so hard to understand. The RING IS SAURON. It will always BE SAURON. It will help whoever it wants to, seduce them, promise them power, augment their abilities, defeat their enemies, but in the end, the Ring serves its master, who happens to also be ITSELF. The One Ring is a case of "even if I lose, I win." Sep 12, 2012 at 17:16
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    I'm just imagining the Ring getting wider to fit on the Balrog's claw, and then squeezing his finger off:)
    – MadTux
    May 3, 2013 at 14:55
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    I always thought the ring was the master (not intended by Sauron ofcourse) and Sauron was just strong enough to not get completely consumed by it. The ring kinda just goes it's own way.
    – Kevin
    Sep 26, 2014 at 7:29

6 Answers 6


This question is quite close.

I answered with text from Letter 246:

Confrontation of Sauron alone, unaided, self to self was not contemplated. One can imagine the scene in which Gandalf, say, was placed in such a position. It would be a delicate balance. On one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron was not actually in possession, and perhaps also because he was weakened by long corruption and expenditure of will in dominating inferiors. If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end.

Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained 'righteous', but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for 'good', and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

That seems to show that:

  1. the allegiance of the One Ring can change
  2. but not its nature.

You ask:

So, would the One Ring scrupulously serve a powerful being like the Balrog, Saruman or even Gandalf, or would it plot to get back to its master and ultimately betray its bearer, like it did for Isildur?

So according to the quote (and my personal interpretation...), the One Ring would try to go back to its master until its "true allegiance" was won. Once was Sauron defeated, the Ring would no longer try to join him, but it would not serve "scrupulously". It would still act in Sauron's image, and try to overpower and corrupt its bearer:

But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end.

  • Wouldn't Sauron's demise turn the Ring into a mere ring or even make it crumble into pieces? After all, the Ring's destruction also eliminated Sauron, so that link could be in both directions
    – Zommuter
    Sep 13, 2012 at 16:25
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    @TobiasKienzler: it is my understanding that Sauron poured most of his essence into the ring, leaving only enough so that he could exist as a spirit or great eye. Sauron is but a finger on the body that is the ring. You can cut off the finger and the body will live, but without it's body, the finger will perish.
    – JMD
    Sep 28, 2012 at 17:04
  • So, essentially, the Ring works as some sort of corrupting device? It will try to turn its wearer towards Sauron and if Sauron is defeated in the manner mentioned above, it will try to turn its wearer into Sauron (or a personality similar)? Am I getting this right?
    – Steam
    Mar 11, 2013 at 12:39
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    It seems strange that Tolkien would say that Gandalf as Ring-Lord would be worse than Sauron, but at the same time say that Gandalf would have been a wise force for good.
    – Rag
    Jan 14, 2014 at 17:47
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    @BrianGordon Tolkien is saying that Gandalf+Ring would be just as much of a tyrant as Sauron, but he would justify himself as doing what was best for everyone, having superior knowledge of what was best for everyone, and that this is actually worse than Sauron who does not bother justifying himself at all. It illustrates how the Ring acts to amplify existing flaws in people's characters; Gandalf by himself already does boss people around from the position that he knows better than they do what's in their best interests.
    – zwol
    Aug 7, 2016 at 16:10

Galadriel herself depicts a rather interesting picture of what would happen, were she to bear the One Ring. It could be that she is deluding herself and she would fall for Sauron, but given her power and knowledge of the issue at hand it is possible that she would be able to defeat Sauron. Now, would that mean that the One Ring would be loyal to Galadriel, or that the evil nature of Sauron would win Galadriel's will, contaminating her?

Thus I think that the answer is possibly yes and no at the same time:

  • yes, it would be allow a powerful being like Galadriel to challenge Sauron
  • but the powerful being in question would be "changed" to become like (or worse than) Sauron.
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    That Galadriel would become corrupted seems beyond doubt; she is an Elf, not a Maia and so a lesser being. That she could defeat him is less certain but certainly she would have a much better chance than, say, Aragon would have, and even he was able to best Sauron in the mental battle over the Palantir.
    – ohmi
    Sep 12, 2012 at 19:37
  • She was also in the White Council, which was able to create some disturb to Sauron in the past, so she has some experience of fighting him.
    – Francesco
    Sep 12, 2012 at 20:46
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    Then, Sauron was beatable, and beaten, when bearing the Ring. Without the ring, with a sufficiently strong bearer (like Galadriel, not even like the Balrog of OP question) the match would be at a minimum not with certainty in favour of the Ring-defrauded Sauron.
    – Francesco
    Sep 13, 2012 at 0:13

It seems you answered your own question. Unlike Harry Potter wands, the Ring chose to betray Isildur who won it in the clearest way imaginable (by cutting if off of Sauron's hand).

Thus, it clearly has no intentions to "scrupulously serve a powerful being" unless it is Sauron.

