If Sauron forged the One Ring in secret, how was there so much research in the archives of Minas Tirith?

For example, Gandalf finds out from the archives that the One Ring has an inscription which is revealed by fire.

But how would anybody know that in the first place?

Who wrote or compiled all this research?

  • 20
    Isildur saw the inscription on the ring when he cut it off of Sauron's finger.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 23:54
  • 34
    "Yet even as I write it is cooled, and it seemeth to shrink, though it loseth neither its beauty nor its shape. Already the writing upon it, which at first was as clear as red flame, fadeth and is now only barely to be read. It is fashioned in an elven-script of Eregion, for they have no letters in Mordor for such subtle work; but the language is unknown to me. I deem it to be a tongue of the Black Land, since it is foul and uncouth. What evil it saith I do not know; but I trace here a copy of it, lest it fade beyond recall.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 0:05
  • 4
    Also, the inscription was simply revealed by enough heat. It was visible to Isildur, because Sauron's hand was that hot and kept the ring from cooling until after he lost it. Commented May 7, 2021 at 1:02
  • 46
    There isn't "so much" research. There's a single scroll it takes Gandalf over a decade to find.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 9:50
  • 4
    I believe there’s a line that says once he put the ring on his intentions were revealed to the other ring bearers, so not secret at all after he’d forged it.
    – Darren
    Commented May 8, 2021 at 6:31

4 Answers 4


In the Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf goes to Minas Tirth to research the ring he eventually comes across a scroll written by Isildur about the ring describing how the markings faded a little after he sliced it from Sauron's hand. He also goes on to state that it will be an heirloom of his bloodline and those of it would be bound to its fate because he would not risk destroying or damaging it in any way. Gandalf's narration even starts with him saying, "The year 3434 of the Second Age. Here follows the account of Isildur, High King of Gondor and the finding of the Ring of Power." If anything it's probable that all the other papers Gandalf was sifting through did not contain any useful information until he came across that particular one.

As for a word of God answer, unless a Tolkien scholar has a interview or a letter stashed away somewhere it doesn't seem like Tolkien wrote about who researched the One Ring.

  • 3
    3434 is also the year of Sauron's defeat so if that dates the document (and is not part of the title) it must have been written very shortly after the battle.
    – Borgh
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 12:50
  • 10
    It was. It had to be, for the writing to still be visible, and Isildur’s death was only a few years later (when he left Gondor, ambushed on the way back to Arnor). Commented May 7, 2021 at 13:42

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 2 "The Council of Elrond", Gandalf tells of his search for information.

Gandalf told how he and Aragorn had long searched for Gollum to interrogate him about how he gain Bilbo's ring and eventually despaired of ever finding him.

...And then in in my despair I thought again of a test that might make the finding of Gollum unneeded. The ring itself might tell if it were the One. The memory of words at the Council came back to me: words of Saruman. half-heeded at the time. I heard them now clearly in my heart.

"The Nine, the Seven, and the Three," he said, "Had each their proper gem. Not so the One. It was round and unadorned, as it were one of the lesser rings; but its maker set marks upon it that the skilled, maybe, could still see and read."

What those marks were he had not said. Who now would know? The maker. And Saruman? But great though his lore may be, it must have a source. What hand save Sauron's ever held this thing, ere it was lost? The hand of Isildur alone.

With that thought, I forsook the chase and passed swiftly to Gondor...And Boromir, there lies in Minas Tirith still, unread, I guess, by any save Saruman and myself since the kings failed, a scroll that Isildur made himself...

And that scroll had the description of the One Ring - and a transcription or tracing of its inscription - that Gandalf sought.

So that is what Gandalf came to the archives at Minas Tirith to find: any record or description of the One Ring which Isildur might have left in Gondor. Gandalf used logic to deduce the only method and place where Saruman could have learned what the One Ring looked like.


Another answer has mentioned the writings of Isildur, and if you're referring to the scene in the movies, where Gandalf is surrounded by paper, I don't think all of that was necessarily research on the One ring, but rather just archives of whatever writings that Gandalf might've thought was relevant to his search for information on the ring.

It's also worth noting that Gandalf was searching for information for a while. Based on the time line, the largest stretch of time that Gandalf was gone from the Shire (and Frodo) was about 10 years. Altogether about 17 years passed from Bilbo's 111th birthday and Frodo departing the Shire.

  • 2
    yes, the movie makes it appear that the time involved research was greatly contracted, but it actually chronologically took Gandalf a decade to identify a single primary written work by Isildur himself; the movie also implies that Peregrin and Meriadoc were quite young, but in the books they were in their 30s during the events; Frodo was in his 50s. they left the Shire as you say 17 years after Bilbo departs for Rivendell. Commented May 10, 2021 at 6:12

The premise of your question seems to be Wasn't the One Ring a secret? The answer, as Darren wrote in a comment, is no - not any more: at the time of LOTR, the Ring and the basic history was common knowledge. Here it is:

  1. Sauron posed as a friend and helped the elves learn to make rings of power. They gave 7 to the dwarves and 9 to men. The elves made 3 for themselves.
  2. Sauron secretly forged the One Ring, which has power over the others.
  3. Sauron started using the Ring to control the others and everyone found out about it.

But the Elves were not so lightly to be caught. As soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger they were aware of him; and they knew him, and perceived that he would be master of them.

  1. Elves and men formed an alliance and battled Sauron. When they won, Isildur cut the Ring off Sauron's finger and kept it. Isildur wrote down his account and the runes on the ring.

  2. Isildur died and lost the ring, many years passed, the Hobbit happened, and the Lord of the Rings happens.

Gandalf is friends with elves like Elrond who were there for all of these events and knew what happened. So I think he's familiar with this history, which is why he knows to look for Isildur's writings in the first place. But interestingly, although the Ring was widely known, apparently it was not widely known that Isildur took it:

[Boromir] I have heard of the Great Ring of him that we do not name; but we believed that it perished from the world in the ruin of his first realm.

  • See my first comment @usul on the original WackGet question, responding to suchiuomizu's comment, in which I include a link with documentation. All 19 of the Rings of Power were made by Elves for Elves. None were made to be given to Dwarves or Men. Sauron's plan to dominate the Elves via the Rings failed, because he didn't account for the possibility that Elves can take rings off. It was a flaw. With Dwarves and Men he tried to use the surviving hardware he captured in a war to salvage as much of the plan as he could, by giving them rings not originally designed for them, to mixed results.
    – Lesser son
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 5:49

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