Which makes sense, since Sauron poured a good deal of his magical essence into it:

... a great part of his own former power

  • but dlanod said here that We do know that Gandalf, with the limitations imposed on him in his "mortal" form, could have defeated Sauron with the Ring (from Letter 246)
    – DavRob60
    Sep 12, 2012 at 14:33
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    @DavRob60 - there's a difference between "scrupulously serve" and "bend to a will". Gandalf could have wielded the Ring, but not guarantee its scrupulousness and will to serve Sep 12, 2012 at 15:17
  • The Harry potter analogy could be extended: The Ring is more like the Horcrux Diary, or any of the horcruxes. They contain part of the dark lords power, are able to be used by others but ultimate aim to subject their users to the will of voldemort.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Sep 12, 2012 at 18:21

My understanding is that, since Sauron had invested his own power in the One Ring, it is inherently linked to him, and would therefore influence any being that wore it in his favour and ultimately force them into his service.

The more powerful the wielder of the ring is, the greater the corrupting influence - so for example, Gandalf or Galadriel would be far more dangerous ring bearers than Gollum, Bilbo or Frodo.


One possible answer to this question is to understand the story of Sauron and the One Ring as a variation of the external soul motif, common in Northern European fairy tales and which Tolkien would surely have been familiar with. In the motif, the idea of the body and the life force of a individual are conceptually two different things. Often they are found together but its is equally possible for the body to be in one place while the soul travels off at a distance. The danger, however, with the soul, or life force, being outside the body is that it is less well protected then when it is inside the body. So if one intends to allow the soul to be outside the body it becomes good strategy to place it somewhere well-protected.

In fairy tales the external well-protected place is usually a locked box or a hard to find hidden place. In The Lord of the Rings this well-protected abode is the One, (somewhat) indestructible, Ring. With his life safely in the ring Sauron is both immortal and invulnerable. He will take on various bodily forms as it pleases him and those bodily forms will be animated, at a distance, by his life force, the ring. Or maybe not at a distance, for if Sauron's body can wear the ring then body and the soul once again reside together (also another fairy tale motif sometimes called the law of contact).

So putting it altogether, "Is the One Ring loyal to Sauron?" from the fairy tale perspective is not quite to the point. Putting on the One Ring allows Sauron's soul to commingle with one's own. And while that extra life force inside may impart to the body magical properties (like invisibility), it's unlikely that one's soul is going to survive the bad influence of living with the elemental evil of Sauron. So in TLotR people who could potentially wield the ring for power really don't want to take the chance, The history of elves (Silmarillion) shows they are far from incorruptible with respect to Sauron and clearly the wizards are corruptible as well. The only long term disposition for the ring is then to destroy the ring, destroy the life force and therefore destroy Sauron.


I believe that Sauron made a mistake while forging the ring, as while doing it he surrendered ring to a concept of "binding to a darkness" and "possessing power over others". These are very human concepts. Since Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond have been already bearers of 3 lesser rings (which is a bit inconsistant with their origin) it is unlikely that any of them should or could take a lead by wearing top ring - it had to be someone else.

But it is a nice presentation from Galadriel as to explain Frodo what may happen if someone powerful enough will take ring possession.

The Ring betrayed Sauron in a battle with Isildur. On the other hand it looks like to me that Sauron itself never managed to be so malicious as his mentor Melkor. He is a character that turned to a dark side in some moment in time by its intention to become more powerful than others.

The Balrog is not described in detail except that it is a creature of the deep underworld that has been likely present when the Valar created the world (AFAIK under Melkor's design).

The ring on its own has no power on some creatures, namely Tom Bombadil, who is possibly as old as the Balrog. There was no effect when he "tried" out the ring; he laughed, played with the ring, which disappeared, while Tom stayed visible, and afterwards have returned it with no effect what so ever.

Many creatures and powers in LOTR are symbolic and sometimes are used to enhance the plot. Little inconsistances are plausible as they create a believable world.

In summary, I believe nothing significant would happen if a Balrog took possession of the ring. The ring's power was in corrupting those on the 'light' side to come to the 'dark' side.

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    Hi @ljgww, welcome to the site! I am not sure that it was a mistake, from Sauron's point of view (obviously it was in retrospect, or from Eru's original score...): and "possessing power over others" is a typical Melkor/Sauron trait (forging the various Rings could well be one/the only mean to achieve the result). Tom Bombadil's immunity is surely fascinating: but I wouldn't bet that the Balrog is such a "pure", "zen-like" creature as to be immune to the effects of the Ring.
    – Francesco
    Sep 13, 2012 at 12:05
  • Sauron was already corrupted when he made the ring, he merely poured his power and malice into its forging. The ring did not corrupt him, though it could corrupt others.
    – The Fallen
    Sep 13, 2012 at 15:31
  • Hi, Francesco, I agree that Balrog would not be pure creature, what could eventually happen with Balrog taking possession is giving it up to Sauron. Sauron was already powerful enough without the Ring. The plot around ring IMHO is that it would be used to subdue the rest of rings, primarily other 3. This is what I believe the plot with the ring is all about. Discussing alternative paths in the story is interesting but I think it beats the purpose. Same thing can be asked if orcs took ring, or Saruman for example. It just did not go that way.
    – ljgww
    Sep 13, 2012 at 20:08
  • SSummer, yes. I agree, ring was forged with the purpose. I just cannot recall right now of the Sauron origin. Somehow I am convinced that he was one of elfs. Although my memory may fail me. Most of the Silmarilion and other works are primarily about elfs.
    – ljgww
    Sep 13, 2012 at 20:15
  • I believe better question about plot would be, why Balrog appears at all.
    – ljgww
    Sep 13, 2012 at 20:23

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